Click the pictures to enlarge

ver the centuries, the historic Capponi family has contributed a great many palaces to the architectural heritage of Florence, and it so happened that when we put Palazzo Capponi (Hannibal's Florentine home) onto the web site, we used the wrong one.
A few weeks ago, we received a very polite e-mail informing us of our error. The message was from one of the descendants of this noble Florentine family, the respected historian Count Niccolò Capponi, whose book I legionari rossi. Le brigate internazionali nella guerra civile spagnola 1936-1939 was published this year by Città Nuova.
We immediately grasped this unexpected opportunity and via e-mail arranged the interview printed below, which took place in the library of the 15th century Palazzo Capponi (in the precise spot where Hannibal Lecter wrote his famous letter to Clarice). The appointment was set for 10 o'clock, and after we'd been announced, Count Niccolò Capponi came to meet us in the courtyard where we were waiting. After we'd introduced ourselves he invited us see the rooms where the filming had taken place. First of all he took us into the old library, the historical archives of the family.
The Count is very lively and animated, and he told us about how nice but also how professional Hopkins is: one day, at the end of filming, he found himself together with Hopkins surrounded by a crowd of fans (as the Count said, "It's like being a gladiator at the Colosseum, all that's missing is the lions!"). But Hopkins wasn't at all put off and very pleasantly managed to satisfy everyone with a handshake or an autograph. He also told us about Ridley Scott's passion for busts. He asked for all the busts of the Capponi ancestors, which were stored in the cantina, to be brought into the room where they were filming.
His meeting with Thomas Harris was almost casual. The Count, who had no idea who Harris was, was asked whether he would mind showing this distinguished American around Florence. And after lunch in a city-centre restaurant, he also showed Harris round his palace.
Unexpectedly, in February 1999 he received a phone call from America. It was Thomas Harris who, bowled over by the beauty of Palazzo Capponi, wanted permission to use it in his book as the house where Hannibal lived. After a brief family consultation, the Count sent back the following answer: "Yes, so long as the Capponi are not the special dish of the day!"
"Don't worry", answered Harris, "we won't mention you at all".
"I get it", replied the Count, "we've already been nicely digested!"

Q Thomas Harris spent some time in Florence while writing the book. Do you think he really understood us Tuscans?
A Who understands the Tuscans? That's the million-dollar question! I admire the Sienese but I don't understand them, and the same goes for the Pistoiese. Dante is the only one who understood the Florentines…!
Q Why do you think Harris chose Florence? Was it because he loved the city or did he just want to use it for promotional purposes?
A When I showed Harris round Florence - in any case he'd been here before - he asked me some very specific questions, and there's no doubt they were to satisfy his own curiosity and were not necessarily for his book. He was very interested in the processional routes of the Medici and other aspects of the city, and his interest certainly extended beyond purely economic concerns. It's true that Florence is good for sales, but I'm sure Harris chose Florence because he loved the city.
Q What effect does it have on you to know that a character like Doctor Lecter lived in your house?
A: If you're referring to Anthony Hopkins, it's a very positive impression because he's a very pleasant person and a real professional, and being a star hasn't gone to his head at all. Apart from anything else he's a virtuoso piano player and can do some great imitations. As for Dr Hannibal Lecter, I refuse to believe he's a multiple homicide. A person with so much culture, whom I had long discussions with about the archives and about historical matters can't be a killer.
Q What do you think about the end of the book?
A: I think it's a logical conclusion. It couldn't have finished in any other way. There had to be an end for the character, otherwise the series would have become too long.

We finished the interview at 12 o'clock, the moment in the day when the Count treats himself to the first of his two pipes of the day. By the way, he also told us that Ridley Scott, who's very short, smokes very long cigars… will we have to trouble Freud on that one?