Castel Sant’ Elmo.
Following Google maps led to a dead end, “dead, depending on your level of curiosity. I’ve been stopped exactly once in Napoli when I inadvertently followed a perfectly normal looking street that transformed itself into a parking lot entrance intended for building inhabitants. A man sans uniform and shave casually stepped towards me to say I was on exculsive property. He smiled, I smiled, I understood. So when I say “lost” trying to find Castel Sant’ Elmo I mean merely diverted, then gifted with an overgrown garden vaguely shut off to the public, rich with desiccated grape vines on a crumbling wood trellis and verdant tiers of greenery leading to the sea. Lost is a state of mind.
Now that I’ve found Castel Sant’ Elmo. big as it is, I nearly dropped to my death trying to get a decent photo of the church and courtyard below that appear empty and per-Napoli, forever under construction. What I don’t know and won’t know until three weeks later is the church and courtyard I crave is Certosa e Museo di San Martino, a former monastery now a museum, with the Napoli-style entrance both unremarkable and markedly unimpressive upon entry. I almost did not stay. Let me direct you ala Carmine, the six euros you spend here will be the best money you spend in Napoli.
Chiesa della Certosa is roped off. You may enter the outer vestibule, you may not enter the highly detailed Chiesa, inlaid and layered, reminiscent of a Versace blouse. Pattern upon pattern, heads of animals, saints, cherubs, heralding glory and defeat. At once you understand the influence of Italy’s history upon it’s designers. Opulence and sparsity. They go hand in hand. Once you’ve seen one astonishing church you must admit, you’ve seen them all. And yet this tiny cacophonous chapel stills, the leather and metal modern chair casually set at the perimeter meant for a watchful employee, a contrast as you stand at the velvet rope you will not pass unless you are a wedding guest, perhaps at the wedding of Lila, Elena Ferrante’s heroine of the “My Brilliant Friend” series.
Further into the property I encountered bunny sculptures, an austere court-like-room where one imagines draconian sentences were doled out, a darkened mezzanine filled with Creches, the famous paper mache’ nativity scenes, hand carved, molded and painted by Italian artists, and more beautiful and intricate flooring, madonnas, hand carved boats, at once functional and adorned with deity-worthy details.
Stepping out of the museum onto an wide balcony overlooking Napoli, I trip and fall, that goddamn brick work.. A man helps me up. Giuseppe and Lorenzo bring out a leather and metal chair “No, no, no”, I say. They know better. I sit and for a half hour, babbling in broken Italian, “ sono adata a scuola a Napoli per pizzaiola! I emphasize LA, feminine, not a common site in Italy, a female pizza maker. Soon Lorenzo is regaling me with recipes, mind you, not in English. I follow closely picking up the theme as Guiseppe and I chuckle, “primo olio, then gire, gire, gire” Lorenzo walks me through what sounds like Italian paella, ragu, and some kind of soup. We laugh and laugh until I’ve throughly forgotten my bruised ankle and they have avoided a lawsuit. The whole idea makes me laugh to write it. A lawsuit in Naples. At a museum.
Only in Naples museums have I found endless staircases that led to empty mausoleum-like rooms, open windows-curtains blowing, no temperature control, whole floors closed yet accessible to the daring/nosey, daunting drops to the sea with no railings, feral cats, flickering florescent lights, zero toilet paper in less than sanitary bathrooms, an abandoned ticket office that looked as if the staff never returned from a decades ago lunch, an entrance to a stunning museum only a truffle hog could find and it’s cool staff member who cared not if I stayed, or went. I love it. The change from infantile control. Either you respect the limits, limitations, and don’t throw yourself over the wall, or you do, and that’s on you, baby.
The cats, in case you don’t know, to befriend a cat, move and blink slowly, and if you are able as I am, purr.
Cats abound here at Certosa e Museo di San Martino. A tiny orange kitty mewls hunger waiting in the bushes for an adult cat to finish eating. So small she fits inside the bowl of dry food left for the feral cats. A pipe drips water into an overflowing bowl. The cats are not loved and not neglected. A dirty white cat makes it’s way into the small crowd of visitors, crying. I bend down to chat with her when I see the horrid scab in yellow and crusted blood behind her head. I quickly realize it’s been shaved at that point and the yellow is an antiseptic. But the other guests are terrified of the cat, she being loud and bold. Giovanni sees me and says “Doctor”, meaning the cat has been to the doctor, it is not dying or diseased. But by the time I am leaving her crusted scab has broken open and fresh blood comes to the surface. I want to take her home, her and all the kitties. And can’t.
(To be continued.)