Why Naples?

So, first of all, what is Naples? Naples is a collection of grid-like streets, planned and overwritten with graffiti spray, pocketed with decaying books and oozing tomatoes.

 The drill of mopeds connects the Neapolitans and rattles tourists, everything is always a prelude to some form of mozzarella’d pause.

“See non ora quando?” sums it up, “If not now when?”. Say it! Do it! Eat it! Move it! As the horns line up and drop like dominos. As the bee-like cars buzz busily in queues, wishing they were mopeds.

Pizza pizza pasta pizza pizza

The guide books claim to know which pizzerias to go to, wildly recommending this top five or that top 11. In fact, the more time you spend in any Italian city, the more clear you are on the enormity and impossibility of classifying ‘the best’ pizzeria.

MARIO IOVINELLA ©

In Naples, a pizza is like a person and all have the essential DNA. The tongue-twisting question of which pizzeria was the best would involve testing every pizza that pizzeria has ever made and then comparing that to all the pizzas ever made in all the pizzerias since the first pizza was made,  since well over a hundred years ago!

No. Much better to simply head out and eat and get ready for good and possibly great pizza in any pizzeria that has survived the demands of hungry Neapolitans for more than a decade, say.

Life after pizza

But there is much more to Naples. There’s art inside churches and outside, in between the writings on the walls. There’s bits of Pompeii in the Museo Archeologico – egg poachers and colanders and bowls for figs, wondering why they haven’t been used for 2000 years.

colander

And then there’s the sea, there’s always the sea, the only thing that cannot be stained with graffiti or tomato blood. Look out to the islands and bobbing mussel baskets from to the top of  Castel dell’Ovo, so named after the poet laureate of ancient Rome, Virgil, left an egg there. It must still be in tact, for when it cracks Naples yolk will be washed away forever….

…Then walk down to the harbour that skirts the castle, a lovely, tranquil place to catch your breath and eat fish, at a stage in your trip when you’re too bloated with pizza to eat any more until suppertime.

castel-dell-ovo-napoli

Many tourists do Naples the injustice of treating it as a mere comma in a sentence about Pompeii. But having given it just a fraction of the love it deserves, we found ourselves heading nearer to Vesuvius with the heard, an hour down the coast, pretty sure, but not absolutely certain, about the current state of mind of  perhaps the most devastatingly capricious volcano the human race has ever seen.

Do it like a Roman

The best bit of Pompeii + Vesuvius turned out to be the 6 cubicles of the ‘red light district’ where so-called  ‘Lupanar’ (House of the Wof-Bitches) served a full menu of options, with every cupboard-like room offering its own signature dish, if the paintings above the various doors are to be taken at face value 😉

pompeii_mural_large

Having sampled these, the Pompeian middle classed homini would, no doubt be hungry and maybe a little bit sweaty. Conveniently, there were and are a string of fast food counters, much like a plastic-free Soho,  lining the road to the jaw dropping public baths. Here, whether you’re in hot, cold or tepidarium, every wall is frescoed and all the water was cleaned with a mindbogglingly innovative Roman hydraulic filter mechanism evident through bits of exposed piping here and there.

49_stabiane

Pre-trip planning

Although Pompeii’s definitely worth the trip, be warned – several of the villas and the main circus seemed to be  under restoration in March 2019, a fact that’s hard to find on the web, probably to protect the tour operators. Remember also, that it’s worth checking the weather and even giving the ticket office at Vesuvius a call before setting out on a climb. We were taken there only to find that the peak was shrouded in fog…

Vesuvius crater panorama-1024x428

But nonetheless, tick tick tick, we had been to Vesuvius and Pompeii and seen the lucky penises (or should I say phalli?) graffitied on the walls. We were informed that, to the lusty Pompeians, the phallus held no taboo. It  was, and still is, a universal symbol of health and wealth. You may wonder why, in modern Naples and the surrounding Campania, there are bunches of ‘chillies’ hanging up everywhere. They are, in fact, pointed phalli, shaved into chillies by the prudish Holy Roman Catholic church in the 6th century….

cornetto-pepper_orig

Back to Naples for afternoon treats

And so we let Naples have us again and filled out stomachs and eyes and ears with more ‘soddisfazione’ than we thought possible. The city has a way of making you somehow forever hungry and forever full at the same time – making you moan in protest before sweetening your outrage into sensuously carefree joy at everything – a gorgeous church or the heavenly, infinite layers of crispy pastry that hold the soft, sweet ricotta heart of any sfogliatella.

