Saturday, February 18, 2012

Naples, eruptions, chittlins and the tears of Christ

Its not easy, prone in the dentist's chair, mouth agape and filled with fingers, to tell the nurse twice describing how her aunt prepares chittlins, to STFU, though I tried, believe me. Squeamish about food I may well be - at least according to the Celt - and surprising perhaps for one who, as a child, relished uncooked tripe laden with salt and malt vinegar, but couldn't remain in the same room as a bowl of tripe and onions cooked in milk, my grandfather's favorite dinner, which to me looked nothing more than a bowl of ... well, perhaps I'd better leave you without that image. Still shining bright in my mind's eye, though.


I hoped they were olives, not eyes, in the Polipo alla Luciana the Celt ordered and consumed with gusto, but olives or not, so repelled was I, despite sitting in the sun on a terrace overlooking the bay, I couldn't finish my pizza Margherita and drank my wine as if it were Pepto Bismol. Antacid it was not, and dyspeptic eruptions occurred along the sea-side of the Via Partenope towards our hotel opposite the Castel dell'Ovo.


On St. Stephen's day, despite horror story after horror story about crime and dirt in Naples, we took the train from Rome to Naples - a shortish, pleasantly sun-lit journey with plenty of time to take in all the beauty rushing past the windows. We talked with other tourists sitting near - an American couple and their daughter, the latter playing games on her phone, not once looking out at the views.


Across the bay, Vesuvius dominates more than the land it once destroyed, I think, for surely it must overshadow the minds of the people who live near it or on it - and people do live on it. Houses, farms and vineyards climb the slopes, unbelievably to me, given what there is to see at Herculaneum.


At Herculaneum, in the early morning light, it is possible when standing quietly in certain parts of the town, to imagine the life once lived there and that the people are not yet awake. To walk down a steeply-raked tunnel to the old shoreline and then to look back and see the cliff down and through which one has walked – and know that it is the layer after layer of volcanic mud and ash, nearly 60 feet in all, that buried not only Herculaneum but the memory of it too – is shocking.


 





Pompeii, much bigger, is a sadder place - not so much because of the ancient tragedy, inured as we are to that by television dramatizations, but more for the fact that so much appears to be falling down, that so many streets are barricaded off for restoration, and that one of the most egregious infestations afflicting Naples – graffiti – mars even the faded remnants of decoration in those Pompeian houses one can still enter. To know that in 1979, Alberto loved his Adriana, is not the edifying experience for which I crossed the Atlantic. Yet for all its sadness, and the nightmarish feeling of endlessly walking through low ruined walls beyond which are more of the same, I wish we'd had more time and I more energy.






I did not fall in love with Naples, despite its wonderful archaeological museum, its charming two-and-a-half-hour-long siesta, and staying at one of the best hotels in town - frankly, I found the town awash in graffiti and dog-dirt even in the more fashionable parts, with swarms of small cars and scooters clogging every street and alley, laundry hanging over every balcony in sight - not as romantic as one might think - and the food not nearly as interesting as one might wish. I stuck to pizza, fish and rough wine and was perfectly happy.

A wine still produced on the slopes of Vesuvius, Lacryma Christi, and recommended by a fellow blogger, I never knowingly drank in Naples - I had forgotten about it. We've bought it since and, in my opinion, it needs a good steak to to go with it - a steak which, by the way, in my own increasingly queer way, I prefer cremated rather than rare.

It also occurs to me, on a more cheerful note, that if that thing ever goes off again - Vesuvius, that is - there'll be more than one tear of Christ needed for the scale of that tragedy.

The name, Lacryma Christi, "Tear of Christ", comes from a old myth, or marketing ploy, that Christ, lamenting over Lucifer's fall, cried his tears onto the slopes of Vesuvius and gave divine impetus to the vines that grew there.  

22 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post: I'm going to Umbria this summer and am hoping to see these sights, dog-dirt and graffiti non-withstanding. There is the Naples Opera house, no? I hope to find it open for a visit.

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    1. Daniel, thank you. We didn't visit the opera house in Naples - we were pushed for time and limited ourselves to the major sights some of which we found to our dismay were closed on Wednesday, the day we'd set aside for them.

      If you visit Herculaneum and Pompeii hire a taxi for the day. Believe me, there was no way we could have dealt with Naples traffic, and our hotel suggested either hiring a taxi or taking a bus tour which included visits to factories and outlet malls. We hired a taxi for a day and it was worth it.

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    2. Mille Grazie! Very good to know. For all its madness, I adore Italy.

