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FIRST IMPRESSIONS.

Dec. 1st.

"HOW did you get over the precipices?" is generally the first question asked of any one who arrives at Mentone, and in our case it was a real subject of congratulation, that we arrived with unbroken necks, for the hour, the weather, and the driver had alike been favorable to an accident. We left Nice so late, that night had begun to close in before we reached the summit of the Turbith, as the mountain is called, which divides that township from this, and the last glimmer of daylight deserted us, whilst our horses were tearing at full gallop along its fearful ledges, with a driver who delighted in showing off, by keeping as close as possible to the edge of the precipice. The said driver, as we left our hotel at Nice, had put his head in at the window at the last moment, with ominous shakings and mutterings of, "Nous aurons les eaux à passer, Monsieur, il y aura beaucoup d'eau," but we believed these threats were founded on fiction, till just as we reached the plain and were reposing on the belief in danger past, we were roused up to danger present, by the carriage being suddenly brought to a stop, amid shouts of "Les eaux, les eaux"; a sound of rushing waters, and an indistinct vision in the faint starlight, of a broad, white, foaming torrent, which was raging across the road in front of us, and carrying everything before it. The driver declared his belief that the carriage could not possibly pass the flood, and certainly not with us in it; so we all had to turn out in the pouring rain, into the swimming, slippery road. Happily, however, though its parapet had been washed away, a little foot-bridge of broken planks, still remained standing just above the water, across which we were able to walk, while the carriage and horses contrived to splash round through the shallows higher up the river, without being overturned.

When the flood was passed, lights streaming through a misty street, announced that we had reached Mentone; but then began the new difficulty of finding our house, for we had taken a house beforehand, as we had been induced to believe the reports which Mentonese house-owners circulate, that every apartment is let at the beginning of the season, even when two-thirds of their houses are standing empty, and half their windows displaying placards of "Apartments à louer." Not a single person we met seemed to be able to distinguish any house in the place by its name, certainly no one in the crowded street confessed to knowing liaison Trenca, as our house is called ; and when, after endless search, one individual was discovered who had heard of such a place, it was only to tell us that there were two liaisons Trenca, and thus to create a new source of bewilderment. We could only drive on in the darkness to the Genoa end of the town, where on one side of the road the sea was roaring beneath a stone causeway, while on the other, lights twinkled far up in the quaint overhanging buildings. Here, after storming two wrong houses in turn, and disappointing a strange family who were anxiously expecting their own friends, and who rushed out, with arms extended to embrace them, we at length discovered our future abode, high on the side of a steep olive-clad hill, to he readied by a narrow stony way, which wound up behind a little chapel, where a lamp was glimmering over a gloomy altar, and which we have since found to be dedicated to St. Anne, and to have a very quaint Turkish appearance. The road was so narrow that it was all we could do to get our driver to venture on the ascent, but at last, on some workmen assuring him that a turn existed further on, and that he would not be obliged to remain jammed up there for life as he expected, he was induced to urge his horses up the hill and set us down at our own gate.

Our apartment is a fair specimen of most others we have seen in Mentone. It is on the first floor, with a bright salon looking towards the garden, having glass doors opening on a balcony. The salle-à-manger only looks out on the olive wood behind, and is less cheerful, but the three bedrooms and the kitchen are excellent. All the rooms except one, overlook a vast expanse of blue sea, above groves of magnificent olive trees, and from the garden a scent of fresh flowers is wafted up, even in this beginning of December. From this garden the peaks of the Berceau Mountain are seen rising above the thickets of oranges and lemons, and beyond, a chain of rose-coloured rocks descending in an abrupt precipice to the blue waters of the bay, while on the furthest promontory, Bordighera (the scene of Dr. Antonio) gleams white in the sunshine. Twice a day, a lovely fairy vision salutes us, first, when in the sunrise, Corsica reveals itself across the sapphire water, appearing so distinctly that you can count every ravine and indentation of its jagged mountains, and feel as if a small boat would easily cany you over to it in an hour; and again, in the evening, when as a white ghost, scarcely distinguishable from the clouds around it, and looking inconceivably distant, it looms forth dimly in the yellow sunset. Bordighera is also sometimes the subject of a curious aerial phenomenon, when the town and houses are separated from the sea by an effect of mirage, and seem to be lifted up and suspended in mid-air.

