Edward Lear.

Journals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c online

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below the mountain, as the winding pathway
led us on from wood to wood throughout a
delicious vale, at the lowest end of which a
mill and stream, with a few cottages, added a
charm to the wild scene ; and still through the
thick foliage magnificent peeps of overtowering
Bova were seen from time to time. And


having passed the fiumara at the foot of the
ridge crowned by the aerial city, we began to
ascend once more a brown cistus-covered hill-
side, with giant naked-armed oaks in the fore-
ground, and the vast blue forest - clothed
mountains of Aspromonte closing the landscape
on all but the southern side. As the time for
our mid-day halt came on, and the heat began
to be rather troublesome, we came in sight of
Palizzi, a most singular town, built round an
isolated rock commanding one of the many
narrow valleys opening to the sea. Coming, as
we did, from the high inland ground, we
arrived at the top of Palizzi, the castle of which
is alone visible from the north side, so that to
reach the level of the stream and lower town,
it is necessary to descend a perfect ladder
between houses and pergolas, clustered in true
Calabrese style among the projecting cactus-
covered ledges of the parent rock from which
they seemed to grow. No wilder, nor more
extraordinary place than Palizzi can well greet

artist eye. Leaving P to finish a drawing I

went forward to seek some shelter against the


heat, and, reaching the castle, soon found myself
in the midst of its ruined area, where, though
full of incidental picturesqueness namely, a
cottage, a pergola, seven large pigs, a blind
man, and a baby, I could get no information as to
the whereabouts of the taverna ; until alarmed
by the lively remonstrances of the pigs, there
appeared a beautifully fair girl who directed me
down to the middle of the town : the light hair,
and Grecian traits, like those of the women of
Gaeta, seemed to recall the daughters of
Magna Graecia.

The streets of Palizzi, through which no
Englishman perhaps had as yet descended,
were swarming with perfectly naked, berry-
brown children, and before I reached the
taverna I could hardly make my way through
the gathering crowd of astonished mahogany
Cupids. The taverna was but a single dark
room, its walls hung with portraits of little
saints, and its furniture a very filthy bed
with a crimson velvet gold-fringed canopy,
containing an unclothed ophthalmic baby, an
old cat, and a pointer dog ; all the rest of


the chamber being loaded with rolls of linen,
guns, gourds, pears, hats, glass tumblers,
puppies, jugs, sieves, &c. ; still it was a
better resting-place than the hut at Condufori,
inasmuch as it was free from many intruders.

Until P came, and joined with me in

despatching a feeble dinner of eggs, figs and
cucumber, wine and snow, I sate exhibited
and displayed for the benefit of the landlord,
his wife, and family, who regarded me with
unmingled amazement, saying perpetually, "O
donde siete ?" O che fai ?" " O chi sei ?"*
And, indeed, the passage of a stranger through
these outlandish places is so unusual an
occurrence, that on no principle but one can
the aborigines account for your appearance.
" Have you no rocks, no towns, no trees in
your own country ? Are you not rich ? Then
what can you wish here? here, in this place
of poverty and incommodo ? What are you
doing ? Where are you going ? " You might
talk for ever ; but you could not convince

* Oh where do you come from ? Oh what are you going to
do ? Oh who can you be ?


them you are not a political agent sent to
spy out the nakedness of the land, and masking
the intentions of your government under the
thin veil of pourtraying scenes, in which they
see no novelty, and take no delight.

Going out to explore the lower part of the
town, I could not resist making a sketch of its
wonderful aspect from below ; the square
towering rock of Palizzi seems to fill the whole
scene, while the houses are piled up from the
stream in a manner defying all description.
But to transfer all this to paper was neither
easy nor agreeable ; the afternoon sun reflected
from the crags of the close and narrow valley,
making it like an oven, besides that every
available bit of standing ground is so nearly
covered with intractable cactus-bushes as to be
utterly vexatious ; and, add to their alarming
prickles, and the frying heat, that the stream
was full of soaking hemp, the poisonous stench
of which was intolerable, and that all the
juvenile unclothed population of the town
came and sate over against me, and it may be
perceived, that to sketch in Palizzi, though it


he truly a wonder in its way, is indeed a
pursuit of knowledge under great difficulties.

