Saturday, November 1, 2008

See Naples and Die

Sorrento, on the Bay of Naples
By Pat Browning

I still remember that slogan on a poster in the first Italian restaurant I ever set foot in -- in Arkansas, after World War II. The red-checked tablecloths and candles dripping wax down the necks of wine bottles seemed exciting and exotic to someone who had never been out of Oklahoma and had never met an Italian.

Years later, I passed through Naples on my way to Pompeii and Sorrento. All I saw of Naples was the Autostrada, and young men walking through traffic to hawk cigarettes. I had to go to Sorrento to see the Bay of Naples, surely one of the world’s most beautiful sights.

Naples is an historic city with a tarnished reputation, as the base of organized crime. Two stories hit the headlines recently.

This is from Reuters:
Police in Italy are looking into reports that the Naples mafia plans to carry out its threat to kill the author of the best-selling book “Gomorra,” which has been made into a hit movie about mafia brutality, by Christmas.

Roberto Saviano, 29, has lived in hiding with 24-hour police protection for the past two years since the “Camorra,” as the mob in his hometown is known, decided to punish him for the huge success of his book, which is based on his own investigations.

It has sold 1.2 million copies in Italy and been translated into 42 languages. Now that it has hit the big screen and is a candidate for the Oscars, the mafia is even angrier and wants Saviano and his bodyguards killed as soon as possible
(end quote)

And this is from Time magazine:
In May 1993, after a high-profile spate of Mafia killings, John Paul II denounced the Mob's "culture of death" in an emotionally charged sermon in Agrigento, Sicily, the home turf of Cosa Nostra. "I say to those responsible: Convert!" he intoned, shaking his clenched fist and index finger. Two months after the dramatic papal appeal, the Mafia bombed two historic churches in Rome.

Pope Benedict XVI was certainly aware of that confrontation as he prepared this past weekend to visit Pompeii. The southern Italian city, near the ruins of an ancient site buried by a Mount Vesuvius volcanic eruption, lies in the heart of the region controlled by the Camorra. The Naples-based organized crime syndicate has lately tightened its grip on the impoverished region, with more killing sprees and a high-profile death threat against a young writer. But unlike John Paul, Benedict said nothing at all about the Mob in his Sunday homily.
(end quote)

In looking over my notes from my trip down the Amalfi Coast some years ago, I found a quote: “Mafia is an Arabic word meaning ‘honorable ones.’”

It’s the kind of thing tour guides love to tell goggle-eyed tourists, and it may even be true. I did an Internet search and couldn’t confirm it. The mafia’s beginnings in Sicily are obscured by the mists of time.

But I did find this at
The word “mafia” is taken from the old Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which has its roots in the Arabic mahyas, meaning “aggressive boasting, bragging” or marfud meaning “rejected”. Roughly translated, it means “swagger”, but can also be translated as “boldness, bravado”. In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.
(end quote)

So. Maybe it means swagger and maybe it means bravado. Maybe it means arrogant and maybe it means fearless. It might be easier to pin down a couple of other quotes from my notes:

“Capuccino got its name because it is the same shade of brown as the habits worn by Capuchin monks … The Amalfi Drive has 1400 curves …”


Jean Henry Mead said...

Great post and gorgeous photo, Pat. My husband and I were considering a trip to Italy but I now have some reservations. And I don't mean with an airline.

Anonymous said...

Italy is worth the trip. Southern Italy is so beautiful it could make you weep, and Rome -- there is no other city like it. Same with Pompeii.

I didn't even get to Northern Italy -- Milan, Venice, Lake Como, Tuscany. A nephew who plans to be a chef did an internship in Tuscany last year, and loved it.

To tell the truth, I was so accustomed to Chef Boy-Ar-Dee that I didn't like Italian food as it is cooked in Italy. (-:

But Italy is an experience not to be missed, if you have a choice.


Beth Terrell said...

I have always wanted to go to Italy, though if I ever do, I think I will steer clear of Naples! There's a tour company that organizes horseback riding tours through various countries (one on the Rob Roy trail in Scotland, another through French wine country with wine tastings and overnight stays at bed and breakfasts, and so on). They had one in Italy that looked absolutely beautiful.

Fascinating post, as always, Pat.