Penelope's Postscripts by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Penelope in Venice
This noble citie doth in a manner chalenge this at my hands, that I should describe her also as well as the other cities I saw in my journey, partly because she gave me most louing and kinde entertainment for the sweetest time (I must needes confesse) that euer I spent in my life; and partly for that she ministered vnto me more variety of remarkable and delicious objects than mine eyes euer suruayed in any citie before, or euer shall . . . the fairest Lady, yet the richest Paragon and Queene of Christendome.
Coryat's Crudities: 1611
VENICE, May 12--HOTEL PAOLO ANAFESTO
I have always wished that I might have discovered Venice for myself. In the midst of our mad acquisition and frenzied dissemination of knowledge, these latter days, we miss how many fresh and exquisite sensations! Had I a daughter, I should like to inform her mind on every other possible point and keep her in absolute ignorance of Venice. Well do I realize that it would be impracticable, although no more so, after all, than Rousseau's plan of educating Emile, which certainly obtained a wide hearing and considerable support in its time. No, tempting as it would be, it would be difficult to carry out such a theory in these days of logic and common sense, and in some moment of weakness I might possibly succumb and tell her all about it, for fear that some stranger, whom she might meet at a ball, would have the pleasure of doing it first.
The next best woman-person in the world with whom to see Venice, barring the lovely non-existent daughter, is Salemina.
It is our first visit, but, alas! we are, nevertheless, much better informed than I could wish. Salemina's mind is particularly well furnished, but, luckily she cannot always remember the point wished for at the precise moment of need; so that, taking her all in all, she is nearly as agreeable as if she were ignorant. Her knowledge never bulks heavily and insistently in the foreground or middle- distance, like that of Miss Celia Van Tyck, but remains as it should, in the haze of a melting and delicious perspective. She has plenty of enthusiasms, too, and Miss Van Tyck has none. Imagine our plight at being accidentally linked to that encyclopaedic lady in Italy! She is an old acquaintance of Salemina's and joined us in Florence, where she had been staying for a month, waiting for her niece Kitty Schuyler,--Kitty Copley now,--who is in Spain with her husband.
Miss Van Tyck would be endurable in Sheffield, Glasgow, Lyons, Genoa, Kansas City, Pompeii, or Pittsburg, but she should never have blighted Venice with her presence. She insisted, however, on accompanying us, and I can only hope that the climate and associations will have a relaxing effect on her habits of thought and speech. When she was in Florence, she was so busy in "reading up" Verona and Padua that she had no time for the Uffizi Gallery. In Verona and Padua she was absorbed in Hare's "Venice," vaccinating herself, so to speak, with information, that it might not steal upon, and infect her, unawares. If there is anything that Miss Van abhors, it is knowing a thing without knowing that she knows it; while for me, the most charming knowledge is the sort that comes by unconscious absorption, like the free grace of God.
We intended to enter Venice in orthodox fashion, by moonlight, and began to consult about trains when we were in Milan. The porter said that there was only one train between the eight and the twelve, and gave me a pamphlet on the subject, but Salemina objects to an early start, and Miss Van refuses to arrive anywhere after dusk, so it is fortunate that the distances are not great.
They have a curious way of reckoning time in Italy, for I found that the train leaving Milan at eight-thirty was scheduled to arrive at ten minutes past eighteen.
"You could never sit up until then, Miss Van," I said; "but, on the other hand, if we leave later, to please Salemina, say at ten in the morning, we do not arrive until eight minutes before twenty- one! I haven't the faintest idea what time that will really be, but it sounds too late for three defenceless women--all of them unmarried--to be prowling about in a strange city."
It proved on investigation, however, that twenty-one o'clock is only nine in Christian language (that is, one's mother tongue), so we united in choosing that hour as being the most romantic possible, and there was a full yellow moon as we arrived in the railway station. My heart beat high with joy and excitement, for I succeeded in establishing Miss Van with Salemina in one gondola, while I took all the luggage in another, ridding myself thus cleverly of the disenchanting influence of Miss Van's company.
"Do come with us, Penelope," she said, as we issued from the portico of the station and heard, instead of the usual cab-drivers' pandemonium, only the soft lapping of waves against the marble steps--"Do come with us, Penelope, and let us enter 'dangerous and sweet-charmed Venice' together. It does, indeed, look a 'veritable sea-bird's nest.'"
She had informed me before, in Milan, that Cassiodorus, Theodoric's secretary, had thus styled Venice, but somehow her slightest remark is out of key. I can always see it printed in small type in a footnote at the bottom of the page, and I always wish to skip it, as I do other footnotes, and annotations, and marginal notes and addenda. If Miss Van's mother had only thought of it, Addenda would have been a delightful Christian name for her, and much more appropriate than Celia.
If I should be asked on bended knees, if I should be reminded that every intelligent and sympathetic creature brings a pair of fresh eyes to the study of the beautiful, if it should be affirmed that the new note is as likely to be struck by the 'prentice as by the master hand, if I should be assured that my diary would never be read, I should still refuse to write my first impressions of Venice. My best successes in life have been achieved by knowing what not to do, and I consider it the finest common sense to step modestly along in beaten paths, not stirring up, even there, any more dust than is necessary. If my friends and acquaintances ever go to Venice, let them read their Ruskin, their Goethe, their Byron, Shelley, and Wordsworth, their Rogers, Gautier, Michelet, their Symonds and Howells, not forgetting old "Coryat's Crudities," and be thankful I spared them mine.
