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Santi Auguri!
You'll want to read every word — but you'll have to know Italian, or have access to an Italian dictionary or Web translator. But you'll buy this book so just so you could enjoy looking at all those beautiful nativities…
Santi Auguri!
Vittorio Pranzini
The pages of Santi Auguri! spring to life at the country Ravenna home of Co-Author Vittorio Pranzini. This soft-spoken, religious man—who has just retired as the Superintendent of Ravenna’s schools—shares his love of presepi di carta, a love he developed as a child, helping his father install his family’s Christmas crib...
Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni
Co-Author of Santi Auguri! philosopher, teacher, collector
(42347 views)

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A cut-and-perforated-paper heart that frames the Christ Child (a lovely collage from Elisabetta Gulli grigioni's prodigious collection) and a magnificent crèche in Alpine style from the collection of Vittorio Pranzini (from the cover of Santi Auguri!,Edizioni Essegi, Ravenna)Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni and Vittorio Pranzini — a love of hearts, nativities, writing, and a great friendship.


In an elegant salon near the Ravenna train station, Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni and Vittorio Pranzini talk about their love of 'forma di cuore' and 'presepi di carta'—the heart-shaped objects that adorn her home, and and paper nativities that fill Vittorio's country villa…

Vittorio Pranzini with his friend, fellow collector, and co-author Elisabetta Gulli grigioni, and their collaboration, "Santi Auguri!." (Edizioni Essegi.)
It's a short walk from your hotel near Santa Maria Novella to the Florence train station. You arrive shortly after 7:00 a.m. to find the platforms already packed with travelers: tourists heading to Rome and Venice, and Italians just about everywhere else.

On your two-carriage train everyone seems to be heading to Rimini, one of Italy's sun and fun playgrounds. But you're getting off before then, at Ravenna. You find your seat, and just to make sure you're heading in the right direction ask, "Ravenna?" Upon hearing "Si, si," you relax, open your Santi Auguri! book, and settle in for a couple of hours' pleasant ride through the beautiful Italian countryside.

It's a journey punctuated with slender cypresses that cluster in thick groves or border a lane as far as the eyes can see; filled with vineyards and orchards that in a few months will fill the air with the sweet scent of their fruit; and dotted with tunnels that snake through the hills that punctuate the northeast route from Florence to the Adriatic.

Once, Ravenna was an important center of the Roman Empire, and seat of the Byzantine Governor of Italy. Today, Ravenna's fabled Byzantine Mosaics attract tourists from all over the world who visit San Vitale, Sant' Apollinare Nuovo, and the tiny tomb of Galla Placidia on the grounds of San Vitale.

But, today, you won't be seeing the Augusta Theodora and her Consort, the Emperor Justinian, resplendent in their imperial robes and surrounded by their numerous palace courtiers. You'll be visiting the authors of "Santi Auguri!," the book you're holding in your hands.

Vittorio Pranzini is waiting for you in Ravenna.
It took you over a year to locate them (see, Visiting Ravenna and seeing Theodora and Justinian—not Elisabetta and Vittorio? Unthinkable!, in these pages) but here's Vittorio now, waiting for you on the platform at the Ravenna train station.

A tall man, with white hair and a blue shirt, Vittorio extends his hands as he says, "Welcome to Ravenna!" And immediately starts starts looking around for his son Nicoló who will be acting as our interpreter. Nicoló, a handsome young man of 25, is a few minutes late and arrives running and out of breath. He has dark hair and an easy smile, and an extraordinary command of English—in a country where even policeman lack a rudimentary knowledge of the lingua franca of today's world. "I'm in a band," Nicoló explains when you point this out."I've learned English singing and writing song lyrics."

Balthassar, Melchior, Caspar, the Three Magi, San Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna.
It's a short walk to a corner apartment building. You take the elevator to the second floor, a door opens and you find yourself face-to-face with Elisabetta Gulli grigioni. She wears a black dress, her flaxen hair in a pony-tail, and a gold heart dangles from a gold chain around her neck. Everywhere you look, there are hearts—on the walls, on glass cases, on table tops.

