Friday, May 13, 2011

Off The Beaten Track: Neopolitan Dreams

This week’s Off the Beaten Track contributor is the lovely Phillipa Fioretti. Phillipa was born in Sydney, Australia, and studied humanities, visual arts, and museum studies. She went on to work and exhibit as a printmaker as well as teaching part time at the tertiary level. Phillipa currently writes fiction full time and was selected for participation in the 2008 Hachette Australia/ Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program. Her first novel, The Book of Love, was published by Hachette Australia in April 2010 and the sequel, The Fragment of Dreams, will be released this month.

When I last visited Italy, I stayed in a village in the mountains east of Naples, the village my husband’s family comes from. When the family heard we were off to Naples, they could not understand why and had nothing but bad words to say about the place. If you must go, they said, all we should do was catch the train to Naples, get off and go to Pasticceria Fratelli Attanasio, buy a box of fresh sfogliatelle, and take the next train home – otherwise we would be robbed, kidnapped, insulted, and cheated, and that’s if we were lucky. It was, to them, the city of evil. But then so was the next town as far as they were concerned – in fact, why did we want to leave this village? Despite this display of intense parochialism, we did go to Naples and loved it, flaws included.

Some cities are cleaner, better administrated, and more comfortable but few possess the vitality, beauty, and menace of Naples. Neapolitans live in the moment and with the constant wisp of smoke above Vesuvius as a memento mori it’s not surprising. The nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche said ‘build your house on the slopes of Vesuvius,’ and the Neapolitans do. More than half a million people live in the Red Zone on the slopes of the Volcano. But Nietzche meant we should live dangerously, with courage, and if you added ‘flair’ to the list, you’d have a Neapolitan.

Neapolitans are an independent lot and go about their business regardless of the government dictates emanating from Rome. Tourism is a major industry in Italy, a two-edged sword as the country has the burden of maintaining its precious heritage. While exploring the city, I noticed the external walls of the neoclassical church of San Francesco di Paola were scarred with red graffiti, but it didn’t bother me. This was such a Neapolitan act, self defeating maybe, but also just a shade of glorious because of its spirited defiance.

The myths and cultures of the classical world have always exerted a strong pull on me and while walking the streets of old Naples, I feel an undercurrent, an echo of how life must have been two and a half thousand years ago. It’s not just the noise, the bustle, the disregard for authority, and the street life, but the sense that there is still an overwhelming belief in the old gods and superstitions, a continuance of ancient ways, simply reclothed. Naples is the least religious of all Italian cities, and there is probably a multitude of reasons for this, not least of which is the superstitious nature of its inhabitants

My first book, The Book of Love, was set in Rome and Lucca in Tuscany, but when the publishers suggested a sequel, I knew the next book had to be set in Naples – because I wanted to revisit this fabulous place, if only in my mind. But while writing The Fragment of Dreams, I realised I had to go back to Naples and soon, for more of its intoxicating atmosphere.

Phillipa will be giving two workshops at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 16 and 17. For more details, go to,com_events/Itemid,124/agid,2444/task,view_detail/ . She will be launching her new book, The Fragment of Dreams, on May 18 at 5 pm at Berkelouw Books, Stockland Balgowlah, Condamine St, Balgowlah, Sydney. All welcome.

She also will also be attending the RWA conference in Melbourne in August.

For dates and locations of her other talks and book signings, please visit her blog at


  1. I am so excited about the release of your new book, Phillipa! The first one was fabulous and the setting of this new book sounds wonderful. Ah... one day I'll to Italy but I guess I'll need to pack the stretchy pants so I can eat all that lovely food with abandon! Thanks so much for blogging with us this week.

  2. Naples through your eyes sounds fascinating, Phillipa. I can't wait to explore it myself someday, even sooner through your new book. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Your description of Naples is lovely. You have not romanticized it, but rather found it beautiful as it is. I hope someday a publisher suggests a sequel that means I have to revisit the places of which I write! Looking forward to reading your work.

  4. Thanks for having me on the blog, it's a fascinating site to spend time with.

    Last year I visited Berlin, Vienna and Prague and I'm fairly certain they are going to pop up sometime in one of my stories. Travel and fiction writing just seem to go together, as you show on this blog.

  5. Phillipa, you have made Naples and the Neopolitans come alive in your post. I can't wait to revisit in your books. What did your husband's relatives say when you returned to them not only intact and unrobbed but with good experiences to relate?

  6. They were very sceptical, Heidi, and didn't want to hear anything good about the place. Of course, we were Australians and that had to be the reason - we didn't know any better!