Charles Dickens.

The works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) online

. (page 28 of 43)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 28 of 43)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

bed, at midnight; but the hairdresser (a corpulent man, in
drab slippers) was still sitting there, with his legs stretched
out before him, and evidently couldn't bear to have the
shutters put up.

Next day we went down to the harbour, where the sailors
of all nations were discharging and taking in cargoes of all
kinds : fruits, wines, oils, silks, stuffs, velvets, and every manner
of merchandise. Taking one of a great number of lively
little boats with gay-striped awnings, we rowed away, under
the sterns of great ships, under tow-ropes and cables, against
and among other boats, and very much too near the sides of
vessels that were faint with oranges, to the Marie Antoinette,
a handsome steamer bound for Genoa, lying near the mouth
of the harbour. By-and-by, the carriage, that unwieldy "trifle
from the Pantechnicon," on a flat barge, bumping against
everything, and giving occasion for a prodigious quantity of
oaths and grimaces, came stupidly alongside ; and by five
o'clock we were steaming out in the open sea. The vessel
was beautifully clean ; the meals were served under an awning
on deck ; the night was calm and clear ; the quiet beauty of
the sea and sky unspeakable.

We were off' Nice, early next morning, and coasted along,
within a few miles of the Cornice road (of which more in its
place) nearly all day. We could see Genoa before three ; and
watching it as it gradually developed its splendid amphi-
theatre, terrace rising above terrace, garden above garden,
palace above palace, height upon height, was ample occupa-
tion for us, till we ran into the stately harbour. Having
been duly astonished, here, by the sight of a few Cappucini
monks, who were watching the fair-weighing of some wood
upon the wharf, we drove off to Albaro, two miles distant,
where we had engaged a house.

The way lay through the main streets, but not through the


Strada Nuova, or the Stradi Balbi, which are the famous
streets of palaces. I never in my life was so dismayed !
The wonderful novelty of everything, the unusual smells, the
unaccountable filth (though it is reckoned the cleanest of
Italian towns), the disorderly jumbling of dirty houses, one
upon the roof of another; the passages more squalid and
more close than any in St. Giles's or old Paris; in and out
of which, not vagabonds, but well-dressed women, with white
veils and great fans, were passing and repassing; the perfect
absence of resemblance in any dwelling-house, or shop, or
wall, or post, or pillar, to anything one had ever seen before ;
and the disheartening dirt, discomfort, and decay; perfectly
confounded me. I fell into a dismal reverie. I am conscious
of a feverish and bewildered vision of saints and virgins'"
shrines at the street corners of great numbers of friars,
monks, and soldiers of vast red curtains, waving in the door-
ways of the churches of always going up hill, and yet seeing
every other street and passage going higher up of fruit-stalls,
with fresh lemons and oranges hanging in garlands made of
.vine-leaves of a guard-house, and a drawbridge and some
gateways and vendors of iced water, sitting with little trays
upon the margin of the kennel and this is all the conscious-
ness I had, until I was set down in a rank, dull, weedy
court-yard, attached to a kind of pink jail ; and was told I
lived there.

I little thought, that day, that I should ever come to have
an attachment for the very stones in the streets of Genoa,
and to look back upon the city with affection as connected
with many hours of happiness and quiet ! But these are my
first impressions honestly set down; and how they changed,
I will set down too. At present, let us breathe after this
long-winded journey.


THE first impressions of such a place as ALBARO, the suburb
of Genoa, where I am now, as my American friends would
say, "located, 11 can hardly fail, I should imagine, to be
mournful and disappointing. It requires a little time and
use to overcome the feeling of depression consequent, at first,
on so much ruin and neglect. Novelty, pleasant to most
people, is particularly delightful, I think, to me. I am not
easily dispirited when I have the means of pursuing my own
fancies and occupations ; and I believe I have some natural
aptitude for accommodating myself to circumstances. But,
as yet, I stroll about here, in all the holes and corners of the
neighbourhood, in a perpetual state of forlorn surprise; and
returning to my villa: the Villa Bagnerello (it sounds
romantic, but Signer Bagnerello is a butcher hard by) : have
sufficient occupation in pondering over my new experiences,
and comparing them, very much to my own amusement, with
my expectations, until I wander out again.