We left this town at three P.M., and made
for Staiti, where we were to sleep, and, keeping
always distant some miles from the sea, began
to ascend the hill of Pietrapennata. From
the north side, Palizzi appears totally different
in form, and is one of those Poussinesque
scenes so exquisite in character, and so peculiar
to Italy. The village of Pietrapennata con-
tains nothing remarkable, but from the height
immediately above it, one of the most glorious
landscapes bursts into view. What detached
and strange crags ! what overhanging ilex and
oak ! what middle-distance of densest wood !
what remote and graceful lines, with the blue
expanse of the eastern sea, and the long plains
of the eastern side of Italy ! The setting sun
prevented our sketching, but we resolved
positively to return to this most exquisite
scenery, from Staiti, which now towered above
us on the opposite side of a deep dark gully,
filled with wondrous groups of giant ilex. As
we slowly toiled up to this most strange


place, wholly Calabrese in aspect, with its
houses jammed and crushed among extra-
ordinary crevices, its churches growing out of
solitary rocks, and (what forms the chief
character of these towns) all its dwellings
standing singly the Zampognari* were playing,
and all the peasant population thronging up-
wards to their evening rest. Here, too, were
the first symptoms of local colour in costume,
the women wearing bright blue dresses with
broad orange borders, and all we saw gave
promise of real unmixed Calabrian character-
istics, unspoiled by high roads and the changes
of all-fusing and assimilating civilisation.

Don Domenico Musitani, the chief man of
the place, to whom the never-failing care of the
Consigliere da Nava had recommended us, was
sitting in the Piazza an obese and taciturn
man, who read the introductory letter, and
forthwith took us to his house ; which, among
many unpleasing recollections, will certainly
ever rank as one of the most disagreeable.

* Peasants who play on the Zampogne, a sort of bagpipes used
in Southern Italy.


Life in these regions of natural magnificence
is full of vivid contrasts. The golden abstract
visions of the hanging woods and crags of
Pietrapennata were suddenly opposed to the
realities of Don D. Musitani's rooms, which
were so full of silkworms as to be beyond
measure disgusting. To the cultivation of this
domestic creature all Staiti is devoted ; yellow
cocoons in immense heaps are piled up in every
possible place, and the atmosphere may be
conceived rather than described ; for there is
no more sickening odour than that of many
thousand caterpillars confined in the closest of
chambers. Almost did we repent of ever
having come into these Calabrian lands ! After
the usual refreshment of snow and wine, we
waited wearily for supper ; at times replying to
the interrogatories of our host on the subject
of the productions of Inghilterra, and right
glad when dismissed to what rest might be
found in couches apparently clean, though
odious from the silkworms all around them ;
but necessity as well as poverty makes the
traveller acquainted with strange bed-fellows,

E 2



Explore Stalti. Feeding among the silkworms A dinner party. Silkworm
pie, &c. We resolve to return to forests of Pietrapennata to-morrow.
Sociable peasantry. Discomforts of Staiti. -Return to the forests.
Extreme beauty and variety of the environs of Pietrapennata. The
Archpriest of the village, and his hospitable welcome. Return at night
to Staiti. Uncomfortable evening. Speculations on S ta Maria di Polsi.
We descend to the sea-shore again. Reach Motta Bruzzano. Culti-
vated grounds. Beautiful bits of scenery. Good wine at Bruzzano.
The silent Ciccio urges us to proceed. Good qualities of our guide.
Extreme heat. Ascent of the hill of Ferruzzano, and descent to the shore
once more. Fatiguing walk to the Convent of Bianco. Disappointment
at the monastery. Ascent to Carignano, and halt there. Further ascent
by beautiful woods to S ta Agata di Bianco. The Baron's house. The
usual hospitable welcome with the addition of luxuries and refinements.
Difficulty of passing the evening hours. The family supper party.

August 4. Long before daylight a troop of
pigeons came into our room through the ill-
shut door, and after them followed fowls, then
dogs ; all of which visitors we rejoiced to leave,
and were soon exploring the town. Staiti has
its full share of Calabrian mystery in its
buildings, caves, and rocks, and employed our
pencils far and near till noon, when we returned


