And so it was that I embarked upon my last trip around Italy before I return for Christmas. Naples, which, if the South of Italy were to have a separate capital city, would surely be it, seemed a fitting place to end the first chapter of my year abroad.
As with all places, I went for the food, but before we get to that, here’s what else Naples has to offer the less greedy tourist. First and foremost, it’s the churches. I suffered from a similar church overload that I experienced in Rome, which I hope you will understand when you see the Google map detailing all of Naples’ churches below:
Still, I was particularly keen to visit the Capella Sansevero, home to a sculpture called the Cristo velato (‘veiled Christ’). We weren’t allowed to take photos in the chapel (of course, Italians being Italians, several people tried, and were put in their place immediately by two stern looking wardens), so the photos here are from the chapel’s website. The Cristo velato is astonishing – both in the skill that must have been involved in creating the impression of a figure under a veil in marble and in implying such frailty in form in stone. Still, far more interesting (for me anyway) is the underground room of the chapel, home to the anatomical machines (see gruesome picture below) – an experiment from around 1763 by Raimondo di Sangro and Dr Giuseppe Palermo that has resulted in the preservation of the circulatory system on a male and female skeleton – I couldn’t take my eyes off them!
Religion and science in the Capella Sansevero
No doubt you could spend weeks in Naples just exploring the churches, and it’s also home to some great museums, but this time round we were there for the Christmas market. Part of Catholic tradition is to decorate homes with an elaborate ‘presepio’ – a Nativity scene, for which you can buy countless characters and pieces of scenery at the market on Via San Gregorio Armeno. Italians begin decorating their homes with these nativities and their Christmas tree on the 8th of December, the immaculate conception. The streets of central Naples were packed with merrymakers from the early hours, and the atmosphere was jovial (think people in fancy dress bursting into song and parents carrying toddlers high above a sea of people), if at times a little tense (think not being able to edge your way around crowds of singing people in fancy dress and the fear of sending toddlers flying as you shoulder your way through the throng). Still, it’s clear that the people of Naples take Christmas extremely seriously, and of that I heartily approve.
The market was the perfect opportunity to indulge in two of my favourite year abroad hobbies: listening out for people speaking English and shopping. The former was mainly satisfied by Anna, my travel companion, and the gentleman from whom I purchased an unholy amount of pashminas, also fulfilling criteria b. Naples is far more pleasantly diverse than Reggio, and as a tourist I felt much more at home there, if a little overprotective of my belongings at all times.
Still, that’s not to say that I was able to communicate with any of the locals. The title of this blog, as well as being a gioco di parole that I am understandably very proud of, is a reference to the fact that, sadly, having a decent command of Italian does not mean that you will be able to converse with any Italians. This is perhaps more true in Southern Italy, where speaking dialect is very common, and said dialect is pretty removed from Standard Italian (the closest dialects to the standard used to be around Florence, and have since gone further north). Although there are very few people that are unable to communicate in Italian (my guess would be the elderly or those living in very remote areas), dialect, or a mixture of the two, are still very widespread, and largely incomprehensible to the foreigner. Wikipedia, seemingly having even more time on its hands than me, has handily translated the Lord’s prayer into Napoletano – here is an example:
English: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Italian: Venga il tuo regno, sia fatta la tua volonta’, come in cielo, cosi’ in terra.
Napoletano: Faje vení ‘o regno tuojo, sempe c’ ‘a vuluntà toja, accussí ‘ncielo e ‘nterra.
So not entirely removed, but hopefully you can see why I might have trouble. Fear of living in the South and developing an unprestigious deep southern accent (the equivalent of the North here – sorry northern friends – with the additional menace of the Mafia thrown in), has been replaced by the peril of accidentally learning an entirely different language. Fortunately, three months later, I still understand next to nothing of Calabrese, the local dialect, with the exception of a few swearwords that have eked their way into the everyday language.
Anyway, where was I? Naples! Food! We finally made it here, your reward for reading the above is that I will now make your mouth water with a description of the delights of Neapolitan cuisine. Silvana had advised me to try pizza (which originated in Naples), hazelnut coffee and sfogliatelle, and so, like a dutiful language assistant, off I went! The pizza was naturally incredible – if you’re a fan of the crispy base you really ought to stay away – the dough is as dreamy as the toppings of fresh buffalo mozzarella and prosciutto. Sfogliatelle, for those wondering, are yummy warm filled pastry creations – the pastry is like a filo texture but there’s so much of it that it’s really thick, and then it’s filled with a custard-like mixture that’s much thicker too and you eat them warm and they’re YUM. On top of this Anna and I found an enoteca (wine bar) for an evening drink and had some delicious sangria, albeit with some rather rustic chunks of orange – and of course I was merry after a glass because I have been essentially abstaining for most of the trip. Breakfast at the hotel was the classic croissants and cake combo – I don’t think I had anything but sugar before 2pm, no wonder I was buzzin’.
I would definitely visit Naples again – as per I had been rather optimistic in time allowed for the visit with just one night in the city – but the views of Vesuvius on the train ride home have reminded me of something I have to see first – Pompeii!