Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Airports and burqas

A Saudia plane has landed at the same time as ours and the Ataturk airport is a sea of burqas. It’s interesting how something that is designed to conceal the woman makes them stand out so very much. All individuality may be erased but the very black burqa is by no means a subtle presence. We line up behind a group that is predominately women in burqas and it isn’t for several minutes that I realize it’s because there are two female passport agents and one of the them is ours. One man goes toward the booth with three or four women in tow. He hands over the passports and does all the talking. The women wait until prompted and then take turns lifting their veils for the agent to show that they are, in fact, the one in the passport. It seems the children are completely free to do what they like — running back and forth beyond the passport control and back which obviously enrages the Turkish passport agents who cannot communicate their frustration in arabic and therefore gesticulate vigorously with little or no effect. The little girls are beautiful but you can see, by the age of about eleven — I suppose the threshold of puberty — their beauty gets sucked into the vacuum of black.

The tram is a lesson in courtesy. The citizens of Istanbul seem to be competing to see who can get up the most quickly to offer their seat. Not just for the very elderly but for anyone even nominally older than themselves. It is done so quickly and without fanfare. We are sitting on one side of the tram and Henri is on one of a pair on the other. A man asks Henri if he wouldn’t mind moving to another empty seat so that his wife and daughter can sit together. Henri misunderstands and gets up and moves to stand away from the seats. The mother motions to Henri, the father motions to Henri but he’s actually pretty happy standing so he smiles and waves them off. The father, seeing the now unoccupied seat sits down. A move he learns to regret. His wife gives him an earful – appalled that her husband would take this kid’s seat and make him stand with his luggage. The poor guy tries to explain and we watch him move away from his wife and then back, trying to get back into his wife’s good books. For 18 stops she gives him the silent treatment.

When we make it through the ancient crumbling walls marking downtown Istanbul we go by a baklava/tea shop and see packs of teenage girls perched on their stools around a table. They giggle, take selfies and chat. Some are in headscarves, each a different colour to complement their outfit. Offering at least an opportunity to show a little individuality, in Istanbul the headscarf is a fashion accessory. I’m still not sure what a burqa is.

Our hotel, this time, is on the other side of the Galata bridge. We dump our luggage and head back to the foot of the bridge to take a ferry to Asia. The sun is going down, setting fire to the skies behind the endless mosques that dot the skyline. We’re determined to watch the sun set over Europe from Asia. There is so much traffic in the Bosphorus Strait, over a hundred shipping vessels a day on top of the crazy constant flow of ferries bringing people and cars from home to work and back — only part of the remarkable and cheap public transport system that moves the 14 million residents of Istanbul.

As we move away from the shore we watch a line of men on both sides of the bridge yielding gigantic fishing poles and the tiny little fishing vessels getting tossed in the ferry’s wake.

Once on the other side, we hustle to the jetty to watch the sun go down. Vendors are out selling mussels, roasted chestnuts and the ever-present simit, the turkish version of a bagel, more dense, with a twist and covered in sesame seeds.

Feral dogs and cats fight over scraps of food along the water. Couples and packs of teens lounge on the huge boulders lining the shore -- I imagine as protection from erosion. We sit and watch the Strait and the city beyond – dozens of container ships queuing for their turn to unload, cormorants diving for fish and, of course, the setting sun.

I can’t get over the fact that one city straddles this huge, fast moving channel. Constantinople must have had quite the firepower or a wicked reputation in order to defend such a vast territory and stay intact.

As we head back to the ferry terminal, the air crackles with the muezzin’s call. Unlike the ear-splitting cacophony of Morocco, the Istanbul call is a haunting, evocative serenade. It’s hard to imagine why every mosque wouldn’t want their invitations to be as tempting as the ones we hear here. We head back across in time for dinner, the deck of the ferry decorated with empty tea glasses sitting in their dainty, colourful saucers.

We walk through the Karaköy neighbourhood — hip central. The streets are lined with cool cafés, shops with interesting jewellery, mid-century furniture, curated collections of everything under the sun. People are out having drinks or dinner, some sitting on low stools eating from a communal plate — a large flat tortilla-looking thing called a dürüm, heaped with delicious looking spiced, minced beef and peppers.

We have an amazing dinner – yummy mezze, octopus, lamb, smoked fish and lots and lots of a meal component we found completely overlooked in Italy, namely vegetables.

In the morning, with no time to waste, we stride past the early risers downing their morning coffee with baklava or picking up simit to eat on the tram. We’re rushing to the Blue Mosque. We managed to botch the times on our last stopover and missed seeing the inside.

