In The Streets Of Genoa
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The great majority of the streets are as narrow as any thoroughfare can well be, where people (even Italian people) are supposed to live and walk about; being mere lanes, with here and there a kind of well, or breathing-place. The houses are immensely high, painted in all sorts of colors, and are in every stage and state of damage, dirt, and lack of repair. They are commonly let off in floors, or flats, like the houses in the old town of Edinburgh, or many houses in Paris.
When shall I forget the Streets of Palaces: the Strada Nuova and the Strada Baldi I The endless details of these rich palaces; the walls of some of them, within, alive with master-pieces by Vandyke! The great, heavy, stone balconies, one above another, and tier over tier; with here and there, one larger than the rest, towering high up—a huge marble platform; the doorless vestibules, massively barred lower windows, immense public staircases, thick marble pillars, strong dungeon-like arches, and dreary, dreaming, echoing vaulted chambers; among which the eye wanders again, and again, and again, as every palace is succeeded by another—the terrace gardens between house and house, with green arches of the vine, and groves of orange-trees, and blushing oleander in full bloom, twenty, thirty, forty feet above the street—the painted halls, moldering and blotting, and rotting in the damp corners, and still shining out in beautiful colors and voluptuous designs, where the walls are dry—the faded figures on the outsides of the houses, holding wreaths, and crowns, and flying upward, and downward, and standing in niches, and here and there looking fainter and more feeble than elsewhere, by contrast with some fresh little Cupids, who on a more recently decorated portion of the front, are stretching out what seems to be the semblance of a blanket, but is, indeed, a sun-dial-the steep, steep, up-hill streets of small palaces (but very large palaces for all that), with marble terraces looking down into close by-ways-the magnificent and innumerable churches; and the rapid passage from a street of stately edifices, into a maze of the vilest squalor, steaming with unwholesome stenches, and swarming with half-naked children and whole worlds of dirty people—make up, altogether, such a scene of wonder; so lively, and yet so dead; so noisy, and yet so quiet; so obtrusive, and yet so shy and lowering; so wide-awake, and yet so fast asleep; that it is a sort of intoxication to a stranger to walk on, and on, and on, and look about him. A bewildering phantasmagoria, with all the inconsistency of a dream, and all the pain and all the pleasure of an extravagant reality !
In the streets of shops, the houses are much smaller, but of great size notwithstanding, and extremely high. They are very dirty; quite undrained, if my nose be at all reliable; and emit a peculiar fragrance, like the smell of very bad cheese, kept in very hot blankets. Notwithstanding the height of the houses, there would seem to have been a lack of room in the city, for new houses are thrust in everywhere. Wherever it has been possible to cram a tumble-down tenement into a crack or corner, in it has gone. If there be a nook or angle in the wall of a church, or a crevice in any other dead wall, of any sort, there you are sure to find some kind of habitation; looking as if it had grown there, like a fungus. Against the Government House, against the old Senate House, round about any large building, little shops stick close, like parasite vermin to the great carcass. And for all this, look where you may; up steps, down steps, anywhere, everywhere; there are irregular houses, receding, starting forward, tumbling down, leaning against their neighbors, crippling themselves or their friends by some means or other, until one, more irregular than the rest, chokes up the way, and you can't see any further.