Friday, May 10, 2013

I died and went to Naples

Dear Readers,

Naples is a whore with a heart of gold.

Frowsy and magnificent, enchanting and appalling, exuberant and guarded, demanding of attention and cautious of careful scrutiny--it's impossible not to be seduced by this sybaritic siren and let her enfold you in her good-natured, knowing embrace. She may rob you, she may leave you spent and much the worse for wear, but you won't care--you'll only be thinking of how soon fate and smiling fortune will let you come back to her again.




This glorious, flamboyant city is the real deal: the deep, dark heart of Italy. Italia verace; Italy DOC. It's the Auntie Mame of Italian capitals; a bohemian rhapsody set in the most gorgeous bay on earth, watched over by a killer volcano as inscrutable as a reclining Buddha.








Like any woman of the world worth her salt, Naples is bursting with stories to tell: tales of passion, greed, calumny, corruption, love, politics. The whole bawdy history of the world is contained within her; no wonder the locals can't bear even the thought of living anywhere else.








Naples is a drug that no promise of rehab will ever entice you into eschewing. You can lose yourself in its exotic vapors and croak here spectacularly--but reluctantly, unsatiated--and spend Eternity plumbing its depths, never reaching the bottom.




The food alone is worth any effort to get here. It just may be the best place to eat in Italy these days: genuine and affordable, true to its roots, honest.


Sausage and friarelli pizza at Starita

If Naples is a whore, then Florence is the Homecoming Queen. Rather a bit too smug in her overwhelming popularity, this Renaissance city--art treasures aside--is in danger of descending into mediocrity and a sad, market-driven genericness. Like a beautiful woman so sure of her charms that she neglects to be kind, Florence lacks the soul--and that refreshing, exhilarating dose of genuineness--that Naples possesses in abundance.






Who wants a Heaven peopled by angels of perfection and symmetry? A clean, sterile, quiet mansion of soft footfalls and hushed voices where there are no more bawdy tales to hear but only pious contemplation? Give me littered streets full of noise and life, catcalls and cacophonous voices raised in joy and blasphemy. Give me beauty and ugliness jostling one another in a crowded metro, and give me human folly in all its splendid madness.

Give me Naples. And do with the rest what you will.



Forgive the veritable Vesuvius of exuberant hyperbole;
it was unavoidable,

Campobello




Sophia Loren's got nothin' on my daughter

My son the aspiring pizzaiuolo gives Napoli
the big A-OK


36 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:26 PM

    I avoided Naples for a long time based on unfortunate experiences of friends, Italian and American alike. I had a chance to visit a couple of summers ago and really enjoyed it more than I assumed. It's beautiful, you described it better than I could. I also tend to agree about Firenze descending into mediocrity for a variety of reasons. However, no place is perfect, and I assume one could find quite a lot of faults with bella Napoli if one had to live there. That said, standing atop Vesuvio was one of the highlights of my life so far and would recommend it to anyone visiting!

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    1. You're so right--no place is perfect. But Naples feels so "real" and untouched by a lot of the forces that have been at work in uber-touristy centers like Florence, Venice and Rome. In many ways, I thought it was like going back in time and seeing Italy as it largely was perhaps 20-30 years ago. Standing atop Vesuvius must have been incredible--how wonderful you got a chance to do that.

      But I know I could never live there, at least not full time!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting :-)

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    2. Campobello,
      Thank for writing about this city... reluctantly MY city. I have lived here 15 years but I am an american from Idaho. Sometimes I Exuberantly hate this place sometimes I love her. I need to be reminded of her beauty because I am often only seeing the ugly. The people here, Napalotani, are often brash, selfish and lack civility. It challenges my love for this city daily. thank you for wwriting about her beauty and uniqueness. I am grateful and so is my Napoli born husband Peppe... the love of my life.

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    3. Wendy, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. I completely understand the love-hate thing--I often felt that way in Florence. Maybe it's just part of living in Italy as an expat; there are good days and bad, pros and cons. Depending on the day, the cons may outweigh the pros at times :-)

      My main observation was that Naples seems so much more genuine and authentic when compared to places like Florence, whose overwhelming touristy-ness has sandblasted a lot of that genuine character away. It was refreshing to be in a place that felt so "real", so much like what Italy is all about, for good or ill.

