The Florentine Ceppo 21/12/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Christmas, Festivals, Giovanni Boccaccio
At Florence, as elsewhere, [Christmas] is the season when presents are made by persons of means to their servants, tradesmen, and dependants of every kind. These ‘boxes’, as we call them, are known in Tuscanyas ceppi or ‘logs’, and the name shows that the Yule-log is a reality here, far deeper and more ancient than the show of seasonable holly and mistletoe laid out for the foreigner on the Lung’ Arno would lead one to suspect. These greens are a display unknown till recent years, but the Ceppo is an ancient local usage which deserves consideration. The name of the Ceppo is derived, almost without change, from the Latin cippus, the tree-trunk, and the log was great indeed which used to burn on every Tuscan hearth as each 24 December came round. Boccaccio, condescending for a moment from mythology to describe the habits of his own country and people, tells what was done at Christmas inFlorence: how the house-father laid the great log on the Lari, as the fire-dogs of the hearth were called in his day; how the family gathered about it, while their head called for wine, drank, and poured a libation from his cup on the glowing wood, after which the others drank in turn as the cup went round. Later authorities enable us to complete the scene, telling how the log was beaten to make the sparks fly up the chimney, and that the Florentines liked it large, so that when kindled it might burn long, even for days, without going out. Here then are all the signs which show the antiquity of a rite. The house itself, without further consecration than the presence there of the family, is the temple; the hearth the altar, and the father the priest. The Lari, or fire-dogs, are the Dii Lares of Roman household religion. The ceppo itself is a true and huge tree-trunk; it must be so if, as we shall presently see, it is to burn continuously for twelve days. One thinks of it as set on end, reaching high in the chimney and sinking gradually to the hearth day by day as it burns away from the root. Thus, behind Roman religion, we find what preceded it. The Ceppo is a yearly return to the original life of the woods, when the hunter’s fire smouldered from day to day in the root of the standing tree, and when that hearth, blown betimes to a leaping flame, gathered about it all the mystery and comfort that might belong to forest nights in winter: their encompassing fear and its sure, if narrow remedy. What we know of how this primitive religion developed in the definite worship of the Lares shows that the libation of wine at Ceppo, still used atFlorence in the fourteenth century if no later, represents an offering .to the spirits of darkness and of the underworld; perhaps to those of the dead.
Beans and the Befana 08/12/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Befana, Children, Food
As we have seen, it has been the Florentine habit to prepare for the moment of danger by a special diet. A full meal is eaten, and children especially are encouraged to partake plentifully of beans against the coming of the Befana. This food, as is well known, has certain physical consequences, and the verse the full-fed children sing shows that these are counted on for the success of the matter in hand. Only the children whose bodies are ‘like drums’ are those who may hope to escape.
Practical Jokes at Easter 10/11/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: Children, Easter, Scoppio del Carro
Within the memory of those still living, mischievous boys, armed with needles and stout pack-thread, passed unobserved through the crowded Piazza on Easter Saturday, sewing the clothes of the countryfolk together in the press. Wlien the ‘Scoppio del Carro’ was over, and the crowd broke up, the feast became a true hilaria of jest levelled at the unfortunate men and women who stood perplexed at the trick, and confused in their vain attempts to separate. The pack-thread that joined the people clearly corresponded to the cord that united the pyres and directed the dove, the messenger of Venus and the bearer of her fires.
Slade, ‘Since this must be my final’ 25/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Poems, Vernon Arnold Slade
Vernon Arnold Slade’s seventh poetical epistle: Florence, 10 March 1908
Since this must be my final ere we meet
In London on Good Friday, you shall come
And gaze your last on Florence from the hill
Where ‘David’s’ bronze replica, dominant,
Stares out intrepid on his unseen foes
Past tower, tree, and villa unabashed.
There’s surely no man born could frown him down,
Or move his calm and kingly arrogance
From its fell purpose.
Florence lies below
Like scattered shingle on a desert strand
Where waves have flung their pearl and amber down,
So bright the houses gleam below the hills.
If it’s a sunny day and clear, you’ll view
Fiesole perched high and looped about
With spiral roads that make the way seem long
So often do you turn and turn about
Before you reach the tall lean tower that tolls
The hours for labour and the church’s call.
Then further to your right there’s Ripoli;
A snowy-terraced mountain lies beyond
That tells of air too chilly for the vines;
And to your left tall Mount Morello tilts
A bare grey shoulder into the blue sky.
