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Chapter 49


CHAPTER XLIX [Hanged with a Golden Rope]

One lingers about the Cathedral a good deal, in Venice. There is a
strong fascination about it--partly because it is so old, and partly
because it is so ugly. Too many of the world's famous buildings fail of
one chief virtue--harmony; they are made up of a methodless mixture
of the ugly and the beautiful; this is bad; it is confusing, it is
unrestful. One has a sense of uneasiness, of distress, without knowing
why. But one is calm before St. Mark's, one is calm in the cellar; for
its details are masterfully ugly, no misplaced and impertinent beauties
are intruded anywhere; and the consequent result is a grand harmonious
whole, of soothing, entrancing, tranquilizing, soul-satisfying ugliness.
One's admiration of a perfect thing always grows, never declines; and
this is the surest evidence to him that it IS perfect. St. Mark's is
perfect. To me it soon grew to be so nobly, so augustly ugly, that it
was difficult to stay away from it, even for a little while. Every time
its squat domes disappeared from my view, I had a despondent feeling;
whenever they reappeared, I felt an honest rapture--I have not known any
happier hours than those I daily spent in front of Florian's,
looking across the Great Square at it. Propped on its long row of low
thick-legged columns, its back knobbed with domes, it seemed like a vast
warty bug taking a meditative walk.

St. Mark's is not the oldest building in the world, of course, but it
seems the oldest, and looks the oldest--especially inside.

When the ancient mosaics in its walls become damaged, they are repaired
but not altered; the grotesque old pattern is preserved. Antiquity has
a charm of its own, and to smarten it up would only damage it. One day
I was sitting on a red marble bench in the vestibule looking up at an
ancient piece of apprentice-work, in mosaic, illustrative of the command
to "multiply and replenish the earth." The Cathedral itself had seemed
very old; but this picture was illustrating a period in history which
made the building seem young by comparison. But I presently found an
antique which was older than either the battered Cathedral or the date
assigned to the piece of history; it was a spiral-shaped fossil as large
as the crown of a hat; it was embedded in the marble bench, and had
been sat upon by tourists until it was worn smooth. Contrasted with the
inconceivable antiquity of this modest fossil, those other things were
flippantly modern--jejune--mere matters of day-before-yesterday. The
sense of the oldness of the Cathedral vanished away under the influence
of this truly venerable presence.

St. Mark's is monumental; it is an imperishable remembrancer of the
profound and simply piety of the Middle Ages. Whoever could ravish a
column from a pagan temple, did it and contributed his swag to this
Christian one. So this fane is upheld by several hundred acquisitions
procured in that peculiar way. In our day it would be immoral to go on
the highway to get bricks for a church, but it was no sin in the old
times. St. Mark's was itself the victim of a curious robbery once. The
thing is set down in the history of Venice, but it might be smuggled
into the Arabian Nights and not seem out of place there:

Nearly four hundred and fifty years ago, a Candian named Stammato, in
the suite of a prince of the house of Este, was allowed to view the
riches of St. Mark's. His sinful eye was dazzled and he hid himself
behind an altar, with an evil purpose in his heart, but a priest
discovered him and turned him out. Afterward he got in again--by false
keys, this time. He went there, night after night, and worked hard and
patiently, all alone, overcoming difficulty after difficulty with his
toil, and at last succeeded in removing a great brick of the marble
paneling which walled the lower part of the treasury; this block he
fixed so that he could take it out and put it in at will. After
that, for weeks, he spent all his midnights in his magnificent mine,
inspecting it in security, gloating over its marvels at his leisure, and
always slipping back to his obscure lodgings before dawn, with a
duke's ransom under his cloak. He did not need to grab, haphazard, and
run--there was no hurry. He could make deliberate and well-considered
selections; he could consult his esthetic tastes. One comprehends how
undisturbed he was, and how safe from any danger of interruption,
when it is stated that he even carried off a unicorn's horn--a mere
curiosity--which would not pass through the egress entire, but had to
be sawn in two--a bit of work which cost him hours of tedious labor.
He continued to store up his treasures at home until his occupation
lost the charm of novelty and became monotonous; then he ceased from
it, contented. Well he might be; for his collection, raised to modern
values, represented nearly fifty million dollars!

He could have gone home much the richest citizen of his country, and
it might have been years before the plunder was missed; but he was
human--he could not enjoy his delight alone, he must have somebody to
talk about it with. So he exacted a solemn oath from a Candian noble
named Crioni, then led him to his lodgings and nearly took his breath
away with a sight of his glittering hoard. He detected a look in his
friend's face which excited his suspicion, and was about to slip a
stiletto into him when Crioni saved himself by explaining that that look
was only an expression of supreme and happy astonishment. Stammato
made Crioni a present of one of the state's principal jewels--a huge
carbuncle, which afterward figured in the Ducal cap of state--and the
pair parted. Crioni went at once to the palace, denounced the criminal,
and handed over the carbuncle as evidence. Stammato was arrested, tried,
and condemned, with the old-time Venetian promptness. He was hanged
between the two great columns in the Piazza--with a gilded rope, out of
compliment to his love of gold, perhaps. He got no good of his booty at
all--it was ALL recovered.

