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Chapter 32


It was finally decided we should leave Milan, so the next morning we arose at five o'clock for the first time since leaving Frankfort. The Italians had commenced operations at this early hour, but we made our way through the streets without attracting quite so much attention as on our arrival. Near the gate on the road to Pavia, we passed a long colonnade which was certainly as old as the times of the Romans. The pillars of marble were quite brown with age, and bound together with iron to keep them from falling to pieces. It was a striking contrast to see this relic of the past standing in the middle of a crowded thoroughfare and surrounded by all the brilliance and display of modern trade.

Once fairly out of the city we took the road to Pavia, along the banks of the canal, just as the rising sun gilded the marble spire of the Duomo. The country was a perfect level, and the canal, which was in many places higher than the land through which it passed, served also as a means of irrigation for the many rice-fields. The sky grew cloudy and dark, and before we reached Pavia gathered to a heavy storm. Torrents of rain poured down, accompanied with heavy thunder; we crept under an old gateway for shelter, as no house was near. Finally, as it cleared away, the square brown towers of the old city rose above the trees, and we entered the gate through a fine shaded avenue. Our passports were of course demanded, but we were only detained a minute or two. The only thing of interest is the University, formerly so celebrated; it has at present about eight hundred students.

We have reason to remember the city from another circumstance--the singular attention we excited. I doubt if Columbus was an object of greater curiosity to the simple natives of the new world, than we three Americans were to the good people of Pavia. I know not what part of our dress or appearance could have caused it, but we were watched like wild animals. If we happened to pause and look at anything in the street, there was soon a crowd of attentive observers, and as we passed on, every door and window was full of heads. We stopped in the marketplace to purchase some bread and fruit for dinner, which increased, if possible, the sensation. We saw eyes staring and fingers pointing at us from every door and alley. I am generally willing to contribute as much as possible to the amusement or entertainment of others, but such attention was absolutely embarrassing. There was nothing to do but to appear unconscious of it, and we went along with as much nonchalance as if the whole town belonged to us.

We crossed the Ticino, on whose banks near Pavia, was fought the first great battle between Hannibal and the Romans. On the other side our passports were demanded at the Sardinian frontier and our knapsacks searched, which having proved satisfactory, we were allowed to enter the kingdom. Late in the afternoon we reached the Po, which in winter must be quarter of a mile wide, but the summer heats had dried it up to a small stream, so that the bridge of boats rested nearly its whole length in sand. We sat on the bank in the shade, and looked at the chain of hills which rose in the south, following the course of the Po, crowned with castles and villages and shining towers. It was here that I first began to realize Italian scenery. Although the hills were bare, they lay so warm and glowing in the sunshine, and the deep blue sky spread so calmly above, that it recalled all my dreams of the fair clime we had entered.

We stopped for the night at the little village of Casteggio, which lies at the foot of the hills, and next morning resumed our pilgrimage. Here a new delight awaited us. The sky was of a heavenly blue, without even the shadow of a cloud, and full and fair in the morning sunshine we could see the whole range of the Alps, from the blue hills of Friuli, which sweep down to Venice and the Adriatic, to the lofty peaks which stretch away to Nice and Marseilles! Like a summer cloud, except that they were far more dazzling and glorious, lay to the north of us the glaciers and untrodden snow-fields of the Bernese Oberland; a little to the right we saw the double peak of St. Gothard, where six days before we shivered in the region of eternal winter, while far to the north-west rose the giant dome of Mount Blanc. Monte Rosa stood near him, not far from the Great St. Bernard, and further to the south Mont Cenis guarded the entrance from Piedmont into France. I leave you to conceive the majesty of such a scene, and you may perhaps imagine, for I cannot describe the feelings with which I gazed upon it.

At Tortona, the next post, a great market was being held; the town was filled with country people selling their produce, and with venders of wares of all kinds. Fruit was very abundant--grapes, ripe figs, peaches and melons were abundant, and for a trifle one could purchase a sumptuous banquet. On inquiring the road to Novi, the people made us understand, after much difficulty, that there was a nearer way across the country, which came into the post-road again, and we concluded to take it. After two or three hours' walking in a burning sun, where our only relief was the sight of the Alps and a view of the battle-field of Marengo, which lay just on our right, we came to a stand--the road terminated at a large stream, where workmen were busily engaged in making a bridge across. We pulled off our boots and waded through, took a refreshing bath in the clear waters, and walked on through by-lanes. The sides were lined with luxuriant vines, bending under the ripening vintage, and we often cooled our thirst with some of the rich bunches.