It’s only half a minute you’ll stay so
Before a tout comes wheedling with his wares.
You fly him like the pest he is, and leap
The steps alternate on the steep stone way
That slants through trees precipitously down
To Porta San Miniato where they tax
All dutiable produce passing through.
Keep on due north and soon you’ll cross a Bridge
Over the river romping to its bourne;
On the green edge gay petticoats a-gleam
Where Arno serves as wash-tub for the wives.
From a high window in a neighbouring palace
A grey-garbed signorina lures your eye
With such a growth of bronze hair in thick braids
Not needing ribbon to maintain it so
In all its wiry vigour freshly coiled,
And such a poise of figure as she leans
Her bare arms on a faded balcony.
Above, a half-obliterated bust
Struck from the stone to mark some ancient triumph,
Looks down on the plebeian multitude
Crowned with vain laurel garlands that acclaim
To all the world its futile arrogance.
I haunt this bridge at nightfall for the sake
Of serenaders with their mandolines
Who, with their trilling, snare light coins that
Fall from blazing hotel windows opened wide,
Along the Arno all the lamps a-row
Shoot down long spears of light into the stream.
The plaintive music swells and ebbs and dies;
Lights twinkle; and the water tremulous
Reflects the thousand lamps like truant stars
Drawn earthward from their chilly altitudes
By the long-wailing music’s amorous tone.
From the far bank the vesper chimes float down
To flout these chants of pagan minstrelsy,
From belfries where the priest-like cypress trees
Keep their eternal vigil night and day.
Here is an echo of a plaintive song,
Song in high tenor there a week ago
English dims its native colouring.
Lovely and strong, now man at his labour
Yearns for his bride.
One that waits for him only I am forsaken.
Now is the vintage come and the vintners
Work in the sun,
Red blood swift in its ferment
Feeding their sinews.
Singing they move in line, and the trellis
Yieldeth its fruit.
Young boys swift to the wine-press
Bear it in baskets.
Laden twixt arm and hip, they are moving
Downward the slope,
One arm wide and the other
Crooked to the burden.
Yonder the brook runs swift, and the cresses
Shake to its song.
Girls spread over the willows
White as the snow it gleams or the lilies
White in the fields;
White swan’s down is not whiter
Cast on the river.
Lovely and strong now man at his labour
Yearns for his bride,
One that waits for him only
I am forsaken.
Wandering last night among the gloomy bow’rs
That crest Mount Oliveto, 1 was moved
By a most gaunt old cypress tree that seemed
The spirit of my darker self that leant
His cheek to mine and whispered ‘All is ill.
The earth is grown too old and topples downward
Into that sunless chaos whence she rose
Because the elder gods are all forgot’.
His cone was a black finger on the sky
Where thunder muttered; and the scared wind smote
The pliant boughs into a hymn of praise
In honour of gods forgotten utterly.
The rain fell downward, hissing in my ears;
Frayed birds fled homeward; and I shut my
Eyes enchaining so the phantom images
Raised by the thunder’s riot; and I heard
Hard breathing and the hurried beat of hooves
From men and beasts, as in an earlier day,
Battling anew for mastery of the world
The cypress sang another song of old.
When grief was sin and strength was bom of joy,
All trees that flourished were as ministers
To hearten and console; their boughs conspired
In benediction round the homes of men.
Well, that’s my fancy. Here the thing’s worked out
Into a chant slow sung reproachfully
By hidden dryads to complaining boors
In times when these lacked trains and telephones,
Three posts a day and pensions from the state,
And yet perchance were happier. Who shall say?
Are things uncouth?
There shall be loveliness if you be kind.
Fear draws a veil o’er beauty,
Death’s own shadow.
Fear not your kin;
For if all men be watchers who shall toil!
Chill hearts among the sowers
Chill earth’s bosom.
O, soft and brave
Are men who earn our favour, maiming naught.
Mindful are they and cherish
Newt and fledgling;
And when these pass,
Or a frayed squirrel scampers up the bole,
Clap not their hands nor gather
Mirth from terror.
Who snare or slay
Snare their own spirit, clip the wings of joy;
Nor shall the earth for slayers
Yield her plenty.
All things that live
Share of their loveliness with them that love.
Our breath shall shape their nostrils,
Fan their pulses.
