Edward Lear.

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

. (page 5 of 14)
Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 5 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Light of the Monastery far below. Descent to its gates. Pleasant recep-
tion by the Superior. Wonder of the monks. The Superior's lecture
upon England and the English. The Thames Tunnel poetically con-
sidered. Conventual accommodations of S ta Maria di Polsi. Storm and
wind.

August 7. We left the Baron's house before
sunrise, with many apologies from the family
that no one was up and on foot to attend to
our departure, the increasing illness of the lady
of the house explaining the gloom of last night,
as well as the invisibility of the household this
morning. Truly delightful was the walk through



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 67

the shady chesnut-groves ahi ! those early
hours in Italy ! Again we passed Casignano,
but, instead of descending towards Bianco, we
held on an inland route, facing the high
Aspromonte range of mountains, in hopes to
reach the sanctuary of S ta Maria di Polsi by
night. San Luca where we were to procure
a guide to the convent, was in view, though we
had to walk for some hours up one of those
eternal white fiumara-courses, full of oleander-
clumps, before we arrived at it. We reached
the village at ten. It stands at the termination
of one of the northernmost ridges, forming the
valley of the great torrent known ere it joins
the sea as Fiume Buonamico. Don Domenico
Stranges, the chief proprietor, was away at the
Marina (for there is generally on the track
along the coast some cluster of houses, or a
hamlet representing the community whose
chief home is in the hills), but no timid
inhabitant of the Casa Stranges forbade our
entrance as at Condufdri : here a most grace-
ful and handsome barefooted girl, a local
Hebe, brought us snow and wine, bidding



F 2



68 JOURNALS OF

us wait and be welcome till her masters
came.

In Calabria, as in other parts of the Neapo-
litan kingdom (see " Excursions in Italy"), the
family often continue to dwell together till
each of its members marry. One of the
Brothers Stranges soon arrived, and a most
thoroughly hearty good fellow he was. " You
must take what you can find," said he ; " there
is no time to get anything: si signore, non vi
sono qui mercati qui non siamo in Napoli ; " *
but there were heaps of maccaroni, and cocuzzi-f-
and pomi-d'oro, and a roast hare, and that is not
matter for complaint in the heart of Calabria.
Don Giacomo asked, as usual: "In che cosa
abbonda Tlnghilterra ? " J and we replied, al



* There are no markets here ; this is not Naples,
t Vegetable marrows and tomatas.
J In what does England abound ?

In cows, oxen, horses, corn, &c.

Have you any rice ?

No ; we import it.

O heavens ! Do you make any wine ?

No.

O mercy ! Then of course you have no fruit ?

But indeed we have.

O that is not possible.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 69

solito, " Vi sono belle vacche, bovi, cavalli,
grano," &c., &c.

"V'edelriso?"

" Non, signore ; si fa venire di fuori."

" O cielo ! Dunque si fa del vino ? "

"Non, signore."

" O misericordia ! Frutti allora di certo non
vi sono ? "

" Ma si."

" ! possibile non e," and a polite grin of
incredulity closed the category.

The worthy man pressed us much to stay, to
see all the hills. " Since you are come to this
out-of-the-way place, what difference can a week
or two make ? Stay, and hunt stay, and make
this your home ! "

" Alas, good Don Giacomo ! so we would
gladly, but life is short, and we are trying hard
to see all Calabria in three months."

So we slept : but instead of waking at nine-
teen (five) o'clock, it was half-past twenty *
before we were in order to start leaving only



* Iii Southern Italy the whole number of hours contained in
the day is always spoken of.



70 JOURNALS OF

three hours and a half for a journey which our
Calabrian friends described as " sommamente
feroce/' *

So we left San Luca, our good-natured host
giving us a huge water-melon to help us on our
road, and the handsome girl firmly refusing to
accept any "compliment" or "remuneration"
of coin, great or little.

For three miles up a torrent bed was our
path at setting out, our guide (for Ciccio did
not assume knowledge of the intricate ways of
Polsi), clad in the costume of brown cloth worn
by the peasants hereabout, going on in advance.
As we proceeded up the stream, the rocks
began to close in nearer and nearer, till above
the high-cliffed gorge, the towering forms of
Aspromonte seemed to shut out the sky the
long furrows in the mountain-sides clothed with
the densest wood. Now our route lay on this,
now on that side of the torrent, sometimes at
the level of the river, among blooming oleander-
trees, of the largest size I ever saw (not except-
ing even those at Sortino, in Sicily); sometimes



* Utterly terrible.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 71

I

at a great height, among the trunks of luxuriant
ilex-trees, overhanging the rocks. The senti-
ment of these scenes and solitudes the deep,
deep solitudes of those mountains ! are such as
neither pen nor pencil can describe !

