Through Bolgona To Genoa
( Originally Published 1893 )
WE had intended to stay only one day at Ferrara, but just at that time the storms predicted on the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts, by Mathieu de la Drome, had been raging all over Italy, and the rail-way communications were broken in every direction. The magnificent work through and under the Apennines, between Bologna and Florence, had been washed away by the mountain torrents in a dozen places, and the roads over the plains of the Romagna had been sapped by the flood, and rendered useless, where not actually laid under water.
On the day of our intended departure we left the hotel, with other travellers, gayly incredulous of the landlord's fear that no train would start for Bologna. kt the station we found a crowd of people waiting and hoping, but there was a sickly cast of doubt in some faces, and the labeled employes of the railway wore looks of ominous importance. Of course the crowd did not lose its temper, It sought information of the officials running to and fro with telegrams, in spirit of national sweetness, and consoled itself with saying, as Italy has said under all circumstances of difficulty for centuries : Ci vuol pazienza! At last a blank silence fell upon it, as the Capo-Stazione advanced toward a well-dressed man in the crowd, and spoke to him quietly. The well-dressed man lifted his forefinger and waved it back and forth before his face : —
The Well-dressed Man. — Dunque, non si parte più? (No departures, then ?)
The Capo-Stazione (waving his forefinger in like manner.) — Non si parte più. (Like a mournfu, echo.)
We knew quite as well from this pantomime 0. negation as from the dialogue our sad fate, and submitted to it. Some adventurous spirit demanded whether any trains would go on the morrow. The Capo-Stazione, with an air of one who would not presume to fathom the designs of Providence, responded : " Who knows? To-day, certainly not. Tomorrow, perhaps. But "— and vanished.
It may give an idea of the Italian way of doing things to say that, as we understood, this break in the line was only a few miles in extent, that trains could have approached both to and from Bologna, and that a little enterprise on the part of the company could have passed travellers from one side to the other with very small trouble or delay. But the railway company was as much daunted by the inundation as a peasant going to market, and for two months after the accident no trains carried passengers from one city to the other. No doubt, however, the line was under process of very solid repair meanwhile.
For the present the only means of getting to Bologna was by carriage on the old highway, and accordingly we took passage thither in the omnibus of the Stella d'Oro.
There was little to interest us in the country over which we rode. It is perfectly flat, and I suppose the reader knows what quantities of hemp and flax are raised there. The land seems poorer than in Lombardy, and the farm-houses and peasants' cottages are small and mean, though the peasants themselves, when we met them, looked well fed, and were certainly well clad. The landscape lay soaking in a dreary drizzle the whole way, and the town of Cento when we reached it, seemed miserably conscious of being too wet and dirty to go in-doors, and was loitering about in the rain. Our arrival gave the poor little place a sensation, for I think such a thing as an omnibus had not been seen there since the railway of Bologna and Ferrara was built. We went into the principal caffè to lunch, — a caffè much too large for Cento, with immense red-leather cushioned sofas, and a cold, forlorn air of half-starved gentility, a clean, high-roofed caffè and a breezy, — and thither the youthful nobility and gentry of the place followed us, and ordered a cup of coffee, that they might sit down and give us the pleasure of their distinguished company. They put on their very finest manners, and took their most captivating attitudes for the ladies' sake ; and the gentlemen of our party fancied that it was for them these young men began to dis cuss the Roman question. How loud they were, and how earnest ! And how often they consulted the newspapers of the caffe ! (Older newspapers I never saw off a canal-boat.) I may tire some time of the artless vanity of the young Italians, so innocent, so amiable, so transparent, but I think I never shall.
The great painter Guercino was born at Cento, and they have a noble and beautiful statue of him in the piazza, which the town caused to be erected from contributions by all the citizens. Formerly his house was kept for a show to the public ; it was full of the pictures of the painter and many mementos of him ; but recently the paintings have been taken to the gallery, and the house is now closed. The gallery is, consequently, one of the richest second-rate galleries in Italy, and one may spend much longer time in it than we gave, with great profit. There are some most interesting heads of Christ, painted, as Guercino always painted the Saviour, with a great degree of humanity in the face. It is an excellent countenance, and full of sweet dignity, but quite different from the conventional face of Christ.
AT night we were again in Bologna, of which we had not seen the gloomy arcades for two years. It must be a dreary town at all times: in a rain it is horrible ; and I think the whole race of arcaded cities,
Treviso, Padua, and Bologna, are dull, blind, and comfortless. The effect of the buildings vaulted above the sidewalks is that of a continuous cellar-way ; your view of the street is constantly interrupted by the heavy brick pillars that support the arches ; the arcades are not even picturesque. Liking always to leave Bologna as quickly as possible, and, on this occasion, learning that there was no hope of crossing the Apennines to Florence, we made haste to take the first train for Genoa, meaning to proceed thence directly to Naples by steamer.
