A sixth generation Neapolitan and second-generation Classic Journeys guide, Ulisse lives in Naples with his wife, Anna, and their son, Lorenzo. An award-winning tour leader following in the footsteps of his iconic father, Sergio, Ulisse has been guiding travelers around his beloved southern Italy for more than a decade. He also was the first intern in the Classic Journeys office in La Jolla 20 years ago. In the wake of Italy’s Coronavirus outbreak, Ulisse has taken his role to a new level, as our man on the street, keeping us posted on how life in Italy is being impacted by COVID-19. This post follows Ulisse’s previous updates 1 and 2.

“There is no north and south anymore, there is only Italy”

“I’m a southern man” sang Roy Orbison in 1976.

In Italy, that means you were born in the area that begins in Naples then continues all the way down to the heel of the boot (Puglia), the point of the boot (Calabria) and the island being kicked by the boot (Sicily).

Covering over a third of the country, this was part of the same kingdom for over 700 years, long before Italy was unified in 1861. The rulers were Normans, Spaniards, Germans, French, Byzantyne, Arabic—on top of the Greeks and Romans that lived here previously.

That has left so many visible traces of a shared heritage from Naples to Palermo, from Lecce to Matera, from Reggio Calabria to Amalfi. Art, beauty, language, food, architecture, history and music.

Then, in 1861, the ‘liberators’ came DOWN from the north, specifically from Turin in Piedmont, bringing with them a unification process that has glued together the country from the Alps to Mt. Etna.

For many reasons, ever since the unification, the shared perspective and collective image of someone from the south meant something not quite that great.

A lot of the great stereotypes that you probably have of the Italians have originated from the south:

We hang our washing on lines that go across the narrow streets from building to building, sing along to loud music while doing the morning chores (washing, dusting, cooking), spend a good part of our day with our elbows leaning on the railing of our balcony talking directly to one another from household to household. A very strong sense of neighborhood and community lives within us, there is a big portion of our lives which is lived “publicly” on the outside of our homes.

Fiat on flower-lined street in Italy

What really made me think in these last couple of days was how the southern way of life has suddenly infected (no pun intended) EVERYONE in Italy, especially in the very dignified and moderated north of the country during this COVID-19 emergency.

You can’t put your head out of your window without being involved in a flash mob, singalong of the National Anthem, collective dance, rendition of “Nessun dorma” or applause to praise the efforts of the doctors and nurses who are fighting the battle against Coronavirus on the front line.

A unification that came UP from the south this time, showing how much we can be united in times of crisis.

This struggle has really cemented the country much more than any rhetoric or slogan.

Italians are suddenly moving and acting as one. We have put every grudge behind us. There is no north and south anymore, there is only Italy.
We have all bought into the fact that if we ALL respect the rules, we can slow down the contagion and give some relief to the hundreds of men and women who are fighting this war.

That’s right. A war.

I think of my grandfather: he was called to fight in WWII and sent out there.
We are being asked to stay on our couches. I think we can do that.
And, in the meantime, ask our cousin in Milan if he wants to start singing ‘Volare’ together and stream it on Instagram.

On the balcony, of course.

Like a southern man.

Ciao, Ulisse

P.S. The man coordinating the Coronavirus task force in the USA is Dr. Anthony Fauci.
His grandparents were from Sicily and Naples.

Previous updates from Ulisse:

1: “When life gives you lemons, make cheesecake!”
2: “An Italian can do anything on a full stomach!”
3: “Pondering what’s important during isolation”

More Classic Journeys guide updates from around the world:

Vibeke in Norway
Susana in Portugal