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Saunterings - On Top Of The House Post by :joannent Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1804

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Saunterings - On Top Of The House

The tiptop of the Villa Nardi is a flat roof, with a wall about it three feet high, and some little turreted affairs, that look very much like chimneys. Joseph, the gray-haired servitor, has brought my chair and table up here to-day, and here I am, established to write.

I am here above most earthly annoyances, and on a level with the heavenly influences. It has always seemed to me that the higher one gets, the easier it must be to write; and that, especially at a great elevation, one could strike into lofty themes, and launch out, without fear of shipwreck on any of the earthly headlands, in his aerial voyages. Yet, after all, he would be likely to arrive nowhere, I suspect; or, to change the figure, to find that, in parting with the taste of the earth, he had produced a flavorless composition. If it were not for the haze in the horizon to-day, I could distinguish the very house in Naples--that of Manso, Marquis of Villa,--where Tasso found a home, and where John Milton was entertained at a later day by that hospitable nobleman. I wonder, if he had come to the Villa Nardi and written on the roof, if the theological features of his epic would have been softened, and if he would not have received new suggestions for the adornment of the garden. Of course, it is well that his immortal production was not composed on this roof, and in sight of these seductive shores, or it would have been more strongly flavored with classic mythology than it is. But, letting Milton go, it may be necessary to say that my writing to-day has nothing to do with my theory of composition in an elevated position; for this is the laziest place that I have yet found.

I am above the highest olive-trees, and, if I turned that way, should look over the tops of what seems a vast grove of them, out of which a white roof, and an old time-eaten tower here and there, appears; and the sun is flooding them with waves of light, which I think a person delicately enough organized could hear beat. Beyond the brown roofs of the town, the terraced hills arise, in semicircular embrace of the plain; and the fine veil over them is partly the natural shimmer of the heat, and partly the silver duskiness of the olive-leaves. I sit with my back to all this, taking the entire force of this winter sun, which is full of life and genial heat, and does not scorch one, as I remember such a full flood of it would at home. It is putting sweetness, too, into the oranges, which, I observe, are getting redder and softer day by day. We have here, by the way, such a habit of taking up an orange, weighing it in the hand, and guessing if it is ripe, that the test is extending to other things. I saw a gentleman this morning, at breakfast, weighing an egg in the same manner; and some one asked him if it was ripe.

It seems to me that the Mediterranean was never bluer than it is to-day. It has a shade or two the advantage of the sky: though I like the sky best, after all; for it is less opaque, and offers an illimitable opportunity of exploration. Perhaps this is because I am nearer to it. There are some little ruffles of air on the sea, which I do not feel here, making broad spots of shadow, and here and there flecks and sparkles. But the schooners sail idly, and the fishing-boats that have put out from the marina float in the most dreamy manner. I fear that the fishermen who have made a show of industry, and got away from their wives, who are busily weaving nets on shore, are yielding to the seductions of the occasion, and making a day of it. And, as I look at them, I find myself debating which I would rather be, a fisherman there in the boat, rocked by the swell, and warmed by the sun, or a friar, on the terrace of the garden on the summit of Deserto, lying perfectly tranquil, and also soaked in the sun. There is one other person, now that I think of it, who may be having a good time to-day, though I do not know that I envy him. His business is a new one to me, and is an occupation that one would not care to recommend to a friend until he had tried it: it is being carried about in a basket. As I went up the new Massa road the other day, I met a ragged, stout, and rather dirty woman, with a large shallow basket on her head. In it lay her husband, a large man, though I think a little abbreviated as to his legs. The woman asked alms. Talk of Diogenes in his tub! How must the world look to a man in a basket, riding about on his wife's head? When I returned, she had put him down beside the road in the sun, and almost in danger of the passing vehicles. I suppose that the affectionate creature thought that, if he got a new injury in this way, his value in the beggar market would be increased. I do not mean to do this exemplary wife any injustice; and I only suggest the idea in this land, where every beggar who is born with a deformity has something to thank the Virgin for. This custom of carrying your husband on your head in a basket has something to recommend it, and is an exhibition of faith on the one hand, and of devotion on the other, that is seldom met with. Its consideration is commended to my countrywomen at home. It is, at least, a new commentary on the apostolic remark, that the man is the head of the woman. It is, in some respects, a happy division of labor in the walk of life: she furnishes the locomotive power, and he the directing brains, as he lies in the sun and looks abroad; which reminds me that the sun is getting hot on my back. The little bunch of bells in the convent tower is jangling out a suggestion of worship, or of the departure of the hours. It is time to eat an orange.

Vesuvius appears to be about on a level with my eyes and I never knew him to do himself more credit than to-day. The whole coast of the bay is in a sort of obscuration, thicker than an Indian summer haze; and the veil extends almost to the top of Vesuvius. But his summit is still distinct, and out of it rises a gigantic billowy column of white smoke, greater in quantity than on any previous day of our sojourn; and the sun turns it to silver. Above a long line of ordinary looking clouds, float great white masses, formed of the sulphurous vapor. This manufacture of clouds in a clear, sunny day has an odd appearance; but it is easy enough, if one has such a laboratory as Vesuvius. How it tumbles up the white smoke! It is piled up now, I should say, a thousand feet above the crater, straight into the blue sky,--a pillar of cloud by day. One might sit here all day watching it, listening the while to the melodious spring singing of the hundreds of birds which have come to take possession of the garden, receiving southern reinforcements from Sicily and Tunis every morning, and think he was happy. But the morning has gone; and I have written nothing.

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If ever a northern wanderer could be suddenly transported to look down upon the Piano di Sorrento, he would not doubt that he saw the Garden of the Hesperides. The orange-trees cannot well be fuller: their branches bend with the weight of fruit. With the almond-trees in full flower, and with the silver sheen of the olive leaves, the oranges are apples of gold in pictures of silver. As I walk in these sunken roads, and between these high walls, the orange boughs everywhere hang over; and through the open gates of villas I look down alleys of golden glimmer, roses

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It is not always easy, when one stands upon the highlands which encircle the Piano di Sorrento, in some conditions of the atmosphere, to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. It seems practicable, at such times, for one to take ship and sail up into heaven. I have often, indeed, seen white sails climbing up there, and fishing-boats, at secure anchor I suppose, riding apparently like balloons in the hazy air. Sea and air and land here are all kin, I suspect, and have certain immaterial qualities in common. The contours of the shores and the outlines of