It was a motley company that sat down in Hotel Brun the morning after our arrival in Bologna to a breakfast of murky coffee and furry beefsteaks, associated with sleek, greasy, lukewarm fried potatoes. I am sure that if each of our weather-bound pilgrims had told his story, we had been as well entertained as those at Canterbury. However, no one thought fit to give his narrative but a garrulous old Hebrew from London, who told us how he had been made to pay fifteen guineas for a carriage to cross the Apennines, and had been obliged to walk part of the way at that price. He was evidently proud, now ;the money was gone, of having been cheated of so much; and in him we saw that there was at least ne human being more odious than a purse-proud Englishman — namely, a purse-proud English Jew. He gave his noble name after a while, as something too precious to be kept from the company, when recommending one of the travellers to go to the Hotel .'Angleterre in Rome : " The best hotel out of England. You may mention my name, if you like Mr. Jonas." The recipient of this favor noted down the talismanic words in his pocket-book, and Mr Jonas, conscious of having conferred a benefit on his race, became more odious to it than ever. An Englishman is of a composition so uncomfortably original that no one can copy him, though many may caricature. I saw an American in London once who thought himself an Englishman because he wore leg-of-mutton whiskers, declaimed against universal suffrage and republics, and had an appetite for high game. He was a hateful animal, surely, but he was not the British lion ; and this poor Hebrew at Bologna was not a whit more successful in his imitation of the illustrious brute, though he talked, like him, of nothing but hotels, and routes of travel, and hack-men and porters, and seemed to have nothing to do in Italy but get through it as quickly and abusively as possible.
We were very glad, I say, to part from all this at Bologna and take the noon train for Genoa. In our ear there were none but Italians, and the exchange of " La Perseveranza " of Milan for " Il Popolo " of Turin with one of them quickly opened the way for conversation and acquaintance. (En passant : I know of no journal in the United States whose articles are better than those of the "Perseveranza," and it was gratifying to an American to read in this ablest journal of Italy nothing but applause and encouragement of the national side in our late war.) My new-made friend turned out to be a Milanese. He was a physician, and had served as a surgeon in the Iate war of Italian independence ; but was now placed in a hospital in Milan. There was a gentle little blonde with him, and at Piacenza, where we stopped for lunch, " You see," said he, indicating the lady, " we are newly married," — which was, indeed, plain enough to any one who looked at their joyous faces, and observed how great disposition that little blonde had to nestle on the young man's broad shoulder. " I have a week's leave from my place," he went on, " and this is our wedding journey. We were to have gone to Florence, but it seems we are fated not to see that famous city."
He spoke of it as immensely far off, and herein greatly amused us Americans, who had outgrown distances.
" So we are going to Genoa instead, for two or three days." " Oh, have you ever been at Genoa ? " broke in the bride. " What magnificent palaces ! And then the bay, and the villas in the environs ! There is the Villa Pallavicini, with beautiful gardens, where an artificial shower breaks out from the bushes, and sprinkles the people who pass. Such fun ! " and she continued to describe vividly a city of which she had only heard from her husband ; and it was easy to see that she walked in paradise wherever he led her.
They say that Italian husbands and wives do not long remain fond of each other, but it was impossible in the presence of these happy people not to believe in the eternity of their love, and it was hard to keep from " dropping into poetry " on account of them. Their bliss infected every body in the car, and in spite of the weariness of our journey, and the vexation of the misadventures which had succeeded one another unsparingly ever since we left home, we found ourselves far on the way to Genoa before we thought to grumble at the distance. There was with us, besides the bridal party, a lady travelling from Bologna to Turin, who had learned English in London, and spoke it much better than most Londoners. It is surprising how thoroughly Italians master a language so alien to their own as ours, and how frequently you find them acquainted with English. From Russia the mania for this tongue has spread all over the Continent, and in Italy English seems to be prized first among the virtues.
As we drew near Genoa, the moon came out on purpose to show us the superb city, and we strove eagerly for a first glimpse of the proud capital where Columbus was born. To tell the truth, the glimpse was but slight and false, for railways always enter cities by some mean level, from which any picturesque view is impossible.
Near the station in Genoa, however, is the weak and ugly monument which the municipality has lately raised to Columbus. The moon made the best of this, which stands in a wide open space, and contrived, with an Italian skill in the arrangement of light, to produce an effect of undeniable splendor.
On the morrow, we found out by the careless candor of the daylight what a uselessly big head Columbus had, and how the sculptor had not very happily thought proper to represent him with his sea-legs on.