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Stroke Survivors

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Jeremiah Bell
Jeremiah Bell

Where To Buy Marchesa

A drawing in the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City reveals that the picture was originally even grander: Rubens executed a full-length portrait, with the marchesa standing on a terrace with a view into the distant landscape at the left, but unfortunately, at some point during the 19th century, the canvas was cut down to its present format.

where to buy marchesa

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Ms. D'Addato included in her communication a page partially accounting the sale totals, where lot no. 76 clearly is marked with an x (not sold, or bought in at 70 guineas). This page also includes, in different handwriting, a tally of the sale (668.12.6), and below this an entry for what appears to be NGA 1961.9.60 (76 - 60 - -[guineas] -Nieuwenhuys). The final tally of the sale was thus 728.12.6. It seems that after the sale Nieuwenhuys was able to acquire the painting for 10 guineas less than its buy-in price (see NGA curatorial records).

Our taxi speeds toward the center of Florence and the piazza where our college is located. We are late arrivals, bad students who have missed the school bus in Portovenere on account of wine, sunshine, Byron and Shelley. The director rolls his eyes at the sight of us. A fleshy, operatic man, he wears an ascot, leans on a walking stick and affects a British accent. Probably he has read too much Henry James.

Cynthia is claimed, and so are Gregor and Jessica. Finally, the director summons me and introduces me to an elderly woman with bright blue eyes -- eyes that men must have fallen into, swooning, when she was younger. This is the marchesa. She has on a black dress shiny from wear, and her white hair is in a tight bun held fast with an elegant tortoise-shell comb. Her cheeks are round and rosy. She smiles at me in a serenely accepting way.

I am drawn to her immediately. Some people age with a special grace, without any bitterness, and the marchesa is among them. It's her smile that gets me. She can see right into my soul. Absurd, yes, but I'm certain of it. It can happen like that at a first meeting -- no barriers, no sense of opposition, a kind of purity. She knows I'm up to no good in Italy, but it doesn't faze her. What's youth for, if not for adventure?

At twilight, we set out on foot for her flat. The marchesa limps a bit, favoring her left side. Still, she's cheerful. The walking is tough on me, though, what with a heavy suitcase on my shoulder. My feet are sore from the long taxi ride. I had Cynthia on my lap for hours, and she cut off the blood flow to my legs. How unfair! I've often wished for a woman on my lap, and when I get one it hurts.

It turns out the marchesa has fallen on hard times. Her flat occupies the ground floor of an old palazzo, where she has six cold, dark rooms hung with sun-bleached tapestries. Touch an armchair and you raise a cloud of dust. Ancestors in antique gilt frames loom large. They are brooding presences, distant and unfathomable. I can hear them whispering.

The marchesa calls for her family. They assemble in the parlor. Here's her son Aldo, a 40ish bureaucrat, who lives in the flat, too, along with his shy wife, Lucretia, and their son Giorgio, who's 13 and -- incredibly -- a baseball fan. He says to me, in perfect English, "Hello, sir. You are from New York. Tell me, please, how are the New York Yankees?"

We sit down to supper. The marchesa serves thin vegetable soup, chewy bread and a stringy piece of boiled beef, but not a drop of wine. Hardly anyone speaks, mostly because of Aldo. Frankly, he's a pain. He imposes order. He reminds me of the hawk-nosed Florentine merchants you see in paintings, bent over a pile of coins. My soul is a blank to him and always will be.

Classes start. It is a torture. Every morning around 7, the marchesa raps on my door and asks, "Permesso?" Sometimes I am awake and dressed, but more often my head is buried under a pillow. She sets a plastic tray on my bureau, always the same -- a hard roll, butter, marmalade and a pot of strong coffee. Always, too, she is smiling. I envy her, really. I crave such equanimity myself, such a perfect balance on earth, but I fear I'll never gain it.

Our school building has many windows, and that's too bad. I spend my classroom time staring at the piazza and wishing I were out there, where real life is going on. I watch the ancients seated on benches, their bodies bundled in overcoats despite the autumn warmth. Leathery faces, a white stubble of whiskers, intricate debates over who remembers what, and why. The sun shines on bambini playing in the dirt. All the young mothers are beautiful, even when they're ugly.

What do I long for? I want to be part of a civilized world, not the kindergarten of America. A world where art, literature and music matter, where history is present and palpable. The old palaces in Florence, they alert me to how every human endeavor ends -- chipped, battered, in debris. It's not so bad. I can accept it. That's what I think at the moment, but I am still young and not yet on familiar terms with grief.

By December, time has become my enemy. The days whip by, and I must face the distressing prospect of returning to my snowbound university in upstate New York. The idea makes me sweat at night, even in winter. I'm irritable around the flat, sick of Aldo and his clerkish routines. "Va via!" I want to shout. Get out of here, Aldo! The marchesa sees how upset I am and puts a chocolate bar on my breakfast tray.

Gregor and I plan a farewell weekend. We lie to our families and say we're going to Rome by train. We go nowhere. We wallow in Florence instead, soaking up the city. We roam from cafe to cafe, we get drunk and sappy and find ourselves near Santa Croce, at a medieval open-air bar jammed with grotesques. They're pounding shots of grappa and eating roasted pig ears. We sleep both nights on park benches and wake covered with dew. Sunday, we climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo and watch the sun rise over red tile roofs. 041b061a72


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