Thursday, November 22, 2007

Naples - finding enjoyment in a REAL ghetto.

Naples really isn't a place that I would highly recommend anyone visit. However, I enjoyed myself there thoroughly. Upon arrival at night, we were accosted by a very pushy, sleazy "taxi driver" at the train station. We sought refuge in a cafe across the street. Inside a man in a blue suit with brass buttons and a matching blue sailor hat served us a beer and gave us directions to the hotel. "Piazza Mercato?" a smile I later recognized later to be "amused" came across his face.
I had an unusually heavy bag, blatantly American traveling companions, and it was night and we were tired and it was a bad neighborhood, so naturally we got lost. Around the corner we found the harbor, empty dirty streets, and a cross dressing hooker. "We need to keep moving, whatever we do. Just keep moving in a determined fashion."
Shortly thereafter I called the Albergo.
"Hi. I'm lost."
"Where are you ma'am?"
"I don't know. Oh,! okay, I'm by a church." Suddenly I realized what a ridiculous statement this was being in Italy. Then I became aware that I hadn't even acknowledged to the receptionist who I was. "Oh, by the way. I am checking in this evening. OH! oh. I am at the Pi....azza Mercato. Oh guys I think we're here!!!"
"Yes, ma'am. We are right in front of you." *click*
"The guy just hung up on me!"


We climb the 34 steep and narrow steps to the lobby of our questionably three-star hotel.

"There are only three of you. The reservation says four. Where is the fourth person?"
"Um, yeah, he had to work, so he isn't coming."
"But the reservation is for four people."

After an awkward sign-in process, we were then onto the fun stuff: food.

"Okay, now I will read a list. You tell me if you want it for breakfast."
"muesli or other grain cereal?"
Clearly Deb and I were holding out to see what all was on the list to pick the most satisfying or expensive item. I couldn't quite read the list ahead of the man, so when he looked at me impatiently I asked "Do we each pick one from the list, or can we have two?"
"No! You get whatever you want. If you want toast and grains, you can have both. You can have all!"
(he seemed surprised and frustrated that he had to start all over again, but Deb and I were suddenly enjoying ourselves.)
Ryan pipes in, "hey, can I get an American coffee?"
"Yes, for you I can make this."
"I love this guy" I whispered over to Deb. Deb nodded in acknowledgment. Our young Indian man receptionist was suddenly quite lovable in our eyes.

"Do you know any place where we can get something to eat?" I ask.
"Now?" (It was late, 10pm)
"Yes. Someplace....nearby." What I meant was "someplace safe" but I think he got what I was implying.
"You go upstairs. I will call my friend. What do you want to eat?"
"I guess pizza. We are in Naples," I said brilliantly. "Pizza is good here, right?"
"Yes, if you like pizza."
*man calls and speaks in Italian* Yes, they just got here. They want to eat. yes, now. Just pizza.
Not wanting to limit my choices I pipe in "Or, anything, really. Maybe some meats or pasta." Okay, now they say anything. yes. yes. okay. 5 minutes, okay.
"Okay, my friend will walk here and take you to the place."
Ordinarily I would flat out refuse. I mean, this is the shit they warn you about in travel guides, right? but I didn't hear anything suspicious said in Italian on the phone, so I only hesitated "Um, why don't you give directions? We can find it."
"No, it's near, but it is complicated. No. My friend walks here and takes you there."
oh fine then, I'm hungry.... "Okay." I succumb easily.

Like clockwork, 5 minutes later, along comes our handsome and totally shady looking young escort.
"Okay, we go to my restaurant."
I look at him and just kind of wide eyed stare..and laugh what the hell. if we die, we die, right?

Along the way, down a dark and impossibly dirty alley Platt tries to make conversation. "So are you from Naples?"
"No. But I live here now. I am Russian."
I glance over at Deb and say "we're gonna die."
Platt: "Oh yeah? Yeah. I'm Russian too. Well, my family is. That is, my ancestors were from Russia. They're Russian....." *silence* "And Poland too."

