The Book Lover

The City of Love by Matilde Serao

Matilde

THE CITY OF LOVE

We lack the black forests of the North, the black forests of the firs, to which the hurricane makes the branches twist like arms of desperate giants; we lack the immaculate whiteness of the snow that gives the vertigo of whiteness; we lack the harsh, barren, rough, hard and energetic rocks; we lack the bruising and stormy sea. On our soft dew meadows, elves do not come to dance the magical laugh; walkirie sinners do not descend from the hills, in love with men; beautiful roussalke do not appear on the edge of the woods; here the humid cloths do not beat the cursed laundresses, wicked wicked wanderers of the wayfarer; the elf kelpis does not jump into the grove
Up there an almost ideal nature, nebula, melancholic, inspiring men of strange fantasy delirî: here a real nature, open, without mists, burning, dry, eternally shiny, eternally beautiful that makes man live in the joy or pain of reality. Up there you dream in life; here you live in a dream that is life. Up there the solitary and sad pleasures of imagination that creates an over-sensitive world; here is the complete feast of a created world. And our legends have a profoundly human, deeply sensitive character that makes them overcome space and time. Only in order to ascend to a supreme ideality do they need mysticism: that mysticism which is the madness of the soul, inexplicable murderous of the body, that mysticism which is faith, thought, love, art, throughout the centuries, in every country; that mysticism which is the highest divine point to which an excessively human existence can reach. But to this drama, to this bloody victory of the spirit over the body, comes behind another drama, more human, more powerful, where thought and feeling do not win life, but are intertwined and merge; where man does not kill a part of himself for the exaltation of the other, but where everything is existence, everything is exaltation, everything is triumphant: the drama of love. Our legends are love. And Naples was created by love.

Cimone loved the Greek girl. She was indeed beautiful: it was the image of the strong and vigorous beauty that Juno and Minerva had, resembling her. The low and limited forehead of goddess, the big black eyes, the voluptuous mouth, the vivid whiteness of the complexion, the stupendous accord of grace and health in an admirable body of forms, the composed serenity of the figure, made it such. It was called Parthenope, which in the sweet Greek language means Virgo. She enjoyed sitting on the high rock, gaze proudly at the sea, losing herself in the contemplation of the glauche distant Ionian sea. She didn’t care about the sea wind that made her beat the peplum, like a frightened bird’s wing; she didn’t hear the deaf noise of the waves that were being poured under the rock, digging it little by little, little by little. The soul began to plunge into a thought; beyond that sea, far away, where the horizon bends, other regions, other countries, the unknown, the admirable, the indefinable. In this thought the fantasy widened into a dream without boundary, the girl felt the power of her spirit enlarged and, lifted up, she seemed to touch the sky with her head and to be able to tighten in her immense amplitude all over the world. But soon these dreams vanish. Now she loves Cimone, with the only powerful and reigning love of the girl, who transforms herself into a woman.
On summer night, blonde and white summer night, Cimone speaks to her beloved:
Parthenope, do you want to follow me?
Let’s start, love.
Your father rejects you to my thalamus, or very softly: Eumeo wants him for your spouse and his son. Love Eumeo tu?
I love you, Cimone.
Praise to Venus holy and thank you, his son! Think, then, what a black nightmare life would be, divided, distant – and how young people still yearn for the dark shadows of the Stige. Do you want to leave meco, Parthenope?
I am your slave, love.
Think: forget your father’s face, clear the kiss of the sisters from your face, run away from the sweet friends, abandon your roof….
Let’s start, Cimone.
Departure, or very sweet, leave for a long journey, painful, on the traitor sea, in an unknown way, to an unknown destination; leave without hope of return; rely on the waves, always enemies of the lovers; leave to go far, very far away, in inhospitable, brown lands, where winter is eternal, where the pale sun is wrapped in clouds, where man does not love man.
But in Parthenope’s big black eyes it is the ray of an unbeatable love and in his harmonious voice the passion vibrates:
I love you,”she says,” we leave.

The embalmed lido has been waiting for them for a thousand years. A thousand springs have thrown the boundless richness, rebirth, from their vegetation – and from the mountains to the sea, the unreasonable, immense and dazzling luxury of marvellous nature is spread out. Flowers are born, they oleze, they die because others more beautiful flaunt their petals on the ground; millions and millions of small vines also bloom to love, to die, to reborn again.

