Travel: Italy

Returning to Alexandria, it was found that the steamer ” Cathay ” was to sail for Naples that day, and so transferring to that steamer, we were soon headed for the ” toe of Italy.” Leaving Alexandria on Friday, we expected to get into Naples on Monday, but in this we were somewhat disappointed. The Mediterranean Sea is noted for its beauty and praised for its calmness, but some people who traverse it will remember it in a different way. It was my fortune to spend ten nights upon its waters, and six of them would hardly be worth living over again. These nights were the worst I have ever experienced at sea. At times thunder and lightning, rain, hail, and snow were combined at once with a fierce northwest wind, to render the night hideous even on land, but much more so on the seething sea. The depths to which our ship would plunge at times would seem to preclude for the moment the idea of her coming to the surface again. We had four nights of this on that trip, and it was sufficient for most of us, so that when the steamer reached Naples, every passenger left her, though she was to proceed to Genoa, and several had tickets for that port.

We obtained our first sight of Europe at Cape Spartivento, and then coasted west for the Strait of Messina. Soon, over the port bow, we caught sight of Mt. Aetna, piercing the clouds with its sharp cone, and between the clouds we could often see the smoke and vapor pouring from the crater. For a, few moments only, the clouds would roll back and reveal the monster in his might. The base of the mountain is girdled with green timber, its top is mantled with snow, while a long stream of smoke and steam poured from the summit.

At the same time that Aetna was in view, off to the starboard between us and the land appeared a sight of which we often read, but which few obtain, a genuine waterspout. It is a western cyclone at sea. There was the black, greenish cloud above, the funnel-shaped, revolving cloud below extending to the surface of the sea. It was moving eastward and would not touch us, but there was a small sailing vessel directly in its path. With great haste they changed their sails and turned their course to escape, if possible, the threatened destruction. From our ship bombs were continually fired with the hope of “breaking” the terrific storm. Great volumes of water were drawn up into the cloud, which fell in torrents upon the sea and neighboring land. It was an impressive sight and an anxious time, but the little ship made good use of her sails, and before the spout reached her, it was broken, whether because it had spent its force or from the concussions of the bombs could not be told. We were now in the lee of land, and really enjoyed the pleasant sail through the narrow strait which separates Sicily from the mainland. Villages and towns lined the picturesque shores on either side.

After leaving the strait, the Lipari Islands gave us shelter from the northwest gale, and we began to imagine that we should have one calm night. We soon came in sight of Stromboli, one of the islands, which is a noted volcano. It rises from the sea like a giant haystack, and slopes to the water’s edge all round. It was active, but a cloud of vapor clung to its brow, so that we did not obtain a good view. There is a village clinging to its base, which seems to be threatened with the angry sea on one side, and a fiery monster on the other, with no chance to escape if there should be a violent outbreak. It would seem that such a situation could have but little attraction as a dwelling-place, but there are people who appear to enjoy thus jeopardizing their lives. Coming out from the lee of these islands, we received the full charge of the gale, and resigned ourselves to what proved to be the worst night of all.

“Sunny Italy” did not maintain the fair reputation which she enjoys at a distance for soft skies and balmy air on that January morning when we entered the Bay of Naples in a fierce snow-storm. The few glimpses we obtained of the picturesque bay were sufficient to confirm our ideas of its natural beauty, but that which caused the greatest pleasure was the calm waters of the well-protected harbor. Here our ship at last settled down to rest, and it was with peculiar gratitude to Providence that we walked the decks in peace, and contemplated going ashore. The deep-seated wish that we might never again have to go to sea is still well remembered, though pleasanter experiences since then have shaken our firm resolutions never to do so except for the purpose of getting home.

As soon, as the clouds had sufficiently dispersed, our first care was to obtain a view of Vesuvius, about nine miles distant. It was lazily pouring forth a column of smoke, and at dark put on a nightcap of fine. No small disappointment was caused by our inability to pay a visit to the crater, the way being blocked up by snow, during the time allotted for our stay at Naples.

