Naples in August

Via dei Tribunali, Naples

Via dei Tribunali, Naples

Let’s forget about the cold weather and remember the time a few months ago when I went to Naples, Italy for the first time.  This past Summer vacation was spent in Naples (5 days), then a small Aeolian island called Panarea (8 days), a few days (3) in Positano and finally 2 days in Rome to eat at a couple of favorites and see a fantastic exhibition of Luigi Ghirri photographs.  Panarea was my favorite part.  I love vacations but Panarea was better than anything I could have imagined.

Naples is a beautiful city packed with culture and a long, rich history.  The historic sites and buildings are not as perfectly packaged as Rome.  It is grittier and stranger than Rome.  In the New York Times Travel section Rachel Donadio was “Seduced by Naples.”  I can’t say that I was.  I was intrigued and puzzled but Venice seduced me more than Naples.  Perhaps Naples in the days before Pompeii was destroyed, or when the Bourbons ruled it as the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, I may have been seduced.

We arrived on August 15, Ferragosto, which means everything is closed and Summer in Italy winds down. Fortunately the heat and our jet lag tempered the desire to run out and start exploring.  We stayed at Hotel Palazzo Decumani in the Centro Storico.  After checking in we walked around the neighborhood and ate delicious things.

If you want a great historical introduction to Naples, I recommend Naples Declared by Benjamin Taylor.  His writing seduces you into seeking out the places he describes.  Another fun read is The Volcano Lover by Susan Sontag.  It’s set in 18th century Naples and based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma and their friend and her lover Lord Nelson.  The romance, the art and social etiquette of the time marvel me.

Walking around Naples I tried to reconcile the history I’ve learned with what I was seeing.  At first I was upset.  Why is there so much graffiti on churches and public buildings?  Why isn’t there enough money to pay the security guards at the Archaeological Museum so that all the galleries are open?  Why are trash cans overflowing?  Frustration led to the realization that corruption can do all this.  It’s too bad because the city offers so much.

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