We loiter around ‘til it opens, edging in front of a very enthusiastic Japanese tour group. We stop at the booth to pick up the blue potato-sack skirts that women in pants or short skirts need to wear. Our heads were already covered with scarves I’d brought. We all removed our shoes and placed them in a plastic bag ripped off a roll (think vegetable shopping) and stepped inside. Wow! The volume of the building is mind-boggling. Smaller domes feeding into larger domes feeding into even larger domes dotted with hundreds of symmetrical windows and all of it supported by massive columns. Despite its size and the fact that it can hold 10,000 worshippers, a series of rustic candelabra hang from hundreds of cables about eight feet off the ground, both illuminating the space and bringing the huge vaulted domes down to a very human scale. Every inch of ceiling is covered in tile, in gorgeous contrasting geometrical and floral patterns. The Sultanahmet may be the biggest in Istanbul but it is only one of many impressive mosques that are scattered all over the city. I’m afraid those will have to wait until next time. And there will be a next time.

Çok teşekkür ederim Istanbul!

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Arrivederci Napoli

A late start and a welcome sleep-in for the girls with their colds. We asked Vincenzo if we could skip breakfast this morning and instead have a little packed lunch for the road. We woke up to two brown paper bags full of speck & mozzarella sandwiches.

We walked down to where the Minori road meets the steep walkway up to the agriturismo, sad to say goodbye to our little mountain retreat.
Vincenzo brings our bags down in his ancient, miniscule green Fiat and a few minutes later the taxi pulls up and we load all our crap in the back. We confirm the price and then the destination. The driver is NOT happy that we are not going to the airport as he’d been told. He calls up his capo to talk it over. The dialect is unreal. It’s all shh, shk and dz. It’s a bit like Cuban Italian — the ends of words never quite making it out past the teeth. The capo tells him no. The driver explains to us as he points to the letters on the windshield that if you don’t have a Napoli permit you are only allowed to drive to the airport or the train station but nowhere else. The Napoli drivers in turn are allowed to three coastal towns but not all of them. Classic Italian bureaucracy. I’ll leave you at the airport and you can take a pullman to the centro. -- Ehrrr, no thanks. We tried that one. Leave us at Piazza Garibaldi and we’ll jump on the metro. -- I’ll take you to the airport, he says, and you can take a taxi. Very simple. -- Is your capo going to pay for the taxi? -- No, no, no. I’ll take you to Piazza Garibaldi but you don’t need the metro, he says. It’s a two-hundred metre walk. --Not exactly. More like a kilometre, I tell him. Aargh. He finally agrees to take us to Piazza Garibaldi.

We jump on the now-familiar metro and walk to our hotel, a lovely 6th century building that has been beautifully restored. We dump our stuff and head over to the Capella Sansevero, a teeny 16th century chapel built by the di Sangro family in their garden. The garden is long gone, as is the palace it was attached to, but the artwork in this little room is still very much there and leaves you humbled. The tile work in the floor alone is a trip — a three-D illusion. The basement houses two intact corpses with their circulatory system intact, down to the tiniest capillary. Two-hundred and fifty years later experts have still not figured out how they managed it. In the centre of the chapel lies the very famous veiled christ — a lifesize portrait in marble of Jesus lying beneath a shroud soon after his death. I was and am totally gobsmacked by the craftsmanship. How one could accomplish, in marble, the illusion of a body under a translucent veil, complete with lace fringe — the holes in his hands and side, the nails and nail puller at his side… I can’t even find words.

We step into the restaurant next door for an amazing lunch, creative dishes with lentils and veal meatballs, pumpkin, octopus. Mmmm. After lunch we asked the chef for some suggestions as to where we could get a traditional ragù on Sunday and he very kindly gave us some names. We’re all getting super excited to see SSC Napoli play tonight.

We join a huge wave of people on the train heading to Stadio San Paolo. The resounding advice was to get there early. We walked around the outside of the massive stadium looking for our entrance. The place can hold 60,000 and the overwhelming presence of police and carabinieri and finanza cops is, I suppose, an indication of how poorly things can go. The sidewalk is packed with vendors selling hotdogs, slices of pizza, flags, scarves and lots and lots of tiny bottles of liquor. We find our gate and get the initial identity check — a thorough look over the passport and tickets and a little notch put in the ticket. Then to the second check where the ticket is scanned in a machine which opens a scissor gate onto the stadium grounds. The game isn’t for two hours and there are already lots of people seated. Each ticket is printed with your name and date of birth, a section and seat number but if there are numbers on the seats in the stadium we sure couldn’t find them. We find our section and follow the taxi driver’s advice – find the best seat you can in your section and take it.

The game is a riot. From the moment the Napoli team steps on the field to warm up there is massive cheering. But as soon as the goalers of Chievo pop their heads out of the underground dressing rooms the stadium erupts in jeers and whistles. Yikes. As the Napoli team is introduced the crowd screams out the name of the player three times. When the team is finally on the field a bunch of guys in front of us unfold a banner that covers the entire section of the stadium. The crowd is as fun to watch as the game. Can you say partisan crowd? Without a doubt the most unsportsmanlike conduct I’ve ever seen from fans, who literally whistle every single time the other team gets the ball. And they do get the ball, putting it in the net in the first minutes, catching Napoli totally on their heels. The incredulity is comical. Cries of “Mamma mia” and “Non è possibile”. Neighbours turn to each other asking heartfelt questions – as though earnestly looking to each other for an explanation as to what just happened. The hand gestures of the crowds! We try them out to fit in but they are so uncharacteristically dramatic that we’re not very convincing. Lots of hands in prayer waving them toward and away from the chin and the ever popular straight arm palm up thrust. Lots of “che catso fa?” and “Madon’” and “porca miseria”. The Napoli team can do no wrong in the fans’ eyes.

