Tales of a wandering lesbian

Angels and pizzas

“Napoli e bella.”  We’d heard it pretty much every time we mentioned to anyone that we’d be in the south of Italy.  At least from the folks in Italy.  One of my good friends had spent time there, and she was also a big fan, but other than that, I’d heard that Naples was dirty, dangerous, and really nothing great.  Still, “Napoli e bella,” echoed in our ears.

“I think we should do Naples.”  The Ant and I were planning our last week in the south.  “I mean, our family is from there.”

“Yeah,” she agreed.  “If grandpa was here, he could tell us all about it.”

On our trip to the north, we’d been hesitant to tell people where our family was from.  Naples has a reputation, and Campo Basso, where my great grandmother was from, doesn’t seem to be much better.  The usual response we would get was a, “mmmmm” and a changed subject.  But here, far south of Naples, it seemed to be the crown jewel, a beautiful metropolis.

Our day started as it usually did, with a cappu, a pastry, and a ride on a bus.

A pretty darn crowded bus.

Then a ride on a train.  The a ride on a subway car.  One that went from empty to packed in approximately 20 seconds.

If Rome is the best of everything, Naples is the most of everything.  It’s intense, like bone marrow cooked down to its absolute essence, earthy, pushy.

We were only spending one day in Naples, so we wanted to hit the highlights.  Museum and pizza were high on the list.  When we emerged from the subway, we were hot and disoriented.  We’d watched a grandmother struggle aboard the car and, practically collapse into a seat that was quickly vacated by a hoard of giggling high-school aged girls.  She fanned herself with a collapsible fan she pulled from her purse and muttered rapidly about the heat.  The girls sat on each other’s laps to make room for her and rummaged in bags to find water to offer her.

Now, above ground, we were rummaging for our own water bottles, and I was looking for the “big, red building” that Rick Steves had described as marking the National Archeological museum.  Now, Rick has done me very well in the north, but his apparent ignorance of/loathing of the south was starting to annoy me.  (Yes, Frank you were right.)

As I looked up the street, up a hill, I saw at least 3 big, red buildings.

“Um, maybe it’s one of those,” I tried, gesturing feebly at them.

“Kristin!”  The Ant wasn’t amused.  And I wasn’t even joking.

I shrugged, and we headed up, sweating freely in the midday sun.

It turned out that the museum was a fourth big, red building.  Fortunately, it was closer than the others.  After trying to enter a metro entrance marked “Museo,” we finally found our way inside.  The museum is known to house many of the treasures that were stripped from Pompei when it was discovered.  The frescoes and mosaics were cut out and removed to become part of the royal collection.  I was most excited to see the mosaics and the “secret room,” a collection of erotic art commissioned by the wealthiest home-owners in Pompei.

Unfortunately, the mezzanine level, which houses both the mosaics, and the secret room was closed.  No erotic art for us.  Well, kind of.

We entered the galleries and began our appreciation of the art.

The Ant really had a deep understanding of the Farnese gallery.  I think it was the fine relation of the human form that captivated her.

I, on the other hand, identified with the “labrys-bearer,” and “fish-wrangler” as I like to call them.

Starting to get hungry, we ran through the collection of frescoes and tools.

And then checked out the sundial room, which, at noon every day, shows the date with a single shaft of light thrown onto the calendar on the floor.

Finally, we headed into the room of Greek sculpture.  From the first time I looked into the stone and bone eyes of the Greek statues in Athens, I’ve felt an affinity with these objects.  A near kinship.  When I look into the faces of Roman marble busts, I don’t see myself.  When I look into the eyes of the Greeks, I do.

Also, their asses.

And then we saw a really fascinating modern exhibit.  One with Medusa.

I once went for Halloween as Medusa.  You know what they don’t tell you in the US?  She’s Intersex.

No, really.  It’s part of the myth.  It just gets left out.  Fascinating.  I might have modified my costume a bit.

