The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples

Overview

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard first moved to Naples as a young woman in the 1950s to take up a job with the United Nations. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the city. The Ancient Shore collects the best of Hazzard's writings on Naples, along with a classic New Yorker essay by her late husband, Francis Steegmuller. For the pair, both insatiable readers, the Naples of Pliny, Gibbon, and Auden is constantly alive to them in the present.

With Hazzard as our ...

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Overview

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard first moved to Naples as a young woman in the 1950s to take up a job with the United Nations. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the city. The Ancient Shore collects the best of Hazzard's writings on Naples, along with a classic New Yorker essay by her late husband, Francis Steegmuller. For the pair, both insatiable readers, the Naples of Pliny, Gibbon, and Auden is constantly alive to them in the present.

With Hazzard as our guide, we encounter Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and of course Goethe, but Hazzard's concern is primarily with the Naples of our own time-often violently unforgiving to innocent tourists, but able to transport the visitor who attends patiently to its rhythms and history. Beautifully illustrated by photographs from such masters as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Herbert List. The Ancient Shore is a lyrical letter to a lifelong love: honest and clear-eyed, yet still fervently, endlessly enchanted.

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Editorial Reviews

The Atlantic
"[Hazzard''s notions of Naples are] limned gorgeously--by her painterly prose, her late husband''s stylish reportage, and a somewhat unexpected (but thoroughly apt) complement: glowing photographs of Naples by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Herbert List, and others."-Atlantic
Los Angeles Times
"Deep in the spell of Italy, Hazzard parses the difference between visiting and living and working in a foreign country. She writes with enormous eloquence and passion of the beauty of getting lost in a place."-Susan Slater Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

— Susan Salter Reynolds

Toronto Star
"For anyone planning to visit Naples, not to read The Ancient Shore would itself be a crime. It could help you fall in love with the city, as Hazzard and her husband had done."-Michael Hanlon, Toronto Star

— Michael Hanlon

Booklist
"This book speaks in two different voices, Hazzard writing about the city of Naples as a ''victim'' of the still-active Mount Vesuvius, about why sensitive people gravitate to Italy, and about travel as a personal pilgrimate. [Her late husband Francis] Steegmuller, on the other hand, writes more personally, about a mugging he experienced in crime-prone Naples a few years back. But the two voices join in exquisite harmony to celebrate ''those of us who first came to Italy in the 1950s [and] were more than lucky; we were blessed.'' Blessed, that is, with indelible impressions, for ''the day was an adventure of discoveries, mortal and immortal, inward or external, and occasionally somber.'' A lovely book."-Booklist, starred review
Washington Times
"A book you don''t so much read as inhale. . . . A perfect present as a thank-you to a dinner host or to anyone passionate about Italy."-Ann Geracimos, Washington Times

— Ann Geracimos

Bookforum
"Much larger than all its parts, this book does full justice to a place, and a time, where 'nothing was pristine, except the light.'"-Michael Gorra, Bookforum

— Michael Gorra

Times Literary Supplement
"Over those like Shirley Hazzard and her late husband Francis Steegmuller, who arrived immediately after hte Second World War, Naples spread a numinous enchantment which no other Italian city could match.Sadly the collection of brief essays and memoirs gathered here may represent the last in that small but significant array of books which have sought to capture this unique impact on foreign visitors. . . . Hazzard and Steegmuller insist that ''our own readiness to be pleased can never be mocked or repudiated.'' Few readers would wish to do either, given the refinement and affetion with which both writers register their experience."--Jonathan Keates, Times Literary Supplement

— Jonathan Keates

Washington Post Book World
"[An] exquisite companion for the armchair traveler who dreams in the languages of literature and art. . . . A love letter to an ancient Italian city by the sea. . . . By temperament, I incline toward the understated appreciations of art and people I find in The Ancient Shore. . . . Such passages, simple as they are, constitute the unalloyed traces of love."-Mindy Aloff, Washington Post Book World

