jump to navigation

Ascencion Day and the Grilli 25/08/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

c. 1910

Ascencion Day is observed at Florence in a way to make it one of the most characteristic feasts in tlie Calendar of the city. At dawn, the people stream out in thousands to the Cascine, spending the day till noon in the open grass-spaces, and under the trees, of that public park. While this place was still the dairy farm of the Grand Dukes, custom prescribed that the day should begin with a drink of warm milk taken at the farm. The people then passed on, as they still do, to a rendezvous at the ancient oak-tree of the adjoining park, whence they scattered again in groups to catch the grilli, the black field-crickets, that form, even to-day, the chief object of this outing. Their prey caught and caged, the people dine; some eating on the grass the provisions they have brought; others seeking the rustic restaurants set out beneath the trees. At midday the park is empty again; the people have gone home with their grilli – caught or bought – in the little cages of buckwheat stem that serve to contain them. The cages are hung in the houses, for the Florentines think the cricket’s song brings luck to the home; especially if the grilli can be kept alive and vocal till the day of Corpus Christi. It is to be feared that few survive as long! Just this survival, however, must be insisted on; for it shows clearly what Florence has in mind when the grilli are caught. When Easter falls late – towards the 25th of April – Corpus Domini as Italy calls the further feast, tends to coincide with the summer solstice. Now the song of the field-cricket, opening feebly about the beginning of May, reaches its height only at midsummer, to die away about the 15th of July. Thus, when Ascension-day falls on April 30th there are no singing-crickets; and evidently the solstice is the date at which any observance connected with this insect should properly fall. With this reference to the solstice ancient authority fully agrees. Pliny, who mentions how the giylliis was caught in his time with a hair holding an ant as bait, quotes Nigidius for the great importance attached to the field-cricket in the doctrine of the Magi. It burrows in the earth, he says, walks backwards, and sings by night; such are the reasons he offers for the attention it attracted. Now the same backward movement was noticed in the scarabaus of the Nile and in the crab. Egypt made the scarabaus a symbol of the sun, and the world saw the crab in that sign of the Zodiac which the sun entered at midsummer. In Cancer, the sun began his annual retreat; hence a perceived relation between this solstice and all backward-moving animals. Among such then the grillo held a place of honour, and belonged, like them, to the same great moment in the year; gathering all the fancies with which the solstice was associated.

Founding of the Florence Automobile Club 24/03/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , ,
comments closed

c. 1900

The first thing that we saw in the city of Savonarola and Buonarotti was an automobile parade. The automobile pursues one around Europe. It is the Time Ghost of today. It appears suddenly in ancient nooks and corners, and reminds you that this is the end of the nineteenth century. And then, after scaring you, the Time Ghost rattles away, leaving behind it a smell which suggests ghosts, demons, and sulphur. But it is only the smell of benzine.

This Florentine parade followed the inauguration of the first automobile club in Tuscany. It took place in the Barbetti Rotunda near the Cascine. Around the circle twenty-one automobiles were ranged. They were examined by the Count of Turin, who represents the royal family in Florence. The Florentines must have something for their tax-money, so they get a royal prince. The count was good enough to express his princely admiration for the machines, of which there was quite a showing. The fastest was a six-horse-power Stanley, belonging to Prince Strozzi.

We were neighbors of the prince, by the way. He lived across the street from us. Carping people might say that we lived across the street from him, for there is a Strozzi Palace, a Strozzi Street, and a Strozzi Square, while our hotel is on the corner of Strozzi Square and Strozzi Street. But none the less we have a right to say that he lived across the street from us. His habitation is finer than ours, for the Strozzi Palace is one of the sights of Florence. But it is unfinished. The prince’s family have lived there for generations. Two or three hundred years ago the family decided to put an ornamental cornice on the palace, and got halfway around, when they became ‘broke’ and stopped. The cornice has remained unfinished ever since. If Prince Strozzi had a due regard for his ancestors, he would finish his uncompleted palace. But apparently he prefers to live in an unfinished house and spend his money on automobiles.

