Saturday, September 29, 2012


Yesterday I met up with Lisa Norall, an old family friend, who I hadn't seen in something like 40 years. Lisa lived in my father's rooming house in Cambridge when I was a kid. I remembered her as a badass hippie chick with long paprika-red hair who took me skinny-dipping in Walden Pond and drove a motorcycle and just generally radiated waves of cool, so when she showed up on the back of a scooter driven by a handsome young Italian man I thought, Yeah, that's her

"This is Francesco," she said by way of explanation. 

Francesco zipped off, and Lisa and I walked down Via Toledo looking for a cafe. I didn't put it together that Francesco was her son until we'd been chatting for over an hour. 

Anyhow, Lisa has been living in Naples for... 25 years? I'm very fortunate to have her as a guide. We took a funicular car up the hill to Montesanto (serenaded by a Roma accordionist who played a swinging rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") and looked down at the city from on high.

Vesuvius in the background, medieval city in foreground, financial center in middle distance. From there, we walked back to Via Toledo. 

Lisa ran into her nephew on the way down. He winked and told me to "watch out for her." Note that she still has paprika-red hair.

Also note the shrine built into the roadside.

It was the first of many such shrines I noticed, but once I started looking, I realized there must be thousands of them in the city -- every other block seems to have one. 

Which reminds me: I asked Lisa about all the laundry. Like a lot of people, I've had my clothes stolen out of the dryer at the laundromat. I asked her how it was that, in a city that is supposed to be rife with petty crime, people felt so comfortable leaving their laundry unattended on the street. She said the idea of stealing clothes seemed un-Neapolitan. People here don't buy second-hand clothes, so why would they steal them?

I thought about that, and about all the little shrines on the street. Many years ago, I was at Goodwill with a friend. I found a beautiful orange chenille bathrobe, but she wouldn't let me buy it. "Someone might have died in that," she said. Well, someone might have died in any of these clothes, I thought. It's true that there is something haunted about old clothes.

Which makes me think of this:

Anyhow, here's what I still want to cover in Naples:

Capodimonte museum
Hermann Nitsch museum
National archeology museum
Duomo di Napoli (and excavations)
At least some of the other 1,000 churches

But here's what I did today: loafed until 10:30 drinking coffee, then walked around for a few hours looking at stuff.

Archeology, churches, and art museums will have to wait another day. My eye was drawn to brutalism today. Casa del Mutilato:

Terrifying post office:

Haunted Naples:

City of Laundry

I could not possibly overstate the extent to which drying laundry dominates the landscape in this neighborhood. It is really just everywhere you look. It has the sort of ubiquity that must make it invisible after a while.

The streets are lined with racks of laundry of the most intimate sort.

 It's in every nook and cranny.

If you know me, you know how much I love to hang laundry out. Here is my meager contribution:

Friday, September 28, 2012

Where I'm Staying At

I'm staying in the Spanish Quarter. It's a few blocks up from the Teatro di San Carlo (opera house), but it's a real regular neighborhood.

This is my block:

Here's the greengrocer at the end of my block:

The people who live on the street level REALLY LIVE on the street level. As you pass the open doors you see card games being played, meals being cooked, children being parented -- everything so close you could say hello at a conversational volume. Of course, I can't take photos of this. You'll have to take my word for it.

There are a lot of businesses on the block, like this ironwork shop.

This church is empty. The attached building -- the one in front of which the ladies sit -- was a monastery. There are still nuns on the top floor, but the rest of it has been divided into countless little apartments, including mine.

Here's how you get to my apartment from the street. There's a concierge's office on the left, and usually some guys hanging out in front of it.

Take the stairs at the far side of the courtyard:

View of the courtyard:

From the mezzanine you take a series of left and right turns:

That's my apartment on the right.

The church, in ruins, is beyond the double doors at the end of the hall.

My apartment. Not pictured: lovely little kitchenette.

View from balcony at twilight:

It's perfect. How perfect is it? Honestly. Can you stand it? The ONLY drawback is the lady next door, who has gone deaf and simply will not wear a hearing aid. She starts yelling at 7 a.m. That's okay, though -- she's perfect, too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lo Spazzolino Masticabile!


I'm living for the next five days in an amazing little apartment on a residential street near the Teatro San Carlo. Already want to extend my stay. More about that tomorrow, with pictures.

Not a bad flight. Didn't get much sleep, but I did enjoy my seatmate: a sturdy blonde Romanian woman, dressed for the plane in a black pantsuit. She was, oddly, unsurprised when I told her I'd biked through Romania in 1979, but she did seem puzzled by my memories of it as a beautiful, doomed country besieged by food shortages. She herself left Cluj 20 years ago. She was on her way back to Rome, where she lives now, after visiting her husband in Paterson, NJ. He is from Ivory Coast. She told me he was in NJ because he can't find work in Italy. "The economy is in a little trouble, eh?" I said. I got the impression she didn't know what I was talking about. When we parted, I said I hoped her husband found a job in Rome soon. "Oh no," she said, "I want to move to Paterson!"

 I had a long and surprisingly fun day at the airport in Rome after Alitalia canceled my connecting flight to Naples and rebooked me on one four hours later. I tried to use one of the ubiquitous internet kiosks to check in at home. It ate my coin, but I was able to fish it out with a bobby pin -- along with a few others that had gotten jammed in the slot. I checked back a while later and found another coin in there, so I took that one too. I felt a little like Eloise at the Plaza.

I discovered a tucked-away cafeteria where all the employees seemed to be eating, which was a little cheaper than the ones on the concourses, and over the course of a seven hour layover, I fished enough change out of the internet kiosk to pay for a bottle of mineral water and half an airportwich.

Also, you can buy "chewable toothbrushes" from a repurposed American gumball machine in the toilet.

Lo spazzolino masticabile!