— Mindy Aloff

Rain Taxi
"A beautifully written apologia for Naples and the Campania region. . . . Hazzard's writing is an often brilliant travelogue in which the reader is made to recognize what he or she may have missed in the elusive city."
Judith Martin
That gorgeous site of perpetual disaster, Naples, Italy…has been sent a valentine…In Ancient Shore: Dispatches From Naples, [Hazzard] writes poetically about the lure of an intimate daily relationship with the architectural remains of Naples's many rich historical epochs.
—The New York Times
Mindy Aloff
…collects several impeccably constructed essays…about the history, architecture, geography and volcanoes of Naples. Hazzard's elegant and ruminative prose is offset by Steegmuller's muscular account of being brutally mugged in the Piazza San Francesco and of the humane medical treatment he received in two rather impoverished Neapolitan hospitals.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Their love for the city of Naples inspired the writing of these short essays over several decades by prize-winning novelist Hazzard (The Great Fire) and her husband, eminent literary biographer Steegmuller (Flaubert), who died in 1994. Hazzard is a persuasive wordsmith in defense of this city, whose incomparable scenery and unique history more than make up for the ever present danger from Mt. Vesuvius, neglect that has left many of its treasures in disrepair and unsympathetic modern development. Steegmuller's essay, "An Incident at Naples," which originally appeared in The New Yorker in 1986, is a warm and wry story of his being mugged in Naples and his experiences in hospitals there and in New York City. As these pieces are laden with literary references from Horace to Dickens, it would have been helpful to include a bibliography of sources for those who want to read further. This is an appealing addition for public library collections where travel essays or materials on all things Italian have proven popular.
—Linda M. Kaufmann

Toronto Star
For anyone planning to visit Naples, not to read Ancient Shores would itself be a crime. It could help you fall in love with the city, as Hazzard and her husband had done.

— Michael Hanlon

Rain Taxi

“A beautifully written apologia for Naples and the Campania region. . . . Hazzard’s writing is an often brilliant travelogue in which the reader is made to recognize what he or she may have missed in the elusive city.”
Washington Times
A book you don't so much read as inhale. . . . A perfect present as a thank-you to a dinner host or to anyone passionate about Italy.

— Ann Geracimos

Atlantic

"[Hazzard's notions of Naples are] limned gorgeously--by her painterly prose, her late husband's stylish reportage, and a somewhat unexpected (but thoroughly apt) complement: glowing photographs of Naples by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Herbert List, and others."
Washington Post Book World - Mindy Aloff

“[An] exquisite companion for the armchair traveler who dreams in the languages of literature and art. . . . A love letter to an ancient Italian city by the sea. . . . By temperament, I incline toward the understated appreciations of art and people I find in The Ancient Shore. . . . Such passages, simple as they are, constitute the unalloyed traces of love.”
Bookforum - Michael Gorra

“Much larger than all its parts, this book does full justice to a place, and a time, where ‘nothing was pristine, except the light.’”
Robert Pogue Harrison

The Ancient Shore reads like an extended prose poem about one of the most beautiful and complex, yet also one of the least well known, cities in the world. Without ever removing the veils of enigma that surround Naples, Shirley Hazzard and her late husband Francis Steegmuller take us to the heart of the city’s historical, cultural, and aesthetic fascination. As we join them on this pilgrimage, they invite us to meditate on the deeper meaning of travel, hospitality, encounter, and expatriation. Even for those of us who think we know Naples well, this book takes us someplace we have not been before.”
Los Angeles Times - Susan Salter Reynolds

“Deep in the spell of Italy, Hazzard parses the difference between visiting and living and working in a foreign country. She writes with enormous eloquence and passion of the beauty of getting lost in a place.”
Times Literary Supplement - Jonathan Keates

"Over those like Shirley Hazzard and her late husband Francis Steegmuller, who arrived immediately after hte Second World War, Naples spread a numinous enchantment which no other Italian city could match.Sadly the collection of brief essays and memoirs gathered here may represent the last in that small but significant array of books which have sought to capture this unique impact on foreign visitors. . . . Hazzard and Steegmuller insist that 'our own readiness to be pleased can never be mocked or repudiated.' Few readers would wish to do either,  given the refinement and affetion with which both writers register their experience."
Toronto Star - Michael Hanlon

"For anyone planning to visit Naples, not to read Ancient Shores would itself be a crime. It could help you fall in love with the city, as Hazzard and her husband had done."
Washington Times - Ann Geracimos

"A book you don't so much read as inhale. . . . A perfect present as a thank-you to a dinner host or to anyone passionate about Italy."
Washington Post Book World
[An] exquisite companion for the armchair traveler who dreams in the languages of literature and art. . . . A love letter to an ancient Italian city by the sea. . . . By temperament, I incline toward the understated appreciations of art and people I find in The Ancient Shore. . . . Such passages, simple as they are, constitute the unalloyed traces of love.”

