There’s no getting away from it. Naples is rubbish.
Really. Everywhere you drive, there are piles of festering rubbish, subsuming dumpsters and laybies and spilling into the traffic. Blowing around in the balmy breeze. I don’t know what the cause of the much-laboured binmen’s strike is in the famous old city, but it’s causing a stink alright – no trash has been collected in weeks.
I know this only first-hand from driving around the suburbs – they’re literally piling it up against the sides of Vesuvius. Of course, smug people with sat-navs would have missed this level of cultural experience after picking up their boxy hire cars from the airport and making their way smoothly out of the city. But we’re not so narrow minded. When we arrived a couple fo weeks ago, we took forty minutes to actually head south on the motorway, meandering the ups and downs and round-rounds of the local backroads, marveling at the contemporary displays of municipal politics, so charmingly expressive of the region. Even knowing Italian road culture reasonably well, you still don’t stand an empty dustbin’s chance in Naples of getting to the right place logically. Not if you follow the roadsigns. Rookie mistake.
Still, we hardly came here for the roadsignage or the laybies. We came here for… sleep, I think actually. And we’ve had plenty of that.
Much as I could bang on about the casual beauty of Cilerno and Amalfi – the undulous, igneous grandeur, spilling from craggy, hairpin, hawk-eye heights into the glittering, azure glaze of sweeping mediterranean coastlines; vast amphitheatrical sunsets blazing into the horizon behind the sharp silhouette of Capri while lizards, swallows, bats and bugs frolic around the verdant hillsides and between the dancing magenta of rampant bourganvillea blooms, to the sound of crickets and flamenco guitar and to the smell of the freshest, simplest pizzas cooking al forno in old al fresco clay ovens, served by jolly, moustachio-ed restauranters and sparkling-eyed waitresses, everyone smiling and clinking bowl-sized glasses of fresh local chardonnay – I’m pretty sure you’d rather be assured about Italian telly.
We stayed a couple of nights in Maori – a nice little seaside town, a couple of clicks along the coast from the noisier, more precariously-perched Amalfi. One of the things you have to do with a half-way decent hotel room – before you empty the minibar and set fire to everything – is walk past all the nice restaurants on the way back to it one night and head instead to the local Spar, picking up a vast selection of snacks and picky food to spread across the bed in front of the local TV channels.
Now, I know it’ll sound like I’m making this up. It can’t still be the 1980s in Italy, can it? Oh yes, my friend – this country can be one of the friendliest, nicest, most beautiful, feel-good places to visit, make no mistake – but many things are still as you’d hope they’d be here.
As soon – as soon – as I’d switched on the little wall-mounted 17-inch, what greeted me was two ‘funny looking’ chaps, one with goofy hair and one with sensible hair, sitting next to each other at a desk with a funny sign over it, making goggly-eyed jests to camera and to each other, to the recorded hilarity of an apparent studio audience. All well, I thought, perching eagerly on the edge of the king-size, while Caroline took a shower.
Then appeared the never-long-out-of-shot Obligatory Unbelievably Beautiful Girls, possibly talking about cell phones, with little conviction but masses of eye lash upholstery.
Then. Then he appeared. The random bloke in a bright red, giant comedy-headed, amusingly huge-footed, big wobbly-bellied character costume waddled onto stage, ‘speaking’ in an amusing squeeky voice and waving his huge, red, comedy hands. To much more hilarity.
Cut to commercials.
Cut back, mindless minutes later, to the same set and funny sign and studio applause and the two Obligatory Unbelievably Beautiful Girls gyrating to disco in hot pants, shuddering gusetts at the twirling camera and removing skimpy tops down to bra-tops. And all this casual Spearmint Rhino choreography was under bright, family-viewing type studio lighting, mere feet from a completely comfortable-looking audience of very mixed ages, grinning and clapping along. The dance area of this Friday night prime time show’s studio seemed to blend into the desk-top of the two hilarious hosts, and so, naturally, the two OUBGs, upon finishing their splendidly half-hearted soft porn manoeuvres, stalked over to them and perched down on either side of the shot in their heels. Like two enormous table decorations.
It’s not that I have any problem with this at all, of course. They were very nice table decorations – and the dark-haired one on the right had the decency to look reasonably intelligent and so ever-so slightly aware of her role and its importance to her culture. You could see some of this in her eye. It was sweet. Then they all broke into a water balloon fight with the audience and everyone in little bra tops ended up suddenly soaking and she looked chirpier again. Then I think they read some viewers emails. And did a piece about disability access in hi-rise blocks.
As Caroline joined me and sat enraptured, we found ourselves watching the Wind Music Awards. Which was essentially a succession of short, 70s-chic-slick middle-aged men playing piano balads and being handed wobbly plastic stars on springs by Impossibly Tall Unbelievably Beautiful Girls in glittery mini skirts. All of them. Like they were bred somewhere.
This managed to keep itself and us going for so many hours we eventually thought we should call it a night. One of the glittery ladies at one point said, inexplicably but with great conviction, “Passe Wind” – and after all that cured meat and red wine, we thought we would.
The rest of the time – almost two weeks now – we’ve been in a nice little town across the bay from Amalfi, called Santa Maria di Castelabate. The view from our hilside terrace over the town is 180° of stunningness looking out across the sea (see above). It’s fab, basically. Probably all you need to know. Except that we’ve been drinking a healthy amount of the local vino and ignoring the sadly-obvious problems of waistline that the last year has left us with.
Only one night did I overdo it so much I woke up at six AM with an amateur’s headache. It was, in fact, a throbbing head full of concrete and a wobbly stomach that made me pace the flat and the terrace for an early morning hour, threatening to roll in like bad weather from the bay, not unlike the gigantic thunder storm the night before.
It eventually led me smartly to the bathroom and gave me a dressing down, telling me I was a silly boy and I wasn’t to do such a damn-fool thing again and I should count myself lucky I wasn’t getting a lot worse than toilet detention and a ticking off. Then, to emphasis the point, it brought me to the brink with suddenly-watering gills, fluttery hints of lastnight’s pesto in the windpipe,a nd wobbly legs, pacing me up and down the tiled floor of the loo breathing deeply and saying ‘oh dear’ quietly… then it just evaporated. Lifted like a storm break or an idle threat. And I went immediately to bed and mercifully conked out. Grateful to be spared, wise in my learning of lesson, and wondering if we had any nice wine in for the evening…
Sadly, we come home in a week. I couldn’t have loved this place more.