A historian’s account of how he uncovered the identity of a mysterious wild rose growing on the old farming estate of an illustrious Venetian ancestor.
When di Robilant (Irresistible North: From Venice to Greenland on the Trail of the Zen Brothers, 2011, etc.) visited the former home of his great-great-great-great-grandmother Lucia Mocenigo, it was solely to make connection with a part of his past. But then the caretaker showed him a magnificent silvery-pink rose. Its delicately fruity fragrance and noble carriage told the author that “this was an old rose of some importance”; yet no one knew where it had come from. Captivated by the mystery surrounding this flower, di Robilant began an investigation into its possible origins. Another chance encounter—this time with a diary Lucia kept during her stay at the court of Emperor Napoleon—suggested that the rose had come to Venice via his ancestor. At the time she lived in France, Paris was “in the throes of a mad love affair with roses.” Lucia did not become a collector like her friend the former Empress Josephine, but she did develop an interest in botany and brought home a variety of different roses. Di Robilant was fairly certain that the “rosa moceniga” was among them; however, he had no conclusive proof. His journey took him to historical archives in Paris and brought him into contact with rose collectors and specialists, from whom the author learned about individual rose species and the often colorful histories behind them. Yet it would be happy accident—this time in an Umbrian garden full of old Chinese roses—that would lead him to the answers he sought about the “rosa moceniga.” Illustrated throughout with charming watercolors, Di Robilant’s is a unique exploration of how human history often leaves its imprint in the most unexpected of places.
A quiet country pleasure.