Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

A one-man crime wave - with the receipt to prove it
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The Independent Travel

Respect local laws. Whether you wish to avoid a ticking-off for picking oranges from the trees in Portuguese squares, or to be spared the inconvenience of capital punishment for dabbling in drugs in Singapore, obeying the prevailing rules is a good strategy for any traveller. But this week, Naples led me astray.

Respect local laws. Whether you wish to avoid a ticking-off for picking oranges from the trees in Portuguese squares, or to be spared the inconvenience of capital punishment for dabbling in drugs in Singapore, obeying the prevailing rules is a good strategy for any traveller. But this week, Naples led me astray.

Don't get the wrong idea. I have not started to drive homicidally, or taken to depositing horses' heads in rivals' beds, or even started smoking in bars (which now incurs a €30 fine). But on at least half a dozen occasions, I have transgressed Italy's tough tax laws.

The capital of southern Italy has been a much misunderstood place for generations. In the 19th century, British tourists arriving at the port were hurried around the bay to the more genteel surroundings of Sorrento. Even in the 21st century, your first sight of the traffic, traders and trash that characterise the poorer quarters of the centre may convince you that the only thing remotely organised about Naples is its criminal class . I found myself aligned with this body so often that I fear I have become a one-man crime wave.

Naples has a reputation for a certain disdain of legal niceties. This is immediately apparent not just in the inventive and ambitious techniques of the city's drivers, but also among the large number of cigarette traders at the market on Vico Sopramuro. As you know, each European country places a health warning in its own language on cigarette packets. Smokers who reside on the Bay of Naples, though, are cautioned about the risks of smoking in Polish, Slovak and Russian - countries where the cost of a pack of Marlboro or "Benson e Hedges" is way below the prevailing €2.70 (£2) price in Italy.

Still, as a weekend destination, Naples has few rivals. You can hop from the Farnese Marbles at the National Archaeological Museum into one of the many churches whose foundations can barely support the weight of the Baroque interior; skip from there up a stairway to the heavenly Certosa di San Martino, a delicate monastery floating above Naples; and jump, with the help of the city's funicular railways, down to Via Chiaia, a retail thoroughfare for those with armour-plated credit cards.

The city enjoys the most spectacular location, where the essence of Italy seeps into a strip of land between the bay and the hills. And while at almost any time of the day or night Naples' street life is a good definition of the word "hectic", many citizens are well-to-do, sophisticated and intensely culturally literate. Last Saturday the Maradona Museum opened, celebrating Naples' favourite adopted son and a footballing career that proved magica e triste. On Sunday, the queue for a Caravaggio exhibition at the Palazzo Reale stretched for hundreds of metres, as citizens willingly waited two hours to pay their respects to the master of chiaroscuro.

When confronted with such crowds, the average visitor may opt instead for a gastronomic tour of the city. Reckon on putting on a pound for every waking hour of your stay, as you eat your way through the weekend.

Naples was the birthplace of the pizza marinara, topped only with tomato, olive oil, oregano and garlic. (Its pescatorial name arises because it was given to fishermen to sustain them, rather than being filled with their catch.) WITH A repertoire of civic cuisine from flappingly fresh seafood to sfogliatelle (pastry clams overflowing with ricotta), Naples is a city of pure indulgence. But I found it impossible to snack or dine without breaking the law.

Every time you visit a café or restaurant in Italy, even if you pause only for the briefest espresso, you have a legal obligation to get a receipt and take it out of the establishment. The reason: not every trader in Italy, you may be surprised to learn, is scrupulous about declaring every cent of his or her takings. So desperate has the finance ministry become to collect the value added tax that is due to it that the law requires customers to collect a ricevuto fiscale - an official-looking document detailing your consumption - and carry it a minimum of 10 metres away. A team of officials from the Guardia di Finanza is liable to pounce on any errant tourist who leaves the receipt on the table.

I managed to evade the Receipt Squad (not as glamorous-sounding a division as the Flying Squad) all weekend. This was just as well, because whenever I asked for a receipt, the waiters and patron became, well, evasive.

At an interesting Irish-Arabic place called O'Talebano's, I was charged for the beer with which I washed down my meal, but it did not appear on the bill. At the Giada gelateria, the ice-cream made it on to the receipt but not the coffee. And at the end of an evening at Antonio's Trattoria, the response to my request to stay on the right side of the law resembled a Bateman cartoon.

A huddle of waiters, chefs and fellow diners conferred urgently about how to deal with The Tourist Who Demanded a Receipt. Finally a page was torn from a school exercise book. The repast was itemised in flowing script, before the patron formally presented this meaningless document on a silver platter.

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