It was the eve of Ascension Day, and a yellow May moon was hanging in the blue. I wished with all my heart that it were a little matter of seven or eight hundred years earlier in the world's history, for then the people would have been keeping vigil and making ready for that nuptial ceremony of Ascension-tide when the Doge married Venice to the sea. Why can we not make pictures nowadays, as well as paint them? We are banishing colour as fast as we can, clothing our buildings, our ships, ourselves, in black and white and sober hues, and if it were not for dear, gaudy Mother Nature, who never puts her palette away, but goes on painting her reds and greens and blues and yellows with the same lavish hand, we should have a sad and discreet universe indeed.
But so long as we have more or less stopped making pictures, is it not fortunate that the great ones of the olden time have been eternally fixed on the pages of the world's history, there to glow and charm and burn for ever and a day? To be able to recall those scenes of marvellous beauty so vividly that one lives through them again in fancy, and reflect, that since we have stopped being picturesque and fascinating, we have learned, on the whole, to behave much better, is as delightful a trend of thought as I can imagine, and it was mine as I floated toward the Piazza of San Marco in my gondola.
I could see the Doge descend the Giant's Stairs, and issue from the gate of the Ducal Palace. I could picture the great Bucentaur as it reached the open beyond the line of the tide. I could see the white-mitred Patriarch walking from his convent on the now deserted isle of Sant' Elena to the shore where his barge lay waiting to join the glittering procession.
And then there floated before my entranced vision the princely figure of the Doge taking the Pope-blessed ring, and, advancing to the little gallery behind his throne on the Bucentaur, raising it high, and dropping it into the sea. I could almost hear the faint splash as it sank in the golden waves, and hear, too, the sonorous words of the old wedding ceremony: "Desponsamus te, Mare, in signum veri perpetuique dominii!"
Then when the shouts of mirth and music had died away and the Bucentaur and its train had drifted back into the lagoon, the blue sea, new-wedded, slept through the night with the May moon on her breast and the silent stars for sentinels.
LA GIUDECCA, May 15,
Not for a moment have we regretted leaving our crowded, conventional hotel in Venice proper, for these rooms in a house on the Giudecca. The very vision of Miss Celia Van Tyck sitting on a balcony surrounded by a group of friends from the various Boston suburbs, the vision of Miss Celia Van Tyck melting into delicious distance with every movement of our gondola, even this was sufficient for Salemina's happiness and mine, had it been accompanied by no more tangible joys.
This island, hardly ten minutes by gondola from the Piazza of San Marco, was the summer resort of the Doges, you will remember, and there they built their pleasure-houses, with charming gardens at the back--gardens the confines of which stretched to the Laguna Viva. Our Casa Rosa is one of the few old palazzi left, for many of them have been turned into granaries.
We should never have found this romantic dwelling by ourselves; the Little Genius brought us here. The Little Genius is Miss Ecks, who draws, and paints, and carves, and models in clay, preaching and practising the brotherhood of man and the sisterhood of woman in the intervals; Miss Ecks, who is the custodian of all the talents and most of the virtues, and the invincible foe of sordid common sense and financial prosperity. Miss Ecks met us by chance in the Piazza and breathlessly explained that she was searching for paying guests to be domiciled under the roof of Numero Sessanta, Giudecca. She thought we should enjoy living there, or at least she did very much, and she had tried it for two years; but our enjoyment was not the special point in question. The real reason and desire for our immediate removal was that the padrona might pay off a vexatious and encumbering mortgage which gave great anxiety to everybody concerned, besides interfering seriously with her own creative work.
"You must come this very day," exclaimed Miss Ecks. "The Madonna knows that we do not desire boarders, but you are amiable and considerate, as well as financially sound and kind, and will do admirably. Padrona Angela is very unhappy, and I cannot model satisfactorily until the house is on a good paying basis and she is putting money in the bank toward the payment of the mortgage. You can order your own meals, entertain as you like, and live precisely as if you were in your own home."
The Little Genius is small, but powerful, with a style of oratory somewhat illogical, but always convincing at the moment. There were a good many trifling objections to our leaving Miss Van Tyck and the hotel, but we scarcely remembered them until we and our luggage were skimming across the space of water that divides Venice from our own island.
We explored the cool, wide, fragrant spaces of the old casa, with its outer walls of faded, broken stucco, all harmonized to a pinkish yellow by the suns and winds of the bygone centuries. We admired its lofty ceilings, its lovely carvings and frescoes, its decrepit but beautiful furniture, and then we mounted to the top, where the Little Genius has a sort of eagle's eyrie, a floor to herself under the eaves, from the windows of which she sees the sunlight glimmering on the blue water by day, and the lights of her adored Venice glittering by night. The walls are hung with fragments of marble and wax and stucco and clay; here a beautiful foot, or hand, or dimple-cleft chin; there an exquisitely ornate facade, a miniature campanile, or a model of some ancient palazzo or chiesa.
The little bedroom off at one side is draped in coarse white cotton, and is simple enough for a nun. Not a suggestion there of the fripperies of a fine lady's toilet, but, in their stead, heads of cherubs, wings of angels, slender bell-towers, friezes of acanthus leaves,--beauty of line and form everywhere, and not a hint of colour save in the riotous bunches of poppies and oleanders that lie on the broad window-seats or stand upright in great blue jars.
Here the Little Genius lives, like the hermit crab that she calls herself; here she dwells apart from kith and kin, her mind and heart and miracle-working hands taken captive by the charms of the siren city of the world.
When we had explored Casa Rosa from turret to foundation stone we went into the garden at the rear of the house--a garden of flowers and grape-vines, of vegetables and fruit-trees, of birds and bee- hives, a full acre of sweet summer sounds and odours, stretching to the lagoon, which sparkled and shimmered under the blue Italian skies. The garden completed our subjugation, and here we stay until we are removed by force, or until the padrona's mortgage is paid unto the last penny, when I feel that the Little Genius will hang a banner on the outer ramparts, a banner bearing the relentless inscription: "No paying guests allowed on these premises until further notice."