The short ends of the stadium, the “curvas” are packed to the rafters with the hardcore fans who sing and shout and jump and clap and sway in unison to the sound of a drum. Occasionally a smoke machine backlit in red belches out a huge waft of fumes. The fans sing an endless repertoire of songs. When one curva gets quiet the opposing end kicks in. Hawkers work the stands loudly advertising their wares — beer, soft drinks, nuts and yummy Fonzies(!), an Italian yellow cheesie.

Napoli dominates. Missing an astounding amount of shots on goal but they still manage to pull off a 3-1 win, putting them firmly in first position in Series A. It all went by very quickly.

When the game finishes, the fans scatter in all directions. We head to the metropolitan train and run to catch it as it waits on the platform. We stand for fifteen minutes in the car, wedged in like sardines waiting for the other cars to fill up before heading back to Centro.

We got off at Dante around midnight, expecting things to have quietened down but the streets are packed. Couples out for a stroll, street vendors selling crêpes & nutella, hazelnut cotton candy, hotdogs. Teens, dressed in their finest, zip madly through the crowds three to a scooter or hang out outside bars. There’s something crazy about mundane daily life happening with this beautiful backdrop of historic buildings. You can’t walk more than a block in this town before stumbling upon some new architectural treasure tucked out of sight. The place is simply dripping in history. This city has seen riches but sadly it has also seen better days.

Napoli works, it seems, but just barely. There is a lawlessness that runs just below the surface of everything. There are lots of “systems” but none of them seem to work as intended or to take any of the others into account. The tabacchieri gets frustrated answering questions about transport tickets and schedules but there seems to be no effort to make it easier for people to find the information on their own. Even figuring out which direction your metro is heading in is a challenge. People smoke everywhere — in restaurants, in trains, at the game. Kids as young as ten are driving scooters helmetless through the streets. We wander through a fish market and a guy goes flying past us like he’s running for his life. Around the next corner we see police clearing up his illegal cigarette stand. We wonder whether the poor guy is fleeing because his cigarettes are illegal or because he is. I can’t help but think it wouldn’t be hard to disappear in a city like Napoli. That being said, it’s young and vibrant and alive. I wouldn’t want to do business here but what an amazing city to experience.

Our last lunch was a memorable one. L’Europeo Mattozzi is the kind of establishment that has probably been in business for a hundred years. Ceilings twenty feet high, the walls covered in black and white photos and oil paintings. We are greeted by the owner who sits at a little desk in his cardigan and cravat welcoming his guests and making everyone feel like they’ve come home for Sunday lunch. The kitchen rivals the size of the diningroom — six tables of six filled with families in their Sunday best digging into some amazing food. We eat like kings and then roll home along via Toledo with every other family in Napoli out for a passeggiata.

Arrivederci Napoli.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Sentiero degli dei

We walk down into Minori. After yesterday’s stair extravaganza my knees are trembling and my calves are screaming but it gets better as the muscles warm up a bit. While we wait for the bus to Amalfi, Henri and I kick the ball around on the pavement until the local crazy comes to shout & gesticulate in Henri’s face about playing so near a caffè. Some of the other residents try to talk him down. I get the distinct feeling this isn’t the first time this has happened. The bus takes us into Amalfi where we catch another bus to Bomerano. Amalfi is a zoo compared to sleepy Minory but it is beautiful. The bus ride is all switchback away from the coast into the mountains. We’re happy but dopey from the gravol.

There are three other couples of tourists on the bus. All of us worry about missing the stop. Aside from the bus stops on the main road the indications of where the bus will let you off are little panels that read Fermata but which can’t really be seen until you stand in front of it. Not very helpful when you’re on the road and the bus driver sits under a sign that reads “Don’t talk to the driver”. I finally pluck up the courage to go sit up beside him to ask where we should get off and he answers me before I get a word out. This bus must be overrun by the likes of me in the summer. He tells me where the stop is and which road to turn up to get where we want to go. When everyone gets off, they all kind of loiter around waiting for us to lead the way. Imagine the confusion when we head into a caffè instead of hitting the trail.

The sentiero is just beautiful. Much more groomed and well-travelled than the one we were on yesterday. The views are stupendous in all directions. On the left, the mediterranean stretches out beneath us, a pale clear aqua for a few metres off the shore and blurring into gorgeous greeny-blue beyond. We can see the white peaks of the Sicilian mountains across the water. The Sorrento peninsula juts out into the sea ahead of us and the terraced lemon groves slice the hillside into tidy little parcels behind us. We have to share the trail with a few other groups but we’re mostly on our own except for a goatherd with his flock and trusty dog.