The Villa Bagnerello : or the Pink Jail, a far more expres-
sive name for the mansion : is in one of the most splendid
situations imaginable. The noble bay of Genoa, with the
deep blue Mediterranean, lies stretched out near at hand ;
monstrous old desolate houses and palaces are dotted all
about ; lofty hills, with their tops often hidden in the clouds,
and with strong forts perched high up on their craggy sides,
are close upon the left ; and in front, stretching from the
walls of the house, down to a ruined chapel which stands


upon the bold and picturesque rocks on the sea-shore, are
green vineyards, where you may wander all day long in
partial shade, through interminable vistas of grapes, trained
on a rough trellis-work across the narrow paths.

This sequestered spot is approached by lanes so very
narrow, that when we arrived at the Custom-house, we found
the people here had taken the measure of the narrowest
among them, and were waiting to apply it to the carriage ;
which ceremony was gravely performed in the street, while we
all stood by in breathless suspense. It was found to be a
very tight fit, but just a possibility, and no more as I am
reminded every day, by the sight of various large holes which
it punched in the walls on either side as it came along.
We are more fortunate, I am told, than an old lady, who
took a house in these parts not long ago, and who stuck fast
in her carriage in a lane; and as it was impossible to open
one of the doors, she was obliged to submit to the indignity
of being hauled through one of the little front windows, like
a harlequin.

When you have got through these narrow lanes, you come
to an archway, imperfectly stopped up by a rusty old gate
my gate. The rusty old gate has a bell to correspond, which
you ring as long as you like, and which nobody answers, as
it has no connection whatever with the house. But there is
;i rusty old knocker, too very loose, so that it slides round
when you touch it and if you learn the trick of it, and
knock long enough, somebody comes. The brave Courier
comes, and gives you admittance. You walk into a seedy
little garden, all wild and weedy, from which the vineyard
opens ; cross it, enter a square hall like a cellar, walk up a
cracked marble staircase, and pass into a most enormous room
with a vaulted roof and whitewashed walls: not unlike a
great Methodist chapel. This is the sola. It has five
windows and five doors, and is decorated with pictures which
would gladden the heart of one of those picture-cleaners in
London who hang up, as a sign, a picture divided, like death


and the lady, at the top of the old ballad : which always
leaves you in a state of uncertainty whether the ingenious
professor has cleaned one half, or dirtied the other. The
furniture of this sola is a sort of red brocade. All the chairs
are immovable, and the sofa weighs several tons.

On the same floor, and opening out of this same chamber,
are dining-room, drawing-room, and divers bed-rooms : each
with a multiplicity of doors and windows. Up-stairs are
divers other gaunt chambers, and a kitchen ; and down-stairs
is another kitchen, which, with all sorts of strange contriv-
ances for burning charcoal, looks like an alchemical labora-
tory. There are also some half-dozen small sitting-rooms,
where the servants in this hot July, may escape from the
heat of the fire, and where the brave Courier plays all sorts
of musical intruments of his own manufacture, all the even-
ing long. A mighty old, wandering, ghostly, echoing, grim,
bare house it is, as ever I beheld or thought of.

There is a little vine-covered terrace, opening from the
drawing-room ; and under this terrace, and forming one side
of the little garden, is what used to be the stable. It is now
a cow-house, and has three cows in it, so that we get new
milk by the bucketfull. There is no pasturage near, and
they never go out, but are constantly lying down, and sur-
feiting themselves with vine-leaves perfect Italian cows
enjoying the dolce far 1 niente all day long. They are pre-
sided over, and slept with, by an old man named Antonio,
and his son ; two burnt-sienna natives with naked legs and
feet, who wear, each, a shirt, a. pair of trousers, and a red
sash, with a relic, or some sacred charm like the bonbon off
a twelfth-cake, hanging round the neck. The old man is very
anxious to convert me to the Catholic faith, and exhorts me
frequently. We sit upon a stone by the door, sometimes in
the evening, like Robinson Crusoe and Friday reversed ; and
he generally relates, towards my conversion, an abridgment
of the History of Saint Peter chiefly, I believe, from the
unspeakable delight he has in his imitation of the cock.


