Route To Bologna - Italy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
We left this pretty little city of Parma, with considerable regret, as there were many objects of interest, especially many fine paintings, which we had not visited. The early fall of night in the southern climates greatly adds to the difficulties of a traveller whose time is limited. We began our journey before the dawn, experiencing just before daybreak, an unpleasant sharpness in the air. This I have observed invariably to be the case, whatever may have been the temperature of the preceding day, or the warmth of the earlier part of the night. It soon, however, passes away, to be succeeded by extreme heat, and vivid sunshine. In lower Italy, and in the broader parts of the great valley of Lombardy, the evening closes soft and still; the setting sun leaves a rich clear atmosphere, with low, bright, streaky clouds; no breath is stirring; but as you drive along, the effect of your own motion causes a balmy cool air to play around you, which is sweetly refreshing; while the city, village, church, or convent, as they may chance to appear in view, are seen picturesquely contrasted with the rich flashes of purple in the fine yellow of the sky.
The road, in leaving Parma, composed of gravel, (as they generally are throughout all Lombardy, and this part of Italy,) is very fine. Rich as the country had hitherto appeared to us, it becomes here still more so; the stems of the vines are thicker, the grapes larger, and a character of stronger growth, and more luxuriant vegetation, is strikingly perceptible. The cities, villages, and small dwellings, are also much more numerous; the whole scenery presenting a most cheerful and populous aspect. At every short distance you may discern the turrets, or steeples, of the city, or village, rising from among the trees; while the face of the country is thickly covered with little dwellings, their white walls brightly reflected through the rich verdure, in which they seem to be embosomed. The habitations of the poorer class are pretty; and the farm-houses, with their small pad-docks and enclosures, so cleanly, that an Englishman might imagine each to be an English cottage. The farms are so small as seldom to require more assistance than the labour of the farmer, his wife, and son, with one or two yoke of oxen. The cattle are not large; some-times we see some stubborn-looking mules; few asses, and no farm-horses. The grounds present little variety of culture; much black wheat; but no potatoes, or turnip; the aspect of the whole landscape resembling that of a finely-cultivated garden. The fields are prettily set with ranges of mulberry trees, planted in long rows, richly hung with the vine, the foliage of which is thickly gathered on the top; while festoons, extending from twelve to fifteen feet in length, hang from tree to tree, with heavy bunches of grapes, clustering in the centre, forming the festoons represented in ornamental paintings. I have observed the practice of treading out the corn by oxen to be universal in Italy: it is the mode least approved of, I believe; but, seen in the evening hour, when the heat of noon is past, and when, renovated by the freshened air, the spirit gives spring to thought and action, the little groups presented in this occupation have a singularly cheerful and primitive aspect. The serenity of the approach of night in these fine climates is most soothing; yet, so sudden is the fall of evening, that while we are just beginning to trace the rising stars, day is gone. But how beautiful, how grand, is the contemplation of nature at this hour ! how splendid the spangled sky, how soft the milky way, clearly defined in its long course, as it lies spread out in the heavens ! while, perhaps, from light clouds in the distant horizon, the harmless lightning plays, as if to mock the fire-fly, which, rising from every spot deepened by foliage, soars and plies its busy wings, filling the air with incessant bright alternations of light and shade, and seeming to give life to the silence and stillness of night.
Another peculiarity in these plains is the prodigiously wide channels of the rivers formed by the winter torrents, presenting, at this season, an arid space, to the extent of many miles, of flat, broad, stony ground. Such is the Trebia as you approach Placentia; also the Taro, rising in Piedmont, and falling into the Po at Toricelli, the waters of which, sometimes filling a bed nearly six miles in width, are now reduced to a stream of a few yards.