He had four machines at this opening of the Florence Automobile Club. After the exposition proper, the members ‘conducted’ their machines from the Rotunda out to Florence’s beautiful park, the Cascine. Numbers of handsomely gowned women were seated on the automobiles, and one of them was driven by a lady. I inquired her name, and was told that she was ‘the Signorina Smith’. The other ladies were all marchesas, duchessas, and contessas, but only Signorina Smith was daring enough to conduct a machine. The name sounds un-Italian. I think the Signorina Smith must be American.

The club wound up by a ‘grand five o’clock tea at four o’clock’, at the Cascine. The Italians seem to think that ‘five o’clock’ is a kind of beverage, instead of a time of day. You see signs on the Italian-English tea-roonis, ‘five o’clock tea served at all hours’. And the French even make a verb of it – fiveocloquer, ‘On fiveocloquera a quatre heures’.

The scene was an animated one. We were seated at one of the tables under the trees on the terrace of the Cascine Cafe. A fine military band was playing near at hand. Many of the automobile club were still speeding their machines around the circles and driveways, giving exhibitions of their skill in turning corners and running into trees…

After the ‘inauguration’ of the automobile club, the automobiles dashed through the streets of Florence at a high rate of speed, and there were many accidents. In fact, there were accidents every day. It is rather remarkable that on the Continent the authorities allow such freedom to automobilists. In Europe nearly everything is forbidden. It is forbidden to walk on the grass. It is forbidden to cross the railway lines. It is forbidden, almost, to cross the street. Therefore, that the automobilists should not be forbidden to drive their machines at such breakneck speed is remarkable.

Horse-vehicles are prohibited from exceeding a certain speed. Horned cattle are not allowed on the streets of most large cities, owing to solicitude for the foot-passengers. I have seen loads of live steers transported across Vienna in vans drawn by horses. But the scorching automobilists are more dangerous than horned cattle. On the day that the automobile club was inaugurated in Florence a circular space in the Piazza della Signoria was covered with mounds of flowers. At first we thought it was a flower-market, but on inquiry we found it was in memory of Savonarola, who was burned to death on this spot over four hundred years ago. A Florentine family has for centuries kept up the custom of thus honoring his memory. And around the great square of the Signoria, where he was burned, circa 1500, sweeps the automobile of 1900.

Pallone and Golf at the Cascine 03/03/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

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.

Ode to the West Wind 22/02/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , ,
comments closed

Published in 1820 Shelley certainly wrote this poem at the Cascine park in Florence in 1819, allegedly at the Fountain of Narcissus there.


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,

Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead

Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,

Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill

Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)

With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;

Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,

Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,

Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread

On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,

Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge

Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,

The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night

Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,

Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere

Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams

The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,

Lull’d by the coil of his crystàlline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay,

And saw in sleep old palaces and towers

Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers

So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou

For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below

The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear

The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,

And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;

If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;

A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free

Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even

I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,

As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed

Scarce seem’d a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.

Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!

I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain’d and bow’d

One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:

What if my leaves are falling like its own!

The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,

Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,

My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe

Like wither’d leaves to quicken a new birth!

And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish’d hearth

Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!

Be through my lips to unawaken’d earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

The Cascine, ‘the Bois of Florence’ 17/02/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

c. 1910

Cascine is the Bois of Florence; but it does not compare with the Parisian expanse either in size or attraction. Here the wealthy Florentines drive, the middle classes saunter and ride bicycles, the poor enjoy picnics, and the English take country walks. The further one goes the better it is, and the better also the river, which at the very end of the woods becomes such a stream as the pleinairistes love, with pollarded trees on either side. Among the trees of one of these woods nearly a hundred years ago, a walking Englishman named Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote his ‘Ode to the West Wind’.

