Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Via Toledo and SSC Napoli

Early morning down the via Toledo into a bar for a quick caffè. Everyone clusters around the bar. The Italians take their coffee very seriously. Charging extortionary prices for a morning coffee would literally cause a national uprising so the price of drinking a coffee standing at the bar is very reasonable. If you sit down at a table, however... that’s a different story. Thankfully, drinking a thimbleful of caffè takes all of two seconds so it isn’t long before there’s room for you at the bar. Each coffee is served alongside a small glass of bubbly water. The water is meant to be sipped beforehand to cleanse the palate and then after the first sip of coffee (if the coffee is good) or kept for afterward (if the coffee is bad). Henri and Alice sip at a cappuccino, all three munch on a cornetto. I enjoy a spremuta — a perfect glass of fresh-squeezed blood orange which, in my opinion, should be on offer everywhere on the planet. Everyone is out on this lovely Monday morning. The vegetable vendors have their wares spread out all over the piazza, boxes of colourful fruit on display, gigantic fennel and artichoke testament to the fertility of the local soil. Pompeii’s loss is southern italy’s gain.

We head down the road looking for tickets for the metro and the train to Pompeii. We only have luck with tickets for the metro. The tabacchi guys looking incredibly put out that we’d insinuate that he sells a kind of ticket he doesn’t. We head down into the Toledo metro which feels like being in an aquarium – translucent aqua tile everywhere. It is phenomenally clean and modern, belying the rigamarole of finding the tickets. We have a laugh getting into the bathroom in the station. You pump 20 cents into a slot in a stainless wall and an electronic door opens to reveal a metal bowl, metal sink, metal everything, with a big black rubber button to flush, one to make the toilet roll dispense a few squares, a void in the wall for handwashing and drying and a big button to open the door once you’re done. The girls go in together and emerge in hysterics. Alice has pushed the button to flush as Frances is pulling up her pants and it turns out to be the button that opens the door.

Pompeii is a half-hour train ride from downtown Napoli. The train is a rickety affair through some less than picturesque neighbourhoods. We are surrounded by other tourists and the ride proves an excellent testing ground for our ability to discern nationalities just by looks. The french always dress their children in clothes that are too small. The Italians dress theirs in parkas despite the fact that it is 15 degrees. The English are a bit doughy and look perpetually worried that someone is going to rob them. The Americans wear sensible shoes and quick-dry clothing. Like the Chinese, the Japanese are mostly in large groups but the women cover their mouth the instant they laugh and also walk around filming themselves with selfie sticks. Wil keeps being asked for directions so I guess we Canadians are fitting in rather well.

Pompeii is so complete it verges on creepy. Nobles’ homes with elaborate frescoes, bathhouses with double walls and floors to circulate heat, restaurants with a cooktop facing the street and off-street dining – some of it in private rooms, some of it lying down in the garden à la grec. The amphitheater and palestra, where the youth went to train and learn, leave us gobsmacked, as do the plaster casts of the voids left by people’s bodies as they were overwhelmed by the heat and then lava. Vesuvius had been rumbling for some time before it blew so most of the inhabitants managed to get out in time. Crazy to think of them coming back to walk across the lava knowing their homes probably lay intact beneath the flow — tauntingly close but inaccessible.

We spend the rest of the day looking for tickets to go see SSCNapoli next Saturday. Again, the directions are conflicting but we choose to follow our taxi driver’s advice and go to the Galleria Umberto Primo. The part I neglected to retain was that we were meant to bring passports with us. Yes, you need ID to buy tickets to a Napoli game. The napoletanos may take their coffee seriously but they take their soccer very, very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that fans of opposing teams are not really welcome here lest something untoward should happen to them. The napoletanos have at times been banned from going to away games because their behaviour is so unsavoury — booing every time the opponent gets control, catcalling anyone of colour touching the ball. Yikes! Sounds like the kind of spectacle we don’t want to miss — especially since they are in second place (behind Juventus and(!) down by just down one point as anyone who can speak will tell you). You need ID to buy the tickets and the information printed on the ticket MUST match that ID when you show up at the stadium or you don’t get in. Lucky for us the ticket agent took pity and only asked for our names and dates and place of birth which were then printed in bold on our tickets.

