Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Little Misguided

My cousin, Celia, arrived with a Cadogan Guide, which purportedly covers Southern Italy along with the Bay of Naples. Twelve entire pages out of 300 are devoted to Basilicata. Two paragraphs are dedicated to the important Greek ruins of Metaponto. Such a slighting is common among so-called guide books, so we’re pretty much used to not relying on them in our travels to points south.

But when I read the opening line of their section on Basilicata I quickly decided that Cadogan doesn’t know what the hell they are talking about. “The Basilicata has never been one of the more welcoming regions of Italy.” (Hold that thought until the next post.) The authors must think that the entire region has remained completely unchanged since Levi wrote about it in his famous novel, Christ Stopped at Eboli, by calling it “the poorest and most backward corner of all Italy.” Matera, they concede, has a sense of style but say it is subtle and one must stay around a while in order to see it.


Matera, as I already told you, is, in fact, stylish and dramatically beautifully. The lively shopping district, packed with designer wear and must-have gear for the hippest of Italians, speaks clearly of a level of prosperity and panache that you would expect to find in any other provincial city across the peninsula. If they’re looking for the likes of Milan or Rome, you won’t find it here, but nor will you find it in Perugia, Siena, or Ascoli Piceno. Got my hackles up a little bit, can’t you tell?

Moving on. “Most backward”. Whenever I see statements like this I have to wonder, based on whose idea of advancement? Because they maintain a largely-agrarian economy and employment base and hold tightly to traditional crafts, they are considered the country bumpkins down there. I always cringe when an area is considered “backwards” for not polluting their air, ripping out their forests, or encouraging complete consumer consumption. A lack of soul-sapping centro commerciale (malls) must be deemed undeveloped and poverty-stricken. These are, you may have already guessed, the exact reasons we love Basilicata.

There is a deep sense of serenity and timelessness when I enter the Lucanian countryside. Even now when I see it in my mind’s eye I feel the sensation and emotion that the beauty of wide panoramas instills, and I can smell the fragrance of the high-mountain air. There is something tangible in the emotion. It is a rare feeling but I experience it there, like I experience it in the New Mexico autumn when the aroma of pi┼łon fires and roasting green chile fill the air. It is a wondrous sense of place that brings calm and touches my soul. I feel jealous for this area and proud to have roots here.

As for Cadogan, that book lies on the shelf to collect dust until we ever decide to visit Naples. That fair city occupies more than half its pages. I am sure the authors are just echoing what they’ve read elsewhere and have never visited the gorgeous mountain country that we now know well. Perhaps it is just as well. A few more trips and I’ll be able to write a guidebook of my own.

Read the second part of my rant:
...and Misinformed

c. 2007 Valerie Schneider


Judith in Umbria said...

In reality, Cadogan guide is the only one that requires the writers to live in the area while researching and writing it, but of course the finished guide reflects those personalities. The writers may just have loved Naples too much and think of sophistication in terms of London.

Their guide to Umbria is much more respectable than any other I've read. It covers many more small treasures in much more detail than the rush through visitors guides.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

What a lovely description you've provided... you definitely should write your own guide eventually. It sounds like you have a passion for the place and that's obviously what visitors are looking for.

I've never used a Cadogan guide. I prefer Lonely Planet because they get updated by actual travelers and in my experience the advice has always been really accurate and not judgemental or condescending.

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sognatrice said...

I hear you. Every time I read a guide's one-five pages on Calabria, my stomach they usually mention organized crime. Ugh!

rob said...

Unfortunately I have never been in Matera. I live in Northern Italy, and this is why I hardly ever go there, but I once had the chance to visit Monte Sant'Angelo (you can see here some photos), in the Gargano, Puglia, not very far from Matera. I'm sure you would enjoy that place , too. Ciao.

Valerie said...

Sognatrice, (Groan) I hate seeing that, as if the place is completely over-run with gangsters. At least Calabria garnered more than 20 pages in this particular guide; I am sure they were feeling generous. There are many places in Calabria we want to visit, though.

Rob, The Gargano is on the list for our someday travels, too.