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   Chapter 13 MOSQUITOES AND MONACO.

Faces and Places By Sir Henry W. Lucy Characters: 13361

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Up to the end of October, in ordinary seasons, the mosquitoes hold

their own against all comers along the full length of the Riviera. For

some unexplained reasons they clear out earlier from Genoa, though the

atmosphere may be as unbearably close as at other points of the coast

which mosquitoes have in most melancholy manner marked as their own.

Perhaps it is the noise of the city that scares them. The people live

in the street as much as possible, and therein conduct their converse

in highly-pitched notes. I have a strong suspicion that, like the

habitation jointly rented by Messrs. Box and Cox, Genoa is tenanted by

two distinct populations. One fills the place by day and throughout the

evening up to about ten o'clock; after this hour it disappears, and

there is a brief interval of rare repose. About 2 a.m. the Cox of this

joint tenancy appears on the scene, and by four there is a full tide

of bustle that murders sleep as effectually as was ever done by Macbeth.

I do not wonder that the mosquitoes (who, I have the best reason to

know, are insects of the finest discrimination and the most exacting

good taste) quit Genoa at the earliest possible moment.

The most delightful spot in or near the city is, to my mind, Campo

Santo, the place where rich Genoese go when they die. The burial-ground

is a large plot of ill-kept land, where weeds grow, and mean little

crosses rear their heads. Round this run colonnades adorned with

statuary, generally life-size, and frequently of striking merit.

Originally, it is presumable that the sculptor's art was invoked in

order to perpetuate the memory of the dead. There are in some of the

recesses, either in the form of medallions or busts, life-like

representations of those who have gone before. But the fashion of the

day is improving upon this. In the newest sculptures there is

exceedingly little of the dead, and as much as possible of the living.

About half-way down the colonnade, entering from the right, there is a

memorable group. A woman of middle age, portly presence and expansive

dress, is discovered in the centre on her knees, with hands clasped.

The figure is life-size and every detail of adornment, from the heavy

bracelet on her wrist to the fine lace of her collar, is wrought from

the imperishable marble. On her face is an expression of profound grief,

tempered by the consciousness that her large earrings have been done

justice to. Standing at a respectful distance behind her is a youth with

bared head drooped, and a tear delicately chiselled in the eye nearest

to the spectator. He carries his hat in his hand, displays much

shirt-cuff; and the bell-shaped cut of the trouser lying over his dainty

boot makes his foot look preciously small.

These figures, both life-size, stand in an arched recess, and show to

the best advantage. Just above the arch the more observant visitor will

catch sight of a small medallion, modestly displaying, about half

life-size, the face of an ordinary-looking man, who may have been a

prosperous linendraper or a cheesefactor with whom the markets had gone

well. This is presumably the deceased, and it is difficult to imagine

anything more soothing to the feelings of his widow and son than to come

here in the quiet evenings or peaceful mornings and contemplate their

own life-sized figures so becomingly bereaved.

Mosquitoes do not meddle with woe so sacred as this; but at San Remo,

for example, which has no Campo Santo, they are having what is known in

the American language as a high old time. Along the Riviera the shutters

of the hotels are taken down in the first week of October. Then arrives

the proprietor with the advance guard of servants, and the third cook;

the chef and his first lieutenant will not come till a month later. In

the meantime the third cook can prepare the meals for the establishment

and for any chance visitor whom evil fate may have led untimeously into

these parts. Then begins the scrubbing down and the dusting, the

bringing out of stored carpets, and the muffling of echoing corridors

in brown matting. The season does not commence till November,

coincidental with the departure of the mosquitoes. But there is enough

to occupy the interval, and there are not wanting casual travellers

whose bills suffice to cover current expenses. On these wayfarers the

faithful mosquito preys with the desperate determination born of the

conviction that time is getting a little short with him, and that his

pleasant evenings are numbered.

There are several ways of dealing with the mosquito, all more or less

unsatisfactory. The commonest is to make careful examination before

blowing out the candle, with intent to see that none of the enemy

lingers within the curtains of the bed. This is good, as far as it

goes. But, having spent half an hour with candle in hand inside the

curtains, to the imminent danger of setting the premises on fire, and

having convinced yourself that there is not a mosquito in the inclosure,

and so blown out the candle and prepared to sleep, it requires a mind

of singular equanimity forthwith to hear without emotion the too

familiar whiz. At Bordighera the mosquitoes, disdaining strategic

movements, openly flutter round the lamps on the dinner-table, and

ladies sit at meat with blue gauze veils obscuring their charms. Half

measures were evidently of no use in these circumstances, and I tried

a whole one. Having shut the windows of the bedroom, I smoked several

cigars, tobacco fumes being understood to have a dreamy influence on

the mosquito. At Bordighera they had none. I next made a fire of a box

of matches, and burnt on the embers a quantity of insect powder. This

filled the chamber with an intolerable stench, which, whatever may be

the case elsewhere, is much enjoyed by the Bordighera mosquito. These

operations serve a useful purpose in occupying the mind and helping

the night to pass away. But as direct deterrents they cannot

conscientiously be recommended.

There is one place along the Riviera where the mosquito is defied.

Monaco has special attractions of its own which triumphantly

withstand all countervailing influences. Other places along the

coast are deserted from the end of June to the beginning of November.