Farewell till Friday week, I’m loth to leave
My lair among the house-tops with its view
Of Giotto’s bell-tower leaping to the sky
Most like a froz’n cascade, all iridescent,
My uncompleted canvas, and my hosts
So prompt and sedulous to all my needs.
But other things a-tugging at my heart
Make call peremptory – my village home.
Green fields, trim hedgerows and my mother tongue
From voices that I love among the Downs.
Hail Clouds in Chianti 19/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Chianti, Hail Storms
How often, in summers spent near Siena, I have heard, as the hail clouds darkened over the Chianti, church after church take up the flying peal, ringing to break the cloud and avert the danger! The direct, unmistakable claim of the church-bells themselves, the fulgura frango so often fused with them as a bell-inscription, shows that in no secondary sense as a call to prayer, but in itself, the sound of the bell is relied on as a true defence. Nor is any ritual consecration by the Church thought necessary to secure this effect. In the days of danger, between Christmas and Epiphany at the opening of the year, I have met in a Tuscan country town masked dancers in white, ringing bells at nightfall in the principal street. And these were precisely horse-bells which the maskers had hung about their necks, strap and all, just as they came from the harness. It would seem, in fact, that what brightness and colour are trusted to do by day is secured by night when the bells are heard; the baroccio and its driver travel safely in the darkness under cover of that cheerful chime.
Daisies of Florence by Kathleen Raine 18/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1960-1980, Boboli Gardens, Kathleen Raine, Poems
This poem by Kathleen Raine (obit 2003) was first published in 1965.
Bambini picking daisies in the new spring grass
Of the Boboli gardens
Now and now and now in rosy-petalled fingers hold
The multitude of time.
To the limits of the small and fine florets innumerable of white and gold
They know their daisies real.
Botticelli with daisies from the timeless fields of recollection scatters
That bright Elysium or Paradise
Whose flowers none can gather,
Where spirits immortal walk for ever
With her who walks through spring after spring in primavera robed,
Ripening the transient under her veil.
Folk Tales in the Maremma 12/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Carrier, Monte Amiata, Tales
A story told to the writer by a charcoal burner in the great chestnut forest, which covers the lower slopes of Monte Amiata on the border of the Tuscan Maremma, has no doubt a Pagan derivation. In this forest far from railways the Barocciaio or carrier is an important person and the hero of many adventures. A barocciaio, travelling by night, came to a spot where his mules would go no further; looking around he saw an old man, who mounted the baroccio (country cart) and immediately the mules went forward. Presently they came to a church, when the old man said: ‘Go in and ring the church bells.’ The barocciaio answered: ‘Buon’ vecchio, the church tower will be shut at this hour.’ The old man answered: ‘Do as I say.’ So the barocciaio got off the cart and went to the church, and to his surprise the door of the tower was open, but in the doorway stood a great lady in a beautiful mantle with a child in her arms. She asked: ‘What do you want to do?’ and the barocciaio said: ‘Ring the bells’; and she asked: ‘Who told you to ring them’; he answered: ‘The old man’; and she answered: ‘If you had obeyed him, it would have rained fire upon the earth for three days.’ So he went back to the old man, who asked why he had not rung the bells. He told him what the lady had said, whereupon the old man cried ‘Maria! Maria! You are the stronger’ and disappeared.
Banking in Shakespeare’s Florence 04/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1500-1600, Poems, William Shakespeare
Taming of the Shrew IV, II: The Pedant Speaks
Alas, sir, it is worse for me than so!
For I have bills for money by exchange
From Florence, and must here deliver them.
Viaggi Circulari on the Trains 01/10/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1860-1880, Trains, Travel Agents
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To those intending to travel in Italy, great advantages are held out by the railway companies in the shape of circular tour tickets (viaggi circulari). The Indicatore della Strada Ferrata contains a list with plans of a large number of such tours, the tickets for which are issued, enduring, according to the length of tour, from ten to sixty days (which cannot be extended), at the large reduction of 45 per cent, upon the price which would otherwise be exigible. One of these tours is, for example, a complete round of Italy – from Turin by the west coast, embracing Florence and Rome to Naples, and thence by the east coast by Ancona, Bologna, Venice, Milan, and back to Turin, at a cost for first class of £7, 17s., and second and third classes correspondingly low. This tour, for which sixty days are allowed, enables the traveller to stop at any important town on the lines; and all that is necessary is, at starting from each place, to get the next station at which he means to stop scored through at the railway window. To those whose time is limited, these circular tickets are valuable, and they are procurable with Italian paper, so that the benefit of exchange is got. Cook and Gaze issue tickets for the same circular tours, and probably at the same price, although I suppose they are generally in connection with tickets from London; but they have, I understand, to be paid for in English money. They possess the advantage, I believe, by no means to be undervalued, of having all directions printed in English as well as Italian. The railway companies issue their tickets at every important town on the line of route to be travelled.
