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.’
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.
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 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