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.

1 comment:

Jenny Wren said...

Wow - your descriptions are like a movie - I can see, feel, taste and experience everything. That is just as well as there is no way I could keep up your pace!! You have packed so much into such a short time. Just had some more snow with winds etc. I have almost reached the point when I want to hibernate until the Spring!! Sending love JJ