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as St. Francis of Assisi would have called him.

We meet him everywhere, coming in from the
country drawing a queer, long-shaped little cart, filled
with flagons of wine, or bottles of water, or bundles of
hay. We hear him before we see him, for the tinkle
of the bells on his harness wakens us up in the early
morning ere it is daylight, as he passes our windows on
his way to town before anyone but his master and he


are astir. He has on his neck an oddly-shaped collar,
with a crook of copper or brass rising from the middle
of it, from which a bell is generally hung, and his
harness is also set with bells and decorated with scarlet
tassels. These bells are for the purpose of keeping off
the "evil eye," for an old superstition still lingers in
Italy that certain persons, especially if they have blue
eyes, have the power to bring misfortune on those
whom they dislike by simply looking at them. As a
protection the peasants hang little amulets and bells on
the harness of their horses and mules, and take great
care to carve or paint an eye on some part of the collar,
and generally this eye is painted blue.

A lantern is almost always carried under these carts,
and when it is needed it is lit, and fastened to the shatt
to light the way of the little equipage. The master is
very kind to his mule, for he always has a deep round
basket made of rope under his chin, or round his nose
rather, for his nose is imprisoned in it, almost as if it
were a muzzle ; and this is full of hay, so that the
animal can take a mouthful whenever he stands still for
a moment. In summer he wears a net all over his body,
hung with a border of tassels to keep off the flies, and
sometimes, when it is very hot, he wears a hat.

Then there is the water-melon man, who has a stall
or barrow at nearly every corner when water-melons
are in season, and very picturesque it looks. For water-
melons are big and green and cool-looking, and he has
a green earthenware basin beside them, full of water,
in which he keeps a supply ot fresh vine-leaves, and
into which he throws the pennies which he receives,
so that they may be clean for the next customer who
needs change. Yet his stall is not all green, for water-

In the Streets 15

melons are rosy-red inside and dotted over with great
black seeds. He knows that most of the men, and
women, and boys, and girls who pass his stall, do not
want to buy a whole melon, but only a slice to eat as
they go along, so he has a large knife, like a kitchen
chopper, with which he cuts one melon into round
slices, which he hangs up on the framework of his stall,
and he cuts another into thick wedges, which he arranges
neatly on vine-leaves spread out on the table.

He often finds the flies troublesome. They like
water-melons as well as we do, so he either covers his
fruit with a piece of thin gauze, or he fixes a number
of strips of paper to the end of a stick, and lazily waves
it to and fro to keep the troublesome creatures off.

A little farther on we come to the man who sells
refreshing drinks. His stall is not so picturesque as
that which we have just passed, for it is covered with
bottles filled with white and red and yellow mixtures
not wine, but ( syrups" and home-made liqueurs, which
he mixes in tumblers for his customers with water out
of a pail that stands under his stall. When the time
of fresh lemons comes he brightens up, however, and
festoons his stall with sprigs of lemon-trees, with fruit,
ripe and unripe, upon them. Then anyone who likes
can have a delicious drink of lemon-water, made on
the spot.

Here is a woman selling vegetables. Yet she has
not a shop, and she has not a stall, and she does not
carry a basket. She is sitting at her ease on a chair on
the pavement, shelling beans into her lap. How do
you think she manages? She has had a number of
hooks stuck into the wall, and there she has hung
her baskets, so that they are out of the way of the

1 6 Florence

passers-by, and yet quite within reach if they are

If we cross the Ponte Vecchio, the famous old bridge
of Florence, we are almost sure to find a walnut-seller
sitting on the edge of the pavement near an old well.
He does not sell walnuts as they are sold in an ordinary
shop, all higgledy-piggledy, with their jackets on. No,

he is an artist, and his tool is a wooden hammer, with
7 * '

which he lightly taps a walnut as it rests on the stone
pavement. And, lo and behold ! though we would
have broken the shell, he does not, but only splits the
upper half neatly off, showing the curdled kernel within,
and these kernels he piles up tastefully in a shallow
basket lined with vine-leaves.

