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Saunterings - Children Of The Sun Post by :why97 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :707

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Saunterings - Children Of The Sun

The common people of this region are nothing but children; and ragged, dirty, and poor as they are, apparently as happy, to speak idiomatically, as the day is long. It takes very little to please them; and their easily-excited mirth is contagious. It is very rare that one gets a surly return to a salutation; and, if one shows the least good-nature, his greeting is met with the most jolly return. The boatman hauling in his net sings; the brown girl, whom we meet descending a steep path in the hills, with an enormous bag or basket of oranges on her head, or a building-stone under which she stands as erect as a pillar, sings; and, if she asks for something, there is a merry twinkle in her eye, that says she hardly expects money, but only puts in a "beg" at a venture because it is the fashion; the workmen clipping the olive-trees sing; the urchins, who dance about the foreigner in the street, vocalize their petitions for un po' di moneta in a tuneful manner, and beg more in a spirit of deviltry than with any expectation of gain. When I see how hard the peasants labor, what scraps and vegetable odds and ends they eat, and in what wretched, dark, and smoke-dried apartments they live, I wonder they are happy; but I suppose it is the all-nourishing sun and the equable climate that do the business for them. They have few artificial wants, and no uneasy expectation--bred by the reading of books and newspapers--that anything is going to happen in the world, or that any change is possible. Their fruit-trees yield abundantly year after year; their little patches of rich earth, on the built-up terraces and in the crevices of the rocks, produce fourfold. The sun does it all.

Every walk that we take here with open mind and cheerful heart is sure to be an adventure. Only yesterday, we were coming down a branch of the great gorge which splits the plain in two. On one side the path is a high wall, with garden trees overhanging. On the other, a stone parapet; and below, in the bed of the ravine, an orange orchard. Beyond rises a precipice; and, at its foot, men and boys were quarrying stone, which workmen raised a couple of hundred feet to the platform above with a windlass. As we came along, a handsome girl on the height had just taken on her head a large block of stone, which I should not care to lift, to carry to a pile in the rear; and she stopped to look at us. We stopped, and looked at her. This attracted the attention of the men and boys in the quarry below, who stopped work, and set up a cry for a little money. We laughed, and responded in English. The windlass ceased to turn. The workmen on the height joined in the conversation. A grizzly beggar hobbled up, and held out his greasy cap. We nonplussed him by extending our hats, and beseeching him for just a little something. Some passers on the road paused, and looked on, amused at the transaction. A boy appeared on the high wall, and began to beg. I threatened to shoot him with my walkingstick, whereat he ran nimbly along the wall in terror The workmen shouted; and this started up a couple of yellow dogs, which came to the edge of the wall and barked violently. The girl, alone calm in the confusion, stood stock still under her enormous load looking at us. We swung out hats, and hurrahed. The crowd replied from above, below, and around us, shouting, laughing, singing, until the whole little valley was vocal with a gale of merriment, and all about nothing. The beggar whined; the spectators around us laughed; and the whole population was aroused into a jolly mood. Fancy such a merry hullaballoo in America. For ten minutes, while the funny row was going on, the girl never moved, having forgotten to go a few steps and deposit her load; and when we disappeared round a bend of the path, she was still watching us, smiling and statuesque.

As we descend, we come upon a group of little children seated about a doorstep, black-eyed, chubby little urchins, who are cutting oranges into little bits, and playing "party," as children do on the other side of the Atlantic. The instant we stop to speak to them, the skinny hand of an old woman is stretched out of a window just above our heads, the wrinkled palm itching for money. The mother comes forward out of the house, evidently pleased with our notice of the children, and shows us the baby in her arms. At once we are on good terms with the whole family. The woman sees that there is nothing impertinent in our cursory inquiry into her domestic concerns, but, I fancy, knows that we are genial travelers, with human sympathies. So the people universally are not quick to suspect any imposition, and meet frankness with frankness, and good-nature with good-nature, in a simple-hearted, primeval manner. If they stare at us from doorway and balcony, or come and stand near us when we sit reading or writing by the shore, it is only a childlike curiosity, and they are quite unconscious of any breach of good manners. In fact, I think travelers have not much to say in the matter of staring. I only pray that we Americans abroad may remember that we are in the presence of older races, and conduct ourselves with becoming modesty, remembering always that we were not born in Britain.

Very likely I am in error; but it has seemed to me that even the funerals here are not so gloomy as in other places. I have looked in at the churches when they are in progress, now and then, and been struck with the general good feeling of the occasion. The real mourners I could not always distinguish; but the seats would be filled with a motley gathering of the idle and the ragged, who seemed to enjoy the show and the ceremony. On one occasion, it was the obsequies of an officer in the army. Guarding the gilded casket, which stood upon a raised platform before the altar, were four soldiers in uniform. Mass was being said and sung; and a priest was playing the organ. The church was light and cheerful, and pervaded by a pleasant bustle. Ragged boys and beggars, and dirty children and dogs, went and came wherever they chose--about the unoccupied spaces of the church. The hired mourners, who are numerous in proportion to the rank of the deceased, were clad in white cotton,--a sort of nightgown put on over the ordinary clothes, with a hood of the same drawn tightly over the face, in which slits were cut for the eyes and mouth. Some of them were seated on benches near the front; others were wandering about among the pillars, disappearing in the sacristy, and reappearing with an aimless aspect, altogether conducting themselves as if it were a holiday, and if there was anything they did enjoy, it was mourning at other people's expense. They laughed and talked with each other in excellent spirits; and one varlet near the coffin, who had slipped off his mask, winked at me repeatedly, as if to inform me that it was not his funeral. A masquerade might have been more gloomy and depressing.

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