In Venice we had a luxury which very seldom fell to our lot on the
continent--a home dinner with a private family. If one could always stop
with private families, when traveling, Europe would have a charm which
it now lacks. As it is, one must live in the hotels, of course, and that
is a sorrowful business. A man accustomed to American food and American
domestic cookery would not starve to death suddenly in Europe; but I
think he would gradually waste away, and eventually die.

He would have to do without his accustomed morning meal. That is too
formidable a change altogether; he would necessarily suffer from it. He
could get the shadow, the sham, the base counterfeit of that meal; but
it would do him no good, and money could not buy the reality.

To particularize: the average American's simplest and commonest form of
breakfast consists of coffee and beefsteak; well, in Europe, coffee is
an unknown beverage. You can get what the European hotel-keeper thinks
is coffee, but it resembles the real thing as hypocrisy resembles
holiness. It is a feeble, characterless, uninspiring sort of stuff, and
almost as undrinkable as if it had been made in an American hotel. The
milk used for it is what the French call "Christian" milk--milk which
has been baptized.

After a few months' acquaintance with European "coffee," one's mind
weakens, and his faith with it, and he begins to wonder if the rich
beverage of home, with its clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it,
is not a mere dream, after all, and a thing which never existed.

Next comes the European bread--fair enough, good enough, after a
fashion, but cold; cold and tough, and unsympathetic; and never any
change, never any variety--always the same tiresome thing.

Next, the butter--the sham and tasteless butter; no salt in it, and made
of goodness knows what.

Then there is the beefsteak. They have it in Europe, but they don't know
how to cook it. Neither will they cut it right. It comes on the table in
a small, round pewter platter. It lies in the center of this platter,
in a bordering bed of grease-soaked potatoes; it is the size, shape, and
thickness of a man's hand with the thumb and fingers cut off. It is a
little overdone, is rather dry, it tastes pretty insipidly, it rouses no
enthusiasm.

Imagine a poor exile contemplating that inert thing; and imagine an
angel suddenly sweeping down out of a better land and setting before him
a mighty porterhouse steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering
from the griddle; dusted with a fragrant pepper; enriched with
little melting bits of butter of the most unimpeachable freshness and
genuineness; the precious juices of the meat trickling out and joining
the gravy, archipelagoed with mushrooms; a township or two of tender,
yellowish fat gracing an outlying district of this ample county of
beefsteak; the long white bone which divides the sirloin from the
tenderloin still in its place; and imagine that the angel also adds a
great cup of American home-made coffee, with a cream a-froth on top,
some real butter, firm and yellow and fresh, some smoking hot-biscuits,
a plate of hot buckwheat cakes, with transparent syrup--could words
describe the gratitude of this exile?

The European dinner is better than the European breakfast, but it has
its faults and inferiorities; it does not satisfy. He comes to the table
eager and hungry; he swallows his soup--there is an undefinable lack
about it somewhere; thinks the fish is going to be the thing he wants
--eats it and isn't sure; thinks the next dish is perhaps the one that
will hit the hungry place--tries it, and is conscious that there was
a something wanting about it, also. And thus he goes on, from dish to
dish, like a boy after a butterfly which just misses getting caught
every time it alights, but somehow doesn't get caught after all; and at
the end the exile and the boy have fared about alike; the one is full,
but grievously unsatisfied, the other has had plenty of exercise, plenty
of interest, and a fine lot of hopes, but he hasn't got any butterfly.
There is here and there an American who will say he can remember rising
from a European table d'hôte perfectly satisfied; but we must not
overlook the fact that there is also here and there an American who will
lie.

The number of dishes is sufficient; but then it is such a monotonous
variety of UNSTRIKING dishes. It is an inane dead-level of
"fair-to-middling." There is nothing to ACCENT it. Perhaps if the roast
of mutton or of beef--a big, generous one--were brought on the table and
carved in full view of the client, that might give the right sense of
earnestness and reality to the thing; but they don't do that, they pass
the sliced meat around on a dish, and so you are perfectly calm, it does
not stir you in the least. Now a vast roast turkey, stretched on the
broad of his back, with his heels in the air and the rich juices oozing
from his fat sides ... but I may as well stop there, for they would not
know how to cook him. They can't even cook a chicken respectably; and as
for carving it, they do that with a hatchet.

This is about the customary table d'hôte bill in summer:

Soup (characterless).

Fish--sole, salmon, or whiting--usually tolerably good.

Roast--mutton or beef--tasteless--and some last year's potatoes.

A pâte, or some other made dish--usually good--"considering."

One vegetable--brought on in state, and all alone--usually insipid
lentils, or string-beans, or indifferent asparagus.

Roast chicken, as tasteless as paper.

Lettuce-salad--tolerably good.

Decayed strawberries or cherries.

Sometimes the apricots and figs are fresh, but this is no advantage, as
these fruits are of no account anyway.

The grapes are generally good, and sometimes there is a tolerably good
peach, by mistake.

