Fanny Cerrito: The Life of a Romantic Ballerina

Fanny Cerrito: The Life of a Romantic Ballerina

Fanny Cerrito: The Life of a Romantic Ballerina

Fanny Cerrito: The Life of a Romantic Ballerina

Excerpt

NAPLES, THE SIREN CITY, is the home of the tarantella. The love of dancing courses through the blood of its citizens like some magic fluid: an inseparable part of their existence, a means of expression hardly less natural than shouting and laughter. Mercurial by temperament and eloquent both in gesture and in speech, in their dancing as well as in their songs, these southern folk pour all their impetuous vitality into this native dance of theirs, as they describe in exhilarating movement the quickly changing moods of courtship--the supplication of the suitor and the girl's arch coquetry, the burst of jealousy and the resulting quarrel, made up as suddenly as it began, and finally the happy embrace. With its infectious spirit and its suggestion of a Greek bacchanal, the tarantella seems to contain the very essence of the people who inhabit this city, which a poet once described as 'un pezzo di cielo caduto in terra'--a piece of Heaven fallen upon earth.

Here it is, in Naples, that this story begins, in 1817, two years after Napoleon's final defeat had brought peace to a Europe long weary of war. Politically, the clock had been put back in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, of which Naples was the capital city. King Ferdinand--il Re lazzarone, as he was called--had been restored to his throne in the place of Napoleon's puppet monarch, the dashing Murat, who to the regret of many had been shot after a hopeless, quixotic attempt to regain his kingdom. The restoration of the Bourbon monarchy was a return to the ancien régime with a vengeance, for Ferdinand and his son and his grandson after him were to be remembered by posterity chiefly for the repressive reaction of their reigns.

Set in the curve of its splendid bay, guarded by the two sentinel isles of Ischia and Capri, and overlooked by the great smoking mass of Vesuvius rising menacingly to the east, Naples was indeed a strange piece of Heaven. The most sublime beauty and unbelievable squalor existed side by side. The city's over-populated slums, still served by mediaeval sanitation, were the breeding-ground of many a terrible epidemic. Yet the poet's description was not altogether inapt, for from one of the narrow alleys on the northern outskirts, where the ground slopes steeply towards the height dominated by the broad bastions and the lofty, battlemented walls of the Castle of Sant' Elmo . . .

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