After the monochrome and muted tones of some more northerly European landscapes, the intense light and vibrant colours of southern Italy come as a wonderful shock to the senses. Goethe travelled to Italy between 1786 and 1788, and was highly enthusiastic about its charms. He was in Naples in March and May 1787, visiting Sicily during the intervening month ...
By the time we reached the outskirts of Naples the sky was completely cloudless, and now we are really in another country. The houses with their flat roofs indicate another climate, though I dare say they are not so comfortable inside. Everybody is out in the streets and sitting in the sun as long as it is willing to shine. The Neapolitan firmly believes that he lives in Paradise and takes a very dismal view of northern countries. Sempre neve, case di legno, gran ignoranza, ma denari assai - that is how he pictures our lives. For the edification of all northerners, this means: 'Snow all the year round, wooden houses, great ignorance, but lots of money.'
We spent today in ecstasies over the most astonishing sights. One may write or paint as much as one likes, but this place, the shore, the gulf, Vesuvius, the citadels, the villas, everything, defies description ... Now I can forgive anyone for going off his head about Naples, and think with great affection of my father, who received such lasting impressions from the very same objects I saw today. They say that someone who has once seen a ghost will never be happy again; vice versa, one might say of my father that he could never really be unhappy because his thoughts could always return to Naples. In my own way, I can now keep perfectly calm and it is only occasionally, when everything becomes too overwhelming, that my eyes pop out of my head.
Everything one sees and hears gives evidence that this is a happy country which amply satisfies all the basic needs and breeds a people who are happy by nature, people who can wait without concern for tomorrow to bring them what they had today and for that reason lead a happy-go-lucky existence, content with momentary satisfaction and moderate pleasures, and taking pain and sorrow as they come with cheerful resignation.
Naples is a Paradise: everyone lives in a state of intoxicated self-forgetfulness, myself included. I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now ... Every time I wish to write words, visual images come up of the fruitful countryside, the open sea, the islands veiled in a haze, the smoking mountain, etc., and I lack the mental organ which could describe them.