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WE TOUCH AT GENOA
W E lost some of our passengers — the wrong
ones — at Algiers. They wanted to linger awhile in that lovely place, and no one could blame them. Only I wish that next time we are to lose passengers I might make the selection. I would pick, for instance—no, on the whole, I am not the one to do it. I am fond of all of our people. They are peculiar, most of them, as mentioned before—all of them, I believe, except me—but thinking it over I cannot decide on a single one that I would be willing to spare. Even the Porpoise— But we have grown to love the Porpoise, and the news that we are to lose him at Genoa saddens me.
We were pitched from Algiers to Genoa-not all at one pitch, though we should have liked that better. A gale came up out of the north and, great ship as the Kurfürst is, we stood alternately on our hind feet and our fore feet all the way over-two nights and a day
—while the roar and howl of the wind were appalling. We changed our minds about the placid, dreamy disposition of the Mediterranean; also, about sunny Italy.
When the second morning came we were still a good way outside the harbor of Genoa, in the grip of such a norther and blizzard as tears through the Texas Panhandle and leaves dead cattle in its wake. Sunny Italy indeed! The hills back of Genoa, when we could make them out at last, were white with snow. To go out on deck was to breast the penetrating, stinging beat of the storm.
But I stood it awhile to get an impression of the harbor. It is no harbor at all, but simply a little corner of open sea, partly enclosed by breakwaters that measurably protect vessels from heavy seas, when one can get through the entrance. With our mighty engines and powerful machinery we were beating and wallowing around the entrance for as much as two hours, I should think, before we could get inside. You could stow that harbor of Genoa anywhere along the New York City water - front, shipping and all, and then you would need to employ a tug-boat captain to find it for you. It is hard to understand how Genoa obtained her maritime importance in the old days.
(I have just referred to the guide-book. It says: “The magnificent harbor of Genoa was the cause of the mediæval prosperity of the city," and adds that it is about two miles in diameter. Very well; I take it all back. I was merely judging from observation. It has led me into trouble before.)
We were only to touch at Genoa; some more of our passengers were to leave us, and we were to take on the European contingent there. It was not expected that there would be much sight-seeing, especially on such a day, but some of us went ashore nevertheless. Laura, age fourteen, and I were among those who went. We set out alone, were captured immediately by a guide, repelled him, and temporarily escaped. It was a mistake, however; we discovered soon that a guide would have been better on this bitter, buffeting day.
We had no idea where to go, and when we spoke to people about it, they replied in some dialect of Mulberry Street that ought not to be permitted at large. Laura tried her French on them presently, but with no visible effect, though it had worked pretty well in Algiers. Then I discovered a German sign, over a restaurant or something, and I said I would get information there.
I had faith in my German since my practice on the stewards, and I went into the place hopefully. What I wanted to ask was “Where is Cook's?” the first question that every tourist wants to ask when he finds himself lost and cold and hungry in a strange land. But being lost and cold and hungry confused me, I suppose, and I got mixed in my adverbs, and when the sentence came out it somehow started with “Warum" instead of “W0," so instead of asking “Where is Cook's?” I had asked “Why is Cook's?” a question which I could have answered myself if I had only known I had asked it.
But I didn't realize, and kept on asking it, with a little more emphasis each time, while the landlord and the groups about the tables began to edge away and to reach for something handy and solid to use on a crazy man. I backed out then, and by the time I was outside I realized my slight error in the choice of words. I did not go back to correct my inquiry. I merely told Laura that those people in there did
not seem very intelligent, and that was true, or they would have known that anybody is likely to say "why” when he means "where,” especially in German.
There are too many languages in the world, anyway. There is nothing so hopeless as to hunt for information in a place where not a soul understands your language, and where you can't speak a word of his. The first man at your very side may have all the information you need right at his tongue's end, but it might as well be buried in a cellar so far as you are concerned.
I am in deep sympathy with the people who invented Volapük, and are trying to invent Esperanto. I never thought much about it before, but since I've been to Genoa I know I believe in those things. Only, I wish they'd adopt English as the universal speech. I find it plenty good enough.
Laura and I made our way uphill and climbed some stairways, met a gendarme, got what seemed to be information, climbed down again, and met a man with a fish-net full of bread-caught in some back alley, from the looks of it. Then we followed a car-track a while along the deserted street, past black, desolatelooking houses, and were cold and discouraged and desperate, when suddenly, right out of heaven, came that guide, who had been following us all the time, of course, and realized that the psychological moment had come.
We could have fallen on his neck for pure joy. Everything became all right, then. He could understand what we said, and we could understand what he said; we tried him repeatedly and he could do it every time. That was joy and occupation enough at first. Then we asked him “Where was Cook's?” and he knew that too. It was wonderful.
We grew to love that guide like a brother. It's marvellous how soon and fondly you can learn to love a rescuer like that when you are a stranger in a strange land and have been sinking helplessly in a sea of unknown words.
He was a good soul, too; attentive without being officious, anxious to show us as much as possible in the brief space of our visit. He led us through the narrow, cleft-like streets of the old city; he pointed out the birthplace of Columbus and portions of the old city wall; he conducted us to the Hotel de Ville (the old Fieschi Palace), where we decided to have luncheon; he led us back to the ship at last, and trusted me while I went aboard to get the five lira of his charge.
Whatever the Genoese guides were in the old days, this one was a jewel. If I had any voice in the matter Genoa would inscribe a tablet to a man like that and put his bones in a silver box and label them “St. John the Baptist" instead of the set of St. John bones they now have in the Cathedral of St. Lorenzo, which he pointed out to us.
But the Cathedral itself was interesting enough. It was built in the ninth century, and is the first church we have seen that has interested us. In it Laura noticed again the absence of seats; for they kneel, on this side of the water, and know not the comfort of pews.