I love Iris Origo’s books so the main purpose of our trip today was to visit La Foce, the home of writer and garden expert Iris Origo.
If you have never heard or read any of Iris’s work i cant recommend it highly enough – especially her published diary War in Val d’Orcia which she, as an Anglo-Irish woman, with an American grandmother, married to an Italian Nobleman, wrote on a daily basis and hid in the garden, almost under the noses of the Germans who were arriving daily to requisition “stuff” (mattresses, cars, pigs, wine – anything they suspected they had hidden away for future use) Also at the house were an ever increasing number of children evacuated from the bombs in Milan – who had an official home, school and even mini hospital there -and even more remarkably- frequent Allied escaped prisoners, refugee Jews, and even wounded partisans! The German officers would arrive and demand things at the front door of the Villa even whilst Partisans were escaping to the woods behind the farm with whatever the family could spare! Her diary has the freshness which can only come from writing down her remarkable experiences – with humour, genuine surprise and fortitude – on the day it happened! It taught me a lot about what it must have been like to be trapped on the “other-side” during the War and also about how incredibly brave the Italians were personally about helping others – even though they didnt like fighting too much!. The only reason Iris wasn’t locked up with the other Anglo -Americans (as per Tea with Mussolini!)was that the Germans, faced with a woman who spoke both Italian and German fluently simply didnt realise she wasn’t Italian!
One of my favourite parts in the book was when some German Officers invited themselves to dinner to discuss their requishioning requirements and after civilised and courteous meal and relatively friendly discussion commented on the number of English books on their bookshelves! Antonio Origo simply said Yes – my wife is English and the Germans left in embarrassed confusion after deciding it would be improper to arrest their charming hostess!
Despite a pessimistic forecast the weather was perfect for our visit during which Garden Expert Dr Katie Campbell joined forces with La Foce’s own guide to explain the history of the house from medieval pilgrims through to the present day – and what a precious transformation it must have been – with Mussolini money in the early years transforming barren eroded land into green fertile fields and with Cecil Pinsent’s inspiration turning a small villa without garden to a large formal villa to one of the most beautiful gardens in the world.
Tomorrow – Monday 2nd – we visit the home of Iris Origo’s mother – Sybil Cutting – The Villa Medici at Fiesole, also philosopher Charles Strong’s retreat Le Balze, and Sir John Temple Leader’s – mock medieval Castello Vinciagliato.