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Departure of Charles III from Naples, Antonio Joli, 1759 (Museo del Prado): a beautiful view but crime blights the area

Sitting at the back of the stands, watching the Davis Cup in Naples, the view behind is the same as the paintings in every restaurant of the city. Beyond the red "clay" and the body of Italian fans is Vesuvius. To the right of the volcano are the mountains and towns of the Amalfi peninsula. Even further along, beyond the seats reserved for officials and club members, is the blue Mediterranean and the outline of Capri. To the left, edging the sea and stretching up the mountain slopes, is the city. The paintings show the view of the 18th century, but now cruise liners and container ships have replaced the sailing boats and the mountain no longer emits smoke — the last puff was spotted in 1943. And, of course, the city spreads much further round the bay and up into the mountains than it used to. There are now one million people in the city and another three million in the visible conurbation.

The match runs three days and on the last the British supporters are enjoying being fed delicious homemade delicacies by the the Italians around them. It raises the question: is there anywhere else you would rather be?

In the far South of Campania, in a fishing village where the coast is its furthest distancefrom the autostrada, the restaurateur is pressing us to try the different fish he picked up at the harbour when the boats returned at six o'clock. As well as the amuses-bouche (there is no Italian for this) his brother has concocted in the kitchen. We pay for two courses, but eat about five. He flatters me, as Italians often do: I not only look Italian (considered a good thing), but sound Italian. Here, I must explain, as the restaurateur flatters to ingratiate, my language skills flatter to deceive. My Italian is limited and very rusty. Before I was born my father, as a language graduate in the Eighth Army, was sent on an intensive Italian course so that he could liaise and interrogate. Therefore on family visits to Italy I was able to listen and learn from him. So I sound OK, much better than my Spanish — despite my many lessons. My star moment on this trip was at Herculaneum when a group of boys addressed me in English and I replied in Italian; one of them turned away convinced I was lying about being English and muttered "E Italiano". However, I have great difficulty in reading serious Italian prose and my strongest conversation topics are food and football.

Italy is a lovely place. Shakespeare set 15 of his plays in the country. Even during his time there were complaints about "Italianate Englishmen" who banged on about how you hadn't really lived unless you'd been to Italy: the infatuation has been going on for at least 500 years. In my case, it was love at first sight. Before any of the Alpine tunnels were opened, my parents drove to Italy up the Mont Cenis pass. Up among the flowery meadows we hit the small Italian border post. It was manned by a single officer, handsome, if a trifle fat, in a grey uniform with a cap at a rakish angle. He was standing in the middle of the road and singing. We waited until he finished and then he welcomed us to Italy. I often think of him these days as I ski down the road, now Europe's longest run. However, it is not all beautiful scenery and welcoming locals. In Campania, there are times when a group of young men will approach a tourist group and will spit at the women to provoke the men of the party. When you are forced to respond they will beat the crap out of you, this is to demonstrate that they have the right kind of stuff to be Camorra enforcers. The Camorra is a mafia-type criminal organisation found in Campania. If these men graduate into a Camorra clan apparently they will learn to stuff a person's mouth with explosives to blow your head off or, if they want information, they have been said to slowly beat people with spiked clubs. There is, apparently, no shortage of young men wanting to work for the Camorra clans. They explain that they would rather die young having been feared, than live to a ripe old age by holding down a boring and servile job.

 

Of course, I have no personal experience of any of this: I am entirely dependent on the investigative journalist Roberto Saviano's book, Gomorrah. Originally published in 2006, it is an exposé of Camorra activities. The publication of the book meant he now needs three bodyguards and was condemned by Silvio Berlusconi for libelling Italy. According to his account, the Camorra are five times the economic power than the Sicilian Mafia. Thus his title, based on the angry remark of a friend: we all know about the Mafia, just as we all know what they did in Sodom, but what do they do in Gomorrah?
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