We have had some difficulty in obtaining a native servant, the maid we first tried to engage having refused to take service in this part of the place on account of her terror of passing the little chapel of St. Anne, the burial place of the Gastaldy family, which is close to our gate, and which the peasants say is haunted by a "Revenant," who walks from thence every midnight, as far as the chapel of Sta. Francesca, which is also close to us. A Mentonese accounted for the superstition by a story that the man who used to light the lamp, which burns nightly in the chapel, had a particular grudge against a priest, who was obliged to pass that way every night, and who was notorious for neglecting to fulfil his duties towards the sick. One night the lamplighter concealed himself here, and as the priest passed the chapel, he heard an awful voice from its interior exclaim, "I wished, dear friend, to have seen you before I died, but as you would not come to mo then, now 1 have come to you." The priest, who imagined that he recognized the voice of a dead and neglected Gastaldy, was so dreadfully frightened, that he set off "au plein galop," and did not rest till he found himself safe in the Cathedral of Ventimiglia, five miles distant.

The Mentonese natives are full of superstitions, and invest each house and rock with some terrible story. Most of these have their origin in some actual horror, of which the facts have been forgotten except by a few of the older and better class of inhabitants, while the impression remains universal, and causes the spot to be avoided or looked upon with suspicion. Thus one of the haunted houses is said to be that of Monsieur Joseph de Monleon. This was once a cemetery, or at least the place where French soldiers were buried who died in the hospital of Mentone. It is said that several of these were interred before the last breath had fairly deserted them, and that some were even heard to groan and cry out afterwards. A gentleman who is still living in the place, remembers passing the cemetery as a child, on the way to school, and seeing over the wall a French Grenadier, who had been buried alive the evening before, and had still strength enough left to drag himself out of the trench into which he was thrown ; he was sitting on its edge, waiting for daylight, and for some one to pass by and come to his assistance, but the women, who had heard him call out as they went to the fields, had taken him for a ghost, and had fled in terror, instead of going to help him. Another curious anecdote has led to the sea-shore in a particular direction being avoided after dark. In the year 1793, or '94, when the French troops were passing through Mentone, they bivouacked in the Avenue St. Koch, where numbers of Hussars lay down to sleep beneath the trees by the wayside. One of them, who had the care of the kitchen, began meantime to cut down branches from the trees to feed his fire, and one of the branches falling on the nose of a sleeper, awoke him to furious anger and abuse ; a violent quarrel ensued, and the men, drawing their swords, fought on the sea-shore, in front of the place where the Hotel des Quatres Nations now stands. Here they were both so overcome with rage, that they stabbed each other, and fell dead at the same moment, when the spectators, hurried away by their regimental duties, hastily placed each in a corn-sack, and having scooped out holes in the sand, buried them as they were. A few days after, a washerwoman, hanging out her clothes to dry on this spot, in a high wind, saw a piece of cord blown up from the sand. She pulled at it, and with such force, that she drew up the sack which was attached to it, from which the head of one of the soldiers jumped up, and regarded her fixedly. Overwhelmed with terror, and crying out that she saw a spirit, she fainted away. The people, who ran to her assistance, disinterred the poor soldiers for burial elsewhere, and the story is generally forgotten, but the idea of something terrible connected with that spot has never been eradicated. While ideas of this kind attach themselves to extinct burial places, it is not to be wondered at that the actual cemetery of present times possesses its local terrors. As the clock strikes midnight, a procession of gigantic "revenants" is believed to issue from its portals, and to march solemnly, two and two, along the adjoining terrace, till at a particular turn in the path, they all vanish into air, no one knows how ; still, it must be confessed, that when some young Mentonese gentlemen summoned courage, a short time ago, to watch the cemetery gates all night, they came home in the morning very much disappointed at not having seen the ghostly procession, but also rather — relieved.