— Mindy Aloff

Bookforum
Much larger than all its parts, this book does full justice to a place, and a time, where ‘nothing was pristine, except the light.’”

— Michael Gorra

starred review - Booklist

"This book speaks in two different voices, Hazzard writing about the city of Naples as a 'victim' of the still-active Mount Vesuvius, about why sensitive people gravitate to Italy, and about travel as a personal pilgrimate. [Her late husband Francis] Steegmuller, on the other hand, writes more personally, about a mugging he experienced in crime-prone Naples a few years back. But the two voices join in exquisite harmony to celebrate 'those of us who first came to Italy in the 1950s [and] were more than lucky; we were blessed.' Blessed, that is, with indelible impressions, for 'the day was an adventure of discoveries, mortal and immortal, inward or external, and occasionally somber.' A lovely book."
Los Angeles Times
Deep in the spell of Italy, Hazzard parses the difference between
— Susan Salter Reynolds
Times Literary Supplement
Over those like Shirley Hazzard and her late husband Francis Steegmuller, who arrived immediately after hte Second World War, Naples spread a numinous enchantment which no other Italian city could match.Sadly the collection of brief essays and memoirs gathered here may represent the last in that small but significant array of books which have sought to capture this unique impact on foreign visitors. . . . Hazzard and Steegmuller insist that 'our own readiness to be pleased can never be mocked or repudiated.' Few readers would wish to do either,  given the refinement and affetion with which both writers register their experience.

— Jonathan Keates

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226322018
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2008
  • Pages: 140
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard is the acclaimed author of four books of nonfiction and six novels, including the National Book Award–winning The Great Fire. Francis Steegmuller (1906–94) was an editor, translator, critic, and literary biographer.

Biography

Shirley Hazzard is not prolific. By the time she was 72, she had published only her sixth novel. That one was her first in two decades. And it was based on an incident in her life that had transpired three decades before that. Clearly, she takes her time.

Perhaps that is why the critics fall to their knees in gratitude upon every new work.

Consider the praise for The Great Fire, a World War II romance:

"If The Great Fire lacks the astonishing densities of The Transit of Venus (a novel that, in its own astronomical terms, was really more like a swirling asteroid belt of connected stories), it still streaks through a reader's ken in the manner of a comet, quickly seizing the attention and emotions before disappearing, trailed by hopes for the characters' happiness — which, like a comet's return, the reader only half believes in." --Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly

"The Great Fire can be counted with Middlemarch as one of the few novels in English that can hold the attention of an adult without recourse to comedy, freakish plot turns or sentimentality. It is also a classic romance so cleverly embedded in a work of clear- eyed postwar sagacity that readers will not realize until halfway through that they are rooting for a pair of ill-starred lovers who might have stepped off a Renaissance stage." --Regina Marler, Los Angeles Times

"Hazzard's elegiac new novel, the first since her modern classic The Transit of Venus in 1980, sails into port like a magnificent ship of fiction from another era: She writes in stately, compassionate sentences of things that matter, such as the triumph of love over loss, taking time to coax each character out of his or her hiding place of 20th-century unease." --Lisa Schwartzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Critics have been waiting since 1980, when she published her bestselling account of the lives of two Australian sisters in postwar England, The Transit of Venus, to lavish Hazzard with that kind of praise. Her 2000 reminiscence of knowing Graham Greene in the latter part of his life won praise for being "witty and sharply observed" (Harper's ) and "austere, beautifully written" (The Washington Post), but it was nonfiction. Fans wanted a new novel.

