Navyo’s visit to Amalfi, then back to Sorrento and Napoli. Goodbye to Italia!
Previous story where Navyo travels from Naples to Sorento and Positano: Pizza, Statues and New Friends
Amalfi: Men in Tights
With no change of underwear, the bus to Amalfi is another death-ride to paradise. But I don’t care. I’ve learned to trust these crazy Italians and the flow of chaos. This time there’s no hill to walk down. We’re dropped off right at the harbor. At first, I’m a bit underwhelmed, but as I explore I realize the history, the uniqueness of the place. It’s not as postcard as Positano, but it has the crumbling grace of Italian beauty that enraptures not just me but the entire world.
The town beckons me in, but it’s the sound that peaks my attention. Drums. And horns. By the time I get to the piazza, the musicians are lining the steps to the duomo. I walk up past them. Inside, it’s beautifully lit and full of atmosphere and very well dressed people. Not wanting to interrupt, I step back out.
The ceremony complete, all the well dressed people and the priest step outside. The horns and drums start up again and something’s about to happen. Down on the piazza, men in tights circle up with giant flags. In San Francisco, this would be Gay Pride. Here in Italy, it’s history. Their traditional costume representing the guilds of the time brings me back a few centuries. Up on the steps, the drums are being played by (mostly) women ― somewhat unusual historically. Throw in the horns and this is loud.
One guy steps out alone and throws first one, then two flags to rooftop level. No, four? This is getting serious. And he’s good, the crowd cheering with every catch. Soon the group are throwing all they’ve got and not one hits the ground. I’m impressed and so is everyone else.
Drums, horns, flags, tights ― it’s a spectacle kept alive since the Middle Ages. Even though I’m tempted to say Mel Brooks, I can’t believe what an awesome moment I walked in on. Wrapping up, crowd control let everyone mingle and I take a stroll up Via Lorenzo in search for food.
The ristoranti are pretty expensive here, but I find my spot and order not one, but two pizzas. I’m hungry. This is where things start to go awry as the girl behind the counter does something no Italian should ever do. She microwaves the fucking pizza! Did your mother not teach you anything about cooking? It’s hard to believe as I thought the industrial stainless steel oven was actually that and not just pretending to be one.
Slowly, unfortunately, I bite my soft, dead, chewy pizza ― hot, but dead ― because I’m starving, not because I’m in Italy, the home of the pizza and the best food in the world. I feel betrayed and want to cry.
Tolerating misgivings is part of being a visitor to Italy and, so I understand, being an Italian. The more I lower my expectations and go with the flow, the better things get. And then exquisite moments suddenly light up like beacons in this tumultuous romance of a country.
I stroll out on the pier and take in the panorama of Amalfi. Homes dot the hills and tell me there is more to this place than meets the eye. Boats leave whitewater wakes. Low sun casts it’s golden light and I feel once again that magical rush of being in Italy.
Stranded in Sorrento
The bus ride back to Sorrento is now a normal occurence and I’m not scared. On the contrary, I’m enjoying a brush with death in style. If I am to die now, the Neapolitan Riviera is the place! But I have a train to catch, so better wait.
Arriving at the station, I walk towards the entrance and am met by a janitor who informs me with a wave that the station is now closed. OK, then. I missed my train by two dead pizzas. What a new and exciting moment! I’m now stranded in Italy with just my iPhone, my wallet and my wits and no ride home.
I search the web for buses to Napoli and bingo! The very last bus stops right in front of the station in about two hours and gets into Napoli at 1am. This is definitely exciting.
I decide to stroll back into town. It’s getting dark and Sorrento is lighting up. Wandering around the tiny market streets is a sheer delight. Candlelit café tables and the fragrance of lemon blossom intoxicate this warm evening and I don’t want to leave. I feel like I am in a dream.
Heading back to the station, my stride has slowed to a saunter as I relax from a long day on the Riviera. This is quickly broken by a sudden adrenaline rush. There’s a fight going on in front of the station. Teenage testosterone is pumped to overload and a gang of boys are picking on a young black man who’s not giving up. It’s clear there’s an argument going on over something – a scooter? a girl? it’s not clear. Those of us bystanding move back and watch in fear. It’s palpable. The mass of volatile youth moves around the street from one side of the station to the other like an angry wave. Shouting. Ready to explode.
