Catch Me If You Can, Naples, Italy
I had been living in South Italy for a year at the time I finally hiked Mt. Vesuvius, the famous volcano that destroyed Pompeii in A.D. 79. The upper path was made of black lava rock; deserted as I made my way to the crater rim. Every now and then, the distinct sound of bouncing stone and sliding flint interrupted an otherwise profound silence, save for the cadence of crushed lava rock beneath each step. From the top, I looked out over the chaotic urban sprawl that is Naples and could see Pozzuoli, set upon the Campi Flegrei Caldera. I circled the rim as white columns of steam rose from the crater and wondered at why an empire had been built around something so unpredictable.
I stopped at a small outpost on the way back down. The place looked as though it might be closed, but the door creaked open when I pushed inside. An older woman looked up at me and smiled. I asked for a cappuccino and picked out a few tattered photographs of Vesuvius and Naples. She invited me to sit and talk outside in the afternoon light. There seemed to be no one for miles; collected instead in the city by the bay, living complicated lives beneath the eaves of red ceramic tile. The woman explained that her father had taken the photographs, and had been known widely as ‘Vesuvius’ guardian’ in the 1950s. She crinkled her nose upon learning that I had never heard the song Funiculi funicula, and began singing its lyrics out loud to the blue sky.
I continued the descent to Torre Del Greco, and somehow managed to spend 8 euro at a number of ill-placed tollbooths. At least one bored toll attendant seemed to appreciate my attempt to engage in bureaucratic banter while slowly feeding him 5-cent euro pieces. My coin supply was bust by the time I pulled into Naples city center. Parking in Naples is no easy task, and I was often guilty of parking illegally in Piazza Diante. This time, even the illegal stalls were taken. Round and round I went before finally pulling into Park Morelli. For the first time, I was conscious of the calm and elasticity in place of my usual wound up approach to all things Napoli. I jabbed and cut, navigated narrow roads to nowhere and paused to chat with polizia and camorrista parking attendants without a breath of stress.
For once I knew where I was and where I was going as I walked the littered lifelines of the city. Via Chiaia, Toledo, Roma. A little something about lingerie, linen and black stockings. Espresso and gelato biscotti. I caught myself smiling more than once as I passed places visited from times gone by, and by the end of the night had to admit Napoli and I had our own sort of love affair. Away from the chaos and endless chatter, I could hear the narcissistic whisper of Napoli on the Mediterranean sea. Catch me if you can, take me as I am.