Our domestics are unique and interesting. Rosalia, the cook, is a graceful person with brown eyes, wavy hair, and long lashes, and when she is coaxing her charcoal fire with a primitive fan of cock's feathers, her cheeks as pink as oleanders, the Little Genius leads us to the kitchen door and bids us gaze at her beauty. We are suitably enthralled at the moment, but we suffer an inevitable reaction when the meal is served, and sometimes long for a plain cook.
Peppina is the second maid, and as arrant a coquette as lives in all Italy. Her picture has been painted on more than one fisherman's sail, for it is rumoured that she has been six times betrothed and she is still under twenty. The unscrupulous little flirt rids herself of her suitors, after they become a weariness to her, by any means, fair or foul, and her capricious affections are seldom good for more than three months. Her own loves have no deep roots, but she seems to have the power of arousing in others furious jealousy and rage and a very delirium of pleasure. She remains light, gay, joyous, unconcerned, but she shakes her lovers as the Venetian thunderstorms shake the lagoons. Not long ago she tired of her chosen swain, Beppo the gardener, and one morning the padrona's ducks were found dead. Peppina, her eyes dewy with crocodile tears, told the padrona that although the suspicion almost rent her faithful heart in twain, she must needs think Beppo the culprit. The local detective, or police officer, came and searched the unfortunate Beppo's humble room, and found no incriminating poison, but did discover a pound or two of contraband tobacco, whereupon he was marched off to court, fined eighty francs, and jilted by his perfidious lady-love, who speedily transferred her affections. If she had been born in the right class and the right century, Peppina would have made an admirable and brilliant Borgia.
Beppo sent a stinging reproof in verse to Peppina by the new gardener, and the Little Genius read it to us, to show the poetic instinct of the discarded lover, and how well he had selected his rebuke from the store of popular verses known to gondoliers and fishermen of Venice:-
"No te fidar de l' albaro che piega,
("Trust not the mast that bends.
Beppo, Salemina, and I were talking together one morning,--just a casual meeting in the street,--when Peppina passed us. She had a market-basket in each hand, and was in her gayest attire, a fresh crimson rose between her teeth being the last and most fetching touch to her toilet. She gave a dainty shrug of her shoulders as she glanced at Beppo's hanging head and hungry eye, and then with a light laugh hummed, "Trust not the mast that bends," the first line of the poem that Beppo had sent her.
"It is better to let her go," I said to him consolingly.
"Si, madama; but"--with a profound sigh--"she is very pretty."
So she is, and although my idea of the fitness of things is somewhat unsettled when Peppina serves our dinner wearing a yoke and sleeves of coarse lace with her blue cotton gown, and a bunch of scarlet poppies in her hair, I can do nothing in the way of discipline because Salemina approves of her as part of the picture. Instead of trying to develop some moral sense in the little creature, Salemina asked her to alternate roses and oleanders with poppies in her hair, and gave her a coral comb and ear-rings on her birthday. Thus does a warm climate undermine the strict virtue engendered by Boston east winds.
Francesco--Cecco for short--is general assistant in the kitchen, and a good gondolier to boot. When our little family is increased by more than three guests at dinner, Cecco is pressed into dining- room service, and becomes under-butler to Peppina. Here he is not at ease. He scrubs his tanned face until it shines like San Domingo mahogany, brushes his black hair until the gloss resembles a varnish, and dons coarse white cotton gloves to conceal his work- stained hands and give an air of fashion and elegance to the banquet. His embarrassment is equalled only by his earnestness and devotion to the dreaded task. Our American guests do not care what we have upon our bill of fare when they can steal a glance at the intensely dramatic and impassioned Cecco taking Pina into a corner of the dining-room and, seizing her hand, despairingly endeavour to find out his next duty. Then, with incredibly stiff back, he extends his right hand to the guest, as if the proffered plate held a scorpion instead of a tidbit. There is an extra butler to be obtained when the function is a sufficiently grand one to warrant the expense, but as he wears carpet slippers and Pina flirts with him from soup to fruit, we find ourselves no better served on the whole, and prefer Cecco, since he transforms an ordinary meal into a beguiling comedy.
"What does it matter, after all?" asks Salemina. "It is not life we are living, for the moment, but an act of light opera, with the scenes all beautifully painted, the music charming and melodious, the costumes gay and picturesque. We are occupying exceptionally good seats, and we have no responsibility whatever: we left it in Boston, where it is probably rolling itself larger and larger, like a snowball; but who cares?"
"Who cares, indeed?" I echo. We are here not to form our characters or to improve our minds, but to let them relax; and when we see anything which opposses the Byronic ideal of Venice (the use of the concertina as the national instrument having this tendency), we deliberately close our eyes to it. I have a proper regard for truth in matters of fact like statistics. I want to know the exact population of a town, the precise total of children of school age, the number of acres in the Yellowstone Park, and the amount of wheat exported in 1862; but when it comes to things touching my imagination I resent the intrusion of some laboriously excavated truth, after my point of view is all nicely settled, and my saints, heroes, and martyrs are all comfortably and picturesquely arranged in their respective niches or on their proper pedestals.
When the Man of Fact demolishes some pretty fallacy like William Tell and the apple, he should be required to substitute something equally delightful and more authentic. But he never does. He is a useful but uninteresting creature, the Man of Fact, and for a travelling companion or a neighbour at dinner give me the Man of Fancy, even if he has not a grain of exact knowledge concealed about his person. It seems to me highly important that the foundations of Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, or Spokane Falls should be rooted in certainty; but Verona, Padua, and Venice--well, in my opinion, they should be rooted in Byron and Ruskin and Shakespeare.