We were obliged to walk as fast as possible,
that we might arrive at Polsi by daylight,
and as we ascended, the labour was not a little
severe. It was twenty-two o'clock when we
reached a fountain very high up in the moun-
tain, yet the brown-garbed guide said three
hours were still requisite to bring us to our
night's lodging. Clear streams, trickling down
at every step to the great torrent, refreshed us,
and soon we left the valley, and began to climb
among oak woods, till the deep chasm, now
dark in the fading daylight, was far below our
feet.

A circuitous toil to the head of a second
large torrent, skirting a ravine filled with
magnificent ilex, brought us to the last tre-
mendous ladder-path, that led to the " serra,"
or highest point of the route, wherefrom we
were told we should perceive the monastery.



72 JOURNALS OF

Slowly old Ciccio and his horse followed us,
and darker grew the hour. " Arriveremo
tardi," quoth he, "se non moriamo prima
dighi, doghi, da ! " * But alas ! when w r e did
get at the promised height, where a cross is
set up, and where, at the great festas of the
convent, the pilgrims fire off guns on the first
and last view of this celebrated Calabrian
sanctuary alas ! it was quite dark, and only a
twinkling light far and deep down, in the very
bowels of the mountain, showed us our desti-
nation. Slow and hazardous was the descent,
and it was nine o'clock ere we arrived before
the gate of this remote and singular retreat.
It was a long while before we gained admit-
tance ; and the Superiore, a most affable old
man, having read our letter, offered us all the
accommodation in his power, which, as he said,
we must needs see was small. Wonder and
curiosity overwhelmed the ancient man and
his brethren, who were few in number, and
clad in black serge dresses. " Why had we



* We shall arrive late, if we do not die before we get there.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 73

come to such a solitary place ? No foreigner
had ever done so before ! " The hospitable
father asked a world of questions, and made
many comments upon us and upon England in
general, for the benefit of his fellow-recluses.
" England," said he, " is a very small place,
although thickly inhabited. It is altogether
about the third part of the size of the city
of Rome. The people are a sort of Christians,
though not exactly so. Their priests, and even
their bishops, marry, which is incomprehensible,
and most ridiculous. The whole place is
divided into two equal parts by an arm of
the sea, under which there is a great tunnel,
so that it is all like one piece of dry land. Ah
che celebre tunnel!" A supper of hard
eggs, salad, and fruit followed in the refectory
of the convent, and we were attended by two
monstrous watch-dogs, named Assassino and
Saracen o, throughout the rest of the evening,
when the silence of the long hall, broken only
by the whispers of the gliding monk, was very
striking. Our bed-rooms were two cells, very
high up in the tower of the convent, with



74 JOURNALS OF

shutters to the unglazed windows, as a pro-
tection against the cold and wind, which were
by no means pleasant at this great elevation.
Very forlorn, indeed, were the sleeping apart-
ments of S ta Maria di Polsi, and fearful was
the howling of the wind and the roaring of a
thunder-storm throughout the night! but it
was solemn and suggestive, and the very
antithesis of life in our own civilised and
distant home.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 75



CHAPTER VII.

Mountain mist. Description of the scenery round the monastery. Simple
peasantry of these mountains. Lionising the church and convent. The
Superior and his conversation. We decide on starting for Gerace to
morrow. Legendary foundation of the Convent of S ta Maria di Polsi.
Praises of our guide Ciccio. Ascent to the Serra, and descent to the
valley and fiumara of San Luca. The brothers Stranges again. More
hospitality and questions. We set off for Bovalino. Tiresome journey
by the fiumara to the sea-shore. Hot sandy paths. Olive grounds.
Ascent to Bovalino. The Count Garrolo his hospitality and volubility.
Supper and the subdued Contessa.

August 8. A little rain falls, and great
volumes of mist are rolling up the sides of the
gigantic well in which the convent seems to be
placed ; but after caffe with the Padre Superiore,
who was again diffuse on the subject of a

married priesthood, P and I went out to

explore, in the teeth of the stormy elements.

