Power Margaret the Countess of Blessington
The Idler in Italy (1839)
- While at Ischia, we ascended the Monte di Vico, and Monte d’Epopeo, which command the most enchanting views imaginable. A hermit resides in a cave at the summit of the latter; and did the honours of his rude dwelling with much urbanity and intelligence. The ascent is exceeding abrupt; and the latter part of it we were compelled to accomplish on foot, leaving our mules behind us. From the hermitage, the island is looked down on, with its vines and figs, presenting a mass of brilliant verdure, only broken by the stone terraces that crown nearly all the flat-roofed houses; many of them surrounded with rustic trellis-work, overgrown by flowering plants, or vines. The blue and sparkling sea is spread out as if to serve as a mirror to the azure sky that canopies it; and the white sails that float on it, resemble swans gliding over some vast and tranquil lake. The hermit seemed gratified with our lively admiration of the prospect from his dwelling.
“I know not whether it appears more lovely”, said he, “when sparkling in the bright beams of the morning; or when the sun sinks into the sea, casting its red light over the scene”.
On returning, our guide led us by a still more abrupt path than the one by which we had ascended; and the mode by which the muleteers got their mules down some of the worst parts of the route surprised me. A few of them went below, while others forced the animal head-foremost to the edge of the summit of the steep; and, holding it by the tail, to prevent it from falling, let it gradually descend; until the men beneath, who had clambered up a portion of the ascent to encounter it, were enabled to grasp it, and assist it to the bottom. The loud neighing of the mules, and the cries, exclamations, and curses of the muleteers, formed a chorus by no means harmonious; and when the feat was accomplished, the laughter in which the men indulged, as they imitated the kicking and neighing of the mules, was irresistibly comic”. -
- “During our séjour at Ischia, we were much gratified by the music heard nightly in the little hamlets, as we returned from our evening rides: groups of three and four persons, with guitars, were seen seated on a terrace, or on a bench before their houses, singing Neapolitan airs, and barcaroles, in a style that would not have offended the ears of Rossini himself; while, in another quarter might be found a party dancing the merry tarantella, to the sound of a guitar and tambourine, to which their voices, as well as their feet, kept perfect measure. Rarely did we pass two hundred yards without meeting such groups; and when we paused to listen to their songs, or see the dancing, they invariably offered us seats, and then continued, without any embarrassment.
The fête-dress of the female inhabitants of Ischia is very picturesque and becoming, and totally unlike that of the Neapolitan women: the men wear scarlet caps, of the Phrygian shape, and are a fine-looking and hardy race. The females are much handsomer than those of Naples; and have very expressive countenances, and gentle manners. The mud, sand, and mineral baths at Ischia are considered very beneficial in rheumatic and cutaneous diseases, and are much frequented.
On our return we stopped to see the island of Procida, which, though much inferior to Ischia, is well worthy of being visited. Here wine, bread, grapes and figs, of the most delicious quality, were offered to us by the women; and one or two of the houses which we entered, though homely to the last degree, were so clean, that the fruit presented to us in them might be eaten without the smallest apprehension or dread”. -