Naples stands between hills and sea on a semicircular bay facing Ischia and Capri. As if to remind mankind that the proximity of tragedy exalts life, Vesuvius looms over that bay, a thin wisp of smoke continually curling over its momentarily peaceful peak. In his Neapolitan notes, Melville wrote: “Monstrous cruelty of a remorseless nature, memories of cities burnt under the lava … [yet Naples] … is the gayest city in the world.” Travelers through the ages have remarked on the sharp contradictions of Naples—the gaiety and the noise, the filth and the vulgarity, the aristocratic rubbing elbows with the plebian. Mozart at the age of 14 was impressed by the strange and tumultuous festivity, and Goethe, in a letter dated May 1787, described “the festival of pleasure which is celebrated in Naples every day.”
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