“The bell rang:
the whistle of the locomotive
Lacerator of well built ears
echoed under the attic of the Station; the doors of the carriages,
one after another, loudly banging,
they closed — and the convoy,
floating with dull and labored breathing, set off for Livorno! “
It is well known that wealthy Florentines love to take their holidays in Livorno. Among these was also Carlo Collodi (1826–1890), the author of the unforgettable “Pinocchio”, who used to “get terribly bored” throughout July and August.
We recall here one of his lesser known works: “A novel in steam. From Florence to Livorno”. Published in September 1856 for the Mariani publisher, it was sold to travelers as an information brochure, in the first year of operation of the Leopolda Railway which, in fact, connected Florence to Livorno.
Built in the 1840s, the railway started right from Livorno, with a single track, and aroused the ire (and turmoil) of the Arno boatmen who saw the work diminish. Of the three railway stations, ours — the disused San Marco station — is the only one that has not yet been redeveloped, despite numerous proposals.
Between a tangled and self-deprecating appendix novel and a manual of useful information for travelers, the pocket volume written by Collodi is a historical-humorous guide that is placed in the avant-garde literature dedicated to railroad travel. It describes, with all Tuscan brio, the vicissitudes of the pioneers of the steam train, between peasant tradition and the advancing new, in a style of literary contamination on the model of Sterne.
The descriptions concerning the city are not exactly flattering, both in terms of art:
“In terms of monuments and ancient things, Livorno has very little to present to the eye of the artist and the amateur. And this is easily understood: since in cities almost exclusively devoted to trade and industry, fine arts do not breath in their own way and rarely get a residence card! “
“The woman from Livorno, and particularly the woman of the people, has, in general, regular features, beautiful eyes, beautiful teeth — and a lot of hair. The male does not have anything singular that distinguishes him — even if we do not want to except the boatmen and the saccaioli, in which the daily exercise of a weary life, ordinarily develops robust forms and Herculean tendencies! “