Napoli: The Unsung Story by Dilshad C
“O fair, false city, thou gay and gilded harlot! Wo for thy wanton heart, wo for thy wicked hardness! Wo unto thee, that the lightsomeness of life, beneath Italian suns, Should meet the solemnity of death, in a sepulcher so foul and fearful!” – Martin Farquhar Tupper
Naples is an incredibly lively city, its beauty and charm has been described and praised often, and as they say, “Vedi Napoli e poi muori!” See Naples and then die! One can’t blame the Neapolitan for never wanting to leave this city, nor its poets singing its praises in lofty hyperboles. The name of Naples brings back memories and images of Dean Martin singing That’s Amore, it also reminds us of white-t-shirt-wearing pizzaioli throwing pizza dough’s in the air and mandolin players chanting the secret love affairs of this city.
My story, however, is about the unsung people, it’s about those that tend not to be mentioned, it’s the story of those who roam the streets unnoticed and live an ordinary life of solitude.
Naples is also Camorra (the local criminal cartel), which truly is embedded in the daily life of everyone and for those that haven’t seen Gomorra, an astonishing movie by Matteo Garrone, go now and watch it!
Naples is made of thousands of colours and of the many market-places’ bustling sounds, Naples is about the kids that wiz through on scooters and the lady that shouts from the window, Naples is also about Maradona the god and its football team and this story is about all this!
My story begins here, at the Stazione Centrale di Napoli, where people come and go and rest and carry out dubious business, here, Maradona the god, from high above the station’s main gates, looks after its people and the caption below reads: Lui è il mio Dio (He is my God).
This is the story of the squatted S.K.A. a place where the disadvantaged social groups, the unemployed, the homeless reunite and where protests are organized. Today they are remembering Gigi, a juvenile killed in the turf war erupted between the various Camorra gangs, and fought largely by young street boys. Ciao Gigi (Hello Gigi) and Gigi Vive (Gigi Lives), one can read on the many graffiti around the city, and Gigi will live forever in the memories of those that loved him.
Bang, Bang My Baby Shot Me Down
This is also the story of Tonino, who hangs around the S.K.A., he is an ex Camorrista (member of the Cammora), or so he boasts about and as proof of his claim he shows me the many tattoos that he has. I’m not too convinced and I beg to differ with him, so angrily, he says: “This” – pointing towards his elbow – “is the spider web, sign of who has killed! And of those who have made it out of jail!” I sense a bit of pride welling in his chest, then pointing his cigarette at me says that the next time he will see me around he will shoot me dead…
I’ve Got A Knife In My Pocket
So I think it’s time to move on, I really don’t want to abuse his kindness and generosity… Talking about kindness, I end up in a local market place, where I am approached by a lovely old man who, in a whisper, asks me “vu n’iPhone?” (do you want to buy an iPhone?), and opens his vest filled with many memorabilia – I cordially decline his offer. I was, however, fascinated by his face and his dubious ways, so I decide to immortalize him. This, unfortunately, doesn’t go down so well with him and he pulls a knife on me, well I guess it’s time to move on again and this time a lot quicker then the previous one. Ah the joys of being a storyteller…
I ran and ran… it was a hot summer day and I wondered why I had actually decided to come to Naples? One with some sense and better reason, at this point, would just take the first train back and move on with his life, but I really wanted to capture the soul of this city.
I ended up in Spaccanapoli, the main street that traverses the old, historic centre of the city of Naples. The name is a popular usage and means, literally, “Naples’ splitter”; this is derived from the fact that it is very long and from above it seems to divide that part of the city in half. Historically, the street is one of the three decumani, or east-west streets, of the grid from the original Greco-Roman city of Neapolis.
Here I see Pulcinella, or I would like to call him like this. He was walking down in a dark alleyway with very little light and buildings on both sides. I remember I was talking to a jeweller about the history of the city and it’s particular vibe. While I was conversing with this quite extrovert jeweller, my eyes fell over Pulcinella. His characteristic and unusual way of walking had caught my imagination and my interest, he truly was such a particular character, making peculiar gestures, hence at that point I had to cut short the conversation and I went for the kill.
