Travel journals are not a genre that has previously featured in my ‘to be read pile’. But the joys of Twitter are that you can share the enthusiasm someone has for a book then find yourself lucky enough to get if after they have finished reading it. Such was the case with this book.
The rewards of being open minded are that you can be transported into Naples without having to leave your seat. Clearly the authors, who both write chunks of the story, are in love with the City but not blindly being prepared to acknowledge the crime and disrepair.
But what they manage to do in a reasonably slim volume is provide you with a feel for Naples that you could only get from actually going there. The history is provided but crucially it is where the history impacts the present where things are concentrated. How come the great city fell into such a state and why crime is so prevalent are some of the questions that are dealt with.
In fact the second part of the book covers the experience that Steegmuller has being a victim of a snatch and grab criminal on a moped. Being dragged along the pavement after failing to release the grip on the bag he ends up in a serious state in hospital. But the experience with the witnesses, ambulance drivers and doctors is one that reaffirms the basic idea that Neapolitans are good people and the place is special.
After closing the book you realise that perhaps there is a middle way between a straight travelogue and some sort of dry guide book. The personality here is Naples and not the authors and as a result it makes the experiences they write about feel accessible to all.
The second half of the book focuses on one episode suffered by the photographer Francis Steegmuller. He recounts how the mistake of letting down his guard for just a moment allowed a moped riding bag snatcher to sneak in and grab his bag. He didn’t let go and was dragged along the cobbles.
What happened next is used to illustrate not just the generous character of Neapolitans but also the very essence of the place. Crime is accepted but disliked and as he travels to the hospital he benefits from the wisdom shared by those that have lived through it before.
He is patched up and recovers but mentally he has been not just a victim but had his love of Naples tested to a degree that perhaps most foreigners would fail and walk away from.
But he resolves to come back and even retraces his steps. The friendships made in the moment of great stress are still there and as an example of a city surviving and adapting to the most difficult circumstances the story of the attack serves its purpose very well.
The book is then closed with some comments about the love affair that the city has sparked off for Hazzard and numerous others. Makes you want to pack your bags and head to the City to see the sights.
A review will follow soon…
One of the joys of twitter has been the chance to hear what other people like reading and then occasionally be lucky enough to be sent a book that has inspired someone.
That happened with The Ancient Shore a memoir and travel journal written by two voices, both foreigners to Naples, who had adopted the city and dived deep into its history and tried to describe the magic that had enchanted them.
The first section is by Shirley Hazzard who weaves in her own story moving to the Italian City in the 1950s with the history of the famous city. The city had acted as a beacon for artists of the past with the likes of Oscar Wilde and Henry James enjoying spells in the city. But to the modern reader the city is most linked with corruption, crime and a sense of faded glory.
Hazzard manages to take you through the past and the present but still instill a sense of wonder at the city making the wise remark that you have to live somewhere to really get under the skin and travel guides and pictures books can only take you so far.
That might be the case for the usual guide book but this slim volume manages to convey a feeling that is inspirational.