See Naples and die

The interpretation being that Naples is such a fabulous city, it can’t be surpassed, and having seen it, one can die happy.

It’s often attributed to Goethe, whose Letters from Italy include a section on Naples, but I couldn’t find this quote there.

Whatever, my ideas about Naples were far more mundane: pizza, ice-cream, slums and Mafia. I was apprehensive about visiting, and was convinced I would be targeted for pick-pocketing at the very least in this crime-infested poverty-stricken hub of southern Italy.

Memories are hazy, but it was a glorious day in December and I was surprised at the opulence and grandeur of the city, as we got off the train and made our way haphazardly around.

I don’t recall investigating the slums, I didn’t get pick-pocketed and I’m sure we ate pizza. No ice-cream in those quaint blocks of pink, white and brown slices.

My diary tells me I watched an interesting demonstration, and ‘[a] few castles, big boats, pretty sea.’

The castle. In Napoli. I think!
The castle. In Napoli. I think!

Naples is the setting for the fourth book in the Roma series by Gabriel Valjan. Our team of financial investigators now find themselves in southern Italy, and inevitably confronting the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, with one of the team taking on the extremely dodgy role as an undercover member of the Totaro clan. Rather him than me.

Turning to Stone
Turning to Stone

The team is augmented by a mysterious and enigmatic intern, who studies the sociology of criminal organisations, and speculates about how the local Mafia is transforming itself to move away from traditional areas of crime. For me, this was one of the fascinating aspects of the book. Here the intern Tommaso is discussing how the rising Mafia star Matteo views currency, which he plans to exploit:

“Money is supposedly the root of all evil, but that is inaccurate. It is the love of money that creates evil. Money should create freedom; it should create leisure, and allow someone to do other things in life. It is all a matter of perspective. The evil in money starts when one tries to make more money with it.” He touched the money on the table. “The euro and the dollar are the two dominant currencies on the world market. This is why the Americans and the European Union are at odds.

“The EU evolved, became a competitor, but not always an obedient ally. The taste of power corrupts and those who have power want to maintain it. Note that I am not saying whether that power is American or European. The countermeasures to losing power were implemented. Step one was move sovereignty from national capitals to Brussels, and put the power in the hands of non-elected officers who are closely connected to financial lobbyists. Step two, use think-tanks and sell the idea that the State is evil and the Free-Market is good. Propaganda. Step three, dismantle public healthcare, public education, and labor guarantees. That is where we are now. The result is that both people and society are at the mercy of corporations. The new Camorra seeks the same effect: fluidity of power without national identity or political boundary.

“As I said, money can buy freedom but in our world it is associated with consumption. In the past, having money meant that you didn’t work. In today’s thinking, money means that you can buy more. Matteo counts on the chains of debt, both political and psychological.

“Think of international loans . . . isn’t giving loans to northern countries at an interest rate of three percent as opposed to five percent for southern countries not control? As for the psychological . . . austerity measures have led to austerity riots. That is a statement of the daily reality of the people walking the street, maxed out on credit cards and in a perpetual state of anxiety, feeling betrayed by their government or hostile to foreigners. For an American it means no more retail therapy, unless there is another credit card. It means no more picket fence and two-point-two children when a family struggles to survive and finds out jobs are abroad because profit margins are wider elsewhere. Work with no secure retirement or safety net is a form of slavery. Desperate is the social reality.”

It struck me as all too true reading these words, in a month when one friend has returned to the UK (for the fourth time) because he has no future in Spain/Gib. At 60, and renting, without work he can’t survive. He’s hoping to get work in the UK and eventually get picked up by the safety net for vulnerable people. What safety net?

Another lives on a boat. His annual mooring fees are due. I have no idea what will happen to him. He’ll lose the boat I should imagine. Let’s hope he doesn’t run out of girlfriends to stay with.

One can question who is manipulating who in real life as we see people’s financial stability eroded, the workhouse is introduced by default, yet banks get bailed out, corrupt government ministers walk free, and austerity measures (as mentioned above) are imposed to bail out banks and governments. But the tiny people at the bottom of the heap will always come off worst as others pursue the root of all evil.

There were a few errors in book four, which was a shame, but not enough to hugely spoil the story. And, somewhat near the end, I’m not convinced why anyone would seriously offer themselves up at a meeting of mafioso capos. Very risky behaviour.

However, it’s an interesting thoughtful fourth book in this series, with book five, Corporate Citizen, due shortly. Valjan is on a roll with this successful recipe of characters, investigations, locations, and not least, Italian food and wine. For something a little different, I recommend this series.

Gabriel Valjan
Gabriel Valjan
Gabriel Valjan lives in New England, USA. He went to university in southern California and gained his master’s in Medieval Studies in England.

He’s worked as an engineer, a nurse, and is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and an advanced scuba diver. Gabriel has enjoyed traveling round Europe and North America.

Book provided through Italy Book Tours.

