Navigating Naples

According to the young man who helped us buy rail tickets in central Naples (the day after this one), Naples is a place unique in all of Italy. Not so much as for its historical or architectural significance, but because of the people and their attitude, as we saw walking through the heart of the city. The rail ticket machine, I guess, a symbol. It takes the patience of a saint as you hit buttons and wait, and wait, and wait. The line behind you grows and no one grumbles or bats an eye. As the young man embodied the attitude with a quiet lifting of his shoulders and a raising of his hands with his palms up.

That attitude is pushed aside though as we crawl and stop through rush hour traffic this day. No one seems happy as horns blow, motor bikes weave in and out and into oncoming traffic. And, the traffic lights, at least those still working, act as a suggestion rather than a rule.

Our first stop in the city center is at the Piazza del Plebiscito. It’s a large and stately square where in 1861 Naples voted to join Italy – thus the name meaning, plebiscite.

On the opposite side is the Royal Palace (Palazzo Reale). Over the years the palace housed Spanish, French, and even Italian royalty. Large statues of those who stayed here are displayed all around the perimeter. When you think of palaces, this one is pretty unimpressive.

More interesting, however, was a grand display of Italian military prowess. A governmental military building on the side of the square had obviously created a display of aircraft, armored vehicles, demonstrations of physical fitness, hands-on activities for kids by all four branches of service. In typical military fashion, three military officers laser focused on two, attractive, single women in our group. It was all in fun, and the date they tried to make was dashed by the fact that we were too far away and too limited in our time to “accomplish” the mission.

A great example of Naples’ grandeur…and decline is the Galleria Principe di Napoli. An expansive, elegant skylight with carved woodwork and beautiful ironwork was originally built with high expectations, similar to 19th century Art Nouveau malls in Paris (Liberty Style in Britain). Naples was sometimes called the Paris of the south. Despite its grandness, the mall suffered from economic stagnation beginning in the late 1800s, and even with large renovation recently, continues to fail to attract business.

From the grand, but empty mall, we walked a bit into some of the ”thin” streets of the Old City. Naples where the business really happens. One interesting site is an amazingly long street with only Christmas decorations out on display all year round including these eclectic statuettes of famous people who look like they might go right in the mangers of every kind in the stalls next door. We also came across what looked to be a shrine to Maradona, the Argentinian soccer player who became a “god” in Naples when he played for their team. There is an actual shrine to him that is always active with new flowers and burning candles. It’s in a pretty seedy/dangerous area where we were advised not to go.

Before lunch, on our way from a large square we had trouble crossing the street, and even hearing ourselves, we came across thousands of union strikers/protestors marching to a rally at the square we just left. Anyone who knows Italy knows about strikes. They can pop up anywhere at any time. At least it was colorful! Here’s a short video to see and hear it happening:

Pizza at the Source

Then to lunch at San Genaro Pizzeria, supposedly (according to our guide) the original pizza place in the whole world. Hmmm. Anyway, the two originally invented are the Margarita with tomato sauce, basil and/or oregano and mozzarella, and (blessedly for me and the other lactose intolerant) the pizza marinara with tomato sauce, olive oil, basil or oregano. No cheese. When I ordered I got not funny or disgusted looks like I get in the US. I was happy.

While waiting for our group we found this stunning church, one of the nicest we’ve seen anywhere. It was so bright, airy and uplifting – as opposed to those darker, oppressive places where the “fear” of God dominates the desire to get closer to her/him. The top photo is of magnificent light streaming in from one of the stained glass windows.

Finally we stopped at Naples’ historic cathedral, the Duomo, built in the 14th Century. It’s Neo-Gothic outside gives way to a huge interior of mixed styles of gothic arches to Renaissance to Baroque. The paintings are splendid and included the Pio Monte della Misericordia, one of the finest works by Caravaggio (the Seven Works of Mercy). The Caravaggio had been moved to a small chapel across the street that, unfortunately closed just as we found it. Too bad as we truly believe he is one of the finest painters who ever lived. Here’s a rough glimpse from the front of the brochure.

The worst part of rushing and missing the Caravaggio was that I lost my favorite Pinelands Preservation hat. Went back to look and it was just gone. Oh well. Took a deep breath and went back on the van to the hotel. After another massive dinner we hit the sheets for a bit of sleep before exploring Herculaneum tomorrow morning. Try not to dream of a wall of molten ash coming your way.

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