The Novelty of Naples

In the summer of 1844, Charles Dickens moved with his family to Italy where he used Genoa as a base while he explored the country. A book about his experiences, Pictures From Italy, was published in 1846. He explained in his introduction that….

The greater part of the descriptions were written on the spot, and sent home, from time to time, in private letters …… a guarantee to the Reader that they were at least penned in the fulness of the subject, and with the liveliest impressions of novelty and freshness.

One of his excursions took him south to Rome and from there down the Via Appia through Fondi (which did not impress him), Itri, Capua, and finally, travelling along….

….. a flat road among vines festooned and looped from tree to tree; and Mount Vesuvius close at hand at last! – its cone and summit whitened with snow; and its smoke hanging over it, in the heavy atmosphere of the day, like a dense cloud. So we go, rattling down hill, into Naples.

Vintage postcard of the Bay of Naples.

A funeral is coming up the street, towards us. The body, on an open bier, borne on a kind of palanquin, covered with a gay cloth of crimson and gold. The mourners, in white gowns and masks. If there be death abroad, life is well represented too, for all Naples would seem to be out of doors, and tearing to and fro in carriages. Some of these, the common Vetturino vehicles, are drawn by three horses abreast, decked with smart trappings and great abundance of brazen ornament, and always going very fast. Not that their loads are light; for the smallest of them has at least six people inside, four in front, four or five more hanging on behind, and two or three more, in a net or bag below the axle-tree, where they lie half-suffocated with mud and dust. …..

Why do the beggars rap their chins constantly, with their right hands, when you look at them? Everything is done in pantomime in Naples, and that is the conventional sign for hunger. A man who is quarreling with another, yonder, lays the palm of his right hand on the back of his left, and shakes the two thumbs – expressive of a donkey’s ears – whereat his adversary is goaded to desperation. Two people bargaining for fish, the buyer empties an imaginary waistcoat pocket when he is told the price, and walks away without a word: having thoroughly conveyed to the seller that he considers it too dear. Two people in carriages, meeting, one touches his lips, twice or thrice, holding up the five fingers of his right hand, and gives a horizontal cut in the air with the palm. The other nods briskly, and goes his way. He has been invited to a friendly dinner at half-past five o’clock, and will certainly come.

All over Italy, a peculiar shake of the right hand from the wrist, with the forefinger stretched out, expresses a negative – the only negative beggars will ever understand. But, in Naples, those five fingers are a copious language.

All this, and every other kind of out-door life and stir, and macaroni-eating at sunset, and flower-selling all day long, and begging and stealing everywhere and at all hours, you see upon the bright seashore, where the waves of the bay sparkle merrily. But, lovers and hunters of the picturesque, let us not keep too studiously out of view the miserable depravity, degradation, and wretchedness, with which this gay Neopolitan life is inseparably associated!

Vintage monochrome RP postcard of Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, Italy.

The politics of tourism

1925 postcard of Piazza Cordusio, Milan, Italy.

A postcard of Milan, Italy, registered in November 1925

From ‘Propaganda Boom’, A. J. Mackenzie, LL.B. The Right Book Club, London, 1938.
Fascist Italy set up in 1925 a special body for systematising ‘the healthy and advantageous employment of leisure’. Known as the Opera Nazionale Dopolavoro, this organisation has grown remarkably, although membership is voluntary. For the student of propaganda, its chief interest lies in the political development of tourism for which it is responsible.

Tourism is now, as always, one of Italy’s major industries and no efforts are spared to attract foreign visitors. The organisation of the hotels on the ‘coupon’ system, under which travellers buy coupons in any one of five categories whenever they cross the frontier, is a boon to the holiday-maker, for constant inspection ensures that even the cheapest of these registered hotels are reasonably clean and comfortable. During the height of the bitter anti-British campaign [in Italy], readers of British newspapers were constantly being tempted by large and attractive State-sponsored advertisements to pay a visit to Italy. On the other hand, for years no Italian paper was permitted to publish articles dealing with the attractions of foreign holiday resorts.

An exception to this ban has now been made for Germany. In May 1937 a tourist agreement was arranged by Italy and Germany, and special concessions allowed visitors from each country to take with them a larger amount of money than is permitted when they are travelling to non-Fascist countries. The scheme is organised on the Italian side by the Dolopavoro, and in Germany by the ‘Strength through Joy’ movement which is building a special fleet of large ships to carry the 150,000 holiday-makers who go cruising under its auspices from Germany every year.

One of the ‘Strength Through Joy’ liners came into prominence in April 1938 when used as a polling booth on the high seas for German residents in Britain who wished to take part in the Austrian plebiscite.

Both organisations have a high propaganda value since State subsidies enable extraordinarily low fares to be charged. They cater for all classes, and undoubtedly enable the working classes to enjoy holidays which compare very favourably with those within the reach of British workers.