The terrace below our house is an inexhaustible delight, as it presents a new picture at every turn, framed in the gnarled trunks of its olive trees. Here is the chapel of Santa Francesca, which contains the tomb of a M. Richelmy, officer in the guard of the Prince of Monaco, "Helas! trop tôt enlevé, de la plus tendre affection de sa sœur inconsolable." A portrait of the young guardsman hangs above his grave, but has decayed equally with the mouldering flowers on the altar, which is always covered with an embroidered white cloth. At the western extremity of the terrace is the town, which rises from the sea in tier above tier of the quaintest, tallest, and most varied houses imaginable. It is entered by the old gateway of St. Julien, with a fountain beside it, where any one who wishes to study costume and colour, had better stand to watch the water-carriers in the morning. Above it a ruined wall runs up the rooks to join an, old tower near the cemetery, which is said to be a remnant of the Mediaeval Castle of Poggio-Pino, a stronghold of the Counts of Ventimiglia, and a fortress of celebrity long before Mentone sprang into existence.

The gateway leads into the Strada Lunga, the narrowest of possible streets, all arches and gutters and dirt, with shirts, stockings, and other garments, mingled with sheep-skins and goat-skins, hanging out to dry on ropes, slung across from one high upper window to another. This street, till quite modern days, was the great street of the town, and it is remembered how before the first French revolution, the ladies of Mentone used to sit out and work in the open air, just as the peasants do now, before the doors of the houses, or (one is expected to say) the "palaces" of the Rue Longue. A contemporary letter describes the "animated appearance" which this gave to the place in those days, the gentlemen stopping to chat with each group as they passed. "Towards evening, all the society walked out to the Cape St. Martin, to drink coffee and play at games, under the Aristocrat's Tree," and the nights were enlivened by frequent serenades, which were given by their admirers beneath the windows of the principal belles. At that time the town consisted only of this street, and a few of the narrow alleys which surround the principal church, and it was shut in by two gateways, one, that of St. Julien, which still remains, the other situated where Amaranto's Bazaar now stands. Continuing our walk through the town-one of the first houses on the left of the Strada Lunga, No. 133, is entered by a picturesque old doorway, surmounted by a niche, containing a little brown image of the Virgin, and marked with the date 1543. This is the abode of the Martini family, who have inhabited it ever since its foundation.

Three hundred years ago one of its members fell in love with a beautiful Roman lady, the daughter of a Cavaliere Paliarci, and when they were married, the bride brought with her to Mentone, as her dowry, a picture of the Virgin, which has always had the reputation of being a Guido. The family of Martini were then powerful and rich, but they are now fallen and poor, for most of their property was lost during the revolution, and almost all its members were forced to emigrate and take refuge at Genoa; only an old aunt was left behind, and while she was taking a last look round the house, to see if there was anything she could secrete before it was seized and turned into a gendarmerie, she espied the Madonna of the bridal Paliarci, and hid it. "When the Emigres returned from exile, the old aunt was dead, and the picture was supposed to have been destroyed, till one day it was accidentally found, hidden in a hole in the wall, but a good deal injured; the glass which covered it having been broken, which had caused a large cut across the face of the Madonna. The picture still hangs on the wall of a dismal chamber in the old house, where it may be seen, on application to its venerable proprietor, Monsieur Martini, and where it is now the sole ornament, so that its beauty is enhanced tenfold by the poverty-stricken appearance of all that surrounds it. It is a small head of the Madonna, looking upwards in a halo of light, in which the colouring is still fresh, and the execution soft and delicate. Many years ago old Monsieur Martini was offered a sum of 4000 francs for it, which he then refused, but now he would have no objection to part with this interesting family relic for that, or even a smaller sum.