Neapolitan food … via Gibraltar

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63 comments on “See Naples and die

  1. I liked Naples. Was aware of clutching my bag tightly but nothing cropped up as remotely sinister. A great base for Herculaneum and Pompeii. And we ate pizza. Quite a lot of pizza, actually, with sloshy but delicious middles.

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    • That sounds like a very similar experience to mine. We actually stayed in Salerno. ‘Did’ H and P one day, then Naples the next, and jumped on the train to Roma. In retrospect Naples merited more time. As did other parts of southern Italy. But Interail passes only lasted for a month and I actually did give half of that to Italy.
      What fascinated me about Italy was rectangular pizzas. Which, as you can see, left its mark on me. Don’t think I’ve ever made a round one.

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  2. My memories of Naples? On my first visit being followed around Piazza Garibaldi by a very creepy guy and in the end retreating to my hostel. On my second visit: a very ancient woman saving me from being pickpocketed by beating the perp with a rolled up newspaper, my third visit – a taxi driven by a formula one standard driver (actually it was quite exciting) and the evening ferry leaving the bay of Naples for Sicily. Every visit included a trip to the Capodimonte to see the Caravaggios. To me Naples feels unsettling, happy to pass through but not a place to linger…

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  3. Americans do give unusual bio’s, don’t they? I have nothing against anything the man says he’s done, it just seems like an odd combination. There’s no focus. Just random facts about one’s history.

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  4. Uncle Ron was in Naples at some point in WWII…he remembered people eating pasta with their hands…lifting it high and dropping it in. He thought it was poverty and was told by his interpreter that it was how locals ate…

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        • OMG. My attempts at pasta by hand have been my biggest culinary disasters ever. Pastry, shortcrust and puff (not rough puff), any dough, chappatis, tortillas, but pasta? Nunca. I think we buy Barolli from Morrisons. I have a post somewhere about a ravioli disaster, inspired by someone else’s perfect ravioli. But pizza? Piece of cake. So to speak.

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          • I like making pizza – just as well given the offerings in the local town! But while there’s good pasta in the shops I’m not tempted to make my own again. I might have to try to remember how to make filo again, though as what is on offer here is worse than useless.

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  5. I’m impressed you still have diary entries to refer to your travels, the pics to correspond with the book review including regional cuisine inspiration:)
    Interesting novel in its contemporary social commentary.

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  6. Now I know where to go to, to find a mafia family that can adopt me. :lol: I will terrify them for sure and they’ll pay my hubby to take me back. hahahaha!

    That sure is a great way to see money and I feel the same. Money should create freedom, leisure and allow someone to do as they want in life. Good things – not bad things. It definitely is a matter of perspective.

    Unfortunately for some money is the root of all evil, because they use it to undermine others. Like the government and ours are definitely part of it. They just want more and more and more and doesn’t care what happens to the ones who just have to pay. Usually the ones that doesn’t have money to spend.

    Sounds like a very interesting book. Great review darling. :D

    Yum!!! Why the hell don’t I have a jet just so I can fly over and come and eat that yummy pizza of yours??? When that does happen, I will bring you the ingredients as well. To your heart’s desire. :D

    Big Hugs and Lots of kisses to you and Snows from a very hot and now hungry Souf Effrican. :lol:

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    • You’ll need a passport darls. But yes, a few screaming vervets in hand and you may will terrify them 🐒

      I liked the analysis of the money, I thought it was too true, interesting and honest. Sadly so. It’s a film book 😉

      Hey, one day in another life we’ll eat pizza together. Cheese on your half! 😀

      Snowy has just attacked me for kisses in the middle of the night. Silly dog.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. TTIP and CETA are the current great power grab. The rich need consumers to buy their products, but they don’t need those consumers to be all the population.

    As for your friend returning to the UK, the thing to watch out for is the “Habitual Residence” rules. The Department for Withholding Payment is likely to say his “habitual residence” is Gibraltar, so he is not entitled to benefit. This was for three months, though like a lot of rules it has become more draconian recently.

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      • As things stand at the moment, it will not be so bad when he reaches 68, as long as his partner is no younger than that. That was another Tory change: before, a couple got pension credit as retired based on the age of the elder, but now it is based on the age of the younger. Benefits for the old are as generous, but fewer people qualify.

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  8. The quotation may or may not have been ‘on the money’, but it didn’t seem to me novelistic. It reads like a mini essay. Musil got away with this sort of thing by devoting separfate chapters to it, but that was a one-off solution I think.

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    • It worked in the context of this book because this character was sharing his academic perspective. Or maybe it worked for me because I thought it was accurate. I think in a novel it’s nice to have something to think about. Pretty much most of the classics waxed lyrical about pet subjects. Take Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

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  9. Quite a surmise in retrospect. I take it one could die just as happily had they never seen Naples? ;)

    Is the whole book based such idioms/common phrases and the verification or devaluation of their underlying philosophies, or are these merely samples of what would catch the reader’s eye due to the popularity of said idioms as part of the story narrative to keep the reader engrossed?

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