by Catherine Schofield Sezgin
While studying in Amelia at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies in 2009, I looked forward to July 21, the release date for another book in Daniel Silva's series on Gabriel Allon, art restorer, spy and assassin. Downloading the book from Audible.com would allow me to listen to The Defector on my iPhone although I was in a medieval town in the middle of Umbria. And although I had been looking forward to this book since Silva had signed my copy of Moscow Rules in 2008, I would not be able to listen to the book until midnight.
That day, a Tuesday, Monica Di Stefano, Italian teacher extraordinaire and gracious Umbrian host, guided a group of students and attending family members through Narni, visiting a church, the duomo, and a stage theatre. We lunched on curried chicken, pesto trofilo, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes at a cucina off a side street. Desserts, baked there, included a flourless chocolate torte, a fruit crumble, and a crème brulee.
We explored Narni underground, an area discovered by some children in 1979 when they climbed into the vegetable garden of an old man who asked them to explore an area from where he could feel fresh air. Inside the opening, they discovered an old church used by the Dominicans from the 12th century and beyond that Inquisition torture chambers. A prisoner in 1759 had left carvings on his cell wall explaining his name, his military rank of corporeal, and signs related to Christianity and masonry. The man was likely a leader of the guards for the Inquisition chambers and had been put in prison for 13 years because he had tried to save another guard from torture. Another prisoner of the Inquisition was accused of having two wives -- something awful in Italy because two wives meant two mother-in-laws -- and when he killed a guard and escaped, he ended up in L'Aquila, outside the protected walls of the papal empire. The hidden chamber also revealed two skeletons, including one of a tall woman with a full set of teeth and clothing tied by ribbons at the sleeves, not sown, putting her in the 19th century.
After this field trip, we returned to Amelia, prepared for the next day's lecture and not until midnight did I insert earphones to listen to The Defector. Minutes later I heard: "Chapter Four, Amelia, Umbria."
Silva's Gabriel Allon describes the town:
"Amelia, the oldest of the Umbria's cities, had seen the last outbreak of Black Death and, in all likelihood, every one before it. Founded by Umbrian tribesmen long before the dawn of the Common Era, it had been conquered by Etruscans, Romans, Goths, and Lombards before finally being placed under the dominion of the popes. Its dun-colored walls were more than ten feet thick, and many of its ancient streets were navigable only on foot... It's main street, Via Rimembranze, was the place where most Amelians passed their ample amounts of free time. In late afternoon, they strolled the pavements and congregated on street corners, trading in gossip and watching the traffic heading down the valley toward Orvieto."
Allon enters Pasticceria Massimo and orders a cappuccino and a selection of pastries.
So the next day, after waking at 9 a.m., breakfasting at 10, ironing at 11 and getting dressed at noon, my family and I followed Gabriel Allon's path into Pasticceria Massimo to try the cappuccino and cream puffs. Massimo, the owner, and a woman wearing eyeglasses behind the counter -- possibly the model for the girl who had served Gabriel Allon in the book -- did not know of Daniel Silva or his books but were pleased to learn of the connection.
The Illy espresso was delicious, the foam smooth, and the service gracious. We later learned of Massimo's great tiramisu cakes and added Pasticceria Massimo to our daily routine. We were able to share our story with Daniel Silva and his wife Jamie Gangel who sent a signed bookplate to "the girl who presided over the gleaming glass counter of Pasticceria Massimo" as Daniel Silva wrote in his book. In exchange, the woman in the eyeglass at Massimo's, of course her name was Daniela, sent a memento of Amelia to Daniel Silva and is waiting for The Defector to be translated into Italian.
My first visit to Massimo's was followed by a two-hour Italian class with Monica Di Stefano and then a lecturer by Diane Charney, a French Literature Professor at Yale University, on the heroic work of Rose Valland who copied the negatives of looted art works processed through the Jeu du Paume in Paris during World War II.
That evening, after a trip to the fromaggerie for fresh yogurt and cardinale cheese in the afternoon, a group of us dined on pizza at Porcelli's Taverne and then two of us walked Diane Charney to her guest apartment on Via della Repubblica until Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard's Art Crime and Antiquities Squad, joined us on the street. When I introduced myself, he said that he had already met my husband and children earlier that day. The four of us chatted long enough for his wife to call and wonder what had happened to him when he went to park the car.
Without the aid of my journal, I would not have remembered that finding Amelia mentioned in Daniel Silva's 2009 novel was sandwiched in between Narni underground's Inquisition torture chambers and meeting Scotland Yard's Richard Ellis. But I have recalled those two days here for those potential candidates considering the program who wonder about the consequences of enrolling in ARCA's Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies. It was not a summer of lectures and assigned readings I had anticipated -- the rest of the summer could fill another novel!
Photo: Daniela Grillini, Pasticceria Massimo, possibly the model for Daniel Silva's character who "presided over the gleaming glass counter."
Via delle Rimembranze, 8
Chiuso il lunedi/Closed on Monday