But Monaco, or rather the suburb of it situated on Monte Carlo,

remains in full receipt of custom. In late October the place is

enchanting. The wind, blowing across the sea from Af

rica, making the

atmosphere heavy and sultry, has changed, coming now from the east

and anon from the west. The heavy clouds that cast shadows of purple

and reddish-brown on the sea have descended in a thunderstorm, lasting

continuously for eight hours. Sky and sea vie in the production of

larger expanse of undimmed blue. The well-ordered garden by the Casino

is sweet with the breath of roses and heliotrope. The lawns have the

fresh green look that we islanders associate with earliest summer. The

palm-trees are at their best, and along the road leading down to the

bathing place one walks under the shadow of oleanders in full and

fragrant blossom. The warmth of the summer day is tempered by a

delicious breeze, which falls at night, lest peradventure visitors

should be incommoded by undue measure of cold.

If there is an easily accessible Paradise on earth, it seems to be

fixed at Monaco. Yet all these things are as nothing in the eyes of

the people who have created and now maintain the place. It seems at

first sight a marvel that the Administration should go to the expense

of providing the costly appointments which crown its natural advantages.

But the Administration know very well what they are about. When man or

woman has been drawn into the feverish vortex that sweeps around the

gaming tables, the fair scene outside the walls is not of the slightest

consequence. It would be all the same to them if the gaming tables,

instead of being set in a handsome apartment in a palace surrounded by

one of the most beautiful scenes in Europe, were made of deal and

spread in a hovel. But gamesters are, literally, soon played out at

Monaco, and it is necessary to attract fresh moths to the gaudily

glittering candle. Moreover, the tenure of the place is held by slender

threads. What is thought of Monaco and its doings by those who have the

fullest opportunity of studying them is shown by the fact that the

Administration are pledged to refuse admission to the tables to any

subject of the Prince of Monaco, or to any French subject of Nice or

the department of the Maritime Alps. The proclamation of this fact

cynically stares in the face all who enter the Casino. The local

authorities will not have any of their own neighbours ruined. Let

foreigners, or even Frenchmen of other departments, care for themselves.

In face of this sentiment the Administration find it politic to

propitiate the local authorities and the people, who, if they were

aroused to a feeling of honest indignation at what daily passes beneath

their notice, might sweep the pestilence out of their midst.

Accordingly, whilst keeping the gaming rooms closed against natives

resident in the department, the Administration throw open all the other

pleasures of Monte Carlo, inviting the people of Monaco to stroll in

their beautiful gardens, to listen to the concerts played twice a day by

a superb band, and to make unfettered use of what is perhaps the best

reading-room on the Continent. Monaco gets a good deal of pleasure out

of Monte Carlo, which moreover brings much good money into the place.

The Casino will surely at no distant day share the fate of the German

gambling places. But, as surely, the initiative of this most desirable

consummation will not come from Monaco.

In the meanwhile, Monte Carlo, like the mosquitoes, is having a high

good time. Night and day the tables are crowded, beginning briskly at

eleven in the morning and closing wearily on the stroke of midnight.

There are a good many English about, but they do not contribute largely

to the funds of the amiable and enterprising Administration. English

girls, favoured by an indulgent father or a good-natured brother, put

down their five-franc pieces, and, having lost them, go away smiling.

Sometimes the father or the brother may be discovered seated at the

tables later in the day, looking a little flushed, and poorer by some

sovereigns. But Great Britain and Ireland chiefly contribute spectators

to the melancholy and monotonous scene.

As usual, women are among the most reckless players. Looking in at two

o'clock one afternoon I saw at one of the tables a well-dressed lady of

about thirty, with a purseful of gold before her and a bundle of notes

under her elbow. She was playing furiously, disdaining the mild

excitement of the five-franc piece, always staking gold. She was losing,

and boldly played on with an apparent composure belied by her flushed

cheeks and flashing eyes. I saw her again at ten o'clock in the evening.

She was playing at another table, having probably tried to retrieve her

luck at each in succession. The bank notes were gone, and she had put

away her purse, for it was easy to hold in her prettily-gloved hand her

remaining store of gold. It was only eight hours since I had last seen

her, but in the meantime she had aged by at least ten years. She sat

looking fixedly on the table, from time to time moistening her dry lips

with scarcely less dry tongue. Her face wore a look of infinite sadness,

which might have been best relieved by a burst of tears. But her eyes

were as dry as her lips, and she stared stonily, staking her napoleons

till the last was gone. This accomplished, she rose with evident intent

to leave the room, but catching sight of a friend at another table she

borrowed a handful of napoleons, and finding another table played on

as recklessly as before. In ten minutes she had lost all but a single

gold piece. Leaving the table again, she held this up between her finger

and thumb, and showed it to her friend with a hysterical little laugh.

It was her last coin, and she evidently devised it for some such

matter-of-fact purpose as paying her hotel bill. If she had turned her

back on the table and walked straight out, she might have kept her

purpose; but the ball was still rolling, and there remained a chance.

She threw down the napoleon, and the croupier raked it in amid a heap of

coin that might be better or even worse spared.

This is one of the little dramas that take place every hour in this

gilded hall, and I describe it in detail only because I chanced to be

present at the first scene and the last. Sometimes the dramas become

tragedies, and the Administration, who do all things handsomely, pay

the funeral expenses, and beg as a slight acknowledgment of their

considerate generosity that as little noise as possible may follow

the echo of the pistol-shot.

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