Norman Lewis on Naples

All photos by Fiona Byrne

Today Vesuvius erupted. It was the most majestic and terrible sight I have ever seen, or ever hope to see. The smoke from the crater slowly built up into a great bulging shape having all the appearance of solidity. It swelled and expanded so slowly that there was no sign of movement in the cloud which, by evening, must have risen thirty or forty feet into the sky, and measured many miles across. 

- On the eruption of Vesuvius (Naples '44)

Fear is expressed that the blood of San Gennaro may refuse to liquefy this year, and that such a failure might be exploited by a secret anti-Allied faction and troublemakers to set off large-scale rioting of the kind that has frequently happened in Neapolitan history when the miracle has failed. Everywhere there is a craving for miracles and cures. The war has pushed Neapolitans back to the Middle Ages.

- On the mircale of San Gennaro (Naples '44)

Neapolitans take their sex lives very seriously indeed. A woman called Lola, whom I met at a dinner party given by Signora Gentile, arrived at HQ with some denunciation which went into the waste-paper basket as soon as her back way turned. She then asked if I could help her. It turned out she had taken a lover who is a captain in the RASC [Frazer], but as he speaks no single word of Italian, communication can only be carried out by signs, and this gives rise to misunderstanding.

She had made him understand by gestures one could only shudderingly imagine that her late husband—although half-straved, and even when in the early stages of tuberculosis from which he later died—never failed to have intercourse with her less than six times a night. She also had a habit, which terrified Frazer, of keeping an eye on the bedroom clock while he performed. I recommended him to drink—as the locals did—marsala with the yolks stirred into it, and to wear a medal of San Rocco, patron of coitus reservatus, which could be had in any religious-supplies shop.

- On the sex lives of Neopolitans (Naples '44)

Until now I had clung to the comforting belief that human beings eventually come to terms with sorrow and pain. Now I understood I was wrong, and like Paul I suffered a conversion—but to pessimism. These little girls, any one of whom could be my daughter, came into the restaurant weeping, and they were weeping when they were led away. I knew that, condemned to ever-lasting darkness, hunger and loss, they would weep incessantly. They would never recover from their pain, and I would never recover from the memory of it.

- On pain and suffering during in Naples (Naples '44)

In Naples there are no baby-sitters: the family takes its pleasures and suffers its tribulations as a unit, and the aged are excluded from none of its experiences.

- On the Neopolitan family (A View of the World)

In Naples there is human solidarity hard to find elsewhere. If one lives there long enough one has the sensation almost of belonging to the world’s most enormous family.

- On Neopolitan solidarity (A View of the World)

Of all the great cities Naples has suffered least at the hands of that destroyer of human monuments, the dark angel of development. Pliny himself, who once stood on a headland there to watch the great eruption of Vesuvius ‘shaped like a many-branching tree’ in the moment of obliteration of Pompeii, would have little difficulty in picking out the landmarks of our times.

- On the antiquity of Naples (A View of the World)

Napoli 44 (2)