What To Do When Your Five-Year-Old Threatens To Run Away Florence: The Lady Who Saved the Old Bridge

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Florence: The Lady Who Saved the Old Bridge

Queen Victoria loved this famous old bridge. After a visit, the Marchese Torrigiani, Mayor of Florence, ran to the train station to make his bow. She shook an aggressive finger at him and warned: “Never touch Ponte Vecchio”.

Walburga, Lady Paget. was the great-grandson of Justchen von Krosigk, née von der Schulenburg, and grandson of Field Marshal Count Gneisenau.

From her hilltop at Villa Bellosguardo, formerly Villa Michelozzi, she could look down the river Arno, over the city of Florence, to Fiesole and the distant mountains.

In the early years of the 20th century, she gives us an excellent account of her days of martyrdom while staying in Florence. A blistering portrayal of all her tormented and stomach-churning experiences with the local Florentines, and the Italians: “…a race that has no moral courage, a race that I could never fear”

She found solace in her angelic dogs, her sheep, goats and a sulphur-breasted cockatoo who lived in one of the Villa’s corridors. She found satisfaction in her battles for a better life for children, animals, and the preservation of ancient buildings, and in her constant imprecations against the Florentines.

The cacophonous inventory of her Villa Bellosguardo teatime guests and neighbors included Mrs. Zizi Narishkin, née Princess Kourakin, Princess Corona Bariatinsky, Count Mouravieff, Mr. and Mrs. de Zoubow, the Princess Croy Solre, née CroyDuelmen, Countess Harrach, sister of Princess Lichnow. , and Resi Palffy.

Struck with horror at crimes that had just been committed in Florence and in Italy in her days at Bellosguardo, Lady Walburga reports that most people go around armed and she herself is armed when away late. Just the other day, she reports, as Marchese Ugo della Gherardesca was driving to his villa he was attacked by three armed masked men. He shot one dead and flew the other two out. While sitting on the balcony of her villa one day, Marchesa Bricchieri was shot in the neck, probably by her factor. Countless people were attacked on or near her Bellosguardo mountaintop home, and several of the neighboring villas were burglarized. Even the Stanhope family home, she reports, has been burglarized twice.

Italian newspapers, she continues, are full of articles about disgusting crimes. Currently there are half a dozen cases – some have been in progress for years: Lieutenant Modugno, who is accused of shooting a young lady, Teodilinda Murri, who showed her true colors by engaging her lover and others to poison her husband, Count Notarbartolo. He recovered from the failed attempt, so they shot him. A lady named Rosacca disappears, possibly murdered by her son, who draws her pension without reporting her disappearance. In a room in his villa, the young Count De Vecchi is attacked, tied up, and forced to make a will bequeathing his great fortune to his aggressor, who then threatens the servant and orders him to drown the young count in a bathtub and then throw him into a canal. Fortunately, the order was never carried out and sometime later, when detected, the aggressor shot himself to avoid capture. Furthermore, the Minister of Finance, Rosada, shoots himself after only a few days in office.

What a state this country is in, she admits.

In due course she tells the story of an Englishman living in Rome who had the commendable habit of giving a coin to a certain beggar whenever he met him on his way. This beggar, he heard one day, was actually a rich man and a moneylender, a “strozzino”, a merciless “throttler”. The Englishman then left him and kept his coins in his pocket.

The beggar deliberately sought revenge. He filed a lawsuit against the Englishman stating that he owed him a large sum of money. The unlucky Englishman, not a rich man, was depressed. He revealed this to an Italian friend who, undeterred, replied: “Don’t worry. Just leave everything to me.” A short time later his friend told him that now everything was explained and that his problems were over.

“How did you manage it?” – asked the Englishman.

“Simple. I found five witnesses who were instructed to say they saw you pay back the money.”

“How much did it cost?”

“Very little. A witness in the city costs only 10 francs, and one outside the city walls is even cheaper – 5 francs.”

