Saturday, September 11, 2010


The irises which are Florence's purple lily

This title sounds almost like a line from an Edith Sitwell poem! It announces a gift to us of narcissi thalia from the Sissinghurst Castle garden and we are very grateful. In the Spring I shall post photographs of these elegant flowers amongst our tombs. As a child growing up in Sussex I went once, on a birthday, to Sissinghurst Castle. And learned of Vita Sackville-West's work in creating it, the great lime tree walk, so much else. Then my mother gave me a copy of her poem, The Land, when I was in exile in Mendocino County and I wrote to Vita of that nostalgia, she replying with commenting on the beauty of the Sequoia Redwoods. I treasured Virginia Woolf's Orlando, the Julia Margaret Cameron photographs, the various novels I acquired by Vita. My last is a copy printed by the Hogarth Press of Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. On my office door at Princeton I used to have a picture of Vita in her book-lined tower room at Sissinghurst. Thus, especially with books and tombs, we link our memories, the past for the future.

For the garden of Florence's 'English' Cemetery is created from gifts from so many, bulbs in the Spring, roses, lavendar and pomegranates, these last by our poets' graves, for the Summer, plumbago for late Summer, papyri all year round except when engulfed in snow. We invite you, too, to contribute with plants with non-invasive roots. And we joy, too, in the wild poppiesthat returned after we stopped the dreadful weedkilling chemicals used in the past.

And now all our tombs lacking their letters in lead have been repaired, thanks to the careful, painstaking work by Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu and Cristi Mihai, Roma from Romania. The Roma are also our excellent gardeners. Already they had conserved all our Victorian cast and wrought ironwork with scraping away all the rust and applying two coats of anti-rust, two coats of gray enamel. They are skilled in everything except that schooling is too costly for them in Romania so many lack the alphabet. Therefore we hold alphabet school on Sundays after Mass under the great cross in the centre of the Cemetery. In this photograph you can see Daniel painting the letters on the later Landor tombs while Lupascu Copalea and Breateanu Bancuta look on, Breateanu thus learning his letters, Lupascu, who had some schooling under Communism, being one of our teachers. School is held in the Romany language with the Romanian alphabet. The Roma tell me they are happiest in their ancient Sanskrit home and family language and learn best in it. But they are brilliant linguists, quickly learning also Italian and English. Thus our school, run by them, uses ideas of Madame Montesorri, Don Lorenzo Milani and Paulo Friere. What a gift it could be if churches taught the beggars at their doors the alphabet! Charity a school.

Breteanu Bancuta Lupascu Copalea Daniel-Claudiu Dumitrescu at the Landor Tombs

Breateanu Bancuta Julia Holloway Lupascu Copalea

We no longer need to sign the UNESCO Petition which has been delivered to Paris for the UNESCO Memory of the World Register's nomination. But we would appreciate any donation for the restoration and maintenance of this beautiful place, so filled with the world's memories.