Born in Australia, Hazzard wound up in Hong Kong in her mid-teens when her father, a diplomat, was stationed there after World War II. At 16, Hazzard landed a job at the British intelligence office, a position she has credited with exposing her to both international politics and literature. It was there she also fell in love with an English war veteran in his 30s. Her parents ended the relationship -- to The New York Times she described it as a "massacre" -- and it became the basis for the love affair in her 2003 book, The Great Fire.

Hazzard would meet the man she would marry in 1963 at a New York party hosted by her friend Muriel Spark. Within a year, she and Francis Steegmuller, the noted biographer, were married, and until his death 31 years later, they split their domestic life between New York, Italy, and Greece. It was there she met Graham Greene. At the time, her literary life was just getting started.

Over the years, she has earned a reputation for subtle, exquisitely precise prose and intriguing, complex characters.

"Shirley Hazzard has a blithe disdain for postmodern pieties," The New York Times wrote in 2003. "Her fictions are played out on the elevated ground of high romance, although she is far from being what is generally thought of as a romantic writer. She is unique among moderns in that the irony is confined to her style and not to the work's content. She believes in love -- indeed, she believes in Love -- yet writes about it in such cool, subdued, finical prose that one might be forgiven at times for thinking her a cynic. But she is not."

And, sometimes even 20 years isn't enough to get it right. After the galleys of The Great Fire had already gone out, she called her publisher and said she wanted to revise the final two chapters.

"I still wanted it to be better than it ever could be," she told The New York Times.

Good To Know

Hazzard met the writer Graham Greene when she was able to tell him the line from a Robert Browning poem he was trying to recall over a drink in a Greek café.

She once discarded an early version of The Great Fire.

Hazzard once said of the United States, "Americans' great and secret fear is that America may turn out to be a phenomenon rather than a civilization."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 30, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sydney, Australia
    1. Education:
      Educated at Queenwood College, Sydney, Australia

Read an Excerpt


The Ancient Shore

Dispatches from Naples


By Shirley Hazzard Francis Steegmuller
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2008

Shirley Hazzard
All right reserved.



ISBN: 978-0-226-32201-8



Chapter One Pilgrimage

When I was fifteen, we went to live in the Far East. Was that a pilgrimage-or merely a stroke of great good fortune? It was a destination that I had not sought, and in that way it was more like destiny. Still, there had been, always, the yearning to cross the seas, to know the world: the accessibility to pilgrimage. My childhood had been spent in Australia-a remote, philistine country in those years, and very much a male country, dominated by a defiant masculinity that repudiated the arts. Even in a large, busy city like Sydney, there was little music, there were few museums There was natural beauty, but almost no visual culture, and even a wide antipathy to painting and painters. What we did have was literature, which came through our British forebears. It was in reading that one could truly live: in one's mind, in books, in the world. A form of pilgrimage.

I traveled to Asia because my father was appointed there. We went first to Japan, and then to live in Hong Kong for two years. Thus I went by chance to live in one of the most interesting and romantic places in the world, before its city center became a money market and a thicket of skyscrapers. Hong Kong at that time was a last authentic glimpse of empire as it had been-a last glimmering of the Conradian ports, the Conradian islands. The convulsion of the Second World War was just subsiding, there was civil war in China. All Asia was in a state of seething change. When one is young, one accepts that backdrop, engrossed in one's own impressions and events, in one's own destiny. Those years and experiences have haunted me, with their accidental revelations. The contemporary Western world, grappled to its explanations, sets itself to ignore the accidental quality of our existence. For the expression of chance mysteries, we must turn to literature, to art.

Life, for me, has been a succession of such destined accidents, when what was latent in the reading mind and in the aroused imagination acquired reality in daily life. Thus one wasn't completely unprepared for extraordinary places, unpredictable events. The variety and interest of existence had struck us, through literature, as being more real than our factual origins. It was thus that pilgrimage had been set in motion.

