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CHRISTMAS AND THE NEW YEAR.

Jan. 2, 1861.

CHRISTMAS has come and gone, but there has been no outward sign of it here. The splendid nosegay of lemon-blossom and lavender-coloured periwinkles, which we brought home from Roccabruna on Christmas eve, had nothing in it to remind one of the holly and miseltoe at home, nor have the gorgeous salvias, coronellas, and golden flowering mimosas on which we look in the garden beneath our windows. On Christmas morning, Françoise appeared looking very weary and exhausted, and on enquiry, we found that she had been up all night assisting at the birth of the Bambino, in the church of St. Michaele — but, it was a "bambino molto piccolo quest anno," she said, adding, that though the bambino itself was already arrived, the wise men were not expected before the 6th. The ideas of many of the people on religion are most extraordinary. A lady at Maison Viale, was reading to Rosetta her cook, at her own desire, from the Gospels, when she came to the account of the star in the East. "Ah, the star," said Rosetta, "that is what the Jews believe in." "No," said the lady, "on the contrary, that is just what the Jews do not believe in." "Ma, Signora, con tutto rispetto," persisted Rosetta, "the Jews do believe in it, for my last master had a friend who was a Jew, and who used to fast a great deal, and one night my master's friend said to me, 'Look out, Rosetta, and tell me when the first star begins to shine, because then it will be lawful for me to eat,' therefore, you see, Signora, that it is quite evident the Jews do believe in the star." Rosetta listens eagerly to the Bible when it is read, though it is so perfectly new to her, that she roars with uncontrollable laughter at what she considers the ludicrous facts (such as the mistakes of the disciples), and is quite as ready to cry over the affecting ones. When her mistress asked her why she never went to church, she answered unhesitatingly, "parce que vous allez si souvent, que vous faites 1'aumône pour moi, Mademoiselle," but, at the same time, she has the greatest admiration of the goodness of others, and says she has had the happiness "de tomber entre trois Dieux," meaning thereby, her mistresses and their old-fashioned English maid-servant.

A Christmas treat was prepared by the English Chaplain for some of the native children, made of cakes, stuck with olives and pieces of garlic, but when the time came to give them away, the cakes were found to have been stripped of these dainties, which some of the children had discovered beforehand, and had eaten surreptitiously, being unable to resist the temptation.

On Thursday 27th, we had a walking party to the Annunziata, which is about two miles from Mentone, and is reached by a path which turns off on the left from the Monti road, a little way out of the town. It is a beautiful wild mountain ascent, with seven Stazione chapels rising in rich mouldering colour, amid the wild chrysanthemums on the tufa rock. Half-way up, some grey fragments of monastic buildings, half buried among the broom and cistus, are the outposts of the Monastery, whose buildings, picturesquely grouped amid tall pines, crown the top of the hill. This is one of the many places here which are supposed to be haunted, and the "revenants" are those of seven monks, its last inhabitants, who, the natives say, were "très, très malheureux," though why they were so excessively unhappy, no one seems quite to know. No peasant will pass the Annunziata at night, and few walk along the Cabruare valley beneath in the dark, without declaring that they see strange fitful gleams of light stream through the convent windows, amid which the seven lean faces of the malheureux monks are seen pressed against the iron grating; and even on the festa of the Annunziata, when the whole convent is freely thrown open to any who choose to enter, few among the numerous pilgrims will ever avail themselves of the permission. We did not take the key, and the cold wind, which, rushed out upon us, through the grated windows of the chapel, did not seem inviting for a closer inspection of the place.

The family of the syndic, Monsieur de Monleon, are buried at the Annunziata. Some friends of ours, who had been invited to the ceremony, gave us a curious description of the funeral of his first wife. All the mourners had first assembled at night in the drawing-room of the house, and thence, first, all the relations bearing torches, and then all the visitors and common people, with lighted candles, followed the coffin to the church, where the funeral service was performed. After this the mourners accompanied the coffin half-way down the street, and then they abandoned it to the care of seven "white brethren," who bore it to the little chapel of St. Benoit, where they watched it till morning, after which they carried it, no one following, and without any further service, for burial at the Annunziata. Our friends said that it was sad to see the change in the white brethren; how they had at once thrown off their mourning faces, and were laughing and joking as they came back; and how, when once the service in the church was over, no one seemed to care any more about the poor body, or what became of it.

