Travel Letters: Meran, Tyrol (1870)

DEAR FRED, — I have been meaning to write you ever since I came abroad ; especially, I had a notion of writing to you on your birthday, the glorious 5th, but the mountains were too many for me, and every night I was so tired that I was fain to get into my uncomfortable little Dutch bed as soon as possible. I warn you beforehand, that you will have an awful time with the beds when you come into these parts. You and I are too long. I have just escaped from a bed at this untimely hour on Sunday morning, because I could not stretch out straight, or make the narrow bedclothes come over me, and that ‘s the reason why at this present moment I come to be writing to you.

I have had five glorious weeks of Switzerland and the Tyrol, Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, the Matterhorn, the Jungfrau, the Grossglockner, and the Marmolata. I have seen them all face to face, had splendid weather, walked myself into good condition, found the people interesting and amusing everywhere, and met with only one disappointment. That was in the giving up of the great Miracle Play at Ober-Ammergau, on account of the war, just before we reached there. It was a great disappointment, for one can never have another chance, and every one who saw it speaks of it as very wonderful.

For the last three weeks we have been in the Tyrol.

I like the people immensely, especially in south Tyrol; they seem to me to be the most cheerful, industrious, hospitable peasantry in Europe. There is a pleasant mixture of Italian and German in their character, as there is in their language, look, and dress. They have very pleasant ways of doing things. It is pleasant, instead of the horrible gong which bangs away at Alliance or Crestline, or the blowsy Irishman who howls at you, “Dinner’s ready,” to have a rosy, neat Tyrolese girl, as she puts down a dish of soup, wish you, ” May you dine well,” and as she gives you a candle at night say, ” May God give you good sleep,” and as she takes your fee at leaving, kiss your hand and wish you “lucky journey.” To be sure, the soup is often bad, and the bread almost always horrible, in the little out of the way inns, but their dreadfulness is made more tolerable by the people’s pretty ways. It is embarrassing to happen to sneeze in a group of people ; every hat comes off, and the ” God bless you’s ” are showered down in a distressing way.

Off here in the hills, we hear only stray rumors of the terrible war. The great battle of last week, with its unexpected defeat of the French, has thrown all Europe into tumult, of which we get only the echoes. In two weeks I am going to Paris. What I shall find there I do not know ; unless better fortune comes to retrieve him, Napoleon must be shaken, and probably overthrown. There is a sort of revolution already in Paris. What a blessed thing for us, that big ocean between us and all this sort of thing ! I wish you could be here this Sunday morning. Cleveland is pretty, but this is prettier. A lovely old valley, with vineyards at its bottom, and running up to the very tops of the high hills that shut it in. Old castles and modern chateaux looking down from every side, and in the midst this queer old town, with peasants in their picturesque Sunday clothes, strolling back and forth over the bridge that crosses the little Adige, and an Italian sky and sunlight over everything.

What a good time we had in Boston those last two days. Can’t you come on in September, when Arthur will be there ? I hope we shall have many Sundays together as that last in June. Good-by, and good luck to you always. Affectionately,

PHILLIPS.