Friday, December 08, 2006

One Day in Naples (Part 2)

Today we continue our walk around Naples, and the photo on the left has something unique in it...can you spot it?

As we were walking around I saw someone lower a blue plastic bucket from a window, then someone on the street either took something out or put something in, and the person in the window started pulling it back up.

And, before we go any further on this tour, I forgot to warn you: watch your step. There’s dog crap all over the streets. I even saw this sign on an apartment building:

It says:

Please take your dogs home to crap, because at my house there are children who want to live in a civilized manner!


(I’m just saying...)

So, as our mission is to get a photo of the floor of this church that's now a museum called the Capella di Sansevero, we head over. Not only are there menacing signs posted at about 6-inch intervals everywhere in the small chapel reminding you that NO PHOTOS ARE ALLOWED, there is a guard-to-visitor ratio of about 1:6, for the sole purpose of preventing said photographs. Still, we figure: are we not in Naples? Land of lawlessness? Land of devil-may-care behavior?

We immediately spot the subject of our photo and the entrance to the little room where it is located is, of course, guarded. As Ale enters, I kind of wander around, hoping to detract attention from our covert operation, but of course doing nothing of the sort, and probably looking more than slightly confused. The next thing I know, the entire room fills with a flash, and that telltale fake clicking noise the digital camera makes. Oh boy, let me tell you, was that guard ticked! But, once you’ve got the photo, what can they really do? After Ale got thoroughly scolded, we were free to leave.

Just for the record, here’s the picture:

Feeling triumphant after our act of defiance, and with our mission accomplished and the whole day ahead of us to just take in the city until our train leaves around 4 pm, we decide on a tour of Naples Underground. We ask directions, and as we go about our merry way, we come up against this:

I realize I could be considered fairly inconsiderate for having documented this poor guy’s struggle, but people, this was such an “only in Naples” moment for me, I had to get it. This truck on the left decided he needed to get by, but once he went for it, you would have been lucky to get a sheet of paper in between his truck and the parked car on the right. In fact, I got even more obnoxious, going so far as to try to make a little movie of it as well. We didn't have much else to do during the wait anyhow.

And just in case you’re wondering—the truck eventually backed up. I don’t really know what he did after that, but I do know that it was like a dam bursting, with about 15 people from each side of the road spilling into the space that suddenly opened back up.

At Naples Underground they tell us the first tour isn’t until noon, giving us about an hour to kill. We decide to wander around, and come across an entire LAND full of nativity scenes and all the trimmings for making your very own (Avery, take note!). So much good stuff there it will have to wait for another post.

Meanwhile, we sidle up to one of the many steaming glass carts that line the street. They’re all full of either pastries like you saw in part one, or pizza. Ale chooses a 6-inch round pizza and folds it in half. I go for a concoction called pizza fritta: you got it—fried pizza. Oh yes, it was just as greasy as it sounds, if not more. Let’s bring out the evidence:

Man, was that thing HEAVY! It was a huge pouch of fried bread, (nearly a foot long when flat, I'm not kidding) filled with ricotta, smoked provolone, and tomato sauce. I told myself I'd only eat half, but then when I got to the "surprise" filling in the middle, I went back on my promise and as a result I think I gained one kilo immediately. But it was worth it. One euro, folks. One kilo for one euro, not such a bad deal?

On to Naples Underground, which takes us down 40 meters (about 130 feet) below Naples, to the street level of the ancient Greeks. I highly recommend this 1.5 hour tour, which was informative and enjoyable and just under €10 per person. But I warn you, if you are claustrophobic, you might not want to do the part that I personally liked the best. At a certain point you enter this cavernous room and the guide starts lighting candles in ceramic holders. Everyone takes a candle and moves single-file into a narrow, I mean NARROW, underground passage without any lights, and this passageway goes on for a good couple of minutes. It was so narrow that at one point I had to turn sideways because my shoulders wouldn't fit without scraping the sides. Everyone got through fine though, and we were pretty astounded by the history of the place.

After our tour, we were ready for the holy grail of Naples (no pun intended, considering the topic of Ale’s book): pizza napoletana. According to this article, pizza was invented in Naples by the ancient Greeks, and the world’s first true pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, opened in Naples around 1830.

For those of you who aren’t from Italy, don’t live in Italy, and/or have never been to Italy, a quick tutorial. Pizza in Italy is ordered according to types. There are many standard types such as margarita (cheese, tomato sauce and basil), diavola (cheese, tomato sauce and spicy pepperoni), fungi (with mushrooms). You don’t choose your toppings one by one, you choose the standard type you want. Everyone gets their own individual pizza, and they aren’t necessarily individually sized. I usually can’t finish a whole one. It covers your entire plate and you have to cut it into slices.

Naples pizza differs from Roman style because the crust is thicker and chewy instead of thin and crispy. Personally I prefer this kind, even though it’s a lot more filling.

