SOME ISLANDS OF THE LAGOONS
Written by William Dean Howells and originally published in 1866
Nothing can be fairer to the eye than these “summer isles of Eden” lying all about Venice, far and near. The water forever trembles and changes, with every change of light, from one rainbow glory to another, as with the restless hues of an opal; and even when the splendid tides recede, and go down with the sea, they leave a heritage of beauty to the empurpled mud of the shallows, all strewn with green, disheveled sea-weed. The lagoons have almost as wide a bound as your vision. On the east and west you can see their borders of sea-shore and main-land; but looking north and south, there seems no end to the charm of their vast, smooth, all-but melancholy expanses. Beyond their southern limit rise the blue Euganean Hills, where Petrarch died; on the north loom the Alps, white with snow. Dotting the stretches of lagoon in every direction lie the islands—now piles of airy architecture that the water seems to float under and bear upon its breast, now
“Sunny spots of greenery,”
with the bell-towers of demolished cloisters shadowily showing above their trees;—for in the days of the Republic nearly every one of the islands had its monastery and its church. At present the greater number have been fortified by the Austrians, whose sentinel paces the once-peaceful shores, and challenges all passers with his sharp “Halt! Wer da!” and warns them not to approach too closely. Other islands have been devoted to different utilitarian purposes, and few are able to keep their distant promises of loveliness. One of the more faithful is the island of San Clemente, on which the old convent church is yet standing, empty and forlorn within, but without all draped in glossy ivy. After I had learned to row in the gondolier fashion, I voyaged much in the lagoon with my boat, and often stopped at this church. It has a curious feature in the chapel of the Madonna di Loreto, which is built in the middle of the nave, faced with marble, roofed, and isolated from the walls of the main edifice on all sides. On the back of this there is a bass-relief in bronze, representing the Nativity—a work much in the spirit of the bass-reliefs in San Giovanni e Paolo; and one of the chapels has an exquisite little altar, with gleaming columns of porphyry. There has been no service in the church for many years; and this altar had a strangely pathetic effect, won from the black four-cornered cap of a priest that lay before it, like an offering. I wondered who the priest was that wore it, and why he had left it there, as if he had fled away in haste. I might have thought it looked like the signal of the abdication of a system; the gondolier who was with me took it up and reviled it as representative of birbanti matricolati, who fed upon the poor, and in whose expulsion from that island he rejoiced. But he had little reason to do so, since the last use of the place was for the imprisonment of refractory ecclesiastics. Some of the tombs of the Morosini are in San Clemente—villanous monuments, with bronze Deaths popping out of apertures, and holding marble scrolls inscribed with undying deeds. Indeed, nearly all the decorations of the poor old church are horrible, and there is one statue in it meant for an angel, with absolutely the most lascivious face I ever saw in marble.
The islands near Venice are all small, except the Giudecca (which is properly a part of the city), the Lido, and Murano. The Giudecca, from being anciently the bounds in which certain factious nobles were confined, was later laid out in pleasure-gardens, and built up with summer-palaces. The gardens still remain to some extent; but they are now chiefly turned to practical account in raising vegetables and fruits for the Venetian market, and the palaces have been converted into warehouses and factories. This island produces a variety of beggar, the most truculent and tenacious in all Venice, and it has a convent of lazy Capuchin friars, who are likewise beggars. To them belongs the church of the Redentore, which only the Madonnas of Bellini in the sacristy make worthy to be seen,—though the island is hardly less famed for this church than for the difficult etymology of its name.
At the eastern extremity of the Giudecca lies the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, with Palladio’s church of that name. There are some great Tintorettos in the church, and I like the beautiful wood-carvings in the choir. The island has a sad interest from the political prison into which part of the old convent has been perverted; and the next island eastward is the scarcely sadder abode of the mad. Then comes the fair and happy seat of Armenian learning and piety, San Lazzaro, and then the Lido.
