Napoli, full of complexities and contradictions, defies classification and doesn’t enjoy the bucket list reputation of so many Italian cities. Often treated as a pass-through en route to the Amalfi Coast, Naples is seldom explored and its many beguiling layers are overlooked by most travelers. If you do have the time to visit, you won’t be indifferent: you’ll either love it or feel just the opposite. There is no “in between.” You’re either drawn to its paradox of love, loss, sex, religion, superstition, birth and death or you may want to run away from it. For me, I love it. I felt its magnetism immediately — the good, the bad, and even the “brutti” … the ugly.
Besides being officially recognized by the EU as the home of pizza (pizza having been recently designated by UNESCO as a cultural treasure), Naples has a rich history and many spectacular Baroque churches. Not always as spiffy as other cities, it offers a veritable feast for the urban photographer. It’s sacred and profane. It’s both Old World and kitsch; camp and hip; seductive and bewildering. It’s chaotic and random; gritty, edgy and operatic. And somehow also pious, and even at times … serene. Napoli throbs with life, exuberance and color.
Part of Italian cultural DNA is to vacate the cities for the month of August and head for the beaches or mountains, with this tradition dating all the way back to 18 B.C.! This was the year Emperor Augustus, after whom the month of August is named (it was his favorite time of year), formally instituted the August ‘vaca’ by connecting various annual festivities celebrating the harvest to create an extended period of rest from the year’s labors. He filled this period with rituals, races, games and FUN. Known then as feriae augusti and today as Ferragosta, it later took on a Christian meaning as well coinciding with the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven celebrated on August 15th. Today, August 15th is a national holiday and much like our 4th of July or Memorial Day culminates in dazzling displays of fireworks filling the night skies.
Good or bad for tourists? … that depends on where you’re headed. There’s a bit more breathing room in major cities, though shops and restaurants may by be closed, with concerts and other activities making up for it. If you’re headed to the beaches, you’ll be sharing the sun, the sea and the sand . . . but even then, there are over 5,000 miles of spectacular coastline to discover and savor.
Photos featured are from Sardinia, Elba, Capri, Lipari, Sicily, Procida, Ischia, and the Amalfi Coast.
Ask yourself this: have you ever met anyone who really doesn’t like, if not love, Italian food? I bet you haven’t. So, just why is it that Italian cuisine has such universal appeal? Part of it is its endless diversity, with every region, town or even famiglia having its own distinctive style, resulting in a whole world of food within the “Boot.”
While Italian cuisine offers a dazzling kaleidoscope of variations, a couple of key qualities tie it all together: an emphasis on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and simply allowing quality ingredients to speak for themselves without fuss or frilly excess . . . something Americans have come to embrace more and more over the years. Italy is blessed with bountiful fruits and vegetables so it’s not surprising that Italians roll their eyes at the notion of “farm to table” being a new idea; it has always been at the heart of Italy’s culinary traditions. Plus, one shouldn’t underestimate that special “X” factor, best characterized as the alchemical addition of passione and amore.