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If our readers, tempted by the Italian proverb about seeing Naples and then
dying, were to ask us what is the most favourable moment for visiting the
enchanted city, we should advise them to land at the mole, or at Mergellina, on a
fine summer day and at the hour when some solemn procession is moving out of
the cathedral. Nothing can give an idea of the profound and simple-hearted
emotion of this populace, which has enough poetry in its soul to believe in its own
happiness. The whole town adorns herself and attires herself like a bride for her
wedding; the dark facades of marble and granite disappear beneath hangings of
silk and festoons of flowers; the wealthy display their dazzling luxury, the poor
drape themselves proudly in their rags. Everything is light, harmony, and
perfume; the sound is like the hum of an immense hive, interrupted by a
thousandfold outcry of joy impossible to describe. The bells repeat their sonorous
sequences in every key; the arcades echo afar with the triumphal marches of
military bands; the sellers of sherbet and water-melons sing out their deafening
flourish from throats of copper. People form into groups; they meet, question,
gesticulate; there are gleaming looks, eloquent gestures, picturesque attitudes;
there is a general animation, an unknown charm, an indefinable intoxication.
Earth is very near to heaven, and it is easy to understand that, if God were to
banish death from this delightful spot, the Neapolitans would desire no other
The story that we are about to tell opens with one of these magical pictures. It
was the Day of the Assumption in the year 1825; the sun had been up some four
or five hours, and the long Via da Forcella, lighted from end to end by its slanting
rays, cut the town in two, like a ribbon of watered silk. The lava pavement,
carefully cleaned, shone like any mosaic, and the royal troops, with their proudly
waving plumes, made a double living hedge on each side of the street. The
balconies, windows, and terraces, the stands with their unsubstantial
balustrades, and the wooden galleries set up during the night, were loaded with
spectators, and looked not unlike the boxes of a theatre. An immense crowd,
forming a medley of the brightest colours, invaded the reserved space and broke
through the military barriers, here and there, like an overflowing torrent. These
intrepid sightseers, nailed to their places, would have waited half their lives
without giving the least sign of impatience.
At last, about noon, a cannon-shot was heard, and a cry of general satisfaction
followed it. It was the signal that the procession had crossed the threshold of the
church. In the same moment a charge of carabineers swept off the people who
were obstructing the middle of the street, the regiments of the line opened
floodgates for the overflowing crowd, and soon nothing remained on the
causeway but some scared dog, shouted at by the people, hunted off by the
soldiers, and fleeing at full speed. The procession came out through the Via di
Vescovato. First came the guilds of merchants and craftsmen, the hatters,
weavers, bakers, butchers, cutlers, and goldsmiths. They wore the prescribed