Two girls intervene with the gang leader, pleading. But it goes on and there’s no sign of police or security. The black teenager tries to ride off, a girl jumping pillion behind him. Boys trying to pull him off run after him. More scooters rev up. Shouts ensue. The fight is now on wheels.
My bystander friends and I release a collective outbreath. What happened to the magical, fragrant Sorrento? Italian machismo is what. Boys learning the skills of men in this violent patriarchal society that has bred Machiavelli, the Mafia and the momma’s boy.
Things cool down at the station and I sit on the one and only bench waiting for the bus. Slowly, more and more people show up to take this last chance for Napoli. Couples mostly, the occasional elderly gentleman, a fedora or two and a flock of young women who’s dresses are so tight they are more like tourniques. It’s all a pleasant change from the outburst of aggressione and I marvel at the spectrum of humanity I am experiencing in one day.
The bus finally rolls up and we all find our respective spots. I settle in for a 3 hour ride. Maybe longer.
Cut to Napoli. We stop on the outskirts and about ten Nigerians get on with folding tables and bags of wares they’ve been hawking on the street. The bus is now full and starting to smell of stale sweat. Not long now. Driving through the urban districts of Naples in the dark, I’m working on breathing easy and not expecting trouble. We stop and everyone gets out. This is not the stop I’m expecting, but I have to get out anway.
“Dov’è Piazza Garibaldi?”
The driver points and I head out into the dark of Naples at 1am. No saunter, no stroll, no relaxed breathing. I have a stride with a purpose. Get to a taxicab as fast as possible without getting killed.
I arrive at a group of parked white cabs, drivers smoking, chatting, staying awake for the next fare. That’s me. I wave and a driver opens his door. I get in.
“Via Francesco Girardi, per favore.”
€20 later, I’m happily climbing the ten flights to I Fiori di Napoli, exhausted and immensely satisfied. What a day.
Silence of the Yams
It’s my last day here. Manuela has been so kind and informative and I’m ready to explore some more. She runs I Fiori like a mother and I feel safe and cared for. Each room has a flower theme decorated with it’s associated color. I’m in the Dandelion Room. Mellow yellow.
But it’s the man whom I met when I arrived that interests me. He comes and goes so quietly like a ghost. Coming back from the bathroom, I find him in my room and see he’s making my bed. He apologizes and leaves quickly. I find him fascinating. So meek and quiet yet his presence pervades like a mystery figure appearing and disappearing. Can he walk through walls? I look out the window and see him folding laundry on the balcony below. I can’t quite figure him out. He’s potentially creepy yet friendly and helpful and has sad eyes.
Manuela must trust him with I Fiori, so I deduce he’s OK. But did he do something bad years ago? Did she take him in and give him a second chance? Is he a man with a past that’s buried deep and trying to be forgotten? Will he serve me some liver with fava beans and a glass of chianti? Maybe some sweet potatoes on the side?
After a quick breakfast of champions, I head out to the Egg Castle which sounds like something you’d find in Legoland. But in Italian, it instantly becomes a place you want to visit: Castel dell’Ovo.
It’s a short walk down to the harbor and the heat is on even at this early time of day. I use Google Maps to get around, but as in Venice it’s sending me in circles. WTF? Maybe the Mappe di Google app is especially designed to give the true experience of the country. It makes you to go the wrong way so you discover new places and are forced to ask directions in Italian.
Whatever. I ditch directions and stop for some refreshment.
Now this is when I light up. I step into a caffè with a long marble bar and order my favorite, granita al limone. The bartender is in a uniform which confirms that this is a well to do establishment. He makes it to perfection and I start to cool down. It’s at moments like these that I’m glad I get sent in the wrong direction.
Castel dell’Ovo looks impressive from the outside, but my eye is drawn to bikini-clad women laying on the rocks like geckos frying in the sun. Boys jump from the castle wall with loud yells into the water. The heat clearly dictates behavior around here.
Inside the castle I walk quickly from shade to shade with nothing really grabbing my attention. It lacks the view and the atmosphere of Castel Sant’Elmo and is much busier. I end up leaving sooner than later. Did I miss something? Probably.
Back on the street, I am confronted by a giant blot on the historic landscape that bears the unmistakeable likeness to a cruise ship. This thing is so massive it makes Napoli look small. It must be five city blocks long and dominates the harbor like an ocean-going tourist ghetto. Why? I ask, not expecting an answer.
