A FEW VILLAS
It was but a few minutes' walk from the hotel to the Porta Pinciana, and, if you took this short walk, you found yourself almost before you knew it in the Villa Borghese. You might then, on your first Sunday in Rome, have fancied yourself in Central Park, for all difference in the easily satisfied Sunday-afternoon crowd. But with me a difference began in the grove of stone-pines, and their desultory stretch toward the Casino, where in the simple young times which are now the old we had hurried, with our Kugler in our hands and other reading in our heads, to see Titian's Sacred and Profane Love (it has got another name now) and Canova's Pauline Bonaparte, who was also the Princess Borghese, and all the rest of the precious gallery. However, if I had any purpose of visiting the Casino now, I put it aside, and contented myself with the gentle sun, the gentle shade, and the sweet air, which might have had less dust in it, breathing over grass as green in late January as in early June. I did not care so much for a mounted corporal who was jumping his horse over a two-foot barrier in the circular path rounding between the Villa Borghese and the Pincian Hill, though his admirers hung in rows on the rail beside it so thickly that I could hardly have got a place to see him if I had tried. But there was room enough to the fathers and mothers who had brought their children, and young lovers who had brought each other for the afternoon's outing, just as the people in Central Park do, and, no doubt, just as any Sunday crowd must do in the planet Mars, if the inhabitants are human. There was a vacherie nearby where not many persons were drinking milk or even coffee; it is never the notion of the Italians that amusement can be had only through the purchase of refreshments.
I did not get as far as the Casino till the last Sunday of our Roman stay, though we came again and again to the park (as we should call it, rather than villa), sometimes to walk, sometimes to drive, and always to rejoice in its loveliness. It was not now a very guarded, if once a very studied, loveliness; not quite neglect, but a forgottenness to which it took kindly, had fallen upon it; the drives seemed largely left to take care of themselves, the walks were such as the frequenters chose to make over the grass or through the woods; the buildings - the aviary, the conservatory, the dairy, the stables - which formed part of the old pleasance, stood about, as if in an absent-minded indifference to their various roles. The weather had grown a little more wintry, or, at least, autumnal, as the season advanced toward spring, and one day at the end of February, when we were passing a woody hollow, the fallen leaves stirred crisply with a sound like that of late October at home. We had been at some pains and expense to put home four thousand miles away, but this sound was the sweetest and dearest we had heard in Rome, and it strangely attuned our spirits to the enjoyment of the fake antiquities, the broken arches, pediments, columns, statues, which, in a region glutted with ruin, the landscape architect of the Villa Borghese had fancied putting about in pleasing stages of artificial dilapidation. But there was nothing faked in the dishevelled grass of the little stadium, with its gra-dines around the sides, and the game of tennis which some young girls were playing in it. Neither was there anything ungenuine in the rapture of the boy whom we saw racing through the dead leaves of that woody hollow in chase of the wild fancies that fly before boyhood; and I hope that the charm of the plinths and statues in the careless grounds behind the soft, old, yellow Casino was a real charm. At any rate, these things all consoled, and the turf under the pines, now thickly starred with daisies, gave every assurance of being original.
When we came last the daisies were mingled with clustering anemones, which seem a greatly overrated sort of flower, crude and harsh in color, like cheap calico. If it were not for their pretty name I do not see how people could like them; yet the children that day were pouncing upon them and pulling them by handfuls; for the Villa Borghese is now state property and is free to the children of the people in a measure quite beyond Central Park. They can apparently pull anything they want, except mushrooms; there are signs advising people that the state draws the line at mushrooms.