A Florence Diary by Diana Athill

Cover of A Florence Diary by Diana Athill

Cover of A Florence Diary by Diana Athill.

This delightful book is a diary that British novelist and literary editor Diana Athill kept during a two-week visit to Florence in August and early September 1947.  In the introduction, Athill, who is still alive at 99, writes about how she has always loved to travel, because she enjoys "the thrill of being elsewhere."  She had never kept a diary before, and never did so again, but she promised her mother she would keep a diary of this trip, and it is published for the first time here.

Athill and her cousin Pen traveled to Florence on the Golden Arrow train.  They were among the first British travelers to visit Florence after World War II, and one thing I noticed immediately while reading this book was how much more leisurely the pace of travel was in those days, compared to the way it is now.  There was no hassle with airports, and Athill and Pen had comfortable seats on the train--and they weren't even traveling first class.  On the journey, Athill met an Italian nobleman, Alfonso, who paid for her dinners and sent her flowers as soon as she arrived at her hotel in Florence.  He invited her to visit him in Rome, but she declined the offer.

Athill's descriptions of the sights of Florence are exquisite, and I appreciated them all the more, having recently been there myself and visited some of the same places, including the Duomo and the Church of Santa Croce.  She visited many of Florence's art museums, which, unfortunately, I did not have a chance to do, because I only had a very brief time there, and they were not part of my tour.  Athill mentions the works of art being restored after World War II, and I had to wonder how many of them were damaged or destroyed in the flood of 1966.  She writes about the Pitti Palace, the Boboli Gardens, and the view of Florence from Fiesole, where Pen went to paint, and Athill to explore the Roman ruins.  And her descriptions of the food, especially the pastries, are mouth-watering.  Some of her experiences are very funny.  I loved her description of watching an American film dubbed into Italian, with the actors moving their mouths in English, while voices speaking Italian come out of them.  She also writes delightfully of the people she met, including a British man obsessed with taking photographs.  This is a short book (64 pages) and can be read in one sitting, but it will make you want to go to Florence if you've never been, or go back there if you have.

A Florence Diary is available from the Hatcher Graduate Library.

The church of Santa Croce in Florence

This is a picture I took, during my recent visit to Florence, of the church of Santa Croce, which Athill also visited.