My sister contracted tuberculosis in China, and we couldn't remain in that climate. Leaving there was a terrible parting for me. The next destination was New Zealand, again for my father's work. Since then, Australia, New Zealand-the Antipodes-have greatly changed. Distance itself has diminished with jet travel and with the relative prosperity that allows many of us to move around the world. In those postwar years, however, New Zealand seemed, at least to me, the opposite of a pilgrimage; it seemed as far as possible from where I intended to be. Those islands appeared, then, to exist within an immemorial silence as far as the world was concerned. It was, again, in books that one discovered affinity, event, extension. The city of Wellington had a handful of good small bookshops. I used to buy volumes of poets in the Faber series: new poems from Auden, MacNeice, and their contemporaries; anthologies of young British poets who had died in or survived the Second World War; and Penguins with orange covers. I found a slim volume of new translations by John Heath-Stubbs of the Italian Romantic poet Leopardi, and felt that I had to read these in the original. Far-far as could be-from Italy, I took Italian lessons.

I went to England with my parents. That was an outright pilgrimage, it had long been a dream. In London, as it was then, I could willingly have stayed forever. Destiny intervened, and we came to New York. I applied to the United Nations, and was put in the dungeons there, where I remained some years.

In 1956, because of events in the Middle East, the United Nations opened a temporary staging area at Naples. Due to my Italian lessons in the Antipodes, I was sent for a year to the city that would become part of my life ever after. Destiny, but also pilgrimage: some part of me had been working towards transformation.

I think of a beautiful poem from the 1940s by Henry Reed, called "A Map of Verona." Prevented by war from traveling to an Italian city that filled his thoughts, the poet visits it on a map, without reality-

... Yet you are there, and one day I shall go. The train will bring me perhaps in utter darkness, And drop me where you are blooming unaware That a stranger has entered your gates at last, And a new devotion is about to attend and haunt you everywhere.

In those lines there is still the ancient nature of pilgrimage: the difficulty, the long yearning; the constancy, the consummation. Arrival as an achievement that cannot be denied-arrival, with all its consequences of transformations, encounters, self-knowledge, exposures, disappointments. The destination is not in this case a sacred shrine, yet it has magnetic quality and is both a completion and a beginning. In my Australian childhood, the dream was England: six weeks by ship to reach the goal, six weeks to return. A consecration of many months, perhaps a year. People did this once in their lives, but felt that they could die happier having accomplished it. We would see friends off on those departing ships, with such food hampers, such flowers and streamers; such envy.

So many versions of pilgrimage in the world. The holy pilgrimages, to Rome, to Mecca, to the sacred sites of ancient Greece. Novelists and poets are full of pilgrimage. In War and Peace, Prince Andrei's pious young sister secretly dreams of making a devout journey to holy shrines, imagining her pure bliss, even if she dies on the way. There is the pilgrimage to lost love, lost youth, such as Thomas Hardy made to the west of England after his first wife's death: a resurrection of emotions that produced, in him, some of the great poems in our language. There can be the journey to reconciliation, the need to revisit the past or to exorcise it.

In all such journeys, Italy looms large. For northerners, for Asians, for Antipodeans, for Americans, Italy, with all its changes, remains a goal: a realization and a reprieve. "God owed me Italy," said the classical archaeologist Wincklemann in the eighteenth century, "for I had suffered so much in my youth." Goethe enters Rome with relief and joy: "All the dreams of my youth have come to life ... Everything is as I imagined it, yet everything is new." Dr. Johnson, never able to make the pilgrimage, remained aware of the lack. For the historian Burckhardt, the vitality of rich civilization was, even for foreigners, a homecoming: "It was ours by right of admiration." Those past travelers knew much solitude, silence, inconvenience. Even for the most ribald of them-Byron, Flaubert-the experience was in some measure spiritual, touching inmost things, precipitating humility, knowledge, and change. Modern visitors come in haste, in crowds. Jaunts are not pilgrimage. Destiny has no time to set her wheels in motion. Even so, since there has been a goal, there can be revelation.

"We change our skies, not our souls," Horace cautions. Some souls nevertheless bring with them a capacity for joy, an accessibility to other thoughts and tastes, an ear for other tongues, an eye for other beauty: a readiness. Revelation-so inalienable an element of travel that there is even a luggage of the name-takes multiple and often inward forms. Many a traveler departs in the hope of defining an elusive self or mislaying a burdensome one, of being literally carried away. Literature has prepared us to expect the release of new aspects of ourselves in the presence of the fabled and unfamiliar. Simply by looking on given scenes and monuments human beings have been known to become happier and wiser. Travel is an elixir, a talisman: a spell cast by what has long and greatly been, over what briefly and simply is.