CASA ROSA, May 18.
Such a fanfare of bells as greeted our ears on the morning of our first awakening in Casa Rosa!
"Rise at once and dress quickly, Salemina!" I said. "Either an heir has been born to the throne, or a foreign Crown Prince has come to visit Venice, or perhaps a Papal Bull is loose in the Piazza San Marco. Whatever it is, we must not miss it, as I am keeping a diary."
But Peppina entered with a jug of hot water, and assured us that there were no more bells than usual; so we lay drowsily in our comfortable little beds, gazing at the frescoes on the ceiling.
One difficulty about the faithful study of Italian frescoes is that they can never be properly viewed unless one is extended at full- length on the flat of one's honourable back (as they might say in Japan), a position not suitable in a public building.
The fresco on my bedroom ceiling is made mysteriously attractive by a wilderness of mythologic animals and a crowd of cherubic heads, wings and legs, on a background of clouds; the mystery being that the number of cherubic heads does not correspond with the number of extremities, one or two cherubs being a wing or a leg short. Whatever may be their limitations in this respect, the old painters never denied their cherubs cheek, the amount of adipose tissue uniformly provided in that quarter being calculated to awake envy and jealousy on the part of the predigested-food-babies pictured in the American magazine advertisements.
Padrona Angela furnishes no official key to the ceiling-paintings of Casa Rosa; and yesterday, during the afternoon call of four pretty American girls, they asked and obtained our permission to lie upon the marble floor and compete for a prize to be given to the person who should offer the cleverest interpretation of the symbolisms in the frescoes. It may be stated that the entire difference of opinion proved that mythologic art is apt to be misunderstood. After deciding in the early morning what our bedroom ceiling is intended to represent (a decision made and unmade every day since our arrival), Salemina and I make a leisurely toilet and then seat ourselves at one of the open windows for breakfast.
The window itself looks on the Doge's Palace and the Campanile, St. Theodore and the Lion of St. Mark's being visible through a maze of fishing-boats and sails, some of these artistically patched in white and yellow blocks, or orange and white stripes, while others of grey have smoke-coloured figures in the tops and corners.
Sometimes the broad stone-flagging pavement bordering the canal is busy with people: gondoliers, boys with nets for crab-catching, 'longshoremen, and facchini. This is when ships are loading or unloading, but at other times we look upon a tranquil scene.
Peppina brings in dell' acqua bollente, and I make the coffee in the little copper coffee-pot we bought in Paris, while Salemina heats the milk over the alcohol-lamp, which is the most precious treasure in her possession.
The butter and eggs are brought every morning before breakfast, and nothing is more delicious than our freshly churned pat of solidified cream, without salt, which is sweeter than honey in the comb. The cows are milked at dawn on the campagna, and the milk is brought into Venice in large cans. In the early morning, when the light is beginning to steal through the shutters, one hears the tinkling of a mule's bell and the rattling of the milk-cans, and, if one runs to the window, may see the contadini, looking, in their sheepskin trousers, like brethren of John the Baptist, driving through the streets and delivering the milk at the vaccari. It is then heated, the cream raised and churned, and the pats of butter, daintily set on green leaves, delivered for a seven-o'clock breakfast.
Finally la colazione is spread on our table by the window. A neat white cloth covers it, and we have gold-rimmed plates and cups of delicate china. There is a pot of honey, an egg a la coque for each, a plate of brown and white bread, on some days a dish of scarlet cherries on a bed of green, on others a mound of luscious berries in their frills; sometimes, too, we have a bowl of tiny wild strawberries that seem to have grown with their faces close pressed to the flowers, so sweet and fragrant are they.
This al fresco morning meal makes a delicious prelude to our comfortable dejeuner a la fourchette at one o'clock, when the Little Genius, if not absorbed in some unusually exacting piece of work, joins us and gives zest to the repast. Her own breakfast, she explains, is a dejeuner a la thumb, the sort enjoyed by the peasant who carves a bit of bread and cheese in his hand, and she promises us a sight, some leisure day, of a certain dejeuner a la toothpick celebrated for the moment among the artists. A mysterious painter, shabby, but of a certain elegance and distinction even in his poverty, comes daily at noon into a well- known restaurant. He buys for five sous a glass of chianti, a roll for one sou, and with stately grace bestows another sou upon the waiter who serves him. These preparations made, he breaks the roll in small bits, and poising them delicately on the point of a wooden toothpick, he dips them in wine before eating them.
"This may be a frugal repast," he has an air of saying, "but it is at least refined, and no man would dare insult me by asking me whether or not I leave the table satisfied."
CASA ROSA, May 20.
One of the pleasantest sights to be noted from our windows at breakfast time is Angelo making ready our private gondola for the day. Angelo himself is not attractive to the eye by reason of the silliest possible hat for a man of forty-five whose hair is slightly grey. It is a white straw sailor, with a turned-up brim, a blue ribbon encircling the crown, and a white elastic under the chin; such a hat as you would expect to see crowning the flaxen curls of mother's darling boy of four.
I love to look at the gondola, with its solemn caracoling like that of a possible water-horse, of which the arched neck is the graceful ferro. This is a strange, weird, beautiful thing when the black gondola sways a little from side to side in the moonlight. Angelo keeps ours polished so that it shines like silver in the morning sun, and he has an exquisite conscientiousness in rubbing every trace of brass about his precious craft. He has a little box under the prow full of bottles and brushes and rags. The cushions are laid on the bank of the canal; the pieces of carpet are taken out, shaken, and brushed, and the narrow strips are laid over the curved wood ends of the gondola to keep the sun from cracking them. The felze, or cabin, is freed of all dust, the tiny four-legged stools and the carved chair are wiped off, and occasionally a thin coat of black paint is needed here and there, and a touching-up of the gold lines which relieve the sombreness. The last thing to be done is to polish the vases and run back into the garden for nosegays, and when these are disposed in their niches on each side of the felze, Angelo waves his infantile hat gaily to us at the window, and smiles his readiness to be off.
