Vigilance in Napoli
Things are moving quickly now. Naples has been and gone, and I am writing this in Pisa. I have just checked into the most perfect Italian pensione – four-poster bed, white damask coverlet, shutters on the windows… I think when I wash my hair in the morning I will sit on the window sill while I wait for it to dry and pretend I am Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room with a View.
Backtrack a moment however. Ah, Naples! What a crazy place that is! It is beautiful, with many grand buildings kind of layered upon each other – a kind of grandeur lessened not by fading but by grime. There definitely seems to be a bit of an issue with rubbish in Naples. There are piles of it everywhere, in every street. Including a particularly impressive pile on the street in front of the hotel we stayed in.
Naples challenged my long-held impression of fun-loving, playful, joyous Italians who are great company and always ready for an exchange of some kind. At first glance the Neapolitans seem quite surly. Hard eyes, staring faces. SB commented quite early on that we were attracting even more attention here than we anywhere else., people watching us for long periods of time, for no apparent reason(ie. we weren’t doing anything in particular).
(This ‘staring’ observation is getting to be a bit of a theme, isn’t it? I hope I don’t sound like I think people are looking at me all the time… but it certainly seems like they are. Maybe it is because of my gorgeous Elkha coat, these days now covered in its own layer of grime, despite a visit to the dry cleaners before I left Paris).
Three days is a totally unreasonable amount of time to build some kind of description of a population, but I did so anyway… I loved the kind of defiant, don’t-care, determinedly individual and uncompromising energy of the people and the way they interacted with each other. There was a kind of arrogance towards visitors that surprised me. Prices that were so obviously inflated. Sandwiches displayed that contained a reasonable spread of salad and cheese, but when opened proved to only contain a modicum of one and none of the other. (They had been selected from the back of the display case by the salesman – perhaps only the ones at the front have the full fillings, and the others at the back have been made more skimpily… who knows? Strange anyway, it seemed to us, not to take more pride in what you are offering to people).
Constant vigilance! we declared, jokingly. But it was interesting to realise, as I sat on the train to Pisa today, that on every day we were in Naples, I challenged someone on something, or questioned a bill. It gave my Italian skills an excellent boost!
Yesterday we spent the day at Pompeii. It rained… but I am used to that now, after my Parisian drenchings. What a place that it! Of course lots of it was closed (not sure why… after a while we began to wonder if the main office knew how much had not been opened! The burly guys who seemed in charge of unlocking gates in the site seemed more interested in gathering together undercover to talk about the local football team, than unlocking doors. This is the cynic in me talking.)
It was interesting to see and compare with the Roman ruins I saw in the Middle East. In the Middle East we saw temples, amphitheatres, citadels… but Pompeii shows us everyday life. It looked a fine life, too.
I remember years ago, when I was small and the Pompeii exhibition came to Melbourne, seeing a picture of one of the plaster casts of people killed in the eruption of Vesuvius, a young girl, who had been running away but was cowering on the ground when the lava fell on her. It gave me terrible nightmares, and for months and months I harboured a deep fear of a volcano erupting and killing me. Eventually I confided in my father and I can remember him explaining to me about areas where volcanos tend to erupt (Melbourne isn’t one of them), and how before Vesuvius erupted there had been warnings, and how many people had actually managed to escape. I refused to be comforted at first, just thinking how it still might happen, so then I remember him pointing out that it was about as likely as a car driving in through the front window of the house and killing me. Less likely than that, even. So eventually I was able to let it go.
I have to say I liked Naples a lot. It has a mighty spirit. It seems like a difficult place to penetrate. It is in the shadow of Vevius. There are fine sweeping views across the bay. We didn’t get to Amalfi Coast, running out of time after the extra day in Lecce. But also we felt like we had seen enough amazing coastlines in winter after Croatia and Montenegro. There doesn’t tend to be much to do in such places when you can’t just laze around in the sun, so I figure I will save Amalfi for another visit, another year, in a warmer season, when I can share the driving with someone and swim in the sea without freezing.
SB leaves tomorrow. For the first time in this trip I will be on my own. Oddly for an independent soul like me, I am not looking forward to it. I think I am almost ready to come home now. I feel like I have been away ages.
Oh! Small drama today. Leaving the Hotel Zara in Naples I somehow managed to pull a muscle in my calf. I am hobbling around on it, looking a bit pathetic and putting all sorts of strain on my other leg. Yep. Must be almost time to go home, or to stop moving about for a while.
Think I will stay a couple of nights here in Pisa. It is pretty. Feels very chilled. Then make my way to Rome in time for my flight out on Saturday.