The taxi driver that took us from our train station to our apartment was not drunk. More dangerously, he was Neapolitan and there are no laws against driving that way. In fact, in Napoli, I don’t believe there are many laws prohibiting much of anything. The subdivision of my heart that is Libertarian did a lot of soul searching regarding my belief in less regulation of the people during our first twenty-four hours there.
Piero, our cabbie, drove us in what we would discover was not the most direct route from point A to point B – a trait that is common among his profession world wide – but we did not mind. He was gregarious and delightfully blended a brief history of the city with making fun of my Italian. He slung his right arm over the passenger seat so that he could pivot himself to look at us in the backseat as we conversed, all while fearlessly driving us up streets that were not wide enough to be two lanes, but were still, frighteningly, multi-directional.
We were in Napoli because we wanted to visit Pompeii. That’s a half-day’s worth of activity at best, so the rest of our days there were just for adventure. If I had researched the city before hand, I most assuredly would not have gone. Organized crime controlled government has allowed the illegal dumping of pollutants for years, causing both their land and water to become toxic. The cancer rates are astronomical, as are birth defects. Plus, there’s a waking volcano next door just waiting to fuck up European air traffic and dominate the 24 hour news cycle for years!
No amount of research would have prepared me for the fact that everything one wishes to see or do in Naples is inevitably up hill; that the city planner threw a plate of cooked spaghetti on the ground and built the road maps to mimic the mess; that some roads suddenly, and without any prior warning, turn into steps; or that everyone has a dog, but no one has a lawn and they’ve never heard of poop bags.
To say it’s kind of shitty is an understatement.
And still, by the time Piero swerved his taxi into oncoming traffic so that he could park upon the opposing sidewalk to let us out, I had already decided that someday I would live in this seaside slum. The City of the Damned grabbed me hard. I think I fell in love with their utter lack of care about what the tourists might think.
When perched high upon a hill top to enjoy the bay and Vesuvius from afar, tens of thousands of antennae are a part of the vista that one’s eyes must be trained to see beyond. I’m not sure if they don’t yet have cable television, or these are left over from long ago. Given the number of Maradona posters still decorating the city, I don’t get the feeling these are a people that are ready to let go of the 1980’s just yet.
From up close at ground level there is nowhere the eye can be directed that it does not land upon graffiti. In Italy, everyone is an artist and in Napoli, I believe they issue spray paint with birth certificates.
Our host explained that there is much seisma in the region. In America, we call those earthquakes and add them to the list we might have compiled of reasons not to visit Napoli, southern Italy, or anywhere in the Mediterranean for that matter. Thank Jupiter for a sense of adventure that is sometimes confused for academic laziness, or I would have missed my dingy little paradise.
Because of the seisma, so many of the buildings are cracked or have crumbling stucco. Last spring it appeared that there was a fledgling effort to start repairing some of the exterior damage. A few buildings were recently plastered and repainted in vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges that one might associate with the region. As new as this effort to refurbish appears, graffiti is already popping up on some of the fresh paint. Nobody is trying to wash it away. And why would they? It would just get re-tagged.
But so too, why would they have bothered with the exterior remodels? Next week the land beneath them is going to vibrate off their plasters again and re-open their cracks. I’m curious to see this summer just how far the revitalization effort has moved in a year.
Maybe revitalization is the wrong word. The city is far from dead. Sick, perhaps, but still so very alive.
This morning I read a discussion between my friend, the talented film-maker, Jonathan Landau and one of his buddies concerning the meetings between house members, the Department of Justice, and the FBI. Jonathan said the writing is on the wall; impeachment is only a matter of time.
Writing on the wall. I will never again hear that turn of phrase that I don’t think of Napoli. I’ve never fostered a fondness for Washington, but it too is a city of graffiti artists. The writing may very well be on the wall, but so what? If you are offended, then you are only a tourist. The locals don’t mind.