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Off the Beaten Track in Late Nineteenth-Century Florence 26/03/2011

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c. 1890

Pause at a corner, and the narrow, irregular streets of the old Florence branch right and left, full of a shadowy suggestiveness which the Piazza Santa Maria Novella does not possess. Crooked byways abound, built to avoid the rude sweep of the wind, or following some line of Roman amphitheatre, with palace doors revealing glimpses of enclosed gardens, heavy casements projecting over the pavement, and an occasional little piazza with a stone cross in the centre, marking a historical site. A boy and a girl stand with the red leaves of a vine-clad trellis above their heads, gazing down on the street. They laugh at the obstinacy of a gray donkey, laden with wine-casks, youth, merry, careless, and indolent, blossoming within sombre walls. The Via de’ Fossi, noisy and commonplace, leads to the Borgognissanti, where the throng surges toward the church on this day of All Souls. An old man seated at a table of the café, is eating an ice, served in a tiny wine-glass, and of the consistency and color of pomatum, with the zest of a schoolboy. The cat of the British pharmacy sits on a chair, gazing out of the door, superb, urbane, and of a silvery grayness of tint. A baby, toddling past on a holiday promenade, pauses and addresses the animal with infantile confidence. A timid little white dog peers in at the portal, with a deprecating mien; and the cat tolerates such canine intrusion with the dignified affability of large natures. Pussy’s position in life is an assured one, while that of the little white dog clearly is not. These pass by, but the cat remains gazing across the street at the house where Amerigo Vespucci was born.