Frances woke up with a killer cold so our intention had been to take it easy and end the walk in Nocelle with a bus ride into Positano but we must have taken a wrong turn because we ended up missing the actual town and found ourselves on another endless chain of stone steps down, down, down. How many hundreds of steps down… into Arienzo where we waited less than a minute for a bus back to Amalfi. The bus ride was incredible. Houses notched into the mountainside above, homes that looked literally carved out of the rock in the grottoes and inlets below.

Again, the fun is in watching the bus navigate the wicked curves and oncoming traffic. We got in a couple of classic jams today, one with someone who didn’t stop far enough back from the curve for the bus to get around. The driver of the oncoming car first tried to pull alongside us but there wasn’t nearly enough room and there were too many cars behind him to get them all to reverse so he backed into the space in front of us (almost squishing a local woman who warned him off by banging the hell out of his car) and reversed up and around a corner until he was at the back of the pile and we could get around him. I pity the tourists who try to take on this road in the height of the summer season and end up suffering the wrath of the locals. The bus drivers are unbelievably good at backing around curves, sending messages to one another with honks. They are not, on the other hand, a very forgiving bunch, sending expletives flying at cyclists, tourists and inept drivers.

An older guy with a cane got on the bus and almost fell over trying to get onto the seat beside me. The road is so windy that if your bum isn’t fully cupped by the curve of the bottom of the seat you find yourself in the aisle pretty quickly. I ended hooking my arm in his and hauling him up beside me before we went into a curve. We chatted for a while but his toothless dialect was a challenge for me. He very sweetly took the time to turn and shake my hand as he was getting off. I’ve seen a few stroke survivors and people with crutches trying to navigate the rough cobblestones, the slopes and the endless, uneven steps. This is not an easy place for the disabled.

Back to Minori. It’s funny how getting to know the rhythm of a place, the times of the church bells, the bus schedules, the drivers, the shortcuts, can make you feel so quickly at home in a place so far from home.

Sitting on the terrace in the setting sun, drinking a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade. Our last night in Minori and it’s sad.

Maria has made us dunderi (little pillows like gnocchi but made of ricotta, 00 flour and fresh water). It is phenomenally good but filling. Her secondi is a plate of fish with potatoes and a spear of boiled cauliflower from the garden. So good but SO full… Then homemade lemon cake, lemon-flavoured mascarpone dotted with black raspberries.

There was another family in the diningroom tonight. A couple with a five year old girl and a five-month old baby. We admired the adorable baby and the dad very sweetly came over so we could get a better look at her. We dodged the five-year-old’s very pointed questions about why we didn’t speak better Italian. Very adorable. I told the husband that we were excited to go see Napoli play the following night and his eyes lit up. He started describing Napoli’s star players and pulled out his phone to show us a picture of Higuaín. The five-year-old ran over and started swiping the screen, revealing an endless chain of photos of the player as her dad sheepishly looked on.

Forza Napoli!


We wake up to a drizzle and the round tones of rain-dampened church bells bouncing off the valley walls. The buildings that line the mountainsides are all yellow or pale pink or cream with terracotta roofs, the walls dotted with tall, symmetrical windows and the merest suggestion of a balcony on each. The sea is grey today but looking at it through an arbour of sunny yellow lemons brightens up the whole scene.

We walk down to the main square for the bus to Amalfi. Henri buys a soccer ball while we buy tickets for the bus and he and I kick it around as we wait for the bus. The piazza between the road and the beach is lined with white trucks with awnings and folding tables laid out with bras, underwear, sheets, second hand clothes, cleaning products, kitchen gadgets, vegetables, you name it. The local ladies have come down from the hills and are doing the rounds with their shopping bags. These trucks probably do a non-stop tour of the local towns, bringing the big city products to the small town clientele.

The sprinkling turns to rain which turns into a torrent and then a hailstorm. I get out my trusty I LOVE NAPOLI umbrella and keep kicking the ball. Henri, being Henri, does not and gets soaked. The bus finally comes. It is a steamy ride. The driver stops every few minutes to clear mist off the windshield, starting on the top left corner (the second most important visibility spot as he brushes against the plants growing out of the cliffside every left hand turn). The drive is a stop-start affair — a dance between him and oncoming traffic. There isn’t enough room in the curves for two vehicles when one is a bus and the negotiations that ensue are serious entertainment. The driver honks as he approaches a curve and waits for oncoming traffic to clear enough space by either coming on or staying put for him to pull around. When a truck pulls around a curve up ahead the tension in the bus palpably rises as the two drivers suss out the best line of approach. They eventually squeeze by each other, eyes casting back and forth and side to side in the mirrors, watching the inches shrink between them. If I had a window that opened I could kiss the truck driver without even having to crane my neck.

