Starting to work at I Tatti -1947 - bowties and Berenson



Liliana: In 1947 – I was born in 1929 – so I wasn’t really a young thing anymore, but you know, we were very behind the times… those were the times. I spent two months here because Augusta was receiving treatment for some stomach problems. The staff at the time was all very elderly. There was a chef, an assistant chef, a waiter, and another waiter. In addition, there was also Big Emma, Little Emma, Augusta and Lina. Anyway, if one of them wasn’t ill, then another one was. And when the waitress ‘Big Emma’ – that’s how we distinguished them, Big Emma and Little Emma, because they were both called Emma – when she wasn’t at work then Berenson had to be helped in some way. Anyway, Little Emma was very meticulous and he liked the way that she worked, she was very good. Augusta, on the other hand, he said she had no voice, that he couldn’t understand anything she said, Berenson didn’t like anything that she did . As so they asked me if I’d come once a week to do the things that had to be done for him: help him get up from the breakfast table, help put him to bed, wake him up from his nap, go downstairs to take tea, get him ready for supper and take him breakfast in the morning at 6.30.

I did have contact with him but, you know, he was a person – how can I put this –well, I was really insignificant compared to him. I did have the chance to see him, but only once per week. In fact, I have a signed photograph of him – it says ‘To Liliana Ciullini, con simpatia” and it’s dated 1954.

AB – and is this photograph precious to you?

Liliana: it’s precious for me, but who knows where it will end up. The villa… when I saw the people walking out of the Villa, they all seemed like princes to me, they were all so well turned out, I remember how handsome they were. When he (Berenson) went outside at 11.30 to take a walk, everyone would say “oh, there’s the signore! The signore’s coming! Make yourselves scarce everyone! Just as one would do with the Pope – at the Vatican one would say “The Pope’s coming! Clear the way everyone!” So, you understand, there was never any way to really see Berenson. At around 11.30 – 11.45 he’d go outside to take his walk, he went down, walked right around the gardens wearing his cencio (that’s what we called a raincoat) when the season called for it, and his scarf…and he took a walk.

Mr Berenson wasn’t a big figure…a big man. He was…he was elegant. With age he was beginning to get smaller. You know what they say -as we age we all become smaller. However, he was always a calm person, even in his…how can I say this…even though he was irritable. I remember one evening we were getting him ready and he had a bowtie. I didn’t know how to tie a bowtie, and at the time he still wore one. I couldn’t manage to tie it, and he grabbed it and –boom! - he tossed it aside. “Oh professore, wasn’t it tied well?” (No, actually I called him Signore, we all called him Signore) I said. “it’s dreadful” he said - “come on, do it again”. I always tried you know but…I don’t know...I never quite managed to do it. So anyway he had these little attacks of irritability. On the whole however he was…..very calm, I suppose.