independent

Tuesday 20 August 2019

The general importance of being Italian

SHEA TOMKINS

MONDAY, 12.15PM: I am standing on platform 12 at the train station in Naples, counting the rats scurrying about on the tracks below.

The good woman is next to me, disgusted. I am impressed by their fur colour, and how it helps them to blend in with the rocks and stones beneath them. Chances are, most passengers don't know they are there. And if these rodents don't bother anyone, why should anyone care? The Italians have plenty of two-legged rats with which to concern themselves.

We eventually board the train and rattle our way out of Naples, towards Sorrento. The rats stay where they are. All I can think of is Diego Maradona, and how much they must have paid him to lure him to this neck of the woods, especially when you consider the riches of Rome and Milan. The carriage is so packed, I must sit on my suitcase. The good woman has a seat. Proper order.

Monday, 6.50pm: We arrive at our hotel in Sorrento. The taxi driver that collects us from the station is wound up, infuriated by his fellow drivers. He can't keep his hand off his horn. We dice with death all the way up the cliff face.

One look at the exterior of the hotel and we know we won't be staying; the danger of booking online. The good woman envisages Amityville. I see Norman Bates. The bedroom rivals a monastery for austerity measures - and we have enough of those back home.

Thankfully an astute hotel manager provided us with a Plan B before we left Ireland. We head for his recommended hotel, Hotel Conca Park, and immediately our spirits lift. I breathe a sigh of relief. The good woman is pleased. If you are ever planning a trip in the same direction, then this is the place to go.

Wednesday 7.00pm: Sorrento is a beautiful place. Almost heavenly. Wine and dine at your leisure, while inhaling the sea air, and there's no shortage of places to visit, including the celebrity magnet that is Capri.

I get chatting to an English chap at the bar. A Stoke City fan. He tells me that he saw Ewan McGregor strolling about the island earlier that morning, and Rhianna had jetted off only days before. He also says he wasn't impressed with Pompeii, and not to bother visiting.

As we only have four days, we have to make a judgement call, Capri or Pompeii. I'm not one for star spotting, neither is the good woman. Pompeii wins.

Friday 1.30pm: We enter the ruins of old Pompeii. In the distant blue sky rests a dormant Vesuvius, just like it slept all those years ago, before the eruption. Walking the ancient streets, it is difficult to imagine the horrors that these people went though, when a spewing volcano so cruelly cut their lives short. One of the bodies, its shape preserved by lava, outlines a pregnant woman lying face down, preparing for death. You can still see the bump on her stomach.

There are other casts too. Some of them have their hands covering their faces, and have remained that way, lifeless, for hundreds of years. We are also directed through an ancient brothel, with original beds and wall decorations still in place. Some lines of business can survive any economic crash. Were it not for the heat, you could stay in old Pompeii all day. One of life's must sees.

Saturday 12.20pm: We sit on a Ryanair flight in Ciampino Airport, Rome, waiting to fly home. There has been a problem with detaching the boarding steps from the plane. The pilot tries to lighten the mood by announcing that Ireland have just beaten Australia in the Rugby World Cup. People are happy.

As we prepare for take-off, I think about home. Italy is wonderful. It boasts great weather, and food, and wine. But there's something about the Irish people's nature that is unique. Something that, in general, the Italians lack. We are the most welcoming race, without agenda, that I have encountered. Even if it seems we sometimes go out of our way not to be.

If there is something that the Italians possess that we don't, it is bucketfuls of self-belief. They were born with an expectation to succeed. From an early age, they ooze selfimportance. Irish people are taught how to look at the ground. Home is home, however. No matter where you venture to on this great big ball of earth, and as sallow skinned or pale-faced as its inhabitants may be, it's always nice to come back. Especially on All-Ireland Final weekend. And, I suspect, we have less rats.

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