On other mornings we watch the loading and unloading of grain. There are many small boats always in view, their orange sails patched with all sorts of emblems and designs in a still deeper colour, and day before yesterday a large ship appeared at our windows and attached itself to our very doorsteps, much to the wrath of Salemina, who finds the poetry of existence much disturbed under the new conditions. All is life and motion now. The men are stripped naked to the waist, with bright handkerchiefs on their heads, and, in many cases, others tied over their mouths. Each has a thick wisp of short twine strings tucked into his waistband. The bags are weighed by one, who takes out or puts in a shovelful of grain, as the case may be. Then the carrier ties up his bag with one of the twine strings, two other men lift it to his shoulder, while a boy removes a pierced piece of copper from a long wire and gives it to him, this copper being handed in turn to still another man, who apparently keeps the account. This not uninteresting, indeed, but sordid and monotonous operation began before eight yesterday morning and even earlier to-day, obliging Salemina to decline strawberries and eat her breakfast with her back to the window.
This afternoon at four the injured lady departed on a tour in Miss Palett's gondola. Miss Palett is a water-colourist who has lived in Venice for five years and speaks the language "like a native." (You are familiar with the phrase, and perhaps familiar, too, with the native like whom they speak.)
Returning after tea, Salemina was observed to radiate a kind of subdued triumph, which proved on investigation to be due to the fact that she had met the comandante of the offending ship and that he had gallantly promised to remove it without delay. I cannot help feeling that the proper time for departure had come; but this destroys the story and robs the comandante of his reputation for chivalry.
As Miss Palett's gondola neared the grain-ship, Salemina, it seems, spied the commanding officer pacing the deck.
"See," she said to her companion, "there is a gang-plank from the side of the ship to that small flat-boat. We could perfectly well step from our gondola to the flat-boat and then go up and ask politely if we may be allowed to examine the interesting grain- ship. While you are interviewing the first officer about the foreign countries he has seen, I will ask the comandante if he will kindly tie his boat a little farther down on the island. No, that won't do, for he may not speak English; we should have an awkward scene, and I should defeat my own purposes. You are so fluent in Italian, suppose you call upon him with my card and let me stay in the gondola."
"What shall I say to the man?" objected Miss Palett.
"Oh, there's plenty to say," returned Salemina. "Tell him that Penelope and I came over from the hotel on the Grand Canal only that we might have perfect quiet. Tell him that if I had not unpacked my largest trunk, I should not stay an instant longer. Tell him that his great, bulky ship ruins the view; that it hides the most beautiful church and part of the Doge's Palace. Tell him that I might as well have stayed at home and built a cottage on the dock in Boston Harbour. Tell him that his steam-whistles, his anchor-droppings, and his constant loadings or unloadings give us headache. Tell him that seven or eight of his sailormen brought clean garments and scrubbing brushes and took their bath at our front entrance. Tell him that one of them, almost absolutely nude, instead of running away to put on more clothing, offered me his arm to assist me into the gondola."
Miss Palett demurred at the subject-matter of some of these remarks, and affirmed that she could not translate others into proper Italian. She therefore proposed that Salemina should write a few dignified protests on her visiting-card, and her own part would be to instruct the man in the flat-boat to deliver it at once to his superior officer. The comandante spoke no English,--of that fact the sailorman in the flat-boat was certain,--but as the gondola moved away, the ladies could see the great man pondering over the little piece of pasteboard, and it was plain that he was impressed. Herein lies perhaps a seed of truth. The really great thing triumphs over all obstacles, and reaches the common mind and heart in some way, delivering its message we know not how.
Salemina's card teemed with interesting information, at least to the initiated. Her surname was in itself a passport into the best society. To be an X- was enough of itself, but her Christian name was one peculiar to the most aristocratic and influential branch of the X-s. Her mother's maiden name, engraved at full length in the middle, established the fact that Mr. X- had not married beneath him, but that she was the child of unblemished lineage on both sides. Her place of residence was the only one possible to the possessor of three such names, and as if these advantages were not enough, the street and number proved that Salemina's family undoubtedly possessed wealth; for the small numbers, and especially the odd numbers, on that particular street, could be flaunted only by people of fortune.
You have now all the facts in your possession, and I can only add that the ship weighed anchor at twilight, so Salemina again gazed upon the Doge's Palace and slept tranquilly.
CASA ROSA, May 22
I am like the schoolgirl who wrote home from Venice: "I am sitting on the edge of the Grand Canal drinking it all in, and life never seemed half so full before." Was ever the city so beautiful as last night on the arrival of foreign royalty? It was a memorable display and unique in its peculiar beauty. The palaces that line the canal were bright with flags; windows and water-steps were thronged, the broad centre of the stream was left empty. Presently, round the bend below the Rialto, swept into view a double line of gondolas--long, low, gleaming with every hue of brilliant colour, most of them with ten, some with twelve, gondoliers in resplendent liveries, red, blue, green, white, orange, all bending over their oars with the precision of machinery and the grace of absolute mastery of their craft. In the middle, between two lines, came one small and beautifully modelled gondola, rowed by four men in red and black, while on the white silk cushions in the stern sat the Prince and Princess. There was no splash of oar or rattle of rowlock; swiftly, silently, with an air of stately power and pride, the lovely pageant came, passed, and disappeared under the shining evening sky and the gathering shadows of "the dim, rich city." I never saw, or expect to see, anything of its kind so beautiful.