The view, as I have said, is charming ; but in the day you
must keep the lattice-blinds close shut, or the sun would drive
you mad ; and when the sun goes down you must shut up all
the windows, or the mosquitoes would tempt you to commit
suicide. So at this time of the year, you don't see much of
the prospect within doors. As for the flies, you don't mind
them. Nor the fleas, whose size is prodigious, and whose
name is Legion, and who populate the coach-house to that
extent that I daily expect to see the carriage going off
bodily, drawn by myriads of industrious fleas in harness.
The rats are kept away, quite comfortable, by scores of lean
cats, who roam about the garden for that purpose. The
lizards, of course, nobody cares for ; they play in the sun, and
don't bite. The little scorpions are merely curious. The
beetles are rather late, and have not appeared yet. The
frogs are company. There is a preserve of them in the
grounds of the next villa; and after nightfall, one would
think that scores upon scores of women in pattens were
going up and down a wet stone pavement without a moment's
cessation. That is exactly the noise they make.

The ruined chapel, on the picturesque and beautiful sea-
shore, was dedicated, once upon a time, to Saint John the
Baptist. I believe there is a legend that Saint John's bones
were received there, with various solemnities, when they were
first brought to Genoa; for Genoa possesses them to this
day. When there is any uncommon tempest at sea, they
are brought out and exhibited to the raging weather, which
they never fail to calm. In consequence of this connection
of Saint John with the city, great numbers of the common
people are christened Giovanni Baptista, which latter name is
pronounced in the Genoese patois " Batcheetcha," like a sneeze.
To hear everybody calling everybody else Batcheetcha, on a
Sunday, or festa-day, when there are crowds in the streets, is
not a little singular and amusing to a stranger.

The narrow lanes have great villas opening into them,
whoso walls (outside walls, I mean) are profusely painted


with all sorts of subjects, grim and holy. But time and the
sea-air have nearly obliterated them ; and they look like the
entrance to Vauxhall Gardens on a sunny day. The court-
yards of these houses are overgrown with grass and weeds;
all sorts of hideous patches cover the bases of the statues, as
if they were afflicted with a cutaneous disorder; the outer
gates are rusty ; and the iron bars outside the lower windows
are all tumbling down. Firewood is kept in halls where
costly treasures might be heaped up, mountains high ; water-
falls are dry and choked ; fountains, too dull to play, and
too lazy to work, have just enough recollection of their
identity, in their sleep, to make the neighbourhood damp ;
and the sirocco wind is often blowing over all these things
for days together, like a gigantic oven out for a holiday.

Not long ago, there was a festa-day, in honour of the
Virgins mother, when the young men of the neighbourhood,
having worn green wreaths of the vine in some procession or
other, bathed in them, by scores. It looked very odd and
pretty. Though I am bound to confess (not knowing of the
festa at that time), that I thought, and was quite satisfied,
they wore them as horses do to keep the flies off.

Soon afterwards, there was another festa-day, in honour
of St. Nazaro. One of the Albaro young men brought two
large bouquets soon after breakfast, and coming up-stairs
into the great sola, presented them himself. This was a
polite way of begging for a contribution towards the expenses
of some music in the Saint's honour, so we gave him whatever
it may have been, and his messenger departed : well satisfied.
At six o'clock in the evening we went to the church close
at hand a very gaudy place, hung all over with festoons and
bright draperies, and filled, from the altar to the main door,
with women, all seated. They wear no bonnets here, simply a
long white veil the " mezzero ; " and it was the most gauzy,
ethereal-looking audience I ever saw. The young women are
not generally pretty, but they walk remarkably well, and in
their personal carriage and the management of their veils,


display much innate grace and elegance. There were some
men present : not very many : and a few of these were kneel-
ing about the aisles, while everybody else tumbled over them.
Innumerable tapers were burning in the church ; the bits of
silver and tin about the saints (especially in the Virgin's
necklace) sparkled brilliantly ; the priests were seated about
the chief altar; the organ played away, lustily, and a full
band did the like ; while a conductor, in a little gallery
opposite to the band, hammered away on the desk before
him, with a scroll; and a tenor, without any voice, sang.
The band played one way, the organ played another, the
singer went a third, and the unfortunate conductor banged
and banged, and flourished his scroll on some principle of his
own: apparently well satisfied with the whole performance.
I never did hear such a discordant din. The heat was intense
all the time.

