A Glimpse Of Naples
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
A CLOUDLESS blue sky, beautiful bay, distant mountains and a town with warm sunshine and flowers nestling down on an arm of land that curves caressingly around the water, make one think on approaching of the beauty and peace of heaven. Then on landing, one finds the confusion and shrieks of hell. That is Naples.
Nothing could be more picturesque than the arrival of a ship in the bay. Instantly all the town comes out in small boats and surrounds it with a floating population, representing the arts and crafts, music and flowers of the place. The sound of guitars and mandolins playing La Bella Napoli " and " St. Lucia " is enriched by voices among which one fancies future opera singers.
Suddenly two of the musicians in a moment of abandon rise, clasp each other round the waist and begin to dance round and round on about two square inches of their flat-bottom boat, regardless of its threatening swaying, until a man in a little fruit and vegetable boat collides with them, and then—there's no longer music. The shrieks, yells and curses would astonish even a Billingsgate fishwife, until, spying a customer, a flower-vender, playing the unintentional part of peacemaker, forces his little boat between the two, and by means of a long pole hands up to the deck bunches of roses and violets. By this time an old hag, doubtless a contemporary of Methuselah, appears and catches centimes dexteriously in an inverted umbrella to the delight of the passengers, as well as herself.
Tiny tortoise-shell guitars are offered at three dollars apiece, but finding no ready buyers, drop rapidly to fifty cents for three. Presently the boat of an itinerant cook floats by with a small stove in the middle and fish and meat piled on one side, waiting for the cook's praise of them to tempt some unsuspicious appetite. Among this heterogeneous crowd, a Sister of Charity appears, having been rowed out to join the scramble for pennies. She holds up imploringly a little bank and calls upon several saints to preserve those who still have a centesimi left to give her.
"Any color so long as it is bright, any sound so long as it is noise," pleases Naples. The narrow streets seethe with humanity, not merely going or coming like the traffic in other cities, but there appear to be eddies and whirlpools of people going round and round quite without purpose. The Toledo is the center of commercial activity. It was named for the Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo, but is now called the Via Roma, and the traffic there is so condensed it is almost impossible at times to get through the street. Thirty or forty hand-organs come by in a day, the antics of tiny trained dogs whipped by three robust men are the delight of the loungers, bag-pipes add to the program and little troops of fandango dancers in native dress from the mountains always do a good business. One progressive band of minstrels, on seeing Americans, immediately sings " John Brown's Body " and "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me," in broken English with a pride that makes their envious friends think they have learned the very latest American songs.
The Opera House of San Carlo seats twenty-six hundred people; many of Rossini's, Donizetti's and other great Italian composers' operas have had their first night here, and it is one of the sights of Europe. The Museum of Naples ranks as one of the finest in the world. Among its treasures are the celebrated Farnese Bull, and other great statues, Pompeian antiquities, ancient glass, jewelry, a wonderful collection of coins, frescoes, priceless bronzes, and many valuable old paintings. Prince Filangieri, who died in 1892, gave his palace and collection of works of art to the city also, and while not so large as the usual museum, it contains such choice pieces that it is one of the best collections ever gathered together.
High on the top of a hill that towers above Naples stands the old suppressed monastery of San Martino, a wonderfully interesting relic of the past, with its old laboratory, cloisters, etc. Many of Naples oldest pictures are exhibited here as well as the great coach in which Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi rode in triumph into Naples in 1869, after their combined efforts had taken the city. Just beyond is St. Elmo with its defiant walls and huge fosses that was considered an impregnable fortress by Robert the Wise in 1300, while even now as a military prison it still frowns gloomily upon the town lying suppliantly at its feet. One should take the cable car up this steep old hill, not only to see these buildings, but to get the admirable view which includes Capri, Vesuvius, Ischia and miles beyond.
