It had been a long day in Siena. My family and I were walking along the Via Terme back to the Blue SITA buses when I saw him in the store window: a griffin clutching a ball. I stopped and stared. A larger version of this creature could have sat on the roof of Siena’s cathedral and not looked out of place. My family came back to see what had caught my attention. I murmured that it must be too expensive to even consider buying.
My husband, who always ridiculed “dustcatchers” of any sort, said six words that will live in my memory forever: “You never know until you ask.” He and I went inside. The griffin was expensive, but not horribly so. The owner of the shop explained how her husband had carved the piece for his own amusement out of a small, spare block of travertine marble. I now wanted the griffin more than ever. Travertine stone decorates the top of the Torre del Mangia, Rome’s Colosseum and dozens of other monuments around Italy. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of an original work of art by Ruffini Dario. Or is it Dario Ruffini? I’m not entirely sure. If anyone goes to Siena and wanders into his shop, let me know. Okay?
My carefully swaddled griffin rode on my lap all the way home to Merano. We gave him a home in our study, right by my desk. He provided a wonderful remembrance of our trip to Tuscany, but he also tickled my imagination. He was thinner than any young griffin ought to be, and he had such worried eyes. I wondered how I’d feel coming nose to beak with him under a laurel hedge like the one in our garden.
From there, I moved on to what might happen if a young, hungry griffin interrupted the batting practice of two young Americans. And it was only natural that Blue SITA buses, the Torre del Mangia, and Siena’s Gothic cathedral should appear at some point in the story.
I like writing first drafts by hand. For some reason, I was paging through one of my old notebooks and found the first draft of SAVING THE GRIFFIN. I skimmed through three pages of my atrocious handwriting. (My poor students at the Institute of Children’s Literature know what I mean.) On the fourth page, I found the opening scene of my novel. Hardly any of the dialogue had changed!
4 thoughts on “My Griffin”
I, too, am looking for this Ruffino Dario or Dario Ruffini person. I, too, bought one of his sculptures at that little shop in Siena last month and would like to see more. I, too, neglected to get sufficient information about him, although I did pick up his business card on which was printed his e-mail address, email@example.com . However, this address is apparently no good. I would appreciate your letting me know if you are successful in contacting him.
New Orleans, LA
Your note assured me that the ornatista was still at work in Siena, so I tried to do a bit more digging. I’m really guessing that his name is Dario Ruffini even though the card that’s sitting in front of my computer as I type says Ruffini Dario. I found a website in Italian that mentions how a road will take the traveler past the studio of the bravo ornatisa Dario Ruffini.
Just for fun, I sent an email to the address you sent me in Italian. I’ve been wanting to thank him for years for providing the inspiration for my novel. The email hasn’t bounced back yet! I’ll let you know if I hear anything back. Or if you’d like me to give your email an Italian subject line, that might help you get past an Italian spam filter. For example:
Mi piace tanto la piccola statua….
The little statue pleases me very much.
The email address that you posted worked for me. I sent a short note thanking Dario Ruffini for the inspiration that his statue provided. I just received a reply from him. He said it was the first time that his work had ever inspired a book.
Is his shop address still Via delle Terme, 44? My husband suggested that I send him a copy. After all, this is what’s written on the back flap copy:
Kristin Wolden Nitz first spotted a griffin while visiting a stonemason’s shop in Siena, Italy. How much for that griffin in the window? she wondered. Too much, she feared. But her husband, who usually specializes in rude remarks about “dust catchers,” said, “You’ll never know until you ask” So she did.
Ms. Nitz, who is also the author of DEFENDING IRENE, currently lives with her husband, three children and one stone griffin in southwest Michigan.