The Lido is the sea-shore, and thither in more cheerful days the Venetians used to resort in great numbers on certain holidays, called the Mondays of the Lido, to enjoy the sea-breeze and the country scenery, and to lunch upon the flat tombs of the Hebrews, buried there in exile from the consecrated Christian ground. On a summer’s day there the sun glares down upon the sand and flat gravestones, and it seems the most desolate place where one’s bones might be laid. The Protestants were once also interred on the Lido, but now they rest (apart from the Catholics, however) in the cemetery of San Michele.
The island is long and narrow: it stretches between the lagoons and the sea, with a village at either end, and with bath-houses on the beach, which is everywhere faced with forts. There are some poor little trees there, and grass,—things which we were thrice a week grateful for, when we went thither to bathe. I do not know whether it will give the place further interest to say, that it was among the tombs of the Hebrews Cooper’s ingenious Bravo had the incredible good luck to hide himself from the sbirri of the Republic; or to relate that it was the habit of Lord Byron to gallop up and down the Lido in search of that conspicuous solitude of which the sincere bard was fond.
One day of the first summer I spent in Venice (three years of Venetian life afterward removed it back into times of the remotest antiquity), a friend and I had the now-incredible enterprise to walk from one end of the Lido to the other,—from the port of San Nicolò (through which the Bucintoro passed when the Doges went to espouse the Adriatic) to the port of Malamocco, at the southern extremity.
We began with that delicious bath which you may have in the Adriatic, where the light surf breaks with a pensive cadence on the soft sand, all strewn with brilliant shells. The Adriatic is the bluest water I have ever seen; and it is an ineffable, lazy delight to lie and watch the fishing sails of purple and yellow dotting its surface, and the greater ships dipping down its utmost rim. It was particularly good to do this after coming out of the water; but our American blood could not brook much repose, and we got up presently, and started on our walk to the little village of Malamocco, some three miles away. The double-headed eagle keeps watch and ward from a continuous line of forts along the shore, and the white-coated sentinels never cease to pace the bastions, night or day. Their vision of the sea must not be interrupted by even so much as the form of a stray passer; and as we went by the forts, we had to descend from the sea-wall, and walk under it, until we got beyond the sentry’s beat. The crimson poppies grow everywhere on this sandy little isle, and they fringe the edges of the bastions with their bloom, as if the “blood-red blossoms of war” had there sprung from the seeds of battle sown in old forgotten fights. But otherwise the forts were not very engaging in appearance. A sentry-box of yellow and black, a sentry, a row of seaward frowning cannon—there was not much in all this to interest us; and so we walked idly along, and looked either to the city rising from the lagoons on one hand, or the ships going down the sea on the other. In the fields, along the road, were vines and Indian corn; but instead of those effigies of humanity, doubly fearful from their wide unlikeness to any thing human, which we contrive to scare away the birds, the devout peasant-folks had here displayed on poles the instruments of the Passion of the Lord—the hammer, the cords, the nails—which at once protected and blessed the fields. But I doubt if even these would save them from the New-World pigs, and certainly the fences here would not turn pork, for they are made of a matting of reeds, woven together, and feebly secured to tremulous posts. The fields were well cultivated, and the vines and garden vegetables looked flourishing; but the corn was spindling, and had, I thought, a homesick look, as if it dreamed vainly of wide ancestral bottom-lands, on the mighty streams that run through the heart of the Great West. The Italians call our corn gran turco, but I knew that it was for the West that it yearned, and not for the East.
No doubt there were once finer dwellings than the peasants’ houses which are now the only habitations on the Lido; and I suspect that a genteel villa must formerly have stood near the farm-gate, which we found surmounted by broken statues of Venus and Diana. The poor goddesses were both headless, and some cruel fortune had struck off their hands, and they looked strangely forlorn in the swaggering attitudes of the absurd period of art to which they belonged: they extended their mutilated arms toward the sea for pity, but it regarded them not; and we passed before them scoffing at their bad taste, for we were hungry, and it was yet some distance to Malamocco.
