Monday, March 19, 2007

Naples: The Eternal Hullabaloo

I want a biscuit from each of you

At breakfast I meet a French couple, guests in the Pasolini room. She's impressed by my pronunciation of Besançon (the final syllable dropped into the chin), and after my relating the story of the colour of the sky Bondi's "silencieux mais fatale" fart in French class, she tells of a 18th century treatise, an analytical dissection of the occurrence and presentation of farts, taking the Enlightenment to places where the enlight don't shine. A particular phrase caught her eye: "Pissing without farting is like visiting Dieppe without seeing the sea." Words to live by.

Religious procession breaks out into a fight; Neptune reclining with gelati

Today was a mix of touring the Greco-Roman underbelly of Naples, and its Italo-Insane overbelly. After all the driving of the last few days, I just wanted to stretch my legs. I went looking for the local craft markets, but these seemed to just be the ubiquitous discount socks and phone accessories found all over the world. Thinking that we had turned towards the waterfront, we instead found ourselves off the map in some industrial zone. You know when you're lost, when you basically reappear on the other side of the map.

I covet the waterfront - Bondi spies local feline community

They're all my best side, and that'll be three biscuits.

I have a tender face; Roman brick expo

Around 2pm we signed on for the 90 minute tour of subterranean Naples, which has 400km or so of underground tunnels constructed over the last 2500 years. Bondi was welcomed on the tour, our guide Alessandra being pleased to have him because he has such a tender face. There were two sections to the tour, the first starting in a local home where an entrance to the under-stage pit of a Roman Theatre had been discovered. Only 5 years ago, people were sleeping just over the entrance to the stairway down, and one section of the theatre was being used as a motorcycle shop.

In Suetonius' biography of the emperor Nero, he wrote
"Nero made his debut in Naples and when he sang the ground began to shake. Nero
continued to sing during the earthquake and, at the end of the show, thanked
both the audience and the gods for their applause."

Layers of Etruscan, Greek and Roman washing.

The second, longer part of the tour took us 40m under the city to where stone was quarried, Romans built cisterns and vast tunnels, much later used as air-raid shelters in WWII. For centuries these vast rooms had been filled up with refuse, dropped through well shafts from the surface. Due to the sheer quantity and issues with cholera, we were walking in rooms that had been resurfaced over a 5m layer of rubbish that hadn't been removed.

Underground mural celebrating the 4 days of Naples, when the local population turned against the Nazis in 1943.

Beginning the 40m descent; WWII Tank

Nothing in Naples escapes graffiti, even if it's way underground. From Roman graffiti "I said don't go, Julie, don't go!" to fascist slogans supporting Mussolini, it was all there.

Wee Willie Bondi runs through the tunnels

One of the last rooms we visited was where nuns used to store the wine they made. According to transubstantiated rumours it was concocted from the blood of St Patricia, although I believe it was more likely that they got any blood from the welts raised from piano students under their tuition.

Back on the surface, we finally found the waterfront, and the slightly upmarket areas leading towards the Gallery Umberto and Via Toledo. Bike riders here being at least as common as pedestrians, Bondi often drew a crowd of motorcycles fanning out like dancers in a Busby Berkeley musical.

Found a great pizzeria for dinner, not auspicious looking from the outside, but the staff saw Bondi and shepherded us in. There was a cabinet near my table showing all the travel guides that recommend this place (Pizza Sorbillo), where the crusts are very light and caramelized underneath. Apparently the founding husband and wife duo had 21 children who all went on to become pizza makers.

Pizza originated in Naples as a food for the poor, so you don't see the gourmet selections offered in other countries. The Sorbillo's pizzas were very cheap but hugely tasty - the exact opposite of those I had in Venice.

As evening drew on and we reached the Centro Storico again, the light against faded walls, the patterns of human activity that seemed essentially unchanged for centuries or even millennia, all brought to mind Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delaney's massive book about the city of Bellona, which opens:

to wound the autumnal city.

So howled out for the world to give him a name.

The in-dark answered with wind

Obviously another fart joke.

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