In Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside, Andrea di Robilant, an Italian journalist and the author of three books centered on Venice, is determined to pursue the mystery of a rose grown by his great-great-great-great grandmother (a contemporary of Josephine Bonaparte) that he discovered growing wild on the family estate. He researches it on a fascinating journey through the Venetian countryside, and he becomes equally determined to have the rose recognized and registered by the American Rose Society. Here, he answers our questions about the journey.
Did you have much experience with gardens/gardening before you started this quest?
No, not much experience at all. My mother has a nice garden by the sea side in Tuscany and the little I knew I had learned from her. But I was very ignorant about roses. I still am! I have accumulated about a year’s worth of knowledge. Not enough to erase the impression of being an impostor when I am talking about roses.
What do you think it is about roses, in particular, that appeal to the soul?
Modern roses don’t appeal to the soul at all. Not my soul, in any case. Old roses, on the other hand, have a way of pulling at all the right strings. As the poets have said: they are beautiful and fragrant, and they will be dead in the morning. Yet old roses also have a long history, they connect us with the past. And with the future, for they will bloom again. So it’s a mix of emotions: extreme poignancy but also a feeling of quiet serenity.
How did this journey change the way you understood your lineage?
The rose at the center of this book had been entirely forgotten. But so had my great-great-great-great grandmother, Lucia, who brought the rose back from Paris in Napoleon’s time. In tracking down the story of her rose, I have also uncovered Lucia’s life. And a fascinating life it was!
Do you look at anything (roses or beyond) differently since your adventures in this book?
The one thing in this journey that affected me the most was the natural proliferation of roses in the garden of Eleonora Garlant, in Friuli. In a world of rapidly diminishing biodiversity, stumbling upon a perpetual source of new breeds—a fountainhead of roses as it were—can fill one with hope.