Italy – Between Rome And Naples

ONE day it became plain even to our reluctance that we could not stay in Naples forever, and the next morning we took the train for Rome. The Villa Reale put on its most alluring charm to him that ran down before breakfast to third once more its pathways bordered with palms and fountains and statues ; the bay beside it purples and twinkled in the light that made silver of the fishermen’s sails ; far away rose Vesuvius with his nightcap of mist still hanging about his shoulders ; all around rang and rattled Naples. The city was never so fair before, nor could ever have been so hard to leave ; and at the last moment the landlord of the Hotel Washington must needs add a supreme pang by developing into a poet, and presenting me with a copy of a comedy he had written. The reader who has received at parting from the gentlemanly proprietor of one of our palatial hotels his “Ode on the Steam Elevator,” will conceive of the shame and regret with which I thought of having upbraided our landlord about our rooms, of having stickler at small preliminaries concerning our contract for board, and for having altogether treated him as one of the uninspired. Let me do him the tardy justice to say that he keeps, after the Stella d’Oro at Ferrara, the best hotel in Italy, and that his comedy was really very sprightly. It is no small thing to know how to keep a hotel, as we know, and a poet who does it ought to have a double acclaim.

Nobody who cares to travel with decency and comfort can take the second-class cars on the road between Naples and Rome, though these are perfectly good everywhere else in Italy. The Papal city makes her influence felt for shabbiness and uncleanliness wherever she can, and her management seems to prevail on this railway. A glance into the second-class cars reconciled us to the first-class, –which in themselves were bad, — and we took our places almost contentedly.

The road passed through the wildest country we had seen in Italy ; and presently a rain began to fall and made it drearier than ever. The land was much grown up with thickets of hazel, and was here and there sparsely wooded with oaks. Under these, hogs were feeding upon the acorns, and the wet swine-herds were steaming over fires built at their roots. In some places the forest was quite dense ; in other places it fell entirely away, and left the rocky hill-sides bare, and solitary but for the sheep that nibbled at the scanty grass, and the shepherds that leaned upon their crooks and motionlessly stared at us as we pushed by. As we drew near Rome, the scenery grew lonelier yet ; the land rose into desolate, sterile, stony heights, without a patch of verdure on their nakedness, and at last abruptly dropped into the gloomy expanse of the Campagna.

The towns along the route had little to interest us in their looks, though at San Germano we caught a glimpse of the famous old convent of Monte-Cassino, perched aloft on its cliff and looking like a part of the rock on which it was built. Fancy now loves to climb that steep acclivity, and wander through the many-volumed library of the ancient Benedictine re-treat, and on the whole finds it less fatiguing and certainly less expensive than actual ascent and acquaintance with the monastery would have been. Two Croatian priests, who shared our compartment of the railway carriage, first drew our notice to the place, and were enthusiastic about it for many miles after it was out of sight. What gentle and pleasant men they were, and how hard it seemed that they should e priests and Croats ! They told us all about the city of Spalato, where they lived, and gave us such a glowing account of Dalmatian poets and poetry that we began to doubt at last if the seat of literature were not somewhere on the east coast of the Adriatic ; and I hope we left them the impression that the literary centre of the world was not a thousand miles from the horse-car office in Harvard Square.

Here and there repairs were going forward on the railroad, and most of the laborers were women. They were straight and handsome girls, and moved with a stately grace under the baskets of earth balanced on their heads. Brave black eyes they had, such as love to look and to be looked at ; they were not in the least hurried by their work, but desisted from it to gaze at the passengers whenever the train stopped. They all wore their beautiful peasant costume, — the square white linen head-dress falling to the shoulders, the crimson bodice, and the red scant skirt ; and how they contrived to keep themselves so clean at their work, and to look so spectacular in it all, remains one of the many Italian mysteries.

Another of these mysteries we beheld in the little beggar-boy at Isoletta. He stood at the corner of the station quite mute and motionless during our pause, and made no sign of supplication or entreaty. He let his looks beg for him. He was perfectly beautiful and exceedingly picturesque. Where his body was not quite naked, his jacket and trousers hung in shreds and points ; his long hair grew through the top of his hat, and fell over like a plume. Nobody could resist him ; people ran out of the cars, at the risk of being left behind, to put coppers into the little dirty hand held languidly out to receive them. The boy thanked none, smiled on none, but looked curiously and cautiously at all, with the quick perception and the illogical conclusions of his class and race. As we started he did not move, but remained in his attitude of listless tranquillity. As we glanced back, the mystery of him- seemed to be solved for a moment : he would stand there till he grew up into a graceful, prayerful, pitiless brigand, and then he would rend from travel the tribute now so freely given him. But after all, though his future seemed clear, and he appeared the type of a strange and hardly reclaimable people, he was not quite a solution of the Neapolitan puzzle.