Edward Lear.

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

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sketch them ; the morning's walk, however,
was delightful, if only for the opportunity it
offered of observing the universally courteous
and urbane manners of the peasantry. It is
probable that no stranger had ever visited
these wild and unfrequented nooks of a pro-
vince, the great towns of which are themselves
out of the route of travellers ; but no one met
or overtook me on the way to Bigonzi without
a word or two of salutation ; there were few
who did not offer me pears, and parties of
women laden with baskets of figs would stop


and select the best for us. Nor did anybody ask
a question beyond, " What do you think of our
mountains?" or " How do you like our village?"
In the town of Stilo we were sometimes
followed by not less than fifty or a hundred
people, but ever with the utmost good feeling
and propriety. The well-bred population of
Stilo we shall ever remember with pleasure.

In these high mountains, a mid-day thunder-
storm frequently occurs betwixt eleven and
noon ; and this interruption to the labours of
the pencil gave us more opportunity of con-
versing with our hospitable friends. There is,
however, but little to note in the house or
household of Don Ettore Marzano, except that
all was perfectly orderly and agreeable. The
only trait which was so uncommon as to be at all
worth recording, was that a domestic stood at
meal-time close to the table, and in order to
dissipate the flies, which at this season are a
legion, flapped a long flapper of feathers,
Laputa-wise, close to our faces. No sooner
did we begin to speak than whizz flick down


came the flapper, so as to render conversation
a rather difficult effort.

August 17 Was passed in the usual routine
of drawing, and of quiet home-life at the Casa
Marzano. Crowds are attracted to see our
occupation when we busy ourselves with
sketching near the town ; but all are merry
and orderly. Employment for life might be
found in the grand and novel mountain scenery
round this magnificent Stilo. A walk to a
garden belonging to Don A. Marzano's family
amused us in the later afternoon ; and in the
evening we went to a " soiree," at one of his
uncles, Don Antonio Crea. There were good
rooms in his palazzo, and round them was hung
a large selection of engravings, from Claude
and Poussin. Cards were the principal amuse-
ment, and ices were handed round at intervals.
To-morrow we leave this place; and hope to
reach Gioiosa by night, if not compelled by
weather or lack of time to halt at Castel Vetere.
On the 22nd we hope to be at Gerace once more,
Canalo having been visited in the interval.



Departure from Stilo. Early morning. Town of Motta Placanica. Its extra-
ordinary appearance.- Cross the river Alaro. Ascent to Castel Vetere.
Palazzo of Don Ilario Asciutti. The grandfather of the family; his
eloquence. The dinner. Discourse on flesh, fowl, and fish. Our host is
angry at our early departure. We appease him, and depart. We de.
scend the valley of the river Meano. Come in sight of Eocella. Ascend
the river Romano, and reach Qioiosa at dusk. Reception at the house
of the Baron Rivettini. Interview with the Baron. Card-playing.
Doubts and questions. The evening meal. "Why?" Coming events
cast their shadows before.

August 18. Once more upon the road.
Long before sunrise we had said addio to Don
Ettore Marzano, the most pleasing of the
younger Calabrese gentry whom we had yet
seen ; a thoroughly good and hospitable fellow,
and well informed on most subjects. Stilo we
shall ever recollect as in all respects agreeable.

All nature was deep gray and brown no
rock lit up by the yet hidden sun, as we
descended to the valley -of the Stillaro, and
retraced our steps as far as Stignano, the home

I 2


of the querulous Caristo family, and the scene
of the maccaroni-throned infant. Leaving the
town on our left, we plunged into a deep vale
between olive-clothed slopes, and, climbing up
the opposite side, were soon in Motta Placanica,
one of the most truly characteristic of Calabrian
towns. Like others of these strange settle-
ments, this place has no depth, but is, as it
were, surface only, the houses being built one
above another, on ledges and in crevices, over
the face of a large rock rising into a peak, its
highest pinnacle being graced by a modern
palazzo. The strange effect which these towns
have, even upon those long used to the irregu-
larities of South Italian village architecture, is
not to be imagined; Motta Placanica seems
constructed to be a wonder to passers-by.
Long we lingered to draw this most singular
place ; and, leaving it by a steep descent, we
came to the valley of the Paganiti, crossing it
and winding up the height on its farther side,
whence the rock of Motta Placanica appeared
like a giant king of nine- pins, as seen edgeways
against the sky no one of its buildings but


the crowning castle being visible. Hence, also,
the eye ranged beyond the river Alaro, which
we had crossed on our way from Kocella, the
high hill and walls of Castel Vetere (repre-
sentative of the ancient Caulon*), a town built
on one of those isolated hills which, to anti-
quarians, at once proclaim an ancient site. By
the aid of the placid Ciccio and his horse, we
crossed the swollen river, and, ascending wearily
to the town, found it, though mean in appear-
ance from below, full of houses of a large size
and indicating wealth and prosperity.

