“. . . in the springtime a beautiful white and pink rose blossoms randomly in the sunnier parts of the wood. The gardeners do not know its provenance and call it the Rosa moceniga; but it is probably a variety of the Rosa multiflora that Lucia brought from Paris, and now grows wild in the gardens of Alvisopoli.” So ends the biography, Lucia: a Venetian life in the age of Napoleon, by Andrea di Robilant about his great-great-great-great-grandparents, Lucia and Alvise Mocenigo. Part of the story revolved around Lucia's friendship with the Empress Josephine and the rosemania which consumed Europe and was as intense as that for tulips. Love, passion, obsession, intrigue, ruthless competition, and all of it surrounding a flower--the rose.
When di Robilant visits what remains of Alvise Mocenigo's estate at Alvisopoli, a self-appointed caretaker, Benito Dalla Via, insists on taking the author to the far reaches of the land, a scrub area, where there are many spreading rose bushes covered in silvery pink flowers with an exceptionally strong fragrance of peaches and raspberries. No one has been able to identify the flower, and di Robilant takes a cutting back to his small garden in Venice and thinks nothing of the plant until looking at an old family manuscript about Lucia and her roses. This might lead to the identity of that mysterious rose.
The quest, for a seemingly easy answer, takes the author into the world of avid, obsessive rose growers and collectors; a botanical expert; writers and artists from the past (Goethe, Darwin, Saint-Exupéry, Pasolini, Redouté), an architect and landscaper who secretly plants roses on land other than his own; a world authority on Gallica roses; the former president of the World Federation of Rose Societies, and an Avisopoli neighbor who takes di Robilant to the best private garden and love story of all--Eleonora and Valentino Garlant’s private rose garden. What began as an anniversary gift of thirty "old" rose varieties has grown into a monumental garden which attracts visitors from all over the world. Here are the two septuagenarians at home, and in love.
Sorry Miss Stein, but "A rose is a rose is a rose," just ain't so. After reading this compact, beautiful story, illustrated by the award-winning artist, Nina Fuga, it is highly unlikely that you will ever look at a rose in the same way, and definitely not assume there is only one scent which these gorgeous and varied flowers exude. Andrea di Robilant does solve the mystery of the rose without a name.