Miraculously we arrive alive at the BRIGHTLY lit restaurant. There is just one old man, a regular, and the family there. The regular stops watching his game show and stares at us, decides to leave. We are now left to be served by Russian Momma.
"Ha un menu?" I ask politely.
"No. I am menu" she says proudly.
"Okay guys, there's no menu so, tell me what you want and I'll order it for you." ("I am menu" was all she could say in English)
"You want the antipasto dish? It has grilled stuff, from the ocean and the forest" Momma suggests.
"no, thank you. Just pizza" I reply.
"No antipasto? It's delicious" she insists.
"No, no thank you." Clearly this is no Have It Your Way place.
Platt: "I want a pepperoni pizza." (in english, directly to the lady, of course)
"Solo pepperoni?"
"No! no. He does NOT want a pepperoni pizza.....Ryan, pepperoni means, like, green peppers. It will come with only green bell peppers on it."
"Well, I want a regular pepperoni pizza." he says.
"Okay, well, he wants salamino piccante" I order.
"Good catch," she winks at me. "But, No. He does not want that. No good." Russian Momma insists he get a white pizza with spinach and sausage. And, that is what Ryan gets.
After our awkward bargaining for our order, we eat in silence as the family watches. Russian Momma is QUITE pleased with herself for our "choices." The kids clearly want to get the hell out of there. The young ones start to put the chairs up onto the tables and Russian Momma shoos them away, giving big eyes, like have some respect for our guests. And, then she goes back to watching us eat.

After dinner we hole up into our room and fall asleep watching a horribly acted show in Italian.


Graffiti reads: "Fire to Rome"

The next day we walk past....... I can't even describe it, really. And, sadly, I only have Ryan's random picture that totally cuts out the best part.
Trash is littered everywhere. There were "street vendors" who literally dumped out trash cans and began to sell what they could from the can. We traversed through a dumping area where people swarmed like seagulls, picking up metal scraps and other items they hoped to sell. A person dismantling a broken TV. Stepped on a few broken glass pipes.

"There is also the problem of the Camorra (mofia), which profits extraordinarily in the endless crisis over trash, much as arms dealers thrive in war." from NY Times article on Naples and their trash.

There were drug deals. Card games. Disfigured beggars. Young trashy lovers on mopeds. And little old ladies lowering baskets on a rope from their balconies to have someone put delivered groceries in them.
We visit our bellboy-bartender in his blue suit at the cafe again. An old woman, obviously homeless and insane and badly in need of a good scrub with lye soap curses into the cafe. "I want that beer! Give me a goddamn beer!"
"Does she come here everyday?" I ask.
"Yes," the bartender replies matter-of-factly.
"I thought so."
Our favorite bartender finally gave her a beer to the annoyance of the younger partner bartender.

Then we caught the train and visited Pompeii for the day.

On our way home (to the hotel room) from Pompeii, we walked through the dump and stopped at a literal hole-in-the-wall pizza asporto (to-go) place. From which we got the best pizza, deep fried mashed potatoes and rice balls. From our balcony we ate and watched 16 year old boys and girls cause trouble in the alleys. We figured out who was the leader of the pack, the up for anything sidekick, the chubby girl, the skinny girl in love with #1, the older girls (smoking in a corner away from the group) who the #1 liked, the young chubby brother of the skinny girl, etc etc. They lit off fireworks for us, with the ashes falling at our sides still glowing. We watched them fight with other kids passing by on mopeds (someone kicked at #1's moped). And we saw a 10 year old pop wheelies on his scooter back and forth down the alley (obviously trying to impress the older girls).
A fun night.

Naples: Throughly enjoyable in that sad and totally thrilling way.

The following is a painting done by Domenico Gargiulo (alias Micco Spadaro) called The Plague (or pests) of Naples at Piazza Mercato (where we stayed). An old painting, but stills holds some relevance to today.

I mean, clearly we weren't in the touristy area. I'm sure there are some nice areas of Naples, but we didn't see it. Only person we encountered that spoke English was the receptionist at hotel and our Russian escort.


Anonymous said...

ew. . .

Anonymous said...

You have no business hosting a travel page, my friend. If you stay at a trashy hotel near the train station in any city you see only the worst. I lived in Naples from 2001-2007. It's a beautiful city with magnificent architecture, fascinating culture (both gritty and refined)and the best food and warmest people in all of Italy. Don't be discouraged, just use some good travel smarts.

Anonymous said...

Im from Naples, and you are an ignorant fuck.

Brett Horrocks said...

Naples may be the most interesting city in the world. Do your homework next time before you visit. Brett (Stockholm Sweden)