The Longer Read: Naples ’44

‘Neapolitans take their sex lives very seriously indeed.

A woman called Lola, whom I met at the dinner-party given by Signora Gentile, arrived at HQ with some denunciation which went into the waste-paper basket as soon as her back was turned. She then asked if I could help her.  It turned out she had taken a lover who is a captain in the RASC, but as he speaks no single word of Italian, communication can only be carried on by signs, and this gives rise to misunderstanding. Would I agree to interpret for them and settle certain basic matters?

Captain Frazer turned out to be a tall and handsome man some years Lola’s junior. Having his hands on military supplies, he could keep her happy with unlimited quantities of white bread, which for Neapolitans in general – who have been deprived of decent bread for two years – has come to symbolize all the luxury and abundance of peace. She was also much impressed by his appearance. The Captain was a striking figure. His greatcoat had been specially made for him and it was the most handsome coat I had ever seen. His hat was pushed up in front and straightened with some kind of stiffener. This, although Frazer worked at a desk, made him look like an officer in a crack German SS formation. She wanted to know all about his marital status and he hers, and they lied to each other to their hearts’ content while I kept a straight face and interpreted.

She asked me to mention to him in as tactful a way as possible that comment had been caused among her neighbours because he never called on her during the day. Conjugal visits at midday are de rigeur in Naples. This I explained, and Frazer promised to do better.

When the meeting was over we went off for a drink, and he confided to me that something was worrying him too. On inspecting her buttocks he had found them covered with hundreds of pinpoint marks, some clearly very small scars. What could they be? I put his mind at rest. These were the marks left by iniezione reconstituenti: injections which are given in many pharmacies of Naples and which many middle-class women receive daily to keep their sexual powers at their peak. Frequently the needle is not too clean, hence the scars.

She had made him understand by gestures one could only shudderingly imagine that her late husband – although half-starved, and even when in the early stages of tuberculosis from which he died – never failed to have intercourse with her less than six times a night. She also had a habit, which terrified Frazer, of keeping an eye on the bedside clock while he performed. I recommended him to drink – as the locals did – marsala with the yolks of eggs stirred into it, and to wear a medal of San Rocco, patron of coitus reservatus, which could be had in any religious-supplies shop’.

Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis.

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