There are also the men and women who sell flowers,
and, as is natural in the u City of Flowers," they are to
be met with everywhere. On the steps of the loggias,
in the market-places, at the corners of the streets,
everywhere they are waiting, their great baskets piled
up with one kind of flower or another, according to the
time of year. Snowdrops and primroses, golden cassia
and heath, jasmine and primula in early spring ; a
wealth of narcissus, Madonna lilies, violets, lily of the
valley, hyacinths, and lilac at Easter ; then, for months,
the fragrance of roses, and the autumn glow 7 of chrys-
anthemums, gladioli, and brilliant geraniums. They
are very insistent salesfolk, following us along, offering
their wares, and, if we are ladies, thrusting some especi-
ally fragrant bouquet in our faces with a smile, and a
flattering "Bella Signora"

In winter the stalls and barrows of the water-melon
and lemonade sellers give place to those of the buzarri
or chestnut venders, for chestnuts, which grow in great


IfACA - ^



PAGE 20.



In the Streets 17

profusion in the hilly parts of Italy, are very much
used as an article of food by poor people. The buzarri
has a little charcoal fire beside his stall, over which he
roasts his chestnuts, and which sends out a warm,
cheerful glow on cold, bleak, winter days. Here any
passer-by may purchase a handful of broiling hot
chestnuts, and carry them away with him to warm his
fingers, and to eat as he goes along.

Besides these stalls there are proper chestnut-shops,
where chestnuts are cooked in many different ways
boiled, roasted, or ground into meal and baked into
cakes, one variety of which, castignaccio, is baked on a
round copper tray which retains the heat of the oven
so long that quantities of these cakes are carried on
their metal platters to the various bridges, and there
cut into slices and sold hot to the passers-by.

As we go through the streets it is curious to read
their names and learn what they mean, but in order to
do so we must either study Italian for ourselves or
know someone who can translate the names for us.

Here is the Street of the Lily, and the Street of the
Sundial, the Street of the Almond, and the Street of
the Lamb, the Street of the Dyers, and the Street of
the Men from the Mountains. In them we may
meet a team of patient white oxen, magnificent, sleek,
well-fed creatures, with red ribbons bound round their
foreheads and heavy wooden yokes resting on their
shoulders, bringing a waggon-load of wine-flagons from
some farm at Fiesole or San Miniato to some wine-
merchant in the city, for oxen are almost always used
for agricultural work in Northern Italy.

Among the crowd we are sure to see some monks
in their distinctive habits, which look strange to our

FL. 3

1 8 Florence

English eyes, and are quite different from the long
black soutanes of the ordinary parish priests.

Here comes a man clad in a long, coarse, loose brown
frock, with a peaked hood hanging down his back, a
white girdle made of cord twisted round his waist, and
sandals on his feet. He is a Franciscan Brother, a
follower of St. Francis, the " Little Poor Man of Assisi,"
who lived seven hundred years ago, who was so fond
of beasts and birds, who carried out literally our Lord's
injunction to "sell all that he had and give to the
poor," and who, by his preaching, wrought for a time
a wonderful revival in the Church of his day.

Soon we meet another monk, who is dressed quite
differently, in a white gown with a black, scarf-like
garment over it, hanging down in front and behind.
That is a Dominican friar, a follower of St. Dominic,
who was also a great preacher and reformer. But he
represented the law of Moses by his teaching every-
thing that was stern and dark in religion, while St. Francis
represented everything that was bright, and sunny, and

If we were to visit a quaint little monastery on the
outskirts of Florence, we should see a third Order of
monks, who, however, do not go much abroad. I
mean the Carthusians, the monks who lived, until the
French Government turned them out, at the Grande
Chartreuse, near Grenoble in Savoy. They are an
Order which is dying out, and the members are mostly
old men, with shaven heads, grey beards, and brown,
weather-beaten faces, for they work a great deal out of
doors. Their dress is the most picturesque of all, being
entirely of white, with a hood shaped like that of the
Franciscans, white stockings, and thick, heavy black shoes.

Humble Craftsmen ig

No one need be at a loss to know the correct time
in Florence, for at twelve o'clock a cannon goes off,
just as a cannon goes off at Edinburgh Castle at one.
Perhaps someone will say in a joke, when they hear
this, " Do you mean twelve o'clock at night, or twelve
o'clock in the forenoon ?" Ah ! There is only one
twelve o'clock in Florence, and that is at midday, for,
instead of beginning the simple numerals over again as
we do, the Florentines count thirteen o'clock, fourteen
o'clock, and so on to twenty-four o'clock, which is
rather confusing to a foreigner.



