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List Of Contents | Contents of Saunterings, by Charles Dudley Warner
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sea looked exactly like sky, and the little boats on it seemed to
float, like balloons in the air.  The illusion was perfect.  As the
day waned, a heavy cloud hid the sun, and so let down the light that
the waters were a dark purple.  Then the sun went behind Posilipo in
a perfect blaze of scarlet, and all the sea was violet.  Only it
still was not the sea at all; but the little chopping waves looked
like flecked clouds; and it was exactly as if one of the violet,
cloud-beautified skies that we see at home over some sunsets had
fallen to the ground.  And the slant white sails and the black specks
of boats on it hung in the sky, and were as unsubstantial as the
whole pageant.  Capri alone was dark and solid.  And as we descended
and a high wall hid it, a little handsome rascal, who had attended me
for an hour, now at the head and now at the tail of my pony, recalled
me to the realities by the request that I should give him a franc.
For what?  For carrying signor's coat up the mountain.  I rewarded
the little liar with a German copper.  I had carried my own overcoat
all day.




SORRENTO DAYS

OUTLINES

The day came when we tired of the brilliancy and din of Naples, most
noisy of cities.  Neapolis, or Parthenope, as is well known, was
founded by Parthenope, a siren who was cast ashore there.  Her
descendants still live here; and we have become a little weary of
their inherited musical ability: they have learned to play upon many
new instruments, with which they keep us awake late at night, and
arouse us early in the morning.  One of them is always there under
the window, where the moonlight will strike him, or the early dawn
will light up his love-worn visage, strumming the guitar with his
horny thumb, and wailing through his nose as if his throat was full
of seaweed.  He is as inexhaustible as Vesuvius.  We shall have to
flee, or stop our ears with wax, like the sailors of Ulysses.

The day came when we had checked off the Posilipo, and the Grotto,
Pozzuoli, Baiae, Cape Misenum, the Museum, Vesuvius, Pompeii,
Herculaneum, the moderns buried at the Campo Santo; and we said, Let
us go and lie in the sun at Sorrento.  But first let us settle our
geography.

The Bay of Naples, painted and sung forever, but never adequately,
must consent to be here described as essentially a parallelogram,
with an opening towards the southwest. The northeast side of this,
with Naples in the right-hand corner, looking seaward and
Castellamare in the left-hand corner, at a distance of some fourteen
miles, is a vast rich plain, fringed on the shore with towns, and
covered with white houses and gardens.  Out of this rises the
isolated bulk of Vesuvius.  This growing mountain is manufactured
exactly like an ant-hill.

The northwest side of the bay, keeping a general westerly direction,
is very uneven, with headlands, deep bays, and outlying islands.
First comes the promontory of Posilipo, pierced by two tunnels,
partly natural and partly Greek and Roman work, above the entrance of
one of which is the tomb of Virgil, let us believe; then a beautiful
bay, the shore of which is incrusted with classic ruins.  On this bay
stands Pozzuoli, the ancient Puteoli where St. Paul landed one May
day, and doubtless walked up this paved road, which leads direct to
Rome.  At the entrance, near the head of Posilipo, is the volcanic
island of "shining Nisida," to which Brutus retired after the
assassination of Caesar, and where he bade Portia good-by before he
departed for Greece and Philippi: the favorite villa of Cicero, where
he wrote many of his letters to Atticus, looked on it.  Baiae,
epitome of the luxury and profligacy, of the splendor and crime of
the most sensual years of the Roman empire, spread there its temples,
palaces, and pleasure-gardens, which crowded the low slopes, and
extended over the water; and yonder is Cape Misenum, which sheltered
the great fleets of Rome.

This region, which is still shaky from fires bubbling under the thin
crust, through which here and there the sulphurous vapor breaks out,
is one of the most sacred in the ancient world.  Here are the Lucrine
Lake, the Elysian Fields, the cave of the Cumean Sibyl, and the Lake
Avernus.  This entrance to the infernal regions was frozen over the
day I saw it; so that the profane prophecy of skating on the
bottomless pit might have been realized.  The islands of Procida and
Ischia continue and complete this side of the bay, which is about
twenty miles long as the boat sails.

