The city of Naples clusters around a stunning curved bay, the islands of Capri and Ischia dropped carelessly at the corners of the smile. Beauty, chaos, religion and threat all in the mix.
In our few days in Naples we have gained an impression of a busy, noisy, shabby, sometimes anarchic but creative place teeming with life. The morning smell of strong coffee wafts in as the window opens to the sound of tooting horns and church bells and neighbours calling each other. We go to our usual breakfast spot, a small cafe/piano bar and after serving our coffee and cornetto (croissant) the owner settled down to play while we glanced at the morning’s news and tried to add to our meagre Italian. It is a densely lived in, ever moving city. Unlike other city centres that have been given over to business and commerce, here is all a mix. Residents live in the tall buildings rubbing shoulders with the shops below, the churches and monuments and the ever present tourists. The dark narrow alley ways have washing slung under the balconies and in the wonky cobbled streets, scooters and cars can ambush you. Pedestrians, drivers and children playing football all vie for space in the roads where road works and rubbish abound; a small immaculately smocked child squatting in the dusty road happily playing with bottle tops. We walked a great deal. First stop was exploring the Sotterranea. We descended uneven steps into the original Greek quarries where they extracted tufa for building and channelled water from Vesuvius. We squeezed through tiny corridor spaces moving crablike and holding candles to light our way into spaces developed by the Romans who buried all the Greek detritus and created conduits, aqueducts and cisterns. More recently the citizens of Naples sheltered from the extensive bombing of WW2. Now there are experiments underway to see how this place can be put to use in the modern world – there were bright lights over green plants that looked suspiciously like cannabis but turned out to be basil.
On the Sunday we had a birthday lunch, cards and presents – thank you all; a call with my eldest son, some fizzy wine and a sleep in the afternoon. The noise of a band wakes us and we descend steeply our four floors. A crowd is gathering. The effigy of the saint is raised on a palanquin, four shafts of wood extending from the corners, underneath which are the strong young men of the ‘quartiere’. They move in rhythm to the beat of the sax and drum with a slow deliberate step, in time and together, while nearby there is a solo going on. Their banners raised, hoisted high moving constantly, dipping and circling resembling birds in a mating ritual. There are all ages in the procession while cars waited uncharacteristically quietly as the street was blocked for some time. At last they began to make their way down the narrow crowded street, one man holding a bag to take a collection. A carabinieri band had finished playing and was now making its way to their bus which was parked within road works and which was manoeuvred skilfully so that they didn’t bump another vehicle. Bumping others seems the norm here; most cars are dented and vehicles flex rubberlike as they are gently pushed enabling the car in front to extricate itself. We didn’t find out the meaning of this particular parade but later that day there was scheduled a celebration of the first appearance of Our Lady of Fatima who I believe appeared first in Portugal but is being marked here by the people of Naples. 12th May is her day as well as mine! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Fátima
I found a brilliant shop with masses of linen clothes at prices that I couldn’t resist and on our street advertising the vintage shop opposite was a permanent advert on the graffitied wall. Earlier in the day we had spontaneously bought tickets for a concert in one of the many churches now brought into use for creative activities, dance, song, community ventures. Here there was a bit of drama, glam women, powerful tenors, a pianist – I really wanted to understand the nuances of the banter in between songs; the audience variously chatting, looking on their phones, TALKING on their phones, videoing from their phones, calls of Bravo while the high window at the back of the altar flashed with lightning and thunder boomed. But it was beautiful, particularly one powerful contralto and one of the tenors. They sang typical Neapolitan songs mixed with some opera and popular music.
