With the sage advice only a true friend can deliver, ”cut to the chase”, let’s jump to how I fell in love with Napoli.
Remember. I hated the suffocating humidity, the piles of garbage, a gajillion gas and diesel fed scooters sucking the life out of the sea air.
I left Naples. That’s what happened. Though my pizza course ended successfully, a month in Naples wore me down. A California friend arranged to meet me in Florence for two days and so I went by train. Walking from the train station to the Airbnb he reserved, looking around, I felt exactly underwhelmed.
This is a sacrilegious statement, I know. Florence is the awww, in awesome, the penultimate Italian city for many. Florence was genteel and lady-like compared to Naples. Florence is safe, clean, and well-heeled.
Every city has some portion met with gentrifiers, the gentry, the gentlemanly citizenry who filter in, buy cheap houses, spiff up the streets, plant trees, mow lawns, paint doors, build playgrounds and generally improve the neighborhood. And there’s point at which the exclusive regenerated zone becomes less charming, has less of its original character, Pottery Barn moves in next to Starbucks and is closely followed by Crate and Barrel, American-style. Walking the narrow Florence streets, I was not unmoved by its regal grace. Nevertheless, a daughter of infamous Chicago and a true city-dweller, I unconsciously recognize the affect of wealth, its attendant sameness, and appeal.
Traveling further to the quiet and rolling hills of Tuscany, the tiny towns surrounding Arrezzo, to charming and sociable Verona in the north, to sprawling and congested Rome, to Il Palio-famous Sienna, and south to sunny Palermo in Sicily, it wasn’t until I returned to Naples, I understood.
Naples is my sister city; loud, rude, energetic, falling apart, simultaneously beautiful, delightfully ugly and endlessly interesting. Naples is a sea port, the lesser loved sister of the Amalfi coast, she is generous, happy to meet you once her guard is down, mother of the Neapolitan pizza, birthplace of my great grandfather, Francesco.
There are places that you go to, and once is enough. And then there is Napoli.
-John Turturro, Passione.
Knowing Naples needs a good wash, knowing I’ll stubble upon a parking lot haphazard with cars and scooters parked mere centimeters from the next, it’s likely I’ll be side-swiped by a well-dressed woman pushing her cart at the mercato, and reliably no one will to stop their car for me to cross the street, so I lunge into the fray. Here I find herds of homeless cats and buildings fully jungle-ized, trees growing out of the windows, here citizens shout, argue, speak with their hands, they are poor, blue collar, white collar, they speak Napulitano, they speak Italian, they speak a mix of both and more, women dressed in heels and skirts will bullet through traffic on scooters, and everyone airs their laundry. I love it. I love it!
Just buy a tooth-shattering rococo biscotto from a man in a shop where you may be one of fifteen people who enter all day, his face, his smile, his swift completion of task, wrapping a cookie in paper, handing it over the counter.
THIS is what traveling is all about, discovering yourself, your mind, your strengths… and frailties.
The things you love are as stupid as the things you hate and are easily interchangeable.- Taxi Driver Wisdom