We get to Amalfi, then jump on another bus for a twenty minute ride up to Pogerola (Poh-JEH-ro-la, I am politely corrected). I chat with the lady who sits beside me who reminds me a lot of my auntie Joan. I ask her whether she is from here. No, No!, she replies vehemently, I am from Pogerola! (five kilometres away). I ask whether she rides this bus every day. Oh NO! she exclaims, only when I have shopping to do. We get off the bus after her and wander into the sleepy village. We step into the first bar and have some hand-pulled coffees and buy a few snacks for the walk. We ask the owner if he can direct us to the beginning of our walk and he shakes his head. The weather is not nice for a walk, he says. That’s true, we acknowledge, but we’re going all the same. The weather for a walk will be better tomorrow, he says. That’s also true, we say, but today is the day that we’re here. The rain will make the streams difficult to cross, he says. Also, the wind on the mountains will be rough. And those umbrellas, they will not work on the mountain, he says. We shrug and when he sees that we’re not desisting he reluctantly agrees to show us, walking us a hundred metres up the road and pointing out the beginning of the trail.

Thankfully the path is in much better shape than the goat tracks we were trying to follow yesterday. We’ll basically be skirting the flank of the mountain, heading inland along the valley created by the Dragone river, over the river and along the other side of the valley into Scala. The woods are beautiful. We are so unused to the combination of elevation and hardwood. Giant chestnut, oak and beech, the path littered with acorns, brown leaves and prickly chestnut husks that look like forest urchins. Streams and dramatic waterfalls intersect the path. The mountain, in stripes of chalk and peach stone, towers over us on the left, the valley a sheer drop on our right. Wil is battling his demons. His fear of heights is playing tricks on his brain and his gut while the rest of us are having a ball. The kids had balked at the walk this morning. Alice came to breakfast with an alternate plan of tourist attractions but walking is what we came here for and now we are all happy to be out. Soon enough the threatening clouds start to unleash on us, the wind picking up pretty furiously. We were out on a little embankment jutting out into the valley and we all pulled out our umbrellas. Alice’s flipped and broke almost instantly, Henri’s bent and then snapped at half mast. He tried splinting it with a twig but it didn’t really hold. Fortunately the rain didn’t last. The sun came out and it was hot and welcome.

Up and down through the wood, scrambling over rocks, up and down stone steps, little animal tracks crisscrossing the mountainside. When we finally reached the source of the river the setting was like something out of Lord of the Rings, old-growth hardwood and a lush, green carpet of grassy fronds sweeping up the mountainside. As we rounded the most inland part of the valley we heard muted bells jingling in the valley below but we never caught sight of the goats. When the bells were loudest we rounded a corner and came upon a lovely golden lab lying like a sphinx in the sunshine. It didn’t move an inch as we passed. It just watched us walk by — perhaps sizing up whether we were a danger to his flock. The highest ridge of the mountain top was lined with a crumbling stone wall. Beautiful vista upon beautiful vista, the gorgeous aqua water of the Med stretching away, the shores of Sicily glistening in the warm sun.

We made it into Scala and eyed Ravello on the other side of a ravine. Every town around here seems to have its share of staircases but usually just the one road. The trick is finding the staircase that leads to the road and avoiding the one that leads to the bottom of the valley only to have to climb the equivalent number of stairs on the opposite side. We asked everyone we saw and the answer was almost always the same. Sempre dritto (always straight) although the path rarely was. The expression “all roads lead to Rome” kept coming to mind as most of the staircases seem to end at or near the village church. I wonder if the diocese financed their construction. We finally managed to get across, encountering a few horses and donkeys and being barked at by more than a few furiously barking dogs trying to get at us through an iron gate or over a stone wall.

Ravello is lovely, perched on a promontory that hangs over the sea. We sat in the sunshine in the piazza, had a panini and watched a pair of old guys in jackets in caps with their backs against a sunny wall. They chatted and greeted the locals with an enthusiastic “Giorno”. We had a meander through the Villa Cimbrone, the only piece of flat land for miles around. The villa is picturesque — tree-lined paths, arches framing stunning views, flower gardens that must be beautiful when in bloom and some lovely sculptures combined with some seriously fugly statuary. We pretty much had the place to ourselves and we wandered around as Wil read the poorly translated but immensely-entertaining flowery descriptions of the garden features. Ravello is all cobblestone and whitewash, stone walls and romantic walkways that lead you up and down and around the town. Ninety percent of the shops were closed, which suited us to a T.

We headed over the ridge to Minori. Our agriturismo is probably not much further below Ravello from an elevation standpoint but even when you can see a path across the valley that might get you to where you want to go, finding the right combination of stairs and walkways to get to that one path is a crap shoot. The odds are definitely not in your favour. We were so hoping to get across without having to go all the way down but yesterday’s adventures had us a little gunshy about off-roading. So down the stairs we went. Stairs, stairs and more unforgiving stairs. I bet we went down a thousand stairs. So many stairs that by the end my knees were screaming and my thigh muscles would shake involuntarily whenever I stopped. We made it down into the valley at 3:27 and the comune was heading back up the hill at 3:30 so we ran across the piazza and by the church. With rubber legs I’m sure it wasn’t pretty but we made it and we sure earned our dinner.

