I spent three very happy years in Naples, Italy, as the newest Women’s Royal naval Service Officer (WRNS) around the time of the 1980 earthquake. Michael Dibden’s super detective story, “Cosi Fan Tutti” captures the vibrancy and vigour of the city, utter disregard for the law and wild exuberance of Mozart’s opera of the same name. Naples briefly features in my own book and how fellow WRNS officer, Jo, and I met again after nearly 40 years in Norfolk (Virginia USA) and I learned about the death of her husband, Nick, who had also served with us in Italy.
I’d only just got my driving licence (30 hours training at RAF St. Athan) before being let loose in a battered old car in Naples. The book perfectly describes the traffic in those days: red traffic lights merely advisory; one-way signs purely decorative in rush hour; rear view mirrors ignored or simply ripped out. I have hair-raising memories of US naval officers climbing out of the car through the windows, sliding across the roof and back through the opposite window – all while in motion!
The port area featured in the tale was a regular haunt in both NATO official and social duties. There were regular visits from Royal Navy, Us and other NATO ships including a cocktail party on the Royal Yacht Britannia (even the brass in the engine room was buffed to a shine). Our own WRNS party is another strong memory: NATO wives tittering due to undiluted cocktails; the US Navy squadron parading behind their cornet player; the retaliatory RN wardroom singing their songs; the cavorting belly dancer hired for the night; the Wrens living above us calling the police to stop the noisy gathering!
No wonder that many of the locations bring back memories of this wonderful city and its distinctive character. And the dramatis personae created by the author are equally distinctive stereotypes of the Neapolitan underworld and officialdom of those days. Everything seemed full-on, in your face and laced with a tinge of thrilling danger!
The Michael Kitchen (star of Foyle’s War) audio version could not be more perfect: the laconic tones and dry humour of his narration mirrors the tongue-in-cheek rendering of the operatic-scale tale, redolent with passion, violence and criminality. What more escapism is needed for summer reading?
Meanwhile, if you can drag yourself away from your sunbed, here’s the quickest moist fruit cake. Just follow the demo https://youtu.be/Ei2bjfA3MKY to see how easily everything is mixed in a saucepan before scooping into the tin and baking. As easy as that!