I do not get that excited by the type of travel programme which pairs a jovial Italian with a more phlegmatic Brit, but I did watch Italy Unpacked last night with some enthusiasm. This was largely nothing to do with the two presenters, the chef Georgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham Dixon, the art critic. In the sixties we went on family holiday to Positano and that induced a lifelong love of the Amalfi coast. Most interesting was the guide to the temples of Paestum. I can still remember him : a small professorial man in a trilby drawing pictures to illustrate Doric architecture 2600 years old. This was featured in the programme and brought back many happy memories.
My difficulty with such programmes is that they are self-promoting. Locatelli has a well known restaurant and was given a platform to promote his knowledge of Italian food and, by extension his business interests. . Perhaps there is a modest unassuming Italian chef/restaurant proprietor out there, but I have yet to meet him and Locatelli certainly was not one. Andrew Graham Dixon was knowledgeable enough, and both came over as epicureans left over from the Grand Tour. One give-away I noticed was that, after a fulsome tribute to one restauranteur growing tomatoes facing Capri, I swear I saw the chef make sauce from one of those red bottles of ready-made sauce – unless, as is unlikely, that reduction was put into that red container.
The programme covered Naples and the mezzogiorno (south) and its history and cuisine. It had that oddity of modern documentary. Aside from the two principals, a female narrator intervened with some banality. Thus, if you saw the two drive through a tunnel, she would say in a flat Medway accent: ” Andrew and Georgio are driving through a tunnel”. I don’t get this at all but, catching the end of some programme beforehand on parishes, the very same woman seemed to be stating the bleeding obvious.
On a wet January night it was nonetheless heartening to appreciate the warmth, regional colours and vibrant life of Italy.