Near this house, still on the left, is another building distinguished by its heavy projecting cornices, resting on carved stone corbels. This was formerly the Palace of that branch of the Grimaldi family, which maintained a separate government in Mentone, and afterwards of the Grimaldi Princes of the Monaco, when the rest of the family ceded their rights, and Mentone was re-united to the Mother State. It is said to have been built from the materials of the old castle of Poggio-Pino. The staircase is handsome, with a coved ceiling, and a marble pillar at its foot; and at the back of the Palace, which overhangs the quay, by looking over the wall on the edge of the sea, the remains of the steps may still be seen cut in the rock below, by which the Princes descended to the water. The chambers are now used as schools, "Ecoles primaires," the expenses of which are paid by the commune, neither boys nor girls themselves paying anything.

Entering the school, you find three pleasant-looking French Soeurs de Charité in their nun's dress, who teach in three separate rooms. The largest is appropriated to the infant class, which is ranged on steps, before which their teacher stands, while the children follow her in singing, and in different manual exercises. The little creatures do it with much vivacity, and their actions are full of native grace and freedom. A little boy of three years old is called up, and makes a bow and "bonjour," with as great courtesy as a nobleman. The copy books exhibited are wonderfully well written, if they are really "first books," as the nuns say. The inner room is given up to the first class of bigger girls, at work on "broderie." While thus occupied, they repeat a kind of Litany, in which the main subject is rapidly muttered by the Sister, who never raises her eyes from the artificial flowers she is making, so that the children do just as they like, and not a symptom of reverence is evinced, either during the repetition of the endless titles with winch the Virgin is saluted, or during the "Ora pro nobis," which comes between each of them. "When work is done, books (a short abridgment of Sacred History) are taken out, and one or two come up to read, the rest play, or read as they please. Nothing can be less edifying or instructive than this part of the education, justifying the assertion of Marie, a maid in this house, that " they learn nothing." The sisters, however, both like and are liked by the children, who they consider to be far more teachable than those in France, and with whose quickness and intelligence they are much astonished. They come from Aix, in Provence, and have only just been installed in the place of the former teachers, the Italian nuns. "When asked if they understood patois, "Oh, no," they said, "but signs do just as well." Many of the old Mentone families who formerly lived in this street, and who were attached to Italian goverment and customs, have emigrated, since the annexation, to other towns on. the Riviera, where they can be under the Sardinian rule. Among these, the old family of Clairvoisin has just removed to St. Remo in despair at the annexation, having lived here from time immemorial. From being grandees of the land, they were reduced to the rank of peasants; but they still preserved a chain of family portraits, unbroken from the year 10GO; their china was Majolica, embossed with the family arms, and their furniture magnificent from age and carving. Before they left Mentone their house, was thrown open to the public and many people went to see the antiquities contained in it, which would readily have found purchasers, but when asked if they would sell them, the Clairvoisins proudly replied, "No, they might be peasants now, but were not these their family relics?"

Lower down this street, near "Il Portico," is the ascent to the principal churches of the town, by a handsome flight of broad steps, paved with a Mosaic of small stones, which was repaired and beautified four years ago by the voluntary exertions of the inhabitants of the narrow street at its loot. At the top is a broad platform, overlooking the bay and the red rocks, with the promontories of Ventimiglia and Bordighiera. On one side is the large and handsome parish church of St. Michaele, decorated with a smart statue of that saint, in a Roman helmet, and fly-away costume, trampling on the devil. Over the inside of the door is a curious old Giottesque picture of saints. The other church, prettily covered all over with delicate stucco work, is dedicated to La Santissima Conceptione. Opposite St. Michaele is the Hospital, attended by French Sisters of Charity. The picturesque gateway by the side of it, with the dark winding flights of steps seen beneath, leads up to the cemetery on the hill top. On the church steps, in the. narrow street, sotto Il Portico, and everywhere else in Mentone, you are saluted by the characteristic cries of the donkey-drivers, and jostled by the donkies themselves, which are the regular household servants of the place, and are used to bring down, the olives from the mountains, to carry manure back instead, to tread in the wine press, to work in the mills, to bring fuel, to rock the little children , in their gently swaying panniers, to supply milk for the babies, and so on ad infinitum, till at last they die of overwork, or old age, and are eaten up in sausages.

