페이지 이미지
PDF
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

tumbling together on the thresholds just as they do in the cool corridors of Italian towns. On the first floor of one of the houses I found an establishment for the repairing of hand-organs, where a youth was hammering at the barrel of one, and a swarthy black-bearded man, to whom it belonged, was lounging on a bench near by. Against the smoke-blackened wall an armful of lilacs stood in a corner, filling the room with sweetness, and leading naturally to the thought that with the spring and the flowers the organ-grinder prepares for a trip into the country, play

red shirts and unkempt heads and faces. One of them was the proprietor of the monkey establishment, and his farouche manner disappeared with our first words of interest in his pets. He led us into the little room adjoining, where some six or eight half-grown monkeys were peering through the bars of their cages, evidently pleading to be let out. The most creditably schooled monkey was released first, handed his cap, made to doff and don it,

and shake hands, orders being issued both

in Italian and English. Some of the others—small brown things with bright eyes, and “not yet quite trained,” said the Neapolitan—were allowed a moment's respite from captivity, at which they screamed with joy, and made for the dish of soaked bread, dipping their paws into it with great greediness, while the padrone laughed indulgently. A properly trained organ-monkey is worth from twenty to thirty dollars. In the great house known to Baxter Street as the “Bee-hive,” we found the handsome padrona whose husband rents organs and sells clocks, which latter articles appear to be essentials to Italian housekeeping, in default of the many bells of the old country. The padrona was at first by no means eager to give information, as she supposed, in good broad American (she was born in New York), that it “would be put in the papers, like it was before.” It would appear that the advantages of communication with the outer world are not appreciated by the inhabitants of Baxter Street. The padrona finally informed me that the rent of an organ was four dollars a month, and that they had hard work getting it out of the people who hired them, ‘‘ for they always told you they had been sick, or times were bad, or their children had been sick; and when the Italians came over they expected you to give them a room with a carpet and a clock, else they said you had no kindness.” I saw in the cluster of eight houses that form the “Bee-hive” various humble homes, from the neat and graceful poverty adorned with bright colors, and sweet with the bunch of lilacs brought from the morning's marketing (the favorite flower of the neighborhood), to the dens of one room, in which three or four families live, and take boarders and lodgers into the bargain. They told me that the building contained a thousand souls, and that cases of malarial fever were frequent. It is true that the odors of Baxter Street are unhealthy and unpleasant, arguing defective drainage: but those of Venice are equally so, and exist for the prince no less than the beggar. As for overcrowding, no one who, for example, has spent a summer in Genoa, and has seen the stream of pallid, languid humanity pour out of the tall old houses of the Carignano district, can find food for sensationalism in the manner of life common to Baxter Street. It must be remembered that the standard of prosperity in America is not that of Italy, and

[graphic]

that a man is not necessarily destitute nor a pauper because he prefers organ-grinding or rag-picking to shoemaking or hod-carrying, and likes macaroni cooked in oil better than bakers' bread and tough meat. I fail to find that Italians here retain their national habits of enjoyment or their love of feast-day finery. True, I have seen contadine in gold beads and ear-rings sitting on their door-steps on Sunday afternoons, and I have watched a large family making merry over a handful of boiled corn, just as they did at home, and I have seen the Genoese matrons dress one another's hair of a Sunday morning in the old fashion. But the indifferentism and stolidity of the country react upon them. There seems to be little of the open-air cooking, the polenta and fish stalls, the soup and macaroni booths, that breed conviviality in the Italian streets. They apparently eat in their own homes, after the New World fashion. Undoubtedly much of the recklessness with which Italians are charged in New York is the result of the sudden removal of religious influences from their lives. At home there is a church always open and at hand, and the bells constantly remind them of the near resting-place for soul and body. When their homes are noisy and uncomfortable, they can find peace and quiet in the cool dark churches; and when they are on the verge of quarrel or crime, and the hand involuntarily seeks the knife, the twilight angelus or the evening bell for the dead softens the angry heart and silences the quick tongue. Here the only escape from the crowded rooms is in the equally crowded yard, or the door-step, or the rum-shop. The only entirely Italian Catholic church in New York, I believe, is that of San Antonio di Padova, in Sullivan Street, attended by a superior class of Italians, all apparently prosperous and at peace with their surroundings. In the days of political persecution and struggle in Italy, America was the republican ideal and Utopia toward which the longing eyes of all agitators and revolutionists turned. When self-banished or exiled by government, they were apt to seek their fortunes in America, often concealing their identity and possible rank, and taking their places among the workers of the republic. Among these was Garibaldi, who passed some time here in the suburbs of New York, earning his living like many another honest toiler, and awaiting the right moment to strike the death-blow at tyranny. To study the Italian character in its finer nuances, the analyst should not limit his investigations to the broad generalizations of the Italian quarters, but should prosecute his researches in out-of-the-way down-town thoroughfares, where isolated shops with Italian names over their doors stimulate curiosity. In these dingy places, among dusty crimping-pins, pomatum-pots, and ghastly heads of human hair, half-worn clothing, the refuse of pawnbrokers' shops, you may meet characters that would not have been unworthy the attention of Balzac, and would eagerly have been numbered by Champfleury among his “Excentriques.” I have one in my mind whose short round person, tall dilapidated hat, profuse jewelry, red face, keen gray eyes, and ready tongue fully qualify him for the title of the Figaro of Canal Street. Another interesting class of Italians is found in the people attached to the opera—the chorussingers and ballet-dancers, engaged also for spectacular dramas. It is in a measure a migratory population, crossing the ocean in the season, and recrossing when the demand for its labor ceases. Many chorus-singers who remain in New York follow different trades out of the opera season, and sing sometimes in the theatres when incidental music is required. By singers New York is regarded chiefly as a market in which they can dispose of their talents to greater pecuniary advantage than in Europe, and they endure the peculiar contingencies of American life simply in order to lay

