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|Mr. Mazzini and Dante
Mr. Mazzini will never be rich. He takes too much time for philosophy and gossiping with the women, and he loves a joke too well, and his heart is too kind. He is a universal type, as old as the world is old, Theocritus knew him well.
"You pick me out some good cantaloupes," I said with deadly tact, and Mr. Mazzini answered that it couldn't be done and that melons were like men, that there was no sure way of picking them out for their kindness of heart. Then he took time over the melons to tell me how his mother in Italy, who was evidently something of a match-maker, had gotten fooled on a young man who was both "laze" and "steenge" in his youth but who made a very good husband.
One day it was figs, and I was strong for the nice appearing ones, but Mr. Mazzini told me a lot about figs and chose me some that were lop-sided from packing. What delicious figs they were, all stored with sunshine and sweetness and flavor just as he had told me. Mr. Mazzini owns his own store, and yet when he throws in a few extra, as he always does, because they are soft or a little specked, he will wink and glance slyly around just as though he were putting one over on the boss.
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.