Assuredly, S ta Maria di Polsi is one of the
most remarkable scenes I ever beheld ; the
building is picturesque, but of no great anti-
quity, and with no pretensions to architectural



76 JOURNALS OF

taste ; it stands on a rising ground above the
great torrent, which comes down from the very
summit of Aspromonte, the highest point of
which Montalto is the " roof and crown " of
the picture. From the level of the monastery
to this height rises a series of screens, covered
with the grandest foliage, with green glades,
and massive clumps of chesnut low down-
black ilex and brown oak next in succession,
and, highest of all, pines. The perpendicular
character of the scene is singularly striking, the
wooded rocks right and left closing it in like the
side slips of a theatre ; and as no other building
is within sight, the romance and loneliness of
the spot are complete, Neither is there any
other, even the remotest, glimpse of contrasted
landscape, as is often the case with secluded
monasteries in Italy, which, from their high
and solitary place, overlook a distant plain, or
the sea. Here all around, above and below, is
close wood and mountain no outlet, no variety
stern solitude and the hermit sentiment
reign supreme.

The monks are frequently snowed up for







Printed ly EnlmaiiLeL 4- Walton .



. r ; TA MARIA DJ POL SI.

Kirhanf l!ftntjrv .'N'-w BiiTlin^ton. Street.. Augost 1852.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 77

many of the winter months, and must lead at
all periods a life of the strictest seclusion ; for,
except on a day early in September, when half
South Calabria comes to the annual festa, no
living soul but the few dependents of the
monastery visit it. Some of these woodmen
and labourers passed us as we sate on peaks
of rock above the downward path, wrapped in
our plaids, and hardly able to hold our books
for the violence of the wind ; and they gazed
with breathless amazement at the novel sight
a simple, hardy race of people, with none of
that ferocity of countenance which English
Lavaters attach by habitual tradition to Cala-
brese physiognomy.

The noontide hours were employed in
sketching in the cloisters, and in examining
the relics and treasures of the church under
the auspices of the Padre Superiore. The
subjects which weigh most heavily on his mind
are " Quel tunnel," * and " Quei Preti mari-
tati ! Vescovi sposati ! o cielo ! Una moglie di



* The tunnel, and those married priests ! Married bishops
O heaven ! Wife of an archbishop ! O what amazement !



78 JOURNALS OF

arcivescovo ; O che stravaganza ! " The after-
noon we passed in strolling about the fine
scenes around this hermit-home ; but, though
containing endless material for foreground
study, its general picturesque character is
limited, and we decide on leaving S ta Maria
di Polsi to-morrow. We must retrace our
steps as far as San Luca, and then make for
Gerace, sleeping either at Bovalino or Ardore,
as time may allow.

August 9. The worthy Superior presented
us with a medal and a print of the Madonna
di Polsi, the original picture having been dis-
covered by a devout ox, who inveigled one of
the early Norman Conquerors of Sicily all the
way from Reggio to this place, for the particular
purpose of inducing him to build a monastery.
The excellent ox, said the monk, led on the
prince from hill to hill till he reached the
proper spot, when, kneeling down, he with his
pious horns poked up the portrait of the Virgin
Mary, which was miraculously waiting some
inches below the ground for its bovine liberator.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 79

A print recording this circumstance was also
given to Ciccio, who wrapped it up carefully
with signs of devotion : we have never yet had
a fault to find with this valuable fellow he
was, as King Charles the Second is said to have
said of somebody, "never in, nor ever out of,
the way."

Having reached the height of the cross we
turned to bid a last addio to S ta Maria di
Polsi, and thenceforth we enjoyed the magnifi-
cent landscape of distant hills now visible
throughout this high part of the gorge ; we
descended to the depths of the torrent bed,
and its gay oleander-trees by the ferny glens
and ilex ravines, which we had threaded on
our way up to the monastery on the afternoon
of the 7th ; and so we again reached the
widening valley and its painful fiumara course
of white stones below San Luca. Contrary to
our first intention, which had been to push on
for Bovalino we returned into the little town,
for our horse had lost a shoe, and the fierce
heat demanded an hour or two of rest.

The party at the friendly Don Giacorno



80 JOURNALS OF

Stranges was increased by his brothers D.D.
Domenico and Stefano, who were all delighted
to ask questions about the ' abbondanza d' In-
ghilterra/ while they offered us snow and
wine, and a clean cloth being spread, maccaroni,
eggs, ricotta,* honey, and pears, soon exhibited
proofs of their ready hospitality.

It was two o'clock before the horse-shoe was
adjusted, and we started once more from San
Luca and its kind homely set of inhabitants,
who to the last insisted on giving us letters to
Stignano, Stilo, Eocella, and other places at
which we might chance to halt.

Our route was a weary one, as it was ever
descending straight to the sea in the midst of
the stony oleander-dotted water-course hot
and tedious ; near the coast we came to sandy
roads for two hours, with our old friends cactus
and aloe bordering cultivated grounds to the
water's edge, from which our halt was hardly a
mile distant. Ciccio also growled now and
then, having lost one of his own shoes, and



* Eicotta is a preparation of milk, usually sheep's milk, in
very general use throughout Southern Italy.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 81

being obliged to ride : he did not like to over-
work his horse he was a good fellow that old
Dighi D6ghi Da.

