The chariot drew a little forward, from the temple: the Lucumo, sitting erect on his chair in the chariot, and bare-shouldered and bare-breasted, waits for the people. Then the peasants would shrink back in fear. But perhaps some citizen in a white tunic would lift up his arms in salute, and come forward to state his difficulty, or to plead for justice. And the Lucumo, seated silent within another world of power, disciplined to his own responsibility of knowledge for the people, would listen till the end. Then a few words–and the chariot of gilt bronze swirls off up the hill to the house of the chief, the citizens drift on to their houses, the music sounds in the dark streets, torches flicker, the whole place is eating, feasting, and as far as possible having a gay time.
It is different now. The drab peasants, muffled in ugly clothing, straggle in across the waste bit of space, and trail home, songless and meaningless. We have lost the art of living; and in the most important science of all, the science of daily life, the science of behaviour, we are complete ignoramuses. We have psychology instead. Today in Italy, in the hot Italian summer, if a navvy working in the street takes off his shirt to work with free, naked torso, a policeman rushes to him and commands him insultingly into his shirt again. One would think a human being was such a foul indecency altogether that life was feasible only when the indecent thing was as far as possible blotted out. The very exposure of female arms and legs in the street is only done as an insult to the whole human body. ‘Look at that! It doesn’t matter!’
Neither does it! But then, why did the torso of the workman matter?
At the hotel, in the dark emptiness of the place, there are three Japanese staying: little yellow men. They have come to inspect the salt works down on the coast below Tarquinia, so we are told, and they have a Government permit. The salt works, the extracting of salt from the pools shut off from the low sea, are sort of prisons, worked by convict labour. One wonders why Japanese men should want to inspect such places, officially. But we are told that these salt works are ‘very important’.
Albertino is having a very good time with the three Japanese, and seems to be very deep in their confidence, bending over their table, his young brown head among the three black ones, absorbed and on the qui vive. He rushes off for their food–then rushes to us to see what we want to eat.
‘What is there?’
‘Er–c’è–‘ He always begins with wonderful deliberation, as if there was a menu fit for the Tsar. Then he breaks off suddenly, says: ‘I’ll ask the mamma!’–darts away–returns, and says exactly what we knew he’d say, in a bright voice, as if announcing the New Jerusalem: ‘There are eggs–er–and beefsteak–et and there are some little potatoes.’ We know the eggs and beefsteak well! However, I decide to have beefsteak once more, with the little potatoes–left over by good fortune from lunch–fried. Off darts Albertino, only to dart back and announce that the potatoes and beefsteak are finished (‘by the Chinese,’ he whispers), ‘but there are frogs.’ ‘There are what?’ ‘Le rane, the frogs!’ What sort of frogs?’ ‘I’ll show you!’ Off he darts again, returns with a plate containing eight or nine pairs of frogs’ naked hind-legs. B. looks the other way and I accept frogs–they look quite good. In the joy of getting the frogs safely to port, Albertino skips, and darts off: to return in a moment with a bottle of beer, and whisper to us all the information about the Chinese, as he calls them. They can’t speak a word of Italian. When they want a word they take the little book, French and Italian. Bread?–eh? They want bread. Er!–Albertino gives little grunts, like commas and semicolons, which I write as er! Bread they want, eh?–er!–they take the little book–here he takes an imaginary little book, lays it on the tablecloth, wets his finger and turns over the imaginary leaves–bread!–er!–p–you look under ‘p’–er!–ecco! pane!–pane!–si capisce!–bread! they want bread. Then wine! er! take the little book (he turns over imaginary little leaves with fervour)–er! here you are, vino!–pane, e vino! So they do! Every word! They looked out name! Er! you! Er! I tell him, Albertino. And so the boy continues, till I ask what about le rane? Ah! Er! Le rane! Off he darts, and swirls back with a plate of fried frogs’ legs, in pairs.Share It