Whenever I used this name for him in public his face grew angry. Having a healthy rosy colour on his own, it started to gain a fiery red and his black, longish hair stood on end over his forehead. He stressed that he was not my pupil, for whatever reason. Today I know he felt that he was so much better than I was. . Together we worked on the panel painting of the Madonna with her child and Santa Anna, and the people said, it was as if the old kind and the new kind of Art came together. Melding. It was the first work to manifest from our relationship. It was the first time I learnt that there was something else outside my world as painter.
It was at our workshop that Tommaso took the brush from me, opened my paint soiled work coat, and loosened the girdle around my waist that held the short skirt over my tights.
"I need a model", he said seriously. "For my Saint Paul." I stared at the piece of wood he had ground already, which would be part of a polyptychon for the Carmine church of Pisa. He had outlined a massive three-quarter figure of the apostle. "I search for intensity, detail", Tommaso explained, undressing me further. My skirt had fallen, like a loose shirt and I was standing embarrassed with nothing more than my tights and shoes.
"That's what I need." Tommaso said pleased, his black eyes scanning my body. After a time of measuring and watching, drawing lines and improving, he stepped closer again. It was as if needles were pricking my skin when his fingers outlined the contours of my body. "You are a masterpiece", he said and his voice had taken on a husky tone. Without being able to stop him, he had loosened the pouch that hid my genitals, cupping them in his palm. "I need a closer view for my professional viewpoint."
And then... and then.... I cannot describe. My feather trembles and I fear to blotch the parchment. Not even here and now can I confess what happened. The unspeakable... that I longed for since I had first seen him. His youth. The gift of his body. Every night from then on."
Alessandro and Luca, leaning tightly together against the wall, followed Masolino's diary. "You see, he admits it. Well, as if anyone hadn't suspected it."
Spring spread a gentle pattern in many greenish colours over the landscape: the yellow-green of the young corn and wheat, the blue-green of the rye, in between long rows of silver-green olive trees and yellowish fig trees and bluish vines, while upon hills the black green pines and cypresses stood like guards against the light blue sky. Luca absorbed the forms of the landscape like a dry sponge. Sitting beside Alessandro in his Ferrari he enjoyed the drive up into the hills of Fiesole, the little, Etruscan village high above his hometown. He had been here before - naturally - but by bus, and not in this posh, bright red automobile from which Sandro had pushed back the roof and the air currents whirled in his hair.
He didn't know exactly why Sandro had invited him to visit the summer-villa of his family, but it was all the same to him. He was with Sandro and that was enough. A short passage led them through forests of chestnuts, oaks and beeches, alternating with meadows in full bloom. Fairytale meadows as he called them in his mind. Thick carpets of grass and wild flowers, red poppy and blue iris, deep-pink gladiolas, violet anemones and blue cornflowers, wild orchids and the beautiful green-white blooming wild garlic. He longed to throw himself into them and breath the scent, but Alessandro didn't stop. He surely had an eye for this beauty, but actually his mind was on other things.
From our castles we ravaged the landscape, plundered the monasteries and kidnapped the monks. We were nothing more than robber barons, Bevisangue - blood-drinker. And if the merchants of Florence defeated one of us, they set fire to our castle and forced us to live for a year in the town - to civilize us I guess. But it didn't help much, we introduced Vendetta and didn't give up the habit of building tower-houses, like animals following their nest-building drive. Hundreds of those tower-houses stood in Florence; the lion's tower, the flea- and snake-tower and of course, the lizard-tower."
He flashed a brief grin in the direction of Luca, who listened attentively. Sometimes Sandro's tales were interesting. "Those towers weren't only expressions of the obstinacy and ostentacy of our families, but they were needed to stand firm in sieges, like we did in the mountains' olden days. We had constant feuds with the other families or with our own members. The Gondis didn't own just the so-called lizard-tower but many more in addition, spread all over the town."
Alessandro grinned once more. "You did your homework well", he said. "But it was just this boundless thirst for power, that was the sign of the real Florentine. And the Pisan looked down on us like at a pack of wild mountain men, stingy, envious and proud as we had been."
Alessandro stopped at a tiny, open piazza in whose middle the monument of Garibaldi meeting King Umberto stood. "The fight between aristocracy and merchants led to the strange silence and barren hills because the castles and fortresses were pulled down bit by bit. The towers of San Gimigniano, standing like a mirage at the skyline, are the sole survivors of a time when the landscape was sprinkled with a thicket of towers. We, the noble people, hadn't been anything more than highwaymen, charging private customs duty and plundering the caravans of passing merchants."
