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Pallone and Golf at the Cascine 03/03/2011

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c. 1900

On the other side of the round-point on which stands the cafe the afternoon carriage parade of Florence was going on. Handsomely appointed victorias, broughams, breaks, dog-carts, and phaetons rolled past, drawn by well-groomed horses, with coachmen, footmen, and grooms in immaculate liveries. Not a few horsemen were to be seen, among them numbers of uniformed army officers. On the other side of this driveway were four lawn-tennis courts, with matches in progress on all of them, followed by groups of interested spectators.

Beyond these courts again, the Italian game of ‘Pallone’ was being played with great vigor. The elliptical course of a race-track lay alongside the park barrier, where running races were in progress on this same day. Just outside the Cascine are the grounds of the beautiful Villa Demidoff, on which there is a golf-links. And all these sports were going on at the same time on a beautiful spring day. Of a truth, the Florentines do not lack for amusements. Parenthetically, let me say that the Florence Golf Club was extremely hospitable to us wanderers from a far-off Western land, and sent us visitors* cards for their links and club-house. We were not slow to avail ourselves of the privilege. The links are laid out adjacent to a speed-track at the Villa Demidoff. There are racing-stables there, and men in trotting-sulkies were continually exercising horses. Your vagrant golf-ball would take you near a group of jockeys, horsetrainers, and hostlers, gathered round a couple of trotting-sulkies and talking to the drivers.

Unconsciously you would expect to hear them calling one another Jim or Pete, and talking English race-track slang. But no. They are Sandros and Titos, and their race-track lingo is lingua Toscana, So, too, with the caddies. To play golf over a links where the caddies speak no English is in itself an odd sensation. But to have a golf-caddy talking to you in Italian is even more odd. Otherwise, the little Italian caddies seem very much hke other caddies otherwhere. They are just as featherheaded, just as prone to give you the wrong club, just as apt to forget the flag, just as apt to say they are ‘tired’ when you want to go around again.

It will interest golf-players to know that for ‘once round’ they receive four cents. Late in the afternoons little girls would straggle across the golf-links, stopping to stare at the queer gioco inglese, or English game. They were freckled little girls, carrying little lunchbaskets and bundles of school-books in straps – they are just like little school-girls in other lands and climes until you speak to them. Then their speech bewrayeth them.

By the way, it would do a money-grubber good to come in contact with golf-caddies. They are rarities in this commercial age, for they know when they have enough. A barefooted boy with ragged galligaskins upheld by one suspender, his hair sticking through a hole in his hat, worth as he stands perhaps a dollar and a half, will refuse a tenth of his estimated value for an additional hour’s work. He has fifteen cents in his pocket, he is tired or hungry, and he ‘won’t go round no more’. I respect the independent golf-caddy. I respect and admire him. And I always hire the other kind.

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