The poor of Naples are the poorest poor in the world. Even when the horrible condition of the London tenements was exposed some years ago, the records proved they were palatial compared to Naples. Dozens of both sexes are huddled with decaying fruits and vegetables in dark, damp rooms, absolutely devoid of air or light, and the filth, vice and degradation are too horrible to describe. Children do not even know they are expected to have a mother, let alone a father, and one sees along the streets little ragged hoodlums with nothing but the sun to smile down on them, but they act as unconscious reflectors and smile back perfectly content. It is nothing to them to have no home, they sleep on steps or wherever they happen to feel weary, and live happily off choice bits of refuse found in the streets.
It is quite wrong to think of all Italy eating macaroni. There are thousands in Naples too destitute even to buy that, and it remains a kind of ambrosia to them, only to be procured once or twice a month. In 1884, when the cholera reaped such a harvest here, King Humbert visited the frightful tenement district himself, gave orders to have such death-traps torn down at once, and replaced by better buildings. The King was universally praised for his courage in thus defying contagion and going to see for himself the condition of his people. Many pictures represent scenes from his visit, one especially impressive where the dead are being brought out in great numbers, and this noble King, standing among these half-starved degraded creatures, is removing his hat to do homage to the victims.
The Galleria Umberto is a magnificent arcade lined with some of the most attractive shops in Naples, and the shell and corals in Errico's window beckon one into the interior for a closer survey. Much of this exquisite shell and cameo carving is done in dens so loathsome that our sweat-shops would be ideal work-rooms for these men.
As shelter for the lower classes is so uninviting they live out doors. They go out in the sun, as the saying is, "to warm themselves by King Rene's fireside," for he was one of their kings, who, not able to afford heat for the whole palace, used to go to the sun for warmth. The virtues of Pear's soap are unknown among them, but they comb their hair and arrange their toilet in. full sight of all the world. No matter how ragged a Neapolitan woman may be, her hair is as carefully arranged as for a court ball. Washwomen and ironers work out on the pavements and dry the clothes on a line strung along the outside of the buildings, rubbed against, of course, by all passers, and the cows and goats which are driven. through the streets and milked at one's door, add to the general confusion, but thus do away with any need of examination of the milk for adulteration.
Business is transacted in the doorways, and by working, or what they call working., out doors, one can always be present at the various diversions which occur. Doesn't this side-walk housework interfere with the passers down these narrow streets? Certainly, but what of it? No one by any chance hurries, and if occasionally a passer curses them it adds immensely to the day's enjoyment, for immediately an audience gathers. Now there is no place in the world where one can so readily find spectators as in Naples. The idlers stand, day by day, just waiting for something to watch. Here it is; they take sides, half join the cursing party, the rest supporting the defense, and words fly back and forth like ping-pong balls, that make the air as blue as the sky. Even when in friendly conversation strangers often mistake their little chats for the beginning of a riot, so that when real anger quickens their tongues the effect is most extraordinary.
Along the bay a pleasure ground has been laid out called the Villa Nationale; among the trees little temples to Tasso and Virgil have been erected, and it makes an ideal park for both rich and poor. The Aquarium is close by, the most complete in the world, and more varieties of fish are on exhibition than in any other place. Protruding out into the bay one sees the half-ruined Castello del Ovo, named from its oval shape, now a military prison. It was at one time the home of Lucullus, and there Brutus met Cicero just after he had murdered Julius Caesar. The waves dash against it in vain, and it is a very picturesque addition to the coast.
The beggars are legion. An old man will display with utmost pride his loathesome deformities, looking meantime with scorn upon the poor wretch pestering you on the other side who can boast nothing more dreadful than two wooden legs and shriveled arm as his source of revenue.