It was late when we arrived below Bovalino,
sparkling on its chalky height in the last sun-
beams, and as we found that to go on to Ardore
would have been too far and fatiguing, we
turned through olive grounds from the sea, and
began the long ascent to the town, which we
reached at dusk. Bovalino is a place of con-
siderable size, and we were charmed by its
strongly defined Calabrese character, as we
ascended the winding pathways full of home-
ward-bound peasants, the costume of the women
being prettier here than any we had yet seen.

We went at once with an introductory letter
to Count Garrolo, one of the chief proprietors
of the place, and fortunately found him just
returned from the country : the small rooms of
his house betokened the literary man, heaps of
books, maps, globes and papers, filling up all
corners, and great wealth of very old-fashioned
furniture, leaving small space for sitting or
standing. The Conte himself was a most



82 JOURNALS OF

good-natured and fussy little man, excessively
consequential and self-satisfied, but kind withal,
and talking and bustling in the most breathless
haste, quoting Greek and Latin, hinting at
antiquities and all kinds of dim lore and
obscure science, rushing about, ordering his
two domestics to and fro, explaining, apolo-
gising, and welcoming, without the least
cessation. He had come from a villa, a villetta,
a vigna an old property of his family Giovanni
Garrolo, Gasparo Garrolo, Luca Garrolo, Stefano
Garrolo, he had come just now, this very
minute : he had come on a mule, on two mules,
with the Contessa, the amiable Contessa, he had
come slowly pian, pian, piano, piano, piano for
the Contessa expected to be confined shortly
perhaps to-day he hoped not ; he would like
us to be acquainted with her ; her name was
Serafina ; she was intellectual and charming ;
the mules had never stumbled ; he had put
on the crimson- velvet housings, a gilt coronet
embossed, Garrolo, Garrolo, Garrolo, Garrolo, in
all four corners ; he had read the Contessa an
ode to ancient Locris all along the road, it



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 83

amused her, a Latin ode; the Contessa enjoyed
Latin ; the Contessa had had six children, all in
Paradise, great loss, but all for the best ; would
we have some snow and wine? Bring some
snow, bring some wine. He would read us a
page, two pages, three Locri Opuntii, Locri
Epizephyrii, Normans, Saracens Indian figs
and Indian corn Julius Caesar and the Druids,
Dante, Shakespeare silkworms and mulberries
rents and taxes, antediluvians, American
republics, astronomy and shell-fish, like the
rushing of a torrent was the volubility of the
Conte Garrolo yet one failed to receive any
distinct impression from what he said, so uncon-
nected and rapid was the jumbling together of
his subjects of eloquence. Nevertheless, his
liveliness diverted us to the utmost, the more
from its contrast to the lethargic and mono-
tonous conversation of most of our former
hosts ; and we wondered if the Contessa would
talk a tenth part as much, or as loudly. Supper
was ready sooner than in most of these houses,
and when it was served, in came the Contessa,
who was presented to us by her husband with



G 2



84 JOURNALS OF

a crash of compliments and apologies for her
appearance, which put our good breeding to
the severest test ; in all my life I never so
heartily longed to burst into merriment, for the
poor lady, either from ill-health or long habitual
deference to her loquacious spouse, said nothing
in the world but " Nirr si,'* or " Nirr no," *
which smallest efforts of intellectual discourse
she continued to insert between the Count's
sentences in the meekest way, like Pity,
between the drummings of despair in Collins'
Ode to the Passions.

" Scusatela, scusatela," thundered the voluble
Conte, " scusatela cena, cena, a cena tavola
pronta, tavola pronta "

" Nirr si."

" Subito, subito, subito, subito."

" Nirr si, nirr no"

" Sedete vi, sedete vi (sorella sua morta
quattro mesi fa)."

" Nirr si."



Nirr si, nirr no, the common way of assent or negation
in the kingdom of Naples ; meaning the last syllable of Signer
si, or Signer no, or etymologice, 'gnor si, 'gnor no.

I



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 85

" Mangiate ! mangiate ! "
" Nirr no."

" Maccaroni ? polio ? (madre morte, piange
troppo,) alicetti si, zuppa si, ove si."
u ]$i rr no."

" Signori forestiere prendete vino. Contessa
statevi allegra."

