Watch out for Lizards!


View from Sant’Onofrio on Rome by Rudolf von Alt (1812-1905)

Snippets 192.  In 1900 American writer Laura G Collins published a collection of letters from her various travels around Europe, titled By-gone Tourist Days: Letters of Travel.  Although many of them are relatively dry descriptions of tourist destinations, at times she has a knack of really bringing a place to life.  In the following example she writes to her friend about a day trip in Rome, but writes as if her friend is there with her, involving her in the narrative of her day.

Are you in the mood for a tramp? Come, let’s be off. There is an old church – S. Onofrio, on the slope of the Janiculus we ought to see. It is off to the west, no great distance from St. Peter’s. The Salita. (or ascent) is steep. It is a warm, relaxing day – do not go too fast; you will get into a perspiration if you do, and then you will have to take care of a breeze or a draught, and maybe catch cold, after all. Best not hurry. What is there up there, anyhow ? Why – ever so many things you would not miss for – anything. The quaintest old structure dating from 1439 — ahead of America!

… There is a garden attached, with a riven oak, the remains of that under which Tasso used to sit. We must go and sit there too. The walk lies between large beds of growing vegetables. You see ahead your goal – a sharp little rise, from the side of which, half-way up, leans out remains of the tree. On one side is an old wall, rather a fragment; on the other, some steep, high steps, up which you know you will have to toil “for the view.” Almost in a breath you are doing it, and – ugh I at every step a swarm of glancing lizards! I cry: “Look out for the lizards!” A lady ahead of me, already at the top, seated on a part of the wall, says coolly, if encouragingly: “You know they are harmless. Why are you afraid?” I protest: “I am not afraid; but a lady carried one home with her yesterday in the folds of her skirts, and it was there ever so long, I know. I do not wish the experience of a lizard for a vade mecum.” So I gather my skirts close and above my boot-tops, and do not miss the view indeed; but neither do I those legions in their brilliant uniform of green spotted with gold. And the view! St. Peter’s on the left, still farther west; the city to the east, with its innumerable domes and spires; and far beyond, the beautiful mountains, some of their tops lost in the blue mist; and overhead, the broad arms of the oak, with their budding sprays. The warm air makes you feel a curious languor. You too sit down, feeling as if you were swooning into that noontide. Only a moment, though — those lizards!

It is time to go. You make the circuit of the gnarled roots; try to break off a bit of the riven edges, to find them as hard as adamant; look up and sigh to find the leaves quite beyond reach; then turn away for good and all. After a step or so, you find you are still clutching at your skirts! And as you reach the walk again, the other lady looks back and says meekly and deprecatingly, “I feel as if I had a thousand lizards on me.” One can forgive the answering peal of laughter; it is meriment only, not triumph. Then both gave wings to their feet! Can you keep up I lay a wager you think you can!

A “vade mecum” is an indispensable guidebook that you keep with you wherever you go on your travels.


View from Sant’Onofrio on Rome by Rudolf von Alt (1812-1905)

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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