To that of Don Ilario Asciutti we went,
narrowly escaping the mid-day autumn thunder-
storm, and found a large mansion, with a hall
and staircase, ante-room, and drawing-room
very surprising as to dimensions and furniture ;
the walls were papered, and hung with mirrors,

* Caulon, antiquaries agree in placing at or near Castel Vetere.
Pacichelli speaks of its splendid and regular fortress, and its
palace belonging to the Caraffa family. The Asciutti are named
by him as an old family. The modern town stands between the
rivers Alaro and Musa, but from earthquakes or other causes, is
now in a very ruinous condition, excepting a new quarter of the
town which is in process of building.


prints, &c. ; cheffoniers, tables, and a book-case
adorned the sides of the rooms, and there were
footstools, with other unwonted objects of
trans-Calabrian luxury. The famiglia Asciutti
were polite and most friendly ; there were two
smart sons, just come from college at Naples ;
a serene and silent father ; and last, not least,
an energetic and astute grandsire, before whose
presence all the rest were as nothing. The
Nonno* Asciutti was as voluble as Conte
Garrolo ; but with more connected ideas and
sentences, and with an overpowering voice ; an
expression of " I/etat, c'est moi," in all he said
and did. The old gentleman surprised us not
a little by his information on the subjects on
which (apropos de bottes) he held forth the
game laws of England, and Magna Charta, the
Reformation, the Revolution of 1688, Ireland,
and the Eeform Bill. He was becoming diffuse
on European politics, having already discussed
America and the Canadas, and glanced slightly
at slavery, the East and West Indies and the



sugar trade, when, to our great satisfaction,
all this learning, so wonderful in the heart of
Magna-Grecia was put a stop to by the
announcement of dinner. The silent son, and
the two gay grandsons, listened to their elder
relative's discourse, but took no part therein ;
and we, however superior the matter of the
oration might be, greatly longed to exchange
the orator for dear, little, fussy Conte Garrolo.
In the large dining-room were assembled
many female and juvenile Asciutti, all very
ugly ; hitherto we are not struck by Calabrian
female beauty in the higher orders, though
many of the peasant girls are pretty. The
ladies spoke not during dinner, and the whole
weight of the oral entertainment fell on the
erudite grandfather, who harangued loftily
from his place at the end of the table. It was
Wednesday, and there was no meat, as is usual
on that day in South Italian families. " It
would be better," said the authoritative elder,
" if there were no such a thing as meat nobody
ought to eat any meat. The Creator never
intended meat, that is the flesh of quadrupeds,


to be eaten. No good Christian ought to eat
flesh and why ? The quadruped works for
man while alive, and it is a shame to devour
him when dead. The sheep gives wool, the ox
ploughs, the cow gives milk, the goat cheese."
" Cosa fanno per noi i lepri ? " * whispered
one of the grandsons. " State vi zitt' ! " f shouted
the orator. " But fish," continued he " what
do they do for us ? Does a mullet plough ?
Can a prawn give milk? Has a tunny any
wool? No. Fish and birds also were there-
fore created to be eaten." A wearisome old
man was the Asciutti Nonno ! but the alarming
point of his character was yet to be made
known to us. No sooner, dinner being over,
did we make known our intention of proceeding
to sleep at Gioiosa on account of our limited
time, than we repented having visited Castel
Vetere at all. " Cielo ! O rabbia ! O che
mai sen to? O chi sono? O chi siete?"J
screamed the Nonno, in a paroxysm of rage.

* "What do the hares do for us ? f Hold your tongue !

J Oh heavens ! Oh rage ! Oh what do I hear ? Oh who am
I ? Oh who are you ?


" What have I done that you will not stay ?
How can I bear such an insult ! Since Calabria
was Calabria, no such affront has ever been
offered to a Calabrian ! Go why should you
go?" In vain we tried to assuage the grand-
sire's fury. We had staid three days in Gerace,
three in Keggio, two in Bova and in Stilo, and
not one in Castel Vetere ! The silent father
looked mournful, the grandsons implored ; but
the wrathful old gentleman, having considerably
endangered the furniture by kicks and thumps,
finally rushed down stairs in a frenzy, greatly
to our discomfiture.