Luca looked at him with raised eyebrows. "Why are you telling me this?"
Suddenly Alessandro burst out into a joyful laughter. "You love my explanations , don't you?" He leaned over and kissed Luca's lips. "I can't help it. Do you think I'll become a good tourist guide one day?"
Luca shook his head. "I'm not sure about that. Tourists would soon grow bored if you stuff them with all this information."
Luca's heart sank. He couldn't imagine waiting four long years for Sandro's return. But he pushed the thought away. "You've told me this story to understand your history, haven't you. From a wild highwayman to an acclaimed member of your family. Mayor and all. Heir of a twenty-million-inheritance."
Alessandro nodded slowly. "It means that we are little more than farmers. Noble blood means nothing. It's just a title."
Alessandro was silent. Secretly he agreed. And what had made him change his mind? He started the motor again and drove along a small street, passing the Etruscan museum with the wide amphitheatre and the excavations behind until they reached a driveway and, behind cypresses, a flat roofed villa, painted yellow, with green shutters. The staircase was flanked by lemon- and orange trees in buckets. "That's our villa, Luca. I guess mother is in the garden behind the house."
Luca took it all in as he followed Alessandro around the house on a neat sandy path. He saw a bent figure in black crouching between the flowerbeds and a beguiling scent of rosemary and lavender streamed through his nostrils. He saw a row of strawberries and bluebells. The figure rose and wiped her hands, then she shaded her eyes. "Alessandro, is that you?"
A lovely voice. But somewhat brittle. "Ciao, Mamma. Why are you doing this alone? Where's Fran? Fran is our gardener", he said to Luca.
Luca looked curious. He didn't know what to expect. He had thought that Sandro's family would be upset to meet him, and he awkwardly stepped from one foot to the other. "This is Luca, my friend", Alessandro introduced Luca who stretched out a hand.
Valentina didn't take it, but looked embarrassed. Luca felt, that he had done something wrong.
Luca's eyes wandered between mother and son. Valentina was still dressed in black, but a big Florentine hat with artificial fruits and flowers shaded her face. He thought that her eyes were unsteady and a faint smell of alcohol streamed from her clothes. She led the way between the beds to a small table under a fig tree and sat down. "Help yourself, there's tea in the kitchen", she said, taking a carafe and pouring something in her glass.
Alessandro turned up his nose and went in, pulling Luca with him. "She's drinking again. And what would she do with her long days anyway. Squander the money the best as she knows."
Like you, Luca thought and was ashamed of his thoughts. But at least Sandro had a brain and he knew how to use it. He followed him into the kitchen, a wide room with pots and pans hanging along the walls, an oven in the middle of it and baskets full of vegetables, potatoes, glasses with spaghetti and sauces, pots with fresh herbs drying in lines across the windows. "Does she live here alone?" Luca asked surprised.
Luca choked on his drink. "With the ghosts?"
Luca felt as if he was being treated like a marionette in a play he didn't understand. "Stop talking in riddles, Sandro. Why did you want me to see this?"
Alessandro laughed. "In peace? You? So that you can continue to pour drinks until you fall unconscious into your bed? Like you always do?"
Luca was shocked and stared down. There wasn't even a name...
And his mother started to drink, Luca thought.
Luca freed himself. "You intend to take up the inheritance then? Marry and have a son? For money? To get your own back on your family? But that's no use to Nardo. He will still be dead."
Alessandro looked angry and turned his back on him. "Perhaps I want to show Florence that the Gondi's can do something other than to reign a town."
Luca turned at the sharp shout. Valentina was standing there, a fresh filled glass in her hand. Alessandro passed Luca and stepped close to his mother. "Salute, Mamma. Drink as long as you can. And when you have finished you can lay beside your son." He sneered. "As a disgrace to our family."
He walked away, not looking back. Luca stood dumbfounded for a second, then he ran after him. He reached him at the Ferrari, and hopped into it before Alessandro started the engine and drove away; spraying gravel from under the wheels.
Luca coughed. "What was that? Why are you treating your mother this way? Is it her fault?"
