Even though I am now back in the States, I still have a few Italy posts left to share.  Here is one.

The exclamation points in the title signify the waving of hands in the air and shouts of”Mamma Mia!”  I’ve used the Italian name for the city versus the anglicized version because Naples is just too tame a name for this chaotic place.  Napoli is the Italy of my imagination — flags strung across narrow streets, scooters zigzagging about with death-defying moves, red-checkered tablecloths, laundry hanging from windows, priests and nuns cheek by jowl with scantily clad teenagers and taxi drivers spewing strings of obscenities.  The smell of gasoline and garlic commingling somehow with the salty brine of the nearby bay.  In Napoli, it’s as if life has come to a boil and is spilling out into the streets in every direction you look.

Admittedly, our transition from Venice to Naples was a rough one.  If Venice is the queen dressed for her coronation

Our neighbors' laundry

day, than Naples is Cinderella way before she met her fairy godmother.  In Venice, the only “traffic” is confined to the canals, so there is no need to worry about letting the kids run free.  Compare that to Naples, where, if the kids even set one foot outside the door of our hotel they ran a serious risk of being mowed down in an instant.  Venice sparkles in the sunlight while Naples is filled with dark, narrow streets that might see direct sunlight for ten minutes a day.  Our kids described our hotel room in Venice as a “mansion,” complete with a 16th century fresco on the ceiling.  Our room in Naples, while comfortable enough, was dark even when the electricity was running (we had several outages during our stay).  Opening the doors to the small balcony wasn’t often an option, since our view was straight into the apartment across the street (and their undergarments).

Yet, beneath this crusty veneer, Naples is a city with an immense heart.  The people we met there were the nicest we encountered during our entire trip.  First there were the folks at Pizzeria Brandi (birthplace of the Margherita pizza) who made Jay an honorary pizzaiolo.  Then there was a maintenance worker at the Circumvesuviana station that came to our aid when we’d missed our train to Pompeii and could not decipher the posted schedule.  He hardly spoke any English, but stayed with us until we were sure we knew when and where to catch the next train.  There was the woman in the gelateria who, when Jay burst into tears after she said it was closing, kept it open long enough to serve the kids their cones.  (We spent the rest of the trip trying to convince him that no, it was not a “good thing” that he started crying).  There was nary a person we met who didn’t tousle the kids’ hair and make a fuss over them or to offer assistance if needed.

Part of getting along in Naples is learning the sign language.  For example, a downturned mouth with raised eyebrows, accompanied by a shoulder shrug and palms pushing downward or toward you = No worries.  Everything will work out fine.  The same exact setup, but with palms facing upward toward the sky = What can I do?  It’s out of my hands (translation: you’re screwed).  If a person is holding all of his fingers together, with the thumb in the center and waving it around in circles in the air, than you (or someone else you’re discussing) is an idiot.  And those were just the ones I was able to decipher in the short time we were there.  I’m sure there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, all of which add to the color of the place.

And the pizza!  Oh my goodness, the pizza!!  If you’ve ever wondered whether pizza in Naples can really taste that much different than it does anywhere

Taken at Pizzeria da Michele (of Eat, Pray, Love fame)

else, I’m here to put that question to bed for you.  It does!  Given how much Naples had grown on me by the time we left, it came as no surprise that when we went back to Brandi for our final Neopolitan pizza, a musician came in and busted out an O Sole Mio worthy of Luciano Pavarotti.

Encore!

Categories: Family, Italy, Travel · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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10 Comments

  1. The Italy that most people think of is just what you have described. I am going to Napoli in October. I lived n nearby S’Agata many years ago but I rarely went to Napoli. It is time I did.

  2. I love your description of Napoli. I visited there briefly on the way to and from Capri. As I recall, the scariest train ride of my life. Ah, the memories.

  3. Beautiful! Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Napoli, managed 7 other cities in Italy though, and love it there. Ahhhh!!! You might like my post about Bologna (http://dakotad.com/2011/06/29/photographs-from-bologna-the-food-capital-of-italy/), especially if you’re a foodie. Looking forward to more of your Italy posts.

  4. I think my parents said the same thing. I love your descriptions of the sign language. Are you going to use them at home lol?

  5. What a fun trip! I’ve been using Google Earth to research a future novel set in Sicily. How I’d love to visit someday!

    ~Debbie

  6. I am sooooo jealous! Of your travels AND of the pizza 😀 It looks and sounds like an amazing adventure, one you’ll all remember for a lifetime. Welcome home!

  7. Thanks for the wonderful descriptions of Napoli, Julie. I’d never have thought to compare her to Venice (Venezia) but I think you nailed it. I was in Napoli a couple of years ago at the height of their garbage strike and it was charming walking around and seeing piles of stinking garbage in the streets! It is one of those cities you wonder how it can still be operational but sadly is typical of Italy’s current woes. That said, it is beautiful, exhilarating and not-to-be-missed.

    I must check out your Venice post too!

    Denise

  8. Mmm . . . pizza! 😀

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