After our trip to Italy was interrupted by family illness and a death we had the dilemma of trying to recoup most of the ticket and accommodation costs via insurance (most rail tickets were non-refundable and not changeable) or resuming the itinerary. We chose the latter as the funeral isn’t until next week, and got the last seats on a BA flight from Gatwick to Naples. We arrived with the indecent and disorientating haste of aviation and went for a walk and pizza in the Centro [hi]Storico
In some ways it reminded me of Havana, with the general scruffiness and poor repair of the exteriors of the buildings – a real ‘earthy’ working city, quite different from showcase Rome.
The following day we went to the port to take a ferry to one of the islands in the Bay of Naples, Proceda. After great confusion due to conflicting directions and a canceled sailing we got on the hydrofoil (or fast catamaran) for a trip of some 40 minutes. Proceda is small, and very attractive. We walked up through the town and came upon placards giving information about films made there. To our surprise we came upon one for Il Postino, one of our favourite films, and were delighted to stumble on Beatrice’s bar, where we had a very reasonable lunch in bright sunshine looking out over the blue water while a fisherman repaired the ‘sad nets’.
The film, among other things, explores poetic metaphor through the encounter of Pablo Neruda and a postman. The film is based on a novel El Cartero de Neruda (The Postman in the English translation) (originally Ardiente Paciencia) by the Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta but it transfers the action from Isla Negra in Chile (not actually an island) to an Italian island (and makes the postman considerably older). Inevitably the film and book differ, with the (very good) book covering more of the politics of the years before Allende, but the central encounter is key to both works. I met Neruda’s (English) biographer at the 2011 ‘El Sueňo Existe’ festival, but he didn’t know if the novel had any basis in a real encounter. Neruda comes over as a bit of a pain (though not in the film) despite his iconic status for left Latin American politics and letters, but I also heard someone describing his great talent for talking about profound things with people with all levels of education: something important for real intellectuals – Kropotkin once said that the test of ones understanding something is if you can explain it in ordinary language so a ‘simple’ peasant or worker can also understand it.
We returned on the boat ( a car ferry like the CalMac ships that ply the Hebridean sea), sitting in the setting sunshine and admiring the views of Naples and its beautiful bay.
From there we went to register for the biennial European Congress of Community Psychology. Community psychology tends to be a kind of ‘left opposition’ in psychology (not all of it though) and it is always a pleasure to meet up with like-minded colleagues, some of whom we have met before, or corresponded with, and some new to us. There were lots of Italians, and contingents of various sizes from various European countries, especially Spain, the UK and Scandinavia with a few Germans, three French, and small numbers from elsewhere. There were also people from outside Europe.
To confuse my limited knowledge and attempts at Italian I ended up speaking quite a lot of Spanish, both with the Spanish groups (Barcelona and Sevilla) and a colleague from Brazil (language in common). I was pleased that despite months with no practice, it came back to me without too much difficulty, although following group conversation in noisy restaurants is always a challenge for me. I even ended up explaining at some length (and in response to questions) the Steady State Manchester project. On the first full day I also gave a short paper about this. Unfortunately there were so many parallel sessions that attendance at this set of papers was limited.
As well as attending the conference we were able to explore Naples. It is astonishing what a wealth of art and history these Italian cities have. We went into the underground ruins of a Roman street, with shops and offices – I’m not sure how it came to be buried 40 ft under.
We did the subterranean tour of the former water system, carved out of the tufa bedrock. Some passages were very narrow and there were some 60 of us (divided into Italian and English speaking groups). This we followed with what by then was yet another pizza. The previous night we’d eaten at La Pizzeria Donna Sophia. One of the Spanish people asked if I knew who she was – a famous actress – I then realised it was Sophia Loren – pronounced in Italian with the stress on the first syllable (Italian, unlike Spanish which would put “Lóren”, doesn’t always make it clear from the writing where stress lies). Anyway the pizzas were very good and half the price of Rome – nice cooking Donna!
But the artistic highlight was on the last day, and most surprisingly was a collection of statues in a chapel, la Capella San Severo. Established by a noble as a mausoleum, it is maybe the most amazingly intense collection of art works I’ve seen. The centre-piece is a figure of Christ, straight off the cross, veiled by a shroud. But the whole thing is carved from one piece of marble, with the shroud appearing translucent, the features, down to the wounds, all visible, as if through the cloth. Having just done an introduction to sculpture course, the achievement was even more interesting for us, and it was difficult to work out just how the effect was obtained, other than that the artist carved what would be seen. Other sculptures included a naked woman with a similar veil, which somehow contradicted the title ‘Modesty’, and a figure wrapped in a net, again all carved from one piece of stone. The ceiling was as impressive as that in the Sistine, at least in its impact, together with the exuberance of sculpture. Downstairs there were two skeletons with all the blood vessels visible too, whether by some technique of preservation or reconstruction, or both, does not seem to be known.
The night before, the final evening of the conference, we went on a visit to San Cipriano D’Aversa, a town some 50 km away where the Camorra (Neapolitan mafia) dominate. I’d been to a presentation at the conference about the social projects there, one of the highlights for me – such a shame it wasn’t better attended – indeed I had a translator working just for me as the others were all Italian. Italian law makes confiscated assets of organised crime available for social projects, and here a variety of programmes had been established, from a shared residence for mental health survivors, a social tailoring project, a restaurant and developing sustainable tourism and renewable energy. There are also organic horticulture and land reclamation projects. The latter is in the context of the corrupt disposal of industrial waste: the Camorra control the refuse collection (domestic and industrial) and this explains the rubbish problem in Naples (it is not the cleanest of cities – and that isn’t just the dog shit I narrowly missed stepping in on several occasions). So the visit took us to this quite large town, to the mental health co-living scheme in a house that was confiscated from a Camorra criminal, and to the restaurant run by people who have had psychological and emotional problems (as I prefer to describe ‘mental health’ problems). The collection of projects is named after Don Pepe: Guiseppe Diana, a priest who was murdered for his campaigning against the Camorra. There is also a monument to the judges murdered by the Sicilian mafia in Palermo.
So after walking again through a very crowded historic centre on Sunday morning with its nativity cribs on sale, we got back on the Frecciarossa and were in Milan (for an overnight stay) in four and a half hours for £49 each. What a contrast this slick city is. After a stroll around the cathedral area (Duomo, La Scala), we rode around on the trams before eating at a very nice, if pricey, ‘delicatessen restaurant’ specialising in Tyrolean and Alpine food, and after riding on an ancient tram and a modern bus caught the French TGV to Paris. The Milan-Paris journey cost us £45 each (these are advance purchases, but not the lowest you can get). The route through the Alps is as scenic as the Zurich route we came to Rome on, if different, and as I write this we are purring through central France in beautiful afternoon sunshine.
It should be added that Naples has a bad reputation but we really liked it, felt very welcome and pretty safe, and will go back. Even the traffic isn’t as chaotic as claimed (though I’m not sure I’d want to drive there and the scooters are a menace – why don’t they ride bikes?).
So on these trips we used a diversity of transport, riding in taxis, buses, trains, trams, metros, a monorail, a car, a boat, a speed-cat, a funicular railway – but sadly not a trolley bus, or come to that a bike. An page in the TGV magazine says that this train uses a 17th of the carbon dioxide equivalent than a car journey. A real shame we ended up flying – but at around £150 for the return Naples to Manchester (though we did have an overnight in Milan, from which it is a long day, 8.50 to 11.10) the train is clearly competitive and so much nicer. £150 to more than cross a (sub)continent in a day can’t be bad.