Seems like every two years we do this. We'll see what 2012 brings.
This was not the trip of 'manga bella' nor a venture into the sublime. It was almost like work: ticking off objectives; the days and nights busy, tiring, pleasant, fun, frustrating. But overall with more hits than misses. And yes, we did eat.
It's very difficult to figure out exactly why Naples is so compelling. Well, no; that's not true. There are a lot of compelling things about Naples, good and bad. What's difficult to figure out is how they add up to a city one wants to visit again and again.
First thing one must admit is that Naples is filthy and decrepit, and both conditions seem permanent and oppressive. In many ways Naples is non-functional as a city. The garbage piles up whether there is a 'strike' or not, the graffiti make Rome look clean and neat, the kids (and everyone else) on the streets are completely undisciplined. The filth, the noise, all the 'rough' aspects of the city wear on one's mood very quickly. How can people live here? The buildings, even the major cultural sites, are crumbling. The city never recovered from the physical devastation of WWII, and the people seem to be permanently damaged as well.
Yet, the magnificence of the geography, the real cultural richness of the museums and churches, the food (despite the indifferent service you often encounter) and the fundamental realism that underlies the 'roughness,' all bring you back. You sometimes feel like you have to experience all the good things in Naples because, maybe, they are under appreciated by the people there. They go to the Capodimonte park to play soccer on Sunday and walk their dogs; you go for the Botticelli, the Carravagio, the Raphael. Italians asked us all the time 'why would you spend six days in Naples?'
Perhaps that's all unkind. Real life is dirty, often nasty, and only occasionally sublime. So is Naples. It's an eternal place on an eternal peninsula, a place where Roman generals built villas and awaited their triumphs, where Cicero had hoped to retire, a place of mystery and pleasure, a place destroyed by wars and by volcano and by criminality, yet there it is, sitting on the sparkling Golfo.
So we did six days in Naples. Hot and muggy almost the whole time, the hotel a mix-and-match of virtue and failures.
We went back to Naples because we felt there was more to see. There was, and we did. We did the Duomo and Via San Gregorio Armeno; we walked the via Toledo and had a marvelous lunch at Zi Teresa on the waterfront. We did Capodimonte and Ercolano; we saw street fairs and Mastiffs. We crawled through Naples underground and walked through alleys and private houses built around one of the most famous amphiteatres in the ancient world. The terrace garden of the hotel did amazing things to our histamine systems and the garlic did amazing things for our gastric systems. Missed Ste. Patricia's blood liquefying on Tuesday at the monastery of San Gregorio Armeno. Alas.
At the Capodimonte, in the same room, these pictures hang on opposite walls:
The master and the student, one could say. Lippi's Annuncation with saints is a wonderful painting: Gabriel's tenderness, the lyricism of Mary, the garden setting; even with the relatively somber John the Baptist reminding us of what's to come, it's a lovely piece in a lovely setting. What does it lack? See in the Botticelli the utterly mature and beautiful Virgin, now also a Mother. The 'Banbini' gaze directly at her, even reaching up to move aside her veil. Eye contact. True, the Saints in Lippi's annunciation are iconographic and there's no need for them to make eye contact with anyone (except for John, who stares at us.) But Gabriel, in this most intimate moment, looks in the general direction of Mary, but not at Mary. And she looks down at the grass and flowers at her feet. Modesty perhaps.
The linearity of the drawing in the Lippo is certainly something we also can see in Botticelli. But look at her hands: the Lippo is exaggerated (typically,) but Botticelli pulls off the same effect with less exaggeration, more tenderness. The student moves on.
This room is very well known and much written about And why not?
You know you've been a city long enough when you begin to make negative comparisons: this gelato is not as good as the one two days ago; the Donatell relief in this church is unremarkable (is there such a thing?) So it was time to move on to Sorrento. We hung around the terrace in Naples waiting for our ride, taking pictures. The hotel, like the restaurant the other day, gets a food delivery. This time it was breakfast condiments; 'finalmente' says the hotel steward.
The town or the hotel? I was urged to come to this 'ristorante / hotel' because it had the best pasta in Italy. Perhaps it does when the restaurant is open, but we found it closed. Either because it is October and it is always closed in October (last year it was closed in November,) or because there is a problem with the kitchen. We were told both. There are other disappointed guests and so I suspect the latter is more true. This means we have to make our way down into the town for meals which is inconvenient. And the town is what all the guidebooks describe: a tourist trap of the first order, even this time of year still so full of Europeans and English-speakers that the signs are all in English. So are the prices.
Still, the goal for Sorrento was R&R, and the room has a large terrace, and watching the cruise ships re-load their passengers and the smaller hydrofoils ply the deep blue, and seeing early morning light play over the peninsula and the bay was quite enough for a while. Mastering the bus / taxi choice was not difficult, and we actually ate well a couple of time, including modest but excellent fare at Da Gemma in Capri. That's a nice bit, since two years ago one our best meals was Da Gemma in Amalfi (no relation.)
Oh and Capri was... a wait on the dock watching the cats, a boat ride and some nice photo-ops, which we probably all blew. You'll have to check out the Picture Page , once it has been assembled. But now I can say I've been to Capri.
It seems every trip we have a goal for our itinerary planning and every trip we add Rome. This year we gave ourselves four days, and on the last evening we were still finding new things and new places only blocks from our hotel.
We thought we would stay in a new part of the city, and we did, right at Ponte Sisto. But the first couple of days we gravitated towards places we knew and wanted to know better. We back to Piazza Navonna and discovered that, finally, the restorations at St. Agnes in Agony are complete and it is open. Favorite restaurants were revisited and new favorites discovered on the way back to the hotel (gorgeous and delicious Roman Lasagna at Gino's al Funari! What a gift!)
There's a hole in the Ponte Sisto (the bridge, not the hotel) to relieve stress in case of a flood. We walked alongside the river and crossed over to Trastevere, watching the sluggish waters of the Tiber barely able to clear the garbage and debris from the buttresses below. The hole floated above the flow, serene but watchful, waiting below the pavement which was always full of tourists, pilgrims, and umbrella vendors. (Yes, it rained a little while we were in Rome, but only a little. The hotel used more water hosing down its terrace, it seemed.)
Our second day in Rome was 10/10/10; on the walk past Teatro San Marco up to the Capitoline to catch the picture gallery we missed the first time, there was a parade of Alfa Romeo Spyders. And when we got to the Capitoline, there were weddings everywhere. After all, it's city hall up there, along with everything else. So the busiest wedding day of the year, by a long shot.
Later, Trastevere was explored, as planned, and the old Ghetto. The hidden church of St. Cecelia was found and then we waited out another wedding to see the Stefano Maderno sculpture. We spent a evening at dinner with Bob and Maryann's friend Marzia, getting to meet her husband this time.
But, then, out hunting for one last gelato, the Farnese palace and it's amazing plaza are discovered, a whole new neighborhood of palazzos and restaurants, on our last night. What kind of planning is that? The kind that makes us go back!
Thirteen days and nights. The Chilean miners are coming back to the surface as we're flying home. It will take a couple of days to recuperate for all of us.
I bought an inexpensive all-digital video camera for the trip, to minimize the amount of gadgets I was carrying. So fewer pictures, less fancy stuff in the videos. Dorothy's stuff is probably the best. The Picture Page offers a collection of the best photos and the Video Page a few short videos, roughly in chronological order.
Italy 2010 in Pictures
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