It is hardly worth the traveler’s while to spend much time in Naples. The National Museum, Mount St. Elmo, the aquarium, and a few of the churches are all that will at tract his attention. The former is most interesting and instructive for its stores of mementoes in the classical arts. Especially are Pompeii and Herculaneum well represented, but a visit to the museum of their relics does not satisfy one’s curiosity when the remains of the towns themselves are so close at hand.

But we must not leave this celebrated city without a few glimpses at its ordinary sights. The first thing we noticed was the quite common custom of ladies’ going on the streets without any headgear, and this in spite of the cold weather. Fully half the ladies one meets on the streets and cars have no hats or bonnets. It must be confessed that it is largely a matter of custom, for in many instances hats and bonnets are only an excuse for what they profess to be, their presence adding nothing to the comfort of the wearer. It was amusing to see the milkmen going about from door to door and milking the cow in sight of the customer. In certain parts of the city macaroni is manufactured in large quantities. It is made of wheat meal with the bran removed, this being made into a paste with hot water, is forced through molds which run it into small pipes. It is then hung up to dry, and for this purpose large areas of the broad streets are used. For some distance the sidewalks will be almost blocked, and every vacant space will be filled with this most popular food of the Italians. All kinds of wheat are not adapted to the manufacture of macaroni, that which is rich in gluten being necessary. Cheaper grain than wheat is mixed in some of the inferior grades which are sold to the poor classes, with whom it is the principal arti-cle of diet. Macaroni is a healthful food. The Italian cooks are very adept in its preparation, although some of their concoctions are rendered indigestible by cheese and condiments.

Herculaneum is about four miles south of the main part of Naples, beneath the suburbs of Portici. This is the second town that has been built on the site of the buried city. Entering a vestibule off the street, we paid a small fee, and then descended eighty-five feet through solid lava rock to the stage of the old theater. Nearer the seashore the lava flow was not so deep, and excavations have laid open the ruins of houses.

But the ruins of Pompeii far exceed those of Herculaneum in interest. These are about twelve miles from Naples, or eight miles beyond Herculaneum. As the latter place lay nearer to the mountain and nearer to the sea, a storm of lava seems to have overwhelmed it, but Pompeii was more remote from the mountain on a plateau at some distance from the sea. Instead of being covered with lava, it was buried in ashes and scoria, which the wind seems to have blown in this direction. This matter is light and easily removed, since the covering extends but a few feet above the tops of the walls and houses.

The terrible eruption which overthrew these cities occurred in A. v. 79. Pompeii is two miles in circumference, and was built of low houses, very few of which were more than two stories in height. The material in which it was buried was so fine that it penetrated everywhere, even into the smallest crevices and the deepest cellars. This in a few hours faithfully stereotyped and hermetically sealed Roman life at that time. The details of their social life and customs are thus perfectly revealed in object-lessons which we know to be true to life. The streets are not wide, the widest being thirty feet, and many of them less than half of that. The deep rats cut in the pavements by the chariot wheels are still there, and it is usual to see the stepping-stones in the middle of the street, to which one can easily step from the footpath, thus crossing a street at two steps. Some of the houses and many of the relics are mute witnesses of the deep wickedness of the people. There is a museum within the walls which contains many remarkable illustrations of their lives, and especially of the terrible manner in which they met their death. There are skeletons of people and dogs perfectly preserved, showing plainly the agony of the death with which they were so suddenly overtaken.

The aquarium in Naples is of such interest that no one should miss the opportunity to see it. The Mediterranean Sea, which is rich in aquatic and marine life, is well repre sented here. We are wont to regard life at the bottom of the sea as of a dreary nature, and certainly it would have but little charm for us in our present make-up, but we must by no means suppose that the world in which we live contains all the beauty. It will be the greatest surprise to those who have no knowledge of those things to see with their own eyes the dwellers of those mysterious depths clothed in the most gorgeous robes, and possessing forms of a delicacy which nothing in this upper world approaches. Filled with admiration and wonder, I looked long and eagerly at this, to me, new display of the wisdom and goodness of God. There were living and moving creatures of considerable size, with form and substance so delicate that their presence in the clear water could only be detected by their outlines and the fact that they were in motion. There were many which exhibited wonderful wisdom in their arrangement, and both plant and animal life exhibited the most exquisite hues and shades of color.