In sharp contrast to the very poor are the very rich, and in the late afternoons one sees on the Corso, perfectly appointed turnouts with elegantly dressed men and women winding their way to the villas which extend all the way up the hills. The view from them is so lovely that with their well-ladened orange and olive trees, climbing roses, palms, cactus, violets and camelias, they appear to be miniature Edens. The horses are driven like mad, but not even the finest carriages have rubber tires, while in the street-cabs one bounces around like corn in a popper. A decided improvement is noticeable in the horses. All those badly-beaten, bony animals that appealed to all travelers' sympathies a few years ago are evidently now dead and gone, and have been replaced with plump little horses that go miles and miles without fatigue. Many drive out to the suburb of Posilipo, where Virgil is buried in an unpretentious tomb, bearing this inscription:
"In lovely Mantua was my childhood's home, Till my ambition lured me forth to Rome.
Flocks, fields and heroes have inspired my breast, And now on Naple's sunny slope I rest."
The city was originally settled by the Greeks and called by them the new city—Neapolis. Its history is nothing but a record of oppression. It formed, with the island of Sicily, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies .until it was united with the rest of Italy by Victor Emmanuel in 1871. The Two Sicilies were from early times under so many different nations and so taxed by various tyrants that progress has been impossible until the last few years. As late as 1863 nine-tenths of the population could neither read nor write, and though great efforts are now being made to enlighten them, it is discouraging to find the majority of the people averse to any improvement. With their ignorance, of course, superstition goes hand in hand. Every one wears a charm to keep off the Evil Eye, while the fisher-men have their boats blessed regularly with great ceremony to aid their catch, and the first lire that any one can beg, steal or borrow goes at once for a lottery ticket.
The present King only comes occasionally to the old royal palace and twice a week visitors are given permission to go through. It has a very fine marble stairway, dating from ]650, and a little theatre and great dining-room that are worth seeing, but the summer palace out at Capodimonti is much more attractive. Its elevation commands a superb view of all the islands in the bay, and it is filled with many interesting modern pictures and specimens of the porcelain called Capodimonti that was made here at an earlier day. The richly ornamented cradle with mother-of-pearl and gold, presented by the city of Naples to Queen Margherita in 1869, is shown, and the boy for whom it was intended, now the present King Victor Emanuel III., was formerly called the Prince of Naples. Many relics are to be found of the stormy days of Marie Antoinette's sister, Queen Caroline, who was finally driven from her throne here, and tales are told of her entertainment of Lord Nelson and his fair charmer, Lady Hamilton, that rival in interest the exciting adventures of Queen Caroline's spy, Fra Diavolo.
There are over three hundred churches in Naples and one often thinks they need more. In the Cathedral is the tomb of their patron Saint Januarias, and the ceremony is still gone through every May and September, called the liquifaction of his blood. A great crowd assembles, then after many prayers a priest holds up the phial containing a few drops of this holy blood, and as it quickly or slowly solidifies, so do the people believe the year will be propitious or not. It is astonishing to watch the anxiety of the crowd while the priests are trying to convince themselves before making this impossible statement of its liquifaction, and one is reminded of Mark Twain's comment that "Faith is believing what you know isn't so."
In the church of St. Croce al Mercato has been placed a column which showed formerly the exact spot in the Piazza nearby where young Conradin was beheaded in 1268. His only wrong was coming down to claim his own kingdom when in the hands of his enemy, and when going to the scaffold he threw his gauntlet into the crowd, entreating some one to take up his cause after his death and abolish the tyranny of Charles of Anjou. The Sicilian Vespers later vindicated the young fellow's tragic fate.
In the sacristy of the church of San Domenico is the tomb of the Marquis Pescara, most curiously placed high up in a little gallery that goes around the room. He rests in a wooden box covered with red velvet that lost its bloom centuries ago. His picture, sword and banner hang over his coffin and that is all that is left to tell the tale. He was one of Charles V.'s best fighters, and helped win Pavia, where the defeated Francois I. of France wrote his mother the famous message: "All is lost save honor." The mighty Emperor Charles testified his appreciation of the Marquis' valor by going in person to see his celebrated widow, Vittoria Colonna. She came of a Roman family so great and powerful that for five hundred years no treaty was made in Rome without their signature, and the name became so symbolic of might that when the old head of the family was attacked by brigands on the highway, he majestic-ally announced to them: "I am Stephen Colonna!" and they fell back terrified and let him pass.