" Nirr si." *

It was a most trying and never-ending
monologue, barring the choral nirr si and no,
and how it was we did not go off improperly
into shrieks of laughter I cannot tell, unless
that the day's fatigue had made our spirits
tractable. Instantly after supper the Contessa
vanished, and the Conte bustled about like
an armadillo in a cage, showing us our room,
and bringing in a vast silver basin and jug,
towels, &c., with the most surprising alacrity,



* Excuse her, excuse her, supper, supper supper, the table is
ready ; the table is ready. Nirr si. Quick, quick, quick, quick.
Nirr si, nirr no. Sit down, sit down : (her sister died four
months ago). Nirr si. Eat, eat. Nirr no. Maccaroni? fowl?
(her mother is dead she cries too much) anchovies ? soups ?
eggs ? Nirr no. Signori strangers, take some wine. Countess,
be merry. Nirr si, &c. &c.



86 JOURNALS OF

and although the ludicrous greatly predomi-
nated in these scenes, yet so much prompt and
kind attention shown to the wants of two entire
strangers by these worthy people was most
pleasing. For all that, how we did laugh when
we talked over the ways of this amazing Count
Garrolo !



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 87



CHAPTER VIII.

View from the heights of Bovalino.- Last words of Conte Garrolo. Descent
to the valleys of Ardore ; pursue our road to the sea-shore again.
Arrive at Torre di Gerace. Site of ancient Locris. Ruins. We strike
inland towards Gerace. Cross the fiumara Merico. Long ascent to the
picturesque city of Gerace. Description of Gerace : its frequent Earth-
quakes; its Cathedral, &c. Norman Castle. Its inaccessible position.
Extensive prospects. Palazzo of Don Pasquale Scaglione. Agreeable
and hospitable reception. Large rooms, and comfortable house. High
winds frequent at Gerace. Beautiful views of Gerace. Constant occu-
pation for the pencil. Vino Greco of the Calabrese. Locrian coins. A
treatise on ancient Locris, and our appreciation thereof. The Medico of
Gerace.

August 10. The rising sun shone brightly
into the eastern loggia of Count Garrolo's
house, and wide is the view therefrom : east-
ward, the sea and broad lines of plain; and
westward, the long mountain ridges in
succession, with Ardore, and Bombili, and
Condajanni, and, clear in the blue distance,
Gerace on its hill, successor to old Locris,
and in the present day, a Sott' intendenza,



88 JOURNALS OF

or provincial sub-governor's residence, and
Capo-distretto.

The bustling Count whisked us all over the
town, into the church, the castle, the lanes,
showed us the views, the walls, the towns,
the villages, manuscripts, stables, the two
mules, and the purple velvet saddle and
crimson housings, with coronets, and Garrolo,
Garrolo, Garrolo, Garrolo_tutto-tutto-tutto,
put us in charge of a peasant to show us a
short cut to Ardore, shook hands fifteen times
with each of us, and then rushed away with
a frantic speed : " Scrivere alcuni pensieri
poetici, ordinare la servitii (those two servants
how they must have worked \) vendere un
cavallo, comprare grano, cogliere fiori, consolare
la Contessa. Addio ! addio ! " * Addio, Conte
Garrolo ! a merry obliging little man you are
as ever lived, and the funniest of created counts
all over the world.

A broad valley intervenes between the ridges



* To write down some poetical thoughts ; to give orders to the
servants ; to sell a horse ; to buy some grain ; to gather some
flowers ; to console the Countess.



A LANDSCAPE PAINTER. 89

of Bovalino and Ardore,* and by pleasant
lanes we descended to delightful vineyards,
cornfields, and figgeries (if there be such a
word), where our peasant-guide loaded us with
fruit, and left us. We decided on not going
into the town of Ardore, as it had not a very
prepossessing exterior, and to see all the towns
of Calabria would have occupied too much
time ; so, ascending the hill on which it stands,
we crossed the narrow ridge, *and descended
once more towards the sea a wide tract of
cultivation now separating us from Gerace on
its remarkable hill. About noon we rested at
a roadside osteria, for the sake of shade and
water melons, (you buy three of the largest for
21 grani); and, continuing to plod along the
broad, dusty level road, we passed Condajanni
on our left apparently very picturesque and
shortly afterwards came to the Torre di Gerace,
a single tower of the Middle Ages, standing on
the edge of the sea-shore, at the spot which
antiquaries recognise as the indubitable site



* " Ardore was," says Pacichelli, " called Odore, from its many
flowers."



90 JOURNALS OF

of ancient Locris. Foundations of antique
buildings exist for a great extent in all the
vineyards around, and innumerable coins are
dug up by the labourers. Very pretty is that
gray tower, standing all alone on the rock by


1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 5 of 14)