I stay for hours in the gondola, writing my letters or watching the thousand and one sights of the streets, for I often allow Salemina and the Little Genius to tread their way through the highways and byways of Venice while I stay behind and observe life from beneath the grateful shade of the black felze.
The women crossing the many little bridges look like the characters in light opera; the young girls, with their hair bobbed in a round coil, are sometimes bareheaded and sometimes have a lace scarf over their dark, curly locks. A little fan is often in their hands, and one remarks the graceful way in which the crepe shawl rests upon the women's shoulders, remembering that it is supposed to take generations to learn to wear a shawl or wield a fan.
My favourite waiting-place is near the Via del Paradiso, just where some scarlet pomegranate blossoms hang out over the old brick walls by the canal-side, and where one splendid acanthus reminds me that its leaves inspired some of the most beautiful architecture in the world; where, too, the ceaseless chatter of the small boys cleaning crabs with scrubbing-brushes gives my ear a much-needed familiarity with the language.
Now a girl with a red parasol crosses the Ponte del Paradiso, making a brilliant silhouette against the blue sky. She stops to prattle with the man at the bell-shop just at the corner of the little calle. There are beautiful bells standing in rows in the window, one having a border of finely traced crabs and sea-horses at the base; another has a top like a Doge's cap, while the body of another has a delicately wrought tracery, as if a fish-net had been thrown over it.
Sometimes the children crowd about me as the pigeons in the Piazza San Marco struggle for the corn flung to them by the tourists. If there are only three or four, I sometimes compromise with my conscience and give them something. If one gets a lira put into small coppers, one can give them a couple of centesimi apiece without feeling that one is pauperizing them, but that one is fostering the begging habit in young Italy is a more difficult sin to face.
To-day when the boys took off the tattered hats from their bonny little heads, all black waves and riotous curls, and with disarming dimples and sparkling eyes presented them to me for alms, I looked at them with smiling admiration, thinking how like Raphael's cherubs they were, and then said in my best Italian: "Oh, yes, I see them; they are indeed most beautiful hats. I thank you for showing them to me, and I am pleased to see you courteously take them off to a lady."
This American pleasantry was passed from mouth to mouth gleefully, and so truly enjoyed that they seemed to forget they had been denied. They ran, still laughing and chattering, to the wood- carver's shop near-by and told him the story, or so I judged, for he came to his window and smiled benignly upon me as I sat in the gondola with my writing-pad on my knees. I was pleased at the friendly glance, for he is the hero of a pretty little romance, and I long to make his acquaintance.
It seems that, some years ago, the Queen, with one lady-in-waiting in attendance, came to his shop quite early in the morning. Both were plainly dressed in cotton gowns, and neither made any pretensions. He was carving something that could not be dropped, a cherub's face that had to be finished while his thought of it was fresh. Hurriedly asking pardon, he continued his work, and at end of an hour raised his eyes, breathless and apologetic, to look at his visitors. The taller lady had a familiar appearance. He gazed steadily, and then, to his surprise and embarrassment, recognized the Queen. Far from being offended, she respected his devotion to his art, and before she left the shop she gave him a commission for a royal staircase. I am going to ask the Little Genius to take me to see his work, but, alas! there will be an unsurmountable barrier between us, for I cannot utter in my new Italian anything but the most commonplace and conventional statements.
CASA ROSA, May 28.
Oh, this misery of being dumb, incoherent, unintelligible, foolish, inarticulate in a foreign land, for lack of words! It is unwise, I fear, to have at the outset too high an ideal either in grammar or accent. As our gondola passed one of the hotels this afternoon, we paused long enough to hear an intrepid lady converse with an Italian who carried a mandolin and had apparently come to give a music lesson to her husband. She seemed to be from the Middle West of America, but I am not disposed to insist upon this point, nor to make any particular State in the Union blush for her crudities of speech. She translated immediately everything that she said into her own tongue, as if the hearer might, between French and English, possibly understand something.
"Elle nay pars easy--he ain't here," she remarked, oblivious of gender. "Elle retoorneray ah seas oors et dammi--he'll be back sure by half-past six. Bone swar, I should say Bony naughty--Good- night to you, and I won't let him forget to show up to-morrer."
This was neither so ingenious nor so felicitous as the language- expedient of the man who wished to leave some luggage at a railway station in Rome, and knowing nothing of any foreign tongue but a few Latin phrases, mostly of an obituary character, pointed several times to his effects, saying, "Requiescat in pace," and then, pointing again to himself, uttered the one pregnant word "Resurgam." This at any rate had the merit of tickling his own sense of humour, if it availed nothing with the railway porters, and if any one remarks that he has read the tale in some ancient "Farmers' Almanack," I shall only retort that it is still worth repeating.
My little red book on the "Study of Italian Made Easy for the Traveller" is always in my pocket, but it is extraordinary how little use it is to me. The critics need not assert that individuality is dying out in the human race and that we are all more or less alike. If we were, we should find our daily practical wants met by such little books. Mine gives me a sentence requesting the laundress to return the clothes three days hence, at midnight, at cock-crow, or at the full of the moon, but nowhere can the new arrival find the phrase for the next night or the day after to-morrow. The book implores the washerwoman to use plenty of starch, but the new arrival wishes scarcely any, or only the frills dipped.
Before going to the dressmaker's yesterday, I spent five minutes learning the Italian for the expression "This blouse bags; it sits in wrinkles between the shoulders." As this was the only criticism given in the little book, I imagined that Italian dressmakers erred in this special direction. What was my discomfiture to find that my blouse was much too small and refused to meet. I could only use gestures for the dressmaker's enlightenment, but in order not to waste my recently gained knowledge, I tried to tell a melodramatic tale of a friend of mine whose blouse bagged and sat in wrinkles between the shoulders. It was not successful, because I was obliged to substitute the past for the present tense of the verb.
