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Tuscan Kindness 23/07/2011

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c. 1900

Only the other day I was striving in a network of slums to find a given slum. In despair I entered a vile enough looking drinking-shop to inquire my way. There were but two customers inside, discussing with the host a highly sweetened non-intoxicant syrup made from the red-currant, and known as Rides. ‘Cosa comanda?’ inquired mine host, which was as much as to say, ‘What may you be pleased to drink?’ I ought to have drunk something, I know; decency required it of me; but the stomach turns coward at the thought of sweet syrup in the slums. I bowed instead ceremoniously, and inquired the way to the Via della Rosa Bianca. Mine host scratched his head and looked distressed. ‘It is still far from here’, he said, ‘and the street is difficult to find’. He mused awhile, still in obvious distress, and then his face suddenly brightened. ‘Go thou, Alfredo’, he said, turning to one of his two customers, ‘and show this gentleman the way to the Via della Rosa Bianca’. Alfredo leapt to his feet, bowed, excused himself, drank off his sickly syrup, and stood ready to accompany me. But a troubled expression came across his face also. ‘And yet’, he said ruminatively, ‘I am not certain whether the third to the left would bring us there, or…’ ‘Nay, certainly not the third to the left’ interrupted the other tippler. ‘Then if thou knowest, go thou likewise, Arturo!’ cried the host, addressing his only other customer. Arturo too leapt to his feet, bowed, excused himself, drank off his drink, and accompanied by Alfredo and Arturo (sort of waterside characters, I should think) I found my destination. Thus did the landlord of a low Tuscan bettola forcibly eject his only customers (who would certainly have drunk at least another siroppo each) from the mere love of serving a person in need of help. This is the real character of Tuscan courtesy; there may be much ritual, much smiling, bowing, throwing about of arms, and ceremonial phrase; but the essence of each courteous act springs from that old-fashioned Christian charity which suffereth long and is kind, and which, owing to bushels of precept and centuries of practice, still burns cheerily in the land of St. Francis and St. Antoninus.

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