15. Bellinzona – Chiasso – almost broke!

Day passed, night came, morning came, but the money didn’t come. We got the bill done; If I remember correctly, it was 28 or 30 francs. It seemed strange to me when I gave the innkeeper the money that his porter had pumped me.

“Today we’re going to Chiasso, even if we have to ride through the night!” was our watchword. We soon reached the 1720-foot-high Monte Cenere, which is covered from top to bottom with chestnut trees. Hundreds of the ripe fruits lay on the street and were trampled on. Oh, what longing thoughts arose in me at this sight, as I considered how many roast geese could have been stuffed with these chestnuts!

Two hours from the top of Monte Cenere is a point from which there is a magnificent view of the Italian lakes and the surrounding mountains. If you want to see more, you have to climb Monte Camoghé, which is a little further away and whose foot is lapped by the waters of Lake Lugano. The surroundings become more and more charming, one moves closer and closer to the country “where the lemons bloom, the golden oranges glow in the dark foliage”. But you only become aware of the highlight of all beauty when you are at a height above Lugano.

The little town stretches up the mountain slope with its churches, chapels and monasteries, whose towers are reflected in the clear water of the lake. The mountains surround it, covered with hundreds of country houses and villas, whose white paint stands out even more dazzlingly against the dark green of the vines and walnut trees. The canopy of a cloudless, dark blue sky is spread over the whole painting, which is radiant in the glorious sunshine.

Our eyes feasted on this sight, but our stomachs also wanted to be satisfied. We needed rest no less, for we had walked six hours. As soon as we were in the streets of the city, a little boot waxer with his box on his back came busily up to us to show us the way to the next inn and occasionally to wax our boots. It would not have been far from the boy, who had a hump on his back in addition to his little box and looked at the world with crooked eyes, in his willingness to serve, had come across my friend Henninger and performed his operation on him, even though he was closed horses sat. Since this importunity annoyed me, I took someone else who took us to the Albergo del Lago (inn by the lake). However, that didn’t stop the hunchback from following us into the stable, where Henninger finally drove him away with his riding crop. A few saddles from officers’ horses hung on the post of the stable door. Could the cousin from Milan perhaps have come to meet us? We asked the porter, the waiters, even the innkeeper himself, but in vain, none of them knew anything.

This didn’t stop us from ordering a bottle of wine and lunch. By that we meant soup, vegetables and meat; but the host took it differently. With every new dish that was served, our concern about our ten francs increased more and more. We arrived in Lugano at two o’clock, dinner was over at four o’clock, and now the decisive moment was approaching when it was time to ask about the mine. I think the gracious innkeeper saw through our financial situation; Like Signore Meier in Bellinzona, he turned a blind eye and only let us pay eight francs, leaving us two full francs. Nevertheless, it was clear to us that we wouldn’t reach Chiasso, our target, with that; and the time had already advanced too far. So, we asked for a room, plowed into it again in quiet solitude, serious advice, and decided this time to borrow money from the innkeeper ourselves.

No German

So, I sat down and wrote him a humble and melancholy letter, confessing quite openly that our fund had been suffering from consumption for some time, and finally asked him for an advance of about twenty francs, with which I could travel to Milan wanted to get a new subsidy there; meanwhile, Henninger should remain in Lugano with the two horses as a guarantee. The letter was ready so far, and Henninger was now supposed to send it to his address. But he resisted vigorously, considering the matter far too complicated, and finally ran out the door onto the stairs, where, thinking that the whole world should speak German, he called in a loud voice for the innkeeper and the head waiter. Yes, when a chambermaid passed him, he asked her quite naively whether the host had gone out because he didn’t give him any answer, to which she replied just as naively: “Not German” and walked away. With a lot of effort and suppressed laughter, I made it clear to my traveling companion that people here speak Italian, and I have to get him the letter again, since I am too embarrassed to deal with the matter verbally. But Henninger didn’t want to give in; He really wanted to know from me what “Mr. innkeeper, would you be so kind as to come upstairs” means in Italian. If I told him that, he would soon have finished the whole story.

To finally get out of this confusion, I rang the bell, which Henninger hadn’t even noticed. The head waiter was not long in coming. With my face turned away, I handed him the letter and asked him to read it. Now, however, the greatest confusion ensued. The head waiter said he should correct the letter for me and therefore, after reading it several times, declared that he had not found any errors in it. I now had to come clean to clear up the misunderstanding. I did so, to the great astonishment of the head waiter; but when the latter finally understood the matter, he offered with the greatest willingness to lend us as much as we asked. I told him that twenty francs would do me good. Then he hurried down and in half a minute handed me four flashing five-franc pieces on a plate.

A closed border

Now we had fresh courage to face life again. We went to the post office. A red-haired officer stuck his head through the counter and asked my request. I asked for a ticket for the next carriage to Milan. Then he shook his head doubtfully and said I would spend the money for nothing, because they very rarely let anyone through at the border in Chiasso. I showed him the visas of the Austrian ambassador on our passports. “That’ll help you next to nothing,” replied the officer; “If you do not have permission from the commanding general in Como, you will not be allowed to cross the border”. We were already afraid of that in Bellinzona, because at that time the Austrian imperial state was occupying the Swiss border for various reasons. When the red-haired postman in Lugano declared outright that I couldn’t possibly get to Milan via Chiasso, we frowned again at “severe grief,” which the sight of the twenty francs had only recently brightened. When Henninger, who of course hadn’t understood a word of the whole Italian negotiation at the post office, pulled my jacket from behind and asked quietly: “What’s that redhead actually saying?” I could sometimes, despite the I could barely suppress a laugh at the saddening things the postman said to me.

I could have come to Milan by another route, namely from Lugano to Megadino and from there by steamboat across Lake Maggiore to Sesto Calende. But then I would have needed a lot more time and money, perhaps I would have come to Milan as poor as we were in Bellinzona and been arrested there, while Henninger would have calculated more and more in Lugano every day.

There was nothing more to be done with Henninger; he saw only one way out, and that was to sell one of our horses and either travel the next morning across Lake Maggiore to Milan or directly back to Mainz.