Probably the monastery was just what it was, a place where a young man could get a sound education. The concentrated Greek and Latin studies created a base that served him well. Latin was especially helpful in learning the romance languages, (Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian). The first practical use of his language ability was in selling French steamship passages to southern Italian emigrants headed to the Americas. He made and lost a small fortune before he turned 25. Later, after he had circumvented the standard Ellis Island entry to America, he made extra money translating documents and finally ensconced in his main career with Metropolitan Life, his language ability helped him sell insurance policies to immigrants who may not have fully conquered the English language.
We know he was very fluent in Italian, English, and French. He was almost certainly fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. He traveled to Venezuela and Brazil multiple times in his early twenties. Somewhere in the box there is a suggestion that Albert studied Hebrew. I can’t imagine it being in the curriculum of any Italian monastery. If true, I doubt it was much use to him. It may have impressed his future Rabbi father-in-law in Saint Louis, Missouri, who owned a jewelry store.
I first thought Albert was born in Pienza, Italy since he listed it as his birthplace on his naturalization papers in1900. I would like to think it true and not just picaresque fiction, another bit of disinformation by a roguish Albert. It is one of the most picturesque towns in all Italy. Today it is a World Heritage UNESCO site. Pope Pius II planned to use it as his summer court. He constructed or re-constructed about 40 buildings transforming it from a medieval town into a creation of the Italian Renaissance. He consecrated the Duomo in 1459, but died soon after. It is interesting that the rebuilding was done by the Florentine architect Bernardo Gambarelli, and it is reported he may have worked with Leon Battista Alberti, a humanist and renowned architect in his own right. For you sleuths and historians in the family this Alberti connection should be examined. As a bonus, if you plan a trip there, there is an awesome annual cheese festival and many of the streets have names like Via dell’Amora, and Via del Bacio. Translated to English they are Love Street and Kiss Street. Renaissance Romance, with wine and cheese, how can you resist?
Located just a few kilometers north of Pienza is the Monastery of Sant’Anna in Camprena. When perusing and parsing all the misinformation that Albert was prone to disseminate I like to imagine Albert being placed in this monastery. Adrift with no diary or personal accounts of those dozen or so years sequestered in some Italian monastery, I penned a short story of his imagined wayward ways among the monks at Sant’ Anna Camprena.. Now that I’ve excavated the depths of the box and discovered a bit more of Albert’s character, I might re-write it in the future. The next time I might address why the monks damned him to hell. Was it fore taking liberties with the girl or desecrating the confessional box? The story I spun out of what I imagined life for Albert might be like in a monastery is probably not even close. I know now that I also had the wrong monastery and the wrong monastic order. The story I wrote with a pot load of wrong information- is named “The Gold Watch.” I will post it for those that might have nothing better to read.
The monastery in Camprena was chosen for the most famous scenes of “The English Patient.” The bedridden badly burned Ralph Fiennes has flashbacks to the desert air crash and Juliette Binoche studies the frescoes in the 13th Century Bacci Chapel. No, you can’t dangle from the ceiling and light flares to see the paintings as she did in the movie. A long avenue of cypress trees leads to the, monastery, standing amidst green fields, and featuring beautiful gardens.
The problem with Sant’Anna in Camprena is that it wasn’t operating as a working monastery in 1855. How disappointing!!
Today, even if Albert was not born in Pienza, you can spend the night in one of the ancient cells of the monks at Camprena, and then dine on tasty traditional Tuscan meals at the farmhouse. In the evening, you could sit outside on the terrace and view the sheep grazing in the beautiful Val d”Orcia valley below. The aromatic famous pecorino cheese comes from their milk. This would be high on my bucket list if it weren’t for the inconvenience of age and a dozen other little obstacles.
I then speculated on the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a Benedictine monastery in Montalcino, almost in walking distance from Pienza, if you’re a really good walker. In 1855, a good sturdy horse could have pulled a cart or surrey there in a half an hour. More problems arise with the choice of this monastery. In 1866, when Albert would have been eleven years old, the Italian government decreed a general suppression of the religious order, and the monastic community here was transferred to Pescia, closer to Florence.
Someone, you know who you are, armed with a good passport and plenty of Euros, could go over and find the actual monastery Albert was placed in. I’m only a shallow digger with little patience. It’s not the sun bleached pyramids of Egypt with limited cuisine you’d be digging around in, or the mud packed Olduavi Gorge sleeping under a mosquito net. This is Tuscany with wine and pasta. Go!
Further evidence in the box points toward Galuzzo as Albert’s birthplace. I wouldn’t bet Albert’s hypothetical Italian Estate on it, but if I were to place a bet this would be it. Just before Albert’s retirement, when giving biographical information to a reporter for a newspaper article, he tells him he was born in Florence.
On the year Albert was born in 1855, Galuzzo was a little village or suburb in the southern quadrant of Florence. Albert took a job in the mayor’s office there, after either escaping or being forcibly evicted from the monastery, (take your pick) at the age of fourteen or seventeen, (take your pick). Both accounts and conflicting dates are in the box of memorabilia. Why Albert would list Pienza on his naturalization papers and then tell a reporter he was born in Florence may never be known. That’s not usually something you would vacillate on unless you had something to hide, didn’t actually know, or just enjoyed leaving a trail of false leads out of contrariness.
There are two monasteries in Galuzzo, San Francesco, a fourteenth century Franciscan monastery and Certosa del Galuzzo, a Carthusian monastery. Certosa del Galuzzo is the larger one. It was one of the most powerful monasteries in Europe. It was erected in 1341 with the aim of creating both a religious centre and a structure to educate the young. The monastery faces Palazzo Acciaioli, a building with battlements where the youth of Florence were instructed in language and in the human sciences. There are 28 monasteries in Tuscany, but for several reasons this one seems the likely place that Joseph and Siena may have placed Albert. It was famous for its ample library. I don’t know how the young male students were housed, but each Certosan monk had a private bedroom and a small separate room for praying. It was furnished with bare essentials and each cell had a small secluded garden. The monks led a life of quiet contemplation and solitary prayer. Speech was forbidden, except once a week. I find it hard to get any information on how functional this monastery was in 1855. Many orders of monks were changing locations and being suppressed by Napoleonic orders. Certosa del Galuzzo was no exception. I have no hard proof that this is where Albert spent much of his youth. Somewhere in Tuscany, in some monastic ledger; there is proof of his presence.
Whichever monastery Albert was in we have no indication of what went on in his daily life during his educational years. There are some titillating tales! He tells my mother he was caught Flagrante delicto in a confessional booth with a girl from town. I think the Latin translates to “flaming offense.” Use your imagination, but he was caught red handed in the midst of sexual misconduct. In a confessional booth, no less! He tells my mother that the monks damned him to hell and forced him to do the dirty difficult tasks around the monastery. Next, he tells my mother that a cousin, who was also being schooled there, gave him his gold watch. With this as his only coin of exchange he scaled the wall and stowed away to America. Evidence in the box proves this was false so why Albert would lead my mother up the garden path with only half truths only he can answer.