In 1948, John graduated from RMA Sandhurst as Second Lieutenant and was assigned to the Service Corps. For John, the main highlight of this time was being able to sign his own drivers' licence and thus formed a particular relationship with cars!
Early vehicular forays include veering into pavements in his Citroën around Kew and around South West London. Luckily for Kew, he soon got the hang of it and the streets of South West London surely heaved a huge sigh of relief.
On November 4th 1966, Florence suffered its worst flood since 1557
(see more: Alluvione di Firenze del 4 novembre 1966). 101 people lost their lives and millions of rare books and masterpieces of art were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. The night before this devastation, John drove from Rome to Florence and parked his trusty car at the side of the Arno opposite the Ponte Santa Trinita (which incidentally was one of my favourite places to walk while I was living in Florence - all the while I had no idea of the family relevance). Through a weird sense of foreboding or premonition, my grandfather decided he didn't like his hotel and parked his car 1km away a mere three hours before the flood wrecked the city with no warning. I'm happy to read that this tragedy is still commemorated by the citizens of Florence with exhibitions and other events.
This same car (a white Citroën Ami6) had seen service in Rome whilst John was researching "Arena". John had taken a flat on the Piazza di Montevecchio, a stone's throw from the Piazza Navona. On New Year's Eve of 1966, he was back in Rome and discovered much to his alarm, that Romans had a habit of throwing their rubbish onto the street below. Worried about his car and paying absolutely no attention to safety (a family trait I was already aware of), he ventured out to move his car away from attack and safely parked it on the Piazza Navona.
A new confidence was emerging and over the ensuing years, John would regularly drive between England and Italy, preferring the vertiginous route across the Simplon and petrifying his children in the process as he hurtled towards massive lorries and somehow escaped without any accidents (I did check this with my father and he obviously has very vivid memories of this).
John has always loved Italy and spent a lot of time there. Very soon after this famous year in Tuscan history, he bought 'Il Rispetto', a beautiful villa outside Impruneta on the Via Quintole delle Rose. You may recognise the location 'Quintole' from 'Gianni Schicchi'.
Italy still remains a big part of Pearson family life to this day. I think everyone in my family has a very strong emotional connection with Italy. My father has very fond memories of his time in Italy as a boy. My brother told me he remembers being sent by our grandfather to find beetles whilst at Il Rispetto as they were destroying the roses in the garden. Aunt Julia was permanently in Rome as a child before being at school in England. She returned in the 70s, had a family and hasn't come back!
My grandfather's Florentine expertise was pretty valuable while I was there for 6 months and it was also special because it gave me an insight into 'his Florence' and how he would have enjoyed it back in the 60s. My parents visited one time and showed me the damage of the flood and that was when I first heard about my grandfather's escapades in his Citroën. All this really makes me want to go back to Tuscany...
Thanks for reading or maybe I should say grazie per aver letto!