Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Charlie White

Montgomery Carmichael was a British consular official and then consul in Livorno from 1890 to 1922. After retiring, he lived in Livorno until his death in 1936. He published his Tuscan Towns, Tuscan Types and the Tuscan Tongue in 1901. This is the second of three posts, from a chapter of the book, where we make further acquaintance with the resourceful Carlo Bianchi.

Old Postcard, Quattro Mori, LivornoThis happened six years ago. I know my friend very well now, and prize him highly. His name is Carlo Bianchi; he is keeper of a boarding-house for English seamen. His dominant trait — if we put aside great natural good-nature — is an absorbing, awe-stricken admiration for everything and everybody English. You can only pain him in one way — if you call him either “Carlo” or “Bianchi” He calls himself “Charlie White,” and spells Charlie “Cialì,” on the card which announces that he has a “home” offering every comfort to members of the Mercantile Marine. It is this passionate admiration of everything British that prompts him, when he has nothing better to do, to go off in a boat to the steamers in the hope of being able to assist some helpless English traveller. He often meets with scant courtesy and withering scepticism at their hands, but remains undauntedly revering. We must indeed be a great and proud nation to have aroused all this admiration in the bosom of a Tuscan man of the world like “Cialì,” for as a rule he sees but degenerate specimens of the Britisher. The members of the English Mercantile Marine who come under his fatherly care are too often the worst of the class, men who have deserted from their ships, or lost their ships through drunken orgies, or who have been politely lodged in the tempered seclusion of a Tuscan gaol, or the still milder fastnesses of the strong room of the Town Hospital consequent upon a Bacchanalian night-brawl. If he encouraged their vices he would get more men into his house, and put more money in his pocket But he routs them out of unsavoury places, reclaims the wages of which they have been fleeced, packs them into boats, and sends them off to their ships to save them from desertion; and all this because he reveres the mighty British nation even in its dregs.
Nearly every morning “Cialì” presents himself at my house with the respectful offer of his services. I have to invent commissions to save him from lapsing into despondency. I do not pay him. He borrows freely, but always pays back. He will accept an old suit of clothes gladly, and wears it with swagger and distinction. I visit his fat “Signora” at the boarding-house sometimes, and contrive to slip trifles into the children's money-boxes. Filthy lucre I can only pass off on him by resorting to ruse. A firm of solicitors in England is paying for this, I say, or an English shipowner wants such and such a thing done; then all “Chalì's” scruples vanish. But I have to use this species of finesse sparingly, for he is wily and observant, well versed in every branch of honest deception, and a past-master in the gentle art of giving without seeming to give. Certainly his faith in human nature would receive a rude shock if he were ever to detect me in anything so perfidious as an attempt to reward devoted services which were meant to be given out of pure loyalty and affection.

First of three parts - Second of three parts - Third of three parts

Montgomery Carmichael, “In Tuscany”
John Murray, London 1901


See also: In Tuscany - Leghorn “la Cara”

10 comments:

Luis Gomez said...

Thank you VP. This is excellent!

Jack said...

This is another fascinating post, VP. Bravo! Are the English really so wonderful that "Charley" should have shown them such reverence?

Randy said...

Excellent post.

Dina said...

The kind of inside stories you seldom hear about.

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Carlo Bianchi alias Charlie White was an amazing man by the sounds of it VP, wonder what the fascination with the English was all about!!

Merisi said...

Truly fascinating, mille grazie for sharing this gem!

brattcat said...

another wonderful post, vp. i'm enjoying this so much.

Cezar and Léia said...

Very interesting story.Mr. Bianchi is very talented!Thanks for sharing!
Léia

joo said...

Really interesting - looking forward to the next part!

La sonrisa de Hiperión said...

Como siempre estupendas las cosas que nos dejas.

Saludos y un abrazo.