The large branch of the Po we crossed, came down from the mountains, which we were approaching. As we reached the post-road again, they were glowing in the last rays of the sun, and the evening vapors that settled over the plain concealed the distant Alps, although the snowy top of the Jungfrau and her companions the Wetterhorn and Schreckhorn, rose above it like the hills of another world. A castle or church of brilliant white marble glittered on the summit of one of the mountains near us, and as the sun went down without a cloud, the distant summits changed in hue to a glowing purple, amounting almost to crimson, which afterwards darkened into a deep violet. The western half of the sky was of a pale orange, and the eastern a dark red, which blended together in the blue of the zenith, that deepened as twilight came on. I know not if it was a fair specimen of an Italian sunset, but I must say, without wishing to be partial, that though certainly very soft and beautiful, there is no comparison with the splendor of such a scene in America. The day-sky of Italy better deserves its reputation. Although no clearer than our own, it is of a far brighter blue, arching above us like a dome of sapphire and seeming to sparkle all over with a kind of crystal transparency.

We stopped the second night at Arquato, a little village among the mountains, and after having bargained with the merry landlord for our lodgings, in broken Italian, took a last look at the plains of Piedmont and the Swiss Alps, in the growing twilight. We gazed out on the darkening scene till the sky was studded with stars, and went to rest with the exciting thought of seeing Genoa and the Mediterranean on the morrow. Next morning we started early, and after walking some distance made our breakfast in a grove of chesnuts, on the cool mountain side, beside a fresh stream of water. The sky shone like a polished gem, and the glossy leaves of the chesnuts gleamed in the morning sun. Here and there, on a rocky height, stood the remains of some knightly castle, telling of the Goths and Normans who descended through these mountain passes to plunder Rome.

As the sun grew high, the heat and dust became intolerable, and this, in connection with the attention we raised everywhere, made us somewhat tired of foot-traveling in Italy. I verily believe the people took us for pilgrims on account of our long white blouses, and had I a scallop shell I would certainly have stuck it into my hat to complete the appearance. We stopped once to ask a priest the road; when he had told us, he shook hands with us and gave us a parting benediction. At the common inns, where we stopped, we always met with civil treatment, though, indeed, as we only slept in them, there was little chance of practising imposition. We bought our simple meals at the baker's and grocer's, and ate them in the shade of the grape-bowers, whose rich clusters added to the repast. In this manner, we enjoyed Italy at the expense of a franc, daily. About noon, after winding about through the narrow defiles, the road began ascending. The reflected heat from the hills on each side made it like an oven; there was not a breath of air stirring; but we all felt, although no one said it, that from the summit we could see the Mediterranean, and we pushed on as if life or death depended on it. Finally, the highest point came in sight--we redoubled our exertions, and a few minutes more brought us to the top, breathless with fatigue and expectation. I glanced down the other side--there lay a real sea of mountains, all around; the farthest peaks rose up afar and dim, crowned with white towers, and between two of them which stood apart like the pillars of a gateway, we saw the broad expanse of water stretching away to the horizon--

To where the blue of heaven on bluer waves shut down!"

It would have been a thrilling sight to see any ocean, when one has rambled thousands of miles among the mountains and vales of the inland, but to behold this sea, of all others, was glorious indeed! This sea, whose waves wash the feet of Naples, Constantinople and Alexandria, and break on the hoary shores where Troy and Tyre and Carthage have mouldered away!--whose breast has been furrowed by the keels of a hundred nations through more than forty centuries--from the first rude voyage of Jason and his Argonauts, to the thunders of Navarino that heralded the second birth of Greece! You cannot wonder we grew romantic; but short space was left for sentiment in the burning sun, with Genoa to be reached before night. The mountain we crossed is called the Bochetta, one of the loftiest of the sea-Alps (or Apennines)--the road winds steeply down towards the sea, following a broad mountain rivulet, now perfectly dried up, as nearly every stream among the mountains is. It was a long way to us; the mountains seemed as if they would never unfold and let us out on the shore, and our weary limbs did penance enough for a multitude of sins. The dusk was beginning to deepen over the bay and the purple hues of sunset were dying away from its amphitheatre of hills, as we came in sight of the gorgeous city. Half the population were out to celebrate a festival, and we made our entry in the triumphal procession of some saint.

Bayard Taylor