Trips to the Past: Naples, Gabriel

During lockdown, with the prospect of travel seeming further away than ever before, a lot of us will be feeling an extra strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia for our past trips and adventures. G You is happy to present a series of travel writings reminiscing on our community’s favourite and most meaningful trips to remind ourselves of the joys and growth travel can bring. Our next ‘Trip To The Past’ is to Naples, by Gabriel Rutherford. 

It was the poet Tennyson who famously exclaimed ‘See Naples and die’. Personally, I feel like the opposite is true – seeing Naples is a motivation to live, a call-to-arms for all the senses and the will to live well. 

Family holidays when you’re fourteen or fifteen are never really much fun. Fourteen and fifteen year olds have the hardest lot among all the teenagers I think: being groomed to sit exams, in the lower years of high school, and without the privileges afforded to older teenagers, despite the fact that you feel so ready for them, combines to make a rather miserable lot in hindsight. Add to this all the stresses and petty conflicts that naturally come of that stage of growing up, and it completes a perfect storm. Personally, when I was about that age, the key thing I was looking for is understanding. It’s like listening to The Smiths when you’re younger, and not getting why they’re so miserable all the time and why everyone seems to sympathise. Then you listen again, when you’re a bit older, and something seems to have changed, or a switch has been flipped – you get it. And there’s a real power in that feeling of being able to relate to something, of getting it. That’s what a lot of fourteen and fifteen-year olds are wanting I think: being able to connect to the outside adult world that they’re promised access to. 

So back to Naples, where I went with my family when I was, as you can probably guess, fourteen. In truth, ‘Naples’ is a bit of a synecdoche – we were spiriting around the entire bay that Naples lies at the heart of. This started at a small town called Vico Equense, which looks directly on to Naples across the bay. It was a small, bustling kind of place, and thankfully wasn’t too tourist-y. Of course, tourists rarely venture south of Rome at all when visiting Italy. I tend to find most people will prefer Venice or Milan to Naples and its bay, or at least the former are more recognized as tourist hotspots. This is quite possibly one of the greatest injustices meted out to Naples, among many others. The view of Naples across the bay, looking off the balcony from the apartment in Vico Equense is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever, or will ever, see. While in Vico, we visited the essential places to visit on the bay of Naples – the ruined town of Pompeii, and it’s far better preserved but less famous cousin, Ercolano. The pizza in Ercolano, as an aside, was the best I’ve ever had. 

Moving on from Vico Equense, we spent a day in the larger town to the south, Sorrento, famous for its lemons and its limoncello, a sweet lemon-based liqueur that I would recommend to anyone who can find it in Glasgow – it’s usually sold by Italian delis like Celino’s. Sorrento bustled, a town white with the heat of moving people. Mugs with Mussolini’s face on them sold beside ones with quotes from Gramsci and T-shirts with the legendary footballer Maradona as Che Guevara – the South of Italy is famous for being politically contrary, flirting with both sides of the political spectrum. 

Sorrento passed by, and we finally went to Naples proper. It is a place both beautiful and tragic. The beauty of the basilicas and palaces, scabbed with graffiti that hasn’t been scrubbed off, ‘ACAB’ bright against the white stone. The city bustles, humming with activity. Naples is famous for gang activity, many local councils have had to be shut down because of Camorra involvement. Were Naples a country, it would have the 68th biggest economy in the world. These two facts are not unrelated. There is, however, a beautiful corner of Naples that lies hidden from the world. The Capella Sansevero, if you can find it, hides the most beautiful sculpture in the world. Sculpted in 1750 by Giuseppe Sanmartino, Veiled Christ is exquisite, and must be seen in the flesh to be believed. What sums up Naples best is that this church contains beautiful artworks, and yet it has been neglected and hidden away from the world. Beauty lies in Naples in these quiet places – but you must seek it out. 

The thing about Naples is, it showed me something for the first time. It’s the most naturally aesthetically beautiful place I’ve ever been to and that’s what I really remember it for. It showed me something I didn’t really get at the time, but understand a lot better now: it showed me what true beauty is in a single place. Beauty lies in Naples. It lies in the bay, in looming Monte Vesuvio, in the surrounding towns, in the soul of the people and in the entire time you spend there. See Naples and live. 

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