Italian Journey, Naples (Day 2 of 4)

After breakfast the next morning, we walked through the city and along the waterfront, to the Castel dell’Ovo, or Egg Castle, the name coming from a legend about the Roman poet Virgil who was said to have put a magical egg into the foundations to support the fortifications. Had this egg been broken, the castle would’ve been destroyed and a series of disastrous events in Naples would have followed.

The view from the castle was breathtaking. In one direction, you could see Mount Vesuvius against an unearthly blue sky, a puff of white cloud ascending from one of its peaks. Down below was the curve of the bay, and behind us a panorama of the city. We stood there looking out but without much sense of what we were looking at, nor about what we were standing on. I tried to imagine the castle bustling with soldiers and knights. I tried to picture the kings and queens and courtly activities, the music, the ignored screams of the captives that had once been held here. The place was now just a shell of its former self. An ancient, salt-and-weather-beaten shell. A conch shell devoid of the conch, with its ear to the sea but no song left in its throat.

It’s spirit was gone. It’s zen-moment-in-time had been had.

We were standing on the crusty and discarded remains of some insane metagalactic historical machine that whirled forever onward, paying little heed to man’s meagre creations. The machine had us. All we could do was play our assigned roles, and thereby serve it, oiling its Kafkaesque gears and adjusting the cables as we were supposed to.

We stood in the shadows of the castle with the wind in our faces, watching the seagulls sail over the glistening rocks, the bright, ethereal-blue skies like something out of a Raphael painting.

The air around us seemed to be vibrating.

Vesuvius was alive, snorting in its depths. The gulf of Naples brooding with all its secrets and the buildings of the city slouching toward perdition.

Everything was waiting for a second coming. Axis mundi. The tiger with the slow moving thighs.

*

We went to Sorbillo on the waterfront for lunch and had a pizza that might possibly have been the best I’d ever had – pizza was invented in Naples, it’s a little better than Dominoes. We then got espressos at a popular little cafe near the Palazzo Reale, and walked the streets, taking in the sights and the people. I was looking for the omnipresent yet ever-elusive Pulcinella. Not the mythical one from the old plays. The modern-day embodiment of him. Pulcinella is described as the voice and direct expression of the Neapolitan people. A public servant, often lazy and careless, always humorous. I knew several of them in the States via my tool rental shop. Here, I looked for him among the waiters, the shopkeepers, the cab drivers, the house painters and so forth. But my time was so limited I wasn’t able to find him. It was now late afternoon, time to cool down at the hotel for a couple hours.

There’s an art to taking a vacation. The art is to never neglect relaxation time. I only had two days in Naples, which wasn’t nearly enough to see everything I wanted to see. Two weeks probably wouldn’t have been enough. But I had to somehow make do with what I had while not overexerting myself. When some people go to new places on limited time, they often spoil the event with the feeling that they need to see everything, eat everything, take photographs of everything, and be everywhere all at the same time or the trip is a bust. Not me. I learned long ago the value of the return to the dark room in a strange city as temporary reprieve from the mob.

Two hours later, we felt completely rejuvenated. It was dinnertime. We walked through the bustling, narrow little scooter-buzzing streets to a place called Pizzeria Da Attilio.

A bottle of red house wine. Another pizza that bordered on the transcendent, and a winding down of the night at a little cafe on Via dei Tribunali where we drank Limoncelli Spritzes and I sketched the Pulcinella that had been eluding me all day. Unfortunately, he’s eluding me again today. I have tried to upload the sketch several times but the internet has been slow all evening and it won’t take. That might be a good thing though because I’m not quite finished.

See you tomorrow for day 3 from Pompeii and Positano.

 

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12 thoughts on “Italian Journey, Naples (Day 2 of 4)

  1. I’m jealous & jealous — first I’m jealous of the sensations and sights that you got to feel and see, and then jealous of your record of them, which is as much a poem as it is a journal entry. (I wish I had written it.) And thirdly I’m jealous of your ability to enjoy life. I love the advice against trying to “be everywhere all at the same time”; plus I love the notion of savoring “the return to the dark room in a strange city”. I myself know that even if I could take the identical trip, I’d be too nervous to have any appetite, and I’d be worried about getting lost, injured or sick… So, as I’ve said before, I’m thankful that I can appreciate these adventures thru your own mind’s eye. I also like how you can admit that “The place was now just a shell of its former self” and yet you manage to replenish its exuberance via the imagination. That always intrigues me: how stating that X is dead mentally resurrects X.

    • I had never left the States till I was 38. I definitely understand the jealousy. For years, anytime I read about anyone’s experiences in Europe an intense envy and jealousy would eat away my insides. Now that I live here, I’m used to it, so it’s not such a big deal, but I still have great appreciation, hence all the travel blogs.

