Navyo’s impressions from Naples, Italy.
Arrivo a Napoli
It’s such a good feeling to get off a train with luggage heading into a new city, a new experience, a new life. Walking through Napoli Centrale, I look for the Information desk. A policeman stands in the middle of the concourse, legs apart, ready for something. I ask him in my best Italian but he stops me at my second word with a sharp No! OK then. I consult the map and get my bearings. Yes, there’s the information desk.
A young Napoletana greets me with a brief smile. I ask her for an Arte Card, the all–access pass to Napoli and Pompeii. She points out there are five different cards to choose from and would I like this one as the one I’m after is sold out. I can see her patience wear thin as I weigh my options. I’m just another damn tourist. Her mind’s elsewhere. Boyfriend? I choose the card for buses and museums. I’ll only discover later that I could have saved money with a different one. Oh, well. I buy the card and a map of Naples with a grazie. I’m ready.
Heading to the metro I get my first dose of Napoli confusion. The signs for my destination are on two platforms. Which one? This is so Italian. I head down to a platform and see the trains pulling in. They don’t look like metro trains to me. They look like the train I just took from Rome. Big, dirty, noisy. Definitely un–metro like. I look at the signs and then again at my metro map. This has to be the most confusing metro I’ve ever seen. It’s spaghetti.
I ask a traveler for help.
“Scusi…Montesanto?” I say, pointing.
He points in the same direction and I feel the dissipation of panic. I’m on the right platform.
The ride is not that long, but the walk at the other end is. I’m making for I Fiori di Napoli, the Flowers of Naples. I could not find a CouchSurfing host for my stay here, so I used Plan B, or in this case, Plan AirBnB.
The sun is starting it’s afternoon descent, still high enough to make it a hot day. People are everywhere. According to Google Maps, it’s down here and turn right. Right is a packed street market, the Pignasecca, recommended by my Neapolitan friend Giangi in Rome. The smell of fish is all-pervading. I trundle my bag down the stony street, avoiding the throng as much as possible. It’s a long hike and fortunately it’s all downhill. I finally spill out onto Via Toledo and hang a right. This is a much more metropolitan street with sidewalks and shops – and more people.
Napoli is a place of poverty and population – at least that’s how it seems. Everyone is making the best of their economic plight, dressed as Italians do and strutting with attitude. Then there’s the elegant, walking amongst the crowd in their finery, unshaken by their context. Given that this feels like a third–world city, it’s quite a remarkable statement to feel this pride of being Neopolitan.
Still, the place is packed. I’m reminded of India, but with style and cleavage.
I turn right and go uphill. A scooter rushes by me with an inch to spare. I go further up, I go back down, I turn left I’m really getting lost here. I take another look at Google Maps and see there are three Fiori di Napoli, when there should only be one. After trying to navigate Venice, this is showing me again that Google Maps – forget about Apple Maps! – is not trustworthy. Best thing is an actual paper map – or asking directions from a local.
I pull up the directions from the AirBnB email. Although they are fairly precise, I’m still getting lost. I stop on the sidewalk in the general vicinity of where I think I’m supposed to be. A man steps out of a doorway and looks at me with meek eyes and a subdued demeanor. He gestures back inside.
“I Fiori di Napoli?” he offers.
I feel the release of tension from my body and smile.
As I approach the door, I notice a tiny sign hidden away above a row of bells – I Fiori di Napoli. Really?
I step over the raised threshhold and enter a courtyard of storied arches rising above me, each overflowing with greenery. The open roof sheds light down into the space. Up I go. One floor, two floors, three floors.
Ten floors later, I buzz the door and Manuela greets me with a bright smile.
She shows me to my room and I drop my bags. Thank God I’m here.
After a change, I find her in the hallway and get the guided tour. Kitchen, dining room, bathroom, roof. Roof? We go up and the beautiful late afternoon sun casts it’s golden glow over Naples. The twin peaks of Mt. Vesuvius, or Vesuvio in Italian, dominate the skyline like a pair of explosive breasts waiting to gush forth molten lava. These mammaries of magma hold an ever present reminder of the fate of neighboring Pompeii.
The roof is decorated with plants, some loungers and a table and chairs for outdoor dining. Looks the perfect spot were it not for the cigarette smoke drifting towards me. It appears that smoking is a cultural imperative in Europe. It gets you outside in the fresh air so you can pollute it. It makes you look cool while you kill yourself, slowly. Plus, it enables you to pacify your emotions by sucking the teat of the filter. Oh, and you’re a drug addict. IMHO [In My Humble/Honest Opinion, ed.].
Manuela and I go back down into the flat and I ask her about Napoli and the surrounds. She tells me that Napoli used to be a kingdom, a very wealthy kingdom that you can still see today. It was the main trading port of the Mediterranean and along with Paris and St. Petersburg formed a triangle of the wealthiest and most important cities in Europe. Wow! Napoli is in the district of Campania, famous for it’s beautiful coastline and seafood, amongst other things. It’s the Riviera Napoletana.
I ask her, “I’ve heard things about Naples. Are there streets I shouldn’t go?”
“Poor little boy,” she replies with a wry smile softening the sarcasm.
