Wednesday, December 06, 2006

One Day in Naples

I haven’t mentioned this before, but Alessandro has written a book that’s going to press in the next week or so. The book discusses symbolism related to the Knights Templar and the holy grail, but not in a Dan Brown kind of fictionalized way. It is based on his own personal research and discoveries he has made by studying a church in small town in the Abruzzo region called Bominaco, and his original theories of how this church not only connects to other important churches frequented by the Templars, but how it is perhaps one of the places the holy grail passed through, if not its final resting place.

Before going to press Ale needed one final photo, and it was for the cover, no less. It was a pattern on the floor in a Naples church called the Capella di Sansevero. The church itself has quite an interesting history, being as it was the chapel of a Baroque-era prince who was an alchemist and Grand Master of the Neopolitan Free Masons. Since we couldn’t find a photo in any book and Ale’s manuscript is going to press soon, we decided to take a day trip down to Naples. Besides our mission of getting the photo, there was sure to be the reward of a real Neopolitan pizza, something one should never pass up the chance for.

Well, not only did we accomplish our mission, we ended up having almost a mini-vacation for all the things we saw and did in just a one-day trip. I figured I would try my best in the next few posts to give you a taste of Naples as I see it.

When Ale told a colleague of his that he was going to Napoli, his colleague said, “Better make sure your passport hasn't expired!”

Oh, poor, battered Napoli. The butt of all jokes. Personally, I am fascinated by the place. I’m sure it has to do with a story I was told years ago by my Italian teacher, Anna, a Roman who has lived in Arizona for many years. She told me that when the mandatory seatbelt law came to Naples, the people started driving around with white T-shirts that had black stripes diagonally across them: painted-on seatbelts. You’ve gotta hand it to them for sheer ingenuity.

Our adventure starts at Termini station here in Rome, where we board the much-anticipated “Alta Velocità” or high-speed train to Naples. Inaugurated just a few months ago, the train is a bit of a laughingstock for the fact that it covers the first two-thirds of the route going 300 km/hour (about 186 mph), but for the last third when the high-speed track simply runs out (they inaugurated the route before finishing it), it switches back to the regular track and slows down to a near-crawl, in effect becoming a regional (read: slowest) train as it creeps through town after forgotten town on the outskirts of Naples. One of the men sitting next to us joked that, “usually trains try to speed up near the end to recover lost time, but this train actually slows down to compensate for having gone too fast.” I haven’t quite been able to decipher why this is so, but I’ve been told that the money ran out. I heard some of the Italians on board jokingly refer to this phenomenon as simply another example of doing things all’Italiana: Italian-style.

In any case, I was shocked when a uniformed attendant came through with a beverage cart, free of charge. Usually it’s woe unto he who travels with Trenitalia. Some day maybe I will tell you some of my stories, but for now just imagine herds of chickens and other assorted barnyard animals being rounded up and transported to their final resting places. Luckily this was a surprisingly pleasant trip, made even better by the fact that we managed to get our tickets on a 2-for-1 special, meaning we paid €15 each way per person, even less than the normal Eurostar train.

So, after an hour and a half, we get off at Napoli Centrale. Truth be told, I did feel a little like I had just entered a foreign, exotic locale—Naples to me is almost like one huge street market or bazaar. You’ll hear more Neopolitan dialect being spoken on the streets than you will actual Italian, which contributes to the otherworldly feeling. The best way I can describe Napoli is that it’s not really a place you visit—it’s a full-on sensory experience.

Crossing the street in Naples is akin to being transported back to the 80s and becoming the star of the video game Frogger. It’s not unlike the video you can watch below. Although I have no idea what city this video was filmed in, it certainly could be a busy Naples street on any given day.

After navigating our first challenge, we’re ready for breakfast, and so we head for the hallowed (and very crowded) Scaturchio.

Here you can experience the ultimate in one of the things Naples is famous for: its pastries. I opt for a warm sfogliatella, crispy and flaky on the outside and filled with sweet ricotta cream and a slight hint of cinnamon inside.

