Posted by: morrowsl | July 29, 2015


In another life, I worked as the assistant for an interior design studio, mostly doing paperwork and floor plans for the dozen or so designers working there. Initially, I had been hired by and worked exclusively for a man who was extremely successful and incredibly talented. He hired me in spite of the fact that I knew absolutely zero about design and had, at best, a high-end trailer park taste in furnishings. To avoid having to pay my salary out of pocket, he had to have a minimum of one million dollars in sales. For him, it was a piece of cake. He worked solely via word-of-mouth and did zero outside advertising. He was the only designer in the studio capable of such an accomplishment.
And he intimidated the crap out of me!

Mark taught me everything. From how to draw a floorplan to how to hang art. He was an intense Type A who’d had a very disastrous experience with his former assistant. For the first six months I worked with him, I was afraid to even smile, much less laugh or make small talk with anyone. Then one day he and another of the designers were discussing lunch and the other guy said something off-color. Mark shot out of the office and was chasing Jon down the hall. I expected to hear a scuffle. They came back red faced from laughing so hard at each other and I realized that, finally, my boss was at ease with our arrangement. I began to enjoy working with him. It lasted eight years, ending only when my FIL died and I thought we were going to relocate and start managing our farm.

The year before I left him, Mark was hired to work on a villa in Tuscany. The house had been a tax collector’s home and was on what serves as Italy’s Historic Register. In order to do anything at all on the property, an inspector had to come out and approve any and all plans. He and the owners were instructed to only do whatever construction was necessary to avoid having the structure come down around the owner’s ears after they moved in. I don’t think the inspector got to the end of the lane before walls were being knocked down. Mark all but rebuilt several areas.
My job was to arrange for the ordering and later container shipping of all the furniture, lighting, art and rugs. It took us a year from start to finish. Mark made two trips to Tuscany – the initial trip to tour the villa and do his measurements for space planning and floor planning. And the second to meet the containers and fill the house prior to the owner’s arrival a week later.
I never got to go. And that’s fine. I’m not great in airplanes and the idea of hours-long flights gives me the willies.

Mark was notorious for being almost brain-dead when it came to gift giving. He was generous to a fault, but lazy in selection. He once bought a friend a jar of some sort of Gucci mushrooms from some elaborate shop he’d visited. She had a deadly allergy to mushrooms and had told him so on more than one occasion.
But with me, he was different. The first Christmas I worked for him, he gave me a hefty bonus and told me to blow it all on gifts for my family. Another year he gave me a lighthouse from a series I collect – choosing Gay Head Light because, as he said, “How could a gay man not?”, and two because it is the marker closest to the point where John Kennedy Jr.’s plane hit the water. He thought I would appreciate the memorial of sorts.

When he returned from Italy and we were in the last weeks of our work relationship, Mark gave me two “boxes” as he called them. One was a cheap metal oval with a hinged lid and the letter “M” in rhinestones on the top. The other was handmade in the town closest to the villa we’d worked on. It is blue and yellow, the colors reserved for royalty, about the size of a bagel, and has a phrase written in Italian around the lower cup. Neither of us had a clue what the phrase said.

Until today.

I’ve run translation after translation through the internet. I’ve asked everyone I know who might possibly read Italian. I’ve tried to decipher it using an English-Italian guide. And, in more recent years, I’ve forgotten all about it and left it sitting on the shelf.
But the internet is a much stronger tool than it once was and I finally know what is written on my box and where it originated. I have NO idea why this particular phrase was selected. Perhaps there were other boxes with other phrases and you were meant to collect them all. Who knows?

In Italian:
Però chi d’esso loco fa parole,
non dica Ascesi, ché direbbe corto,
ma Orïente, se proprio dir vuole.

Therefore let him who speaketh of that place,
Say not Ascesi, for he would say little,
But Orient, if he properly would speak.

Dante’s Paradiso: Canto XI
St Thomas recounts the life of St. Francis. Lament over the state of the Dominican Order.


My Italian “box”


With inscription


  1. Incredible memento; incredible piece of art!!

  2. I can’t get over the many layers of “Orient” that your story adds to this special artifact. What an iconic memorial for such a lovely friendship!!

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