Mary's musings

Mary Hoffman, author of over 90 children's books, including the Stravaganza series and Amazing Grace, has begun a web journal which will be updated roughly once a week. You can read more on

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Honey cats

Well, Padua was an eye-opener. It's called the city that has "a saint without a name, a cafe without a door and a field without grass." The saint without a name is actually Antony, because the huge domed Basilica, with the saint's completely over the top tomb (almost as bad as St Peter's in Rome), is known laways as the Basilica del Santo. Padua is odd in having a Duomo as well as a Basilica.

The cafe without a door is Pedrocchi's, an 18th century building which looks like a Greek temple and has glass between the pillars (this does include a door of course). The field without grass is Prato della Valle in the south of the city - a HUGE oval piazza based on the outline of a Roman amphitheatre.

Bex and I visited all three - the Basilica is particularly fine from the outside and has the famous bronze equestrian statue by Donatello of the mercenary Gattamelata (honey-cat). It was the first successful such casting since the Marcus Aurelius we saw in Rome in November.

Pedrocchi's is 2 centuries too late for the book I was supposed to be researching but that didn't stop us going there for coffee and pasticcerie on our last morning. Thr waiters were FANTASTICALLY snooty and insisted on being paid at the table, as if we were going to run away, but the goodies were very good. It was one of the university's graduation days and we saw a young (-ish) man with a laurel-wreath round his neck (Italian for graduated = "laureato"), being toasted in champagne by a large family group. And it was only 11am.

And we had dinner with an Italiian family in a beautiful apartment with a balcony overlooking the vast Prato della Valle. They were so hospitable and interested in everything we did and thought. "Is Tony Blair liked in Britain?" "Is it true you have many many words for toilet?" etc etc. They were fascinated that I was writing a book sort of set in their city. It was a large family group - nine with us - and there were many courses. They were lawyers, teachers, critics and one Art Historian, And they had a honey-cat of their own - a very friendly ginger called Arturo.

This week I re-read Katherine Roberts' absolutely marvellous "I am the Great Horse" - the story of Alexander the Great told through the eyes of his warhorse, Bucephalas. Also la Repubblica. What a great newspaper it is - lots of Arts coverage, great political stuff (Romano Prodi resigned while we were there) and good solid social and think pieces. There was a piece about the Joyce Hatto CD forgeries and one about Ken Livingstone getting cheap petrol; from Venezuela, so i felt quite up to date when I returned home!

I saw lots of frescoes - the previously unknown to me Giusto de Menabuoi, whose cycle completely covers the Baptistery of the Duomo in Padua. And the fabulous 700 year old cycle of Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, which has been completely restored since I was last there. You now have to wait in a glass room for 15 mins to get yourself physically acclimatised before you get your 15 mins in the chapel. There was a de Chrico exhibition on in Padua but I simply couldn't wrench my sensibilities round to that after Giotto.


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