The variations of the above bill are trifling. After a fortnight one
discovers that the variations are only apparent, not real; in the third
week you get what you had the first, and in the fourth the week you get
what you had the second. Three or four months of this weary sameness
will kill the robustest appetite.

It has now been many months, at the present writing, since I have had
a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one--a modest, private affair,
all to myself. I have selected a few dishes, and made out a little bill
of fare, which will go home in the steamer that precedes me, and be hot
when I arrive--as follows:

Radishes. Baked apples, with cream
Fried oysters; stewed oysters. Frogs.
American coffee, with real cream.
American butter.
Fried chicken, Southern style.
Porter-house steak.
Saratoga potatoes.
Broiled chicken, American style.
Hot biscuits, Southern style.
Hot wheat-bread, Southern style.
Hot buckwheat cakes.
American toast. Clear maple syrup.
Virginia bacon, broiled.
Blue points, on the half shell.
Cherry-stone clams.
San Francisco mussels, steamed.
Oyster soup. Clam Soup.
Philadelphia Terapin soup.
Oysters roasted in shell-Northern style.
Soft-shell crabs. Connecticut shad.
Baltimore perch.
Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.
Black bass from the Mississippi.
American roast beef.
Roast turkey, Thanksgiving style.
Cranberry sauce. Celery.
Roast wild turkey. Woodcock.
Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore.
Prairie liens, from Illinois.
Missouri partridges, broiled.
'Possum. Coon.
Boston bacon and beans.
Bacon and greens, Southern style.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.
Butter beans. Sweet potatoes.
Lettuce. Succotash. String beans.
Mashed potatoes. Catsup.
Boiled potatoes, in their skins.
New potatoes, minus the skins.
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style,
served hot.
Sliced tomatoes, with sugar or vinegar. Stewed tomatoes.
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, Southern style.
Hot hoe-cake, Southern style.
Hot egg-bread, Southern style.
Hot light-bread, Southern style.
Buttermilk. Iced sweet milk.
Apple dumplings, with real cream.
Apple pie. Apple fritters.
Apple puffs, Southern style.
Peach cobbler, Southern style
Peach pie. American mince pie.
Pumpkin pie. Squash pie.
All sorts of American pastry.

Fresh American fruits of all sorts, including strawberries which are
not to be doled out as if they were jewelry, but in a more liberal way.
Ice-water--not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere
and capable refrigerator.

Americans intending to spend a year or so in European hotels will
do well to copy this bill and carry it along. They will find it an
excellent thing to get up an appetite with, in the dispiriting presence
of the squalid table d'hôte.

Foreigners cannot enjoy our food, I suppose, any more than we can
enjoy theirs. It is not strange; for tastes are made, not born. I might
glorify my bill of fare until I was tired; but after all, the Scotchman
would shake his head and say, "Where's your haggis?" and the Fijian
would sigh and say, "Where's your missionary?"

I have a neat talent in matters pertaining to nourishment. This has
met with professional recognition. I have often furnished recipes for
cook-books. Here are some designs for pies and things, which I recently
prepared for a friend's projected cook-book, but as I forgot to furnish
diagrams and perspectives, they had to be left out, of course.

RECIPE FOR AN ASH-CAKE

Take a lot of water and add to it a lot of coarse Indian-meal and about
a quarter of a lot of salt. Mix well together, knead into the form of
a "pone," and let the pone stand awhile--not on its edge, but the other
way. Rake away a place among the embers, lay it there, and cover it an
inch deep with hot ashes. When it is done, remove it; blow off all the
ashes but one layer; butter that one and eat.

N.B.--No household should ever be without this talisman. It has been
noticed that tramps never return for another ash-cake.

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RECIPE FOR NEW ENGLISH PIE

To make this excellent breakfast dish, proceed as follows: Take a
sufficiency of water and a sufficiency of flour, and construct a
bullet-proof dough. Work this into the form of a disk, with the edges
turned up some three-fourths of an inch. Toughen and kiln-dry in a
couple days in a mild but unvarying temperature. Construct a cover for
this redoubt in the same way and of the same material. Fill with stewed
dried apples; aggravate with cloves, lemon-peel, and slabs of citron;
add two portions of New Orleans sugars, then solder on the lid and set
in a safe place till it petrifies. Serve cold at breakfast and invite
your enemy.

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RECIPE FOR GERMAN COFFEE

Take a barrel of water and bring it to a boil; rub a chicory berry
against a coffee berry, then convey the former into the water. Continue
the boiling and evaporation until the intensity of the flavor and aroma
of the coffee and chicory has been diminished to a proper degree; then
set aside to cool. Now unharness the remains of a once cow from the
plow, insert them in a hydraulic press, and when you shall have acquired
a teaspoon of that pale-blue juice which a German superstition regards
as milk, modify the malignity of its strength in a bucket of tepid water
and ring up the breakfast. Mix the beverage in a cold cup, partake
with moderation, and keep a wet rag around your head to guard against
over-excitement.

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TO CARVE FOWLS IN THE GERMAN FASHION

Use a club, and avoid the joints.


Mark Twain