1869 - 1960


PART 4 / 2004

My family believed that the Castle Finistère was a naughty an undesirable and disreputable place but they welcomed me with great pleasure. My mother said: “I distrust all castles and Barons”. Probably her opinion was wise. One has to bear in mind, that my stay in France happened in the second last century and at that time it was expected that the daughters remained at home until they got married. Today people think differently.

Luckily the Baron’s money arrived just in time, as I found my family slightly undernourished. My father was actually unemployed. Together with the help of my eldest brother, he worked as an organist in a church near by. My second eldest brother, earned his living as painter so the family could survive more or less above subsistence level.

The days passed until one day I met a Fakir or Yogi. A fortuneteller.

I did not have any experience of fortunetellers, but I felt a strong desire to find out more about my future. Against my religious beliefs and knowing that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” I decided to get in touch with this fortuneteller. After having paid an entrance fee, I was allowed to enter a mysterious dark room. I felt gloomy about my future. At once I noticed the Yogi in the darkness who groped his way through the almost unlit room. He then grasped my hands and whispered as if he was in trance: “ I see the Italian flag waving over your head. Your talents are of artistic nature. A beautiful town with magnificent domes, church towers and palaces will be your new home. You will meet a tall exceptional good looking young man, who will significantly change your way of life. At the moment I see you staying in a house close to the sea. You will get money which will enable you to approach your future”. I thought the sense of guilt I had about consulting this man harassed my soul.

Shortly after that meeting my mother and I travelled to Margate. We had to look after the house while the tenants were away on holiday. At the same time a publisher asked for my opinion about a manuscript, which told the story of a young American singer travelling to Florence. Didn’t the Yogi mention an Italian town with glorious churches and lean towers?

I could hardly find the right words to express my opinion about the manuscript. The impressive story left me rather perplexed. “It seems,“ said the publisher, ”that the story drove you crazy. Are you in an agony of doubt about fleeing to the south?“ “Yes”, I answered, “you’ve just hit the nail on the head and I need your help! I wish I could be like a young American travelling to Florence”. He chuckled and interrupted: “Do you have some friends in Italy?” “No!” “Do you know the language?” “I can’t utter one word.” “Do you have money?” “No, not one penny.” A slow smile spread over his face as he stated that my plans belong into a fairytale. “What concerns me is the money” I bravely interrupted “I am counting on to your help!”

For the work on the manuscript I earned sufficient to pay for the journey, I also had enough to stay for about one month in a bed and breakfast accommodation. Knowing that a very tough time was waiting for me in Italy. I was prepared to face it. I relied on my good health and my ambition. I dreamed of wonderful churches and Campaniles.

It took quite an effort to explain to my family that I intended to leave again. Hearing that crazy news my brothers shook with laughter like dancing Indians and screamed with joy that a lunatic girl now belonged to their family. My mother was a little at a loss but my father said wisely: “Perhaps our little girl is following her own destiny”!

My dear brothers decides to help with my travel expenses and to my surprise I received an unexpected five pound note from my sisters.

The Channel was very rough and stormy and the train journey to Turin, Bologna and Florence was a dirty and fog-ridden adventure. Finally I arrived at a B&B place, where I immediately felt into an endless, deep sleep. A gentle breeze touched my hair and the sunbeams crept into my room. I woke up and felt very hungry. With my finger I pointed on to my open mouth. It warned! I had a delightful breakfast! One cup of black coffee, one little spoon of milk and a tiny, tiny piece of bread! With longing I remembered the lavish meals in the castle.

Never before in my life had I seen such a clear daylight and all the colours all around me fascinated me. The deep blue sky and the powerful light. I could hardly believe that the air was so clean and pure. Due to the dazzling light, I stepped into the shade from where I could watch the passers-by. They strolled along in the most colourful dresses and it was a pleasure to observe the flashy patterns of the girls´ skirts. The gentlemen’s hats were decorated with shiny bird feathers and it all seemed like an exciting carnival.

Once a week I had a singing lesson in Mr. Cortesi´s house. He never mentioned a word about the fee and so I run into debt. I still owe him for his kindness.

Freedom is still another word for nothing to lose and so I confessed to Mr. Cortesi that I urgently need a room, which included cooking facilities. He then introduced me to Norma Romana. She was one of his student singers, and together we moved into a cheap flat somewhere in southern of Florence. We were at our wits end and almost starved.

Our living room was a sort of huge, shabby cheerless hall. In the middle of it was an almost equally dark and heavy oak table. The history of that hall was, that Bianca Capella invited guests for a lavish feast with the intention of poisoning her lover. Rats flitted across the floor.However, the small, pleasant and romantic looking kitchen was very convenient and cosy. Sometimes we couldn’t stand our cooking any more but our hunger was so immense that we decided to eat somewhere near the market place or in a cellar of the old town. Greedily we almost swallowed Polenta, Maccaroni or boiled chestnuts.

Quite frequently we were out of pocket but sometimes our financial situation allowed us to organise a party in our flat. During this period the Puccini’s Opera Bohème became famous and so Norma and I entertained our guests with songs from the opera. Among our guests happened to be a young gentleman from Switzerland. I noticed that he paid more attention to me than to the songs or to the other invited friends. He was an extremely good-looking young man, with deep blue eyes, classical features and he was at least a head taller than all the Italians. “He is a boy who wants you heart” opinioned Norma, “he thinks he has just to stretch out his hands to obtain the girl he adores. As distance lends enchantment, I tried to ignore his advances and when ever I caught sight of him I tried to appear pre-occupied.

Shortly before Christmas. Norma and I were freezing and the only warm place in our flat was the small kitchen. At Christmas we again invited our friends to share our festivities. As we were poor we could only offer tea and some bread. Our guests were asked to bring along there own meal. What a joyful gathering! We had a lot of fun opening the food baskets for our dinner. Luigi brought along a roasted rabbit, Gina an entire mortadella, Marco a round basket bottle of Chianti, Benno a long string with countless sausages. We heated the Chianti wine and added cinnamon and sugar. The big hall and the huge table made us feel like Florence aristocrats. We all looked deep into our glasses to make sure that no poison was mixed with the red wine, which we drained to the dregs. The handsome Swiss friend surprised the cheerful party with a bottle of sweetie “Vino Santo”. What a successful evening!

The days became longer and warmer and the scent of roses, orange blossom, myrrh and rosemary were as intoxicating as old wine. The students plucked their Mandolins and Norma and I sang with a joy, which came from the deepest of our very being. I was impressed with the night, its soft velvety darkness and its clear glittering starry sky. Unbelievable days and happy nights! The pressure of poverty was always with me. Although I gave English and French lessons and did some translations. The little money I earned soon melted away. I was almost as poor as a church mouse and I needed to control my finances. I was urgently looking for an additional job. I didn’t find any opportunities not even washing dishes in the kitchen was available to me.

“You have no determination” said Norma “My goodness you are almost starving! You must try harder and change your financial situation!” In spite of this I knew I had a good head on my shoulders.

The cold winter weeks were soon replaced by the warm spring. The Swiss gentleman frequently joined me on my walks in the parks and through the countryside. One day it happened!! After a wonderful excursion to a nearby mountain peak, Albert from Switzerland invited me for a drink in a well-known “Tratoria”. In a sort of happy go lucky way I sipped at a pleasant, refreshing drink. I listened to the chirping birds while the sun was setting behind the hills and the sky changed into a red curtain. Albert suddenly confessed: “I feel what I have to say is true and I say it with my hand on my heart. I want to marry you. Will you become my wife?” Tears fell from my eyes. I knew, there was only one answer.

Albert Tschopp

Group Photo