Somebody says that if we learn the irregular verbs of a language first, all will be well. I think by the use of considerable mental agility one can generally avoid them altogether, although it materially reduces one's vocabulary; but at all events there is no way of learning them thoroughly save by marrying a native. A native, particularly after marriage, uses the irregular verbs with great freedom, and one acquires a familiarity with them never gained in the formal instruction of a teacher. This method of education may be considered radical, and in cases where one is already married, illegal and bigamous, but on the whole it is not attended with any more difficulty than the immersing of one's self in a study day after day and month after month learning the irregular verbs from a grammar.
My rule in studying a language is to seize upon some salient point, or one generally overlooked by foreigners, or some very subtle one known only to the scholar, and devote myself to its mastery. A little knowledge here blinds the hearer to much ignorance elsewhere. In Italian, for example, the polite way of addressing one's equal is to speak in the third person singular, using Ella (she) as the pronoun. "Come sta Ella?" (How are you? but literally "How is she?")
I pay great attention to this detail, and make opportunities to meet our padrona on the staircase and say "How is she?" to her. I can never escape the feeling that I am inquiring for the health of an absent person; moreover, I could not understand her symptoms if she should recount them, and I have no language in which to describe my own symptoms, which, so far as I have observed, is the only reason we ever ask anybody else how he feels.
To remember on the instant whether one is addressing equals, superiors, or inferiors, and to marshal hastily the proper pronoun, adds a new terror to conversation, so that I find myself constantly searching my memory to decide whether it shall be:
Scusate or Scusi, Avanti or Passi, A rivederci or Addio, Che cosa dite? or Che coma dice? Quanto domandate? or Quanto domanda? Dove andate? or Dove va? Come vi chiamate? or Come si chiama? and so forth and so forth until one's mind seems to be arranged in tabulated columns, with special N.B.'s to use the infinitive in talking to the gondolier.
Finding the hours of time rather puzzling as recorded in the "Study of Italian Made Easy," I devoted twenty-four hours to learning how to say the time from one o'clock at noon to midnight, or thirteen to twenty-three o'clock. My soul revolted at the task, for a foreign tongue abounds in these malicious little refinements of speech, invented, I suppose, to prevent strangers from making too free with it on short acquaintance. I found later on that my labour had been useless, and that evidently the Italians themselves have no longer the leisure for these little eccentricities of language and suffer them to pass from common use. If the Latin races would only meet in convention and agree to bestow the comfortable neuter gender on inanimate objects and commodities, how popular they might make themselves with the English-speaking nations; but having begun to "enrich" their language, and make it more "subtle" by these perplexities, centuries ago, they will no doubt continue them until the end of time.
If one has been a devoted patron of the opera or student of music, one has an Italian vocabulary to begin with. This, if accompanied by the proper gestures (for it is vain to speak without liberal movements, of the hands, shoulders, and eyebrows), this, I maintain, will deceive all the English-speaking persons who may be seated near your table in a foreign cafe.
The very first evening after our arrival, Jack Copley asked Salemina and me to dine with him at the best restaurant in Venice. Jack Copley is a well of nonsense undefiled, and he, like ourselves, had been in Italy only a few hours. He called for us in his gondola, and in the row across from the Giudecca we amused ourselves by calling to mind the various Italian words or phrases with which we were familiar. They were mostly titles of arias or songs, but Jack insisted, notwithstanding Salemina's protestations, that, properly interlarded with names of famous Italians, he could maintain a brilliant conversation with me at table, to the envy and amazement of our neighbours. The following paragraph, then, was our stock in trade, and Jack's volubility and ingenuity in its use kept Salemina quite helpless with laughter:-
Guarda che bianca luna--Il tempo passato--Lascia ch' io pianga-- Dolce far niente--Batti batti nel Masetto--Da capo--Ritardando-- Andante--Piano--Adagio--Spaghetti--Macaroni--Polenta--Non e ver-- Ah, non giunge--Si la stanchezza--Bravo--Lento--Presto--Scherzo-- Dormi pura--La ci darem la mano--Celeste Aida--Spirito gentil--Voi che sapete--Crispino e la Comare--Pieta, Signore--Tintoretto-- Boccaccio--Garibaldi--Mazzini--Beatrice Cenci--Gordigiani--Santa Lucia--Il mio tesoro--Margherita--Umberto--Vittoria Colonna -Tutti frutti--Botticelli--Una furtiva lagrima.
No one who has not the privilege of Jack Copley's acquaintance could believe with what effect he used these unrelated words and sentences. I could only assist, and lead him to ever higher flights of fancy.
We perceive with pleasure that our mother tongue presents equal difficulties to Italian manufacturers and men of affairs. The so- called mineral water we use at table is specially still and dead, and we think it may have been compared to its disadvantage with other more sparkling beverages, since every bottle bears a printed label announcing, "To Distrust of the mineral waters too foaming, since that they do invariable spread the Stomach."
We learn also by studying another bottle that "The Wermouth is a white wine slightly bitter, and parfumed with who leso me aromatic herbs." Who leso me we printed in italics in our own minds, giving the phrase a pure Italian accent until we discovered that it was the somewhat familiar adjective "wholesome."
In one of the smaller galleries we were given the usual pasteboard fans bearing explanations of the frescoes:-
Room I. In the middle. The sin of our fathers.
On every side. The ovens of Babylony. Moise saved from the water.
Room II. In the middle. Moise who sprung the water.
On every side. The luminous column in the dessert and the ardent wood.
Room III. In the middle. Elia transported in the heaven.
On every side. Eliseus dispansing brods.
