In Naples, I learnt to speak beginners italian through my stomach. Each day is a lesson about food - what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. The flavours of the food are like the local dialect. Distinctive and unique. In Naples, the endings of words disappear, the letter e becomes ie in pronunciation, v turns into b and d into r.
This is my la lezione italiana from a week in southern Italy.
The sun raises and the haze falls away to a morning that begins with a walk and the sound of church bells in the distance.
Lezione due: Si prega di non toccare
It is impossible to travel to the south of Italy and not discover limoncello.
Lezione tre: C’e un carciofo?
The word for artichoke in Italian is il carciofo. We eat it as an antipasto and with spaghetti. As an antipasto, it is grilled on open flames and served with a light drizzling of oil. It is from the garden and has been cooked on the bbq earlier in the afternoon. Its flesh is succulent and chewy. You tear off each petal and grip the flesh with your teeth enjoying the smokeness of the taste. Its heart is filled with a dressing of oil from the agristourismo and fresh parsley.
Lezione quatro: The art of filleting a fish
There is something about a flirty waiter and I find myself in the company of a professional at Ristorante 'o Parrucchiano la Favorita, Corso Italia, Sorrento.
Next is Sogliola del Tirreno al Forno (or simply the catch of the day baked in olive oil). Again, it is extraordinary in taste – the olive oil is fruity and surprisingly doesn’t overwhelm the dish.
Lezione cinque: Fare tiramisu : a lezione per Marco nella cucina.
There is only one way to eat tiramisu – on the evening that you make it and then in the morning for breakfast.
Lezione sei: La dolce vita
The agristourismo where we stay is one of the many farmhouse stays, so popular in Italy. Four generations live here in this working farm that produces olive oil, wine and legumes. Each meal is another lesson in Italian cuisine as we literally eat the harvest of the garden.
This is the life. The days are long and warm. There is no rush and I enjoy just sitting looking out to the Bay of Naples after lunch, half dozing and half revising the lesson. There is a job going or so Marco tells me. It is domestic work but I’m tempted. Perhaps I could manage to work in the kitchen, if I’m lucky.
Lezione sette: Che ora e? Siesta. Tutto chiude.
A day in Naples begins in the University sector, we wind our way through the streets discovering churches and local delicates like Naples famous baba. It's a sweet pastry, almost cake, soaked in rum and filled with chocolate cream or custard. We walk pass street stalls, piazzas and cafes, following our local guides - Marco e Marcello.
From a distance, Naples is surprising large. A sprawling and dirty city that has almost cast off its seedier reputation in a renaissance that started in the 1980s. Despite its nod to tourism, it stubbornly refuses to become another Roma or Venezia.
Fashionably attired Italians coo over their expressos and groups of business men talk. It proves to be the perfect place to try sfogliatella, another pastry filled with ricotta and dusted with icing sugar.
Lezione otto: Molto grazie ma non mangio la cena stasera.
I arrive in Capri welcomed by rugged vistas, swags of bougainvillea and tourist buses. I quickly walk pass the men with placards advertising hotels to the bus station. Another opportunity to practice my Italian: a che ora e il prossimo l’autobus a Anacapri? In ten minutes or so is the answer.
I go to Anacapri because it is away from the main tourist spots and it’s considerably cheaper than Capri, made famous by Jackie O and Ms Bardot. After a boat ride and two bus trips, all I want is a expresso decaffeinatto. There is a café directly opposite the bus stop and this where I meet Enzo. He buys me a café, no doubt charmed by my ‘perfect’ Italian! Why not I tell myself, I can practice.
He was born in Anacapri and has lived here all his life. He is charmed that I think it is a bella isola e mi preferisco Capri a Napoli. He even corrects me when I confuse newspaper (il giornale) with day (il giorno).
He asks me what am I going this evening and would I like to go out to dinner. I gratitiously decline for two reasons. One, I have eaten so much over the last five days in Naples that I literally cannot eat – sono molto piena and two, he is my father’s age. I am flattered and thank him. He tells me that I am beautiful.
I wave goodbye from the bus as I head to Capri and amaze at Italian men. I am at least twenty years younger than him – but that’s the fun of being in Italy.
Lezione nove: Always arrive early
It is my last day in Capri and I decide that I can’t leave without seeing the Blue Grotto. I catch the local bus and find myself at the top of the hill with no idea where I am going. I walk down the stairs, pass the obligatory tourist shop, to find myself at the water’s edge wondering where the grotto is. Then suddenly it become clear, I need to get into a boat. Five euro is the going rate. I step in to cheers of the surrounding boatmen.
The entrance to the Blue Grotto is small. I have to lie down to avoid decapitation and once through this small entrance, I open my eyes to see a most lustrous blue. The word for blue in Italian is azzurro and the sound of this word somehow embodies what I see. The light simmers, like an aura, luminating the grotto and the water beneath.
Do I want to go for a swim, he asks me. No, not today.
Instead, he sings. It is just him and me. I bathe in the light to the sounds of his voice. This is tranquility, only interrupted by the arrival of some Japanese tourists. In quick succession, five boats come through the opening and the stillness is interrupted by camera flashes and laughter.
Time to go. Will I come back again, he asks.
Lezione dieci: Quando tornare a Italia?
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the food or just the slowness of living, but Italy gets into your skin. I arrive back in London and it's gray and somber. I hit the underground and people push and shove as they squeeze onto the 8.20 District line train.
Naples seems such a long way away – a lifetime away. I grab a coffee and walk to work from the tube. Holding onto my holiday experience before I hit the hayhem of the office.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, she books a flight to Milan in June. Why? To practice her Italian.