Giovanni Gabbiano was a true Renaissance man. Not that he ever used that term to describe himself – he’d never heard of it. Orphaned at the age of two, Giovanni was brought up by his paternal grandparents, who ran an inn in a small town on the road between Siena and Florence.
Little Giovanni’s mind was like a sponge. When he was just three years old he taught himself to draw, and he began carrying a sketchbook around with him wherever he went, spending hours every day creating meticulous pencil sketches of anything that interested him. He was particularly fascinated by birds, bees and butterflies – anything that flew.
By the age of four he had taught himself to read. He started reading widely; whatever he could lay his hands on. By the time he was ten he had read all the classic works of philosophy in the original Greek and Latin. Giovanni’s Great Uncle Luigi was the village blacksmith, and as a teenager Giovanni spent countless hours tinkering in the forge, making contraptions out of metal. In his sketchbook he had begun drawing inventions; strange machines that sprung up from the fertile field of his imagination.
When Giovanni was nineteen Great Uncle Luigi died and left him his inheritance, and Giovanni at last had the opportunity to follow his dream, which was to move to a great city of culture and learning where he could pursue his studies in earnest.
Giovanni travelled to Florence and, by virtue of a quiet self-confidence combined with a dogged persistence, managed to get an interview at the university. Naturally, he took his sketchbook along to the interview.
The interviewer flipped through Giovanni’s sketchbook and stopped about three quarters of the way through.
‘This would appear to be a drawing of some sort of flying machine.’
‘That is correct.’
‘What do you think?’
‘I don’t know what to think.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m not entirely sure you’re living in the right century.’
‘I realise some of my ideas are a bit of ahead of their time, but if one takes an open-minded approach…’
‘Ahead of their time?’
‘I’m known back home as a savant.’
‘Are you sure it’s not idiot savant?’ asked the interviewer, putting particular emphasis on the word idiot.
‘Are you trying to tell me you’re not impressed by my work?’
‘Mr Gabbiano, if you had lived six hundred years ago your work may have been impressive, but this is the twenty-first century, not the fifteenth. Good day.’
(c) Helen Lewis 2014