Vittoria, the flower of the family, was a great beauty, highly cultured, a rare combination of greatness, goodness and intelligence. This Marquis Pescara whom she married came from the island of Ischia, and it was there she retired after his death to mourn her loss in verse. When Ischia was attacked by Louis XII. of France, the Marquis' sister held the palace so valiantly she was rewarded with the governorship of the island, an honor the family retained many years. Vittoria Colonna meantime returned to her early home in Rome, much to the regret of Naples, and took at once the position she filled so well—the social leader of the most brilliant circle in Rome. There Michael Angelo learned to appreciate her worth, and the devoted friendship of the two lasted for years. He talked over with her his dreams and plans, and found inspiration in her praise. That it was more than friendship seems improbable, as she was fifty and he was sixty-five when they met, and his admiration of her, which he expressed in the following sonnet, is more suggestive of homage to something above him than of anything else:
For Oh, how good, how beautiful must be
The God that made so good a thing as thee."
"Forgive me if I cannot turn away
From those sweet eyes that are my earthly heaven, For they are guiding stars benignly given,
To tempt my footsteps to the upward way; And if I dwell too fondly in thy sight
I live and love in God's peculiar light."
'She never married again after the dearly beloved Marquis' death, and guide-books say she is buried beside him in that big roomy box in the sacristy, but the old padre told me honestly no one really knew whose body it was that was put in, and you know Voltaire said : "History is a trick we play with the dead."
Sweet the memory is to me, Of a land beyond the sea,
Where the waves and mountains meet,
Where, amid her mulberry trees
Sits Amalfi in the heat.
Bathing ever her white feet In the tideless summer sea."
EVERY man, woman and child who can earn, borrow or
beg the money should take the drive, from La Cava to
Amalfi, and then continue on from Amalfi to Castellamare. Fancy California, the Garden of the Gods, and Switzer-land all combined, and you have a slight idea of its beauty!
The road skirts the Gulf of Salerno, whose waters are sapphire, turquoise, opal and amethyst in the warm sunshine, and all along the coast one winds in and out, up and down the great mountains covered with innumerable lemon groves and almond trees in flower, the first sign of Spring. Pepper trees drop their branches gracefully over the old walls, violets peep timidly out from all the crevices, ivy asserts its possession of vacant spots, while here and there a little Yankee dandelion jumps up impudently. Groups of orange trees ladened with fruit are in sight at every turn, for grow they will in spite of all neglect, and the olive trees, old as time, appear to have a consciousness that they have an important mention in the Bible. Little towns nestle down between the mountains, while a fine beach slopes out to the water on which mustard, spread out in great patches to dry on the sand, adds unknowingly to the color scheme.
In one little hamlet a small vessel was just starting to take emigrants for America to their waiting ship in Naples. It was a never-to-be forgotten sight. The entire village was on the beach for the last good-bye, the many colored scarfs of the women blended together, making a living mosaic. Excitement ran high as the men shouldered their little bundles, and like Bobby Shafto, started out to sea, promising, no doubt, to come back to marry their true loves. Bobby's silver buckles were, alas, missing from their knees, and one could not help wondering if the little they took with them would be increased a hundred fold in America, the country where every one supposedly becomes a Midas, turning all he touches to gold. Unfortunately, even in these remote villages, the native costumes are no longer worn, and the women await eagerly the daily fashion hints that now make all the world kin.