The Cascine is a Bois also in having a race-course in it a small course with everything about it on a little scale, grandstand, betting boxes, and all. And why not? for after all Florence is quite small in size, however remarkable in character. Here funny little race-meetings are held, beginning on Easter Monday and continuing at intervals until the weather gets too hot. The Florentines pour out in their hundreds and lie about in the long grass among the wild flowers, and in their fives and tens back their fancies. The system is the pari-mutuel, and here one seems to be more at its mercy even than in France. The odds keep distressingly low; but no one seems to be either elated or depressed, whatever happens.

To be at the races is the thing to walk about and watch the people and enjoy the air. It is the most orderly frugal scene, and the baleful and mysterious power of the racehorse to poison life and landscape, as in England, does not exist here.

To the Cascine also in the spring and autumn several hundred Florentine men come every afternoon to see the game of pallone and risk a few lire on their favourite players. Mr. Ruskin, whose Mornings in Florence is still the textbook of the devout, is severe enough upon those visitors who even find it in their hearts to shop and gossip in the city of Giotto.

What then would he have said of one who has spent not a few afternoon hours, between five and six, in watching the game of pallone? I would not call pallone a good game. Compared with tennis, it is nothing; compared with lawn tennis, it is poor; compared with football, it is anaemic; yet in an Italian city, after the galleries have closed, on a warm afternoon, it will do, and it will more than do as affording an opportunity of seeing muscular Italian athletes in the pink of condition.

The game is played by six, three each side: a battitore, who smites the ball, which is served to him very much as in rounders; the spalla, who plays back; and the terzino, who plays forward. The court is sixty or more yards long, on one side being a very high wall and on the other and at each end netting. The implements are the ball, which is hollow and of leather, about half the size of a football, and a cylinder studded with spikes, rather like a huge fir-cone or pine-apple, which is placed over the wrist and forearm to hit the ball with; and the game is much as in tennis, only there is no central net: merely a line. Each man’s ambition, however, is less to defeat the returning power of the foe than to paralyse it by hitting the ball out of reach. It is as though a batsman were out if he failed to hit three wides. A good battitore, for instance, can smite the ball right down the sixty yards into the net, above the head of the opposing spalla who stands awaiting it at the far end. Such a stroke is to the English mind a blot, and it is no uncommon thing, after each side has had a good rally, to see the battitore put every ball into the net in this way and so win the game without his opponents having one return; which is the very negation of sport.

Scoppio del Carro, c. 1910 13/01/2011

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed


c. 1910

There is still a Pazzi fund towards the expenses, but a few years ago the city became responsible for the whole proceedings, and the ceremony as it is now given, under civic management, known as the Scoppio del Carro, is that which I saw on Holy Saturday last and am about to describe. First, however, let me state what had happened before the proceedings opened in the Piazza del Duomo. At six o’clock mass began at SS. Apostoli, lasting for more than two hours. At its close the celebrant was handed a plate on which were the sacred flints, and these he struck with a steel in view of the congregation, thus igniting a taper. The candle, in an ancient copper porta fuoco surmounted by a dove, was then lighted, and the procession of priests started off for the cathedral with their precious flame, escorted by a civic guard and various standard bearers. Their route was the Piazza del Limbo, along the Borgo SS. Apostoli to the Via Por S. Maria and through the Vacchereccia to the Piazza della Signoria, the Via Condotta, the Via del Proconsolo, to the Duomo, through whose central doors they passed, depositing the sacred burden at the high altar. I should add that anyone on the route in charge of a street shrine had the right to stop the procession in order to take a light from it; while at SS. Apostoli women congregated with tapers and lanterns in the hope of getting these kindled from the sacred flame, in order to wash their babies or cook their food in water heated with the fire. Meanwhile at seven o’clock the four oxen, which are kept in the Cascine all the year round and do no other work, had been harnessed to the car and had drawn it to  the Piazza del Duomo, which was reached about nine. The oxen were then tethered by the Pisano doors of the Baptistery until needed again.

