We left Arezzo early on Monday morning, the sun throwing the long shadows of the trees across the road, which at first, after we had descended the hill, lay over a plain. As the morning advanced, or as we advanced, the country grew more hilly. We saw many bits of rustic life, - such as old women tending pigs or sheep by the roadside, and spinning with a distaff; women sewing under trees, or at their own doors; children leading goats, tied by the horns, while they browse; sturdy, sunburnt creatures, in petticoats, but otherwise manlike, at work side by side with male laborers in the fields. The broad-brimmed, high-crowned hat of Tuscan straw is the customary female head-dress, and is as unbecoming as can possibly be imagined, and of little use, one would suppose, as a shelter from the sun, the brim continually blowing upward from the face. Some of the elder women wore black felt hats, likewise broad-brimmed; and the men wore felt hats also, shaped a good deal like a mushroom, with hardly any brim at all. The scenes in the villages through which we passed were very lively and characteristic, all the population seeming to be out of doors: some at the butcher's shop, others at the well; a tailor sewing in the open air, with a young priest sitting sociably beside him; children at play; women mending clothes, embroidering, spinning with the distaff at their own doorsteps; many idlers, letting the pleasant morning pass in the sweet-do-nothing; all assembling in the street, as in the common room of one large household, and thus brought close together, and made familiar with one another, as they can never be in a different system of society. As usual along the road we passed multitudes of shrines, where the Virgin was painted in fresco, or sometimes represented in bas-reliefs, within niches, or under more spacious arches. It would be a good idea to place a comfortable and shady seat beneath all these wayside shrines, where the wayfarer might rest himself, and thank the Virgin for her hospitality; nor can I believe that it would offend her, any more than other incense, if he were to regale himself, even in such consecrated spots, with the fragrance of a pipe or cigar.
In the wire-work screen, before many of the shrines, hung offerings of roses and other flowers, some wilted and withered, some fresh with that morning's dew, some that never bloomed and never faded, - being artificial. I wonder that they do not plant rose-trees and all kinds of fragrant and flowering shrubs under the shrines, and twine and wreathe them all around, so that the Virgin may dwell within a bower of perpetual freshness; at least put flower-pots, with living plants, into the niche. There are many things in the customs of these people that might be made very beautiful, if the sense of beauty were as much alive now as it must have been when these customs were first imagined and adopted.
I must not forget, among these little descriptive items, the spectacle of women and girls bearing huge bundles of twigs and shrubs, or grass, with scarlet poppies and blue flowers intermixed; the bundles sometimes so huge as almost to hide the woman's figure from head to heel, so that she looked like a locomotive mass of verdure and flowers; sometimes reaching only half-way down her back, so as to show the crooked knife slung behind, with which she had been reaping this strange harvest-sheaf. A Pre-Raphaelite painter - the one, for instance, who painted the heap of autumnal leaves, which we saw at the Manchester Exhibition - would find an admirable subject in one of these girls, stepping with a free, erect, and graceful carriage, her burden on her head; and the miscellaneous herbage and flowers would give him all the scope he could desire for minute and various delineation of nature.
The country houses which we passed had sometimes open galleries or arcades on the second story and above, where the inhabitants might perform their domestic labor in the shade and in the air. The houses were often ancient, and most picturesquely time-stained, the plaster dropping in spots from the old brickwork; others were tinted of pleasant and cheerful lines; some were frescoed with designs in arabesques, or with imaginary windows; some had escutcheons of arms painted on the front. Wherever there was a pigeon-house, a flight of doves were represented as flying into the holes, doubtless for the invitation and encouragement of the real birds.
Once or twice I saw a bush stuck up before the door of what seemed to be a wine-shop. If so, it is the ancient custom, so long disused in England, and alluded to in the proverb, "Good wine needs no bush." Several times we saw grass spread to dry on the road, covering half the track, and concluded it to have been cut by the roadside for the winter forage of his ass by some poor peasant, or peasant's wife, who had no grass land, except the margin of the public way.