Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Few Hours in Naples...

Last Saturday, via car, then Metro, then fast train, we headed to Naples with our son-in-law and our 2-year-old granddaughter (our daughter stayed home with a heavy cold, sore throat).  Neither Pater nor I tried to exercise any control over our itinerary, content to follow Jesse's instincts. He, in turn, was guided by some foodie research our daughter had done and the reassurance of Google Maps. Not to mention a commitment to getting us all back to the train station by 5.

The photo above is taken perhaps ten minutes away from the train station (which we moved through quite comfortably, by the way, none of the criminal horrors we'd been warned against, although I've no doubt pickpockets operate there, as in all train stations).  Paul was so struck by this scene of makeshift market stalls that stretch for blocks and blocks that he wanted me to take a photo. I suggested that might mark us too conspicuously as tourists, but handed him my iPhone -- that's me in black backpack, cuffed jeans, puffer jacket, walking away from the snap-happy man. If you knew him, you'd know how unlikely a description that is of the man, but he was really struck by this scene -- and yes, he was more discreet than I'm suggesting.

And as we gradually moved into the noisy, bustling, generally animated crowd, I got comfortable with my iPhone camera as well. The stalls sold a striking variety of goods in a diverse array of innovative display structures. Barrels, trays, tables, chairs, all pressed into service to show off yarn, cigarettes, fish, shellfish, vegetables, fruit, suitcases, jackets, socks, underwear, and very often with the vendor extolling the virtues of her product and cajoling passers-by into trying his wares...

Someone was quickly indifferent

But the three adults walked and gawked, walked and gawked...

All the gorgeous fruit displays we've seen at so many other markets in picturesque squares in France or Italy or Spain or Portugal...
but with a different edge. . .
Perhaps because there's no pretense here of Organic or Bio or Farmer-to-Consumer connection. Commerce is the point, and the margins are glimpsed here, both the urgency and the play of the market, how much the buying low and selling high matters, and yet how much flexibility there is in it. I don't know, I'm waxing speculative.  . . but the narrow alleys with their flaking plaster walls and the laundry drying rather disconsolately high above can't help but lend context...
Despite the surrounding poverty, though, there's vigour and humour and abundant activity, and even though we weren't there to buy anything, we were richly entertained. And looking at the fish, we couldn't help but wish for a kitchen. A grill, at least. . .

Our train had arrived at the Station, though, at just before noon, so our wanderings through the market streets (and I can't even begin to estimate how many blocks were lined, hundreds and hundreds of metres of gridwork, narrow streets clogged with stalls) did have a goal. My daughter's research insisted that we get ourselves to Masardona Pizzeria for the "best fried pizza" in naples.
There's seating inside, but with our Little One sure to wake up soon, we were content to enjoy our Pizze Fritte at one of the two stand-up tables outside -- they lent us the pizza cutter, which Pater's wielding above. Cutting the individual pizzas into four slices each gave us a chance to sample a few different fillings -- and note, these are fillings rather than toppings. I stayed outside with The Sleeper while the guys went in to order and watch the process, so if you have questions, I'll have to pass them along to the Mr., but I can tell you these are fragrant and delectable morsels. Oh my! Definitely have to go back. . .

And I must say, this is a great example of when travel research pays off. You would be hard-pressed to somehow discover this place by random, serendipitous walking. And even if you did somehow end up here, there's very little that would prompt you -- visually, at least -- to slow down. With a good nose, though, perhaps you could find your way here from the train station. . .
For a post that was intended to be fairly word-free, that was intended as a quick sharing of images, it's beginning to claim a few too many minutes of my day (I'm into Hour Two now, whoops!). So I will speed up and tell you that, Little Girl now wide awake, fed, and insisting on walking, we headed through the archway below, and spent most of the afternoon walking up a long narrow street which seemed to extend the market concept, with a growing focus on Christmas nativity scenes, fridge magnets shaped like chili peppers, reindeer-hairbands that lit up, etc., etc. Stuff we didn't want or need or imagine anyone else coveting enough to come out on a Saturday afternoon and turn into a social activity. . . But that's what was going on. Strolling and stopping for coffee or gelato or paper cones full of fried seafood, shuffling and bustling and making way occasionally for the motor scooter honking from behind. And always someone wanting to ask our Two-Year-Old something or just to wave at her or sometimes to ruffle her hair. She's become quite used to this, apparently, over her Italian infancy and toddlerhood, and seems to accept it quite good-naturedly.

And if there were tourists in the crowd, they were Italian tourists. I don't think we heard any English on these streets all afternoon, excepting our own.

Anyway, I'm going to stop chatting so much now, and I'll just let you look. I've taken no photos, I realise, of the crowded streets up the hill. It was impossible to get any perspective of those crowds from my height. But I've snapped some side alleys. . .
And some of the dilapidated beauty. . .
We passed shrines like these every block or so, obviously commemorating someone beloved or dedicated to a saint. . .

