Why No One Goes to Napoli? An answer to Beppe Severgnini’s Post on The New York Times

This post is rather unusual for the content of this blog, but when I read what has been published by The New York Times online about the reason that prevent people from visiting the Southern part of Italy I felt the need to throw my two cents on the table about this column by Beppe Severgnini (the Italian, Lombardy-born journalist who authored it.)

Severgnini has a (rather easy) point when he claims that ? the southern part of Italy should and could be far better organized but – and here is where I disagree with him – ? it will never be a german or british-like place. As odd as it might seems, one of the beauty of the Southern Italy is that to enjoy it you must, MUST do it with some local that let you experience the actual spirit of the place.

The biggest secret of the Southern Italy is that you don’t actually go there just to look for monuments or nature. This isn’t a Paris or New York-like place, where you just wander around the town, visit museums and exhibition, get (maybe) decent food and ? go back home without anybody – but your credit card company – noticing your presence. The rest of Italy – and the rest of the world – are full of that kind of experiences. So if you travel around the South and limit yourself to sightseeing I agree, this can be a very frustrating experience. What is really different – and worth to be sought – is the lifestyle that makes the South unique. Hospitality, friendship, generosity… If you really seek to enjoy the South, befriend a local and you will discover another universe.

On the contrary, you won’t generally find all that in the Italian Northern (West/East)’s attitude. I don’t want to raise an anthropological quarrel neither with our kind brothers from the North West that ? back in the XIX century “gently” included the South within their kingdom, while importing culture and manpower, nor with our (greed-motivated separatist) brothers from the North East. ? Of course even these places too are inhabited by ? nice people but the genius loci between South and North is definitely different.

A recent anecdote clarifies the point: I landed yesterday night at Fiumicino coming back from abroad, and got the last long-trip bus to my hometown. The journey was supposed to start at 22,45 but the driver waited an extra five minutes (actually five, I mean) to allow possible passengers that were late to board. At 22.47 a lady confronted the driver blaming him for not leaving on time. The driver politely told her: “madam, this is the last bus. If somebody miss it there is no way to come back home until tomorrow morning. What harms does it do if I wait some extra time?” and the lady: “I don’t care: I want to go home right now! This is why Italy is rotten!” Well from a Northerner point of view the lady was entirely right, but was she?

I don’t want to say that the South is good as it is. There are problems: inefficiency, unpredictability of the services, crime (but ‘ndrangheta, mafia and other forms of organized crime are deeply rooted in Milan, as the public prosecution investigations have demonstrated) … These problems have to be solved as fast and as much as possible, but this won’t going to happen – as Mr.Severgnini wishes – neither by killing our Southern soul nor ? by intercession of “Don Matteo”. 1

Mr. Severgnini, to put it short, failed to answer the rhetorical question he asked himself.

  1. Don Matteo is a TV series starring a priest (Don Matteo) who solves criminal cases helping the Carabinieri. Don Matteo fixes almost everything, from personal issues to serious crimes. Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, is a catholic ? and has a “ghe pensi mi” (pronounced: ge pensee mee) attitude (a Milan slang for “I’ll take care of everything”.)

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