naples guide the scruffy city in vesuviuss shadow

Crucifixes that talk, shop assistants with the faces of Botticelli angels, cathedrals where miracles are commonplace.

You could believe anything might happen in Naples, never more than a Hail Mary away from being buried by the fractious Mount Vesuvius.

I’m in the city to buy a mandolin. This fine instrument has its origins right here in old Napoli.

Smoke on the water: Naples, infamously, sits in the metaphorical shadow of Mount Vesuvius

Mandolins have fascinated me since I bought my first many decades ago in Belfast; now it’s time for the genuine article. The city’s steep, narrow streets allow for just two feasible modes of transport: moped or foot.

I opt for a Vespa scooter tour – which is dangerous but exhilarating.

Antonio Mosca, of tour firm VespAround, speeds along rutted streets and alleyways. Equal measures of squalor and sheer beauty whizz by.

In the shadow of some of Christendom’s most glorious art, people gesticulate dramatically, but I’ve no idea what they are gesticulating about.

We stop at music shops, junk shops, bakeries and ancient bars where locals bid us to join them.

This dodgy 3,000-year-old city has a well-earned reputation for organised crime, notably the notorious Camorra syndicate, a Mafia-type organisation, which has had 500 years to perfect its racketeering.

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