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concerning Le Speronare

     In October 1834, Alexandre Dumas set off on what would turn into a two year absence from Paris, accompanied by his friend the Geoffrey Jadin, the painter, and an English bulldog with propensity for feline mayhem, Mylord. In August 1835, Dumas was in Rome, and decided to visit the kingdom of Naples, which was ruled by Bourbon monarchy, and encompassed Sicily and Calabria. From his visit to Naples and Sicily, Dumas produced a travel trilogy: Le Speronare, Le Capitaine Aréna, and Le Corricolo, published after his return.
     When Dumas attempted to get a passport (more like today's visa) to visit the Kingdom of Naples, it was refused on two grounds: that he was the son of General Mathieu Dumas (Minister of War in the former Bonapartist puppet Government of Naples), which was false, and that he was a noted republication who had left Paris on political business, which was at least half true. Dumas then asked his friend Guichard to apply for a passport to visit Naples, which was promptly granted, and Dumas traveled on Guichard's passport to Naples by sea. In those days, passports included a description of the holder, but no picture.
     On arrival, Dumas discovered that he might have to wait as much as a week for a steamer to depart for Palermo. Concerned about being detected by the authorities, Dumas hired a "speronara" to take him to Palermo. A "speronara" is a kind of small Italian sailing craft, which would probably be best rendered into English as "lugger." From Dumas' sketchy description, it appears to have been a single-masted, fore-and-aft rigged vessel of about 50 tons displacement. Passengers slept in a kind of tent pitched on the deck. The captain of the boat was Guiseppe Aréna, who gave his name to the second volume of the trilogy, and whom Dumas would look up when he next visited Calabria (in 1859), a visit he described in On Board the Emma.
     The speronara encountered a storm at sea, visited Capri, passed between Scylla and Charybdis, visited Messina and Catania. Dumas landed and ascended the volcano, Mount Aetna, and then went on to Siracusa (Syracuse). From Siracusa, Dumas & company sailed south to visit the barren and impoverished island of Pantelleria. They then sailed northward to Girgenti (the classical Agrigentum). Dumas traveled overland from Girgenti to Palermo, had an encounter with Sicilian bandits, and met the speronara again in Palermo.
     As is common in Dumas' travel books, the volume includes sections of history (both contemporary and from classical times), travel, traveler’s tales, descriptions of people and places, and two chapter-length short stories, both ostensibly told to him by people he met along the way: "Death in Life: A Living Tomb," about a family held prisoner in a secret underground crypt, and "Colonel Santa-Croce," about a Sicilian bandit on the point of execution cleverly rescued by the leader of his band.

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