to our hosts to find dinner laid out in one of
our bedrooms, all among the silkworms as
before. The contrast between' the condition
of this house of discomforts, and the cleanliness
of those of the more northern provincials in the
Neapolitan kingdom, is very striking. Donna
Angela Musitani, who had not appeared last
night, presided at the table, and our arrival
seemed the occasion of a sort of dinner-party
in our honour; for there was the Giudice of
the town, besides a Canonico or two. The
former, a well-bred man, when speaking of his
" life of exile " here, said, in the saddest of
tones, " Dio ! Signori ! Era Napoli e Staiti !
fra il Paradiso elTnferno !" and, indeed, barring
the out-door picturesqueness of the place, few
more uninviting abodes than the odoriferous
Staiti could be pointed out. Nor did the
annoyances of a tribe of spoiled children and
barking dogs add charms to the family dinner.
But the "vermi di seta" were our chief horror;
and so completely did silkworms seem the life
and air, end and material, of all Staiti, that we
felt more than half sure, on contemplating three


or four suspicious-looking dishes, that those
interesting lepidoptera formed a great part of
the groundwork of our banquet silkworms
plain boiled, stewed chrysalis, and moth tarts.*
Glad we were to rush out, to sit and draw
among the rocks, pondering how we should
once more revisit Pietrapennata on the morrow.
Almost all the peasants had some greeting for
us as they passed homeward after sunset.
Some gave us pears, which seem the staple
fruit of Southern Calabria ; -f many asked us if
we were planning and writing down for our
governo ; and one woman begged me to ask my
king to ask hers to let her have salt cheaper;
while another set forth a claim to her house

* By way of illustrating this our melancholy foreboding, and to
show that such things have been, are, and may be, I subjoin the
following quotation from a recently published work, The Ansayrii,
Sfc., ly the Son. F. Wai/pole. Bentley, 1851.

" A sort of sherbet is made here [Diarbekr] of the cocoon of
the silkworm ; it is considered a great luxury, and is exported
for a beverage for the rich all over the surrounding country, To
me it appeared very nauseous, tasting exactly as the cocoons smell,
&c." Vol. i. page 366.

t " Of which," suggests a friend to me, "they continue

as prodigal to strangers and pigs as in the days of Horace.
(Ep. i. vii. 14.)"


being re-roofed, on account of her grandfather
having been killed in battle. The Archpriest
of Pietrapennata also accosted us, and, finding
how desirous we were of revisiting that village
and its forest scenery, good-naturedly asked us
to dine at his house. Lingering as late as we
could, we took refuge with the Giudice, Don
Antonio Morano, for an hour, whose comfortable
clean room (though not free from the general
taint of the town's vermicular atmosphere)
was a favourable contrast to our host's home.
Thither, however, we at length retreated, to
endure as best we might its evils : there we
endured more strange food ; the children
screamed, the dogs howled ; and the fat hostess
amused herself by catching unwary dragon-flies,
and holding them in the candle.

August 5. An hour before daylight we left
the Palace of Cocoons with joy. How exquisite
was the sweet morning light and air the deep
ravine full of elix, the mill, and the ascent to
the opposite side, where those surpassing
woods fringed the park-like glades, or formed


magnificent pictures with their grey trunks, and
arms flung out over rock and dell ! O rare woods
of Pietrapennata ! I do not remember to have
seen a lovelier spot than the " winged rock "
not unaptly named, feathered as it is from base
to summit. None of your dense carpet-forests
your monotonies of verdure, but made up of
separate combinations of pictorial effect, such
as one can hardly fancy Claude and Salvator
Rosa at every step ! All the morning we drew
in this beautiful place, and little enough could
our utmost efforts make of what would occupy
a regiment of landscape-painters for years, if
every one of them had as many arms and hands
as Vishnoo. At noon, a constant breeze plays
among these umbrageous groves, making even
the heat of the day pleasant, and we moved
reluctantly to the top of the hill, whose crown
of foliage spread away in unmeasured lines to
the north ; hence the forest slopes conduct
your eye eastward to Brancaleone and other
villages, starry bright against the blue waves.
At the hamlet of Pietrapennata we found our
acquaintance the Archpriest, Don Domenico



Luciano, waiting for us in his rustic dwelling,
the divine himself clad in an undress of cordu-
roys and a shooting-jacket, the like of which
was never seen in the grave Roman States.
As all and everybody of the village thronged
to see us, we were fain to allow our reverend
host to shut us up in a small dark room, where
our homely dinner of beans, eggs, and salad
was soon ready, and the old gentleman not
being of an interrogative turn, his simple hospi-
tality was very agreeable ; and although his
wine was very abominable, yet we had had the
forethought to load Ciccio with a basketful of
snow, four rotoli of which, wrapped in cloth,
had melted but little, and served to nullify our
host's fluid.