All the way-side chapels are burial places of old families, but of these there are very few representatives now remaining at Mentone; most of the existing aristocracy date only from the French revolution. Of two families which once possessed almost sovereign power in the neighbourhood, descendants are still extant, but those of the family of Vento, of whom Emmanuel Vento sold the sovereignty of Mentone to Charles Grimaldi, in the year 1346, are now reduced to such poverty, that the son is obliged to give music lessons; and the daughters to go out as governesses; while of the family of Lascaris, who built almost all the castles in the neighbourhood, and of whom Guiglielmo Lascaris, Count of Ventimiglia, sold Roccabruna to the same Grimaldi, for 16,000 golden florins, only one, a female descendant, still exists, who is married to Count Alberti. She has two houses in the town, and a villa near the Prince's gardens, and she still retains the old castle of Gorbio, whither she and her husband sometimes retire in the summer.

The Mentonese are remarkable for the frequency with which they change their names. This has often been the consequence of the change of government in the principality. The Gastaldy family boast that their name has existed in almost every language: first they were Spaniards, Gastaldo; then they were French, Gastalde; then they were Italian, Gastaldi; and now they are, — has the name an English enunciation? — Gastaldy.

Charades are quite the fashion here this winter, and no party seems to be thought complete without them, till for those who are expected to take a part in them, acting has become one of the necessary fatigues of the day. "Scarlet " and "Digest" were two words which went off with great success the other day, also "Furbellows," which was a parody on the climate of Mentone. The first scene represented a happy family of mother, son, and two daughters, sitting out in their garden under the olive-trees, perfectly exhausted by the heat. In aggravation of their sufferings, the son read aloud a letter, which had been just received from an English cousin, describing the intense cold in their own country, with the frost, the skating, &c. While they were still in the garden, a telegram was brought in, announcing that the writer of the letter was on his way to join them, in the hope of recovering in a more genial climate from the effects of the cold, and that he would probably arrive that very afternoon. In due time the cousin appeared, wrapped up with the greatest care, and guarded by furs against the imaginary fury of the elements. At first he was enchanted with the warmer temperature, but soon the sudden transition, and his unsuitable attire, caused him to fall down in a fainting fit in the midst of his ecstacies, and the scene closed as the whole family were rushing upon him with scent bottles and fans, the Mentonese donna fanning him over the heads of all the rest. The second scene opened with the next morning, when the habitues of Mentone, aware of the capricious climate, came down warmly clad and well muffled up, but the unfortunate stranger, judging only by the day before, came down in summer coat and white trowsers, and was discovered vainly endeavouring to produce a blaze from the damp wood of the ill-laid fire. Shiverings and murmurings were the order of the day, and the scene fell on the whole party making an onslaught on the fire, with every pair of bellows that can be found in the house. The whole word Furbellows, was a scene of preparation for the Mentone ball.

We have lately had several rather cold nights, with a sharp air and a hot sun by day. Francoise has dilated on some ice she has seen in the streets on her way hither in the early morning, but by the time we are up, it has all disappeared, and the flowers and the sunshine are looking as summery as ever. The high mountains, however, at the back of the town, are covered with snow, and look quite Alpine, and yesterday, when walking upward from the Cabruare valley, the views in the excelsior were quite magnificent, with the change from the rich luxuriant orange-groves beneath, in the gradual ascent of the tufa rocks, to ice and a splendid amphitheatre of snow peaks, beneath which Gorbio lies sheltered on a purple ledge of rock.

On the Jour de l'An, our old postman brought us a present of an almanack, and the milk-woman, Angelina Pastorella, who kissed and hugged Françoise when they met, in compliment to the day, brought with her a letter, directed, "Alla Signora Hare, dalla sua humile Pastorella," and written as follows: — "Signora e Signore. Crederci di mancare al mio dovere, se in questo nuovo anno non vi auguraseo una perpetta salute, e tutta sorta di benedizioni celeste e terreste. Agiungendo soltanto che io faccio al cielo miei voti piu cari at piu ardenti par la conservazione dei suoi giorni e della sua salute, spero che il Signore exdisca i miei voti, Angiolina Pastorella."

The servant of one of our neighbours brought her a present, which was highly characteristic of the place. There is no grass here, not a blade, for though the hills are green, they are only made so by the abundance of the thyme, myrtle, and flowers that covers them, so the maid having heard that English people were in the habit of constantly seeing grass in their own country, went up to one of the mountain villages, whence she brought down, with much labour and perseverance, two pots of grass, and presented them to her mistress as a great rarity.