IT is always interesting to watch how things are made,
but it is not always easy to do so. If we go into some
of the older streets in Florence, however, we can see the
craftsmen at their work, and as we watch them, we
cannot help thinking of the bygone days, when, in little
workshops, no bigger than those we are visiting, many
a humble lad, whose name stands out among the great
artists of the world, served his apprenticeship to some
goldsmith skilled in modelling in silver or bronze, and
thus learned the first rudiments of his Art, whether the
Art developed into painting, or sculpture, or architec-
ture. For if we read the stories of the great Italian
u Masters," Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli,
Ghiberti, Leonardo da Vinci, or Michael Angelo, we
find that almost every one of them began his career in
the tiny workshop of a goldsmith.

But to return to the Florence of to-day. Let us

2O Florence

cross one of the bridges to the southern side of the
Arno, and go along one of the streets that run parallel to
the river, and here we find little open shops, almost like
sheds, in the doorways of which, if you can call an open
space a doorway, the shopman is busy at his trade, and
yet is quite near enough for his neighbour over the way
to carry on a conversation with him. It is all so nice,
and open, and friendly, that it makes one feel that all
these workers belong to one large family.

Here is a blacksmith, with a little anvil in front of
him, which literally stands on the pavement ; and
between the blows of his hammer he can exchange
jokes with the worker in metals next door, who is
busily engaged beating into shape one of these great
copper water-jugs which we admire so much.

Here is a baker, baking curious little circular cakes,
like rings, which are a very old institution in Florence,
and laying them on what looks like a huge metal spade,
with a long handle, with which he slips them into an
oven, yawning like a black cavern at the back of his
shop, with a glowing fire of charcoal beneath it. Across
the street is a confectioner, with a pile of crisp dough-
nuts on a tray, stirring a pot of creamy-looking liquid
over a tiny charcoal stove. He stands on one side
of it, and we can stand on the other, and watch the
delicious frothy stuff beginning to boil.

Near by is a tinsmith, who, with the help of a little
'prentice lad, is converting tins, which have already been
used for Nestle's milk, or canned fruits, into quaint
little coffee-pots, with shallow lips and black wooden
handles. His requirements are very simple, for he has
only a basin of smouldering charcoal beside him, stand-
ing above a can of water in case it sets anything on fire,

Humble Craftsmen 21

and when he wishes to heat his soldering iron, his little
assistant takes an old pair of bellows, which are lying at
his feet, and blows the charcoal into a glow.

Next we come to a carpenter, busy among his
shavings, and a cobbler sitting with his last, stitching
away, yet having eyes for everything that is going on
around him.

As we come near the end of the old bridge, we find
another set of craftsmen whose work needs, perhaps, a
little more skill. I mean the goldsmiths and jewellers,
and the workers in leather and vellum. The things that
they make are very beautiful, and as we look at them
we cannot help wondering if any of the workmen are
descended from the craftsmen we have been talking of,
who lived in the Middle Ages. Their shops are a little
superior to the others, as befits the value of their goods,
but the doors stand open, and through the narrow front
room one can see a big light workshop beyond, stretching
back to the river over which its windows look, where as
many as seven or eight assistants and apprentices, clad
in linen overalls, are attending to the various processes.

Here is the shop of a worker in precious metals, in
gold and silver, which he seems to use principally for
making the things that are necessary for the Services of
the Church alms-dishes, and crosses, and beautifully
gilt and embossed vessels for the Holy Communion.

Next door is one of the many shops for setting
precious stones and making jewellery. Many artistic
and beautiful ornaments can be bought here, especially
jewellery set with turquoises.

Then comes the worker in leather, and vellum, which,
as you know, is the skin of calves, dressed in a special
way, so that it remains white and almost transparent,

2 2 Florence

and yet is quite tough and strong. We can buy all
sorts of useful things here, although the work on them
is so fine that they are rather expensive covers for
books, card-cases, handbags of all shapes and sizes, and
picture-frames. The leather work is beautifully gilded,
the Florentine lily, which is almost exactly the same as
the French fleur-de-lys, being a common design, while
different devices are printed on the vellum in bright
colours, blue and green, purple and red, and finely
embellished with gold, so that they resemble the
illuminations that we find in very ancient manuscripts.

