I must be getting sentimental in my middle-age. A few weeks ago I talked about weddings and now I’m recalling a Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago—Jessica and I visiting Caserta Palace, strolling around the gardens, just outside of Naples, in the clear, crisp February air. Soon after arriving, I had noticed a man with a horse-drawn carriage riding around the grounds and thought, “My, how romantic. Maybe I should inquire into his services and impress my fidanzata.”
Sure enough, as he drew closer, he began to shout. I couldn’t really understand him, but it seemed obvious enough I was being subjected to his sales pitch.
I cut to the chase, “Quanto costa?” How much?
I don’t think he actually heard my words, as he continued his passionate monologue, determined to make me hear the whole spiel before the bargaining process began. Finally, I reluctantly gave up my role in the “conversation,” shrugged, and turned over the reins to Jessica and her knowledge of Neapolitan dialect.
From that point, I could only watch. But what struck me was that while Jessica was attempting to engage him, he continued to look squarely at me. I was the man, after all, and this sort of hard bargaining is clearly not women’s work.
“80 euro?!?” Jessica scoffed, “Dai, nun pazzia’…quanto?” (80 euro? Let’s get serious, how much?).
Still looking at me, he replied, “Signo’, voi siete un gentiluomo, nun volete porta’ questa principessa in carrozza?” (Sir, you’re a gentleman, don’t you want to take this princess on the carriage?)
This, Jessica could not stand for. “Non ci sono principesse qui; dai, facci un prezzo onesto.” (There are no princesses here; come on, give us an honest price).
“Signo’, onesti comme a mme nun ce ne stanno! Vi faccio 50 euro e trattate la signorina dalla principessa che è. Oh, signo’!” (Sir, there are no others as honest as me. I’ll make it 50 and you can treat the Miss like the princess that she is. Oh, sir!)
Jessica was quick with her retort, “Niente, non ci accordiamo. Buona giornata.” (No deal. Have a good day).
Now he got even more theatrical with his gestures and tone of voice. “Signo’! Aspettate! Tengo famiglia, mio figlio è disoccupato, mugliereme è disoccupata, il cavallo mangia assaje… Facciamo 25 euro? (Sir! Wait! I have a family, my son doesn’t work, my wife doesn’t work, this horse eats so much… Let’s make it 25 euros?).
That last bit I understood. 25 euros. I nodded and reached for my wallet.
“See?” he said, addressing Jessica for the first time. “These are men’s businesses. See? The gentleman here knows how to treat a princess.”
And he took us for a lovely ride that lasted about 7 minutes, which certainly did not significantly increase the horse’s appetite. But it was lovely. Here, see for yourself:
History of La Reggia and Visiting Caserta Palace
The sprawling royal complex at Caserta was built by the Bourbon kings, starting in 1752, and was meant to rival Versailles and the Royal Palace in Madrid. One of the most beautiful features is the way that the buildings—the last remnants of the Baroque era—blend in with the natural setting, never taking away from the parks, gardens, and surrounding woodlands.
At the end of World War II, the royal palace served as the seat of the Supreme Allied Commander. In April 1945 it was the site where they signed the unconditional surrender of German forces in Italy. The first Allied war crimes trial took place in the palace in 1945.
The Caserta Palace has also been used as a filming location in a number of movie productions. For example, it was used as the Queen’s Royal Palace in the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and then again in the 2002 sequel, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Other films such as Mission Impossible III and Angels & Demons have used the palace as a substitute for the Vatican.
If you have a chance for visiting Caserta Palace, I highly recommend this destination as a nice weekend away from Rome.
Here’s their website for tickets and info: La Reggia di Caserta
Here’s where we stayed and ate:
Our Bed and Breakfast: http://www.lanticocortile.it/
Our restaurant: http://www.ristorantemassa.it/cucina.php
Speaking of food…
No, it’s not “just” pizza!
The next days we went to visit Naples. This city deserves much more attention than most tourists are willing to give it—and more than I can write about in the rest of this post. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least give homage to that icon of the Neapolitan kitchen: pizza
Naples is the birthplace of pizza and to try the original version will make you believe that you’ve never eaten pizza before in your life. In fact, it is so good and so original that the Italian government has petitioned the European Commission to designate Naples’ three (and there are only three) versions of pizza as Specialitá Tradizionale Garantita “Pizza Napoletana.” And I quote:
In the designation “Pizza Napoletana,” we define the following names: “Pizza Napoletana Marinara,” “Pizza Napoletana Margherita Extra,” and “Pizza Napoletana Margherita.”
The products that provide the base for “Pizza Napoletana” include wheat flour type “00” with the addition of flour type “0,” yeast, natural water, peeled tomatoes and/or fresh cherry tomatoes, marine salt, and extra virgin olive oil.
Other added ingredients can include, garlic and oregano for “Pizza Napoletana Marinara;” buffalo milk mozzarella, fresh basil and fresh tomatoes for “Pizza Napoletana Margherita Extra;” and mozzarella STG or Fior di Latte Appennino and fresh basil for “Pizza Napoletana Margherita.”
That’s it!! No other ingredients are allowed including “pepperoni,” (either the Italian sweet peppers, or in the English language, spicy salami), mushrooms, onions, or God forbid, pineapple. These guys aren’t joking around by putting Thai chicken, mango chutney, barbeque sauce, or other such sacrilege on top of their capolavori (masterpieces). They take pride in doing one simple thing. But doing it perfectly. So sure, eat what you like, but don’t ever call it “pizza” unless it has earned the right to carry the name.
So there we were in the center of Naples, and of course we were keen to locate the aforementioned culinary treasure in situ. We had a short list of recommended places and finally found ourselves inside the hallowed walls of a genuine Neapolitan pizzeria where all the magic takes place.
I won’t repeat the whole dialogue, but suffice to say it was almost an exact replica of the horse carriage conversation, if you replace the phrase “carriage ride” with “table for two.” Once again I found myself merely observing a conversation that was directed at me. It’s such an odd feeling, an out of body experience, as if you’re watching yourself in a dream.
And the pizza itself was a dream. So if you don’t have a sweetheart for Valentine’s Day, just make a date with una pizza margherita. It might not be “romantic” in the classical sense, but at least you won’t have to cough up 25 euros for a 7-minute carriage ride.