After a warm welcome and a presentation of a box of chocolates to Elisabetta, a bottle of cognac to Vittorio, and a Crechemania creche sheet to each, Elisabetta leads you on a tour through her remarkable world. Nicoló—who has a future in the U.N. if he ever gives up music—proves a wonderful translator. "Mrs. Gulli," he says, "only collects things she absolutely loves." Now Elisabetta opens a glass wall cabinet filled with heart-shaped items and takes out a small, heart-shaped, object. Nicoló translates as she speaks: "This is a traveling inkwell from India—and a metaphor, as well: the pen is the arrow that pierces the heart; the ink, the blood…" Spoken like a true philosopher that she is, and a poet, too. "Yes," she replies, smiling, "I do write poetry…"

Hearts, hearts, everywhere—two bronze hearts; a carved-wood winged heart signifying the soul (top); and a Heart of Jesus (far left), pierced with rays.
She picks up another, larger, heart-shaped porcelain double-inkwell, is warming to her subject, and it's all Nicoló can do to keep up: "…Ink… words on a page… the mail that brings two hearts together… here are Valentine cards that date to the beginning of the 19th century…" You find yourself mesmerized by her words and the sight of all those lovely hearts—paper, cloth, bronze, enamel, wood—that hang on the walls, over the doors, fill the glass shelves of the cabinets that line her hallway, and can be found in every nook and cranny of her apartment. You have only walked a few steps into Elizabetta's apartment, and there's so much to see—not to mention to photograph!—you just don't know what to do.

There are hundreds of hearts, yet the effect is pleasing; not one of chaos, but order. Elisabetta explains that, "there's a scheme that governs the displays—they're divided into sacred and profane." Pointing to a heart-shaped, embroidered piece adorned with a bow and featuring a heart-shaped window through which a likeness of a saint is seen she says, "It's very rare, dates from the 17th century. It's a bottle of holy water with an icon of St. Nicholas of Bari. It's a traditional object, carried by sailors at sea. I've written about it, and will be giving you a copy of my article."

A cut-and-perforated-paper heart encloses the Christ Child. A fragile treasure from Elisabetta Gulli Grigioni's collection.
She walks into another room, towards a dark bureau that rests against a wall, picks up a set of keys and opens a drawer lined with gleaming hearts. "These are heart-shaped reliquaries," she says. "This one is made of perforated paper. This is imitation filigree, made of paper. I love all things made of paper." Then, seeing you gaze upwards at all the books that line the walls, from floor to ceiling, she says, "this are my jewelry book collection—paper jewelry is my favorite."

She shows you a heart-shaped glass bottle, its bottom half cased in silver, with a silver stopper. "This contained a love potion," she teases before explaining that it's a vintage Russian vodka bottle! She moves to another cabinet that, she says, holds her plastic and celluloid, very hard-to-find objects. She then points to a wall where all her heart-shaped lamps are displayed. One hangs from a chain; another is pierced with holes through which shines the light of an oil lamp. "Core de Maria," she says," Mary's Heart. High above another wall are winged hearts (a representation of the soul) and ray-pierced Hearts of Jesus.

You follow Elisabetta into a room that used to be her son's, but she has now appropriated, she says, since he no longer lives here. On the wall she points to a poster of an important exhibition of art, science, and technology that she took part in in conjunction with the University of Milan.

A lovely silver lamp hangs from the ceiling, and a stuffed black cat sits in a corner. "She was the padrona here," Elisabetta says, and laughs when she hears you say, "Oh, yes, padrona, the boss." "Si, si, boss, boss!" Her laughter now fills the room, but without missing a beat she picks up a white folk-art wood-carved dove holding a red heart in its beak. "Vittorio brought me this," she says looking at him, "when he returned from Chicago where he attended an education meeting."

A headboard, right—crowned by a cupid—and a footboard, left, given to a new use: Elisabetta's 18th century dark-wood bed whose trompe l'oeil makes it appear inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Then it's on to the bedroom and her bed's stunning, heart-shaped headboards. Where did Elisabetta find two matching ones? She picks up a framed picture of the bed and uses it as an visual aid: "It is a single bed," she explains, "but we use the footboard as another headboard." Very clever!

Elisabetta points out a cutout in the center of each headboard that contains a landscape. "It's almost like a hole-in-the-wall," she says, "that allows you to see beyond."