When we are admiring the work of the Florentine
craftsmen, we must not forget that of the craftsvvomen,
for the women and girls of Florence make the most
wonderful embroidery, an art which they have learned
from the nuns, and which they practise at odd moments
when their housework is done. As we pass along the
streets, we can see them sitting on their doorsteps in the
evenings, chatting to one another, and embroidering
with skilful fingers blouses or other dainty garments.

A great deal has been done of late years to encourage
work of this kind by a society known as the " Industrie
Femminale," or Woman's Industries, which has for its
aim the revival of all sorts of old work and needlecraft,
and which gives both training and employment to
women and girls, in all parts of Italy, who show aptitude
for learning fine embroidery.

Indeed, I think the shops where this embroidery is sold
are quite as fascinating as those of the jewellers or

The Markets 23



THERE are three markets held in Florence, in different
parts of the city. There is the Mercato Centrale, out-
side the great Church of San Lorenzo, not very far
from the Central Station. This is what we might call
a general market, and if we go there we shall find one
stall where we can pick up all sorts of quaintly-shaped
bits of pottery, for a few soldi* each, while at another
cheap embroideries will be displayed, at another, haber-
dashery, and so on. Indeed, this market is so like
the ordinary cheap markets at home that it is not
particularly interesting.

Then there is the Mercato Nuovo, or New Market,
which is situated in the heart of the city. This is held
in a handsome loggia, which was built for one of the
Medici in 1547. Long years ago, when Florence was
famed for her silk, this used to be the silk-market, and
dealers of precious stones brought their wares here also.

But to-day we find most of the stalls piled up with
straw hats " Leghorn hats," as we call them. For
straw-plaiting and hat-making is one of the principal
industries of the villages which lie on the outskirts of
the city. You have often heard your mother ask for a
hat of " Tuscan straw," have you not, when she wanted
to buy one of good quality ? Well, here are plenty of
such hats. For is not Florence the capital of Tuscany,
and is not the straw grown on the good red soil, not
many miles away? It is washed, and bleached, and cut
into lengths, which are sold in bundles to the country-


24 Florence

women, who divide it between themselves and their
daughters, for even tiny children learn to employ their
leisure time in this way.

In any country village we may see them, or even at
odd times in the streets of Florence itself, going along
with a coil of plaited straw and a bundle of lengths of
straw tucked under the same arm, their fingers busy
plaiting as they go. When so many yards of straw are
plaited, they take the coil to a warehouse or factory,
and sell it to the merchant, who either sells it again to a
milliner, or converts it into a straw hat in his own
workrooms. You all know how beautifully fine and
soft and flexible these Leghorn hats are. They are
large and shady, yet they can be rolled up tightly and
packed in a travelling trunk, and they will come out
at the end of a long journey as fresh as ever.

Besides the straw hats, lovely lace is sold in the
Mercato Nuovo, and twice a week a flower-market is
held here, which is a very pretty sight, as the flowers are
piled up against the grey stone pillars of the old loggia.

Before we leave, we must look at a curious fountain
at one side of the building. It is formed by the figure
of a boar, which is rising on its front legs, and out of
whose jaws a stream of pure water is flowing. Little
children stand on tiptoe, and drink as they pass. " //
Por eel lino" the Little Pig, they call it lovingly, for has
it not given fresh, cold water many times, not only to
them, but to their parents, and grandparents, and
great-grandparents, before them ?

But I think the most interesting market of all is that
of San Ambrogio, which is held in a square near the
city wall, not far from the Church of Santa Croce.
This is the market to which all the country-folk bring

The Markets 25

their butter and eggs, their poultry, their home-made
cheeses, their flowers and vegetables. They come into
the city in the early morning, with their little donkey-
carts laden with country produce. Then they fasten
the patient donkeys to a wall, and leave them there,
munching their hay, while they carry whatever they
have to sell, in baskets to the adjoining square.

Curiously, it is generally the men who come to
market, not the women, as is so common in English
country towns.

It is a pretty sight to come here in the morning,
about seven or eight o'clock, and see the piles of
brightly-coloured vegetables and fruit, and the fat
chickens looking, alas ! poor little things, very
frightened and unhappy, as if they knew the fate that
was in store for them and watch the careful house-
keepers, who have come here to cater for their house-
holds, bargaining with the country-folk over the prices.



