See Naples and then die

Angelo Forgione dispels the of Naples myths and reveals the reality  By A. Sujit

Angelo Forgione is a journalist and writer who covers the culture, customs and history of Naples and Southern Italy, and maintains the grammatical and orthographic integrity of the formal Neapolitan language. He is also a famous sports expert. Despite his close connection to the Neapolitan land and way of life, his perspective on the situation is absolutely objective. His views are quite significant. Reading his essays, therefore, it is easy to understand the situation in which the Neapolitans find themselves.

For more than 150 years, Italy has spread negative myths about what was once the Kingdom of Naples, a kingdom that included all of Southern Italy. However, discussions with tourists disprove these false claims and prove that Naples is a surprising city full of delights. The southern Italian capital continues to impress foreign visitors and local Italians alike, despite the bad propaganda it suffers from. This paradise, embraced by Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei, was once the most populous and active of the “boot”, at least from the 14th to the mid-19th century. Today it reveals itself as a world rather than a city.

Those who visit Naples want something more than just a place to relax; they want to experience what it is like to be a true Neapolitan, taste the delicious cuisine, learn about the intriguing history and experience daily life. Forgione explains that the adventure traveler is motivated to discover how the tenacious Neapolitan community has persevered in the face of two active volcanoes that have the potential to have dire consequences.

Due to terrible myths, some of which are still widespread among Italians living in Italy and those who are abroad, most people, including many Neapolitans, are unaware of the city’s major historical riches. In some Italian textbooks distributed abroad, Neapolitans, and the inhabitants of southern Italy, are described as criminals, just as Cesare Lombroso defined them. As Forgione claims, this is an unjustified stereotype which hides the truly great national scandals which have occurred since the post-war period and which originate in that territory with the most opportunities and greatest capacity to attract wealth, that is Northern Italy. The writer refers to the scandals of wine, ethanol, the contracts for the Milan Expo and the MoSE in Venice, the Parmalat crash and then the legal disputes between the Juventus football team and the Agnelli family, and all the Northern multinationals and all the banks that have stolen much more than all the Neapolitan thieves put together. In fact, cleaning has often been taken care of by the competent Neapolitan judiciary. Across Europe, Italian corruption peaked when Milanese tenders for the 2015 Milan Expo were tainted.

As a result, we were forced to form a National Anti-Corruption Association. Raffaele Cantone, a Neapolitan magistrate charged with preserving the transparency and integrity of government procedures, was given initial control of this institution. Given the astonishing honesty of Neapolitans, who make up the clear majority and their origins of those responsible for the great Italian frauds, the presumption that Neapolitans are con artists which is mentioned much too frequently is remarkable. The G7 in Naples, which was chosen to present a different image of the country one of its regal beauty and historical significance and the cleaning up of contracts to restore lustre to a city overlooked until then by national institutions, washed away some of the unfavourable perceptions of Italy cultivated by the Milanese Tangentopoli in the 1990s. The gradual advance came to an abrupt halt for a few years with the litter controversy in the streets, instigated by an unholy coalition of Campanian underworld, corrupt Freemasonry, and Northern businessmen. Knowing more about the Venetian brothers Stefano and Chiara Gravioli and their gang, which together with others controlled Naples, can help you comprehend the situation. Naples, as an important cultural center in Italy, is the holder of numerous world records. The history of Western culture, which is a kaleidoscope of various aesthetic movements and priceless artefacts just waiting to be uncovered, reflects the growth of Western civilization. Naples raises its profile as a top holiday spot while addressing modern issues and still managing to captivate everyone’s attention. Naples stands out from other cities due to its vast collection of real and intangible assets as well as its rich intellectual and historical past. The principal economic assets of Naples were lost as a result of Italy’s unification, which was practically a true colonisation. Preconceptions and worries, which are typically stoked by depictions like those in the television series Gomorrah, can only be fully allayed after visiting Naples in person; instead, a new perspective accentuating the genuine benefits of the city is uncovered. Far from the clichés that associate Naples exclusively with spaghetti pizza and mandolin, Forgione underlines that Naples is a cultural treasure as well as being a beautiful place with a distinctive identity. In his book Made in Naples, he argues that the problem stems from relying only on firsthand knowledge and word of mouth, which are inadequate ways to interact with the larger community.

Napoli Svelata
Angelo Forgione|Napoli Svelata (Naples unveiled)

A.F.: “A city comparable to Paris in terms of romanticism, Barcelona in terms of vivacity, London in terms of nobility, Rome in terms of eternity, Berlin in terms of cordiality, Vienna in terms of culture and Istanbul in terms of charm is enclosed in a casket that must be located somewhere in Italy, in Europe or in the whole world.”

We can all do a lot to dispel the myth that Naples is a cursed city. Forgione encourages Neapolitans to engage in cultural exchange with the rest of the world in order to break down the isolationist barriers, which Neapolitans eventually create as a result of their rich culture. The right way forward proposes ending ignorance by replacing lies with the truth. According to the writer, we need to achieve greater awareness and replace bitterness with pride. But first of all, Neapolitans need to be more united and not distrust each other. He asserts that many Neapolitans lack the ability to network for a common goal because the city, as he has already stated, cannot rely on sufficient financial resources and must compete with wealthier territories that can count on favourable publicity and valorisation. Anti-southernism and anti-Neapolitanism, as well as the neo-southern celebration of hedonism, are both harmful to Naples and to Italy as a whole. They are real barriers to break down. We need to get moving and move on by eliminating unnecessary anguish and nostalgia.