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  2. Anonymous10:02 PM

    I completely agree about the 'feel' of the city. I usually like visiting places, even semi-touristy (say, Verona, Perugia or Orvieto, though much quieter and less robust!) for the same reason, too. Unfortunately Florence is heading the way of Venice, at least IMO, pushing locals and normal residents out and spiking rent and costs to cater to the tourist community.

    I'm drooling over the sausage and friarelli pizza in the photo, even if I just had dinner.
    Just curious, was Napoli part of a blitz-tour of Italy seeing as you are leaving in the near future?
    ciao ciao

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    1. Pizza in Naples is crazy-good!

      We were there for U.S. immigration purposes, and turned it into a mini-vacation :-)

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    2. I lived in Napoli (well, 20 minutes north in Montirecello) for two years. Yes, Napoli is dirty, over crowded, smelly and everything else bad you've heard about it. Right up until you leave Garabaldi station and actually explore the city. It's one of the most wonderful, beautiful cities you can imagine. Nothing is what it seems, and you have to look to find all the wonderful things. I can not wait to go back!

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    3. I love how you put it, Sam: "nothing is what it seems". So true, and that's part of the magic :-) Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Anonymous9:40 AM

    I've lived in Naples for a few years and while there are a few things that will drive you a little crazy, I absolutely love it here. The people are fantastic and the food is some of the best I've had in Italy. You really have to try if you want bad pizza - it's just not tolerated. Many of the tourists view it as sort of an obligatory visit on the way to Amalfi or Capri, but I still love to go explore downtown. Come visit again!

    Butch

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    1. Thank you, Butch. I will definitely be back. Funny, but my future trips to Italy may not even include Florence--a city I lived in for 12 years--I'd rather go to Naples and other parts of the boot that are more genuine and less smug. Florence has become nearly intolerable--which is a shame because I remember how it was years ago, even before I called it home: it was so much more charming.

      Oh God, you HAD to go and mention pizza.... ;-)

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  4. Anonymous9:46 AM

    I am Neapolitan and heartfelt thanks ! (Anna)

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    1. Ciao Anna!

      So glad you enjoyed :-) Thank you and grazie a Napoli!

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  5. I live here now, and love your description. Mind if I link to your post in my blog?

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    1. Hi Amy,

      Thank you! You may certainly link to my blog--I would be honored :-) I look forward to reading your take on being a Naples resident.

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  6. Anonymous3:12 PM

    In your excellent text, you've said everything I think and feel about Naples, myself. I am travel writer, who congratulates you for your warm, intelligent and truthful description on Naples :)

    Ivana

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    1. Thank you so much, Ivana. I'm sure writing about Naples gives you endless material--lucky you :-)

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  7. What a great post! I had the good fortune to live in Naples from 1986 to 1988 (stationed there in the U.S. Navy). I was just arguing with a friend last night about how much I loved Naples. And yes, it is bella e brutta, but that's part of her charm. You captured the essence beautifully and I forwarded your post to my friend.

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    1. Thank you Gena! I bet your time in Naples in those years was so interesting. I would love to spend an extended time there.

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  8. Love your pics of Naples! We went last summer and I thought I would like it - had no idea I would love it! So wild and chaotic and very interesting. And the pizza...the pizza...

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    1. Thank you--but Naples is just so photogenic, I hardly did her justice :-)

      Yes, all the food I had in there was just so amazing. It's a culinary paradise.

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  9. Having lived in Napoli/Pozzuoli for four years I must say this is spot on. Those that do not care for it always end up longing after departure. It has such an un-homogenized feel that so many of the other Western European cities have experienced in their slow turn to killing off mom and pop's and embracing all the nuances which exist everywhere else in the world.

