Saturday, May 21, 2011

NAPLES & THE AMALFI COAST

South-east of the anarchic flow of Naples and Vesuvius, a limestone Apennine shard called the Sorrentine peninsula juts into the Tyrrhenian Sea. At its wild tip, Punta Campanella, the inimitable island of Capri has been chipped off, while lofty Sant'Agata sui due Golfi sits astride the gulfs of Naples and Salerno. From here La Costiera Amalfitana (the Amalfi Coast) unfolds in dramatic cliffs and azure waters as far as Vietri. Man makes the most of a benign Mezzogiorno (southern Italian) climate and volcanic minerals here: defying the precariousness of life with stacked villages and cultivated terraces clinging to the rocks.
Before the 1850s there were no roads. A century later Positano and Amalfi's cobbled scalinatelle stairways began rustling with the seashell-studded sandals of arty-types and film stars after John Steinbeck holed up at Positano's Hotel Sirenuse. Overnight, a picturesque fishing village became more chic than Capri, and a once-glorious maritime republic resorted to peddling parasols and its past. Nowadays, the impossibly scenic SS163 "Amalfi Drive" and its pulse-quickening bends are clogged in the sticky summer months by slow coaches.
The Amalfi Coast's back may be turned to brooding Vesuvius, but it owes its fertility to millennia-worth of volcanic debris. Lemon, grape and olive-yielding terraces attest to this natural bounty and the ingenuity of its inhabitants. In Greco-Roman times, the area was dubbed Campania Felix – "Happy Land". Reflecting this natural bounty, Epicureanism flourished in its purest philosophical sense, surviving in Herculaneum's charred papyrus scrolls and the traditions of the coast's resourceful artisan producers and cooks. The Mezzogiorno's once-dismissed cucina povera ("peasant cooking") – vegetables and fish dressed in oil – and the lauded "Mediterranean diet" – a term first coined at the University of Salerno – make the Campania region a foodie haven.
The mineral-rich slopes of Vesuvius yield fruits with intense flavours such as San Marzano tomatoes and crisommole apricots. Lemon plantation terraces fashioned using dry-stone walling dating from the 10th and 11th centuries produce the elongated, pointy sfusato variety, prized for their thick skins and sweet flesh.
Higher up on the iodine-rich pastures of the Monti Lattari or "Milky Mountains", Agerolese cows graze, their milk producing fiordilatte (cow's milk mozzarella) and Provolone di Monaco (aged curd shaped into ovoid balls). Tramonti – named after the mountain wind which blew Amalfi's ships – celebrates its fecund soil through events including Festival della Pizza in August.
Meanwhile, ancient grape varieties Falanghina, Coda di Volpe and Greco di Tufo are blended to make Lacryma Christi Bianco. Gran Furor Marisa Cuomo in Furore offers tours of its vines and arranges tastings of its Costa d'Amalfi DOC wines, by appointment.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

MEZZOGIORNO SPORTIVO

In Naples, fan fever has always blown hot and heavy. So strong was the interest in a 1929 Napoli v Lazio play-off for Serie A that Neapolitan sports paper Mezzogiorno Sportivo invented one of the earliest ever "live" match reports. Basically, a reporter from the paper, who was at the game in Milan, phoned back minute-by-minute reports to his Naples office. These were then written up by another journalist and passed on to yet another reporter who then read them out to a crowd from the office balcony.