After a fitful night’s sleep in another hotel bed, this time with a rather indifferent pillow, I hardly felt ready to do battle in the Biblioteca Estense. But fortified with a rather unusual croissant integrale con miele (integrale means wholewheat; the miele was an odd kind of jellied honey) and a cup of coffee, I wandered out into the Piazza Mazzini, and saw the beautiful old synagogue by the light of day. What the picture doesn’t show is the mounds of snow left over from the last few days – it’s still cold but very bright, and it feels like spring.
I started by checking some stuff from my last visit that I felt I hadn’t transcribed quite properly (and I hadn’t) then, wondering what to do next, started leafing through an older catalogue of the manuscripts. Well, not so much a catalogue as a hundred-year-old Roneographed list of all the manuscripts in a haphazard order. I came across what looked to be a copy of a play (veglia) presented at a sixteenth-century Florentine convent, noted it down, and then in a completely different place found another manuscript by the same author with the title “Recreazione di monache.” Intrigued now, I ordered both of them, and then checked back in the main catalogue to see how they had been indexed. Neither were there. Drat, I thought, they’ve probably been lost. But no, they just hadn’t been indexed.
So, I opened the one called “Recreazione,” and I’m very glad I was sitting down and that the book was flat on the desk, as I didn’t want everyone to see that my hands had started shaking. On the front page, in her own handwriting (I can recognize it now) was, “Questo libro si è a me Margherita Duchessa di Ferrara.” As I compared the two, it seems that Margherita had been lent a book of about ten little Carnevale plays written by a Florentine nun, and was in the process of having it copied, as her own book contains just over three of them. Whether the original owner then gave her the book, or died, or she just decided to keep it, we will never know. But they ended up in the Estense library, and they clearly haven’t been looked at for many, many years.
Some of the musical interludes are well documented, and the props and costumes are vividly described. My favourite is the costume for a nun representing the canonical hour of Terce: a not-quite-teenager (fanciulletta alquanto maggiore) dressed in red, with red wings, with a card in her hand that bears the number “III,” and a garland of red violets. The numbered card is somehow so poignant. But don’t get the impression that these are “let’s do it in the barn” type productions – there are carriages, suns, moons, kings, queens, processions and presentations. And the book looks like it was compiled so that another convent could use it. So perhaps one of these was used for the presentatione that Margherita and Leonora d’Este went to see at San Vito in 1594? Hmmm? But the weirdest thing is that I kind of feel like I’m watching fiction being written backwards – so much of what Sarah wrote into Sacred Hearts is creeping into my book, almost like she dreamed it up and so it came into being.
I’ll be able to finish examining the book and describing its contents (can’t transcribe it all – well over 300 pages!) over the next few evenings as the library is open a few more hours than the archive. But the high doesn’t make it very easy to eat. Or wouldn’t normally – luckily I’m in Modena, so gastro-exuberance is a given. Tonight it was a risotto al radicchio Trevisiano with verdure alla griglia. I took pictures but they didn’t come out well. Cooked radicchio actually doesn’t look that appetising, but it was delicious, both in the risotto and straight off the grill, drizzled with aceto (balsamic vinegar). Here, they have vinegar on everything – on pasta, on meat, even on ice cream. Yes, you heard. Well, maybe I’ll have the courage to try it by the end of the week. Right now, there are so many butterflies in my stomach I dare not challenge it with something quite so radical. Oh, and, of course – instead of Padre Pio, there was Luciano again, beaming down on my dinner wishing me buon appetito! Viva Modena!
Archive tomorrow, and we’ll see if the angel still has gifts to bestow.