At Castellamare the shore makes a sharp bend, and runs southwest
along the side of the Sorrentine promontory.  This promontory is a
high, rocky, diversified ridge, which extends out between the bays of
Naples and Salerno, with its short and precipitous slope towards the
latter.  Below Castellamare, the mountain range of the Great St.
Angelo (an offshoot of the Apennines) runs across the peninsula, and
cuts off that portion of it which we have to consider.  The most
conspicuous of the three parts of this short range is over four
thousand seven hundred feet above the Bay of Naples, and the highest
land on it.  From Great St. Angelo to the point, the Punta di
Campanella, it is, perhaps, twelve miles by balloon, but twenty by
any other conveyance.  Three miles off this point lies Capri.

This promontory has a backbone of rocky ledges and hills; but it has
at intervals transverse ledges and ridges, and deep valleys and
chains cutting in from either side; so that it is not very passable
in any direction.  These little valleys and bays are warm nooks for
the olive and the orange; and all the precipices and sunny slopes are
terraced nearly to the top.  This promontory of rocks is far from
being barren.

>From Castellamare, driving along a winding, rockcut road by the bay,-
-one of the most charming in southern Italy,--a distance of seven
miles, we reach the Punta di Scutolo.  This point, and the opposite
headland, the Capo di Sorrento, inclose the Piano di Sorrento, an
irregular plain, three miles long, encircled by limestone hills,
which protect it from the east and south winds.  In this amphitheater
it lies, a mass of green foliage and white villages, fronting Naples
and Vesuvius.

If nature first scooped out this nook level with the sea, and then
filled it up to a depth of two hundred to three hundred feet with
volcanic tufa, forming a precipice of that height along the shore, I
can understand how the present state of things came about.

This plain is not all level, however.  Decided spurs push down into
it from the hills; and great chasms, deep, ragged, impassable, split
in the tufa, extend up into it from the sea.  At intervals, at the
openings of these ravines, are little marinas, where the fishermen
have their huts' and where their boats land.  Little villages,
separate from the world, abound on these marinas.  The warm volcanic
soil of the sheltered plain makes it a paradise of fruits and
flowers.

Sorrento, ancient and romantic city, lies at the southwest end of
this plain, built along the sheer sea precipice, and running back to
the hills,--a city of such narrow streets, high walls, and luxuriant
groves that it can be seen only from the heights adjacent.  The
ancient boundary of the city proper was the famous ravine on the east
side, a similar ravine on the south, which met it at right angles,
and was supplemented by a high Roman wall, and the same wall
continued on the west to the sea.  The growing town has pushed away
the wall on the west side; but that on the south yet stands as good
as when the Romans made it.  There is a little attempt at a mall,
with double rows of trees, under that wall, where lovers walk, and
ragged, handsome urchins play the exciting game of fives, or sit in
the dirt, gambling with cards for the Sorrento currency.  I do not
know what sin it may be to gamble for a bit of printed paper which
has the value of one sou.

The great ravine, three quarters of a mile long, the ancient boundary
which now cuts the town in two, is bridged where the main street, the
Corso, crosses, the bridge resting on old Roman substructions, as
everything else about here does.  This ravine, always invested with
mystery, is the theme of no end of poetry and legend.  Demons inhabit
it.  Here and there, in its perpendicular sides, steps have been cut
for descent.  Vines and lichens grow on the walls: in one place, at
the bottom, an orange grove has taken root.  There is even a mill
down there, where there is breadth enough for a building; and
altogether, the ravine is not so delivered over to the power of
darkness as it used to be.  It is still damp and slimy, it is true;
but from above, it is always beautiful, with its luxuriant growth of
vines, and at twilight mysterious.  I like as well, however, to look
into its entrance from the little marina, where the old fishwives arc
weaving nets.

These little settlements under the cliff, called marinas, are worlds
in themselves, picturesque at a distance, but squalid seen close at
hand.  They are not very different from the little fishing-stations
on the Isle of Wight; but they are more sheltered, and their
inhabitants sing at their work, wear bright colors, and bask in the
sun a good deal, feeling no sense of responsibility for the world
they did not create.  To weave nets, to fish in the bay, to sell
their fish at the wharves, to eat unexciting vegetables and fish, to
drink moderately, to go to the chapel of St. Antonino on Sunday, not
to work on fast and feast days, nor more than compelled to any day,
this is life at the marinas.  Their world is what they can see, and
Naples is distant and almost foreign.  Generation after generation is
content with the same simple life.  They have no more idea of the bad
way the world is in than bees in their cells.




THE VILLA NARDI

The Villa Nardi hangs over the sea.  It is built on a rock, and I
know not what Roman and Greek foundations, and the remains of yet
earlier peoples, traders, and traffickers, whose galleys used to rock
there at the base of the cliff, where the gentle waves beat even in

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