I found a recipe for sfogliatella here, but frankly even without reading the recipe, it looks like quite a challenge to make. If any of you have ever attempted this (and succeeded), I'd love to hear about it! Here I found a recipe claiming to be Scaturchio’s own pastiera, another famous Neopolitan pastry.

Don’t let the crowds scare you away—this is a must-stop when in Naples.

P.zza San Domenico Maggiore, 19
Telefono 0815516944

Next time we venture on to the fascinating Capella di Sansevero church, and after that we continue our gastronomic exploration of Neopolitan delights, while stopping to admire the nativity scenes, do some shopping, and tour Naples Underground. Stay tuned!


avery said...

Ale is one amazing man. He has lived like 7 lifetimes in what takes the rest of us one. amazing.
Can't wait to see Naples and it's gastronomic delights. It does have a bad rap but one of these days I have to make a trip down there. It is supposed to be reallly pretty.

triplecreme said...

The streets are totally Frogger! It is a Free-For-All! My aunt made sfgliatelle once, it took her all day, but she was quite successful.

gracie said...

Ahhhh ......... la pastiera!! so very good (not suitable for a diet though). Your Ale is a man full of surprise! The Holy Grail and the Templars, my fav reading subjects! (see my books list on at the voice "Alternative"). Make sure to post about the book release, and I will be the first in line at the bookshop!

East of Oregon said...

man that pastry looks good :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Lawyer, writer, soon to be Notary, what a Renaissance man.

Tami said...

Can't wait to see your pics of Naples. The only time that I went there was on a quick trip with my mom during my year in Italy. Unfortunately she had her necklace ripped off her neck within moments of exiting the train station. Needless to say she wasn't too thrilled about staying there to see any of the sites. So we went to Capri and saw nothing of Naples. This was all back in 1989 so perhaps it's not quite as dodgy now. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow, the pair of you are a dynamic duo! I never did get to Naples but I had the pleasure of going on a bus tour with a Napoli driver. Nothing fazed this guy. I saw him back onto a small driveway in the dark with cars piled up each way in the Roman hills. Look foward to hearing more of your adventures in Naples.

FinnyKnits said...

Any chance that book will be translated into English? My dad would LOVE to read it. That Ale, he is such a talented character - how he has time to study, work, cook and be wildly hilarious PLUS write a book, be a restaurant expert and know everyone in the neighborhood is beyond me.

If I haven't said it yet/recently, I am already looking forward to my return trip. Would next fall be too soon?

Shirley said...

Sfogliatelle for me is the ultimate Neapolitan pastry.And Naples is certainly one extraordinary city unlike any other in Italy, it certainly has to be experienced.

Anonymous said...

P.S. that video you posted was filmed in rome, i recognize my city (; it was filmed on the infmous crosswalks around piazza venezia.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Anonymous: At first I thought it might be Piazza Venezia too, or Rome, but if you look close there are buildings that don't exist there, like an Upim. The last street has a sign for Bassolino who used to be the mayor of Naples. I'm pretty sure the last one is Naples, the others might be Milan? All the Romans I've showed this video to haven't been able to tell me what cities they were but they were all 99% sure it wasn't Rome. Maybe I'll get in touch with the person who made it... now I'm curious! Who knows? What in particular made you think it was Rome...maybe I'm missing something.

Expat Traveler said...

wow wow wow - talk about an obstacle course for pedestrians! So cool! So cool to know why the photo was taken..

Shelly I sure hope we get to meet in the next few weeks!

Tracie B. said...

ma quando mai! sa da magna' a sfugliatiella a do' attanasio!

ok that was my poor attempt at the dialect. you came to my city AGAIN without calling? HHHAAAAAAAAAHH shelley, i'll forgive you.

Dorothy said...

Ican't wait to read the book. Sounds facinating. Ale is one of a kind. Dorothy Elliott, MI, USA