Castellamare And Sorrento
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The sky is almost clear. Only above Naples hangs a bank of clouds, and around Vesuvius huge white masses of smoke, moving and stationary. I never yet saw, even in summer at Marseilles, the blue of the sea so deep, bordering even on hardness. Above this powerful lustrous azure, absorbing three-quarters of the visible space, the white sky seems to be a firmament of crystal. As we recede we obtain a better view of the undulating coast, embraced in one grand mountain form, all its parts uniting like the members of one body. Ischia and the naked promontories on the extreme end repose in their lilac envelop, like a slumbering Pompeii= nymph under her veil. Veritably, to paint such nature as this, this violet continent extending around this broad luminous water, one must employ the terms of the ancient poets, and represent the great fertile goddess embraced and beset by the eternal ocean, and above them the serene effulgence of the dazzling Jupiter.
We encounter on the road some fine faces with long elegant features, quite Grecian; some intelligent noble-looking girls, and here and there hideous mendicants cleaning their hairy breasts. But the race is much superior to that of Naples, where it is deformed and diminutive, the young girls there appearing like stunted, pallid grisets. The railroad skirts the sea a few paces off and almost on a level with it. A harbor appears blackened with lines of rigging, and then a mole, consisting of a small half-ruined fort, reflecting a clear sharp shadow in the luminous expanse. Surrounding this rise square houses, gray as if charred, and heaped together like tortoises under round roofs, serving them as a sort of thick shell.
On this fertile soil, full of cinders, cultivation extends to the shore and forms gardens; a simple reed hedge protects them from the sea and the wind; the Indian fig with its clumsy thorny leaves clings to the slopes; verdure begins to appear on the branches of the trees, the apricots showing their smiling pink blossoms; half-naked men work the friable soil without apparent effort; a few square gardens contain columns and small statues of white marble. Everywhere you behold traces of antique beauty and joyousness. And why wonder at this when you feel that you have the divine vernal sun for a companion, and on the right, whenever you turn to the sea, its flaming golden waves.
With what facility you here forget all ugly objects! I believe I passed at Castellamare some unsightly modern structures, a railroad station, hotels, a guard-house, and a number of rickety vehicles hurrying along in quest of fares. This is all effaced from my mind; nothing remains but impressions of obscure porches with glimpses of bright courts filled with glossy oranges and swing verdure, of esplanades with children playing on them and nets drying, and happy idlers snuffing the breeze and contemplating the capricious heaving of the tossing sea.
On leaving Castellamare the road forms a corniehe winding along the bank. Huge white rocks, split off from the cliffs above, lie below in the midst of the eternally besieging waves. On the left the mountains lift their shattered pinnacles, fretted walls, and projecting crags, all that scaffolding of indentations which strike you as the ruins of a line of rocked and tottering fortresses. Each projection, each mass throws its shadow on the surrounding white surfaces, the entire range being peopled with tints and forms.
Sometimes the mountain is rent in twain, and the sides of the chasm are lined with cultivation, descending in successive stages. Sorrento is thus built on three deep ravines. All these hollows contain gardens, crowded with masses of trees overhanging each other. Nut-trees, already lively with sap, project their white branches like gnarled fingers; everything else is green; winter lays no hand on this eternal spring. The thick lustrous leaf of the orange-tree rises from amid the foliage of the olive, and its golden apples glisten in the sun by thousands, interspersed with gleams of the pale lemon; often in these shady lanes do its glittering leaves flash out above the crest of the walls. This is the land of the orange. It grows even in miserable court-yards, alongside of dilapidated steps, spreading its luxuriant tops everywhere in the bright sunlight. The delicate aromatic odor of all these opening buds and blossoms is a luxury of kings, which here a beggar enjoys for nothing.
I passed an hour in the garden of the hotel, a terrace overlooking the sea about half-way up the bank. A scene like this fills the imagination with a dream of perfect bliss. The house stands in a luxurious garden, filled with orange and lemon-trees, as heavily laden with fruit as those of a Normandy orchard; the ground at the foot of the trees is covered with it. Clusters of foliage and shrubbery of a pale green, bordering on blue, occupy intermediate spaces. The rosy blossoms of the peach, so tender and delicate, bloom on its naked branches. The walks are of bright blue porcelain, and the terrace displays its round verdant masses overhanging the sea, of which the lovely azure fills all space.
I have not yet spoken of my impressions after leaving Castellamare. The charm was only too great. The pure sky, the pale azure almost transparent, the radiant blue sea as chaste and tender as a virgin bride, this infinite expanse so exquisitely adorned as if for a festival of rare delight, is a sensation that has no equal. Capri and Ischia on the line of the sky lie white in their soft vapory tissue, and the divine azure gently fades away surrounded by this border of brightness.
Where find words to express all this, The gulf seemed like a marble vase purposely rounded to receive the sea. The satin sheen of a flower, the soft luminous petals of the velvet orris with shimmering sunshine on their pearly borders, such are the images that fill the mind, and which accumulate in vain and are ever inadequate. The water at the base of these rocks is now a transparent emerald, reflecting the tints of topaz and amethyst; again a liquid diamond, changing its hue according to the shifting influences of rock and depth; or again a flashing diadem, glittering with the splendor of this divine effulgence.