When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

LA STAMPA

Roberto Saviano On The Importance Of Airing Dirty Laundry

Sure, Naples has sun, sea and amazing pizza. But it's also violent and corrupt, and there's no point in pretending otherwise. A look from Italian city's celebrated author.

Close up portrait of Roberto Saviano, during the rehearsals of Quello che (non) in Milan in May 2012
Close up portrait of Roberto Saviano, during the rehearsals of Quello che (non) in Milan in May 2012
Roberto Saviano

Roberto Saviano has been under 24-hour police escort since 2006, when Gomorrah, his non-fiction book about the Neapolitan mafia, shined a spotlight on the Camorra crime syndicate. Just 27 when the book was released, the young writer has received repeated death threats and now lives in hiding. But while Saviano's work has been seen as eye-opening outside of Naples, back home he has many detractors, people who think he is painting the wrong picture of the city. The mayor's office even set up an anti-slander office.

In this piece in La Stampa, Saviano refers to two Italian films to illustrate his position. Bicycle Thieves is the 1948 neorealism classic by Vittorio De Sica that tells the story of Antonio Ricci, who is desperate for work. The other film is We All Loved Each Other So Much, in which one of the characters lives in the town of Nocera Inferiore, only half an hour away from Naples.

-Essay-

When I return to Naples I am greeted with smiles, hugs, pats on the back, and this sentence: "Please, for once, just one time, say something nice about Naples."

As if there's pleasure in describing the wounds that afflict the place where you were born and spent the most important years of your life. But Saviano smears Naples, and smears Italy, and smears Germany, London and any place he touches or talks about.

There is a character in Ettore Scola's 1974 comedy We All Loved Each Other So Much: teacher Caprigno. In the film, he watches a projection, in a small village cinema, of Bicycle Thieves, De Sica's neorealist masterpiece. Disgusted by the film, he stands up and says: "Such works offend grace, poetry, beauty. These rags and these pieces of crap slander us vis-a-vis the world." And then: "One should wash one's dirty linen at home."

We All Loved Each Other So Much's Italian poster in 1974 – Source : IMDb

Sometimes I have the impression that we have never really come out of that small cinema in Nocera Inferiore, because our country is full of Caprignos. For them, telling a story means sugar-coating. There's no room for criticism. One must only throw smoke in the eyes, console and assure everyone that all is well.

But all is not well, and the commitment of those who fight for normality in Naples and, more generally, in Southern Italy, testify to this. This isn't a fight to have more, to be more competitive, to be the best. No, in many areas of our country we're just fighting for normality. And it's a fight we can't afford to ignore, but what we have here isn't normal.

In many areas of our country we're just fighting for normality

But Naples is synonym with sun, sea and culture, the censors claim. With the best pizza in the world, with songs, architecture and Caravaggio. Why don't you talk about this? I don't talk about it because it's all part of our wonderful complexity; each and every one of these wonders I mentioned comes with sweat, blood, dirt, corruption.

The beauty of Naples, isolated and sung to promote its image, is the best way to make it sterile. In the pages of Norman Lewis' Naples "44there is the beauty of Naples, but it is full of pain, rapes, prostitutes, scum, injustice, backwardness, bad politics, superstition. And that's why it's a real beauty. If we were to judge Naples "44 from the shares of good and evil, we would destroy all of its literary power and reduce it to banal minestrone. We would not be able to notice the balance in the story and we would not be able to understand its complexity, its necessity: Naples as a universal story.

And yet, the Italy of teacher Caprigno asks for each story to be hagiography, a reverent narration. But Caprigno will never have the last word. In the film, teacher Palumbo replies: "Dear Mr. principal, we have watched a wonderful movie here tonight! With its toilets and its rags, it makes us recognize the true enemies of the community precisely from the false defenders of grace, poetry, beauty and all the other hypocritical values of your bourgeois culture."

Come on, let's all leave behind the small cinema in Nocera Inferiore and take a good look at Italy and at Naples. We will discover a fragile world, made up of toilets and dirty rags that we have to stop washing at home. You can either avert your eyes, or look and truly learn: The choice is yours.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Along The "New Border" Of Ukraine, Annexation Has Just Doubled The Danger

Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of Ukrainian territories in a ceremony in the Kremlin. In a village just a few kilometers away from what is now the Ukraine-Russia "border" in Putin's eyes, life continues amid constant shelling and the fear of what comes next.

Ukrainian soldiers are stationed in the village of Inhulka, near Kherson.

Stefan Schocher

INHULKA — The trail leads over a gravel road, a rickety pontoon bridge past a checkpoint. Here in the remote village of Inhulka near Kherson in southern Ukraine, soldiers sit in front of the village shop. Inside, two women run back and forth behind the counter, making coffee, selling sausages, weighing tomatoes. "Natalochka, where are the cookies," calls a dark-haired lady across the room.

But Natalochka, her colleague, is about to lose her nerve. "What kind of life is that?" she says, finally reaching up to grab the cookies from the top of a shelf. What kind of life can it be, she asks, when something is constantly exploding next to you and you don't know if you'll wake up in the morning.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Inhulka is the center of a rural community. 1,587 inhabitants, as the village chief says, one school, one kindergarten, one doctor, two stores. Since March, nothing here is as it used to be. That was when the Russian army came to the village.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