I was not in Naples very long. Neither, of course, were the Shelleys—just a few months, from the end of 1818 to their departure at the end of February 1819 (they headed to Rome).
After my Vesuvius ascent, I had a short time before I would “enjoy” one of my most unpleasant experiences during that 1999 trip: an all-night train ride from Naples to Munich on the night of April 27. Here—lightly edited—are some passages from my journal during that trip.
Finally aboard train about 6—after some initial confusion w/ the ticket: It was unclear (to me) which compartment I was in (a young man was sitting in what I thought was my seat), but after some fooling around, I think we have it straightened out. So far, I’m with two other men, one in his twenties, the other in his 40s or 50s, both of whom speak as much English as I do Italian. I’d spent the last couple of hours reading, walking over to the pizza place and spending what I hope will be my last money in Italy (ever!) and—paranoid—checking the track (binario) on which the train will depart. I’m nearing the end of Glenarvon [Caroline Lamb’s novel about her former lover, Lord Byron] and will probably finish it tonight as we’re rolling up Italy, into a bit of Austria (a 1st for me), and on into Munich tomorrow a.m.
All in all, this has been a humbling experience for me, Italy. Every day—every single day—I’ve felt stupid; every day I’ve felt afraid, especially since (and probably because of) the incident of pick-pocketing in Florence. When you are totally ignorant of a language, it places you in real jeopardy … I’ve also been very discouraged & depressed by the poverty, the vandalism and destruction, but mostly the desperate hopelessness which greets so many millions of people every morning. I cannot imagine it. At home, what do I worry about? Really worry about? Nothing. Food, shelter, clothing, a little spending money, a few investments—all I have. Best of all, I am loved by a wonderful woman who supports everything I do, every project I undertake; what else on earth could I possibly want? The answer is more than simple: Nothing. To ask for more—to even wish or hope for more—is greed in its violent aspect. It is a sacrilege.
6:20 Right on time, we roll out of Naples! (I’m riding backwards—appropriately.) I notice as we leave that there are in the center of town quite a few glass-and-steel office buildings, rising above the city. But they are quite literally surrounded by low-income high-rises, every bit as depressed—and depressing—as those in Chicago or the South Bronx. They go on for miles. Not even the intense Neapolitan sun can brighten them.