Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Secret Garden, Sicilian Style

The Leopard, written by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (and published posthumously), is set in 1860's Italy. The novel is about the last gasp of the corrupt Sicilian aristocracy in the face of revolution.

I stumbled--no wandered--into this gorgeous description of the palace garden page 9 ff]--a metaphor for the rotting state and ruined finery of the aristocracy [in bold: the super-gorgeous]:

...its seclusion gave it the air of a cemetery...plants were growing in thick disorder on the reddish clay; flowers sprouted in all directions, and the myrtle hedges seemed put there to prevent movement rather than guide it....every sod seemed to exude a yearning for beauty soon muted by languor. But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungency on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom. It was a garden for the blind: a constant offense to the eyes, a pleasure strong if somewhat crude to the nose. The Paul Neyn roses, whose cutting he had himself bought in Paris, had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julys, they had changed into things like flesh-colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense, almost indecent, scent which no French horticulturist would have dared hope for. The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera.
Hot in here, or is just me?

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