Pulcinella’s mannerisms reminded me of the Italian Commedia dell’Arte characters, thus the title name Pulcinella. After taking a few shots of him, I asked the people in the area about him and they all knew who he was: an actor in his younger years, not famous, but he made people laugh, they said. After his short-lived career, he started roaming the streets of Naples, playing his character and stopping at local coffee shops (Bar) for an espresso. For each espresso he drinks, he pays for a second one for whoever comes after him. I think I have enjoyed one of those coffees myself!
The Football Fan
My journey towards the discovery of Naples was becoming more of an Odyssey. Lost in the meanders of the old city I decided to go where no tourist ever dared going: in the Quartieri Spagnoli (The Spanish Quarters), the poor area of Naples, suffering from high unemployment and strong influence of the Camorra, this area of the city is plagued with petty crime and it’s a no-go-zone for tourists. The Quartieri were created in the 16th century to house Spanish garrisons, hence the name, whose role was to quench revolts from the Neapolitan population. Soon they became an infamous quarter with a high rate of criminality and prostitution.
Here I had the pleasure of meeting 11 years old and 14 years old Ciro and Nino, two football fan, who were getting ready for the local match, and Nonna Pina, their grandmother, who was enjoying the sight of them playing with a Molotov bottle.
Selling My Life
My story continues and now the main characters are the immigrants, the tailors, the street vendors and the miracle seller: Habib has been in Naples for the last 5 years, works 7 days a week and the little he earns goes all to his family in Kashmir. His red beard is one that he is proud of; it took him 2 years to grow it and twenty minutes a day to take care of it. Indeed, happiness is hidden in little ordinary daily life gestures.
Life As A Taylor
Reanto’s tailoring laboratory is also his bedroom; the door is always left open for anyone that wants to have something stitched or wants to pop in just for an espresso and a chat. Renato has been there for as long as his memory can recount it. He has seen the many facades of this strange city, which, he says, every so often is reborn from its own ashes, like the phoenix so that it can raise itself high and might again only to fall better and harder.
In The Name of Berlusconi
Naples is also about its street vendors and their colourful shops. There are hundreds of these around everywhere selling anything from Santini (small figurines of local saints) and statues of those classical characters that originated from the Commedia dell’Arte. So I asked him why together with the saintly figures and theatrical characters he also had for sale the statues and photos of Berlusconi? “Ah, he is a bit of both” he replayed, carelessly.
I Sell Miracles
Naples is about the story of the miracles sellers, it is truly a serious business here and it is not to be messed with. The Santo Protettore or patron is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person. Patron saints, because they have already transcended to the metaphysical, are believed to be able to intercede effectively for the needs of their special ones, obviously for a little charge, or as we might call it “Donation”. Hence, people are more prone to make donations in exchange for solved issue. I wanted to come back alive from my visit to Naples and of course with some good photos out of this day here, so I approached him and made my donation… You decide now if you should believe in a patron or not.
Naples is beauty and solitude and its stories are made of lost souls who wanted to be like Liz Taylor all their lives, and do look the part at 9am of an ordinary and average day. They roam the streets, window shop and stop to sip coffees and converse to their local greengrocer. Liz would have probably done the same too had she had born in Naples.
Til Life Do Us Part
Naples is about the story of those that have stopped talking to each other because of a card game gone foul or of a football conversation that lead to a never-ending argument, well at least till the next coffee break and then they will start again, it’s a strange beautiful vicious circle that goes round and round…
Naples is about the story of those that apologise and swear on their grandfather’s soul that they never intended to do what they did; and yet some people will never change, similarly to their listener that do not care anymore and are not bothered, they have seen and heard it all.
Grown Old Together
Naples is about the story of those old ladies that have been friends for a lifetime and grown to like and to support each other in difficult times and meet every day, at the same time, in the same place for the past half a century and discuss family matters and the odd gossip. These ladies are the true patron of the story and the history of these streets, they have seen Naples change and raise high and mighty and fall and then pick itself up and raise again. They are the true gatekeepers of this beautiful city.
This is also my story, the story of my reflections in the many rear-view mirrors and windows of this city; this is the story of me looking through dark alleyways in search of the light, in search of another story to tell.