The Royal Palace at Caserta, near Naples, Italy: it’s big

A look back (first published 2 December 2015): a few months ago I visited the palace gardens and fell in love with the straight layers of water and fountains that run their length. Their miles of liquid gloss are a luxury above all others in the hot summers of Campania.

The Phraser

The Royal Palace at Caserta The Royal Palace at Caserta

Big is a little word that can’t quite fit all of this palace in.  Size is everywhere but still the giant proved hard to find by car.

We knew we’d reached Caserta but even though we were within metres of the palace we couldn’t see it.  The area was a strange, any-man’s-land of straight roads and plain buildings.

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Fireworks – part of life and death in the south of Italy

A look back (first published on 1 August 2015): the heat last summer in the area around Naples, Italy, was severe, and with it came terrible accidents in the region’s fireworks factories.

The Phraser

Fireworks over the Bay of Naples Fireworks over the Bay of Naples

This summer has been a terrible one for the firework makers of southern Italy.  In a few months there have been explosions in three factories – two of them lethal.

You might think it’s a brutal cost for such fleeting wonder, but here, on the edge of the Bay of Naples, life is never steady or predictable, and the instability and flamboyance of the firework suits it well.

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A ‘sagra’ on an old Roman road north of Naples, Italy

A look back (first published 19 June 2015): many of the villages in the countryside around Naples, and up into the mountains behind, have ‘sagre’ in the summer – food festivals where fresh food is served close to the land it came from.

The Phraser

Bees swarming at the 'Sagra delle antiche taverne' Bees swarming at the ‘Sagra delle antiche taverne’

Sagre‘, and this was our first, are the right-in-the-thick-of-it festival celebrations that usually revolve around food.

Originally the meaning was linked to churches and the Latin word sacrum – holy.  Now they are still about expectation and celebration, but often with a local speciality centre stage rather than the church.

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Lago di Patria: a walk for the dog?

A look back (first published 24 May 2015): a year on there was little sign of change at the lake: the road around its far end was worse; the abandoned hotel still gaped; and the rowers powered on. Only the water buffalo had gone … and our innocence.

The Phraser

The faded happiness of Lago di Patria The faded happiness of Lago di Patria

The pink hotel stood block-upright and silent.  Bleak windows stared from behind the flaking wall – all happiness abandoned.

Nervously we peered upwards through the car’s windscreen, enticed by the almost empty roadside parking.  Behind us, in the back, the dog bounced with impatience.

We were unsure … the dog wasn’t … so what was wrong?

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The point of the diver in Paestum

A look back (first published on 25 January 2015):

The Phraser

Painting from the tomb of the diver We know this young man – but we don’t – that’s why we remember

Paestum and its temples are suddenly there, on the edge of a Tarmac road in a sunny field close to the sea, just across the street from a couple of cafes and a museum.

It all seemed unreal until we met the diver …

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Naples in 10

A look back (first published 2 December 2014): an attempt to catch in a handful some of the history that has shaped Naples, Italy – a city whose music and tailoring still fashion many of us … often without us even knowing.

The Phraser

Pulcinella on the lungomare in Naples Pulcinella on the Lungomare in Naples

Punch-drunk but still standing Naples has borne the attentions and abuses of history with steely grace.  Today she is like the coffee she serves – undiluted and unapologetic.

Here’s an attempt at a ten point profile of the city.

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We thought it would be obvious …

A look back (first published 25 November 2014): I think this piece should have gone under the heading “In Search of Vesuvius” because that is how it begins.

The Phraser

Vesuvius from the Castell dell-Ovo Vesuvius from the Castell dell’Ovo

We should have known better – nothing is obvious about Vesuvius.

The volcano has sat across the bay from us all summer – big, blue and balmy.  It reclines like some artist’s prop, a balance to the curve of sea and islands, a backdrop for the scuttle of life on its slopes and down to the shore.

It looks benign, the perfect place for an afternoon stroll, perhaps even a villa or two.

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