Neapolitan Pizza. Not pizza made anywhere else in Italy. Pizza made in Napoli. Punto.
The sounds of the quartiere. Church bells on the hour, roaming accordion players mid-morning, the chatter of the guys on the corner below. The persistent beep of car horns. The scooting of scooters. Yet another religious parade. The menacing cry of seagulls. The puzzling blend of 80s tunes blaring from the bar nearby. Italians are a boisterous bunch and they fill my life with sound.
The rare rainy day. The Italians are a solar-powered people. No, not in the tech-savvy, environmentally conscious sense (HA!). Rather, they live outside: on their balconies, the stradas, the piazzas, the outdoor cafès. If the sun is out, the Italians are at play. Thus, a rainy day is an unusual reprieve from the clammer I claim to love so much above. Sorry amici, I know you’re crestfallen, but sometimes it’s nice to hide inside and be a lil’ emo. The sun will be back tomorrow.
Vesuvius. An undisputed symbol of Napoli, she has come to embody the impetuous and unpredictable nature of the city. Ours is an uneasy alliance, but in some strange way, the sight of her signals home.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! I’m not Christian but Jesus has become a huge part of my life in Italy. The man is everywhere! I can’t purchase a hunk of parmesean at the local formaggeria or buy a new toothbrush without standing under the solemn gaze of Jesus. Or maybe it’s a tender gaze? Or a gaze full of divine mercy? Either way, he be watchin’! If initially weird, it has become reassuring. Akin to a Trip Advisor sticker, his visage suggests that this parm is Jesus-approved. Thumbs up, people!
The Italians themselves. Sure they come on strong with their smooching and close-talking, but you get the sense they really care about you. When I shared the news about Georgia, the whole neighborhood sought to comfort me. Georgia? Ma perchè?! Io non so questo posto… Georgia. Non preoccuparti, cara!/Georgia? But why? I don’t know this place… Georgia. Don’t worry, dear! They patted my hand and lamented living anywhere but Italia. (I didn’t have the heart to tell them Pozzuoli wasn’t especially cosmopolitan either but, lord knows, they wouldn’t have believed me anyway). Warm and inclusive, Italians are always hoping to expand their circle of famiglia and share their culture. And their recipes. My god, the recipes. Enough already!
Hand gestures. The lively hand gestures are precise and plentiful, relaying complex concepts all on their own. They perfectly illustrate the Italians’ effusive and affectionate nature. Plus, it makes eavesdropping way easier.
Driving. This is a real hot topic with foreigners – and for good reason. Scooters pass on either side, blinkers aren’t used, and often cars race up behind you with their lights flashing wildly (meaning: move, bitch!). Half of the country is unemployed and yet everyone is in a murderous rush to get where they’re going. Except for the guy triple parked downtown while he and his buddies pop in for a gelato. That gaugliò is taking his time…
It’s true the driving here is chaotic. But there’s something liberating about it too. Also, it’s hilarious listening to Americans become irate and all won’t-somebody-please-think-of-the-children! about it. I am sorry to report that no one cares about your Baby on Board in the States either, friends. It’s unreasonable to expect American traffic laws to apply anywhere outside of America. Italian drivers are not out to get you – they didn’t even notice they ran you off the road (duh, they were on their cell)! So: Don’t.Take.It.Personally. (This is good advice for 95% of life’s problems by the way).
Those “OMG! I live in ITALY!” moments. Whether it’s catching a glimpse of Capri on my way to the gym or spending an impromptu day in Roma, there are moments when I’m overcome with gratitude. TSwift spent her summer boating the Amalfi coast and eating at Napoli’s best pizzerias. Well… so did I!
It’s a Party. Everything has the potential to be a social occasion in Italy. The gym, the produce shop. If there’s an actual party? Everyone is invited! Plane landed safely? Emphatic round of applause! Once I was in traffic so ugly cars were parked on the tangenziale. While I buried my nose in a book, intent on denying the disturbance, Italians got out of their cars and began to chat. Can we get some caffè out here? Not to mention the nightly fireworks! Italians embody the spirit of YOLO.
Drammatizzare. So much drama, and Napoli is the stage! Take, for instance, the time the local grocery store packaged pre-cut broccoli for sale. Inwardly, I rejoiced. It was a small reminder of my life before Italy – a life of ease and efficiency. The old woman next to me, however, was incensed: “What? They think I cannot cut my own broccoli? I’m too busy to feed my family? Too lazy? What?!” Dear Reader, I’ve never known anyone who took broccoli so personally. Life here is full of these outrageous monologues. It’s awesome.
Pepe. Pepe is the portiere (or property manager) for our building. When he’s not tending to the plants or my broken appliances, he can be found standing on the corner with his ragtag group of buddies. Whether I’m coming or going, he’s there to greet me with a friendly wave. When I don’t know what to do, Pepe can fix it (and if he can’t, non ci sono problemi, he knows a guy). His constant presence is a comfort, especially so far from home.
Our balcony. Every morning it offers a stunning view of the bay and Italy’s third largest amphitheater. Amazing! It’s also a magical spot to watch storms roll in.
Gelato. On a hot summer day, it feels like everyone is eating gelato but me! I love that the pressure to booze doesn’t exist in Italy. Instead, it’s far more common for a couple of young guys to hop on a scooter and spend Friday night enjoying gelato together. It’s as wholesome as it is adorable! Who needs beer?
The simplicity. Life here is simple, though not easy. In the States things are easy: public transportation functions, deadlines are met, anything can be bought at any time. But, I think you’d agree dear Reader, there is a price we pay for those conveniences – everyone is hustling! The priorities are different here. Life is about family, food, and enjoyment. Caffè breaks and two hour lunches always trump your workload. Sure, it’s frustrating when you need something done, but it’s also lovely to see our neighbors rejoice in a new plant, the summer produce, or their first grandchild.
Billy Goes To Italy. I love how whole-heartedly my husband took to life here. He sips espresso like a local and fearlessly practices his Italian at every opportunity. He put numerous dents in his Alfa Romeo in pursuit of adventures in downtown Napoli (a place most Americans hesitate to even spend the day – lame!). The parco guys have embraced my chiacchierone (chatterbox) as part of their crew, inviting him into the never-ending circle of small talk. Mario, owner of the local pizza shop, teaches Billy naughty Neapolitan phrases and consults him about life’s mysteries: “I had a sex dream about a very fat woman, but my wife is very skinny… what does it mean, Bill?” I’m proud of my man and it’s been fun seeing him thrive in another environment. (But seriously, he’s thisclose to buying a Vespa and a man-satchel so it’s best we’re leaving soon).
That’s the highlight reel, kids. BUT! Living in Southern Italy wasn’t all good news… My next post will be about the things that make me glad to be blowing this popsicle stand. Until next time!