The book says eight! I insisted stoutly. They always want to make distances twice as long, if you are to hire a carriage. But he watched me slowly, and shook his head. ‘Twelve!’ he said. Then we must have a carriage,’ said I. ‘You wouldn’t find your way anyhow,’ said the man. ‘Is there a carriage?’ He didn’t know. There was one, but it had gone off somewhere this morning, and wouldn’t be back till two or three in the afternoon. The usual story.
I insisted, was there no little cart, no barrocino, no carretto? He slowly shook his head. But I continued to insist, gazing at him fixedly, as if a carriage must be produced. So at last he went out, to look. He came back, after a time, shaking his head. Then he had a colloquy with his wife. Then he went out again, and was gone ten minutes.
A dusty little baker, a small man very full of energy, as little Italians often are, came in and asked for a drink. He sat down a minute and drank his drink, eyeing us from his floury face. Then he got up and left the shop again. In a moment the cafe man returned, and said that perhaps there was a carretto. I asked where it was. He said the man was coming.
The drive to the Ponte was apparently two hours–then the trip would be six hours. We should have to take a little food with us–there was nothing there.
A small-faced, weedy sort of youth appeared in the doorway: also malaria! We could have the carretto. ‘For how much ?’ ‘Seventy liras!’ ‘Too much!’ said I. ‘Far too much! Fifty, or nothing. Take it or leave it, fifty!’ The youth in the doorway looked blank. The café man, always with his faint little sardonic smile, told the youth to go and ask. The youth went. We waited. Then the youth came back, to say all right! So! ‘How long?’ ‘Subito!’ Subito means immediately, but it is as well to be definite. ‘Ten minutes?’ said I. ‘Perhaps twenty’ said the youth. ‘Better say twenty’ said the café man: who was an honest man, really, and rather pleasant in his silent way.
We went out to buy a little food, and the café man went with us. The shops in the place were just holes. We went to the baker. Outside stood a cart being loaded with bread, by the youth and the small, quicksilver, baker. Inside the shop, we bought a long loaf, and a few bits of sliced sausage, and asked-for cheese. There was no cheese–but they would get us some. We waited an infinite while. I said to the café man, who waited alongside, full of interest: ‘Won’t the carretto be ready?’ He turned round and pointed to the tall, randy mare between the shafts of the bread-cart outside. ‘That’s the horse that will take you. When the bread is delivered, they will hitch her into the carretto, and the youth will drive you.’ There was nothing for it but patience, for the baker’s mare and the baker’s youth were our only hope. The cheese came at last. We wandered out to look for oranges. There was a woman selling them on a low bench beside the road, but B., who was getting impatient, didn’t like the look of them. So we went across to a little hole of a shop where another woman had oranges. They were tiny ones, and B. was rejecting them with impatient scorn. But the woman insisted they were sweet, sweet as apples, and full of juice. We bought four and I bought a finocchio for a salad. But she was right. The oranges were exquisite, when we came to eat them, and we wished we had ten.Share It