    Like being a Gerber or Kennedy in the 50's, Napoli lets you see a true part of why South (sud) Italia unified and brought strength in the peninsula for thousands of years. Its brilliance in the 21st century rests in the fact that not a lot of books, manuscripts, or movies are telling a whole population how amazing it really is...because this is the sad reality of how people find adventure now days...only when something else points out the essential fact that something is truly special.

    Tourism sells what 'was'...no longer what actually 'is'. The dream of Hawaii which is sold to consumers is that of 40 years ago...same with London, Roma, Paris and so many others (still...make the trip as they are wonderful stops)

    So let the others say what they will....someday another Woody Allen will make a move about an expat in Napoli set in the early parts of the 21st century...and you can say you were there.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Bobby. So true--Naples is unhomogenized, and that's what appealed to me so much. As you pointed out, other well-known (and well-worn) tourist destinations are certainly worthwhile, but for a genuine experience few places would beat Napoli.

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  10. Anonymous5:07 PM

    I lived in Naples for 6 years in the '70's and '80's. She will break your heart like no other. But you will never forget her. And every time you see her again...it will be like the first time and you will never want to leave her.

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    1. How cool you lived there for so long, and back in the 70s and 80s. Bet you have some great stories to tell :-)

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  11. Anonymous2:27 AM

    A friend posted your blog on FB. She and I lived in Naples for almost three years. Great big, dirty, crowded, wonderful city. I've written a series of short stories about our time there. My second home.

    p.s.
    We spent many weekends drunk in Rome as well

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    1. Have you published your stories? Naples certainly seems like the ideal backdrop for drama :-)

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    2. Anonymous4:36 PM

      Drama and so much comedy. I have not published. A friend, who also lived in Naples with me, asked me to write almost a year ago. I have about 13 stories, 40,000 words total. We were in the Navy and had the most amazing time in Italy. I've never written before outside of homework, but this was more fun than I thought. We did a lot of growing up over there. No one has read them except a few close friends who were there with me. I'm looking for the next step as far as publishing. I'd appreciate any tips you may have.

      Justin

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    3. It sounds like Naples was your muse, truly :-)

      I don't have any tips about getting published, sorry to say, other than don't give up!

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  12. Anonymous8:59 AM

    Elizabeth,


    You hit the nail on the head with this story. I feel that Napoli gets a bad name because of ignorance and unwillingness for those to really immerse themselves in the Culture. I can tell you from experience (World traveler) that Napoli has more character then any place I have been to. In fact I have been here for a total of 10 years and when ever I go up north I can’t wait to get back to Bella Napoli. Tourism and a false Italy is what I see north of Napoli. If you want to see the TRUE beauty of Italia you need to come to the city with a heart of gold and unmatched character! BELLA NAPOLI!! Thanks for the article.

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    1. I completely agree about Naples having an abundance of character. It really made going back to Florence difficult, like a bitter pill to swallow after guzzling so much sweet ambrosia.

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  13. I live in Naples courtesy of the US Navy. The people are the most wonderful part of this area. Neapolitan cuisine notwithstanding, the incredible history of the city (its artifacts, underground discoveries and delightful surprises around every corner) and its proud residents are the reason we love it so much. We enjoy visiting the famous cities like Rome, Florence and Venice, but they are crowded and expensive compared to Naples. Thanks for the endorsement, Elizabeth!

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    1. Hi Liz,

      Lucky you to be stationed in such a wonderful, fascinating place! You're so right about all the wonderful sights Naples has to offer, as well as offering so much more bang for your buck than other northern Italian cities.

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  14. "Italy DOC." Nailed it. Nice.

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  15. Elizabeth..you' re amazing!!! You've described my town better than many italian people did! I'm so happy to hear that you've enjoyed napoli! I always recomand to visit Naples when I 've a tour somewhere else (I'm a tour guide) At the beginning they're a little bit wary but than...they end up to be so impressed from the town that every time they don't want leave anymore! :D

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    1. Ciao Fabio,

      No, I'm not amazing...Napoli is amazing :-) But I agree that it's so hard to leave her once you've gotten to know her--I know I didn't want to! As a napolitano you have so much to be proud of.

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