We are in Naples.
Distressed, crumbling buildings, graffiti on every statue, every church, every inch of every building. There is nothing sacred in this city.
This is what I think when we first get here.
Naples feels like it is actively, ferociously decaying, just falling apart or being torn apart, piece by piece.
Graffiti is on every conceivable public surface. Not exaggerating.
I like graffitti, the art behind it, the rebellion, the way it is a voice for the voiceless, but this is different. It is uncontrolled, unruly, messy, the words scrawled there without much artistic engine.
It’s almost the first thing you notice. It’s like the city lets people run wild, like tradition is of no importance, like no cathedral, no ruin, no church is so important it can’t be a place to scrawl out your name in paint. Garbage heaves from everywhere. Parks are un-mown, un-happy places, statues are obliterated by spray paint, bottles, cans and wrappers are left everywhere in the grass.
Naples is crazy different. And not what I think it will be.
It’s Tuesday night when we get there, 10pm and the streets are chock full of people in shorts and sandals hanging out drinking wine and beer, some sit at tables on the jammed sidewalk in big boisterous groups, eating, drinking, laughing, clinking goblets of vino. Others clump into groups in the street, many have babies on their laps, in their arms. Everyone has their phone out on the table next to their plates, but no one is looking at them or snapping photos. They are loud and brimming over in the middle of a work week.
I wish we lived in a place this social, I hear myself saying.
Cobblestone alleys and streets run like wild, breaking cracks and fissures running through the city. Motorcycles whiz by, cars go bumper to bumper, and right up the asses of pedestrians. There is no right of way. It’s dangerous and bizarre and we remind the kids to always be super-aware when they step out in the street. They will be on their own, no one else will mind them. No one gives a rats ass.
Just because it’s an alley does not mean a motorcycle will not run you down, we feel we have to tell the kids.
Eyes open. Do not be sleepy in Naples.
I see a kid Lucy’s age peeling through the alleys driving a motorcycle, his friends piled on the back. I see four people crammed onto a bike, screaming and laughing at a group of friends on another bike, they ride tandem down a crack of a road, flying past pedestrians who barely look up. I see babies on the back of bikes, no helmets, screaming past me, their little faces stretching back in the wind. Our cab cuts off a car, leaving about an inch between them, and no one is pissed off and shaking a fist.
It’s full on in Naples. This is how it is.
We visit a book store. With a bar.
Isn’t this the ultimate? I think. Books and booze. Yes.
A place of calm during the day, but a bubbling mecca at night. Doors wide open. A band sets up outside the shop and plays, people gather, drink, buy books, dance on cobblestones and when the band takes a break, they stand inside and outside the shop, and listen as a poet reads from her book. They pump her voice outside so everyone can hear, even passersby.
Poetry, accessible to everyone. Nice, Naples.
Every space here is packed tight. It’s so the opposite of Vegas, which is wide and low and the blank spaces are huge, open gaps. Naples is condensed. I notice the windows of the buildings are long, like in the movies, old huge wooden shutters that open out into the air. Everyone, I mean everyone, has a tiny balcony to hang laundry, and on which they put pots of herbs, and step out for a smoke. This city is vertical and stacked.
We notice a few things: Italians serve you fries without ketchup – much to Edie’s dismay and confusion – and calamari without tomato sauce, salad without dressing.
Why? Why would they do that? she asks me, bewildered.
It’s the ultimate cultural divide. I think this might make Edie actually hate Italy.
Italians do not want to hide the flavor of the food, I tell her.
She is baffled. Why? Covering is good….
This makes me think: Do I use sauces to hide the real flavors of the food I cook? Not sure. I have to toss that one around a little.
In Naples, boys in Speedos and girls in bikinis jump off the walls of an ancient castle into the Mediteranean, and I think this would never happen in the US. There would be people telling us to stop. Stern, uniformed people would yell at us and demand we be respectful of history, of the past.
And people make-out everywhere. Teenagers tuck into the corners of castle turrets. On the street. In alleys. In restaurants. On trains. Love is here in Naples. Sex is here in Naples. You either join them or scoff at them, like a cranky old person.
Naples inspires me to kiss my husband more, no matter who is around.
We eat at a lovely little restaurant. I tell the owner the food is simple and beautiful, the way I like it, and he grabs me kisses me full force on the cheek and leads me into the kitchen, where I and the kids, meet his wife, the chef, and she stops cooking and we hug and talk about food in broken phrases.
Such an intimate exchange between strangers. Naples, so nakedly impulsive.
Everyone is fearless. No one tells you to stop. Go have sex. Go kiss your man hard in the street. Drive your motorcycle like a crazy person through the streets, what could happen? Use the walls of the centuries-old castle as your diving board. Go tag that statue of Dante. Tag the shit out of it.
Who the hell cares about Dante anyway, when there is grilled squid, your friends, hot, endless summer nights, long kisses, and bottles of rose?
Do what you love.
Naples will love you for it, without judgment.