One morning I saw him sweeping out his store and he wore a woman’s sweeping cap with the strings tied under his grisly old chin. When I saw him I just stood and laughed aloud, and he asked me why not, and said that a sweeping cap was just as good for a man as for a woman, and then he stopped his sweeping and gave me quite a male feminist talk. And he has a horse, Mr. Mazzini has, a fat old plug that peeks around his blinders as humorously as his master. Oh, I could just keep on talking about Mr. Mazzini for pages, but I started to speak of Dante.
I like the Italians and I like the Latin quarter where they live. I like it better than Ashbury Heights for instance. I like the way the Italians use their windows to look out of and to lean out of, and I like the way they have socialized the sidewalk. It’s all a matter of taste, and I wouldn’t criticize the people of Ashbury Heights simply because they use their well-curtained windows only to admit the light, and do not lean out and gossip with their neighbors and yell to their children, “Mahree, Mahree,” nor sit out on their steps in the evening and play Rigoletto on the accordion. It’s all a matter of taste.
Six hundred years ago Dante was an Italian, but he is much more than that today. After six centuries Dante belongs to all those and only those who can read him with appreciation and pleasure. Our scavenger is an Italian, and he reads Dante just as so many of the Anglo Saxon proletair read Shakespeare. So Dante belongs to this garbage man, not because he is Italian, but because he sincerely loves the Divina Commedia. A waiter, in Il Trovatore, a rarely honest man, acknowledged to me that he could not read Dante, and that every time he tried he got mad and threw the book away.
Dante belongs to the literary elect of all nations, Dante belongs to the great internationale of the immortals. Dante belongs to Eternity. And for that matter so does Mr. Mazzini.
On the very nob of Nob Hill there is the ruin of a mansion which was the Whittell home. In ruins it still is a mansion. In ruins it is grander than any place around because it belonged to the grand days.
There is an enclosed garden in the rear after the fashion of old Spanish gardens in Monterey. And between the boards that cover a door in the high wall, one may peek and catch a glimpse of hollyhocks in a row and roses running wild, trellises of green lattice and ghosts of beautiful ladies having afternoon tea.
To one side of the mansion there is a formal garden that hugs up close to the ivy-covered walls of the house. It is such a garden as one sees in elaborately illustrated copies of Mother Goose “with silver bells and cockle shells.” It’s so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real. California gardens are like that, and to those of us from bleak countries they look like pictures out of books. There is this well-groomed garden of the living present hugging up close to the ruins of yesterday and then, if you please, Mother Nature, with her penchant for whimsy, has grown right up against these two a riot of purple and gold lupine, a product of her own unaided husbandry.