The Galleria Umberto Primo is simply spectacular. A cross-shaped building with each arm of the cross a two-storey gallery of shops with carved stone walls and topped with a domed glass semi-cylinder, which all meet in the middle under a central luminous dome. It’s every art flick’s romantic train station setting rolled into one.

We had dinner in a five-table resto. We are batting 1000 on the resto choices. Highlights of tonight’s meal were amazing deep-fried anchovies, juicy cod à la siciliana, some fab pasta and a great carafe of local wine. Our walk home after dinner was fun, letting the kids lead us up and into interesting alleyways and streets. It seems that every building in Napoli that isn’t a store has a teeny, little groundfloor apartment that gives on to the street. The steel shutter, being the only opening to the outside, is often a dutch door with a top half that opens to the inside. By the looks of them they are one room affairs — all tile and fluorescent light, dark wood furniture and a TV mounted high on the wall. Sometimes there is just a little old lady in an apron sitting with arms and legs crossed in front of her listening to a loud radio, sometimes it’s an extended family of five or more in front of the game. Like walking around neighbourhoods at night, it’s a wonderful opportunity to snoop and witness little vignettes of daily neapolitan life that would normally be out of reach for us outsiders.

Napoli may have a poor record on garbage removal and an even worse one for pickpockets but we’ve never felt unsafe here. We knew we were close to home; we could see familiar buildings down the hill on our left but there didn’t seem to be a way down so we kept on. I finally asked a guy stepping out of his tiny truck for advice and he pointed us on to an outdoor staircase and then recanted. Oh no, it’s definitely not safe, he said. Go a little further on and then right (counterintuitive to say the least) and then swing round. Scendere, scendere (down, down) and you’ll find your way. We followed his directions. The streets were eerily quiet. Frances kept whispering “we’re going to die” over and over and it was unsettling, to say the least. Then we realized that everyone — and I mean EVERYONE — was in front of the game. This was a very important game. Juventus had won their game the night before by two points and Napoli needed to kill Fiorentina in order to stay close in the standings. We’d seen crowds of men standing outside watching large-screen tvs the night before, cheering and crying out and had assumed they were watching Napoli but now it all made sense, they’d been watching the enemy, Juventus. Tonight was the night when all would be decided.

We made our way into a piazza and suddenly cheering from everywhere. Tied! A barista out sweeping the sidewalk helped us orient ourselves and we were soon around the corner from our place but we needed to stop to pick up some toilet paper before going home. In the tiniest of stores in a little alley, the awning pulled down so low over the door that I had to crouch down to get through, I stuck my nose in to ask for higienico. There was a crowd glued to the tv. The announcer’s tone picked up and everyone started leaning forward. Napoli had the ball and was moving toward the goal. It was looking good. The guy nearest me grabbed the little shopping cart in front of him and rocked it back and forth in excitement. Everyone was on their feet. The breakaway man broke away from the defender and took a clear shot on goal but it missed the mark. Everyone screamed in agony. The guy beside me pushed the cart away from him in such exasperation that it hit the wall… and disconnected the wire on the tv from the satellite. More screaming, a bunch of new napoletano expletives this time not directed at the tv and then much apologizing from my friend.

Buona notte.

1 comment:

Jenny Wren said...

What an experience you are having.. We have an exhibition at the Museum with details of Pompeii, plaster casts of what you have just seen, I gather it is amazing. Must go. We have howling wind, sleet, snow and very cold tonight. Roll on Spring. I am making it look like Spring inside even if it is not outside. Sleep well my darlings. JJ,M, Granny x