I assured her that we did not know the Baron, but that should make no difference. We would not ask her to reduce the price on account of a little thing like that.
She did not quite grasp this idea, but hoped that we would not find the pension too dear at a dollar and fifty-seven and a half cents a day each, with a little extra for the salon and the balcony. “The English people all please themselves here—there comes many every summer—English Bishops and their families.”
I inquired whether there were many Bishops in the house at that moment.
“No, just at present—she was very sorry—none.”
“Well, then,” I said, “it is all right. We will take the rooms.”
Good Signora Barbaria, you did not speak the American language, nor understand those curious perversions of thought which pass among the Americans for humour; but you understood how to make a little inn cheerful and home-like; yours was a very simple and agreeable art of keeping a hotel. As we sat in the balcony after supper, listening to the capital playing of the village orchestra, and the Tyrolese songs with which they varied their music, we thought within ourselves that we were fortunate to have fallen upon the Star of Gold.
Cortina lies in its valley like a white shell that has rolled down into a broad vase of malachite. It has about a hundred houses and seven hundred inhabitants, a large church and two small ones, a fine stone campanile with excellent bells, and seven or eight little inns. But it is more important than its size would signify, for it is the capital of the district whose lawful title is Magnifica Comunita di Ampezzo—a name conferred long ago by the Republic of Venice. In the fifteenth century it was Venetian territory; but in 1516, under Maximilian I., it was joined to Austria; and it is now one of the richest and most prosperous communes of the Tyrol. It embraces about thirty-five hundred people, scattered in hamlets and clusters of houses through the green basin with its four entrances, lying between the peaks of Tofana, Cristallo, Sorapis, and Nuvolau. The well-cultivated grain fields and meadows, the smooth alps filled with fine cattle, the well-built houses with their white stone basements and balconies of dark brown wood and broad overhanging roofs, all speak of industry and thrift. But there is more than mere agricultural prosperity in this valley. There is a fine race of men and women—intelligent, vigorous, and with a strong sense of beauty. The outer walls of the annex of the Hotel Aquila Nera are covered with frescoes of marked power and originality, painted by the son of the innkeeper. The art schools of Cortina are famous for their beautiful work in gold and silver filigree, and wood-inlaying. There are nearly two hundred pupils in these schools, all peasants’ children, and they produce results, especially in intarsia, which are admirable. The village orchestra, of which I spoke a moment ago, is trained and led by a peasant’s son, who has never had a thorough musical education. It must have at least twenty-five members, and as we heard them at the Festa they seemed to play with extraordinary accuracy and expression.