Ah Napoli! Bring me big brooding buildings and endearing city streets. Bring me the struggle, the beauty and the brash, the rough around the edges. It was love at first sight when I visited Napoli. Well, okay maybe that’s not exactly true. I arrived in Napoli after navigating the Campania railway system (which features surreptitiously placed validation machines) and I was met with… garbage. Lots of garbage. On the street, on the trains, in buildings, on monuments, everywhere. Napoli is full of garbage. But, somehow, the garbage became scenery. Scenery which, dare I say, even added to the charm of the forlorn city. My friends and I stopped off at our hostel and took to the streets, meandering through the haze toward Stadio San Paolo.
There we were, like confused sardines who happened to swoop into a school of caffè corretto and roasted nocciola frenzied swordfish. We stumbled into the stadium, looking for our seats which we never did find. We just settled down into the crowded arena wherever we fit in, relatively close to our reserved seats, in Curva A. Even before the game, the crowd was roaring unanimously, engaging in what would tally up to 40 different chants and battle cries by the finale. Flags the size of my house were unfurled and waved with pride all the while. And no one sat. Everyone became a part of one greater machine built to defend team Napoli; when Milan got control of the ball, shrieking whistles would pour over the stadium seats onto the field, throwing off the opposition. And any time Napoli endeavored to make a goal, pass, or move and failed, the team would respond in steadfast applause. We had gotten warnings about the rowdiness of the Curva A crowd. We got begged to learn the chants. But this volume of knowledge, this deeply steeped culture and pride was unprecedented and unforeseeable.
Eventually, we caught on to some of the indistinct shouts. And we mimicked the matching gesticulations of our neighbors, who were very VERY friendly. (Noting the stranieri sitting next to them they would insistently ask, “Do you like Napoli? You like Napoli?” to which our answer was always, ‘Yeah! Certo! Forza Napoli!’ which would bring smiles and jubilation) By the end of the game, we were all personally involved, we all were shouting and jeering like the rest of the fans shaking the supports of the stadium in unison. Napoli won, which only brought more triumphant pyrotechnic booms of color and sound and singing. Then, we tunneled through the ravenous city of zippy Vespas towards our home, traversing a mountain and the tranquil gulf in the process.
The next day, we got to see a little bit of the city on a rainy Sunday morning. It was perfect. And strangely endearing. The city with a rough exterior opened up to us. The tall buildings swooped over us, and barreled us in deeper into Napoli’s tissue. Each house met the narrow street, there were hardly sidewalks. Street vendors and hawkers were out on the street, chewing gum and attending to their goods. The cobbles were huge stones, adding to the monumentality of the city and immersing us in a concrete jungle whose foliage of colorful, damp, laundry rippled in the wind. Napoli feels authentic in a way that Rome does not, despite the eternal city’s many ruins. It almost seems like a wild tree whose roots grew over and through the old to support the new, barky, spiny structure. Each turn onto a new street brings into sight a previously hidden monument or church or fountain, whereas Rome has been strategically cleared time after time to glorify such things. Each axial shift brings a new, fascinating discovery. The whole city is serendipitously choreographed into a wandering string of surprises. I only have one problem: when can I go back?!