The men, in red caps, and with loose coats hanging on
their shoulders (they never put them on), were playing bowls,
and buying sweetmeats, immediately outside the church.
When half-a-dozen of them finished a game, they came into
the aisle, crossed themselves with the holy watei*, knelt on
one knee for an instant, and walked off again to play another
game at bowls. They are remarkably expert at this diversion,
and will play in the stony lanes and streets, and on the most
uneven and disastrous ground for such a purpose, with as
much nicety as on a billiard-table. But the most favourite
game is the national one of Mora, which they pursue with
surprising ardour, and at which they will stake everything
they possess. It is a destructive kind of gambling, requiring
no accessories but the ten fingers, which are always I intend
no pun at hand. Two men play together. One calls a
number say the extreme one, ten. He marks what portion
of it he pleases by throwing out three, or four, or five fingers;
and his adversary has, in the same instant, at hazard, and
without seeing his hand, to throw out as many fingers, as
will make the exact balance. Their eyes and hands become


so used to this, and act with such astonishing rapidity, that
an uninitiated bystander would find it very difficult, if not
impossible, to follow the progress of the game. The initiated,
however, of whom there is always an eager group looking
on, devour it with the most intense avidity ; and as they
are always ready to champion one side or the other in case
of a dispute, and are frequently divided in their partisanship,
it is often a very noisy proceeding. It is never the quietest
game in the world ; for the numbers are always called in a
loud sharp voice, and follow as close upon each other as they
can be counted. On a holiday evening, standing at a window,
or walking in a garden, or passing through the streets, or
sauntering in any quiet place about the town, you will hear
this game in progress in a score of wine-shops at once; and
looking over any vineyard walk, or turning almost any corner,
will come upon a knot of players in full cry. It is observable
that most men have a propensity to throw out some par-
ticular number oftener than another; and the vigilance with
which two sharp-eyed players will mutually endeavour to
detect this weakness, and adapt their game to it, is very
curious and entertaining. The effect is greatly heightened by
the universal suddenness and vehemence of gesture ; two men
playing for half a farthing with an intensity as all-absorbing
as if the stake were life.

Hard by here is a large Palazzo, formerly belonging to
some member of the Brignole family, but just now hired by
a school of Jesuits for their summer quarters. I walked into
its dismantled precincts the other evening about sunset, and
couldn't help pacing up and down for a little time, drowsily
taking in the aspect of the place: which is repeated here-
abouts in all directions.

I loitered to and fro, under a colonnade, forming two sides
of a weedy, grass-grown court -yard, whereof the house formed
a third side, and a low terrace-walk, overlooking the garden
and the neighbouring hills, the fourth. I don't believe there
was an uncracked stone in the whole pavement. In the


centre was a melancholy statue, so piebald in its decay, that
it looked exactly as if it had been covered with sticking-
plaster, and afterwards powdered. The stables, coach-houses,
offices, were all empty, all ruinous, all utterly deserted.

Doors had lost their hinges, and were holding on by their
latches; windows were broken, painted plaster had peeled off',
and was lying about in clods ; fowls and cats had so taken
possession of the out-buildings, that I couldn"t help thinking
of the fairy tales, and eyeing them with suspicion, as trans-
formed retainers, waiting to be changed back again. One old
Tom in particular : a scraggy brute, with a hungry green eye
(a poor relation, in reality, I am inclined to think) : came
prowling round and round me, as if he half believed, for the
moment, that I might be the hero come to marry the lady*
and set all to-rights ; but discovering his mistake, he suddenly
gave a grim snarl, and walked away with such a tremendous
tail, that he couldn't get into the little hole where he lived,
but was obliged to wait outside, until his indignation and
his tail had gone down together.

In a sort of summer-house, or whatever it may be, in this
colonnade, some Englishmen had been living, like grubs in a
nut ; but the Jesuits had given them notice to go, and they
had gone, and that was shut up too. The house : a wander-
ing, echoing, thundering barrack of a place, with the lower
windows barred up, as usual, was wide open at the door : and
I have no doubt I might have gone in, and gone to bed, and
gone dead, and nobody a bit the wiser. Only one suite of
rooms on an upper Hoor was tenanted ; and from one of
these, the voice of a young-lady vocalist, practising bravura
lustily, came flaunting out upon the silent evening.