Travel, according to the nineteenth-century French wayfarer Astolphe de Custine, is a means of visiting other centuries. Imagination goes with us on our journey, a thrilling and often beautiful companion. Modern purposefulness gives place to plurality of sensation; explanation is shamed-if not always silenced-by mystery. The traveler simultaneously sheds and receives, and in the very thick of the crowd may still experience the poignant reciprocity of place and person. Even the tourist who only glimpses, from a sealed bus, the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, seeks his particle of the holy relic of the world's experience. And how much passion and event have been invested in those famous sights that they should continue to yield meaning-even to the millionth and most casual eye-with unstinted generosity; assimilating decay itself as an enrichment. (A skeptical young woman of Henry James's invention, who supposes Rome to be spoiled, receives the experienced answer: "I think not. It has been spoiled so often.")

Thus the world exchanges, annually, its store of contrasts, adventure and refreshment, and almost everyone continues to feel the better for it. That the contrasts are dwindling, that adventure is often frenzied, that the modern onslaught of curiosity may itself be depleting the world's reserves of human interest-these are menaces put out of mind along with other presentiments of Armageddon. The great theater that Europe has come to constitute for tourists remains a magnet, though the summer show may sometimes offer standing room only. In the Pacific, the prophecies of Herman Melville and Victor Segalen have been fulfilled at Waikiki; and even the farthest archipelagoes:

... the satiate year impends When, wearying of routine-resorts, The pleasure-hunter shall break loose, Ned, for our Pantheistic ports

Despite such evidence, and the airport bookstall's terse announcement that "Civilization is now in paperback," the exhaustion of travel's immemorial repository of delights is apparently as unthinkable as the extinction of fossil fuels. The very precariousness and anonymity of contemporary existence and its acceleration of destruction and change create a compulsion to seize the moment. The excursion to other centuries-undertaken these days with antibiotics, credit cards, and a return ticket to the twenty-first century-has new urgency and a tinge of valediction. The modern visitor to the past may yet embrace abroad what is déclassé at home-ripeness, grace, ceremony, repose, an acceptance of mortality: waning concepts that may never revisit our planet; while the denizens of ancient places seek, in turn, in newer nations, expansiveness, volatility, an unconcern for and even repudiation of experience. And still others take to the wilderness, for respite from all manifestations of their fellow man. Although the intention of travel is far from noncommittal, its commitment is luxuriously selective: relieved of responsibility for the failings he encounters, the traveler may still enjoy the haunting quality of the antique without its terror; the poetic emanation of past strivings without their anguish; the energy of the future without its aridity. A condition of the attraction of the unknown is that it remain, in some measure, inscrutable.

The coast of my native land supplied, in my case, a first glimpse of the unknown: in the lights-seen from a deck on the first night of sailing to the Orient-of Australian seaboard towns that lay beyond the range of my landlocked childhood excursions. Those clustered lights gave the first sensation of passing a barrier; they were at once departure and discovery. The five-week journey from Sydney to Japan-in a little, old, durable ship that made one brief stop, in a jungle cove of New Guinea, for water-was a fitting preparation for momentous change. Awakening one dawn of befogged vermilion in the Inland Sea of Japan, we were faithfully brought to port, and other travels began. I had read Conrad's "Youth," and lived, in the moment, the closing fragment of that story-waking to the East "so old, so mysterious, resplendent and somber, living and unchanged, full of danger and promise."

That East is unchanged no longer, and such rapture is itself said to come only once. In fact I have reexperienced it many times-spending a moonlit night on deck to sight the coast of Crete, the straits of Messina, the cone of Stromboli; setting foot on an oblivious Europe at Marseilles one September morning; lying off the Cornish coast at sunrise and driving at noon into London through a shambles of blitzed docks. And landing, years later, at Rome one evening in early winter-to mild air, trees in leaf and baskets of violets for sale on the then unlittered and unsullied Spanish Steps. I remember a snowbound Epiphany in hills south of Florence; blue shutters opening, near Carthage, on a turquoise sea; a hillside of narcissus at Volubilis; the dry summer grass of the Camargue.

