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NAPLES OBSERVED - A WISE, WITTY MEMOIR
on December 14, 2005
Don Hofstadter, author of the thoroughly enjoyable "The Love Affair As A Work Of Art," is totally smitten with Naples, "that beautiful and wounded city." He loves the winding streets with their perilous staircases, he loves bassi (very small street level flats), he loves the people, most of all Benedetta, and he shares this deep affection with us in energetic, elegant prose. "Falling Palace" is a memoir, yes, it's also a paean to the city that for generations has withstood occupation, war, and the whims of Vesuvius.
For Hofstadter, Naples is "a place best or perhaps only grasped through myth and memory and half-remembered dream." He had many a dream during his sojourn there, dreams he tried to decipher, discover their hidden meanings. Perhaps those were attempts to find his place in Naples and in the life of Benedetta. She is an enigma, a beautiful mysterious woman often given to superstition, frequently argumentative, yet she holds him in thrall.
Unlike many short term residents of a foreign city, Hofstadter takes great pains to learn not only the language but the idioms and hand gestures. He notes that tapping the nose with a finger means something smells fishy or pulling down an eyelid indicates that one should keep one's eyes open. All of this observation is done with joy as he happily mimics the latest sign he has learned.
Word painted descriptions of Naples, the way the light plays on the buildings at eventide or the scorching of the noon day sun are artfully rendered, yet it is the Neapolitans themselves who are the heartbeat of the city and of this memoir. Hofstadter was fortunate in making so many friends from whom he learned a great deal. There is Gigi, a "theater person with dyed-blonde porcupine like hair" who schooled him in the Neopolitan dialect, and his landlady, Nunzia Perna, who had lived through the war's bombings. Two brothers, avid spelunkers who have spent their lives exploring the underground avenues that can be tracked throughout the cit introduced him to this hidden terrain.. There are many more friends and acquaintances, of course, all with stories to tell.
There are no answers in this wise and witty memoir, simply observations that illuminate one man's quest. Hofstadter has often journeyed to the city of his heart. Fortunate is the reader who shares a visit with him.
- Gail Cooke