This dirty little village was the capital of the Venetian islands before King Pepin and his Franks burned it, and the shifting sands of empire gathered solidly about the Rialto in Venice. It is a thousand years since that time, and Malamocco has long been given over to fishermen’s families and the soldiers of the forts. We found the latter lounging about the unwholesome streets; and the former seated at their thresholds, engaged in those pursuits of the chase which the use of a fine-tooth comb would undignify to mere slaughter.
There is a church at Malamocco, but it was closed, and we could not find the sacristan; so we went to the little restaurant, as the next best place, and demanded something to eat. What had the padrone? He answered pretty much to the same effect as the innkeeper in “Don Quixote,” who told his guests that they could have any thing that walked on the earth, or swam in the sea, or flew in the air. We would take, then, some fish, or a bit of veal, or some mutton chops. The padrone sweetly shrugged the shoulders of apology. There was nothing of all this, but what would we say to some liver or gizzards of chickens, fried upon the instant and ready the next breath? No, we did not want them; so we compromised on some ham fried in a batter of eggs, and reeking with its own fatness. The truth is, it was a very bad little lunch we made, and nothing redeemed it but the amiability of the smiling padrone and the bustling padrona, who served us as kings and princes. It was a clean hostelry, though, and that was a merit in Malamocco, of which the chief modern virtue is that it cannot hold you long. No doubt it was more interesting in other times. In the days when the Venetians chose it for their capital, it was a walled town, and fortified with towers. It has been more than once inundated by the sea, and it might again be washed out with advantage.
In the spring, two years after my visit to Malamocco, we people in Casa Falier made a long-intended expedition to the island of Torcello, which is perhaps the most interesting of the islands of the lagoons. We had talked of it all winter, and had acquired enough property there to put up some light Spanish castles on the desolate site of the ancient city, that, so many years ago, sickened of the swamp air and died. A Count from Torcello is the title which Venetian persiflage gives to improbable noblemen; and thus even the pride of the dead Republic of Torcello has passed into matter of scornful jest, as that of the dead Republic of Venice may likewise in its day.
When we leave the riva of Casa Falier, we pass down the Grand Canal, cross the Basin of St. Mark, and enter one of the narrow canals that intersect the Riva degli Schiavoni, whence we wind and deviate southwestward till we emerge near the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, on the Fondamenta Nuove. On our way we notice that a tree, hanging over the water from a little garden, is in full leaf, and at Murano we see the tender bloom of peaches and the drifted blossom of cherry-trees.
As we go by the Cemetery of San Michele, Piero the gondolier and Giovanna improve us with a little solemn pleasantry.
“It is a small place,” says Piero, “but there is room enough for all Venice in it.”
“It is true,” assents Giovanna, “and here we poor folks become landholders at last.”
At Murano we stop a moment to look at the old Duomo, and to enjoy its quaint mosaics within, and the fine and graceful spirit of the apsis without. It is very old, this architecture; but the eternal youth of the beautiful belongs to it, and there is scarce a stone fallen from it that I would replace.
The manufacture of glass at Murano, of which the origin is so remote, may be said to form the only branch of industry which still flourishes in the lagoons. Muranese beads are exported to all quarters in vast quantities, and the process of making them is one of the things that strangers feel they must see when visiting Venice. The famous mirrors are no longer made, and the glass has deteriorated in quality, as well as in the beauty of the thousand curious forms it took. The test of the old glass, which is now imitated a great deal, is its extreme lightness. I suppose the charming notion that glass was once wrought at Murano of such fineness that it burst into fragments if poison were poured into it, must be fabulous. And yet it would have been an excellent thing in the good old toxicological days of Italy; and people of noble family would have found a sensitive goblet of this sort as sovereign against the arts of venomers as an exclusive diet of boiled eggs. The city of Murano has dwindled from thirty to five thousand in population. It is intersected by a system of canals like Venice, and has a Grand Canal of its own, of as stately breadth as that of the capital. The finer houses are built on this canal; but the beautiful palaces, once occupied in villeggiatura by the noble Venetians, are now inhabited by herds of poor, or converted into glass-works. The famous Cardinal Bembo and other literati made the island their retreat, and beautified it with gardens and fountains. Casa Priuli in that day was, according to Venetian ideas, “a terrestrial Paradise,” and a proper haunt of “nymphs and demi-gods.”