About three we set off for Silkworm Hall,
taking new paths through those most glorious
scenes, but so continually distracted by fresh
groups of wondrous beauty that we worked
but very little, and arrived late (the later the
better) at Staiti, well pleased at having once
more seen a place which must always dwell in
my memory as the beau-ideal of Calabrian park


or forest scenery. Supper and silkworms once
again ; screaming children and howling dogs ;
the fat lady shouted and scolded, and anathe-
matised the daddy-longlegs who flew into the
candles ; and mine host was savage at our
having visited " quel prete di Pietrapennata."
There may, however, be yet many Silkworm
Halls in store for us ; but, go where we may,
we shall hardly find another Pietrapennata to
compensate for their evils. What will S ta
Maria di Polsi be like ? On the map it is most
inviting black and deep among the horrors of
Aspromonte. The variety of hope in such
tours as these lightens the annoyances of the
present hour.

August 6. Half-an-hour before sunrise :
addio Don Domenico and Donna Angela
Musitani ! Staiti is a considerable place,
resembling in extent Celano, Magliano, or
Pescina, in Abruzzo Ulteriore II. ; but woe
is me ! for the contrast between its habitants
and the Tabassi or Masciarelli ! Truth compels
me to say, though after two days' hospitality it


might be wrong so to feel, that P and I

grew more lighthearted, step by step, as we left
our late host's, and followed old Dighi Doghi
Da and his faultless horse down the steep hill
through many a lane towards the plain below.
The plan of our route was to leave the hills for
a space ; nor until Motta di Bruzzano * was
passed were we to turn once more towards the
mountains and S ta Maria di Polsi ; so we came
again into a land of olives, and sandy paths,
and irrigated fields of Indian corn, with the sea
on one side and blue lessening hills westward.
Here and there, we could not help lingering
to sketch some line of Claude-like simplicity.
Farther on, we glanced at Moticella, a village
at the foot of the hills, but waywardly we did
not think it worth a visit ; and thus, by degrees,
having passed through gardens and fields, and
by cottages surrounded with gourds, we arrived
below Bruzzano, placed as if arranged by
G. Pussino for a picture, on the edge of a great
rock rising out of the plain, and built with all

* Bruzzano was the head quarters of the Saracens in 1075,
according to Marapoti.


that beauty of simple form, and that inde-
pendent irregularity, so identified now in our
minds with the towns of Calabria. Many
charming views are there round Bruzzano,
looking through pergolas to the sea and cape,
with glittering Brancaleone to the south, and
the blue woody hills towards the north. After
making a drawing, we lingered, early as it was,
at the door of a wineshop, indulging, over a
loaf of bread, in moderate libations of the best
Calabrian wine we had yet tasted. Well for
us, we afterwards found, that so we did. But
the day (it was a burning and weary scirocco)
advanced, and quoth Ciccio, " If you mean to
sleep at S ta Agata, so as to arrive at Polsi the
following evening, you must go on d6go."
In all the chances and changes of our tour,
hitherto old Ciccio had ever been perfectly, yet
judiciously, amiable. If we wished to halt, he
said, " Dighi, doghi, si." If we wished to go
on, he said the same. We never differed, only
the communication on our side was scanty ; the
" Dogo " was sufficient.

So, hot as it was, we obeyed orders, and began


to ascend one of those steep Apennine spurs
running down from the high Aspromonte chain
to the sea. At the top of it, where there was
a Bivio,* one road leading to Feruzzano, the
other to the plain again, we had to decide
summarily where our night's quarters should
be. Feruzzano, judging from what one saw
hence, was uninteresting ; and, moreover, we
had no letter to any of its people. S ta Agata,
on the other hand, though we had a letter to
its principal proprietor, the Barone Franco, was
a great deal farther off, nor as yet visible, and
the day was of the uttermost degree of scirocco
heat, without a breath of air. So, at the very
top of the narrow ridge, we threw ourselves
down under the only shade bestowed us by a
few bushes of thick lentisk, and finally decided
on this difficult question by that intellectual
process of reasoning generally known as "tossing
up." Heads ? Tails ? Heads, S ta Agata.
Down, therefore, we went into a new scene-
ridges and lines beyond lines of chalky-bright

* A double or divided road.


heights, town-crowned heights, and glaringly
white fiumaras, a great tract from hill to sea
of glitter and arid glare. The picking and
stealing of some grapes growing near the
burning sandy road seemed a light matter to
our parched consciences as we pursued this
hottest of walks through the plain, towards the
first outworks of the steeps, high on which
stood the convent of Bianco ; the houses of
the town of that name being dotted along a
narrow ridge of the whitest of chalk oh how
white ! how ultra chalky ! We became very
cross as we crept on in the scorching sun, and
passed along the stony fiumara ;

" The river-bed was dusty white,
And all the furnace of the light
Struck up against our dazzled eyes."