After some haggling on the night before, I had secured a seat on a balcony facing Ghiberti’s first Baptistery doors, for eleven lire, and to this place I went at half-past ten. The piazza was then filling up, and at a quarter to eleven the trams running between the Cathedral and the Baptistery were stopped. In this space was the car. The present one, which dates from 1622, is more like a catafalque, and unless one sees it in motion, with the massive white oxen pulling it, one cannot believe in it as a vehicle at all. It is some thirty feet high, all black, with trumpery coloured paper festoons (concealing fireworks) upon it: trumpery as only the Roman Catholic Church can contrive.

It stood in front of the Duomo some four yards from the Baptistery gates in a line with the Duomo’s central doors and the high altar. The doors were open, seats being placed on each side of the aisle the whole distance, and people making a solid avenue. Down this avenue were to come the clergy, and above it was to be stretched the line on which the dove was to travel from the altar, with the Pazzi fire, to ignite the car. The space in front of the cathedral was cleared at about eleven, and cocked hats and red-striped trousers then became the most noticeable feature. The crowd was jolly and perhaps a little cynical; picture-postcard hawkers made most of the noise, and for some reason or other a forlorn peasant took this opportunity to offer for sale two equally forlorn hedgehogs. Each moment the concourse increased, for it is a fateful day and every one wants to know the issue: because, you see, if the dove runs true, lights the car, and returns, as a good dove should, to the altar ark, there will be a prosperous vintage and the pyrotechnist who controls the sacred bird’s movements will receive his wages. But if the dove runs defectively and there is any hitch, every one is dismayed, for the harvest will be bad and the pyrotechnist will receive nothing. Once he was imprisoned when things went astray and quite right too but the Florentines have grown more lenient.

At about a quarter past eleven a procession of clergy emerged from the Duomo and crossed the space to the Baptistery. First, boys and youths in surplices. Then some scarlet hoods, waddling. Then purple hoods, and other colours, a little paunchier, waddling more, and lastly the archbishop, very sumptuous. All having disappeared into the Baptistery, through Ghiberti’s second gates, which I never saw opened before, the dove’s wire was stretched and fastened, a matter needing much care; and the crowds began to surge. The cocked hats and officers had the space all to themselves, with the car, the firemen, the pyrotechnist and the few privileged and very self-conscious civilians who were allowed inside.

A curious incident, which many years ago might have been magnified into a portent, occurred while the ecclesiastics were in the Baptistery. Some one either bought and liberated several air balloons, or the string holding them was surreptitiously cut; but however it happened, the balls escaped and suddenly the crowd sent up a triumphant yell. At first I could see no reason for it, the Baptistery intervening, but then the balls swam into our ken and steadily floated over the cathedral out of sight amid tremendous satisfaction. And the portent? Well, as they moved against the blue sky they formed themselves into precisely the pattern of the palle on the Medici escutcheon. That is all. But think what that would have meant in the fifteenth century; the nods and frowns it would have occasioned; the dispersal of the Medici, the loss of power, and all the rest of it, that it would have presaged!

At about twenty to twelve the ecclesiastics returned and were swallowed up by the Duomo, and then excitement began to be acute. The pyrotechnist was not free from it; he fussed about nervously; he tested everything again and again; he crawled under the car and out of it; he talked to officials; he inspected and re-inspected. Photographers began to adjust their distances; the detached men in bowlers looked at their watches; the cocked hats drew nearer to the Duomo door. And then we heard a tearing noise. All eyes were turned to the great door, and out rushed the dove emitting a wake of sparks, entered the car and was out again on its homeward journey before one realized what had happened. And then the explosions began, and the bells silent since Thursday broke out. How many explosions there were I do not know; but they seemed to go on for ten minutes. This is a great moment not only for the spectator but for all Florence, for in myriad rooms mothers have been waiting, with their babies on their knees, for the first clang of the belfries, because if a child’s eyes are washed then it is unlikely ever to have weak sight, while if a baby takes its first steps to this accompaniment its legs will not be bowed. At the last explosion the pyrotechnist, now a calm man once more and a proud one, approached the car, the firemen poured water on smouldering parts, and the work of clearing up began. Then came the patient oxen, their horns and hooves gilt, and great masses of flowers on their heads, and red cloths with the lily of Florence on it over their backs much to be regretted since they obliterated their beautiful white skins and slowly the car lumbered off, and, the cocked hats relenting, the crowd poured after it and the Scoppio del Carro was over.

