Flashbulb Eyes in Naples, Italy

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Leonhardt, Justine. “In Naples, with Mount Vesuvius in the Distance.” 2011. JPEG.

As the ever-delicate slice of pizza wilted desperately between my fingers, I became suspicious. When I had come into the restaurant half an hour ago, there had been a few tables sitting idly, but they had quickly dispersed and now the dining room was empty except for me. Suddenly, the light died and I was left alone in the dark. Had they forgotten I was still sitting here, trying desperately to finish my lunch? I continued to enjoy my pizza nevertheless – its zucchini and fior di latte, the perfectly fired crust – and sure enough, a few minutes later, the waiter reappeared clutching two bottles of beer at his side. We had hardly spoken while he served me but he sat down, pushed an open Peroni towards me and gulped his beer in a few hearty swigs in the semi-darkness. “Ciao, Bellissima!” he cried before sauntering off into the nether regions of the restaurant once again.

My first pizza in Naples was pure proof that I never quite got the time of the mid-afternoon break down while I was in Italy, but the riposo – as it’s known- was the least of my concerns when I had started out for the Southern city. I’d made the mistake of typing “Naples dangerous” into Google the morning I left Rome, and the descriptive account of one’s man arrival at Piazza Garibaldi had made me nearly suffocate with fear, so much so that I put on my best boots, strut and bitch-face to get me through the journey to the hostel. I learned, though, that while there are things to fear in the city – certainly being ogled and perhaps being mugged – the fears of any place are always vastly inflated next to the reality.

While more rough-edged than those in Rome or Siena, the sights and experiences of Naples were almost more precious. The first afternoon, I quickly became aware of the lack – and general laxity – of the traffic lights, realizing that it was my body that had to stop the cars. After a couple of days of walking bravely in front of four lanes of traffic and having every vehicle come to a predictable stop, I couldn’t help but take note of the new tourists who hadn’t yet ventured out in front of the freewheeling vespas that careened out from any space wide enough to contain them. After leaving, I would come to miss the ability to stop traffic; it felt like something only a Marvel superhero should be able to execute with such ease.

The Archaeological Museum that holds the artefacts of Pompeii and the castles that line the coastline are among the city’s top attractions, but the dividing street of Spaccanapoli is a testament to Naples’ intrinsic spirit. Consisting of three roads that split the city to make up its longest, straightest street, I started out early one morning to walk its length. From one end to the other, the journey is full of churches, fruit and vegetable stands, a miasma of smells, and shopkeepers and residents sweeping their storefronts and stoops. As one gets to its end, the energy of the street dies down and begins to curve upward into the hill of the Vomero district.

It was on my way back down Spaccanapoli that I had my most memorable experience of the city. Still tired from the walk up the hill, my eyes bright from the things I had seen at the still early hour, I neared the first street that intersected with Spaccanapoli’s end. When I was only a few meters back from crossing it – with only a few other people in sight – a massive tourist bus in direct contrast to the condensed buildings and narrow streets came out of nowhere, blocking my view of everything. The bus stopped and a sudden hail of flashes erupted from behind the glass to capture a scene that had never been lived. A few seconds later, the bus pulled away as if it had never been there at all with the near empty street – all the life and the smells – teeming in its wake.

* Title care of Arcade Fire’s song, “Flashbulb Eyes”

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