by capital with which to enjoy life in Italy. A season in America is always lookcd forward to as the means of accumulating a fortune, and not for any artistic value. I have heard of more than one Italian who, after a successful engagement in New York, has invited sundry compatriots to a supper at Moretti's, and announced his intention of shaking the dust of America from his shoes for evermore, being satisfied to retire on his gains, or to sing only for love of art and the applause of artists in the dingy opera-houses of Italy. The climate of America with its sud

den changes kills the Italian bodies, and the moral atmosphere chills their souls— notably among artists. The “Caffè Moretti” has for years been the foyer of operatic artists, and no review of Italian life in New York would be complete without For many years they

a mention of it.

old houses in The ITALIAN QUARTER.

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

have dined, and supped, and drank their pite from homesickness over Signor Monative wines in this dingy, smoke-black- retti's Lachryma Christi and macaroni ened place, forgetting for the nonce that cooked in the good Milanese fashion. In they were in America, and, coming away, view of the general assimilation of Italhave left their portraits behind them, lians with their American surroundings, it is surprising and delightful to find a place that retains so picturesque and Italian a flavor. Since the abolishment of the padrome system one sees few child-musicians, and the wandering minstrels are chiefly half-grown boys and young men, who pass their summers playing on steamboats and at watering-places.

Old CLOThr's DEALERS.

large and small, fresh and new, or old and It is gratifying to feel that one of the dissmoke-dried, hanging side by side on the graces of modern and enlightened Italy wall to cheer the hearts of the brother has been wiped from the national recartists who should follow after them to ord by the strong hand of governmental the New World, and find a moment's res- authority.

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

the Old STONE HOUSE.

MY FARM IN SWITZERLAND.

UNE 10. –Went out to the farm—a stiff walk of several miles. Wondered all the way out why my American friends do not do as M– does, why they do not stop trying to get rich, and why they do not study economy and contentment more. I have read somewhere that America is twenty-eight hundred millions of dollars poorer than it was five short years ago, and that millions and millions of American capital is invested provisionally only. Why do not hundreds of these men, who have saved wrecks from their fortunes, or who have got a little money, by much risk and hard work, stop 2 Why do not they do what M- does 2 I presume most of them think they can not afford it—can not stop on twenty thousand dollars. M- did, and lives well, and risks nothing. I am going to note down, here and there, how he does it, only to convince myself that a man who has twenty thousand dollars has enough. M—was a sort of a city man—bought and sold silks; but markets cutting up

all sorts of capers, he stopped silk, and bought a farm—scarcely a farm either— only ten acres; but that is two acres above the average-sized farm in the canton. Four acres of M 's farm are in grapes, three acres in grass and fruit trees, and the rest in garden ground. The whole cost him fifteen thousand dollars, with a big stone house included. This was cheap, but the house, though very big, is a little out of style, and was thrown in, as it were. M- made some changes, at small expense, and the house looks half as fine now as a castle. He rented the upper floors for a time, and that almost paid for the alterations. He has, besides his farm and its equipments, five thousand dollars in bonds of the state. Interest is low, but the principal is secure. This difference in interest is usually, I believe, an insurance on security. As grape land here is valued at one thousand six hundred dollars an acre, and is reckoned to produce twenty per cent. on the investment, M-'s grapes alone will bring him, next October, one thousand two hundred dollars cash. In

[graphic]
« 이전계속 »