Ferdinando Gamboni, my great-grandfather, was born in Naples, the eldest son in a family of ten children.
His father was a notorious figure: dressed in a wide-brimmed black hat and a long black cloak, he would appear without warning, laden with gifts, get his wife pregnant and then disappear again for months at a time.
Ferdinando took on the role of head of the household. Somehow he earned enough money to send all of his siblings over to America, to a better life. Then he moved to Capri to become a teacher.
His education, of course, was minimal, and he had no qualifications for the job other than his great intelligence and love of learning.
The King of Italy would spend his holidays on Capri, as so many Roman Emperors had done before him. The king loved to play chess – and so did Ferdinando. It was inevitable that the two should become great friends. The king always referred to Ferdinando as ‘il professore’ and that became his title, despite the lack of qualifications.
|Ferdinando Gamboni with Villa Mercedes in the background|
Ferdinando and Julia had a long, happy marriage – and three children: my grandmother, Mercedes, my great-aunt Marietta (who preferred to be called Maria) and my great-uncle Vladimir.
They also had a cat and a dog. Every day Ferdinando would arrive home with food for the two animals in his pockets. Both the cat and the dog would be waiting for him at the gate, but he would simply pretend to ignore them as they took their places on each side of him and escorted him into the house, waiting patiently to be noticed and fed.
(I am having difficulty typing this as I have a cat perched on my left arm, purring and dribbling away)
Ferdinando died first and Julia moved to Florence to continue her career as a painter.
Sometime in the early 1940s, Julia became very ill. Suddenly she sat up straight in bed, her arms outstretched as if towards someone invisible, and she cried, ‘Ferdinando, sono pronto!’ (I am ready!), fell back and died.