Naples A Way of Love makes me want to dance for joy. Photographer Carla Coulson and writer Lisa Clifford’s heartwarming travel book turns the commonly held perceptions of this raw Italian city upside down. Naples is an intense, complicated melting pot: harsh but also loving, rough but also gentle. It’s Italian life, up close and damn personal. Passion, poverty and much more than pizza.
“Despite the city’s enormous cultural and historical significance, Italy and the world have always been prejudiced against Naples. The media has focused on murders, organised crime, garbage and corruption, so we’ve been taught to fear and avoid Naples,” the authors write in the introduction. “Naples is the real Italy. Naples is not a tourist trap…. Here you can still catch the genuine heart and soul of Italy.”
- 1 million residents
- Founded 9th century BC as a Greek colony
- World heritage site
- One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth
- Called the City of Miracles because superstition and religious faith are an inseparable part of daily life
- Mandolin and romantic guitar created here
- Naples invented pizza!
Naples A Way of Love ‘s exquisite collection of photographs and vivid stories reveal a city most tourists never see. It’s the faces of ordinary Neapolitans, and that is what moves me so much. Carla snaps the pictures while Lisa Clifford interviews: 76-year-old Elena who is a car guard (watching over cars, scooters and bikes to make sure they’re not stolen), baker Raffaele who starts work daily at 5am to handmake sfogliatella pastries stuffed with ricotta; Salvatore whose food shop is overflowing with locally-produced proscuitto, Graziella and husband Franco, married for 62 years, who watch the world go by from their window in the city’s centre. And then there’s dancing Guiseppe, featured on the cover. He runs a fruit and vege stall in the Spanish Quarters, and when he saw the camera, he grabbed a customer for an impromptu waltz. What’s not to love?
The book has a helpful index of addresses on where to find best pizzerias, trattorias, gelatto, tailors, chocolate makers, coffee and pasticcerie.
Australians by birth, Lisa lives in Florence with her husband and two children, and Carla wrote a book, Italian Joy, about the hardships and joys of living in Florence, in the early part of the last decade. She now lives in Paris with her Italian husband, Francesco.
My Q & A with Carla
In the book you say: “Don’t show off what you have”. Did you ever feel your personal safety was at risk?
Naples is a wonderful city full of generous people and incredible architecture and food but there is also a lot of poverty. Where there is poverty there is petty crime. Lisa and I were always careful to be discreet and as low key as possible, I had my camera in a plastic shopping bag but I have always felt safe in Naples. It’s important for travellers not to walk around with jewellery, watches, handbags and cameras swinging around their necks. Just put your money in your pocket and enjoy.
What are your favourite Neapolitan foods?
I love Neapolitan pizza. I promised to stop eating after the first trip but never managed. I adore the ‘Caprese’ just the simple tomato base with mozzarella di bufala and basil.. Divine.
Was it difficult to get Neopolitans to open up, agree to be interviewed and photographed?
On previous trips to Naples I was always shocked by the generosity and friendliness of the Neapolitans and was confident we could do this book by walking up to people and talking to them. On our first day of shooting and writing this book, Lisa and I walked out of our apartment and looked at each other and said ‘she looks interesting… shall we go and say hello?’ And that first person was kind, generous, funny, warm and sent us onto another person who had a great story. Neapolitans are natural communicators and when they realised we didn’t want to show the negative side of Naples they all wanted to talk and offer coffee!
What were the challenges in writing and photographing Naples?
For me as a photographer the challenge was where to start and finish. I feel like I could go on shooting Naples for ever, it is a photographer’s dream, a photo every 2 seconds and some days it was difficult to put the camera down. My challenge was to capture the emotions of the people and the passion of this great city and each morning I reminded myself of this before I left the house.
I love the continuity of tradition. Is this the bastion of older people or are younger people also holding onto them?
Like all cultures things change from generation to generation but places like Naples remain traditional and that is one of the great joys. We had so many young people enthusiastically explain a saying, a way of doing things or a cultural event.
Are traditions being lost?
Traditions are being lost all around the world and also in Italy although at a slower rate. One of the things that Lisa and I noted about the people of Naples is that they truly understand they live in a magical place, and where there is respect and love for where you live I believe preserving traditions comes easy.
Do you have any favourite pictures in the book?
Yes, the little boys playing on the streets on page 51. This is the kind of image I always loved when I looked at images from old books of Italy. There is an innocence and simplicity in this image, a feeling of the way children played on the streets in times gone by and I adore the wonderful energy between all the boys, and that they were unaware of me.
What do you personally love about Naples? Did this change over time?
I have always loved the sensation of abundance, of food shops and markets overloaded with products, of markets on every street corner and the sensation of Italy on steroids. Naples is chaotic, rich, generous and abundant and these were my first impressions almost 13 years ago when I arrived for the first time, and it is the same sensation I had each trip. The generosity of Naples is legendary. I love this about Naples!
Naples A Way of Love published by Lantern (imprint of Penguin Australia), $A49.99. Images courtesy of Lantern.