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Trade on the Arno 17/07/2011

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c. 1910

The Mugnone now falls into the Arno much lower than it formerly did, reaching the greater stream only at the western end of the Cascine: a change which may be reckoned with the rest as one of the causes why commerce no longer comes to Florence by water. Pass this confluence, however; pass the shallow of Marcignana, which the alkuium brought down the Mugnone has formed, and the river begins at once to show what it can do still, in the manner, if not the measure, of the greater past. At Ugnano, scarcely a mile below the Cascine, a true cargo-boat, though of small size, lay waiting its load in the winter of 1909; I suppose this is now the highest point reached by the existing river trade.

Such boats, however, you will find in growing number as you follow the growing river; at Signa, where it has already received the Bisenzio; at the Golfolina, where the Ombrone falls in, and, definitely, at Montelupo, where the Pesa joins the Arno, and where manufactures of earthenware and glass are set on the stream and use it as a means of transport. Empoli sees the confluence of Arno and Elsa, and its match factories bring custom to the growing trade. It is not difficult to understand that, if the river is to compete with its rival the rail, its advantage will lie here; in the transport of fragile things like pottery and glass, or combustibles like sulphur and lucifers, on which the railway levies high charges for so dangerous a freight.

Another advantage appears at Calcinaia, between Pontedera and Pisa, in the canal which runs directly from this point in the river toLeghorn, offering a shorter route thither than the rail can show. Calcinaia is therefore a prosperous place, and here, or at the neighbouring Fornacette, you may see for the first time the really heavy boats of the lower Arno; built to carry bricks or grain to Leghorn, and to return with loads of coal for the kiln, or sulphate of copper for the vineyards. This canal is called the Fosso del Arnaccio, as if the river itself once followed the very route the canal keeps to-day.

Strabo, in fact, speaks of the Arno as ‘threefold’ ; hinting at a considerable delta towards the mouth, and thus it may well be that the present traffic by water is not merely a survival of the past, but that, in a singular persistence, it still keeps the ancient line of passage, a branch of the river once followed across the Pisan plain. Not that the same boats may not be found at Pisa too, lying in the Medicean port with its great sluice and roof, or crowding the canal of the Naviglio for which that port was built in 1603. They are of precisely the type we have already studied atFlorence, with a rather exaggerated sheer fore and aft, which, in the stern, leaves room for a great earthen water-jar under the curve of the tiller. The chief difference is in the size of the boat, for these of the lower Arno may run to twenty-five or even thirty tons as against two or three at Florence.

Window Shopping in Empoli 08/04/2011

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c. 1905

Empoli seemed a hiving, unaired place after that empty mountain town. Its one long street Empoli in the was thronged with Sunday passengers, and every window had its elbowcushion, and pair, or two pair, of shoulders thrust out. There you have a pastime of which the Tuscan woman never tires. When she has passed the age of being looked at, she will look – from a window. Men go to the cafe: the woman’s cafe is the street, and the window-sill her little table. As for the promenade, it is a solemn ritual in which the following points are observed. The girls walk together in mid street, the young men on either side of them. The girls go one way, the young men meet them going the other; meet and pass; but there are no recognitions, greetings, salutations, sidelong looks. Conversation is in undertones, no one laughs, and no one stops walking. You never saw such a mummery, so devoutly done… But no! The drift of fashion has left this spacious theatre bare; the Empolitani shuffle in procession up and down that very street where they are slaves every day of the week; and Nunziata, who will trundle a mop here to-morrow, must be unknown to Olinto, to whom to-morrow she may laugh her ‘buon di’. Such are the Sunday diversions of a town which once held the fate of Florence within its walls.

Pisa, Siena then Rome 25/02/2011

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c. 1880

There are two routes from Pisa to Rome – one by Leghorn and the coast, which would have obliged us either to stop the night at the uninviting town of Civita Vecchia, or to have arrived at Rome late in the evening. We chose the other route by Sienna. To go by Sienna, the traveller proceeds eastward about half-way along the railway to Florence, and changes carriages at Empoli. From Empoli the railway strikes off southward to Sienna and Rome.

Sienna stands high, being 1330 feet above the level of the sea, and is considered a place of summer residence for its coolness. was therefore somewhat apprehensive, considering the cold weather we had endured, lest it might be too cold. Although, however, it stands high above the level of the sea, it does not seem to be more than 200 feet above the level of the surrounding country, or of the railway, and we did not find it very cold. But a change had taken place in the weather, and it was again a fine cloudless day.

Having decided to go by Sienna, we could not resist making another excursion to the cathedral before starting by the mid-day train, and were all but tempted to ascend the Campanile. But to an invalid it looked chilly outside, and the height deterring; and I being the only one who might have gone, the custodier could not take me alone, the rule, to guard against accidents or suicide, being that not less than three must make the ascent at a time.

The cathedral looked much finer in the sunshine, and we could have lingered long examining it in detail, and would gladly have had there the wearisome time, well-nigh an hour, we were, according to Italian custom, required to spend in the salle-d’attente of the railway.

The journey from Pisa to Sienna, about seventy miles, is through a mountainous country, with some places of interest by the way, though our prospect was much contracted by reason of a passenger in the carriage who would draw down all the blinds on his side and read a book the whole way, till his wife, out of shame, seeing our disappointment, persuaded him to allow one of the three blinds on his side to be raised, there being no sun peering in even to justify an excuse, which, indeed, never was made. In four hours and twenty minutes we arrived at our destination.