The universal burial place of Mentone is the Cemetery, which forms the top of the pyramid-like town, and looks like a castle in the distance. Funerals generally take place at night, because the streets are then much quieter, and the processions arc most picturesque, conducted by the two burial confraternities of the "Penitents noirs et blancs," who issue from the parish church and wind up through the steep streets, with lighted candles or torches in their hands, all the mourners and followers bearing lighted candles also, which they extinguish when the body arrives at the gate of the cemetery ; after which it is frequently left in a little chapel for several days before actual interment. The rich who wish to have a monument, can buy a piece of ground; but the poor are buried in the centre of the cemetery under little mounds, while small wooden crosses mark their place of interment. A plot of ground inside the wall has been set aside for the Protestant burial place; but at present it only contains a few graves, one being that of a young lady who was killed by a dreadful accident near the Pont St. Louis.

At the end of the Rue Longue is the entrance to the Rue Neuve, where, from a terraced garden on the right, Pope Pius VII. blessed the people on his return to Rome, after his long exile in France; all the changeable inhabitants, who a few years before had raged against ecclesiastical power, and publicly burnt his predecessor in effigy, having now flocked together with one mind and one voice to do him honour.

An inscription on the wall tells how

Pio vii. P.M. 
Lutetia Romam redux
Hinc
Caelestem populo supplici
Benedictionem impertibat
Die XI. Mensis Februarii
An. Dom. MDCCCXIII.

Opposite this, on the Maison Brea is another of those house inscriptions, which render a street walk in Italy so interesting, and which are so much needed in England, to mark for posterity, the dwellings of our good and illustrious dead.

"Au General Brea,
Né a Menton le 23 Avril, 1720.
Mort à Paris le 24 Juin, 1848.
Pour la defense de l'ordre
et de la patrie.
Par decret du grand conseil des
Villes libres de Menton et Roquebrune
du 25 Septembre, 1848."

Close to this is the Mairie, where the Syndic and Municipal Council transact the business of the town. Here is preserved one of the stones of the Bastile, which were sent at the time of its destruction to every commune in France, but which, for the most part, have been since destroyed. Here also is a public library, which came to the town three years ago by a bequest of Madame Villarney, neé Sassi. It is open to the public from nine to twelve o'clock, and from two till four, but as yet it is not well organized ; there are neither chain nor tables, the room is cold and wretched, and you may not take any of the books away. The library consists chiefly of medical works. Adjoining the Mairie is the church of St. John Baptist, dark and gloomy, with a horrid picture of the bloody head of the saint.

The English church is approached by the filthiest of alleys, winding down from a little Piazza at the entrance of the town, on the Genoa side. It is generally said that the building itself was once a palace of the Princes of Monaco, but this is not the case; it was built by the Alboni family, and formerly inhabited by the "Pudestat" or "Intendente," an office which was suppressed in 1792. It still retains traces of its former magnificence, entirely out of character with the wretched buildings which surround it. The staircase has the pillar at its foot, and the coved ceiling, so often found in old Italian palaces, and over what were once the chimney pieces, are two old portraits of Grimaldis. These are now swathed in red calico by the church authorities, who have also exiled all the other old pictures to a dark cupboard, and caused the ceilings, which were once covered with frescoes, to he whitewashed. The noise of the sea, by which the building is begirt on two sides, is often very disturbing to the service.