For a thousand years she has been waiting for the sea in love, and for a thousand years now the stars in love have been waiting for them. When the two lovers arrive at the divine lido a jolt of joy makes the earth tremble, the land born of love, which without love is destined to perish, dazzled and destroyed by his desire. Parthenope and Cimone bring you love. Everywhere, they have loved everywhere. Tightly one to the other, they brought their love on the hills, from the beautiful, eternally blossoming Poggioreale, to the stupendous Posillipo; they bowed their faces on the inflamed craters, comparing the incandescent passion of nature to the passion of their heart; they lost themselves through the dark caverns that made the beach of Platamonia frightening; they mistaken Everywhere they loved. In the starry summer nights, Parthenope has lying on the arena of the Lido, gaze in the sky, caressing with his hand the foliage of Cimone, which is at his side; in the shiny spring dawns, in their beautiful garden, they have picked up flowers and kisses, kisses and inexhaustible flowers; neither’ purple sunsets of autumn, in the declining season, have heard grow in them more The centuries-old plant lent its benevolent shadow to so many young people; the twisted and brown stone of the Phlegrean fields did not tear Parthenope’s gentle foot; the sea became good-natured and sang their love song, the loyal nature did not have ambushes for them; on the blue horizons the beautiful profile of the maiden, the energetic profile of the garlander, stood out. When they bowed and kissed the blessed earth, when they lifted their gaze up to heaven, a palpitus responded to them and between man and nature the deep, invincible love that binds them was affirmed. Naples, the city of youth, was waiting for Parthenope and Cimone; rich, but solitary, rich, but mortal, rich, but without tremors. Parthenope and Cimone have created immortal Naples.
But destiny is not yet a task. The higher purpose has the love of Parthenope. From Greece, for love of her, came the father and the sisters and the relatives and friends who came to find her; that’s the reason: until far away Egypt, up to Phoenicia, the mysterious voice of a happy plague runs, where in the beautiful feast of flowers and fruits, in the sweetness perfumed by the air, she spends her life very blessed. On fragile boats, colonies of distant peoples flock to colonies that carry their children, images of the gods, possessions and common resources; at the shepherd’s hut there are next to the fisherman’s hut; the rough and primitive art of agriculture, the manual industries, as soon as they are born, fervently carry out their work. First it rises on the hill, the village to degree to degree earns the plain; another colony goes over another hill and the second village joins with the first one; the streets are traced, the factory of the walls, to which all concur, gradually locks up a city in its circle. All this has done Parthenope. She wanted the city. No longer a young girl, but now a complete and perfect mother: twelve children have seen the light from her strong breast, from her strong heart came the counsel, the guide, the animator breath. She is the woman par excellence, the mother of the people, the human and clement queen, she appeals to the city from her; from her she reads it, from her the custom, from her the constant example of faith and piety. Two temples rise to gods, invoked as protectors of the city: Ceres and Venus. There you pray, there, through intercolumns, the smoke of the olibanum rises to heaven. A profound and constant peace is in the people on which Parthenope reigns; and the industrious work of man is only a law driven to benign nature.
The most beautiful of civilizations, that of the spirit in love; the greatest of feelings, that of art; the fusion of physical harmony with moral harmony, effective, fervent and omniposent love, is the living environment of the new city. When Parthenope comes to sit on the rock of Mount Echia, when it looks at the Tyrrhenian, more faithfully than the Ionian, his soul is absorbed in a thought. The unknown region is reached, the admirable, the indefinable, behold, it is created, it is real, it is his work. And as the imagination widens, widens into a dream without borders, Parthenope feels like he gianteggiare his spirit and lifted up standing, she seems to touch the sky with her head and tighten up the world in an immense intercourse.

If you ask a historian, or good and lovable readers, you will answer that the tomb of the beautiful Parthenope is on the hill of San Giovanni Maggiore, where then the sea was lapping the foot of the mountain. Another one will tell you that the tomb of Parthenope is on the hill of Sant’ Aniello, towards the countryside, below Capodimonte. Well, I say to you that this is not true. Parthenope has no tomb, Parthenope is not dead. She has lived, splendid, young and beautiful, for five thousand years. She still runs on the hillocks, she wanders on the beach, she looks out over the volcano, she gets lost in the valleys. She who makes our city haunted by light and crazy colours: it is she who makes the stars shine on serene nights; it is she who makes the scent of orange irresistible; it is she who makes the sea moisturise. When in April a warm aura is flooded with wellbeing during the days of April it is her sweet breath: when in the remote verdines of the Capodimonte forest we see a white shadow laced to another shadow, it is she and her lover; when we hear a sound of words in love in the air; it is her voice that makes her pronounce; when a noise of kissing, indistinct, humble kisses; when we hear a sound of love words in the air. She who makes the city go crazy: it’s she who makes you languish and pale with love: it’s she who makes you twist with passion on the violent days of August. Parthenope, the virgin, the woman, does not die, has no tomb, is immortal, is love. Naples is the city of love.

 

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