Lady Paget’s unwavering efforts to alleviate suffering caused to animals and children, her Anti-Vivisection campaigns, Preservation of Ancient Monuments crusades, and “Hygiene Conferences,” as she calls them, all arouse our greatest admiration. With Countess Tommasini she arranged an interview one day with the Mayor of Florence to try to stop the brutality employed to horses in the area. It was agreed that the Mayor, a lawyer by profession, would receive the ladies at five o’clock. Now it happened that on that particular afternoon her horses were suddenly engaged in another more important mission and she was left to walk to the city center. She strongly resisted a bitter “tramontana” north wind, she says, as she walked down the hill of Bellosguardo, crossed the river Arno and reached Palazzo Vecchio where she and the Countess met and then proceeded to the Mayor’s office. An employee said that the Mayor could not see the two ladies that afternoon because he had forgotten all about the matter and had other things to do. Lady Paget failed. She understood the hopelessness of this or any future mission. She rebelled, lashed out at the employee who could only twist and thrash without an answer and the two ladies left for home. Italians, she later reports, are always stunned by simple claims.

Lady Paget then reports that lately she has been completely absorbed in horse trading, in Florence a jaw-breaking and stressful undertaking for such a stately lady. Lies and double dealing, we hear from her, are freely practiced so that “us northerners” always end up being severely beaten and turned in.

With a princess of Croy, they tried to persuade the archbishop to order his parish priests to instruct the parishioners to put an end to the indiscriminate slaughter, by shooting, catching and netting (and consequently roasting on a stick) songbirds, especially on Sundays when the entire male population wanders around weighed down with rifles .

A servant left her after she regularly gave him her dismissal. Like all Florentine servants and coachmen, people she hired to put them out of their misery, he demanded three months’ wages and began legal action. Mrs. Pager was upset and harassed for months, many lies were fabricated. Her lawyer reassured her that she would win, but Italian law can conjure up crushing disappointments. It can take years.

Fortunately, it only lasted a few months. She won her case, but in the meantime the man had gone to Naples, was now penniless, and Lady Paget had to pay the whole cost herself.

Every little Italian boy threatens you with the law. He will tell you that in a dispute you cannot use a certain expression, if your barking dog gets on people’s nerves, if your donkey accidentally rubbed someone in the marketplace, or if your servant quarreled with someone, you are to blame for someone. trial

She further mentions that the manners of the Italian merchants are the worst she has ever known, that Italian policemen are uncivilized and irritable, and that local dog catchers belong to the scum of the common people themselves. Tuscan children are taught to be cowards. The first action of a Tuscan, when he sees a dog, is to hide behind the first protective object he can find, shouting: – Non morde mica? It doesn’t bite, does it?

Traveling on Italian trains means tolerating passengers arguing about who has the right to sit in that particular seat, or sleep on that floor, with furious arguments and threats to take the whole thing to the Questura, the police headquarters. Fires on the train, guards, housekeepers and engineers come out at every station to simply talk about things. The famous Lampo (Lightning) train, crawls along the line from one station to the next and delays can add up to a good number of hours.

While walking one day, Lady Paget and her pack of dogs were approached by the dog catchers of the Municipality. One of the dogs lost its identification tag, but the lady had all the regular documents where she proves that she paid her tax. The dog catchers immediately threw a wire noose around that particular dog’s head and tightened it. Lady Paget replied trying to get her hand between the wire and the animal’s neck. In the meantime a crowd had gathered. Strangely, on this occasion, the horde of curious children, farmers, taxi drivers and carters who were watching gave her all their support. Finally, disappointed, the dog catchers retreated without the reward they expected to receive from the lady for rejecting the noose and not capturing the dog.

As a coda, she tells that once justice was done: the cruel men were suspended for three months, whatever that may cause, and that a week after this unpleasant incident the dog catcher, who injured her dog and her hand, made two. murders and received a life sentence.

Lady Walburga ends her story with a moving epilogue, mourning the death of a loved one: The hand of God lay heavy upon me. I never wrote another line.

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