Friday, March 04, 2016


One last walk to the bar for a quick caffè and to pick up some cornettos and other treats from the local pasticceria. I love watching the deliveries happening in the morning, but in Italy it isn’t the paper being delivered, it’s caffè. There is an army of baristas, dressed in little vests and an apron around the waist wandering around the streets of Napoli. They’re all carrying colourful plastic trays with a clear dome on top and on the tray one, two, or more tiny little cups of espresso. I love imagining the people receiving these deliveries. Do they get them every day? Is it always the same clientèle? I’m going to have to ask when we get back to Napoli.

We head back to the apartment for our 9 o’clock taxi to Minori. We lock up the apartment and go down to the street to find Nicola waiting. Nicola isn’t the driver we hired. It turns out he is his brother-in-law and it becomes apparent very quickly that not only is he not our driver but that he is not A driver. Two seconds up our road and he is asking for directions on how to get to the highway from the Centro. On his second corner he clips the front bumper of a car. Unfortunately for Nicola, the car was occupied and the driver of the car opens his door looking very put out and stands up, craning his neck to assess the damage. There is a lot of gesticulating but apparently the damage is minimal so we were allowed to proceed. I can’t even imagine what happens here when there is an accident worth reporting. My guess is that it is dealt with as quickly as possible without getting the police or carabinieri involved.

Nicola tells me, by way of explanation, that his car is much smaller than this car. No!! Nicola had spent a good five minutes punching the details of our destination into his tablet before we left but seems to pay no attention to it once the machine started speaking to him. At first I thought it was because he knew some shortcut to avoid traffic (which was chockablock) but I soon realized he was doing the exact opposite of what the computer was telling him. A sinistra, the computer would say and he would turn a destra. A destra, the computer would say and he would turn a sinistra. Oh boy. A taxi driver who is not a taxi driver who can’t tell left from right. I start chatting to him and he was not the easiest to understand. I realize that most Napoletanos are probably making an effort to be understood by speaking their school Italian to foreigners like me. Nicola didn’t appear to have much Italian per se and napoletano is not a lot like Italian. To my ears, it sounds like a cross between Catalan and Portuguese. When Nicola isn’t driving his brother-in-law’s cab he is a supermarket fish man, I find out, and has been for twenty years. I ask him questions about some of the things we’re seeing as we finally clear the city. What is that island? Ischia? He doesn’t know. I’m not talking about a little dot on the horizon here. It is a big island and it is very close and he is a born and bred napoletano and he has no idea. This could be a long ride.

He tells me about his girlfriend of ten years who just left him. People get married and then divorced right away nowadays, he laments. He tells me about his salsa classes and, with a smile, about how outnumbered he is by the women in the class.

Soon enough, we’re weaving through the mountains. Every inch appears to be segmented into terraces — scaffolds of sun-bleached wood sectioning off lemon groves and grape vines and orange trees. Men in coveralls dot the hillside, pruning and tying down the lemon branches to help bear the weight of the fruit. The Amalfi lemons are famous, for their sweetness but also for their size. They make grapefruit look like sissies. There is black or green netting on everything to protect from frost and the high winds that come over the ridges. All the netting will come off in April when the weather is more reliable. We finally crest and start moving down the hills toward the coast, coming into Minori soon after. We drive along the piazza which separates the road from the beach and turn up into the hills. Switchback. Nicola has finally accepted me pointing him around corners because we’ve backtracked so many times.

He leaves us at the entrance. I have no faith that he’s going to make it back alone in time for his four o’clock shift. We walk up a steep broken road and then some very taxing stairs up through a lemon grove and along a wall green with moss to the terrace of Agriturismo Villa Maria. We’re very early but are welcomed very warmly by quiet Maria and then her husband, gregarious, adorable Vincenzo. In two seconds flat there is a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade with five glasses and we’re shown to our rooms which are side by side along the terrace, glass doors looking out over Minori and the sea.

Vincenzo gives us the lowdown. He is lovely and chatty. Telling us about ehvareetink and how, in the old days, you had to carriage ehvareetink upa da mountain. He tells us about the history of the place. It was Maria’s family farm and when they decided to turn it into an agriturismo the horror stories of regular caribinieri and police visits trying to throw sticks in his wheels. He talked about the bureaucracy and the challenges of building before the road came up the hill ten years ago. He told us about old folks who walked down the thousand steps every day to town to buy their supplies and then headed back. No one was fat in those days he says, holding up his pinkie.