I’ll tell you why. Money. Tourist Euros that Naples needs to survive. A floating city of out-of-towners with a few hours to kill and money to burn. Taking trophies back to their friends to show they’ve “been” to Naples. You’ve not been to Naples! You don’t have a fucking clue what it’s like to be here! Ditch the boat, people, and try CouchSurfing.
Rant over. Back in the Galleria Umberto, an almost copy of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milano, I browse for some lunch. There’s not much I want to go for here, but I find something anyway. I sit down and wait for a panino and am told in reasonable English that they have run out of tomatoes. What? No tomatoes? This is Italy, for God’s sake! Pranzo and no pomodori? I order an acqua minerale frizzante. The waiter drops it on my table but it’s naturale, not frizzante. I really have come to the wrong place.
I pay for the water and find retribution. Sfogliatelle. Giangi insisted I try these and now is the time. The glass display case of La Sfogliatella Maria is full and they are doing fast business. People snap up these things like there’s no tomorrow. I go for a rum baba and oh my God I’m going to have another one immediately. This is going to develop into a serious addiction and I need more than two. With no-one around to stop me, I have to exert some sense of control. I envision the consequences of four or five of these things in my stomach and decide I don’t want to mop up the floor of the Galleria. Besides, I can savor the memory and come back later.
High on sugar, I stroll down Via Toledo with a smile on my face. A man with eight dogs is causing a stir on the sidewalk. He’s buff and proud of his canine display and is surrounded by women. Of course he is. I get this side in Napoli and it’s people. Display is of prime importance in Italian society and here it’s got a unique mix of rags and riches, of a noble past and a battered present all awash with color and noise and life. Napoli is truly one of a kind and I’ve fallen in love with it.
I’m packed and ready to get on a plane. It’s been a sweet goodbye with Manuela and I hope to stay here again sometime, even if Hannibal does make dinner. I drag my bag down towards the ferry building for the airport bus.
On the way, two men and a woman are having a heated discussion in Italian. It’s not clear why, but car doors are open, arms are waving and they are pacing back and forth. It’s impossible to tell if it’s a romantic issue or a traffic incident. The two tend to be intertwined in Italy.
At the ferry, finding the stop for the Alibus is not an easy feat. I’m looking at Google Maps but there’s road works that mess things up. This looks like where I’m supposed to be. I think. I ask an older couple sitting on a bench. The woman backs away like I’m going to rob her. The man looks at me sternly. OK then. Do I look that mean?
I go and stand in the shade and wait. Across the street a line begins to form of people and suitcases. Hmmmm. Looks like I should be there. I quickly make my way over and see the sign, Alibus. Sure enough, along comes my ride to the airport.
The bus seats are hard, uncomfortable, dirty and broken. Dear Italy, please can you take care of this? I know it’s more important to hide billions in corruption accounts and line the pockets of politicians and Mafiosi. I know la moda is more important than an efficient infrastructure. I know that fresh pasta is more important than punctuality. But please, can you fix my seat?
Inside the airport, things change. It’s clean and there’s a decent lunch waiting for me. Satisfied and ready for travel, I check in and head for security. I’ve had an easy time of this so far in my ten months of flying around Europe, but I’ve made one fatal flaw today. I’ve packed my precious Davine’s Oil Non Oil in my carry on. And it’s 200ml of fluid. The pretty young security guard examines my bag through her X-ray screen and says to her pretty young colleague to open my bag. She asks me to take out my hair product and tells me I can’t take it on the plane. I inform her that it costs me €18 and would she like to buy it? She smiles briefly and stares at me. Of course not. I reluctantly give it to her and walk away.
The other side of security, we are made to walk through the duty free section. In front of me is presented an aisle of beauty products. Hair products. Davine’s Oil Non Oil. €25 for a bottle half the size of my illegal container. Now I’m fuming. The whole thing is a scam! This is nothing about terrorism or liquid explosives. This is commerce! They took my stuff and now try and sell it back to me at a profit!
I walk past all this bullshit trying not to cause a scene, although that would be completely accepted. At some point, I’ll laugh at this. The sheer absurdity of air travel security and the scams that have gone on since 9/11 in the name of global safety. How did we let this all happen?
Arriving at the gate, I see a sign: It Is Not Allowed To Touch Genitalia At Any Time.
Now I’m laughing.
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