Slade, ‘I’ve been to the Certosa’ 27/09/2011Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: 1900-1920, Poems, Vernon Arnold Slade
Vernon Arnold Slade’s sixth poetical epistle: Florence, 28 February 1908
I’ve been to the Certosa. On a mount
The Abbey perches amid cypress trees
Slim-shaped as needles set the wrong end up
To spear the cloud-wrack that goes drifting by.
A white-robed friar with a shining pate
Close-shaven, for a fee will pilot you,
And speak in slow French in your ear’s unused
To bear the torrent of Italian.
They’ve Brunelleschi cloisters, panels wrought
By Andrea della Robbia in his prime;
And one pale slab shows Michael’s prentice hand
At work upon the mitre of a priest
In death’s last sleep recumbent All around
The mountains rise like billows; and, from thence,
Far belfries peer like sunken masts at sea
And toll the hour to shepherds. The warm air
Has more of languor than your Scotch hills know
Besieged by dark battalions of tall pines
Whose vanguard’s lost in cloud like battlesmoke
About their hidden summits. Here the vines
And olives fledge the hillsides in long files
To the remotest vistas of the south;
And northward past Galuzzo where the line
Curves into Gelsomino – such a sight!
On this same highway you may pass to Rome
By gaunt Siena and a hundred hills
Still bearing on their breasts the unhealing scars
Of that inhuman tempest in whose broils
Proud Florence battened on her weaker peers
It was a grey day when I went. The wind
Snatched up the clouds and would not let them pause
To comfort the dry vales; in sudden puffs
It smote the roadway dust into a steam
Like water on red embers loth to die.
About the Abbey’s base there ran a brook
In merry ripples that the sun made dance
Thro’ slits in the grey cloud. A gipsy camp
With three rude shanties set on aching wheels
Was pitched beside it; and about the fire
Two boys, a monkey, and a shaggy mule
Tied by his fetlock to a stump of wood
A picture ready for the hand of Claude.
From Christian World to Pagan’s but a span
In that long bridge that links eternal time.
I’ve been to the museum where a store
Of shattered remnants from Etruria
Crowd the low rooms; above Egyptian runes
Press close on antique vases, urns, and rings,
And Greek and Roman bronzes turned to green;
Helmets and armour from the loot of Kings
Once crowned in cities now depopulate;
Rams’ heads with hollow eyes, and mouths agape;
A war-steed’s head and neck all creased to show
The bridle’s sudden tension in the mouth.
The stress upon the haunches, and the snort
That spread his eager nostrils gaping wide;
Blurred hand-mirrors that brightly once gave back
The proud glance of some beauty in her prime;
Snapped spears, cracked bucklers, all things that attest
Dead valour, futile beauty, fill the mind
With dust of chariots and the shout of men
Defiant on the far dim verge of time.
Well, well, I fall to ranting. To be brief
For all these marvels – for the owls, storks, bulls,
And long-horned antelopes that haunted once
The reedy waters of old Father Nile,
I care but little – more remote to me
Than the Chimera whose long tail becomes
A serpent self-devouring at the tip.
Two things I treasured; one, a weeping girl
And one, a scornful peasant gazing back.
I chose, in fancy, to connect the two
And call the girl abandoned, whence there came
The three-versed poem that I here append.
Sung to a reed-pipe when the world was younger.
O! lover passing in the night
Beneath my window, hear my cry!
I cannot see the lantern’s light
For bitter tears fast flowing by
O! help me, help me ere I die.
By day thou reapest in the field
My dear brown god amid the grain;
And I by night to thee would yield
This virgin body without stain.
Ah me! Ah me! the bitter pain!
Come to me ere the harvest goes,
Ere all the hot sun’s golden shine
Suck dry the full heart of the rose,
Ere all my sweetness turn to brine.
Ah! lover dear for whom I pine!
I’m well and working hard, but I can give
No details of my painting, for, alas!
I find my rhymed lament has filled the quire.