A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting Naples and the surrounding area for the first time and spent a pleasant morning relaxing at what seemed like a very tranquil harbour. Almost exactly 100 years before my visit a journal writer from the USA by the name of Thomas Rees was arriving in Naples, and he found anything but tranquility on his arrival. He wrote of his experiences in Sixty Days in Europe and what we saw there, published in 1908.
The ordeal of landing, however, in Naples is not so poetical an experience as one might imagine, but is withal an experience long to be remembered. I think the arrangements for landing are as bad as the city is beautiful. The ship comes to anchor about a mile from shore. Before it has reached its destination scores of row boats can be seen coming from all directions, and before the ship has ceased motion they are about it like a flock of sea pirates. Their recklessness and audacity are surprising. While the marine police are trying to drive them back they will row swiftly in, striking the ship’s hull, and, throwing a rope with a hook on the end of it into an open port hole of the ship, will catch on and be jerked along through the water at a rapid rate, while the troupe of men and women serenade the passengers with Naples’ famous air, “The Sextette from Lucia.”
Another boat filled with brown, husky men follows the ship, and while two or three keep their boat in motion, several begin to pull off their clothes, exposing their brown bodies. It looks as though they were going to be entirely naked in a few seconds. But when they have removed their outer clothing it is seen that they wear bathing trunks, and they are soon overboard diving for coppers thrown from the ship by passengers who are willing to pay for the exhibition. Other boats are filled with musicians, some with divers and others with flowers and novelties to sell.
There is activity and life in the landing at Naples. It commences at this time and does not end until after you get to your hotel, and lock the door, and even then the sounds, like the confusion of the many voices at the time of trouble at Babel, reach you.
I think the arrangements for disembarking are the worst that could be tolerated. After the ship comes to anchor, aside from the boats of quarantine, police, etc., three tenders are sent to the ship. One for the first-class passengers, one for the steerage passengers, and another for the trunks. As all the first-class passengers have their hand baggage, which is ponderous on a foreign trip, and there are about thirty hotel runners and an Italian band already on board, there is not room enough for all the passengers, so a second or third trip of the tender is necessary.
When you land at a formidable stone dock adjoining the custom house you have your real Neapolitan experience. On this dock pandemonium reigns supreme. It is a scramble, open to all comers, with no rules or regulations, and the strongest lungs and the most strenuous limbs win out. The harassment of the new-comer and his tortures are complete.
There are thirty or forty hotel runners, each with two or three assistants, who have free consent to go and come any place and solicit unrestrained. There are all kinds of peddlers and venders of miscellaneous articles, and they are all let loose on the incoming passengers. Then, in addition, there are swarms of beggars that are positively the limit of their kind. Armless, legless, sightless, twisted, warped, stunted and malformed, old, young and middle-aged, limping, hopping, and crawling, and all crying out in most imploring voices all their sorrows and all their woes. It is truly appalling and you feel sick at heart and almost wish you had not come so far to be so unmercifully annoyed by the strong and so relentlessly pursued by the afflicted.
The arrangement for the discharge of baggage is even worse than that for passengers. After long waiting, a barge is brought ashore with trunks piled up in tiers and pyramids. None of them are checked and everybody seems free to help themselves. Every person who has a trunk in the collection has one or two porters to help dig it out, and everybody’s trunk is under everybody else’s trunk. Unsystematic work at a house on fire in our country is order and system as compared with the unloading of trunks from a steamer at Naples. While the barge is bumping up and down with the waves, men, women and porters are all climbing over trunks looking for other trunks. In the melee one trunk was knocked overboard and I noticed two others with their sides caved in.
My trunk, of course, was directly in the center of the boat in the bottom layer. With the aid of two husky porters, I dug down to it, but in doing so we undermined a young New York lady who was standing on the top of the pyramid and came near toppling her into the sea.
A very interesting first hand account of life as a resident of Naples at the time can be found at www.crookedlakereview.com/articles/101_135/114winter2000/114dunton.html