Pompeii, Italy: New days in the old place

 |   |  2 min read

Pompeii, Italy: New days in the old place

Alfonso lives in the hills behind Sorrento and is Neopolitan by birth.

"But the two places are very different, you know. I don't want to say anything against the Spanish . . ." he says, but the pause is the giveaway.

"But when that pope, you know the one maybe 400 years ago, when he came to be pope he appoint a Spanish king -- and all the trouble in Napoli come from then.

"The Camorra," he says, referring to the local Mafia, "they start back then with the Spanish, but now it is genetic in the people I think. So I don't want to say anything against the Spanish because I have many Spanish friends, but you know . . . I think maybe it was the Moorish Spanish actually."

We have met Alfonso -- late 50s, educated, well travelled including three business ventures to Japan and a holiday in Melbourne to see a distant cousin -- in Pompeii and his non-stop conversation is full of wit and polite qualifications.

"I like the English, I have been to England many times and know I could have a good life there, so I don't want to say anything bad about the English -- but they have a . . . I think a 'higher up' attitude because they like their royalty.

"Me? I don't like the royalty and the Italian people are happy not to have any more kings after the war. But the English, it is part of their culture so they are proud of that. It is good for them maybe, but not for the Italians."

Alfonso jokes about his attempts to sell mozzarella and wine to the Japanese through a business partner there -- "but they don't like the cheese and the wine then, maybe now they do and I was too soon" -- and gently, in a few phrases of Danish, ribs some Danish tourists who walk past.

"Danish think they are number one, but now Italian number one."

A Dane laughs back, "but now we give you money to keep you number one -- so maybe we are really number one."

It's all harmless -- and meaningless, unless it was about football and went right past me -- but Alfonso gets irritated when a woman sees us coming up the lane towards her and clutches her handbag to her chest.

"Madam, please," he says with an exaggerated whine of pain. "We are sophisticated people, not like you read about in your tourist books."

He turns to me genuinely hurt: "So many people they come to Napoli and Pompeii and they hear about the pickpockets or the thieves and they think we are all like that. This is wrong, you must tell your people this. We are good people.

"Oh look, there is the Casa della Venere, it has a wonderful fresco we should look at."

The lazy afternoon rolls by and there is much banter, the odd break for a cigarette, and plenty of effortless local history and politics pouring off Alfonso's tongue as we walk among the ruins of a city once home to 20,000 citizens but which was wiped out in a day.

"This was a cosmopolitan city." says Alfonso who speaks five languages. "People from all over the known world would be here."

And he looks around the visitors from all nations pointing their digital cameras at the ancient stones.

"Just like it is now again maybe," he laughs.

For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Travels articles index

Sydney, Australia: I'll be back. Or not.

Sydney, Australia: I'll be back. Or not.

My recollection is this, that after having interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger for some ludicrous and subsequently unsuccessful movie I went back to my room overlooking Sydney Harbour and read the... > Read more

The Australian Outback: The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Australian Outback: The Man Who Knew Too Much

There's a much repeated reason why the men of Outback Australia are so tight-lipped. "Flies. Open your mouth and a fly gets in," says a weather-beaten guy in a faded Akubra at the bar... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE PIPKINS: From the people who brought you . . .

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . THE PIPKINS: From the people who brought you . . .

You are allowed to smirk in contemptuous admiration at British popular taste, it knows no depths to its shamelessness. This is the nation which gave us Carry On films, cringe-inducing... > Read more

The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band: Polkapocalypse (Monkey)

The Benka Boradovsky Bordello Band: Polkapocalypse (Monkey)

The problem with playing certain kinds of folk music -- Jewish klezmer, polka and gypsy music come to mind -- is that it can too easily fall into the area of parody and ridicule, albeit... > Read more