After Medusa, we were able to cross the museum off our list.  All that was left was pizza.  Pizza.  In Naples.  Rick had not been super helpful thus far, but he did have the names and locations of two famous pizza places listed in his Naples section.  I somehow convinced the Ant that it was necessary to eat at one of these two restaurants.  And also that I’d be able to navigate us through the streets of Naples to them.  Fortunately, they were across the street from each other.  And so we started walking.

There were a lot of people.  And a lot of shops.  And a lot of cars and scooters, and flags waving.

There was a lot of gum on the sidewalk.  There was a lot of graffiti, too.

“Dirty” is the way I heard it described.  In guidebooks, from other tourists, and from the people we met at lunch.

“She thinks it’s dirty.”  The couple next to us was visiting.  She from Madrid, he from Rome.

“I like it,” I said.  Not as though I was trying to be contrary.  Naples really had a feel to it.  Unsettled, seething – but interesting.

“Earthy.”  That’s the word I applied to the city.  Maybe the word I’d apply to myself.  Not sure.

“How do you eat so much.?  Magra.”

“He says you’re so skinny.”  The woman was translating the Italian to English.  Beautiful.  And he spoke to her in Spanish.

I smiled.  The Ant and I had just polished off two pizzas.  Two pizzas that turned out not to be ours.

In the bustle of the upstairs pizza parlor, the din that rose from the family-style tables crammed together, someone had misunderstood.  When they set the two pizzas in front of us, I wondered.  Then I pretended that they were two different types – our types:  margherita and 7 cheese.  I even swapped with the Ant.  Then we traded pieces, willing our taste buds to experience the 7 different cheeses.  Yes, we were that hungry.

As I gobbled, I thought about the other people who might be equally hungry, waiting for pizzas that wouldn’t come.  There were people inquiring about pizzas everywhere.  This seemed a common issue.  And then the third pizza arrived.

This was what a 7 cheese pizza was supposed to look like.  Ahem.

The waiter looked at our neighbors who told him we’d already eaten.  He shrugged and smiled and left us the pizza.

Our new friends looked at us.  The people on our other side stared.

“I’ll share!”  I declared.  They all waved their arms, distancing themselves from the fugitive pizza.

When we left the restaurant, it was with a pizza box under my arm.  There was no way I was going to let that thing go to waste.

“You’re going to carry that through Naples and on the train back to Salerno?”

“Yes, but if I find someone to give it to, I’ll do that,” I told the Ant.  She agreed.  In Portland there would be a dozen street kids asking for it the second I left.  But here, I ran into nobody who was even asking for money.  I found this odd in a city as earthy as Naples.

Walking back toward the museum and the metro stop, we ran into our friends Andrea and Irene from the restaurant.  We chatted about the city, and exchanged contact information.  Andrea told us not to show our cameras or money in the street.  Then we continued on, taking in the glory of the city.

The Ant didn’t so much share my love of Naples.

The day was just getting hotter.  Thinking of the crammed train ride ahead of us, we bought a bottle of water, found a park bench, and hydrated.  Then I grew a little restless.

“It’s time to move,” I said to the Ant.  It just felt like we’d been on that park bench a little too long.

When we stood up, a scruffy, bearded man put out his hand and asked for money.

“Una pizza buona?”  I asked, handing the box to him.

His face lit up.  “Si.  Si!  Buona.”

“Ciao,” I said and we walked along toward the station, past several big, red buildings.

That night I had an email from our new friend.

“Kristin, you didn’t eat too much pizza?” came the Italian question.

“No, don’t worry.  I gave it to a man on the street.”

“Well, then he surely saw an angel today.”  I loved that he thought of a woman with pizza as an angel.

Do you see why I love Naples?   A place where graffiti artists compete for your attention with fascist architecture, and angels walk the streets doling out pizza.  This is my kind of earthy.  Napoli e bella.

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1 comment

1 Deed { 07.15.10 at 7:00 pm }

I want to know how that 7 cheese pizza tasted. I’l bet that street guy enjoyed your treat.

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