Why has Florence always drawn so many
English and American visitors? (At the
turn of the century, the Anglo-American
population numbered more than thirty
thousand.) Why have men and women fleeing
sex scandals traditionally settled here?
What is it about Florence that has made
it so fascinating — and so repellent — to
artists and writers over the years?
Moving between present and past and
exploring characters both real and fictional,
Leavitt's narrative limns the history
of the foreign colony from its origins
in the middle of the nineteenth century
until its demise under Mussolini, and
considers the appeal of Florence to
figures as diverse as Tchaikovsky, E.M.
Forster, Ronald Firbank, and Mary McCarthy.
Lesser-known episodes in Florentine
history — the moving of Michelangelo's
David, and the construction of temporary
bridges by black American soldiers in
the wake of the Second World War — are
contrasted with images of Florence today
(its vast pizza parlors and tourist
culture). Leavitt also examines the
city's portrayal in such novels and
films as A Room with a View, The
Portrait of a Lady and Tea