We thought we’d take a quick walk to Ravello, another hillside town a few kilometres west of here as the crow flies and asked Vincenzo for directions. Walk up the stairs and go left and then you’ll come to the Convento, then keep going into Ravello. Great. Off we go, up the stairs. And up some more stairs and then some more stairs. Huff and puff. The stairs end and we’re not quite sure where to go as there are goat tracks going off in a dozen directions. We pick a track that seems likely and off we go. About ten minutes later the track ends and we don’t know where to go. We start bushwhacking — some of us scrabble up and others scrabble down. The bush is not very friendly. The hillside is covered in vines – very, very prickly vines. The kind of vines that stab you through your jeans and hang on for dear life as another grabs you round the ankle trying to bring you down. The sun was warm so Henri had changed into shorts and Wil was in a t-shirt. It wasn’t long before they both look like they’d both been flayed and were dripping with blood. Oh, are the Ravello natives going to laugh at us when we emerge from the brush, we thought. Frances finally finds a track that looks promising and we head along it ‘til it starts climbing up into a ravine. There is a fat cable leading down into the valley on the left and up, up, up on the right. We follow it up ‘til we find the end bored & knotted into a big tree stump. There are piles of wood, probably last year’s harvest, seasoning on the hillside. Maybe the cable is the wood delivery system into town. We have no luck finding a continuation of the track. The kids head up over the crest of the mountain as Wil and I stand and wait in the ravine. They’re soon back with no luck. Back down the way we came and further still. Not ten feet beyond the spot where we first emerged from the bush onto the track is a fork in the trail with another track, THE track! Oh, how they’re going to laugh, those Ravello-ans. Along the hillside for forty minutes, through a beautiful olive grove, along a little monorail that runs up the side of the hill. Finally some signs of life and then stairs down. More stairs and more stairs. Then narrow, paved walkways and staircases between white-washed buildings, with flashes beyond of sea and sky. Colourful doors, every inch of outdoor space trellissed, pocket gardens full of cabbage and flowering rapini. Madly barking dogs and little lizards flitting out of the way. All the way down into the piazza. The piazza of Minori.

We asked around for bus tickets. Trying to figure out the system and the schedule. We were told to go to the tabacchi so we went and asked. No, I don’t sell tickets, the crabby shopkeeper told us, obviously not feeling the urge to help. Can you tell us where? We ask. At the giornalieri, he responds patently exasperated and not feeling the need to indicate where the giornalieri might be. Lucky for us not ten feet away is the giornalieri who definitely has tickets for us. Where does the bus stop? We ask. Right here, he answers. Right here like, right here in front of the store? Or right here in Minori? These are the kinds of questions one asks oneself a lot in Italy. It becomes very clear that the shopkeepers are willing to answer questions but just one. Then it just gets to be a bit much. We wander back toward the piazza and ask around. The fermata (bus stop) is right here so we wait. Soon enough we’re on the bus to Amalfi with a huge group of high school students coming back from Sorrento. The drive is mind-blowing. The scenery is insanely beautiful. The bus swings around corners revealing tiny hamlets hanging on the cliffside. We’re in Amalfi in no time and walk along the shore and onto the jetty, the end of which is surrounded by cement breakwaters that look like someone was playing a gigantic game of jacks and left them lying around. The next jetty down the coast is surrounded by breakwaters shaped like rounded dice. I wonder whether they do different things to the crashing waves or whether the cement contractor was just a fan of games. Into the town through archways to the fountain and the hulking staircase of the cathedral. The bell tower is all colourful ceramic, the face of the cathedral beautiful (I can’t resist stripes). The tour of the church is well designed, taking you through the cloisters and the chapels and church treasures before you’re allowed the spectacle of the main cathedral.

We soon head back to our little piece of heaven, taking the Minori comune — the local bus which leaves the piazza every hour or so ferrying the locals up the mountainside. Vincenzo comes and chats to us some more. About Italy’s role in the war, about the difficulty of getting anything done in Italy, about the crappy Spanish lemons, about how no one wants to pay the real cost of things anymore and how much pigs should weigh when they’re slaughtered.

Maria makes us a feast. Antipasti di casa — prosciutto, speck, ricotta, sheep’s milk cheese, pitted olives, picked zucca, all amazing, all homemade. A primi of fusilli with tomato sauce with a hearty slice of homemade sausage, followed by a secondi of pork chop with lemon. The kids are in heaven. We’re drinking Vincenzo’s Vino San Vincienz. Dessert is tiramisu in a sundae cup with a little glass of green limoncello. When Vincenzo isn’t bringing us food from the kitchen he sits with his little chihuahua, Honey, in front of a little heater watching a tv mounted high on the wall. He’s enjoying an Italian version of trivial pursuit with a twist. Each contestant stands in a large circle and when they get the answer wrong the floor beneath them drops and they disappear into thin air.

The sheets are crisp linen. The shower is scalding. Sleep comes very fast.

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.