      The nervous energy you get re; being in a foreign or unfamiliar place, I find fascinating. I would love to know more, or hear you tell more about the psychology of it, or the precise feelings that come over you at such times. You know Kant never traveled more than 10 miles from his home, but his mind was bigger than the whole world. I see you like that. Always ‘tending your garden’ in the Voltairian sense.

      Thanks for your kind words!

      • Yes! the garden-tending: that’s exactly right, which is funny because when I first read Voltaire’s Candide, I hated that ending: it really bothered me — probably there was something about it that I could detect would be my doom… maybe I’m predisposed like Caliban to recoil from mirrors. But now that I’m older, I love the idea. (By the way, the same hate-to-love reaction happened with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” — when I first read it, I loathed it; yet now, years later, it has become my favorite poem.) And yes, also everything I know about Kant’s personal life rings all-too-true: I’m not kidding when I say that altho I haven’t even lived a single year in my new neighborhood, I’m sure that the neighbors are setting their clocks by my bike-rides, which occur with a regularity that rivals Kant’s notorious daily walks.

        I always wonder if there’s a reason for my maintaining such a dull life and rote habits — & the best that I can come up with is this: When the exterior bodily existence is “tamed” into predictability, then the interior mental existence feels free to run wild. As you know, I’m a radical zealot for the imagination. But another thing that makes it hard for me to budge from my bias is that I have heroes like Kafka writing in his notebook stuff like the following (forgive me if I’ve quoted this to you before — I can’t stop repeating it, I love it so much):

        There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.

        Nevertheless I believe in what Whitman says about the body and the soul, assuming that the former stands for external reality and the latter for the surreal interior:

        I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
        And you must not be abased to the other.

        So I keep trying to seek balance rather than dominance, and to avoid rooting myself too deeply in this all-mental stance. (There is more to heaven and earth than is contained in our philosophy, as Hamlet always sez.) That’s why I never give up on my dreams of traveling, despite being so Kantian in my Minnesota radius, which, even in this age of automobiles and aeroplanes, contends with the pedestrian philosopher’s 10-mile average (I just did an online search, out of curiosity, and found that this new-old house that I recently moved to is only 3.7 miles away from the house I grew up in. Now that’s pathetic!) — in fact, the more fixed I become in my routine, the more my personal sirens sing BREAKAWAY!

        And when you ask about my “nervous energy” from foreign places, and say that you’d like to hear me “tell more about the psychology of it, or the precise feelings that come over you at such times” — I really wish I could concoct a more romantic explanation, but it’s really very shamefully selfish, even narcissistic: When I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings, the control-freak inside of me starts whispering worrisome scenarios like “What if you need to pee you can’t find a bathroom! God forbid that you wet yourself in front of all these people — then they’ll discover that you’re not a noble genius but just a stupid animal!” It’s just low angst of the boringest type: it stems from my desire to make a perfect impression — it’s almost a fitting punishment for harboring an overinflated notion of my importance, now that I think about it. Intense shyness is the proof of intense arrogance, in my case: it’s the curse that attends upon my sky-high ambition. I think that this is what Jesus must’ve meant when he proclaimed “whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life shall save it.” (Mark 8:35) For I so dearly value my precious self, and I so desperately want to travel and to enjoy ALL times, that I end up squandering my life in frets and worries, and I barely dare to leave my house: consequently I end up enjoying ZERO times.

        There’s a guide-book that attempts to treat anxiety disorder: it’s called Hope and Help for Your Nerves, by Claire Weekes. I don’t know about other people — everyone’s different — but this book worked for me so well that I now carry it around like a talisman everywhere. I only mention this fact because it shows how my adverse reaction to foreign situations is utterly explainable — the book explains my situation to a tee: I wish I could claim otherwise and say that I’m actually a freak of science, like a Joseph-Merrick-of-the-Mind, some sort of “Elephant Man of the Imagination”. But it’s just the ancient curse of fight-or-flight: I mean the reaction that is common to most flesh… it’s just a tendency of my system to mismanage adrenaline.

        You’ve said before that I needn’t worry about blabbing too much in these comments; and I really enjoy conversing with you; that’s why I let myself drone… Moreover it’s therapeutic — so if I ever do conquer my fears, it’ll be in large part due to your patience & friendliness; thus the optimist in me thanks you in advance!

      • You definitely needn’t worry about babbling too much. Often when the babbling begins, things start getting really interesting. I think you said something like that to me before and I agree wholeheartedly.

        I’m going to let your response stand as it is because you clear up everything perfectly and eloquently. You might even want to cut your response and use it elsewhere. It’s too good to just sit in an old comments section here. BTW, ‘mismanaged adrenaline’ – I love that. I can definitely relate.

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