BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Go to the Listen Again page

Click here to listen to this programmeListen to Excess Baggage for

27 January 2007

Informed by her travels there and her involvement with the pro-democracy movement, particularly the campaign in the 90s to secure the release of political dissident MaThida, Karen Connelly, travel writer and poet, has published a novel dealing with the life of a political prisoner in Burma.

John McCarthy discovers the hidden parts of two of Italy’s best known cities.  Rome and Naples have many archaeological treasures buried beneath their streets, including temples, theatres, whole streets with shops and houses, aqueducts and ancient sewers.  Naples even hides an ossuary containing the bones of many soldiers killed in the First World War.  Novelist David Hewson and American essayist Dan Hofstadter join John McCarthy to reveal a glimpse of Italy’s underworld.

Presented by John McCarthy

Wall painting in house beneath the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo in the Clivo di Scauro (cr: David Hewson)

Photo: Wall painting in house beneath the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo in the Clivo di Scauro in Rome (courtesy of David Hewson)

This week's guests: 

Karen Connelly was born in Calgary and is one of Canada’s best known young writers.  At the age of seventeen she won a scholarship for an exchange trip and spent a year living in a small Thai village.  A year after her return from Thailand, whilst living in Spain, she began to compile her experiences.  This eventually became a best-selling book entitled Touch the Dragon, A Thai Journal.

Karen first travelled to Burma in 1995 and felt compelled to write about how people survive under dictatorship and systemic oppression.  She has visited Burma numerous times, until she was denied a visa by the military regime.  She then lived on the Thai-Burmese border among Burmese exiles and dissidents.  Karen was particularly caught up in the pressure to release Ma Thida, a surgeon and former campaign manager to Aung San Suu Kyi and a founder of the opposition party in the country.

The Lizard Cage
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN-10: 184655019X
ISBN-13: 978-1846550195

Touch the Dragon, A Thai Journal
Publisher: Turnstone Pr
ISBN-10: 0888011628
ISBN-13: 978-0888011626

David Hewson first went to Rome 25 years ago as a journalist and returned years later when working on his first book set in Venice. Exploring Rome he realised that there were gates and arches leading to underground sites of architectural significance but which were signposted as being dangerous.

This hidden city is at the heart of David’s latest book The Seventh Sacrament. After visiting the places open to the public, such as Nero’s Golden House or the Catacombs, David decided that he also wanted to go into the underground Rome that was kept under lock and key by the authorities. For that he applied for membership of the organization Roma Sotterranea, made up of professionals and amateurs who organize tours and access to much smaller sites.

The Seventh Sacrament - (Nic Costa Mysteries 5)
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN-10: 1405050225
ISBN-13: 978-1405050227

Dan Hofstadter went to Naples in his teens in the late 60s to attend interpreter’s school.  Like Rome, much of today’s Naples is built on the ruins of its ancient past. 

There are streets, catacombs, cisterns, aqueducts and ossuaries, vast underground chambers full of skulls and bones. These were expanded a lot about a hundred years ago when they received the remains of soldiers killed in WW1.  Many of the soldiers were not given the last rites and it was feared their souls were lingering in purgatory.  Families would adopt a skull which they used as a way of entreating the souls on the other side to intercede for them.

Falling Palace - a romance of Naples
Publisher: Profile Books Ltd
ISBN-10: 1861974507
ISBN-13: 978-1861974501

Napoli Sotterranea

Napoli Sotterranea

The BBC cannot be held responsible for
the content of external sites

Sandi ToksvigSandi Toksvig:
The daughter of a foreign correspondent, Sandi has been travelling all her life more info

John McCarthy John McCarthy is a widely travelled journalist and presenter with a particular interest in the Middle East.
Listen Live
Audio Help
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Tell us about your travel experiences. e-mail Excess Baggage 
Find out about the 2007 winner and listen to their programme
Excess Baggage
Current Episodes
Archived Episodes
Current Programmes
Archived Programmes
News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

Back to top

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy