Fragrance in Travel Literature-Italy, the Magic Land, by Lilian Whiting

Italy, the Magic Land, by Lilian Whiting


The Via delle Quattro Fontane, on which the Palazzo Barberini stands,
might well be known as the street of the wonderful vista. One strolls
down it to the Via Sistina and to Piazza Trinita de' Monti at the head
of the Spanish steps (the Scala di Spagna), pausing for the loveliness
of the view. Across the city rises the opposite height of Monte Mario,
and to the left the Janiculum, now crowned with the magnificent
equestrian statue of Garibaldi, which is in evidence from almost every
part of Rome. As far as the eye can see the Campagna stretches away,
infinite as the sea--a very Campagna Mystica. The luminous air, the
faint, misty blue of the distance, the deep purple shadows on the hills,
make up a landscape of color. At the foot of the Spanish steps the
flower venders spread out their wares,--great bunches of the
flame-colored roses peculiar to Italy, the fragrant white hyacinths,
golden jonquils, baskets of violets, and masses of lilies of the valley.

There rise before one those
mornings, all gold and azure, of loitering over the stone parapet on
Monte Pincio, gazing down on the city in her most alluring mood. The
new bridge that is to connect the Pincio with the Villa Borghese is a
picturesque feature in its unfinished state; but the vision traverses
the deep ravine and revels in the scene of the Borghese grounds carpeted
with flowers. Its picturesque slopes under the great trees, with a view
of Michael Angelo's dome in the near distance, are the resort of morning
strollers, who find that lovely picture of Charles Walter Stetson's--a
stretch of landscape under the ilex trees, the scarlet gowns of the
divinity students giving vivid accents of color here and there--fairly
reproduced in nature before their vision. One should never be in haste
as the bewildering beauty of the Roman spring weaves its emerald
fantasies on grass and trees, and touches into magical bloom the scarlet
poppies that flame over all the meadows, and caress roses and hyacinths
and lilies of the valley into delicate bloom and floating fragrance
until the Eternal City is no more Rome, but Arcady, instead--one should
never be in haste to toss his penny into the _Fontane de Trevi_. Yet in
another way it may work for him an immediate spell that defies all other
necromancy. Judiciously thrown in, on the very eve of departure, it is
the conjurer that insures his return; but at any time prior to this it
may even weave the irresistible enchantment that falls upon him and may
prevent his leaving at all.

No one really knows Rome until he has watched the transcendent
loveliness of spring investing every nook and corner of the Eternal
City. The picturesque Spanish steps are a very garden of fragrance, the
lower steps of the terraced flight being taken possession of by the
flower venders who display their wares,--masses of white lilac,
flame-colored roses, rose and purple hyacinths and baskets of violets
and carnations. Did all this fragrance and beauty send up its incense to
Keats as he lay in the house adjoining, with the musical plash of
Bernini's fountain under his window? It is pleasant to know that by the
appreciation of American and English authors, the movement effectively
directed by Robert Underwood Johnson, this house consecrated to a poet's
memory has been purchased to be a permanent memorial to Keats and to
Shelley. A library of their works will be arranged in it; and portraits,
busts, and all mementos that can be collected of these poets will render
this memorial one of the beautiful features of Rome.

Encircled by the old Aurelian wall and near the great pyramid that marks
the tomb of Caius Cestius, who died 12 B.C., lies the Protestant
cemetery of Rome, full of bloom and fragrance and beauty, under the
dark, solemn cypress trees that stand like ever-watchful sentinels. When
Keats was buried here (in 1820), Shelley wrote of "the romantic and
lovely cemetery ... under the pyramid of Caius Cestius, and the mossy
walls and towers now mouldering and desolate which formed the circuit of
ancient Rome. The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered
even in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with
death," he added, "to think of being buried in so sweet a place.

The roses of Capri would form a chapter alone. What walks there are
where the air is all fragrance of acacia and rose and orange blossoms!
Cascades of roses in riotous luxuriance festoon the old gray stone
walls; the pale pink of the early dawn or of a shell by the seashore,
the amber of the Banskeia rose, the great golden masses of the Marechal
Niel, their faint yellow gleaming against the deep green leaves of
myrtle and frond. The intense glowing scarlet of the gladiolus flames
from rocks and roadside, and rosemary and the purple stars of hyacinths
garland the ways, until one feels like journeying only in his singing
robes. The deep, solemn green of stone pines forms canopies under the
sapphire skies, and through their trunks one gazes on the sapphire sea.
Is Capri the isle of Epipsychidion?

"Is there now any one that knows
What a world of mystery lies deep down in the heart of a rose?"


Sorrento, with its memories and associations of Tasso, seems a place in
which one cares only to sit on the balcony of the hotel overhanging the
sea and watch the magic spectacle of a panorama unrivalled in all the
beauty of the world. Flowers grow in riotous profusion; the fairy sail
of a flitting boat is caught in the deepening dusk; the dark outline of
Vesuvius is seen against the horizon; and orange orchards gleam against
gray walls. Here Tasso was born, in 1544, fit haunt for a poet, with
tangles of gay blossoms and the aerial line of mountain peaks. A low
parapet borders the precipice, and over it one leans in the air heavy
with perfume of locust blossoms. Has the lovely town anything beside
sunsets and stars and poets' dreams? Who could ask for more?

History is in the air, and you feel that the very
daisies you crush underfoot, the very copses from which you pluck a
scented spray, have their delicate rustic ancestries, dating back to
Attila, who is said once to have brought his destructive presence where
now such sweet solemnity of desertion and quietude unmolestedly rules."

In
all the world there is no such example of encrusted architecture as that
revealed in St. Mark's. It is a gleaming mass of gold, opal, ruby, and
pearl; with alabaster pillars carved in designs of palm and pomegranate
and lily; with legions of sculptured angels looking down; with altars of
gold ablaze with scarlet flowers and snowy lilies, while clouds of
mystic incense fill the air. One most impressive place is the
baptistery, where is the tomb of St. Mark and also that of the Doge
Andrea Dandolo, who died at the age of forty-six, having been chosen
Doge ten years before. His tomb is under a window in the baptistery, and
the design is that of his statue in bronze, lying on a couch, while two
angels at the head and the feet hold back the curtains.