Monday, October 25, 2010



Explosion! A sixteen-year-old who could not even write his name is now joying in copying the Latin on the plaques in the Santissima Annunziata, the English on the plaques in the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery. Our Alphabetization School works! He read out to me the other day a poster on 'Santa Umilta'. I was in tears for she is the saint for whom I have named my Umilta website. Illiterate, she dictated marvellous sermons of most profound theology to her nuns. Yesterday he was reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's stanza on Lily Cottrell. EBB, in Aurora Leigh, has a heroine, Marian Erle, teach herself to read and write out of books thrown away in the rubbish.

Mihai is from Romania, a Roma, a gypsy, his family too poor for them to afford his schooling, who beg in the streets, their miserable shacks in Osmannoro bulldozed by the police, and who are forced to sleep at night in the open in the streets in groups of no more than three.

They come each Sunday after Mass, sitting under the great column and cross at the centre of the Cemetery, learning their letters and how to write their names, teaching each other in Romanes, the letters being the Romanian ones, having painted laptop blackboards for white chalk out of left-over library shelving. They get sandwiches of blessed bread and ground chicken livers and apples and water and used clothing. Sometimes as many as twelve of them, all ages, both genders. It's so easy to do and yet no church, no government seems to see this is a need for beggars in the street to rise up out of their poverty. It costs so little. It can achieve so much.

We are using the ideas of Lancaster, Montessori, Piaget, Freire and Don Lorenzo Milani. They work! When I ask them which language they are happiest in they say Romanes. It is from Sanskrit, from India, it is their language, in the home, in the family. Excellent linguists we find classes being in a mixture of Romanes, Romanian, Italian and English. And now Latin, too! With laughter and with self-worth.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto.

Terence was a freed slave from Africa, his full name Terentius Publius Afer, who wrote the most wonderful plays in which women, slaves and sons come out on top, in such pure Latin that he gave Cicero the concept of 'Humanitas', our 'Humanities'. The above line, meaning 'I am a man; therefore I consider nothing of humankind alien to me', was placed by Montaigne on his study ceiling in Bordeaux. I have placed an essay on the playwright,, on the web site on Terence, Look also at which gives the Latin text of his Heautontimuremos with miniatures and woodblock engravings of the scenes, as well as medieval plays written by women and men influenced by him.

Terence's Theatre
This is fitting for this library in a cemetery where we have a black slave from Nubia, Nadezhda, who came to Florence at 14, being baptized in a Russian Orthodox family, and also, with hers, the tombs of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Frances Trollope, Richard Hildreth, Hiram Powers, who wrote and sculpted against slavery.
Even our Roma, who restore this Cemetery, were slaves from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, only being freed when Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was translated into Romanian. And she was copying the anti-slavery novels already published by Frances Trollope, Jonathan Jefferson Whitelaw, and Richard Hidlreth, The White Slave.

A slave village (Shatra) in Romania, 1850s
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. In particular are sought donations towards our alphabetization school for our skilled, but illiterate, Roma workers.