A.F.: ”The North-South divide arose in the second half of the 19th century, with the policies of the governments of the Savoy Kingdom of Italy which heavily penalized Southern Italy. For decades a different story has been told, namely that the backwardness of the South pre-existed the Unification but the truth is that in that historical moment there was not a significant gap in terms of gross domestic product and a real difference between the North and South, between two level economies, albeit with different production specificities. In fact, the South had important commercial ports and was more advanced than the North in terms of technological innovation and the extractive sector. Northern Italy was at the forefront of the textile sector and benefited from its proximity to the main continental markets. Since Italy depended more on agriculture, it was considered to be backward compared to the countries that had contributed to the prosperity of Europe and the Industrial Revolution.”

The rift was initially caused by modern Italian industry, which affected only a small part of the nation. It was also aggravated by the debt for the wars for the unification process of the new one which began by adding up the debts of all the pre-unification states annexed to the territory.

The new republican Italy is responsible for not having closed the gap, regardless of its historical origin. The improvements made by the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno were only momentary. Instead of funding the construction of factories in the South, Marshall Plan investments were used to revive Northern industry and relocate Southern workers to the North.

Before the country’s union, backwardness, crime and illiteracy were pervasive in Italy; since then, they have increased in the South, as well as in the poorest regions of the world, and this is done to hide the failures of Italian governments over the past 160 years.

Forgione emphasises the challenges of boosting Naples’ influence. He uses the Capodimonte Museum’s art collection as an example. In terms of importance and density of masterpieces, it ranks alongside the Uffizi in Florence, the Brera in Milan, and the Galleria Borghese in Rome, making it one of the most valuable in Italy. However, the number of visitors has little bearing on anything of this significance.

The present “Naples à Paris” exhibition at the Louvre aims to highlight the city’s cultural resources around the globe as a long-term image investment. It is essential to remember that Naples was fundamental in the transmission of Greek culture to Roman society. It has also been influential in the exercise of modern culture, a breeding ground for artists and innovators in the industrial, scientific and technological fields. There would be much more to say about the history of this city so complex by nature and society, about what has been done and not done. For many years Angelo Forgione has dedicated his time and studies to the analysis of these topics. His last book is entitled Napoli Svelata (Naples Unveiled) and it is a casket through fifteen stories that reveals the past to understand the present of the Neapolitan city and its people.

See Naples then die
Photo Courtesy of Angelo Forgione

What can you tell us about Napoli Svelata?

A.F.: ”As in my previous works about Naples, all complementary to each other, I tell and delve into surprising historical events, some unknown but all important for understanding Naples, which is very rich in stories so that it can be easily understood. Naples, a porous city just like the tuff on which it rests, has absorbed and then returned with its own language and new ideas. Here, among the many talents, Italian viticulture with its wines, volcanology and archeology were born. Here environmental and personal hygiene was stimulated. The first vaccines were tested and perfected here. Here, excellent craftsmanship has been perfected, some outdated, others in danger of extinction and still others, such as men’s tailoring, solidly appreciated throughout the world. Here, among particular dietary customs, eating and drinking ice has become widespread. Here cinema, sporting culture and even the dogma of the Immaculate Conception germinated. I will briefly tell you 15 great Neapolitan stories that are worth knowing to better understand one of the oldest cities in Europe, fundamental – I repeat – in the transmission of Greek culture to Roman society and of ever-increasing importance from the Renaissance onwards, up to become one of the major capitals of Europe, the most expressive, before declining into politically united Italy. And at the end I also propose my reconstruction regarding the unknown origin of the well-known saying about the city -See Naples and then die-. A city to see before you die, but also to understand. I work for this.”

In addition to being a passionate researcher of Neapolitan history and language, you are also a fan and expert in football. After 33 years Napoli wins the Italian championship again. What does this represent for the Neapolitans?

A.F.: ”The Neapolitans love Naples in a visceral way, they perceive it as a voice of the city, always hoping that it will raise its voice with the Northern teams and their fans, everywhere, but also with the realities of the Italian capital. Winning in the South is very difficult, and Napoli is the only southern club that can achieve victory. The Neapolitans have the perception that sooner or later the triumph will come. And precisely for the reasons already explained of identity support, the future triumph will be of those who will give collective joy of the people and shared emotions. Of course football does not solve the problems of a place and inequalities, but football is the most engaging of popular passions, and therefore the triumphs of Napoli restore the collective mood, something that is always badly needed wherever there is it is to be constantly committed to solving daily existential problems. And then they are triumphs that mean that there is a football South that can spoil the plans of the North, and this is an example for the rest of the social life of Italy. This time, the Scudetto, unlike those of the Maradona years, gave a further boost to a city in full cultural and tourist revival and did not act as a driving force but strengthened even more the media exposure and the appeal of Naples.”

See Naples and then die

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