The rest of the family were distressed
seriously at this incident, and on my sending a
message to beg that he would show us a new
palazzo he was constructing (himself the archi-
tect), for the increased accommodation of the
family Asciutti, he relented so far as to return,
and after listening favourably to our encomiastic
remarks, bade us a final farewell with a less
perturbed countenance and spirit.

There are many fine views of Castel Vetere,
which has somewhat in it of the grandiose and


classic, from whatever point regarded, but we
left it with less agreeable impressions than
those we had carried from most of the larger
Calabrian towns, partly from the feeling that
we had vexed our host's family, and partly that
it was yet so far to go to Gioiosa, that old
Ciccio, with more than one admonitory growl,
would not allow us to pause to sketch no, not
even for a quarter of an hour. Soon after
passing over high ground, from which the last
views of ancient Caulon were very noble we
entered the downward course of the Meano,
which, eternally winding over white stones,
shut us in between high banks, till we came, at
sunset, in sight of Rocella on its double rock ;
this, together with the river-bed, we bid
farewell to by taking a route parallel to the
coast, as far as the Fiume Romano, which we
ascended for an hour, till we arrived at Gioiosa,
apparently a large and well-built town, on the
banks of a narrow part of the stream. The
house of the Baron Rivettini, to whom we had
letters, was large and imposing, but the Baron
was not within, and the servants, with none of


that stranger-helping alacrity of hospitality, so
remarkable in more northern provinces of the
Regno di Napoli, appeared too much amazed
at the sudden arrival of " due forestieri," * to
do anything but contemplate us ; and, to speak
truth, neither our appearance, considering we
had toiled through some rain and much dirt all
the afternoon, nor our suite, consisting of a
man and a horse, were very indicative of being
" comme il faut." With difficulty we obtained
leave to rest in a sort of ante-office, half stable,
half kitchen, while a messenger carried our
letter of introduction to the Baron Kivettini.
When he returned, quoth he, " The Baron is
playing at cards, and cannot be interrupted ;
but, as there is no locanda in the town, you
may sleep where you are." Unwashed, hungry,
and tired as we were, and seeing that there was
nothing but an old rug by way of furniture in
this part of the Baron's premises, we did not
feel particularly gratified by this permission,
the more that P was rather unwell, and

*. Two strangers.


I feared he might have an attack of fever ;
neither did the domestics offer us caffe, or any
other mitigation of our wayfaring condition.
"Is there no caffe?" "Nonc'e."* "Nowine?"
" Non c'e." " No light ? " " Non c'eV' It was
all "Non c'e/' So said I, "Show me the way
to the house where the Baron is playing at
cards.'* But the proposal was met with a blank
silence, wholly unpropitious to our hopes of a
night's lodging ; and it was not until after
I had repeated my request several times, that a
man could be persuaded to accompany me to a
large palazzo at no great distance, the well-
lighted lower story of which exhibited offices,
barrels, sacks, mules, &c., all indicative of the
thriving merchant. In a spacious salone on
the first floor sate a party playing at cards, and
one of them a minute gentleman, with a form
more resembling that of a sphere than any
person I ever remember to have seen, was
pointed out to me as the Baron by the shrink-
ing domestic who had thus far piloted me. But

There is none.


excepting by a single glance at me, the
assembled company did not appear aware of my
entrance, nor, when I addressed the Baron by
his name, did he break off the thread of his
employment, otherwise than by saying, " Uno,
due, tre, signore, si quattro, cinque, servo
suo, fanno quindici." *

" Has your Excellency received an introduc-
tory letter from the Cavalier da Nava ? " said I.

" Cinque, sei, si, signore, fanno undid," -f*
said the Baron, timidly.

This, thought I, is highly mysterious.

" Can I and my travelling companion lodge
in your house, Signor Baron, until to-morrow ? "

" Tre e sei fanno none," J pursued the Baron,
with renewed attention to the game. " Ma
perche^ signore?"

" Perche, there is no inn in this town ; and,
perche, I have brought you a letter of intro-
duction," rejoined I.

* One, two, three, yes, sir, four, five, your servant, sir,
make fifteen.

t Five, six, yes, sir, make eleven.
J Three and six are nine. Why, what for ?


