The shop is more than a hospital, and contains some real treasures, old masks and cresh figures, some of which Luigi would sell, but many of which were just there. There's one angel, I believe from the eighteenth century, which I coveted and from time to time I would ask him how much it cost. "No," he said, "how could I get through the day without her?" He was right, and I stopped asking. She's very high up, spreading her blue and white wings and inspiring everyone with a beatific smile.
And then there were his own creations, his and Tiziana's, little figures of Pulcinella, the black-masked symbol of the city, along with some larger ones that were totally unique: Pulcinella as the King of Hearts, Pulcinella as a street vendor, selling little Pulcinella figurines, Pulcinella making pizza...
While writing Virgil's Golden Egg I asked him for some help. The problems I was trying to unravel were very complicated, and I asked him if he could make a Virgil for me. I told him what I had in mind, and after several sketches and three differently-clothed models, he and Tiziana produced a true wonder: about 8 inches tall, Virgil the Sorcerer with a magic staff in one hand and a golden egg in the other, hair blowing in the wind, wild eyes seeking the secrets of the city, long robe wrapped around him. And then an unexpected touch: Pulcinella sitting on his shoulders, obviously yelling to everyone in range "hey! look who's here!!!"
Virgil stood on my desk until the book was complete, and now he's on the mantel in the living room. We're not going to forget Luigi Grassi, nor is his magic going to leave Naples. Tiziana, the fourth generation, will carry on, and she's got some very bright children who, I hope and believe, will some day become the fifth generation of artists and magicians to provide the world with the wonders of the Ospedale delle Bambole.
God knows we need it.
(Thumbnail on PJM homepage based on a modified Shutterstock.com image.)