But the wealth, the learning, and the elegance of former times, which planted “groves of Academe” at Murano, have passed away, and the fair pleasure-gardens are now weed-grown wastes, or turned into honest cabbage and potato patches. It is a poor, dreary little town, with an inexplicable charm in its decay. The city arms are still displayed upon the public buildings (for Murano was ruled, independently of Venice, by its own council); and the heraldic cock, with a snake in its beak, has yet a lusty and haughty air amid the ruin of the place.
The way in which the spring made itself felt upon the lagoon was full of curious delight. It was not so early in the season that we should know the spring by the first raw warmth in the air, and there was as yet no assurance of her presence in the growth—later so luxuriant—of the coarse grasses of the shallows. But somehow the spring was there, giving us new life with every breath. There were fewer gulls than usual, and those we saw sailed far overhead, debating departure. There was deeper languor in the laziness of the soldiers of finance, as they lounged and slept upon their floating custom houses in every channel of the lagoons; and the hollow voices of the boatmen, yelling to each other as their wont is, had an uncommon tendency to diffuse themselves in echo. Over all, the heavens had put on their summer blue, in promise of that delicious weather which in the lagoons lasts half the year, and which makes every other climate seem niggard of sunshine and azure skies. I know we have beautiful days at home—days of which the sumptuous splendor used to take my memory with unspeakable longing and regret even in Italy;—but we do not have, week after week, month after month, that
“Blue, unclouded weather,”
which, at Venice, contents all your senses, and makes you exult to be alive with the inarticulate gladness of children, or of the swallows that there all day wheel and dart through the air, and shriek out a delight too intense and precipitate for song.
The island of Torcello is some five miles away from Venice, in the northern lagoon. The city was founded far back in the troubled morning of Christian civilization, by refugees from barbarian invasion, and built with stones quarried from the ruins of old Altinum, over which Attila had passed desolating. During the first ages of its existence Torcello enjoyed the doubtful advantage of protection from the Greek emperors, but fell afterward under the domination of Venice. In the thirteenth century the debris of the river that emptied into the lagoon there began to choke up the wholesome salt canals, and to poison the air with swampy malaria; and in the seventeenth century the city had so dwindled that the Venetian podestà removed his residence from the depopulated island to Burano,—though the bishopric established immediately after the settlement of the refugees at Torcello continued there till 1814, to the satisfaction, no doubt, of the frogs and mosquitoes that had long inherited the former citizens.
I confess that I know little more of the history of Torcello than I found in my guide-book. There I read that the city had once stately civic and religious edifices, and that in the tenth century the Emperor Porphorygenitus called it “magnum emporium Torcellanorum.” The much-restored cathedral of the seventh century, a little church, a building supposed to have been the public palace, and other edifices so ruinous and so old that their exact use in other days is not now known, are all that remain of the magnum emporium, except some lines of moldering wall that wander along the canals, and through pastures and vineyards, in the last imbecile stages of dilapidation and decay. There is a lofty bell-tower, also, from which, no doubt, the Torcellani used to descry afar off the devouring hordes of the barbarians on the main-land, and prepare for defense. As their city was never actually invaded, I am at a loss to account for the so-called Throne of Attila, which stands in the grass-grown piazza before the cathedral; and I fear that it may really have been after all only the seat which the ancient Tribunes of Torcello occupied on public occasions. It is a stone arm-chair, of a rude stateliness, and though I questioned its authenticity, I went and sat down in it a little while, to give myself the benefit of a doubt in case Attila had really pressed the same seat.