We popped into a church. . .
Saint Gesù Nuovo
I look at the photos I took over those six hours in Naples, and it's clear how idiosyncratic my vision is. . .
But somehow, the once-upon-a-time grandeur of this and so many other Neapolitan buildings, juxtaposed with a certain, I don't know, resilience or practicality or simply the quotidian reality of getting around on a scooter, getting the clothes dried on a line, getting rid of a worn-out armchair whose upholstery happens to perfectly match the colour of the building it's leaned up against. . . This moved me.
And I haven't even told you yet about the coffee. . . Oh, the coffee...
So. There you go, a lopsided idiosyncratic, clearly admiring view of a city that I know I've only glimpsed but which intrigues, which makes me want to visit again (if only for a pizza at the place that had at least a hundred people waiting in the line-up. . . ). I have so much more I could say, more images to unroll from my mental camera, but this will have to do for now. Ask me questions. Compare experiences. Share your impressions of Naples. I'll check your comments later. For now, I'm off to yoga class, hoping my cold has receded enough for me to rock a sun salutation or two. . . (more honestly, I'm just hoping I can make it through those long minutes of meditation in an eventually excruciating non-Lotus pose -- I can never manage Lotus, but I try to push my ego out of the way and make do with crossed calves and ankles. . . )
Happy Wednesday!


  1. I've never been to Naples but this looks brilliant! Markets in Italy always make me feel rather overwhelmed - such abundance. No wonder the cooking is so good. And you're right about the coffee. It's the best. What a lovely time you must have had.

    1. It's full of colour, and very animated, but I'm not sure I've conveyed the grit and poverty. . .

  2. You have brought back memories . Naples was our first foreign trip , 45 years ago . It was just as shabby then ! but I'm partial to shabby . I was struck by the way life seemed to be lived outside in the street & that everyone communicated so loudly with each other , very different to home . I hope you'll go back - for Vesuvius , Pompei , Herculaneum & Capri , all very special
    Wendy in York

    1. Yes, very shabby (to which I'm partial as well, except when it signals lives spent in poverty). . . interesting that you mention the conversations on the street. 45 years later, I was fascinated by the same thing, especially among groups of man camped out on the sidewalks having very animated discussions, accompanied by gestures, mimicry, teasing, much guffawing. And yes, I hope to get back as well. I expect Pompei needs a few days, if only just to process solemnly afterward...

  3. My husband and I (been watching The Crown on Netflix) visited Naples a few years ago (a shore stop on a cruise). I loved the smells, colours and laundry. The museum is fascinating and we visited Pompeii. With your family living in Italy, I'm sure that you will return.

    1. I've The Crown to look forward to -- we're watching Un Village Français, not sure we'll be able to access it at home, but not able to tolerate more than an episode, at most two, per night. . . Smells, colours, laundry, yes!

  4. Reminds me so much of San Francisco's Chinatown! Except, of course, Europe;). Gorgeous. I can see how you'd have to stop all the time to take photos.

    1. Again, I suspect I've not captured the poverty in the photos, the rundown infrastructure. I see the comparison with Chinatown, but have to say there's much less hope in Naples from what I could tell in one afternoon...(and I'm such a pain with my photo-taking, I suspect ;-) The world is just too full!)

  5. I love your photos but also find them a bit distressing. They very much resemble the Naples that I remember from about 50 years ago. Those buildings and streets may appear so "typical" from the outside, but having read Ferrante, we know what it was (and still must be) like to live there. Being ruled by a combination of camorra and corrupt politicians, the city has hardly seen any progress in the last decades.
    Don't get me wrong, please! I don't mean to criticise neither your post nor your photos. It's just that putting together your images and what I know about the city's history and present situation makes me a bit sad.

    1. You needn't apologise -- I'm relieved that I've managed to convey some of the distress I felt. I really didn't want to linger on it too much, given that I only spent six hours there and I don't want to reinforce negative impressions of poverty and criminality and dirt. And there's so much colour and vigour and (decaying) beauty, so many expressive faces, so much warmth for our little girl that I didn't want to deny. But yes, it's shocking that infrastructure can be in such a state, that there's such a large gap between north and south of the country, that corruption and tax evasion and organised crime continue to cripple and strangle (particularly shocking are the health effects of organised crime's hold on waste disposal).

  6. It was short and sweet!
    Colourful and crowded!
    Could you find any connections to Ferrante's world?

    1. I'm still thinking about that, Dottoressa. The poverty, certainly, but Lenù's and Lila's world, at least, seems so much more hermetic than those bustling streets full of goods (however poor many of those goods were) -- and the cathedral we went into was so much grander than anything the girls seem to have seen. . .

  7. I lived in Naples for five years, 2008-20013. You are right about the struggles the majority of Neapolitans face in their daily lives and the pervasive corruption. But the vitality of the people there and the gorgeousness of the heritage in architecture, cuisine, art, traditions makes it a beautiful, invigorating place to live. Also, the dilapidatedness of the exteriors does not always accurately reflect the interiors of those buildings. Indeed, there are reasons that Italians may want to keep the outward appearance of their homes in contrast to their level of wealth. Another sign of corruption and the dysfunction of the state in Italy. In light of this mornings referendum results in Italy, I feel pessimistic about the possibility of reform and transparency in the future. It was fantastic to see Naples again. I think you captured the essence of street life in Napoli. If you get back, I recommend Starita di Materdei -- my favorite pizzeria. I love the pistachio pesto and mortadella pie. Bella Napoli!

  8. I'm so glad you commented, Erzulimojo. I tried to be careful about inferring too much on the basis of six hours in what is obviously a complex city, so it's gratifying to know that I've captured enough of its essence to stir some of your memories.
    Definitely taking note of your favourite pizzeria. We did try one other that was recommended but the lineup was huge. And yes, very discouraging news there on the political front as, from my perspective at least, in much of Europe at the moment....challenging times....


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...