Despite its continued filthy shittyness, I’m afraid Napoli has lost some of her charm.  Maybe I was jaded by the bad arrival to our AirBnB, forcing us to change plans at 12:01am and find a hotel.  Maybe it is that so many of the decrepit, boarded up buildings are now bustling with American-tourist style shopping (handbags, high heels, profumo).  Or maybe it was only ever charming because I was here with my beloved and now I am not.  I mean, I love my Grown Ass Baby Cousin and I go to bed with my tummy hurting from both gluten bombing and laughing until our laugh is what keeps us laughing.  But there’s just something about holding hands with your partner with the anticipation of being jumped and knifed, or a world-ending caldera event lurking in the back of your mind.

Please don’t misunderstand me; this visit has been far from awful.  I got to meet new

Le cimetière des Fontanelle.   I wonder if they liked each other, or even knew each other in life.  Now they sit, whispering and listening together on this pillow for all eternity.
friends that already feel like old ones.  We have the good fortune to be visiting during Napoli’s annual pizza festival (see above gluten bombing).  AirBnB not only refunded my reservation fully, they are issuing a $100 credit to help offset the cost of the hotel I had to replace it with!  Today I got to see actual dead people.  And I do look forward to bringing the kids here in August.  But I can’t wait to get back to my apartment.

I am Rome sick.

Writing on the Wall

20160329_200831The 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.

I’m not gassy, I’m American.

Some words are universal. I’m sure there are examples of Italian words that we leave alone, but I cannot think of any. In English, one such word is Pacemaker. It is the same in every country, though investigated far more thoroughly in Europe than I’ve ever encountered in the States. Here, I can declare my pacemaker and be waved around any metal detector. After making my declaration over there, I had to show my Medtronic device card and passport. I was escorted around metal detectors then patted down, where available by female police or security. Thoroughly. So thoroughly in the Naples airport, in fact, that I learned exactly where I fit on the sliding spectrum of sexual preference. Let’s just say Mike enjoyed the show and I needed a drink when she finished.

We were told in advance that there was no real reason to learn Italian because everyone speaks English and is eager to help. With a handful of exceptions, most of whom were Gypsies, this was blatantly wrong. We ended up playing a lot of charades, the most futile game of which took place in a Naples farmacia just seconds before they locked their door for the night. I hurried in and asked the pharmacist if he had any Tums. The café and wine based diet has one major disadvantage. He gave us the universal non comprendo shrug. It made sense to me that if pacemaker was universal, heartburn would be as well, so I said it while rubbing my tummy.

He smiled, went to the back and left me standing with his cashiers for an awkwardly silent amount of time, then returned with an item in each hand; panty liners in the right, tampons in the left. Later, Mike tried to spin this into flattery. “At least he thinks you look young enough to still need those.”

I reminded him I am still young enough to need them, just not right that moment. The interaction left me grumpy until our next bottle of wine.

Back to the farmacia. I said no with my mouth, my head, and my hands, and tried again.

“Heartburn. Stomach acid.” This time I rubbed higher up, on my rib cage. He retreated to the back again, and returned with a green box labeled Anacidol.

That seemed like a reasonable translation of anti-acid, so I said grazie, perhaps overly enthusiastic to end this game of charades, and paid the seven euro.

The seven euro was my first hint that I was not buying the right product. So far, everything had been much less expensive in Italy. By my calculation, Tums should have been no more than two euro for a box that size.

The box was my second clue. Tums doesn’t come in a box at home and by what I’d seen of Italians so far, they shunned unnecessary packaging. Hell, sometimes they shunned sanitary packaging. When we reached that next bottle of wine, I investigated my purchase. Magnesium and dimethicone. Constipation and gas.

That’s when I decided to smile more, so as not to look alternately menstrual and constipated. And that’s where the wine came in handy.

Now, this tidbit of information may only apply to the parts of Europe we were roaming last week, but Mike, with his silver hair and Carribean Sea blue eyes seemingly has the word ‘American’ stamped across his forehead in blazing, capital letters.  I, on the other hand,  with my muddied DNA, could be (and in varying degrees, am) almost anything.

I watched as multi-lingual beggars, aggressive street vendors, and other peoples with questionable motives approached him and, in decent English, asked for money, pitched their wares, or attempted their ploys to lure tourists into dark alleys. These are tenacious people who do not take, ‘no,’ for an answer. When walking alone, just as many people made their appeals to me in God-only-knows what languages, but never in English. On our first morning in Rome I realized there was no language in which I could rebuff them that they don’t speak better and could continue their spiel. So I made one up.

Raise your hand if you remember the Ricky-Martin-spawning, Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo. If you don’t, I’ll give you a minute to familiarize yourself.

All caught up? Good. So, Menudo doesn’t sound like a real word, right? With each unwelcomed entreaty, I gave a sympathetic shake of the head and said, “Menudo.” Sometimes I felt a shrug and a, “No, menudo,” was a better response.

I got only baffled looks in response as my accosters retreated. It worked so well that Mike started using it.

Only once we reached Naples did it occur to me that I might have inadvertently been saying an actual word. How would I know? I turned to Google Translate. Great app; I recommend it for everything from ordering lunch to deciphering graffiti.

“Menduo,” as it turns out, means nothing in Italian. However, “Ma nudo,” which is how it is pronounced, means “but naked.”

So for four days we had been startling street people around Rome.

“Can you spare change?”
But naked.

“Do you need tickets?”
No, but naked.

“Have you any bread?”
No, but naked.

“Selfie sticks, five euro!”
But naked!

“Have you seen my daughter? She’s this tall with brown hair.”
But naked.

I really have no idea what was being asked of me when Mike wasn’t around, telegraphing his Captain America beacon. But, I learned that in dealings with people whom you cannot understand, instead of pretending to speak a language they’ve never heard, it is perhaps more effective to appear insane in a language they know well.

And only now does it occur to me I’ve been doing that for years.