It is noticeable in all the towns that there is no building. Everything is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow; progress is unknown, the people merely live and die and change nothing. On some mountains so steep that even the inquisitive goat fears to ascend, monks centuries ago erected monastaries. They tip the peaks like little crowns and look too high up and far away for human habitation. Natural grottoes have been hollowed by time and water out of the sides of some of the hills, and make dark, terrible looking caverns, suitable homes for fairy-tale witches. Just over them, old buildings stand, and the inmates appear quite oblivious of the fact that any moment they may all sink into the cave beneath. One wishes one's head were on a pivot and longs to be Argus-eyed to see in all directions. Little shrines are tucked in out-of-the-way corners, and saints must grow weary indeed waiting for a chance pilgrim to offer up a prayer. Down some of the ravines waterfalls are rushing and little cascades coax artists to do their best. Ruined towers, erected in early times to keep off the pirates, stand like sentinels at regular distances along the coast, and an occasional woebegone inn proudly displays the would-be alluring sign, in English: "Cook's Coupons taken here."
Some of the mountains are bold, rugged and bare, and scowl on their neighbors, satisfied that they contain untold riches for future millionares to mine. On others, farms are terraced all up the sides and the lemon trees have a kind of canopy of poles and straw over them for protection and sup-port, which adds like a frame to their picturesqueness. One sees women carrying in to town great baskets of fruits on their heads, or enormous piles of wood. They walk for miles with these burdens, munching now and then a dry crust with cheese. Daily bread is unknown in Italy. My idea is that there is one annual baking for the whole country, and my experience is that the last baking was a failure. Rich and poor eat ,the same hard substance, compared with which the rock of Gibraltar is almost fragile, and to penetrate through the crust a pick-axe is better than a tooth.
The roads could not be better, and the early people who laid them out centuries ago, builded better than they knew, for they have not been "for an age, but for all time." At each turn the view is more beautiful than at the last, and Amalfi is the climax of all. It is said the sun shines there when it will not show its face anywhere else, and one quite forgets, in the balmy air, that the rest of the world may be having snow storms and blizzards.
Longfellow's poem, "Amalfi," gives a living picture of the place.
"'Tis a stairway, not a street,
That ascends the deep ravine, Where the torrent leaps between
Rocky walls that almost meet. Toiling up from stair to stair
Peasant girls their burdens bear;
Sunburnt daughters of the soil, Stately figures, tall and straight, What inexorable fate
Dooms them to this life of toil?"
In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important sea-ports in the world, and its maritime code is still used by all ships, but today it only furnishes soap, macaroni and paper for export, and the commercial world could easily do without its help. The old Cappuccini convent shown in the picture is now ' a hotel, standing high above the other buildings and approached by a flight of one hundred and ninety-eight steps, up which the weak and weary may be carried in sedan chairs. The monks' cells are at present neat little bedrooms, immaculately clean, and the chapel, cloister, and garden, in existence seven hundred years ago, make one of the most unique hotels in existence.
"Lord of vineyards and of lands, Far above the convent stands. On its terraced walk aloof
Leans a Monk with folded hands, Placid, satisfied, serene,
Looking down upon the scene Over wall and red-tiled roof;
Wondering unto what good end All this toil and traffic tend,
And why all men cannot be Free from care and free from pain,
And the sordid love of gain, And as indolent as he."
In the thirteenth century, St. Andrew's body was brought from Constantinople to its resting place here in the Cathedral; at least it is claimed to be the Apostle's body, but how astonishing a sight it would be if the dead could come forth out of these tombs, where memory is knealing, and how many cases of mistaken identity there would be!
The dreadful landslide of 1899 was almost too close for comfort, and one sees exactly how the rocks and earth swept down, carrying two English women with them.
No railroad keeps Amalfi in touch with the outer world, and the days when it rivaled Pisa and Genoa are long since passed. It is an ideal spot for those afflicted with ingrowing nerves or for a wedding trip, for sitting high above the world in the cloister garden filled with the fragrance of heliotrope and roses, seeing the blue sky and still water, and hearing the song of a bird or distant tolling of a little bell, this comes to mind:
"Afar though nation be on nation hurled,
And life with toil and ancient pain depressed, Here one may scarce believe the whole wide world Is not at peace, and all men's hearts at rest."