" Ah, si si si, signore, pray favour me by
remaining at my house. Two and seven are
nine eight and eleven are nineteen." And
again the party went on with the Giuoco.

There was an anxiety, and an expression of
doubt and mystery on the faces of all the
party, which, however, did not escape my
observation, and I felt sure, as I left the room,
that something was wrong ; though, like King
Coal's prophet of traditional celebrity, " I knew
not what that something could be."

When I returned to the Palazzo Rivettini, all
the scene was changed. Coffee was brought to
us, and a large room was assigned for our use,
while all the natural impulse of Calabrese
hospitality seemed, for a time at least, to
overpower the mysterious spell which, from
some unknown cause, appeared to oppress
those inhabitants of Gioiosa with whom we
were brought in contact. But the magic
atmosphere of doubt and astonishment returned
in full force as other persons of the town came
in to the evening conversazione. Few words
were said but those of half- suppressed curiosity


as to where we came from ; and the globose
little Baron himself gradually confined his obser-
vations to the single interrogative, " Perche ? "
which he used in a breathless manner, on the
slightest possible provocation. Supper followed,
every part of the entertainment arrayed with
the greatest attention to plenty and comfort ; but
the whole circle seemed ill at ease, and regarded
our looks and movements with unabated
watchfulness, as if we might explode, or escape
through the ceiling at any unexpected moment ;
so that both hosts and guests seemed but too
well pleased when we returned to our room, and
the incessant " Perche ? perche ? perche ? " was,
for this evening at least, silenced.

By all this mystery so very unusual to the
straightforward and cordial manners of these
mountaineers there was left on my mind a
distinct impression of some supposed or antici-
pated evil. " Coming events cast their shadows



The anxious Baron. Passports. Coffee with sugar. Drawing the town of
Gioiosa. Its beautiful situation. " Why?" Bee-eaters. Sugar-plums.
We leave the Casa Rivettini and Gioiosa. Recross the rivers Romano
and Novito. Ascent to Agnano. Copper mines. Visit of the King of
Naples to them. The fortunate donkey driver. View of Canalo from the
ravine of the Novito. Strange position of the village. The Passo del
Mercante. Don Giovanni Rosa. His hospitable welcome. The careful
Ciccio. Magnificent mountain scenery and environs of Canalo. Content
and simplicity of old Don Giovanni Rosa. Paradise and Canalo. Roast
squirrels and fungi. Ornithological cookery. Geographical ornaments
of the Palazzo Rosa. Wondrous and majestic scenes. We leave Canal o:
recross the Novito, and ascend to Gerace. Return to the Casa Scag-
lione. Preparations for fetes. Episcopal injunctions against dancing.
Quiet repose of Gerace. Arrival of peasantry for the fete. Procession
of the image of a patron saint. Beautiful scenery on the castle rock.
Moonlight. The festa.

August 19. As usual, we rose before sunrise.
"0 Dio ! perche?" said the diminutive Baron
Rivettini, who was waiting outside the door,
lest perhaps we might have attempted to pass
through the keyhole. A suite of large drawing-
rooms was thrown open, and thither caffe was
brought with the most punctilious ceremony.


My suspicions of last night were confirmed by
the great precision with which our passports
were examined, and by the minute manner in
which every particular relating to our eyes,
noses, and chins, was written down ; nor was it
until after endless interrogatories and more
11 perches" than are imaginable, that we were
released. But our usual practice of taking a
small piece of bread with our coffee renewed
the universal surprise and distrust of our hosts.

" Pane ! " said the Baron, " perche pane ? O
Cielo ! "

" I never take sugar/' said P , as some

was offered to him.

"Sant* Antonio, non prendete zucchero?
Perche ? O Dio ! perche mai non prendete
zucchero ? " *

"We want to make a drawing of your pretty
little town," said I ; and, in spite of a perfect
hurricane of " perches," out we rushed, followed
by the globular Baron, in the most lively state
of alarm, down the streets, across the river on

Do you not take sugar ? &c.


stepping-stones, and up the opposite bank,
from the steep cliffs of which, overhung with
oak foliage, there is a beautiful view of Gioiosa
on its rock.

"O per carita! O Cielo ! O San Pietro!
cosa mai volete fare ? " said the Baron, as I
prepared to sit down.

" I am going to draw for half-an-hour," said I.

16 Ma perche ? "

And down I sate, working hard for nearly an
hour, during all which time the perplexed
Baron walked round and round me, occasionally
uttering a melancholy

" O signore, ma perche ? "

"Signore Baron/' said I, when I had done
my sketch, " we have no towns in our country
so beautifully situated as Gioiosa ! "

" Ma perche ? " quoth he.

