The sweet life in Naples
"...Gypsies, tramps and thieves...", Cher sang in the 70s and so still sing many people, non-Italians and non-Napolitans alike, when they speak of Naples. "Watch out my friend! Napoli e molto sporco e pericoloso!" an Umbrian acquaintance cried, patting my back sympathetically with a most sorrowful look, when I told her of my plans to travel to Naples in March.
With assorted other similar warnings ringing in my ears - the city is cramped, haphazard, dirty, poverty-stricken, crime-ridden, the traffic is hell, the men are aggressive, etc - I arrived in Naples with a little trepidation and plenty of excitement, half expecting to find myself in a place steeped in history and squalor, with menacing strangers lurking in dark corners in labyrinthine alleyways, fiats and scooters hurtling at me from unseen angles and the famed camorra threatening to turn me into pancetta if I did not pay them a 'walking toll' (I found out this 'walking toll' was a joke by the Umbrian friend later on).
How surprised I was then to experience a city that not only did not live up to its reputation for crime, dirt and poverty, but that was full of vigour, dynamism, hospitality and beauty.
The city is built atop extremely hilly terrain and a collection of volcanoes, the Mount Vesuvio being the mother of them all. Huge and steaming, Mount Vesuvio stands like a gargantuan monolith around which the city revolves. Standing at the peak of the mighty, ancient volcano, when the fog had lifted a little, I could faintly make out long, thin lines of cars winding along invisible, maze-like streets amidst masses of colourful buildings in the far distance; I imagined the Napolitans and all the little people in the city below, hurrying and scurrying about their daily lives and living as best they could while the lava was bubbling below my feet and I had Pompei on my mind. It was a disturbing thought.
Certainly, the presence of volcanoes everywhere and especially the ever-looming threat of the active Mount Vesuvio doing another Pompei is inextricably woven into the psyche of the Napolitans and Napolitan culture. Despite the dangers, or maybe because of it, the people of Napoli seem to me much more determined to live la dolce vita (the sweet life) than people in many other cities. And they do so fully and fearlessly.
Full and Fearless living, Napolitan style. Let me list the ways.
1. Eating a carbo-laden dinner (2 plates of pasta per dinner for my boyfriend, and a huge chunk of pane afterwards) at 9 or 10pm until 11pm everynight, washing it down with lots of gelati and assorted dolci (desserts/sweets) and going to bed at 12 or 1am fully sated.
2. Walking straight into fast, heavy traffic without breaking into a run or a cold sweat, while chatting nonchalantly with your friend on the latest cell phone
3. Walking in high stilletto heels all of Naples' cobblestoned streets and extremely steep slopes (no railings attached) . Or better yet high-heel trekking Munt Vesuvio. (This I did. Not because I wanted to live life fearlessly, but because my boyfriend sprang a after-lunch surprise visit to Vesuvio on me without considering my footwear as many men are prone to do. "Look!!This is Naples!! Isn't this beautiful!! Aren't you happy?? Wouldn't you like to climb up here again tomorrow??" he beamed at me widely, with the beguiling and beautiful smile of a child. What a sweet life...)
There are more of course, but I may add them later if I can think of any...any suggestions?
By the way, the traffic in Naples really isn't all that bad. I tried driving on my second day there from the city centre right up to the seaside apartment where I was staying and the drive was really ok. I did ask my boyfriend afterwards why he clutched his seat the whole time and why he screamed once and shouted almost half the drive, something about a 'piano'. He insisted he had not screamed, he had merely coughed, and that he had not been shouting, he had merely been speaking to me loudly the Italian way, and then he also explained to me that 'piano' meant 'slow', and not the musical instrument.