Fragrance Quote for January 14th, 2012 from Scenes and shrines in Tuscany By Dorothy Nevile Lees

On these summer nights in the old side streets of Florence, the modern days of the Capital, of United Italy, of the invading tourist, fade; one is back in the Middle Ages, bound by the spell of the past.

A cloaked figure passes in the shadow, taking shape for a moment in the dim light of the lamp which burns before Madonna at the street corner. It might be Machiavelli going home after some supper in the Rucellai gardens, to the old house in the Street of the May; or Ghiberti tramping along to visit his furnaces, where the great Baptistery gates are taking shape.

The moon rests in calm white sheets in the piazzas, and the shadows of the old palaces on the ground are almost as dark and solemn as the frowning walls themselves. A party of young men pass by singing, the music sweeping up to where a woman leans from a cinque-cento window far above. So, for centuries, the serenading bands have gone about the city, and their lady-loves looked down from the same old casements—as Dianora looked down in the Via dei Bardi on a breathless night five hundred years ago.

In such moments one is face to face with a Florence which is in no guide-book, a Florence to be caught, unawares, when, for an hour, she is reborn of mystery, of silence and of dreams.

Almost by chance we gather our loveliest and most enduring impressions; and the tourist is generally too busy with the details of church and gallery to spare much time to woo the spirit of that real, living Florence which is so shy and elusive that only by stealth may she be surprised. It requires a happy conjunction of mood in the seer, and aspect of the seen; and though the traveller may have the gift of learning, and know all the history of the city, and all churches and pictures, and have laid to heart the blessings and cursings of Mr. Ruskin, and bowed his neck to the yoke of Baedeker and Cook, and have not imagination, it profiteth him nothing, for he who comes to Florence without imagination shall never see her as she really is.

But if the gods have dowered you with this power, and you have ever looked down on the city lifting her brows in some blue dawn to the light which strikes from far beyond Vallombrosa; or in the magical moment of her transfiguration at sunset, when the yellow of her buildings blazes till she seems a city of pure gold; or on some enchanted night of summer, when the dark has veiled all that is trumpery and modern, and you see only her soaring dome and her towers springing towards the stars, while the breeze stirring the lemon-trees bears you a breath of fragrance, and from somewhere in the darkness comes the throbbing, sweet and a little piteous, of mandolines: if you have once seen her so, you can never again forget her, for she is tenacious of her old power in her age as in her youth, never losing her hold on hearts; and she will win your heart and keep it, and you can never again forget her until you forget all things, and, called by death, mothered by the warm red earth, you turn from the light and look no more upon the sun.

Scenes and shrines in Tuscany
By Dorothy Nevile Lees