Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The first true thing

"Spring - Primavera, the first true thing, as the Italians call it - has come. The nightingales already begin to bubble into song under the Ludovisi ilexes and in the Barbarini Gardens. Daisies have snowed all over the Campagna - periwinkles star the grass, - crocuses and anemones impurple the spaces between the rows of springing grain along the still brown slopes. At every turn in the streets basketsful of mammole, the sweet-scented Parma violet, are offered you by little girls and boys; and at the corner of the Condotti and Corso is a splendid show of camellias, set into the beds  of double violets, and sold for a song. Now and then one meets huge baskets will with these delicious violets, on their way to the confectioners and caffès, where they will be made into syrup; for the Italians are very fond of this bibite, and prize it not only for its flavor, but for its medicinal qualities. Violets seem to rain over the villas in the spring, - acres are purple with them, and the air all around is sweet with their fragrance. Every day, scores of carriages are driving about the Borghese grounds, which are open to the public, and hundreds of children are running about, plucking flowers and playing on the lovely slopes and in the shadows of noble trees, while their parents stroll at a distance and with for them in the shady avenues. At the Pamfili Doria villa the English play their national game of cricket, on the flower-enamelled green, which is covered with the wondrous anemones; and there is a matinée of friends who come to chat and look on. This game is rather 'slow' at Rome, however, and does not rhyme with the Campagna. The Italians lift their hands and wonder what there is in it to fascinate the English; and they do not admire it. But those who have seen pallone will not, perhaps, so much wonder at the Italians, nor condemn them for not playing their own game, when they remember that French have turned them out of their only amphitheatre adapted for it, and left them only pazienza

"If one drives out  of any of the gates he will see that spring has come. The hedges are putting forth their leaves, the almond-trees are in full blossom, and in the vineyards the contadini are setting cane-poles and trimming the vines to run upon them. Here and there along the slopes, the rude antique plough, dragged heavily along by great gray oxen, turns up the rich loam, that needs only to be tickled to laugh out in flowers and grain. In the olive-orchards, the farmers are carefully pruning away decayed branches and loosening the soil about their old roots. Here and there, the smoke of distant bonfires, burning heaps of of useless stubble, shows against the dreamy purple hills like the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites. One smells the sharp odour of these fires everywhere, and hears them crackle in the fields :- 

Atque levem stipulam crepitantibus urere flammis"

Quotation from Roba di Roma, William W. Story. London, Chapman and Hall, 1863
Photograph from here http://n.casbas.pagesperso-orange.fr/textes/photo/page2.htm


  1. Lovely, Blue. As it seems that we have bypassed Spring and gone straight to Summer here in Atlanta, this is a nice taste of a lost season.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I agree about going straight into summer - we begin with the yellow pollen coating everything - inside and out.

      I first heard of this book from which the quotation comes at the Christmas dinner table last year In Rome at the house of neighbors of both you and us. It is beautifully written by an American sculptor from the middle of the 19th century.