Google Maps said San Lorenzo was five minutes away, which seemed easy enough, though I walked the wrong way before realizing I was reading the map upside down. I backtracked, rounded the domed chapel in Piazza di Madonna one more time, and followed the route, which led me alongside a series of stacked, ochre structures, then past a long expanse of ragged stone wall with stairs leading to blind arches, which ended at the corner.
Piazza San Lorenzo was open and mostly empty, except for a few tourists and a couple of monks in long, brown smocks. I tried to take it in, realizing what I had passed and where I stood were all part of one vast complex.
Directly ahead, the sand-colored basilica was rough and unfinished-looking, its three arched entrances with heavy wooden doors, all of them shut. To the left of the church was a smaller arch and a dark alleyway, which led me into the famous cloister of San Lorenzo, a place I had only seen in pictures.
A few steps in and it was as if I were entering a dream, the square garden with its hexagonal-shaped hedges and two-story loggia, classic and harmonious, all of it designed by my favorite Renaissance architect, Brunelleschi. For a moment, I tried to imagine I was an artist of the High Renaissance and not some struggling New York painter who taught art history to pay the bills.
I sighed, my breath a fog in the late-morning chill, everything in the courtyard covered in a silvery frost. Three monks in long, woolen smocks were wrapping plants with burlap while I shivered in my thin leather jacket. I hadn't thought it would be so cold in Florence. To be honest, I hadn't thought about much after receiving the email.
Dear Mr. Perrone,
One of Professor Antonio Guggliermo's last requests was
that I get in touch with you regarding what may have been
your great-grandfather's journal. The professor had planned
some sort of publication about the journal, which he claimed
would be a "revelation." Sadly, his sudden death prevented
him from ever writing it.
The journal, along with the professor's books and papers,
has been donated to the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy.
I was the one to catalog his works and placed the journal in
a box labeled "High Renaissance Masters."
To see Professor Guggliermo's documents, you will need
to obtain a cultural permesso, which should not be difficult.
If you request the papers, I suggest you do not mention
anything about the journal and would prefer that you kept
my name out of the request.
I had contacted Quattrocchi right away, and he'd emailed back sounding serious and sane, assuring me of the journal's existence though he couldn't guarantee its authenticity.
For years, I'd been writing letters and emails for any information regarding my great-grandfather. Most went unanswered. The ones who did answer invariably demanded money, but none had ever panned out. This time, the information had come free of charge and with no ulterior motive—at least none I could see.
"Scusi, signore," said one of the monks, young, with a russet-colored beard and startling blue eyes. "You wait for library to open?"
"Yes!" I practically bit his head off, then apologized. "You speak English."
"A little," the monk said.
I told him I spoke Italian.
"Il bibliotecario e' spesso in ritardo," he said. The librarian is often late.
I checked my watch. It was exactly ten; the library was supposed to be open.
The monk asked where I was from and I said, "New York, but my people are from Ragusa," though I had never been to the Sicilian town and hadn't meant to say where my family had been from; I hadn't meant to say anything.
The monk extended his hand. "Brother Francesco."
"Luke Perrone," I said and glanced back at the door that led up to the library.
"It will open soon," he said. "Pazienza."
Patience, right. Never my strong suit, and clearly not now, when I'd bolted from my life on nothing more than a hunch.