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The Cab Man 19/12/2010

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c. 1890

The old cabman shrugs his shoulders, and cracks the whip he carries in his right hand, as he returns to his stand on the Piazza of San Marco, where his horse, a patient white animal, with meek nose in a bag of hay, awaits the custom ever more rare since the establishment of tramways. Tramways an established fact, what fate will befall the society of cabmen, who parade in political processions on occasion, with a dark steed — such as they never drive – rampant on a banner of green silk? If the tailors are to ‘build’ the dresses of the ladies here in Italy in obedience to the feminine aspiration of the day to be as masculine as possible, what is to become of such pale and anxious little sarte as the maker of the signora’s yellow robe, bravely supporting a worthy husband out of employment through the failure of a flour mill at Pistoia? In turn, the flour mill was too heavily taxed for the owner to meet his expenses. If the type-writer is to set forth clearly and cleanly the ideas of a time-pressed world on rapidly multiplying sheets, how may bread be obtained by the clerks carefully trained to excel in writing and copying, with beautiful penmanship? Truly, this is a photographic age of swift and sharp impressions and speedy accomplishment.

These questions intrude even on the drowsy tranquillity of an old street at Florence, induced by the presence of the rubicund cabman, in his shirt-sleeves, jolly, and cracking his whip, his visage somewhat too suggestive of the purple glow resulting from a liberal use of Tuscan wine. As the husband of the vegetable-woman, and deeply interested in the business, he rejoices in the nickname of the ortolano (vegetable-dealer) bestowed upon him with the facility of Italian towns.

What befalls the displaced forces of human labor, swept aside by new inventions? One hears no more of them. The vetturino of the Riviera vowed vengeance on the railway, piercing the tunnels of the shore, from the heights of the defrauded Cornice road; still the iron rail endures, and the class of vetturini is nearly extinct. The indignant Venetian gondoliere carried their wrath at the introduction of little omnibus steam-craft into the city to the verge of a strike in the presence of the Queen Margherita, yet the vaporetti puff and shriek along the canals, and the picturesque wielder of the oar must go to the wall sooner or later. Care may lurk in the corner of the eye of the bluff cocher for the venture, from a financial standpoint, of a vegetable shop is fraught with sundry anxieties. If the outlay in rent and commodities be trifling, he doubtless wishes that the account of the superb signora, who has just sallied forth, was less lengthy for daily salad and vegetables, selected by a slatternly maid, and carried home in her apron, while he fears to cut off supplies altogether, lest he is never paid. For the rest, he anathematizes the encroaching tramway in the most ingenious vocabulary of abuse possible to the lower classes of any city; but at least on this July day let us laugh and be merry, whip in hand, while the patient white horse stands at the corner, awaiting a tardy customer.