The two headboards are almost identical, with large hearts surrounding inlaid centers. But who gets the one on the right, the headboard topped by a silver roundel decorated with a bronze cupid? To everyone's delight, Elisabetta's husband, who's been standing nearby, says, "I would like to have that one." "But I'm sure you are her cupid," you say, and once Nicoló translates your remark the room again fills with laughter.

Elisabetta's bedroom is filled with hearts, including heart-shaped mirrors that reflect the bright sunlight coming in through the windows. But in the corner, on a table, there's a glass case that encloses a Bambino, the Christ Child. Does Elisabetta have any presepi? "My father collects creches," she says, paper and three-dimensional ones. But," and in the wink of an eye she has dashed out of the room to return momentarily, "my favorite presepe [creche] is the heart."

She has brought back a red plastic heart with a plastic see-through front through which a baby is seen resting on a blanket of white. It's framed by blue, yellow, and green curtains lined with gold cord. The familiar burning-heart flame motif is seen on the top.

"The best manger is the heart," says Elisabetta, alluding to a nurturing soul—a bright forma di cuore from her collection.
"This is my specialty," she says, "the heart, which is the true presepe. You will find many of my heart-shaped paper presepi in 'Santi Auguri!' She rests the plastic presepe on the bed, and picks up one of the Bambini that rest on the corner table. They're set in glass cases, and they feature die cut winged angels, IHS monograms, paper hearts, and a Bambino resting His gold-crowned head on white pillows.

But before you have a chance to aim your camera, Elisabetta picks up a black-and-white photo of a young girl's first communion dressed in a white, a white veil, and holding white flowers. She then begins to talk about that photograph in a very animated manner.

"Elisabetta says she does not like how she was dressed in that photograph," Nicoló explains. "She begged her mother not to wear that veil and to allow her to carry a heart-shaped bag, but she wouldn't hear of it." Elisabetta, is visibly still sad about that day, and as you take a picture of her communion photo, you say, "Elisabetta, perhaps I can get rid of that veil in Photoshop for you."

"That would be wonderful!" she responds. She ascribes an arc with her hands over her head and asks, "Can you really do it? Get rid of that veil?" Before you have a chance to respond, there's a knock on the door. It's your Edizioni Essegi phone pal, Brunella, a young woman in a red t-shirt with black hair and a black purse hanging from her shoulder. She has stopped by to say hello and to give you Edizioni Essegi's book catalog.

You thank Brunella for all her help in getting you together with Elisabetta and Vittorio, and ask, "Look at this collection! Have you thought about another book?" She replies, lightheartedly, that it would take a whole encyclopedia to document Elisabetta's prodigious collection! And when asked if Edizioni Essegi has considered issuing "Santi Auguri!" in English she says, "We'd love to do it, if there's interest." Hmmmmmmmmm…

Elisabetta is busy arraying on a table in her salon some of the books she's written. There's one on amulets; another on cut-paper cards; an album of memories from a Ravenna exhibition that featured over 400 objects from her collection (a small fraction of the total); a magazine article on Valentine cards; another article on toy theaters; an article on star-shaped objects; one on Ravenna santini mosaics; a catalog of over 600 objects of her objects from an exhibition held in a church in Ravenna; a paperback on jewelry and ornaments; and, of course, a book on hearts.

"This little book is titled 'School of the Heart,'" Nicoló translates, "because Jesus taught from the heart. It has a drawing in it of Jesus' heart from a 16th century book. It's out of print, but Mrs. Gulli wants to give it to you. Many of these books are also out-of-print—and everything here is for you— because, she says, you're going to remove that veil from that photo. If you prefer not to take them all with you, Mrs. Gulli will mail them."

Get rid of that veil? Consider it done! You're overwhelmed with Elisabetta's generosity, and all you manage to say is an inadequate, "grazie, grazie. Thank you very, very much."

Elisabetta has now brought out several boxes that contain more treasures: there's a vintage French game, "The Creation of the World,"; a rare puzzle from the 18th century; "The Big Shop of Toys," a cut-and-paste German game book; a decorated anniversary candy box; a vintage wedding album from the 18th century, complete with everything about the wedding—the invitations, the marriage licence, the cards…

Elisabetta's husband wheels in a tea table with nuts and sweets—in heart-shaped serving dishes, of course—and sparkling glasses of champagne. Toasts of Salute! are exchanged. There's a clinking of glasses, another sip of delicious champagne.



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