Most of the alleys near this lead out to the Port, crammed with picturesque shipping, or to the Fort, a little yellow wave-beaten castle, only connected with the mainland by a kind of pier, which blazes like liquid gold against the blue mountains in the sunset. Hence you have beautiful views on either side; on the right towards the olive-clad hill sprinkled with English villas, which has the shining peak of Berceau rising above it, while beyond are the precipices of the Rochers Rouges, the castle of Ventimiglia on its rock, and brilliant palm-girt Bordighera on the furthest point of the promontory. On the left are the port and shipping, with the flat table-topped Mount Agel, the hold crag of the Tête du Chien, and the Cape St. Martin green with olive gardens and pines, running far out into the sea. Picturesque bits of costume may sometimes he found in the port, especially amongst the fishermen, some of whom may chance to have landed from the smaller and less modernized towns of the Riviera. Their brilliant scarlet caps, or sometimes only scarlet knobs rising from a broad band of black or brown, are always picturesque ; but the chief characteristic costume here is the largo flat white hat, the general head-dress of the female peasantry, of great use in supporting the heavy burdens, which they carry on their heads. These hats are composed of straw, very thick and very tightly sewn together with strong white thread, in such quantities that they have a white appearance ; they are exceedingly heavy, but they arc also very durable. The better class of peasantry always wear them adorned with black velvet strings, or sometimes with stars of black velvet sewn round the top, and all wear a coloured handkerchief beneath, which is tied under the chin, and which is still worn when the hat is taken off.

The principal street of Mentone is the Rue St. Michel. Here is situated Amarante's Bazaar, a most useful place, where almost everything may be obtained, and with the exception of the native wood-work, at not unreasonable prices. Almost opposite this, is the family house of the Trencas, on the face of which a marble slab bears an inscription in memory of the Chevalier Trenca, the most distinguished modern citizen of Mentone. Behind the Bazaar, is the Maison D'Adhemar, a dilapidated Palazzo, surrounding a small court yard, where the brother of Robespierre lived, as the representative of the people during the French Revolution. Here, too, Napoleon frequently visited a friend who occupied the ground floor: he passed through Mentone several times as General, and occupied the house now inhabited by M. Grasse, and used as a Pharmacie. In this street are the principal hotels, the Turin, Vittoria, and the Quatres Nations. In front of the Hotel Turin is a fountain with a tawdry bust of the present Emperor, put up at the time of the annexation. On the right is the shop of the English grocer, Mr. Willoughby, who is the first person every one sees on arriving at Mentone, for he is the house agent, and always appears with the inventory; besides which you hear of him morning, noon, and night afterwards, as he is the receiver-general of all the little commissions of English masters and the little troubles of English servants. At the end of the Rue St. Michel, near the little chapel of St. Roch, is the house called the "Maison Gastaldy," one of the largest of those that are let in separate suites of apartments to the English.

At first we thought we ran a risk of being starved, as good cooks are difficult to find, besides being very expensive, and the Pension Anglaise, which we tried first, sent us scarcely enough for one person, for the same sum which had procured a first-rate dinner for four, both at Rome and Lucca ; but we have at length discovered a restaurant, from whence we get a dinner which is very tolerable, after it has been stripped of its oil and garlic, and has had some extra cooking bestowed upon it by our own servants. Almost everything that grows is eaten here, including the bitter Coruba beans, which are a favorite food with children, some of whom, when asked if they really liked them, replied, "Oh si, quello que è buono per l'altri è buono per Christiani." The donkeys after their regular food, have a dessert of lemons and bran, just as we should have of oranges and biscuits. Cows and sheep too are frequently fed upon lemons, which they like exceedingly. Meat at Mentone is always as hard as stone, which is not to be wondered at, as the unfortunate flocks, which have no lemons, arc constantly pastured on the sea-shore, where they can have little except stones to eat.

The charges for carriages are very high. No carriage even with one horse is allowed to go out at all under six francs; for a drive to Monaco or Ventimiglia the charge is twelve francs for two horses, and fifteen francs for the whole day; twenty francs is often asked for going to Bordighera, but fifteen is taken. On this account the richer visitors find it cheaper and pleasanter to hire a carriage from Nice for the season, and the poorer content themselves with donkeys; these are also more expensive at Mentone than at Nice, the charges being two francs for half the day, or three francs for the whole day, including the guide, a day being supposed to begin at 9 a.m. and to end at 6 p.m.

The easiest way of obtaining money is through a banker at Nice, who upon a letter of credit will forward any sum required in a parcel by the Messageries Imperiales.