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Italy Diary, No. 1

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5 a.m. May 18, over Venice, Italy---

Sometimes you look beneath what has been discarded.
A travel story took me to Naples and yesterday morning I wound up speaking to a group of journalism students at the University of Naples, located in a former monastery. I was part of a small group of American and Canadian travel writers and the students wondered about our impression of their city. With a metropolitan area population of roughly 3 million, Naples sizes up nicely with Chicago. But the cliffs, the bay and even the thing they call the Egg Castle (the 2,000-year-old Alcatraz-like fortress on an island ) reminded me of San Francisco. And I love San Francisco.
I liked Naples just fine........

.....But the graduate students were preoccupied by imagery. There are piles of garbage on every corner. I had read the city was engaged in another of a long line of garbage strikes, but people told me the story was more complex. Work had stalled on an incinerator on the outskirts of Naples that was being built with mob (the Camorra) money. The money wasn't there.
And, according to a Jan. 14 Newsweek magazine report, the Camorra fills the dumps with garbage imported from northern Italy and other European countries There's no place for local garbage. The students told me attempts are now being made to ship the city's garbage (lots of wine bottles) to China, Germany and other ports.
I was impressed with the passion of the Neapolitans and the students were no different. Passion is the fuel for commitment, for love and happiness. The students fiercely wondered in what context I would write about the garbage. How will I begin my story? Will I talk about the garbage?
"Hey, I don't see any rats," I said through a translator.
I see rats on a weekly basis in the alley behind my Chicago condo.
I also didn't see people burning garbage, which in the past placed dioxins into the air.
I also told them that Naples as the birthplace of a pizza was a big reason I was in town. I will mention the garbage in my print version of my travel dispatch, but the mess would never deter a visit to the Naples area.
They seemed disappointed.
New York-based Italian journalist Renzo Cianfanelli spoke of American values. "America uses resources in a rational way," he said in spitfire Italian. "America develops new jobs for people and gives equal opportunities to those who want to work. The United States has the greatest brains." At times I wish the United States had more passion and less brains.
Journalists are licensed in Italy. We were introduced by Ottavio Lucarelli, who gave the students their trainee licenses. The students were as excited about the impending change in American leadership (from less to more brains no matter who wins the Presidential election) as we are. One male student said, "There is an American dream as you can see in Obama right now. My American friends are contagious with enthusiasm for Obama."
Naples was a memorable and warm experience as you will read in future issues of the Sun-Times. I lost my favorite traveling companion on the eve of the trip which at times made it difficult to focus. Like Naples, I am a romantic at heart. The Saturday evening passeggiata (stroll) along the sparkling Gulf of Naples is not cut out for lonely guys. Young couples are making out and their lips are linked like chains in a hot fence. Plus I don't know a whole lot about dioxions in buffalo mozzarella.
You could say she moved on, you might say I was dumped. But I know the Campanian sun shines on all things tossed aside.

GOOFY TRAVEL NOTE: While making connections at the sprawling Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome, I helped out a lost traveler from Portland, Ore. who could not find his way to our gate. After calming him down and directing him to the gate I learned he was an anthropologist. He had spent three weeks digging
around Italy, but the airport was a mystery to him.
Is that weird or am I just sleep deprived?

ITALY LINK: For those interested in all things Italy, visit James Martin's passionate blog at Its also in my Favorite Links archives.

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Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.


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This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on May 20, 2008 9:58 AM.

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