Thursday, March 03, 2016


We spend the day walking around in the pouring rain, finally capitulating and buying some cheap and very tacky umbrellas that proclaim “I LOVE NAPOLI”. Everyone in Napoli seems to own an umbrella and they are all, without exception, better-looking than ours. There is a salesman on every streetcorner and at every metro exit pushing a baby stroller laden with umbrellas and even THEY have nicer umbrellas than ours. We are hunting for a power cable for our laptop. We managed to come to Italy with the wrong one. You try typing a blog on a phone! Again, an interesting adventure in misinformation. We cleverly found a giornale (day) ticket for the bus and metro and we’re using it to check out all the potential mac stores and their neighbourhoods. Napoli has some amazing neighbourhoods. Some are gritty and a bit rough – with tatty laundry on the line and ripped garbage bags strewn all over the street, others are polished to a fine sheen with upscale shopping and not a speck of litter. I think we saw them all and we have compiled a few of the rules that seem to govern Napoli:
  • Helmets should never be attached and should only really be worn if the driver needs to hold an iPhone to his cheek.
  • Three is the maximum number of people allowed on any one scooter, unless two are children in which case the maximum is four.
  • One-way signs are merely a suggestion, as are red lights.
  • The right of way is determined by whomever has the biggest balls and/or the crappier car.
  • Just because a road appears to be too narrow to fit two lanes, one should always try to be sure.
  • The line down the middle of the road is actually a scooter/motorcycle lane.
  • Travelling in the wrong direction on the other side of the median is allowed, providing there is enough room.

Whichever neighbourhood you’re in, there is a marked absence of toilet seats, everyone smokes and the baseline conversation level when outdoors seems to be shouting. The gesticulating is downright comical. Drivers excoriate each other, passengers argue with bus drivers, neighbours shout at each other from balconies, children and parents scream at one another. Hands down the favourite Napoli gesture is the thumb and forefingers pinched, palm and fingers pointing toward the body and a back and forth motion, the faster the motion the more upset the speaker. Runner-up is both hands, thumb and forefingers pinch like holding a harmonica and moving it toward and away from your chest. There is also the open palm turned toward the body which can be waved either toward and away from the face or wagged side to side with fingers wiggling for added effect. Having no audience seems to have no impact as some of the most violent gestures are used when walking down the sidewalk alone while talking on a cellphone.

After our walking tour of Quartieri Spagnoli, Centro storico, spaccanapoli and piazza garibaldi, we finally find the cable in Chiaia. Next is, of course, pizza, and then a tour of the tunnels beneath the city. Once used to mine the lava rock to build the city above, those clever romans built a system of cisterns which were fed with water piped from 70 kilometres away! The walls of the cisterns and channels were lined with lime plaster to render the porous rock impermeable. The system of wells supplied the city’s water for two thousand years but was finally condemned during a cholera epidemic in the 1880s. They were resurrected to be used as air raid shelters in the 40s. Our guide announces with understandable pride that the Napoletanos were the first to kick out the Nazis on their own. The date of liberation that is celebrated by all of Italy is, in fact, Milan’s moment of glory, which came much later than Napoli’s.

We took one of Napoli’s funiculars up the hill to the Vomero neighbourhood for dinner and wandered around with everyone else doing what Italians do in the evening — the passeggiata. Italians like to go out in the evening, not to sit around in the zócalo like the mexicans, but for a stroll — a veeerrry sloooow stroll — so everyone can see and be seen in their smart clothes. Babies are shown off, deals are wheeled, the oldies chew the fat. I targeted the best-dressed one of the bunch and asked him where to go in the ‘hood if we wanted to mangiare bene. He sent us to Donna Teresa’s, a little hole in the wall — the kind of place where you fear opening the door because everyone seated at the five tables is within ten feet of the front door and it’s cold and rainy out. We stood in everyone’s way for five minutes waiting for someone to finish and then they pushed two tables together for us. The walls were covered with paintings of the owners and their daughter (our waitress). There was no menu or wine list. She asked us simply “pasta o zuppa”. The kids got an amazing dish of penne with a simple, perfect tomato sauce, Wil and I gobbled up a bowl of the most delicious bean soup EVER! Plump, buttery white beans in an unbelievably rich broth with some kind of greens. The next choice was “carne o pesce”. Alice asked for fish and the rest of us asked for carne. The waitress explained that we wouldn’t all be getting the SAME carne. Of course not! She appeared not long after with two huge meatballs in tomato sauce for Frances, a hunk of braised meat in tomato sauce for me, a veal scallopini for Henri, Wil got two little lengths of homemade sausage and Alice had a plate of breaded, deep fried anchovies and shrimp. The dishes were tiny, not one extra thing on the plate, but they were perfect and we fed each other little pieces of our dish so we could all taste. Dessert was a wedge of syrupy, chestnut torte. We took turns taking the stairs up around the kitchen to the bathroom to see Teresa, a blonde, stoutish, bespectacled woman in her seventies working all by herself in the kitchen.

Went home wishing I could find the man who gave us the advice so I could thank him for the tip.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I SO love reading about your trip(s). Your blog is instructive, entertaining and just so you plus it's really beautifully written. Think it should be your next career, really. Smooches xxx