LET us go, one evening, when the heat of the day is
over, and see the Arno and its bridges. The river
divides Florence into two rather unequal parts, for on
one side lies the greater portion of the city, which is
quite flat and stretches away to the base of the Hill of
Fiesole, while on the other the houses are built on a
hillside studded with myrtles and dark cypress-trees,
which stand out black and sombre in the rays of the
setting sun. Close to the Arno runs a very handsome
broad street or quay, known as the Lung Arno, bordered
with old 'palaces and high, massive dwelling-houses,
FL. 4

26 Florence

and in some parts of the street these houses have loggias
running along the lower part of the building, which are
nice and cool to walk in, and in which are a number of
tiny shops, filled with all kinds of jewellery, pictures,
and lace.

About the middle of the Lung Arno, there is
one of the most picturesque bits of building that one
can see anywhere. This is the Ponte Vecchio, or Old

J *

Bridge, which represents the most ancient bridge in
Florence. I mean by this that a bridge has stood here
from very early times, although it has been once or twice
rebuilt. The present stone structure was erected in
1345, so it is more than five hundred years old. At
first, when you look at it, you almost wonder what it is
meant for, for it is only the stone piers that support it,
and the arches over the water, that tell you that it is a
bridge at all. Looking at it from the banks of the river,
it seems a mass of tiny houses, piled like bird-cages one
above the other, while, rising even higher than they do,
is a covered stone gallery, built in quite a regular way.
When we are on the bridge, it is simply like a street
of little shops, all filled with jewellery and works of Art,
some of which are very beautiful, some quite tawdry.
Both above and below this curious old bridge, on the
left bank of the Arno, there is no broad street, as there
is elsewhere, only the backs of quaint, high, old-fashioned
houses, the walls of which go straight down into the
river, and are one mass of queer gables, and little pro-
jecting windows, and hanging gardens, and uneven roofs,
showing us clearly by their quaint architecture that they
were built in medieval times. In fact, it is absolutely
impossible to describe them, or to tell how picturesque
they are, with their clear tints of cream-coloured wall,

The Arno and it Bride- : -

^, /

and dull red tile ; : ng against the deep blue of an
Italian sky.

As we walk slow! rr the Id tw re, let us think
of its histcry A bridge I :o have been built

in the time of the Rcrr.a: We know that one . .
as early as the days of Dante, t: : that rime it had

not its border of tiny she Thr/. :-.r.e : :

of the two great Palaces on e thcf : .de of the . -, the
Palace of the Urr.zi, and the P:::i Palace, which both
belonged to the Meiici, who wanted a secret, or, at
least, covered passage be: sen the two residences, and
so the gallery over the bridge wis ere::ei for the use
or the fine ladies a _zr.:lemen of the Court.

Then the little she ere built, and given to the
Guild of Goldsmiths bv Cosimc i Medic: -.e "':.: m

so much for his country, and ever since, they have been

inhabit.: by workers in precious metals. V.-.ere -
two stories connected with the brie _ 7 ~ich you might
like to hear before we leave it. One is quite true
of the other you must judge for yourse. -

I will tell the true story first. I: :r .; :
One day when the great Duke Cosimo was making his
lor^ . way :;r;ss the Ponte Vecchio, his eye chanced

- - .

fall on a very pre::y rirl named Camill.i '-'-.rtelli, who
was the daughter of one of the goldsmiths living n one
of the little houses overhanging the river. Perhaps
the girl was sitting on a stool at the doorway of her
father's shop, r :o se . my :us:omer v. night
happen to call ; perhaps she was coming home
market with her basket of fruit and vegetables over her
n. V\ e do not know, but at all events she looked so
beautiful that the Grand Duke rell in lov. -, and

married her. and changed her into a Grand Duche


28 Florence

She was very unhappy afterwards, poor thing, for
Cosimo became tired of her, and married someone else,
as Grand Dukes were allowed to do in those lawless
days, and she was shut up in a convent, where she was
so rude to the nuns that they all hated her. But that
part of her life does not belong to the history of the

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Online LibraryElizabeth Wilson GriersonFlorence → online text (page 2 of 7)