OK, Manuela. I get it!!! I will make sure to adopt maximum attitude!
She tells me about a popular trattoria nearby, Nennella. Yes! The very same one that Giangi recommended!
I thank her and take off. It’s time to explore!
Light on the Piazza
Descending ten flights of stairs with just a set of keys and no luggage, I’m liberated. Out on the street, scooters rush by me again. But I feel like I live here now, if only for a few days. The delusion gives me a confident stride that takes me past the enticing aroma of coffee shops – Caffè Rosati and Caffè Gamerinus beckon me inside but I continue towards the harbor. Via Toledo spills out at the Piazza del Plebiscito, the People’s Square. It’s a huge space, now empty, and perfect for a concert. Some young girls giggle loudly. About boys, most likely.
The sun casts its golden glow over the piazza as I make my way to water. Red brick hues are aflame as boats glisten on dark blue. And above it all the magmammaries of Vesuvio curve the skyline with ominous grace. Warm evenings such as this are a joy, a haven for my system. I breathe deeply, slowly and feel myself let go inside, the sea breeze gently caressing my skin. I’m having a moment.
And really, life here has been a string of moments, magical moments that just keep happening over and over. Once again, I feel blessed. Thank you!
I head back across the piazza as the sun silhouettes the angular shapes of Castel Sant’Elmo atop Vomero Hill, my destination for tomorrow.
But now it’s time for food and I know where I’m headed.
My Brush with the Mafia
As twilight begins and lights come on, walking up the tiny streets of Quartieri Spagnoli, the Spanish Quarter, things start to come alive again. Flags hang between the buildings. Maybe it’s a special day today. More scooters scoot by.
I pass a street overflowing with trash and remember this is Naples, the Third World of Italy. The mafia rule the utilities and clearly they’re not motivated to clean up. Either payments are late or they just don’t care. Knowing a little of the Italian way, I’d go for a combination of both.
Trattoria da Nennella started in someone’s home – I’m assuming casa Nennella – and has now grown onto the street. The police don’t seem to mind this infraction of a thoroughfare. An awning covers the tables and there’s just enough room between the rope and the neighboring building for pedestrians to squeeze by, but most definitely not a car. Not even a Cinquecento.
A motorcyle revs up, awkwardly navigating the tiny passage full of people, swimming upstream.
I get pointed to a table by a very large man in a white t-shirt who smiles briefly. He hands me a menu on photocopied paper with today’s dishes handwritten on it. I decide on some fish and place my order. The very large man shouts my order into the kitchen with a very loud voice. He throws a basket of bread in front of me while shouting more Italian. This is fun.
Another very large man walks through the tables and ends up sitting next to me. His smile spends more time on his face than the waiter’s. We start up a conversation – my stumbling Italian and his broken English. He asks me about women (of course he does) and I tell him I just met a wonderful lady in Denmark. He grimaces.
“North Europe women! They are so hard! They take-a your balls and not give them back!”
I manage a concerned look and contemplate the possibility of his statement.
“South Italian women… Ahhhh! Napoletana and Siciliana women are soooo sweet! They will love you!”
I manage another concerned look and contemplate the possibility of his new statement.
I ask his line of work.
“Avocado,” he tells me.
What? Is he a grocer? A farmer? He looks way too clean for that.
“Avocado?” I ask.
“What exactly is that?”
“I’m a creeminal justice lawyer. Un Avvocato.”
Ah! I look at him for a second longer than usual and it strikes me that this man does not represent the innocent.
He tells me he’s from Messina, the most beautiful city in Sicilia, I’m assured. Sicily. Of course.
We get through the meal with our conversation and it’s time to pay. But at that moment, something goes down at the entrance. Two men show up and command the register. One has a giant wad of Euros. People who are leaving are paying him but no money goes into the till.
As we approach the newcomers, the Avocado asks for my money.
After a moment’s hesitation I decide there is no option but to hand it over. He speaks to the man in loud Italian and they exchange money, counting each note.
Stepping out into the street, he looks at me and confirms my instinct. He asks if I want to take a walk and get some gelato.
I start to get a little worried. I’m in Naples in the dark with a very large criminal lawyer who just made a nefarious transaction with my money. I say no thanks, but he presses on and asks for my mobile number. I politely decline, saying I have to make a call to my North Europe Hardlady. He smiles in understanding, but I can’t help but feel he could snap me like a twig if he so desired.
I briefly contemplate possible outcomes of our shared gelato and cell numbers and arrive at sodomy, mutilation and concrete.
He extends a hand and we shake. This is a firm handshake. So firm, the twig option is getting closer. But he lets go and waves as he walk away.
I continue on and turn to see another street overflowing with trash. Viva Napoli!
Excerpt from the soon-to-be-published ‘Soul Traveler: Adventures in La Dolce Vita’ by Navyo
Read more excerpts published in Osho News
Navyo grew up to 6 foot 5 in England, studied music in London before traveling to Pune to meet Osho in 1979. He has been the co-ordinator of the music department in Pune Two for several years and has participated in a number of CDs of Music from the World of Osho. After a decade or so in California, he now travels the world housesitting in wonderful locations, working on creative projects. facebook.com/navyoericsen – conscioushousesitting.com