I went down into the garden, intended to be prim and
quaint, with avenues, and terraces, and orange-trees, and
statues, and water in stone basins ; and everything was green,
gaunt, weedy, straggling, under grown or over grown, mildewy,
damp, redolent of all sorts of slabby, clammy, creeping, and
uncomfortable life. There was nothing bright in the whole


scene but a firefly one solitary firefly showing against the
dark bushes like the last little speck of the departed Glory
of the house ; and even it went flitting up and down at
sudden angles, and leaving a place with a jerk, and describing
an irregular circle, and returning to the same place with a
twitch that startled one : as if it were looking for the rest
of the Glory, and wondering (Heaven knows it might H what
had become of it.

In the course of two months, the flitting shapes and
shadows of my dismal entering reverie gradually resolved
themselves into familiar forms and substances ; and I already
began to think that when the time should come, a year
hence, for closing the long holiday and turning back to
England, I might part from Genoa with anything but a glad

It is a place that "grows upon you"" every day. There
seems to be always something to find out in it. There are
the most extraordinary alleys and by-ways to walk about
in. You can lose your way (what a comfort that is, when
you are idle !) twenty times a day, if you like ; and turn up
again, under the most unexpected and surprising difficulties.
It abounds in the strangest contrasts ; things that are
picturesque, ugly, mean, magnificent, delightful, and offensive,
break upon the view at every turn.

They who would know how beautiful the country imme-
diately surrounding Genoa is, should climb (in clear weather)
to the top of Monte Faccio, or, at least, ride round the city
walls : a feat more easily performed. No prospect can be
more diversified and lovely than the changing views of the
harbour, and the valleys of the two rivers, the Polcevera and
the Bizagno, from the heights along which the strongly
fortified walls are carried, like the great wall of China in
little. In not the least picturesque part of this ride, there
is a fair specimen of a real Genoese tavern, where the visitor
may derive good entertainment from real Genoese dishes,


such as Tagliarini ; Ravioli ; German sausages, strong of
garlic, sliced and eaten with fresh green figs ; cocks'" combs
and sheep-kidneys, chopped up with mutton chops and liver ;
small pieces of some unknown part of a calf, twisted into
small shreds, fried, and served up in a great dish like white-
bait; and other curiosities of that kind. They often get
wine at these suburban Trattorie, from France and Spain
and Portugal, which is brought over by small captains in
little trading-vessels. They buy it at so much a bottle,
without asking what it is, or caring to remember if anybody
tells them, and usually divide it into two heaps ; of which
they label one Champagne, and the other Madeira. The
various opposite flavours, qualities, countries, ages, and
vintages that are comprised under these two general heads
is quite extraordinary. The most limited range is probably
from cool Gruel up to old Marsala, and down again to
apple Tea.

The great majority of the streets are as narrow as any
thoroughfare can well be, where people (even Italian people)
are supposed to live and walk about ; being mere lanes, with
here and there a kind of well, or breathing-place. The
houses are immensely high, painted in all sorts of colours,
and are in every stage and state of damage, dirt, and lack
of repair. They are commonly let off in floors, or flats, like
the houses in the old town of Edinburgh, or many houses in
Paris. There are few street doors ; the entrance halls are,
for the most part, looked upon as public property ; and any
moderately enterprising scavenger might make a fine fortune
by now and then clearing them out. As it is impossible for
coaches to penetrate into these streets, there are sedan chairs,
gilded and otherwise, for hire in divers places. A great
many private chairs are also kept among the nobility and
gentry; and at night these are trotted to and fro in all
directions, preceded by bearers of great lanthorns, made of
linen stretched upon a frame. The sedans and lanthorns are
the legitimate successors of the long strings of patient and


much-abused mules, that go jingling their little bells through
these confined streets all day long. They follow them, as
regularly as the stars the sun.

When shall I forget the Streets of Palaces : the Strada
Nuova and the Strada Balbi ! or how the former looked one
summer day, when I first saw it underneath the brightest

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 28 of 43)