Distant lights have retained their power. Time after time, during the transatlantic flight, I have looked out, before sunrise, for the lamps of fishing fleets off Ireland-signals of a life older than memory, perceived from the age of jet propulsion.

I, too, have visited other centuries-in Arcadia itself, in sun-baked towns south of the Atlas and under the colonial arcades of a vanished Hong Kong; I have seen old Chinese women hobble on the stumps of their bound feet, and the scholars passing, gowned and slippered, along the streets of Asia. I have shared, from Monticello, the eighteenth-century vision of America. I have watched French missionary nuns, in white and blue, red parasols aloft above their towering medieval headdress, move unconcerned through tropical rain; and country women, in ceremonial bodices and long dark skirts, stroll down the quays of Venice.

It is women, more usually, who bear such emblems into other times-as, last summer at the port of Capri, a trio of handsome matriarchs who stepped ashore from Catanzaro, gold and silver lace over their coiled hair and on their dresses of rosso antico that swept the ground. By their festive costume they honored the great occasion of travel: Their restraint, among the modern hubbub, was a form of authority, a stately humility before the wonders of this world.

If, on our travels, we are not precisely surprised by such apparitions, such enchantments, it is because we always dreamed we might see them.

The traveler equipped with even one introduction arrives with a card to play, a possible clue to the mystery. Yet those who have never experienced solitude in a strange and complex place-never arrived in the unknown without credentials, without introductions to the right people, or the wrong ones-have missed an exigent luxury. Never to have made the lonely walk along the Seine or Lungarno, or passed those austere evenings on which all the world but oneself has destination and companion, is perhaps never to have felt the full presence of the unfamiliar. It is thus one achieves a slow, indelible intimacy with place, learning to match its moods with one's own. At such times it is as if a destination had awaited us with nearly human expectation and with an exquisite blend of receptivity and detachment.

The moment comes: we intersect a history, a long existence, offering it our fresh discovery as regeneration.

(Continues...)




Excerpted from The Ancient Shore by Shirley Hazzard Francis Steegmuller Copyright © 2008 by Shirley Hazzard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Italian Hours 1

Pt. I Shirley Hazzard

Pilgrimage 13

A Scene of Ancient Fame 25

In the Shadow of Vesuvius 35

City of Secrets and Surprises 49

Naples Redux: An Ancient City Arrayed for the G-7 59

Pt. II Francis Steegmuller

The Incident at Naples 73

Coda. Shirley Hazzard

Pondering Italy 125

Photo Credits 129

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 20, 2009

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    The Ethereal travelogue

    This is book that is mandatory if you are a travelling thinker. Ms. Hazzard and Steegmuller's masterpiece "The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples" paints the Amalfi coast in hues that are reminescent of sunsets. Both these unfathomable Naples residents handhold you and take you for a walk around the ruins, the piazzas, the harbors, the eateries and even have you run into muggers. This book is a remedy for our travel blues, they render the inconveniences of travel into a romance for the intrepid and the patient. These soulmates, in their noursihing and caressing prose render the pathos, longings and remeniscences of living temporarily in a land that is replete with its own melancholies. It is a must read for those who revel in the idea of being enveloped in history and living within the confines of antiquity. It is not a book that lists B&Bs and hostels for the shoestring travellers...rather, it is an esoteric ideology that wakes us from 21st century stupor and returns us to our own origins of: the love of a place, a life of memories, and places where you can actually live in the present, under the benevolent glow of the past. Ms. Hazzard's prose is like a Tiramisu you are enjoying, sitting at a harbor cafe and looking at the smoking possibilities of Mt. Vesuvius. This is one fantastic book...I recommend it with utter sincerity. -Raju Peddada

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Ode to Napoli

    Having been a perpetual visitor to Naples, Italy, over the years, I felt I had returned while reading this retrospective, written by husband and wife! It not only gives the historical perspective of the city, but also the reasons it captivates, chews the visitor up and spits him out, then draws him back again. There are no holds barred...nor enticements denied.

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    Posted January 19, 2010

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    Posted December 26, 2009

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