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  2. In Naples you're halfway between Sicily's increasingly excellent Nero d'Avola and Apulia's Primitivo/zinfandel, to go with your preference in beef. Here, I don't mean to harp, but I haven't had occasion to suggest this writer at this page, I guess: Peter Robb's "Street Fight in Naples: A City's Unseen History" (2011) is a read I'd have to recommend to you for its temperament and alimentary eloquence, along with its narrative of art history and millennia of political corruption on the most marvelously Vesuvian scale. I'm confident, with your juxtaposition of offal and archaeology, cultural biography and anthropology in this entry, you'd be very amused. I was absolutely feasting here.

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    1. Laurent, I am feasting on your comment, thank you.

      I read Steve Jelbert's review in The Independent of Robb's book and it looks as if I shall order it. It can do no harm to have a few prejudices skewered and, you never know, I might learn something - even enjoy myself.

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  3. Perhaps "I wish we'd had more time and I more energy" emblazoned on t-shirts for dotage? Love your travelogue and photographs.

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    1. home before dark, thank you. The t-shirts are printing as I write! Its quite salutary at times to realize how little, comparatively speaking, one can do.

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  4. We have both been in the shadow of volcanoes. We were very near Arenal in Costa Rica just over a week ago. It is still active after its last deadly explosion in 1968.

    I enjoyed your post very much but am saddened by the young girl whose horizons seem to be limited to the small screen of a cell phone.

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  5. smilla4blogs, thank you. We have a friend who took a younger acquaintance to Villa Kerylos with him and, I understand, she took one cursory glance and then went outside and played on her phone.

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  6. Last time we went to Pompeii and Herculaneum, we stayed at the Tramontano in Sorrento, thus avoiding Naples altogether. (It's an old place right on the Bay; back in 1881, Ibsen spent six months there in the very same room, writing "Ghosts.")

    I don't have much faith in Italian taxis outside large cities. I usually rent a good car, on the theory that if I must be killed on an Italian highway, I want to know it's my own fault.

    P.S. When you were at Herculaneum, did you get to see anything of the Villa dei Papiri?

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    1. The Ancient, thank you. We did not get to see the Villa dei Papiri as it was closed that day - or maybe had been for a while.

      When we arrived at Rome from Nice we had a driver waiting for us and I must say it was a real pleasure not to have to arrive in Rome late in the dark in the rain in heavy traffic.

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  7. Find me that American daughter who refused the views between Naples and Rome. I need to send her a bolt of cashmere and some knitting needles; she's a treasure. I never thought to realise, however, until you introduced her, how thoroughly her play resembles the circuit-stacking labor of the Chinese proletarian who built her toy.

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    1. Larent, thank you. The knitting needles are one their way - she can buy her own wool.

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  8. Perhaps the younger generation will come through and restore/respect Naples.

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    1. donna baker, thank you. I hope they do come through and restore Naples. It is sadly run down and I wonder if restoration will ever happen.

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  9. Despite its shortfalls, the place must have thrown on some fabulous weather for you, as the sunlight in these photographs is quite magnificent. A strange place, I do agree, where the history is just sort of tumbling down. But fascinating, oh so much so!

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    1. Glamour Drops, thank you.

      The weather was beautifully soft and sunny for the whole of our trip except for London which was as grey, dark and wet as one might expect for the time of year.

      I feel challenged by my dislike of Naples and am thinking of returning.

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  10. Chittlins and tripe no, octopus yes!
    I find it delicious and its tendrils a delight to behold - but, then I like nitty-gritty, rebellious Naples too. I was glad to find this post with your Neapolitan impressions but sorry you were disappointed. We don't need volcanic eruptions to bury our civilization; we have portable tvs, phones and electronic games given to tender-aged children to do it for us. Coming back last week's trip, I saw a baby of 6 months strapped into the back seat of a car to be entertained by the television.

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    1. gésbi, thank you. I think Naples might repay a second visit - it is little over an hour from Rome by train and if I retire this spring, as I think I might, then it's likely I'll have more time to explore.

      I cannot disagree with you about what is burying our civilization - I see it every day at the university.

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  11. 1. Naples is indeed filthy.

    2. I hate tripe so much - they fed it to us for lunch one day during my Peace Corps training in Chile - that I have learned at least four different ways to say it in Spanish. I don't want to accidentally order it some day just because I didn't know what it was.

    Just in case you need this info: mondongo, guatitas, tripas - rats. Forgot the fourth. And I'm going out for Mexican today. I'll have to be careful.

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  12. This blog was a happy discovery. Thank you!

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    1. As is your blog! Thank you, Linnea.

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