SEARCHING FOR ODYSSEUS
By Tim Wintermute
On our second day in Naples I walked across the street and had a beer. I also had a ham and cheese sandwich, although it’s called something else in Italy. It was pretty good but the Italian beer and the view were even better. I sat at a table under an umbrella that looked out at a marina and the Bay of Naples. On the far shore of the Bay was Mount Vesuvius. It may have blown its top once but it looked pretty sedate at the moment. I followed its western slope as it flattened out, past Sorrento, until it dropped into the Tyrrhenian Sea at the Amalfi Coast. Farther out I thought I could make out the Isle of Capri floating in the haze but it might have been my imagination. These were the waters in Homer’s the Odyssey, where the hero Odysseus encountered the Sirens “who enchant all who come near them” luring them “to death with the sweetness of their song”. Having been warned by Circe about the Sirens, Odysseus plugged the ears of his crew with wax. Before he plugged their ears he told his crew to tie him to the mast of the ship with his own ears left uncovered so that he could hear the Siren song. “If I beg and pray you to set me free, then bind me more tightly still,” he commanded. I don’t understand why Odysseus wanted to torture himself that way but, then, I’m no hero.
The day before when we checked into the Grand Hotel Vesuvio, on the other side of the Via Partenope from the marina, we found out that the famous Italian fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana were using Naples as the “stage” for introducing their fall and winter collection. For the next couple of days sirens could be sighted if not heard but they were enchanting with the clothes they wore rather than the songs they sang. In addition to the female and male models using the streets as their fashion runways Dolce & Gabbana had named the iconic Italian film actress Sophia Loren, who had grown up near Naples as their official “muse”. After all, who could be better than a “siren of the silver screen”.
Although there were sirens galore where was the Odysseus of today; a modern day hero to match Homer’s? Clothes might “make the man” but even Dolce & Gabbana threads don’t make the man a hero. Where was the macho muse who could match Sophia Loren? The hero who could not be brought low by even the highest fashion? Then I read in a Dolce & Gabbana press release that the photographer Franco Pagetti, who is shooting their advertising campaign in the streets of Naples, has “covered conflicts across the globe” and is “one of the best in the business thanks to his bravery, his ingenuity and his skill.” The press release went on to describe a photo shoot on a street in a “rough area” called Spaccanapoli. “As the models walk down it towards Franco’s lens they are mobbed by excited schoolchildren and local characters: the words Dolce Gabbana...echo up and around the high tenement walls...The only person not entirely carried away by it all seems to be Pagetti-like the pro he is, he keeps shooting.” Pagetti is the hero - an Odysseus armed with a camera on an Odyssey in the streets of Naples. As the hero he exposes himself to the sirens of fashion but instead of being strapped to a mast his camera is strapped to him. Not only does he resist the lure of the sirens he shoots them. Nowhere does the press release even mention what Pagetti was wearing while displaying his heroism.
I never saw Pagetti while we were in Naples but, then again, maybe I did but didn’t recognize him. After all, I didn’t know what he looked like and, although badly outnumbered by people taking selfies and those standing outside the entrance to our hotel hoping to get a shot of Sophia with their smartphones, there were plenty of photographers with real cameras. Who knows, maybe he had been sitting next to me in the marina bar, drinking a beer, eating a ham and cheese sandwich, looking out across the Bay of Naples at Mount Vesuvius and Capri, searching for Odysseus, and then taking a picture, just like I did. (July 2016)