Marble (Notes from an Italian Garden, 2001) casts a sophisticated eye over episodes of her 40-year residence in the heart of old Rome.
Experienced from both street level and the terrace of her 16th-century apartment on the Piazza Borghese, her impressions possess a pleasing durability, evidence that ancient Roman social, political, and family arrangements—bureaucratic patronage, a tradition of gregariousness, and a penchant for the sensual—still pertain. You can practically hear the silk rustle in Marble’s charming, elegant prose, even when her stories are weightless and fail to stick in any memorable fashion. Little unites these observations other than their author, who goes on about the idiosyncrasies of her maid, her husband’s bad luck when it comes to bicycles (they’re always being stolen), the seagulls that trouble her equanimity, the spats with neighbors and doormen, the click of a mason's hammer, the return of the swifts. Marble takes umbrage at the tawdriness and ubiquity of Italian television and despairs over the traffic. “The street of Rome, built for walking and small chariots, have been taken over by an army of vehicles,” she writes. Perhaps understandably, she often sounds distracted, as if she would rather be thinking about something else. Gardening, for instance: when Marble turns to that topic, though it too tends to be seen in soft focus, she finally displays some passion and a few firm opinions. She appreciates “the trend towards a more personal, less constrained garden style,” she gives sharp reports of gardens in Palmero and the Lepanti Mountains, and she has valuable advice when it comes to the art of the terrace garden.
Though the author at times gives the impression that she’s talking to herself, overall this reads like a series of postcard invocations to Rome: beautiful, intimate, friendly, and welcoming to the gardener.