Dr.Dawg

The flavour of Naples

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pizza a napoli.jpgWhy not begin this traveller’s tale with a pizza, a high-class margherita from the oldest pizzeria in the world? L’antica Pizzeria di Port’Alba began as a food stand in 1738, became a sit-down place in 1830, and has continued ever since to serve the real stuff. With the “doc,” pictured here, and I mean the pizza, you don’t get mere oil, but extra-virgin olive oil; not mere mozzarella, but mozzarella di bufala; a tomato sauce that sparkles on the palate; one leaf of basil to perfume the whole; and a crisp woodfired crust. Yes, I ate the whole thing, washed down with Nastro Azzurro.

Note the colours, those of the Italian flag. You are tasting Italy. Beware of imitations.

Naples, it must be said upfront, is a dingy city, drowning in its graffiti. And the driving here is so unremittingly hair-raising that after a while you stop noticing. My friend and I got around by taxi: I was strictly forbidden to drive here, in a place whose native roadwork is feared, I am told, even by other Italians. A car door opens immediately in front of you? Do a fast little wiggle of the wheel, keep talking without a break. Passengers want a good view? Swerve directly into the on-coming traffic, pull off to that side of the road. The other drivers don’t even bother to honk. This sort of thing happens literally every few seconds, but you rarely see a scratch or a dent on any vehicle here.

They say Rome is worse. Impossible.

But Naples is also the home of the Christo Velato, carved by Giuseppe Sanmartino in 1753. Like the Satiro danzante in Mazara del Varo, no photograph can come close to capturing its vitality. It is simply the best marble sculpture that I have ever seen: light folds of near-diaphanous material over the body of Christ, outlining wrists, knees, hands, face, capturing a bodily agony softened in death.

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You don’t have to possess an ounce of piety to be moved by it. Here’s an account that may seem a trifle over-wrought, but words, too, must fail before such a speech-defying presence. Superlatives seem flabby and inadequate.

We can, of course, go further back. In the Archaeological Museum, we had the pleasure of seeing a number of mosaics from the city of Pompeii (of which more anon). Here are a couple:

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Then there is the Gabinetto Segreto—the inhabitants of Pompeii had a fairly uninhibited approach to sexuality, and the museum has devoted a room to their erotic art. A sampling, possibly NSFW, the first of Mercury, bearing a somewhat different staff than usual, the second of Pan, in flagrante delicto:

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The religious complex of Santa Chiara is somewhat less visually raucous. These gardens were a place where centuries of monks sat, walked and contemplated:

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In the town, the figure of Pulchinella appears everywhere. Here’s a modern statue in his honour:

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The condition of the walls behind him is typical of the Neapolitan patina.

And here’s what is supposed to be the main square of Naples, the Piazza Plebiscito, oddly empty, even sterile.

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Here a lone figure is levitating for money.

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And here’s the view from the famous Gran Caffè Gambrinus:

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Vesuvius is always in the background. One’s eyes are constantly drawn toward it, and to its changing aspect during the course of the day. Here’s the view from our hotel balcony, with Castel dell’Ovo in the middle distance:

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Worth the price of admission, I think. Bona jurnata!

[To come: Marechiaro; the Phlegraean Fields and Roman ruins; Pompeii; Sorrento, Ischia, Capri and Amalfi]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr.Dawg published on May 19, 2014 10:25 AM.

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