Lung’Arno at the end of the nineteenth century 11/12/2010

Posted by florencecapital in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

c. 1890

On the Arno! Do not the words recall a familiar scene with the distinctness of an etching. The length of quay curving in the distance to the cloud of foliage of the Cascine, the Piazza Manin midway, with the monument of the Venetian patriot in the centre, the weir and circular abutment of parapet opposite the Hotel de la Paix, and the bronze statue of Garibaldi flanking an orange-colored building beyond, all these features belong to one of the world’s most renowned thoroughfares. Who does not remember, in a much-travelled age, the leisurely holiday crowd of the Lung’ Arno, ebbing and flowing mothers and daughters in their best attire, the babies straggling behind, all prepared to gaze at the passing carriages and their occupants, the ladies in fresh Paris toilettes? A Florentine throng this, worthy of a passing contemplation, renowned for epigram and repartee, keen-eyed, mocking, ready to detect and laugh at any absurdity or weakness, could one but hear and understand the winged sarcasm as it passes from lip to lip. It is, also, a populace not too trustworthy on such occasions as the languidly recurring Carnival, being more prone to hurl missiles than flowers.

No doubt there is an Arlotto Pievano, with a ready jest, in a group of priests taking a walk at the sunset hour. No doubt there may be a barber Burchiello abroad with his family to-day, ready to keep alive a little gayety in a careworn and depressed world by his own trolling songs. The old men are abroad to enjoy the day. The aged Florentine citizen of the middle class is a most interesting type, a certain refinement tempering the shrewdness and intelligence of shrivelled features. Behold him on the Arno, serene, amused, and respectable, as retired merchant, goldsmith, optician, shoemaker. He is also a citizen of the world, the old Florentine, and astonished at nothing new, having seen many pageants. On such occasions the beggars, wrapped in cloaks as withered as themselves, have crept out to warm chilled blood in the sun on the benches opposite the Carraia Bridge. The three blind match-vendors, granted a long life of misery, stand in their accustomed places before the Corsini Palace. The peasant women from the Abruzzi, in their picturesque costume, and with gold ear-rings depending beside their brown cheeks, form a spot of warm color near the weir – red, green, and yellow – with their pile of blankets exposed for sale, wherewith to deck draughty doorway of hotel or pension or to drape the bleak walls of an apartment corridor. These wily sirens knit as they watch for the traveller, to extort a higher price for their wares than need be paid for the same article in the carpet-shops. The flower-vendors circulate beneath the balconies of the hotels, with coaxing smiles, equally sure of their prey, the stranger intoxicated with their burden of sweetness and color.

Who does not remember the night on the Arno? If masculine, you took a fresh cigar, and strolled forth after the dull table d’hôtel, instead of seeking theatre or opera. The Lung’ Arno was silent and deserted, with the lights of the gas lamps reflected in the river, the stars and the moon shining in the sky. The Arno glided along swiftly, with sparkling crests of foam visible occasionally, a stream devoid of volume or steadiness, descending from the mountain height of the Falterona, traversing the Casentino amid vineyards and olive-trees, and pressing onward freer in course, if you will, because the Libyan Hercules once removed the rock, at Signa, which formed a marsh. In the shadows of evening the river has a quiet and pensive beauty of aspect. Never could the traveller apply to the famous current Dante’s scornful epithets, as, ‘rising meanly among swine more fit for acorns than human food’, reaching the ” ‘snarling curs of Arezzo’, thence flowing to the ‘abode of wolves at Florence’, and finally descending to the ‘foxes full of fraud’ at Pisa. ‘The ill-starred ditch’ has an appearance of innocence and tranquillity beneath the stars. In the shades of midnight memories may stir abroad of Buonconte da Montefeltro swept down by the overflow of the Archiano, after the battle of Campaldino, of the ashes of Savonarola cast to the tide from the Ponte Yecchio, of the key of the Famine Tower dropped into the wave at Pisa by the Archbishop Ruggieri.