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.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Seamless flight. We are loving Turkish Airlines aside from the bizarre and slightly frightening gelatine, orange egg breakfast. The arrival at Capodichino airport was a great little primer for life in Napoli – miscommunication, misinformation and much wandering around. The passport control was literally as soon as we stepped off the bus from the plane. One agent for the whole plane. About five minutes in another agent appeared for the EU members and there was a rush – all the people dressed in black talking on their cellphones pushing their way across the line.

After customs, we went from the Information booth to the little store at the far, far end of the airport and back to the travel agency, getting conflicting information from everyone about the tickets for the bus and the metro. The Informazioni lady told us that the little store sold 3-day tickets, the guy in the store said only the Informazioni people did. The other informazioni lady told us only the travel agency lady sold them. She did but she told us that the kids didn’t need tickets while the informazioni people AND the shopkeeper said they did. And we hadn’t even tackled how to find tickets for the shuttle bus to downtown… We spent a half hour walking back and forth through the airport, pulling our stupid bags and dragging the kids along until we finally gave up. Taaa-xi! Benvenuti a Napoli!

The cab driver was lovely. Giving us all the information we couldn’t find online about transport and soccer tickets and, most importantly, about the Sunday family meal of ragù that was waiting for him at 2 and what his wife puts in hers. Like our adventures in Mexico, time sitting up beside the taxi driver is arguably my favourite in any country and invariably my best opportunity to practice Italian. All the verb drills paid off because I can actually understand 90% of what he’s telling me and he actually understands me! I get the sense that five more minutes in the car and he would’ve called his wife to see if he could invite us along.

The apartment seemed a bit sketchy at first. The neighbourhood not exactly salubrious. Walking through a gate into an inner courtyard and up a set of crumbling stone steps. We didn’t have an apartment number so we were in the dark, literally and figuratively. I was texting our host as we waited for him to come find us and lead us to the loft. Finally a door opens and Gaetano appears. The apartment is cool — decorated simply but the place is just right for us. The windows open on to the courtyard – laundry hangs outside every window, scooters are parked everywhere, elaborate scaffold is set up along one wall but whether for repairs or to bolster the crumbling wall is unclear. The location is perfect. Our road is called Pasquale Scura but it’s informally known as Spaccanapoli because it splits Napoli down the middle —stretching straight and forever through the historic centre. This would not be surprising if this were New York, but in this maze of cobbled alleyways and staircases it is a bit of a miracle.

We dump our stuff and head out for a little wander. Italy is so friggin’… Italian. It’s Sunday so no one is out. The stores are all shuttered but we manage to find a few things still going on. Dapper old guys in colourful sweaters and contrasting scarves tied european-style walk their weiner dogs and chat with ladies clickety-clacking down the cobblestones in their heeled boots. A squad of boy scouts troop down the street, chubby legs in shorts and dark blue knee socks, leather backpacks and bedrolls bunched on their backs.

We stopped for our first pizza and it was a doozy. It is so not complicated. Not-too-thin crust, very well-done, borderline charred, on the bottom, the top almost creamy on its own but made even better by a simple and perfectly sweet san marzano tomato sauce, some lumps of mozzarella di bufala (which bears absolutely no resemblance to any cheese I’ve had in Canada), a few basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. It is not sliced. It comes with a fork and knife and almost no one eats it with their hands. Perfectly delicious.

We stroll around, taking in the sights and stop in at the Museo archeologico nazionale. It is comically disorganized but awe-inspiring. It is vast and there’s almost too much to digest. Wil has brokered a deal in which the kids will not race to the end if I agree not to read every single thing and dawdle — which is a bit easier because the expected explanatory text is almost entirely absent. Some rooms are inexplicably closed, 8-1/2 x 11” colour photocopies stand in for pieces out on loan to the MBA. Nothing is cordoned off, making it sometimes a little tense with energetic kids. The statues are phenomenal. The perfect physiques are either an indication that romans spent a lot of time at the palestra getting fit or that the artists were sucking up big time because everyone is beyond buff. The mosaics were what really wowed me the most. Tiny little 5mm square tiles of colour pieced together to create magnificent portraits of water birds, battle scenes or moments of daily life totally blew my mind.

Watching the girls’ eyes widen at the room of erotica was a laugh – massive winged phalluses (phalli?), statues in robes propped up by large erections and some interesting pan on goat action lifted a lot of eyebrows in our group.

We had a yummy dinner of pasta and seafood. We sat alone (did I mention that Italians are all eating homemade ragù on Sunday?) in a clear plastic tent — the sidewalk extension for every third restaurant in Napoli — under a little heater, dined and listened and watched the howling wind rip through the city.

When dinner was done, we found part of the street cordoned off by the caribinieri because a flagpole had been blown off the side of a stone building into the passage below. The wind shrieked, almost as loud as the front door of the apartment’s courtyard which rocked back and forth on hinges in desperate need of some jig-a-loo. Nothing like a little jetlag and pasta belly to make for a wonderful sleep.