As soon as our gondola touched the grassy shores at Torcello, Giovanna’s children, Beppi and Nina, whom we had brought with us to give a first experience of trees and flowers and mother earth, leaped from the boat and took possession of land and water. By a curious fatality the little girl, who was bred safely amid the hundred canals of Venice, signalized her absence from their perils by presently falling into the only canal in Torcello, whence she was taken dripping, to be confined at a farm-house during the rest of our stay. The children were wild with pleasure, being absolutely new to the country, and ran over the island, plucking bouquets of weeds and flowers by armsful. A rake, borne afield upon the shoulder of a peasant, afterwhile fascinated the Venetian Beppi, and drew him away to study its strange and wonderful uses.
The simple inhabitants of Torcello came forth with gifts, or rather bargains, of flowers, to meet their discoverers, and, in a little while, exhausted our soldi. They also attended us in full force when we sat down to lunch,—the old, the young men and maidens, and the little children, all alike sallow, tattered, and dirty. Under these circumstances, a sense of the idyllic and the patriarchal gave zest to our collation, and moved us to bestow, in a splendid manner, fragments of the feast among the poor Torcellani. Knowing the abstemiousness of Italians everywhere, and seeing the hungry fashion in which the islanders clutched our gifts and devoured them, it was our doubt whether any one of them had ever experienced perfect repletion. I incline to think that a chronic famine gnawed their entrails, and that they never filled their bellies but with draughts of the east wind disdained of Job. The smaller among them even scrambled with the dog for the bones, until a little girl was bitten, when a terrific tumult arose, and the dog was driven home by the whole multitude. The children presently returned. They all had that gift of beauty which Nature seldom denies to the children of their race; but being, as I said, so dirty, their beauty shone forth chiefly from their large soft eyes. They had a very graceful, bashful archness of manner, and they insinuated beggary so winningly, that it would have been impossible for hungry people to deny them. As for us, having lunched, we gave them every thing that remained, and went off to feast our enthusiasm for art and antiquity in the cathedral.
Of course, I have not the least intention of describing it. I remember best among its wonders the bearing of certain impenitents in one of the mosaics on the walls, whom the earnest early artist had meant to represent as suffering in the flames of torment. I think, however, I have never seen complacence equal to that of these sinners, unless it was in the countenances of the seven fat kine, which, as represented in the vestibule of St. Mark’s, wear an air of the sleepiest and laziest enjoyment, while the seven lean kine, having just come up from the river, devour steaks from their bleeding haunches. There are other mosaics in the Torcello cathedral, especially those in the apsis and in one of the side chapels, which are in a beautiful spirit of art, and form the widest possible contrast to the eighteenth-century high altar, with its insane and ribald angels flying off at the sides, and poising themselves in the rope-dancing attitudes favored by statues of heavenly persons in the decline of the Renaissance. The choir is peculiarly built, in the form of a half-circle, with seats rising one above another, as in an amphitheatre, and a flight of steps ascending to the bishop’s seat above all,—after the manner of the earliest Christian churches. The partition parapet before the high altar is of almost transparent marble, delicately and quaintly sculptured with peacocks and lions, as the Byzantines loved to carve them; and the capitals of the columns dividing the naves are of infinite richness. Part of the marble pulpit has a curious bass-relief, said to be representative of the worship of Mercury; and indeed the Torcellani owe much of the beauty of their Duomo to unrequited antiquity. (They came to be robbed in their turn: for the opulence of their churches was so great that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the severest penalties had to be enacted against those who stole from them. No one will be surprised to learn that the clergy themselves participated in these spoliations; but I believe no ecclesiastic was ever lashed in the piazza, or deprived of an eye or a hand for his offense.) The Duomo has the peculiar Catholic interest, and the horrible fascination, of a dead saint’s mortal part in a glass case.
