“I started to go to Naples more frequently […] I only saw Lila, but often, through my own choice, not even her […] so I preferred walking alone along Via Caracciolo, climbing up the Vomero, or wander around the Tribunali area.” Anyone who has read her books will immediately recognize Elena's storytelling in her latest book The Story of the Lost Child from the series The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (which also includes My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those who Leave and Those Who Stay, all published by E/O).
An international bestseller, it describes the lives of Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila or Lina), who have had a love-hate relationship since childhood and who move apart and come back together again against the background of Naples in the 1950s. The stories of the two central characters is the focus of the HBO-Rai Fiction and Timvision series, directed by Saverio Costanzo on air from 27 November on Rai1. The set was enormous, one of the largest created in Europe in recent years: there were over 150 actors on stage and five thousand extras.
As well as Lenù and Lila (interpreted as children by Elisa Del Genio and Ludovica Nasti, and as teenagers by Margherita Mazzucco and Gaia Girace), the other big star of this contemporary saga is Naples. The key location is the rione, attracting and repelling the two friends/enemies; the Luzzati area in Gianturco, on the city's eastern limits, has been completely reconstructed for the small screen.
It is a place that seems to evolve during the girls' adolescence, but that then returns to unchanging self. “The old rione, unlike us, had stayed the same. The low, grey houses were still there, the courtyard where we played, the road, the black holes of the tunnel and the violence,” we read in Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.
A colossal set has been created for the TV series, and fourteen apartment blocks of the Luzzati rione in Naples, a church and a tunnel have been reconstructed
But the surrounding countryside had changed, Elena continues: “The extensive greenery of the marshes was no longer there, the old canning factory had closed. In their place there were dazzling glass skyscrapers, the sign of a radiant future that nobody had ever believed in.”
Beyond Luzzati, Naples is a world all to be discovered: the Rettifilo or Corso Umberto I and Via Chiaia, where Lila and Lenù see other girls who are wearing make-up and nice clothes, Piazza Martiri and the shoe shop owned by the Solara brothers. And Corso Emanuele in the Vomero and the house of Professor Galiani, with her shelves full of books and the bourgeois conversations.
The boundaries of areas, but also of class: and here we have Marcello Solara, the richest in the rione Lila aspires to, buying a house at Posillipo, bragging about the terrace overlooking the Gulf of Naples, while Elena decides to move with her daughters to Via Torquato Tasso, which is still in the Vomero: “From Via Tasso the rione was a pale, distant heap of stones, just an amorphous mass of urban detritus at the foot of Vesuvius.”
And even though a set with fourteen apartment blocks, a church and a tunnel has been built for the TV series, there is no lack of shots of the historic centre of Naples, like Via dei Tribunali, Piazza dei Martiri, Piazza Plebiscito and the Galleria Principe, which is immersed in a 1950s atmosphere as Lila and Lenù walk through it.
Eduardo Castaldo © Wildside/Umedia 2018
The stairways of Naples: the city, step by step
Up and down the traditional Neapolitan stairways: from the belvedere of San Martino to Spaccanapoli, from Via Forìa to Capodimonte
What to eat in Naples
From street food to award-winning restaurants, from fried pizza to babas, a walk for food and wine lovers through the streets of Naples