Please find below the recently “discovered” letter from the lost correspondence of The Sidewalk Artist's intrepid travel writer Miss Mildred Mercy.
As you delve into your holiday shopping, please consider helping those less fortunate. For example, one of Plan Canada’s Gifts of Hopes is a Library in a Box for Haiti. An entire library for only $60!
Best wishes for the Holidays and New Year!
Gina Buonaguro and Janice Kirk
Hotel Raphael, Rome
Christmas Eve, 1971
Dear Gentle Friends,
It never snows in Rome, my friend the Tuscan vintner told me. Those of you who read my travelogue On the Trail of the Writer in Europe: An American Woman's Pilgrimage will remember the vintner as the man who swept me most chivalrously away on his motor scooter as I waited in vain for a local bus. Having wooed him these past three Christmases with hand-knit socks and my very famous fruit cake, I was delighted when at last he succumbed (no doubt under the influence of the generous quantity of rum with which I spiked last year’s sweet offering) and invited me to meet him here in the Eternal City. And while I have not had a Christmas without snow in all my eighty-four years of living in North Dakota, it is a small price to pay to be here again in Italy with my vintner, who is at this very moment out purchasing a copy of that most venerable of American Christmas traditions, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” spotted before breakfast in the window of an English-language bookshop.
What can I say about this city that I did not already cover in my book of travels? Dickens was here; Hawthorne came too. My vintner and I viewed St. Peter’s Square with Mark Twain’s colorful observations as our guide, though his myriad of similes designed to impress upon us the Basilica’s size and majesty (The Capitol in Washington, Niagara Falls, et cetera) failed us both miserably. The expenditure on this vast project may have indeed sparked the Reformation, but on this day in the year of our Lord 1971, between the glorious music in the square and the life-size manger that awaits the solemn placing of the Christ Child this very eve, no jaded soul - least of all this one - could hope to remain unmoved!
Rome, as I previously reported, was also a favorite haunt of the Romantics. Liszt, Byron, Shelley, Keats – all came to sigh their melancholic ways through the Roman Forum, the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum. Indeed, both Shelley and Keats are buried here, and my vintner and I have visited their tombs – a damp affair that inflicted upon us both simultaneous bouts of sciatica that could only be cured with a great deal of my friend’s wine (he never travels with less than a case). It was the ruinous damp too that was the nemesis of that great son of Rome, the Renaissance painter Raphael. There has always been much speculation about the identity of Raphael’s great love. The glory at present is bestowed upon a humble baker’s daughter, and while I am sure this honor is quite misplaced, I shall have to leave it up to some future author or authors cleverer than myself to uncover the truth of that mysterious affair!
As I look out the window now into the Roman night, I see my vintner friend striding down the street toward the hotel, a parcel wrapped in brown paper under his arm, no doubt proof of a successful excursion. My, what a handsome visage he has! Such a fine mustache and such jolly dark eyes… But goodness! What is this I see? Could it really be? It is! It’s snowing! What complete and utter bliss!
And so it is here, dear readers, I must leave you, for there are snow angels to be made and a Christmas tale to be read aloud before the fire – but I will not rush off before wishing you all courage and love for the holidays and the coming new year!
Miss Mildred Mercy
P.S. In the summer, my vintner promises to take me to the Euganean Hills of Northern Italy, where the sonneteer Petrarch spent his final years loving his Laura to the last. I shall report then of my travels there. Until then, we will spend the next few months in Tuscany – oh lucky me!