An arcade runs along the facade of the cathedral, and around the side and front of the adjoining church of Santa Fosca, which is likewise very old. But we found nothing in it but a dusty, cadaverous stench, and so we came away and ascended the campanile. From the top of this you have a view of the lagoon, in all its iridescent hues, and of the heaven-blue sea. Here, looking toward the main-land, I would have been glad to experience the feelings of the Torcellani of old, as they descried the smoking advance of Huns or Vandals. But the finer emotions are like gifted children, and are seldom equal to occasions. I am ashamed to say that mine got no further than Castle Bluebeard, with Lady Bluebeard’s sister looking out for her brothers, and tearfully responding to Lady B.’s repeated and agonized entreaty, “O sister, do you see them yet?”
The old woman who had opened the door of the campanile was surprised into hospitality by the sum of money we gave her, and took us through her house (which was certainly very neat and clean) into her garden, where she explained the nature of many familiar trees and shrubs to us poor Venetians.
We went back home over the twilight lagoon, and Giovanna expressed the general feeling when she said: “Torsello xe beo—no si pol negar—la campagna xe bea; ma, benedetta la mia Venezia!1”
The panorama of the southern lagoon is best seen in a voyage to Chioggia, or Ciozza, the quaint and historic little city that lies twenty miles away from Venice, at one of the ports of the harbor. The Giant Sea-wall, built there by the Republic in her decline, is a work of Roman grandeur, which impresses you more deeply than any other monument of the past with a sense of her former industrial and commercial greatness. Strips of village border the narrow Littorale all the way to Chioggia, and on the right lie the islands of the lagoon. Chioggia itself is hardly more than a village,—a Venice in miniature, like Murano, with canals and boats and bridges. But here the character of life is more amphibious than in brine-bound Venice; and though there is no horse to be seen in the central streets of Chioggia, peasants’ teams penetrate her borders by means of a long bridge from the main-land.
Of course Chioggia has passed through the customary vicissitudes of Italian towns, and has been depopulated at divers times by pestilence, famine, and war. It suffered cruelly in the war with the Genoese in 1380, when it was taken by those enemies of St. Mark; and its people were so wasted by the struggle that the Venetians, on regaining it, were obliged to invite immigration to repopulate its emptiness. I do not know how great comfort the Chiozzotti of that unhappy day took in the fact that some of the earliest experiments with cannon were made in the contest that destroyed them, but I can hardly offer them less tribute than to mention it here. At present the place is peopled almost entirely by sailors and fishermen, whose wives are more famous for their beauty than their amiability. Goldoni’s “Baruffe Chiozzotte” is an amusing and vivid picture of the daily battles which the high-spirited ladies of the city fought in the dramatist’s2 time, and which are said to be of frequent occurrence at this day. The Chiozzotte are the only women of this part of Italy who still preserve a semblance of national costume; and this remnant of more picturesque times consists merely of a skirt of white, which, being open in front, is drawn from the waist over the head and gathered in the hand under the chin, giving to the flashing black eyes and swarthy features of the youthful wearer a look of very dangerous slyness and cunning. The dialect of the Chiozzotti is said to be that of the early Venetians, with an admixture of Greek, and it is infinitely more sweet and musical than the dialect now spoken in Venice. “Whether derived,” says the author of the “Fiore di Venezia,” alluding to the speech of these peculiar people, “from those who first settled these shores, or resulting from other physical and moral causes, it is certain that the tone of the voice is here more varied and powerful: the mouth is thrown wide open in speaking; a passion, a lament mingles with laughter itself, and there is a continual ritornello of words previously spoken. But this speech is full of energy; whoever would study brief and strong modes of expression should come here.”
