Friday, June 19, 2009


Naples, 1996

I love Italy.

I like a lot of places. But the scale and the mood of Italy seem to suit my temperament nicely. Italians haven’t checked out of the world. In fact, they have more than their fair share of political, economic and social turmoil. But they seem to rise above it nicely, knowing that whatever intolerable conditions exist today will likely be replaced before long with new conditions that, even if they're not better, will at least be different. In the meantime, why don’t we eat well, dress up a little and have a nice passeggiata?

On a rainy, bitter cold late December day, my wife and daughter and I took a bus tour from Rome down to Pompeii. It really was a miserable day, the rain occasionally giving way to sleet. But the trip was punctuated by several wonderful moments.

Visiting Pompeii, even in the rain, was far more dramatic than I'd expected. To walk in the same streets on the same stones, to touch ancient walls and look at ancient art so vivid, timely and accessible as to have been drawn just yesterday was thrilling. I don’t consider myself to have any extraordinary metaphysical abilities. But one would have to be deaf not to hear ancient life echoing off those streets and walls.

The bus tour was a pretty dreary affair. Between attractions, they’d drop you off at rip-off joints you’d rather avoid. (Believe me, I know more than anyone needs to know about the artisanal marquetry of Sorrento.) Lunch was at an “authentic Neapolitan restaurant” that was more like a Disney version of a Neapolitan restaurant, right down to the husky waiters wandering around the dining room strumming guitars and singing songs for tips. (Think O solo mio at Olive Garden.)

What we didn’t know was that among the members of our tour group was a well-known Asian opera singer. I didn’t get her name that day and have never been able to find out who she was since. But like many people whose lives are suffused with music, this woman felt comfortable and relaxed enough to stand up from her table and sing along with the waiters. Her voice complemented the male voices, at times soaring above and around them. The crowd was transfixed and erupted in applause when she finished. People who hadn’t mumbled a word during their meal stood up and cheered madly.

Rather than embrace the serendipity of the moment, the waiters were pissed. They thought the lady was working the room for their tips. But of course she wasn’t. When she realized that her singing might have interrupted their income, she politely sat down and resumed her meal.

More photographs of Italy can be seen here.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful memory! I was transported back to Italy immediately reading this. I really hope one day I get to return--I had such a visceral response to Italy, more than any other place I've ever traveled to. Your flickr set of Italy photos is my favorite of all time. Great post!!