Sfoglatella

Where to stay?

Anywhere, near the centro-storico, somewhere near the Piazza Dante  – where it’s chilled and relatively chic, yet gritty and fascinating – that washed out timeless elegance that Naples does best.

Piazza D

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Venice has a mask for every face

In 60 years sea levels will have crept 8 more inches up the Doge’s already stumpy columns. In 60 years, I, on the verge of death, hope to take my zimmer for one last ride up San Marco’s bell-tower lift and survey Venice’s mysterious, sinking glory.

There is nothing wrong with Venice. The stalls teeming with tack only set in relief the sheer beauty of this cunning floating city, scene to so much stinking tilted wonder.

It’s impossible to get lost in Venice. Every track, if you ignore ambiguous signs to the Rialto and San Marco, leads to some new, somehow intended, discovery: a part of Venice meant just for you, at that particular moment.

Lions  lead the way.  Immortalized in stone and bronze, they look down regally from the balconies or, guarding doors, gaze up watchfully. I feel intrusive, cruel and a little scared, as I push one of the many brass doorbells that is also a lion’s tongue.

Image result for Venice, lion doorbell

Having witnessed so much for so long, at such intimately close quarters, Venice and its lions have become somehow animate and wise. Whatever your mood, you feel it is sensed by more than the Venetian authorities’ liberal peppering of CCTV. The ancient canal-veined piazzas are like crafty Venetians, canny as they are charming – they play your mood up or down to suit their whim. You find that one piazza offers sweet antidotes, another plies irresistible corruption, the next lays you bare and leaves you pitifully exposed. And they swing from mood to mood. Today Santo Stefano is expansive, Campo Bandiera e Moro is vacant, San Marco is indecisive.  Tomorrow, the opposite may be true, depending on the light, the fog, your mood and theirs.

This is, I suppose, how we project our thoughts onto our environment at home, but Venice is a city of mirrors and the reflections are clearer, never quite what you expected. No two people or objects ever share the same view.

One day it will all be buried under the sea, like Atlantis.  Maybe a dozen lucky lions will be rescued and revived and speak of their masters.  Men who tricked geology and the waves for 3 millennia. Tricks of bricks and glass-flutes and chandelier-like masks, all continuously and elaborately confessed beside Tintorettos and Titians under precariously high belfries, with here and there a freshly minted icon, for luck and good measure.

I feel privileged to have seen Venice in all its weary decadence, before it puts on the final death mask. A place of constant magic. However old and jaded, it never tells the same story twice. Mother of the Commedia dell’ Arte, it too, is an unscripted drama. The light and sound and smell is forever switching, bringing out something new or secreted, in both itself and its audience. One moment it’s thick and clogging and fools you into thinking you can predict it; the next, it’s free and crisp and glistens anew with a brilliance that strikes fresh awe.

How I hope, beyond hope, that Venice somehow manages to carry on its magic tricks, recklessly ignoring the inevitable swell, facing sea, silt and pestilential swarms of selfie-sticks with its myriad of shimmering masks, grimacing and grinning into eternity!

Image result for commedia dell'arte, mask

 

Where to eat

Dinner/Lunch

Osteria “Al Covo” (interesting twists on traditional favourites – all locally sourced as part of the Italian slow food movement. Known for it’s amazing biodynamic wine list

http://ristorantealcovo.com/   Tel: +39.041.5223812 Castello 3968 Venezia

TAVERNA DEL CAMPIELLO REMER (Venetian classics and nice live jazz music in an old cellar)

SESTIERE CANNAREGIO 5701 Venezia

Osteria “Il Paradiso Perduto” (nice place for lunch – don’t be put off by the multiple translations of the menu for tourists, home-made parpadelle is top notch)

Cannaregio, Fondamenta della Misericordia, 2540 – 30100 Venezia

Gelato:

I’ve tried a lot and this was definitely the best (pistachio actually tastes of pistachio and not just green food-colouring) and in a nice, off the beaten track square, :

Gelateria del Doge  (http://gelateriaildoge.com) Dorsoduro 3058/A, Rio Terà Canal, 30123 Venezia