“You pay nine francs fifty.”
I pay them, and we get off that ship.
There is a very little crowd waiting on the quay: mostly men with their hands in their pockets. But, thank Heaven, they have a certain aloofness and reserve. They are not like the tourist-parasites of these post-war days, who move to the attack with a terrifying cold vindictiveness the moment one emerges from any vehicle. And some of these men look really poor. There are no poor Italians any more: at least, loafers.
Strange the feeling round the harbour: as if everybody had gone away. Yet there are people about. It is “festa” however, Epiphany. But it is so different from Sicily: none of the suave Greek-Italian charms, none of the airs and graces, none of the glamour. Rather bare, rather stark, rather cold and yellow—somehow like Malta, without Malta’s foreign liveliness. Thank Goodness no one wants to carry my knapsack. Thank Goodness no one has a fit at the sight of[Pg 100] it. Thank Heaven no one takes any notice. They stand cold and aloof, and don’t move.
We make our way through the Customs: then through the Dazio, the City Customs-house. Then we are free. We set off up a steep, new, broad road, with little trees on either side. But stone, arid, new, wide stone, yellowish under the cold sky—and abandoned-seeming. Though, of course, there are people about. The north wind blows bitingly.
We climb a broad flight of steps, always upwards, up the wide, precipitous, dreary boulevard with sprouts of trees. Looking for the Hotel, and dying with hunger.
At last we find it, the Scala di Ferro: through a courtyard with green plants. And at last a little man with lank, black hair, like an esquimo, comes smiling. He is one brand of Sardinian—esquimo looking. There is no room with two beds: only single rooms. And thus we are led off, if you please, to the “bagnio”: the bathing-establishment wing, on the dank ground floor. Cubicles on either side a stone passage, and in every cubicle a dark stone bath, and a little bed. We can have each a little bath cubicle. If there’s nothing else for it, there isn’t: but it seems dank and cold and horrid, underground. And one thinks of all the unsavory “assignations” at these old bagnio places. True, at the end of the passage are seated two carabinieri. But whether to ensure respectibility or not, Heaven knows. We are in the baths, that’s all.
The esquimo returns after five minutes, however. There is a bedroom in the house. He is pleased, because he didn’t like putting us into the bagnio. Where he found the bedroom I don’t know. But there it was, large, sombre, cold, and over the kitchen fumes of a small inner court like a well. But perfectly clean and all right. And the people seemed warm and good-natured, like human beings. One has got so used to the non-human ancient-souled Sicilians, who are suave and so completely callous.