Possibly a guitar twanged farther up the street, and a singer rendered some Neapolitan ditty in a heavy bass voice. A sullen splash beneath the Ponte Carraia suggested a suicide. The Duomo bell boomed out a few hurried strokes on the still night. Was it a summons for the Misericordia to seek the suicide on the opposite shore?

If feminine, you assuredly strayed as far as the Piazza del Duomo to admire, in a sentimental mood, the marble statues and columns, glorified by the moon. This is one of the world’s thoroughfares, with open spaces visible, of sky, mountain, and open country beyond the suspension bridge, such as no other street, flanked by lofty buildings, churches, and squares, can boast. Not less curious and interesting is the throng of sojourners to be met on this quay. A tide of strangers traverses this pavement each season, and vanishes again. Every stage of peevish invalidism, following the advice of Mr. Wortley Montagu; rosy brides, native and foreign; mothers and daughters, chiefly Anglo-Saxon, and with an abstracted expression often, as of grasping at shadows, having missed the substance in some fashion; and whole phalanxes of the ‘glorified spinster’, scurrying out of the doorways of pensions, always under the pressure of utmost speed of locomotion, such are elements of the winter day on the Arno. Eccentric types abound at all seasons, the old gentleman of parchment visage, who walks for his health, with mechanical precision of gait; the old gentleman, bewigged, rouged, attired with juvenile gayety of taste, suggestive of a bygone generation of club-man of Regent Street or Cheltenham; the old lady, whether of the faded furbelow species of the keepsake album, or fantastic and flighty and from the provinces. In addition, the great of the earth like to walk on the Arno, incognito.

A king, travelling in Italy for the benefit of his health, or to change secretly his religion, as gossip affirms, occupies yonder hotel balcony. A fallen emperor, eager to test all the fresh discoveries of science, is lodged farther on. A slender lady in black, accompanied by a female companion, may prove to be the Empress of Austria, or the elderly lady in a plain carriage the Queen of England. De Stendhal said, ‘The brain is a magic lantern at which one can play for one’s own amusement.’ Rain fell on the umbrella as the Street of the Watermelon was left to seek the Arno bank in a time of flood. The Lung’ Arno gained, the rain ceased, and the umbrella was closed. Promenaders were abroad to gaze at the river, already swollen to a tawny current, brimming from bank to bank, pouring through the arches of the bridges with a menacing violence of volume, and boiling in a mimic cataract at the weir. To-day the bridges hold firm, first, the Ponte Carraia, which we might christen the Arch of Light, for the countless spectacles of which it has been the scene; then, the Ponte Trinita, the Arch of Symmetry, Ammanati’s best title to fame in elegance and simplicity of design; then the old treasure bridge, most precious historical link of all, tottering under the weight of shops and gallery; and finally, Ponte alle Grazie, Arch of Gratitude, modern, spacious, and without especial character since despoiled of the central chapel where was once the miraculous Madonna della Grazie, dear to the contadini, and the cells where the nuns dwelt. The scene was sombre, heavy clouds swept low, and the olive slopes below the Villa Niccolini on the Bellosguardo height were ragged and black. A group of spectators stood at the weir, their faces overshadowed by painful reminiscences, like the sky. ‘See what human skill can achieve’, said the Engineer, complacently, indicating the hydraulic works of the Arno. A Hungarian shook his head. ‘Fire can be dominated, but water is the great destroyer.’ An Italian added, ‘When will the Po and the Adige be taught to wear a bridle by engineering?’ An American woman added in a low tone, ‘You know little about floods in Europe. The Mississippi swallowed our all, five years ago.’