We visited the sites of both Herculaneum and Pompeii. The trains as ever have caused us some bother. IF we had read our guide book more extensively/intelligently/in detail we might have realised that to get to Herculaneum we needed to go to Ercolano Scavi not Portici Ercolano taking the Circumvesuviana train line. Arriving in Portici Ercolano and confident of a simple 500 metre walk to the ruins we then had to eat our nonexistent sun hats and humble pizza and return to the taxi driver we had just disbelieved who had said it was a 4k walk and ask him to take us there. Once there, the sight is small, contained and in view of the sea. It was a rich man’s playground, a summer spot for the privileged Roman. Nothing was left except carbonated wood and skeletons. The people here died of thermal shock; then quickly all was covered in a thick layer of mud. There was something really pathetic about the bundle of skeletons that had been revealed crouched under the arches of boat houses waiting in vain for rescue. 75% of these ruins are still buried under the present day Ercolano and there are worries about sea level rises as at present some of the site is below sea level.
And so to Pompeii; by now we had sussed the trains and arrived no problem. We entered through the sea gate and started with the informative museum, the crucial coin that told us a more accurate date and time of the explosion. The people of Pompeii died from suffocation as the ashes fell fast upon them or they succumbed to gas. The figures, revealed as they were at the moment of death are a particularly spooky sight. There was a film showing how the city was laid out and functioned in AD79; having taken a tour when in Herculaneum we decided to be our own guides having identified highlights from our various books. Some places were closed off but we did see all the B’s the bath, the baker and the brothel. The latter bearing graffiti of names of the slaves who worked there and frescoes on the walls that were used either to titillate or as a ‘menu’ of what was on offer. The people lived sophisticated, comfortable lives; a slave had a chance to become a free man and to become rich enough to have a showy house. The shops had their marble counters, urns and amphorae. The site covers over 8 kilometres, there is no way you could do this is one visit. So we had to get over FOMO and do the best we could.
For a good description of what happened have a look at http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/pompeii.htm
On day one we had seen a building that contained a Caravaggio. Could we find that church again? Not for ages and a lot of wandering, then after some cunning sleuthing and when we did I was overjoyed. This brilliant painting – Seven Acts of Mercy – was commissioned for the Pio Monte della Misericordia a charitable institution that still functions to this day. The brilliant light and shade, the chiaroscuro that he is famous for beamed brightly above the altar in the dimly lit octagonal chapel. In other niches were other large paintings but none of them had the power of this one. The associated Art gallery is adjacent to the church – an important Italian painting collection but once you’ve seen the Caravaggio all else pales.
The Archaeological Museum must be one of the few in Europe to be open on a Monday and closed on a Tuesday when we went to visit – well probably if we’d………..you guessed it, read our guide book more extensively/intelligently/in detail…………. we’d have known. When we did get there it was amazing. Many of the mosaics, frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum have found their way here. The mosaics were so fresh and bright, many of them intact. They are displayed on the wall now but originally would have been the floors. We saw the ‘secret room’ full of erotic images that would have been found on the walls of the brothel and also in certain areas of the houses; there were sculptures and bronzes that left nothing to the imagination and their imagination knew no bounds! From time to time these images have caused the establishment concern – who should be privy to them, where should they be viewed? In the past they were strictly kept under lock and key and special forms had to be filled in before suitable persons had access to them! However now there were school children, ranging in age from 6 or7 years old to teenagers the former innocent spectators, the latter getting giggly and taking a lot of photos. Also in the museum were some magnificent marble sculptures.
And so we returned to the boat impressed by Napoli, by the public transport system (once we’d understood) and the taxis. The B&B had given us a number for them which proved to be priceless and all, well most of the conversations were conducted in Italian!
48 hours at home included by one or other of us or both – worrying about the East Port Building and making contact with the council and all the tenants, hair cut, dentist, driving to Paisley to pick up parts for the re built windlass, coffee with Susy, party and supper with the Davies, dreadful weather, brilliant weather, Binn walk, attending a lecture on the three bridges over the Forth, inducting a new person into TSU who will conduct ‘Sound Baths’, no cooking and not much sleep!!!
So in Scotland I believe il sole sta briallando while here in Italy il tempo e brutto – brutto being the new favourite word whether referring to the weather, the coffee or the service and appearance of the lady at the local railway station – tutto brutto…….
……hold on a minute, we are playing the Great Boat Game and have been dealt a handful of hazards!!! …..specifically the rebuilt sea wolf windlass is wind less………………sigh