The Fiume Verde, a river in winter, was now
reduced to a sham of a stream, containing as
many tadpoles as drops of water, and barely
admitting the least face-washing refreshment ;
while the little shade, real or supposed, to be
gained in the olive-grounds scattered around
was barred from us by thick lentisk hedges.


It was as much as either of us could do, aided
by some water-melons, to reach that longed-for
spot the convent of Bianco, beyond which we
looked earnestly to ever-rising grounds with
fresh woods and bluer mountains beyond,
speaking of air and endurable existence once

At last, behold us at the monastery door.
O fallacious hopes ! All the monks were fast
asleep, so we could only penetrate into a court-
yard, where, indeed, was a well of clear water,
and an iron bucket chained thereto, which

neither P nor I shall ever forget. Let

any philosopher or stoic walk from sunrise till
past noon in a Calabrian August on the shade-
less low grounds by the sea, and such a well
with such a bucket he will remember through
life ! When the monks arose, we, who had
taken no provision of food with us, were aghast
at the two small bits of crust which they apolo-
gisingly offered us, the Superiore declaring
that they were out of provisions ; so off we set
again. " Coraggio, dighi, doghi, da," said
Ciccio ; and we climbed on through vineyards


and hanging woods for another hour to a village,
we fondly hoping it would be S ta Agata ; not
at all it was Casignano, S ta Agata being yet
half-an-hour beyond !

From this place, where we indulged in a
rest, and more snow and wine, all the rest of
the afternoon's march was delightful. Smooth
walks led us through rich chestnut woods
(such as abound in that most beautiful place
Civitella di Subiaco), or along narrow high-
banked lanes of red earth, with feathery oak
over head, and the eastern sea shining through
the branches over the woodland tracts we had
last left, and the chalk-white fiumaras and
golden sandy plain far below. At length our
night-halt, the little village of S ta Agata was
reached ; a humble place, half of which seemed
merged in the Baron's huge old dirty Pous-
sinesque Palazzo. And, as we arrived at the
house, the whole baronial atmosphere seemed
one of slovenly and lethargic melancholy ;
though there was no want of hospitable recep-
tion. The drawing-room was very untidy, and
there were four very unwashed poets' heads at


the four angles. The Baron's brothers and
sons were dirty and sad ; and the priest
was sad and dirty ; the doctor (a profes-
sional man of Gerace, the Capo Distretto)
seemed the only lively person, and apologised
for the Baron's absence ; the Baroness being
ill. But the will to welcome, which we have
not yet found wanting in Calabria (save in
Condufori), was perfectly manifested in an
unexpected display of maccaroni, eggs, olives,
butter, cheese, and undeniable wine and snow,
on a table covered with the whitest of linen,
and sparkling with plate and glass, arrangements
at variance with the outward appearance of the
mansion. After this refreshment, and a half-
hour's sketching, evening set in, when cards
prevailed (an amusement my ignorance of which
I have often lamented in these regions), and

P and I vainly tried to look polite and

sleepless till supper was announced at eleven ;
a dreary meal, the whole family and party,
twenty in number, sitting round a plentifully
loaded table in speechless solemnity.



Descent from S ta Agata. Glorious scenery : refreshing woods. We turn
towards the Aspromonte mountains. First sight of San Luca, where a
guide for the monastery of Polsi is to be procured. Descent to a
fiumara, and long walk in it. Oleanders. San Luca. Welcome at the
house of Don Domenico Stranges. Hearty and jovial family of brothers.
Immense amount of questions concerning the produce of England.
Invitations to remain at San Luca. Late start for the monastery with
a guide, besides Ciccio. Ascent of the stream : grand mountain scenery.
Heights of Aspromonte. Magnificent oleander-trees. Impressive
solitudes. Necessity of haste the day wears. Climb among oak woods.
Ascent to the Serra. Ciccio's forebodings. Darkness overtakes us.

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 4 of 14)