farther around the city, we found that most of the famed
buildings and the churches had been shut for the period
of the emergency. The Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore,
was open and we went in. But that was all. Most of the
beautiful shops for which the city. had been famous
had been plundered and the steel shutters blown. There
was broken glass everywhere. Either the Fascists or
the retreating Germans had done this.
through the streets and seeing the crowds, I still found
it difficult to reconstruct the past, the afternoons
five years gone. I was impressed at last that it would
never be possible, that there was no use trying to go
back. Perhaps later, but not now.
route by which I had returned to Florence in the hot
month of August, 1944, with Britain's Eighth Army sweating
and toiling in the streets and up the highway, had been
long and devious. I had lived in Grenoble in southeastern
France for the year after Munich and had come down to
Florence at Easter in 1939, and then again in August
just before the war broke out.
had left Florence and gone up through Austria and Germany
to England and had been in London when the Germans went
into Poland. A month later I had gone back to France
to study at the Sorbonne and had spent the strange winter
of the waiting war in France.
had been in Oslo when the Germans invaded Norway and
had stayed under the occupation for five months before
being able to return on a refugee ship which left Petsamo,
Finland, for New York.
August, 1942, I had been in flying school in the West
and in October, 1943, had come overseas with a medium-bombardment
squadron. In the pause between the fall of France and
Pearl Harbor, I had put in a year at Harvard working
for my M. A. in literature and another year teaching
English at the University of Wisconsin.
seemed no connection among any of the things I had done
or the places I had been in the five years-no connection,
but a certain inevitability.
of all the cities of Europe, Florence had seemed somehow
always separate and distinct in my memory, not only
the most beautiful, but the most aloof and inviolate.
I had been impressed by this sense of timeless chastity
in the spring of 1939, when I went down to Florence
with several other students from Grenoble.
other students, from all over Europe, had brought to
Florence varying attitudes and backgrounds. They had
tried to compare it with Paris, or San Francisco, or
Oslo, or Edinburgh. Yet Florence had affected them much
as it did me. The beautiful city, intricate and lovely
and richer than almost any other in the world in art,
somehow had avoided our grasp, seeming to belong to
time, not to us.
it had eluded me when I came back again that August
with my family. During the months of war while I was
still in Europe, and later back in America, I had wondered
about Florence. Surely there, I had thought, as to the
Vatican City, the tides of war would never mount. I
had gone on about the business of learning to bomb over
the hot lands of New Mexico.
morning in March, 1944, I went into the bombardiers'
briefing room and looked immediately to see the blue
course line drawn on the big wall map of Italy and southeastern
France for the day's mission. We had been flying
some rough missions over the beachhead at Anzio, and
I wondered whether we would go back again that morning.