I walked a little way, and paused to observe
the bee-eaters,* which were flitting through
the air above me, and under the spreading oak

* Merops Apiaster.


" Per 1'amor del Cielo, cosa guardate ? Cosa
mai osservate ? " * said the Baron.

" I am looking at those beautiful blue birds."

" Perche ? perche ? perche ? "

" Because they are so very pretty, and
because we have none like them in England. 1 '

" Ma perche ? yerche 9 "

It was evident that do or say what I would,
some mystery was connected with each action
and word ; so that, in spite of the whimsical
absurdity of these eternal what fors and whys,
it was painful to see that, although our good
little host strove to give scope to his hospitable
nature, our stay caused more anxiety than
pleasure. Besides, his whole demeanour so
strongly reminded one of Croaker "Do you
foresee anything, child ? You look as if you
did. I think if anything was to be foreseen, I
have as sharp a look out as another/' that it
was no easy task to preserve a proper degree
of gravity.

His curiosity, however, was to be tried still

* For the love of Heaven, what are you looking at ? What
do you perceive ?



further; for, having heard that Gioiosa was
famous for the manufacture of sugarplums or
confetti, we had resolved to take some hence to
Gerace, to give to little Cicillo and Maria
Scaglione ; but when we asked where confetti
could be purchased, the poor Baron became
half breathless with astonishment and suspense,
and could only utter, from time to time, "Non
e possibile ! Non e possibile ! O gran Cielo !
Confetti ? confetti ? Perche confetti ? Non e
possibile." * We proved, however, that sugar-
plums we were determined to have, and forth-
with got the direction to a confectioner's,
whither we went and bought an immense
quantity, the mystified Baron following us to
the shop and back, saying continually " Perche,
perche, confetti ! O Cielo ! perche ? " We then
made all ready to start with the faithful Ciccio,
and, not unwillingly, took leave of the Palazzo
Kivettini, the anxious Baron thrusting his head
from a window, and calling out, " Ma fermatevi,
perche ? Perche andatevi ? Statevi a pranzo,

* It is not possible ! it is not possible ! great Heaven !
Sugarplums ? Why sugarplums, &c.


perche no 7 Perche ucelli ? Perche disegni ?
Per die confetti ? Perche, perche, perche,
perche?"* till the last "perche" was lost
in distance as we passed once more round the
rock, and crossed the river Komano.

Long did we indulge in merriment at the
perturbation our visit had occasioned to our
host, whom we shall long remember as " Baron
Wherefore." Nevertheless, a certainty impresses
me that so much timidity is occasioned by some
hidden event or expectation.

Merrily we went through the long garden
lanes which stretch away seaward from Gioiosa,
over a rich tract of country most luxuriant in
vegetables and fruit. Soon we left the coast
once more, and winding round the uninterest-
ing olive-clad hill of Siderno, ascended to
Agnano, a village on the hill-side above the
river Novito, the valley of which stream sepa-
rates it from the rock of Gerace. From Agnano
the eye looks into the very heart of the ravine
of the Novito ; and high above it on the west

* But stop why do you go ? stay to dinner ; why not ?
why birds ? why drawings ? why sugarplums, &c.


below stupendous cliffs, stands Cdnalo, a village
at the entrance of the Passo del Mercante, a
wild route leading across the mountains to the
western side of Calabria.

To Canalo we were bound ; it had been
described to us by our friends in Gerace as
" Un luogo tutto orrido, ed al modo vostro
pittoresco ;"* and although Grotteria and
Mammola were named in the same category,
we could not devote time to all three.

We rested an hour at Agnano, with Don
Nicola Speziati, to whom we had a letter ; but
although there were mines of iron or copper in
the neighbourhood which we ought to have
gone to see under Don Nic6la's guidance he
being the agent for the works yet we neglected
to do so, preferring the search after landscapes
of Canalo to exploring scenes of utility made
illustrious by the recent visit of King Ferdinand
and his Queen. All the Court had arrived in
the preceding autumn on the coast in a steamer,
and came hither from the Marina of Siderno

* A place altogether horrible ; and, after your fashion,


on a vast crowd of donkeys, collected by the
peasantry for the occasion. " Maesta," said
the owner of the ass on which the royal

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Online LibraryEdward LearJournals of a landscape painter in southern Calabria, &c → online text (page 7 of 14)