Since 1908 the n.1 source of all things Italian featuring Italian news, culture, business and travel

Issue link: http://italoamericanodigital.uberflip.com/i/160047

Contents of this Issue


Page 23 of 23

L'Italo-Americano PAGE  24 THURS DAY,   AUGUS T  29,   2013 Benvenuti al Sud JAcKIe towNSeNd I dropped my husband off at Malpensa in the pre-dawn light, plugged Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135 Naples into my rental car's GPS, and drove off with one last giddy nervous wave. I still remember the look on his face as he stood on the curb watching me go: disbelief, consternation, a touch of irony, but mostly surrender, for I had a mind of my own, and a taste for adventure that he didn't. "You can't go to Napoli alone," he'd assured me, when I'd told him my plans. "Why not?" "It's full of thieves." He doesn't really believe this, it's just something he has to say because he's from the north. "They throw garbage out of the windows." I continued packing. "Why can't you just go for the day, like everyone else?" I shrugged. We'd already gone over this. I was staying for a week. "I'll take you to Napoli next year, when I have more time." We live in New York, but had been in Piemonte for a family reunion. "It's now or never." He sighed, long and burdened. I committed sacrilege by not telling his family for fear they'd all want to caravan with me. But I had their phone numbers programmed on my speed dial, and underneath my shirt I had a mer on my right. I swerved off into the last Autogrill before the City Center tollbooth, my heart beating through my chest. What the hell was I doing? I refilled my tank. After triple locking the car door, I went to the bathroom and emptied my bladder. Inside the café I bought rations of water and panini in case I got lost, stopped in traffic, car jacked, robbed... Thump, thump, thump went my heart with all the possibilities for which I'd been forewarned as I proceeded cautiously through the tollbooth. After this I flew for an exciting few minutes with the window down, hair flying, taking in the curious scents of rot, kelp, diesel. Then a halting stop, a sea of traffic, a sprawl of messy, car cluttered, soot-stifling chaos. There is no description of one's first venture into Napoli better than Luca Minero's in his film, Benvenuti al Sud, in which a postal worker from Milan, Alberto, gets re-assigned to Napoli for two years. Think about what happens to Woody Allen when he ventures off the Island of Manhattan. Unfortunately, you can't find the film in the U.S., nor does it have English subtitles, but it's this early passage, amongst others, that can't be missed. "I've got some good news and bad news," Alberto's boss tells him at the beginning of the film. "Am I fired?" "Worse than fired." The Treacherous Stairs leading to my hotel money belt tied to my alreadysweating waist. Eight whiteknuckled hours on the Autostrada before I hit Campania, where Vesuvius rose ominously in the distance and the bay grew into a moody shim- "Am I suspended?" "No. You've been transferred to the south." "You mean Bologna?" "No." "Rome? I can't stand Rome." "It's not Rome." "Sicily?" "No worse. You've been transferred to Napoli. You leave Monday." "What do you mean?" He says in a rambling panic. "I don't have any summer clothes. Where am I going to stay? I would lead me into the city center. I passed by the stairs twice before actually seeing them, that's how steep the drop was. I proceeded down anyway, praying the decaying concrete wouldn't crumble beneath me. Four switchbacks and I was conversations, until something struck me and I stopped, turned, and hurried back from where I came, up those treacherous steps, back to my hotel, where I immediately stripped myself of the money belt and tennis shoes. I changed into something stylish, dropped into the dead end of some empty street, which I hastened to escape wondering again if I'd made some big mistake. A few yards further I turned onto Via Crispi, where I stood for a moment stunned by what I saw. It was six p.m., and what I came upon was the evening's passaggiata in full swing—every single Neapolitan, it seemed, was out on the street for their evening stroll, arms linked and dressed to the hilt. Men, women, children, the elderly, these Neapolitans take their passaggiata seriously, I soon learned, and I immediately became swept up in it. Their energy took an instant hold over me, as if the world had been bursting with all this life all this time and I'd not known it. And while I knew I had only scratched the surface of what I was to discover here, I felt no concerns for my safety. For a while I strolled curiously alongside these vibrant souls possessed by their own gesticulating slipped on sandals, applied a little makeup, grabbed a purse and went back down and joined in this fabulous parade of people who barely seemed to notice that I wasn't one of them. They didn't care. The sun was setting over the bay and reflecting off the fashionably adorned shop windows and the dark shades of the patrons at the bustling outdoor cafés. Everyone was engrossed in this vibrant, invigorating moment. And so now was I. Jackie Townsend received her MBA from U.C. Berkeley and spent eight years on the fast track to becoming a partner with a financial services consulting company before burning out. After coming to terms with what is important in life (being married to an Italian didn't hurt), she began writing and hasn't stopped since. She just released her second novel, "Imperfect Pairings", an exploration of these themes. Naples Bay from my window don't speak the language…" his voice trails off into silence. His head bows, then lifts again. "What's the good news?" "That is the good news. The bad news is that you have to stay there for two years. It's either the south or you're fired." "I'm going to die," Alberto says flatly. Before driving off, his wife, beside herself, gives him a bulletproof vest, SPF50 sunscreen and advises him to take off his wristwatch (and his wedding ring) lest they sever is arm to take these prized possessions. He also brings along a fire extinguisher, a fan, a hunk of Gorgonzola, and a mousetrap given to him by his son. And what happens when he gets there? It's all rather charming and you'll need to see the movie, which means you'll need to learn Italian. Or just go there, hog wild, like I did. Thanks to that godsend of a GPS I managed to find my hotel, maneuver my car into its tiny, cramped garage, and check in. My room was pleasantly clean, with a nice view of the bay, but I did not linger there. I didn't unpack or freshen up. I wanted to get it over with, face my fears, and see what I was in for. Money belt retightened, tennis shoes on in case I needed to run, hair tied back, no makeup, I looked ready for battle. The concierge directed me down the street a few yards where I would find stairs that led down onto Via Crispi, which

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of L'Italo-Americano - italoamericano-digital-8-29-2013