Chioggia was once the residence of noble and distinguished persons, among whom was the painter Rosalba Carrera, famed throughout Europe for her crayon miniatures; and the place produced in the sixteenth century the great maestro Giuseppe Zarlino, “who passes,” says Cantù, “for the restorer of modern music,” and “whose ‘Orfeo’ heralded the invention of the musical drama.” This composer claimed for his birthplace the doubtful honor of the institution of the order of the Capuchins, which he declared to have been founded by Fra Paolo (Giovanni Sambi) of Chioggia. There is not much now to see in poor little Chioggia except its common people, who, after a few minutes’ contemplation, can hardly interest any one but the artist. There are no dwellings in the town which approach palatial grandeur, and nothing in the Renaissance churches to claim attention, unless it be an attributive Bellini in one of them. Yet if you have the courage to climb the bell-tower of the cathedral, you get from its summit the loveliest imaginable view of many-purpled lagoon and silver-flashing sea; and if you are sufficiently acquainted with Italy and Italians to observe a curious fact, and care to study the subject, you may note the great difference between the inhabitants of Chioggia and those of Palestrina,—an island divided from Chioggia by a half mile of lagoon, and by quite different costume, type of face, and accent.
Just between Chioggia and the sea lies the lazy town of Sottomarina, and I should say that the population of Sottomarina chiefly spent its time in lounging up and down the Sea-wall; while that of Chioggia, when not professionally engaged with the net, gave its leisure to playing mora3 in the shade, or pitilessly pursuing strangers, and offering them boats. For my own part, I refused the subtlest advances of this kind which were made me in Chiozzotto, but fell a helpless prey to a boatman who addressed me in some words of wonderful English, and then rowed me to the Sea-wall at about thrice the usual fare.
These primitive people are bent, in their out-of-the-world, remote way, upon fleecing the passing stranger quite as earnestly as other Italians, and they naïvely improve every occasion for plunder. As we passed up the shady side of their wide street, we came upon a plump little blond boy, lying asleep on the stones, with his head upon his arm; and as no one was near, the artist of our party stopped to sketch the sleeper. Atmospheric knowledge of the fact spread rapidly, and in a few minutes we were the centre of a general assembly of the people of Chioggia, who discussed us, and the artist’s treatment of her subject, in open congress. They handed round the airy chaff as usual, but were very orderly and respectful, nevertheless,—one father of the place quelling every tendency to tumult by kicking his next neighbor, who passed on the penalty till, by this simple and ingenious process, the guilty cause of the trouble was infallibly reached and kicked at last. I placed a number of soldi in the boy’s hand, to the visible sensation of the crowd, and then we moved away and left him, heading, as we went, a procession of Chiozzotti, who could not make up their minds to relinquish us till we took refuge in a church. When we came out the procession had disappeared, but all round the church door, and picturesquely scattered upon the pavement in every direction, lay boys asleep, with their heads upon their arms. As we passed laughing through the midst of these slumberers, they rose and followed us with cries of “Mi tiri zu! Mi tiri zu!” (Take me down! Take me down!) They ran ahead, and fell asleep again in our path, and round every corner we came upon a sleeping boy; and, indeed, we never got out of that atmosphere of slumber till we returned to the steamer for Venice, when Chioggia shook off her drowsy stupor, and began to tempt us to throw soldi into the water, to be dived for by her awakened children.
- “The country is beautiful—it can’t be denied—Torcello is beautiful; but blessed be my Venice!”
- Goldoni’s family went from Venice to Chioggia when the dramatist was very young. The description of his life there form some of the most interesting chapters of his Memoirs.
- Mora is the game which the Italians play with their fingers, one throwing out two, three, or four fingers, as the case may be, and calling the number at the same instant. If (so I understood the game) the player mistakes the number of fingers he throws out, he loses; if he hits the number with both voice and fingers he wins. It is played with tempestuous interest, and is altogether fiendish in appearance.