Our favorite pizza place in Naples is called Lombardi a Santa Chiara (Via Benedetto Croce 54, closed on Mondays). We both got the margarita with mozzarella di bufala (an incredible mozzarella made with buffalo milk which is another speciality from the Campania region where Naples is located.)
Here's Ale, one more satisfied customer:

And the guys who make the magic happen:

After such indulgence, we just had to go over the top, so it was back to Scaturchio to have dessert. This time we got a babĂ , a traditional cake soaked with rum. I found a recipe here, and here’s what it looks like:

Naples enchanted me, on what was only my second visit to the city in five years. I know I will baffle many of you when I admit that I like Naples better than Florence. That’s because I tend to enjoy getting a feel for the people and the local lifestyle of a place, and when I visit Florence I always leave with the distinct feeling of having just visited a big amusement park. No offense to Florence or all of you wonderful expats who have made a life there; this is just my personal opinion. I think it probably comes from the fact that once you live in Italy you can be more selective about things like this, knowing you don’t have just “one chance” to pack in all the sights.

And as far as all those warnings go to “remove all your jewelry, don’t take your camera, etc. etc.” --at no point did I feel any more threatened by pickpocketing in Naples than I do in Rome. You need to use the same precautions you would in any big city.

Naples is a city that has a certain energy and soul that no other Italian city possesses, and once you get wrapped up in it—in the chaos, the mess, the excitement, the confusion—it will leave you with the unforgettable feeling of having peeked into down-home, street level Italian life. While I’d never live here, and while it clearly has a deep-rooted and incredibly complicated problem with an organized crime syndicate known as the Camorra (read Avery’s post from a while back), I can’t help but admire its unique character and resilience.


Ms Adventures in Italy said...

Yum............I am in London visiting my girlfriend who used to live in Rome and we went to Naples for the first time's bringing me back! We went to Scarturchio and brought back a few dozen sfogliatelle. :) Thanks for the flashback!

J.Doe said...

I also think Naples is better than Florence, lthough lots of Florence residents think otherwise and look down on Naples.

East of Oregon said...

Wonderful description of such an intriguing place :)

Shirley said...

Shelley, you have really captured the true essence of Naples here. I had to laugh at the car and truck in the side street, that is why our car has two wing mirrors hanging off, we always trash the car when we drive around Naples and get caught in the little alley ways!
I haven't been to the underground yet,though really ought to, apparently there are always new parts being uncovered.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

What a great post. I can't wait to visit Naples.

Re: Florence, I feel the same way. Most of my friends prefer Florence. I think Florence is stunning but it's way too touristy.

Sandi @ the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Loved the car and truck story~ so classic!
Now that I have found you I will visit often! You do a great job with your blog...I am inspired.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating place.

Why with all that fantastic food there isn't the same obesity problem as in North America?
Do they not eat as much of it?
I'd love a post about that because it was a big mystery to me when I was other there.
Especially with the late night eating.

Kelli said...

Fried pizza? SIGN ME UP! :) I rarely eat fried foods, but if you are going to do it, you might as well do it right, eh?
And what was in the bucket? I don't get it. Perhaps I'm dense. Were they lowering or raising doggie poo?

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Thanks for all the comments...I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who has a soft spot for Napoli.

Moon: I'll have to think about the obesity question...I've often wondered myself how it is that I actually lost weight when I moved to Italy...I have some ideas and theories and good idea for a future post!!

Kel: I didn't make it close enough or in time to see what the bucket was for. All I saw was it coming out of the window, and being brought back up. Maybe it's better to leave it to the imagination!

A Friend said...

Hi Shelley,

Please check my comment on the priests calender if you may :)


PS: You have a vivid blog character! I guess it has to do with: you being in the lovely Italy too! ;)

FinnyKnits said...

Napolean pizza is so mind-meltingly wonderful, I will agree. Maybe in one of my future visits we can go back to Naples and you guys can show me THIS Naples rather than the toilet-on-fire Naples I caught sight of last time.

BTW: Ale looks so content with his pizza - I am jealous!

avery said...

I totally have to visit Naples now. You made it sound so enticing especially the pastry specialties. Do you have any nativity photos? I am so dying to see the extravagance and I need some good ideas....:)

Jenn said...

I am having so much fun reading your blog. I went to Italy (Rome, Venice and FLorince)for a short trip in the mid 90's and my 80 year old Granpaw did his trip of a life time to Italy this year. I loved it- especially the gelato. I am just waiting for you to write about gelato and for me to drool.

mar said...

Haven't been to Naples but I certainly don't want to miss it!
that fried pizza sounds wonderfully fattening!

Expat Traveler said...

hey what a great post! So much to know and hear and I enjoy having this point of view of the city.. Although since we now live so far away, I don't think our chances are all to grand on visiting...

One day...

Dixie said...

Oh boy. Ohhhh boy! You know I've never been to Italy, know like three words in Italian and really I've never even considered visiting Italy. But by golly I want to get on a plane and go there right this hot second. Credit your writing talent!

Anonymous said...

hi :)

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog and find it a lot of fun to read. I spent a lot of time in Naples last year and it stole my heart. I, too, understand the "only in Naples" sentiment, and a few days ago I posted my own story about Naples and pizza. You can check it out at Cheers!

taaliza said...

I am having a blast reading your blog. I lived in Napoli da 1994 a 1997. My father worked at NATO and we actually lived in Pozzuoli. I always hear the negatives from people who are scared of Naples - but I am so in love with the city and it's people. So hospitable and full of is wonderful to hear someone appreciate Naples as you have written. Such beautiful words.