He stopped his car on a deserted country road. Swallows flew low over the meadows and larks twittered high above in the violet sky. Crickets chirped and the scent of bitter thyme and rosemary floated over the earth. Alessandro sat and pondered, then he got out and strolled through the meadow. Luca was fed up of being treated as a bystander. He jumped out of the car too. "What do you want then? Why have you dragged me along like a total idiot in front of your mother? Do you want to prove that you're the oh so pitiful last offspring of an old family whose life is oh so hard? What are you missing?"
Alessandro turned furiously and gave him a baleful look. His cheeks were glowing. But he said nothing. After a while of silent mutual glares Alessandro's eyes became bleak and suddenly he looked miserable. "I'm sorry, amore. I hadn't planned to confront my mother this way. I..." he made a helpless gesture. "It was my way to show you my pain . Probably it was the wrong way to go." He sat down between daisies and anemones and looked helpless like a little boy. Luca sat beside him.
Alessandro nodded. Luca sighed and stretched out between the grass and flowers. A bee was humming over his head. The larks were still twittering. "Then we won't have anything in common anymore."
Alessandro looked down at him, bewildered.
"Hey. It was you who said I could divorce and start my real life."
Luca sighed and shook his head. "That's not the same. And what will you do when you study at Pisa? You'll find plenty of young men as substitute for me. You won't waste a single thought about me. So, why is my opinion so important?"
Luca laughed. "In front of Dante and my father to watch me? Pah. That's impossible."
Alessandro's fingers stopped stroking Luca's warm, raising meat. He hadn't thought about that. If the decision was to study or to accept the conditions of the last will, he knew what he would do.
Alessandro nodded and closed Luca's lips with his own.
Luca plucked dried grass and leaves from Alessandro's hair when they arrived back at the town again. There, in the meadow, in Sandro's arms, it was easy to forget. But Firenze's gloomy presence embraced them and the warm Spring's afternoon was giving a cheerless touch. Although he did think that his hometown could shine in the sun, and make everyone forget the unfriendly, fortress-like appearance. A town where the tourists were driven through like a herd of swine, where the bars were filled up by noon, the shutters were closed to stop the heat and the shops were closed until late afternoon.
When Luca and Alessandro arrived home, they found Alessandro's uncle Arrigo lounging in an armchair, staring into the empty fire side in the living room.
Alessandro restrained himself. What a chain of unhappy meetings, he thought. "Go up and wait for me", he whispered into Luca's ear, who then disappeared reluctantly. He waited though around the corner and listened. He didn't want to be dismissed like a servant.
Arrigo laughed. "That's an odd remark, nephew. Matteo knew very well what you would decide. We have nothing to do with the church, nor with the Dominican monks for God's sake." He made the sign of cross. Alessandro watched it taken aback.
Arrigo bent forward. A vein at his temple started to pulsate.
Alessandro turned his eyes to the high, wooden ceiling. What for heaven's sake had he done to deserve such a speech. "May I ask you on which planet you live, zio? What have we done to deserve such hatred? Have you opened your eyes and looked around? When was there a time when Firenze wasn't homosexual?"
"And you don't want to ruin my reputation as the womanizer of the town, do you. Everybody believes that I could impregnate half of the town if I just wanted to, right?"
Alessandro rose. "If you weren't such an empty nut you could had done it yourself already."
Arrigo almost leapt from his chair and punched Alessandro's face. Alessandro jerked back and wiped his mouth. The corner of his mouth was bleeding. Revolted he turned. "That's all you can do, zio. Hit people. Congratulations." He stood at the door. "What will you do to stop me from taking up my study at Pisa? Do you want to hold me here until I've married?"
Alessandro turned and walked out of the room, up the stairs, passing Luca without seeing him.
Arrigo stormed out of the room, bumped into Luca, gave him a push and slammed the door behind him. Luca ran upstairs, caught up with Alessandro on the staircase and looked into his face. "You're bleeding."
Luca pulled out a Tempo and wiped Alessandro's lips. "It isn't bad", he said. Alessandro stopped him.
"Now you know. And how difficult it is to resist them? What shall I do?"
"Act like an adult for the first time in your life and resist. For your own sake."
Alessandro looked Luca up and down. "You don't know how the Italian government works, amore. Nobody will care."
Luca felt as if he was standing at an abyss. Was there really no way out? Surely there must be. Alessandro couldn't be right. Nobody could stop a young man who wanted to spend his life learning. Not even the old family rules. "Does this mean you'll give up?"