Room IV. The wood carvings are by Anonymous. The tapestry shows the multiplications of brods and fishs.
CASA ROSA, May 30.
We have had a battle royal in Casa Rosa--a battle over the breaking of a huge blue pitcher valued at eight francs, a pitcher belonging to the Little Genius.
The room that leads from the dining-room to the kitchen is reached by the descent of two or three stone steps. It is always full, and is like the orthodox hell in one respect, that though myriads of people are seen to go into it, none ever seem to come out. It is not more than twelve feet square, and the persons most continuously in it, not counting those who are in transit, are the Padrona Angela; the Padrona Angela's daughter, Signorina Rita; the Signorina Rita's temporary suitor; the suitor's mother and cousin; the padrona's great-aunt; a few casual acquaintances of the two families, and somebody's baby: not always the same baby; any baby answers the purpose and adds to the confusion and chatter of tongues.
This morning, the door from the dining-room being ajar, I heard a subdued sort of Bedlam in the distance, and finally went nearer to the scene of action, finding the cause in a heap of broken china in the centre of the floor. I glanced at the excited company, but there was nothing to show me who was the criminal. There was a spry girl washing dishes; the fritter-woman (at least we call her so, because she brings certain goodies called, if I mistake not, frittoli); the gardener's wife; Angelo, the gondolier; Peppina, the waiting-maid; and the men that had just brought the sausages and sweetmeats for the gondolier's ball, which we were giving in the evening. There was also the contralto, with a large soup-ladle in her hand. (We now call Rosalia, the cook, "the contralto," because she sings so much better than she cooks that it seems only proper to distinguish her in the line of her special talent.)
The assembled company were all talking and gesticulating at once. There was a most delicate point of justice involved, for, as far as I could gather, the sweetmeat-man had come in unexpectedly and collided with the sausage-man, thereby startling the fritter-woman, who turned suddenly and jostled the spry girl: hence the pile of broken china.
The spry girl was all for justice. If she had carelessly or wilfully dropped the pitcher, she would have been willing to suffer the extreme penalty,--the number of saints she called upon to witness this statement was sufficient to prove her honesty,--but under the circumstances she would be blessed if she suffered anything, even the abuse that filled the air. The fritter-woman upbraided the sweetmeat-man, who in return reviled the sausage- vender, who remarked that if Angelo or Peppina had received the sausages at the door, as they should, he would never have been in the house at all; adding a few picturesque generalizations concerning the moral turpitude of Angelo's parents and the vicious nature of their offspring.
The contralto, who was divided in her soul, being betrothed to the sausage-vender, but aunt to the spry girl, sprang into the arena, armed with the soup-ladle, and dispensed injustice on all sides. The feud now reached its height. There is nothing that the chief participants did not call one another, and no intimation or aspersion concerning the reputation of ancestors to the remotest generation that was not cast in the others' teeth. The spry girl referred to the sausage-vender as a generalissimo of all the fiends, and the compliments concerning the gentle art of cookery which flew between the fritter-woman and the contralto will not bear repetition. I listened breathlessly, hoping to hear one of the party refer to somebody as the figure of a pig (strangely enough the most unforgettable of insults), for each of the combatants held, suspended in air, the weapon of his choice--broken crockery, soup-ladle, rolling-pin, or sausage. Each, I say, flourished the emblem of his craft wildly in the air--and then, with a change of front like that of the celebrated King of France in the Mother Goose rhyme, dropped it swiftly and silently; for at this juncture the Little Genius flew down the broad staircase from her eagle's nest. Her sculptor's smock surmounted her blue cotton gown, and her blond hair was flying in the breeze created by her rapid descent. I wish I could affirm that by her gentle dignity and serene self-control she awed the company into silence, or that there was a holy dignity about her that held them spellbound; but such, unhappily, is not the case. It was her pet blue pitcher that had been broken--the pitcher that was to serve as just the right bit of colour at the evening's feast. She took command of the situation in a masterly manner--a manner that had American energy and decision as its foundation and Italian fluency as its superstructure. She questioned the virtue of no one's ancestors, cast no shadow of doubt on the legitimacy of any one's posterity, called no one by the name of any four-footed beast or crawling, venomous thing, yet she somehow brought order out of chaos. Her language (for which she would have been fined thirty days in her native land) charmed and enthralled the Venetians by its delicacy, reserve, and restraint, and they dispersed pleasantly. The sausage-vender wished good appetite to the cook,--she had need of it, Heaven knows, and we had more,--while the spry girl embraced the fritter-woman ardently, begging her to come in again soon and make a longer visit.
CASA ROSA, June 10
I am saying all my good-byes--to Angelo and the gondola; to the greedy pigeons of San Marco, so heavy in the crop that they can scarcely waddle on their little red feet; to the bees and birds and flowers and trees of the beautiful garden behind the casa; to the Little Genius and her eagle's nest on the house-top; to "the city that is always just putting out to sea." It has been a month of enchantment, and although rather expensive, it is pleasant to think that the padrona's mortgage is nearly paid.
It is a saint's day, and to-night there will be a fiesta. Coming home to our island, we shall hear the laughter and the song floating out from the wine shops and the caffes; we shall see the lighted barges with their musicians; we shall thrill with the cries of "Viva Italia! viva el Re!" The moon will rise above the white palaces; their innumerable lights will be reflected in the glassy surface of the Grand Canal. We shall feel for the last time "the quick silent passing" of the only Venetian cab.
"How light we move, how softly! Ah,
To-morrow we shall be rowed against the current to Padua. We shall see Malcontenta and its ruined villa: Oriago and Mira and the campanile of Dolo. Venice will lie behind us, but she will never be forgotten. Many a time on such a night as this we shall say with other wandering Venetians:-
"O Venezia benedetta!