Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Ancient One of Florence and His Nymph

Late morning light illuminated my walk along Via de'Pecori, a bustling street in the heart of Florence. Suddenly, a display in a shop window stopped me. Mannequins, whose feminine forms were artfully draped in shimmering fabrics, lined the windows of a long corridor.  An old Italian man appeared at the entrance. He beckoned me with his hand. "Please, come inside," he said.

Rows of folded fabric lay stacked on immaculate wooden shelving.  An antique loom held silk threads that hands from long ago never finished weaving. A floor-to-ceiling mirror hung majestically on the center wall. The Ancient One, probably 80 years of age, approached.

"Cloth is the skin of the skin. The top-most layer,"  he said, slowly, deliberately, each word a precious gold coin. "It is my pleasure to find the perfect cloth for every person." He swept his arm for me to stand in front of the looking glass.

I faced the mirror and watched him shuffle to a shelf. He slid on bifocals, crookedly, but didn't seem to notice or care to fix them.  After a pause, he selected a bluish-silver knit.  Grand and gentle sweeps of his arm unfurled meters of cloth near my feet. Satisfied with the length, he tucked the corner into my top at the shoulder.  I spread my arms out like a Goddess as he draped the fabric around my body. I was coated in silk and wool and nobility. He stood aside and considered me in silence.

The Ancient One then removed his glasses. "And she is giving from her eyes a sweetness to the heart that only he who has proved can speak about." Dante, he noted.

The Ancient One asked which country I was born. "The United States," I replied. "Ah....." he said with a long sigh. He waited. "You have returned to Florence - the navel of the world - to connect with the old ones. They have called you back to renew, to refresh and restore harmony. You see, there was a time when weavers' fingers wove a higher endowment, a higher knowledge into cloth. Our meeting is not by chance."

In the presence of such intelligence, I find it best not to say anything unless prompted to speak.  I remained silently smiling, like a white marble statue, adorned in cloth.

"You are like a nymph... something between angel and human," he said. "Tell me, what do you see." The vibrant fabric caused the exposed skin of my neck and shoulders to glow.  A garment appeared in my imagination. "I see a dress with a boat neck," I said. "Yes," he affirmed. "A simple dress to wear with brown boots."

The portion of the fabric around my wrist held a tag. I flipped it in my hand to read the price - 166 Euro per meter. I gasped and hoped I misread it. The Ancient One sensed my surprise. "I will give you a very special price,"he said.

He measured and cut two meters, then placed the cloth in a bag and left it on the counter. The Ancient One motioned to a leather couch at the opposite end of the shop. We ambled toward it.

"Now, my nymph, I will teach you the etymology of the word Love."