quarta-feira, maio 25, 2016
I loved my recent trip to Naples and Pompeii. Arriving in Rome, at the Termini train station, when one presses the button "English" on the ticket vending machines, there pops up a message: "beware of pickpockets!", which reminds me how my wife was mugged as soon as we arrived in Rome, the first time I've been there, many ears ago. Familiar territory, then. The train to Naples takes only about an hour.
The city centre in Naples is very different from most European cities, usually gentrified and made up for tourists. Not here - the city centre is dirty, chaotic, lived in, and it feels like a refreshing place, no "boutique" hotels or "gourmet" places, but crowds of local people going about their business, cars and motorbikes driving everywhere, tourist shops amid local shops, food stalls where local people queue to eat, etc. And then there are lots of churches, among them the beautiful Duomo and San Domenico, and the small museum of the Capella Sansevero with the veiled Christ. The old Scapanapoli is a feast for the eyes, and it's always nice to eat an icecream or a babá au rum.
On the second day I walked along the corniche, from the Castelnuovo until the Donanna palace, along the beautiful bay. It looks like a different world from the sleazy city centre, with the stately buildings and the gorgeous views over the sea and the Vesuvius. The funicolare takes us to the Vomero neighbourhood, to castel Sant'Elmo, from where we can enjoy superb views over the city and the bay. The affluent neighbourhoods of Mergellina and Posillipo seemed miles away from the hectic centre, a sign of the city's diversity.
The Archeological Museum has a stunning collection, even if it's somewhat haphazardly shown. Great statues, amazing paintings and mosaics from Pompeii, not much information and a sad cafeteria with vending machines - couldn't they have set up a café?
Then a visit to Pompeii - I always wanted to go there, ever since reading about Winckelman's diggings when I was a child. The city is just amazing, one can really feel how this was a real city, extremely modern in many ways - the speed bumps, the night reflectors, the baths, the food stalls - and the decorated villas are just stunning. I could spend whole days there, exploring the streets, the villas and their beautiful frescoes, the theatres, shops, etc. The setting is beautiful, with the hills and the volcano in the background. The casts of the people killed and buried by the eruption are impressive and moving. One wonders how a big city would look like in the heyday of Roman times, from this small sample...How would have been Rome, Athens, Ephesus, Alexandria?
Back to Naples, we decided not to go to the Amalfi coast, beautiful as it must be, but rather enjoy a last day in the city. We visited the Capodimonte Museum - amazing collection of Renaissance painting, and very well displayed for a change - and then walked down from the museum to the city centre - popular narrow streets, with corny altars in every corner, lines of drying clothes, busy small shops. Toured the busy narrow streets of the centre and the Spagnioli quarter again, ate more ice creams and babas. It felt really good relaxing around this lively city, watching the scenic vistas over the bay and the Vesuvius, drinking strong espressos and eating tasting pizzas. Naples is a wonderful town, and it really made me look forward to know more of Southern Italy, and Sicily... Another time.
I knew about Matti Friedman, as about so many other people and stuff, on Facebook, through a good Israeli friend. She praised me his book The Aleppo Codex, which made me read it, and I liked it very much; I have since been reading his articles, always sensible, intelligent and articulate, so I was looking forward to reading his new book, that was published early this month. So, my expectations were high, and I was not in the least disappointed, actually it's even better than I expected. It's a very well written story, moving, engaging and thought provoking. Through its characters, ordinary - even if I dislike to use this word, because each one comes out as a unique and interesting individual - young men who find themselves right after high school in the middle of a dangerous, bloody and seemingly pointless low level war, one gets a clear and poignant picture of the violence and senselessness of war, and how meaningless and wasteful it all seems. Young boys die, huge human potential is lost, the status quo goes on; the similarities to other conflicts, other lives equally wasted is often evoked along the narrative's several allusions to the trenches of WWI and the sad and beautiful poetry of boys like Owen or Brooke. This doesn't mean these young men, the author included, were pacifists, they were all conscious of the need to protect a vulnerable country surrounded by enemies and willing to risk their lives to do it, even if they were probably not aware of what it really entailed, as young men usually aren't, with the youth's belief in its own invulnerability.
One of the things I liked most about the book is how it balances an articulate and sharp view of the historical and general context and a humane and insightful description of the individual people involved. He captures excellently the mood of the soldiers, the families, as of the country after the war, affectionately but never condescendingly. His analysis of the conflict and its consequences is lucid and realistic. Another thing I liked much was how he shows how our convictions, expectations and perspectives change with the events along the years, and how our appraisals are far from static, and what we believe to have been "always like this" actually changes a lot is as little a couple of decades - a good lesson lots of people should understand to think twice before embracing radical beliefs or making bombastic and too staunch statements.
The last part is particularly impressive, one really gets an eerie feeling of unreality and one turns the pages as in a thriller, almost as if one was there oneself, besides the narrator, driving on a simultaneously familiar and alien land, meeting these nice individuals that yet are the enemy. And again one is reminded that, in spite of all that divides us, we are all pretty much the same.
All in all, a great book, and I highly recommend it.
quinta-feira, março 24, 2016
segunda-feira, março 21, 2016
quarta-feira, março 09, 2016
sexta-feira, fevereiro 26, 2016
terça-feira, fevereiro 23, 2016
quarta-feira, fevereiro 17, 2016
O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis - it is set in the same time period, the 30s in Lisbon - but I think I liked this better. Simulataneously sad and hopeful, which is quite an achievement.