It was a last-minute, 72 hour journey that began in Naples. We arrived on Sunday, June 16th, 2019. We arrived by easyJet in the middle of the day, the skies cloudless, the Italian sun beating down on Vesuvius, gleaming off the rooftops and palm trees and the Gulfo di Napoli. We took a bus from the airport to the central train station, and from there we walked on the shady side of the street to our hotel. It was about a twenty-minute walk, and on the way we passed crowds of migrants hanging out on the sidewalks, many of whom had little tables set up, or blankets laid out from which they were selling purses, or sunglasses, or cellphone cases, or basketball shoes of the most hideous colors and styles. Basketball shoes have never been more hideous-looking than in the present age. How people can wear them without being ashamed I have no idea, but many do. Some even wear them with pride. Some even murder for them. To me they represent some corruptive element in our society, much like plastic. Or Burger King. Or prosperity churches. Or Mark Zuckerberg. Nonetheless, these very same shoes, along these very same cellphone cases, purses and sunglasses were being sold from little makeshift hovels all over the city. It was as if every seller went to the same supplier who’d just imported the junk from the squalid bowels of China on some massive cargo ship. Was the supplier linked with the Camorra? I wondered. The mafia had their hands in everything in Naples, and had an especial fondness for trash.
So. It was Sunday afternoon, but there was no Sunday calm where traffic was concerned. The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of motor scooters tearing through the streets. They’d buzz by you like deranged and maddened insects, dodging around the cars and buses, blowing through stoplights and zebra crossings, honking, revving their little 50cc engines, moving together in twos and sixes and eights, whipping around corners only to be replaced with new hordes coming from different directions in doubly aggressive manifestations.
As for the architecture, many of the buildings on our walk looked more like ruins, ancient, crumbling, unpainted with colorful laundry strung up outside the windows, a wedge of blue sky above, with the occasional old lady perched on some balcony, peeping down at you from eight floors up, her head the size of a raisin.
Erica had a grim first impression of the city which was no doubt exacerbated by the baking sun and the fact that she was hungry and all the restaurants were closed because it was the day of the Lord. Erica was one of those people who needed her three squares at precisely the same time everyday or she’d start getting moody. My moods, on the other hand, weren’t tied to the missing of one meal. I’d missed so many in my life, I welcomed the feeling of an empty belly sometimes. It was like an old friend. It gave fresh perspective. It inspired contemplation and the poetry that arose therefrom. I tried to explain this to Erica but she didn’t want to hear it. She just wanted to be crabby, which made me crabby, and soon I was more than crabby. I was livid. I can’t handle crabby people without reacting. I take it personally. But I bit my tongue and stewed and finally we stumbled upon our hotel.
The hotel, or bed and breakfast to be more precise, was on the 5th floor of a high-rise that must have been about 100 years old. It had smooth marble floors, a marble staircase, black, wrought-iron railings and a coffin-sized elevator in a shaft where all the pulleys and chains and wheels were clattering and visible.
We took the stairs up. We rang the bell. A dark-haired woman of about sixty answered with a smile and greeted us in Italian. As it turned out, she didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak Italian. We pantomimed to each other, and were led down the hallway to the Pino Daniele-themed room. Every room in the place had a theme. The one next to us was Sofia Loren. The one down the hall was Pulcinella. Another was Billy Pasta, famous tightrope walker and telemarketer from the 1930s. So they say.
Pino Daniele, I was to find out, was a Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist, and in our room, there were eighteen of his album covers of in miniature form hanging in little frames on the wall. The album covers went back to the late 70s or 80s when he was the picture of health, with his toothy smile and huge and glorious lion’s mane. He kept the mane from when it was from black to salt-and-pepper to almost pure white, though even then it was still thick and beautiful and he was still the picture of health. Then,ard the end of his career, he cut it off, no doubt the biggest mistake he’d ever made. It was like Samson cutting off his hair. There was nothing for him to draw power from anymore. In the photos of him with this new hair he looked wan and bloated and there was a sad foreboding in his eyes. It was as if he knew that cutting off the fleece was a fatal error and he would soon have to pay the debt.
I tried to figure out the rest of his story from the album covers, but that’s as far as my imagination took me.
I then looked Pino Daniele up online and found out he had died of a heart attack in 2015 at age 59.
I then listened to a song of his on YouTube and it was flat, uninspired. A total nothingburger.
Had to be his later stuff.
Erica’s cheerful mood came around later that day, after she’d gotten the missing square in her belly, and after we’d cooled off in the ancient aqueducts under the city. The tour lasted about an hour and a half, after which we got pasta and beer and a local trattoria. Then we sat a little cafe on a bustling little street drinking Aperol Spritzes and limoncelli shots. The drinks were great and the waiter’s English was perfect until it was time to pay the bill.
“I’m giving you 13,” I said.
I repeated myself. He looked at me confused.
“Here’s 20, bring me back 7 por favore.”
“Si, si…” he said.
He trotted off and came back with 5. But by the time I realized it he was nowhere to be found and when he did return, he passed our table but didn’t dare look over. That’s when I noticed his shoes for the first time. He was wearing basketball shoes, the same ones the migrants sold out of canvas bags all over the city. The ones that had come from the squalid bowels of China.
I let him keep the 2.