Two incidents on our journeys to and from Naples this month brought home to me the difference in the way The Young undertake travel from the way those, er, Less Young do so.
On our flight out, while Geoff alternately read, dozed and gazed out of the window, a young couple engaged me in conversation.
They were on their first visit to Italy. I learnt this because, while they demolished between them a full-size tube of Pringles crisps, they peppered me with questions.
Is it true the Italians drive on the wrong side of the road, was the first question. Yes, I said, and then froze when the girl – she was 23, I learnt later – said that they were hiring a car at Naples airport and she’d be driving into the city where they were staying for two nights.
My instinct was to shriek in alarm and say “Don’t even think about it!” because no one but a lobotomised loony with a death wish would willingly drive in Naples. It is one of the most crazy free-for-alls in the world. The joke about traffic lights being merely a suggestion is actually true in Naples. No one observes any of the rules of the road, everyone hoots the whole time, fists are shaken, tempers flare, shoulders are shrugged – and everyone, whether a driver or pedestrian, is permanently transfixed by their mobile phones so there is never any eye contact. It’s all done by feel or, more often, by bang, which is why most vehicles bear huge dents and grazes, and presumably the pedestrians too.
You need nerves of steel even to think about driving in Naples. You don’t need to be 23, on your first visit to Italy, with a boyfriend’s life as well as your own to consider, and a terrifying ignorance of how to drive on the left. “Are the pedals sort of in the same order, then?” came another question.
I invoked Geoff’s help. The most important thing, he told the girl, as she casually tipped the final crumbs of Pringles into her mouth, is to hold your nerve.
Soon after, sated with crisps and their heads full of our pleadings to be careful and not be intimidated by anything on the road, especially a lorry attached to their bumper and hooting wildly, love’s young dream slipped into a carefree sleep. Geoff and I, of course, worried about them the whole time we were in Naples.
On the return flight I settled myself into my seat with my usual battery of comforts to hand: iPad, selection of books, bottle of water and iPhone for snapping photos of Geoff asleep with his mouth wide open – I’m so childish.
The seat to my right was taken by a young man who had only a book with him. After a little judicious focusing I could see it was about starting your own business.
The book totally absorbed him throughout the flight. He really deserves to succeed if he has that amount of concentration, I thought, and no Pringles to distract him, either, much to my relief.
Later, when I’d noticed that the young entrepreneur was already striding away from the carousel with his smart piece of luggage while Geoff and I were still walking into each other trying to locate our un-smart one, I realised what a wide chasm exists between us and them – ‘them’ being the young, confident, world-at-their-feet travellers. We might have been there, done that, picked up the knowledge, but they’re discovering and learning and emphatically doing their own thing. I suppose we were like that once, though it’s hard to believe.