And so another adventure begins…under the most unassuming of circumstances. I set out to find internet and instead find a treasure. I leave the ship intent on spending my break in the port terminal where internet is free but for the cost of a cappuccino, which is of course overpriced since the internet is free. However, for some reason, my computer won’t connect despite the triumph of all those around me. I take this as a sign. “Right,” I say to my friend who is happily skyping away in Romanian with everyone he knows on the planet, “I am off.” He looks at me quizzically asking if I am still unsuccessful. Nonsense, there is no failure here, just a change in purpose. So off I go, heading on foot towards the pizzeria I have heard has amazing food and free internet, but without an actual map or sense of direction which will make this a bit more of a challenge.
This is my first venture into the mean streets of Napoli as I have always been told it was a bit of a sh*thole but I am immediately entranced. I start to walk past the castle which dominates the landscape and then think to myself, “What am I doing?” I am not going to become so jaded that I put on blinders and miss such a sight. So I throw my hair into a loose braid and make my way up the hill towards this landmark which I come to find out is the Civic Museum. Well, truth to tell, I don’t feel like going to a museum but I do have a lovely view of the interior from the arch entrance and in the center of this egress the wind catches little wisps of my hair and they drift romantically across of my face. I take a moment to let my eyes lock ever so briefly with the two attendants then look away, slightly embarrassed that I am so caught up in this moment. In my mind I am the most intriguing being in this sphere, lithe and statuesque, though the fantasy is a far cry from reality. “Ciao, Bella.” Perhaps not so far from the truth as I thought. I shyly walk away to continue my adventure.
What a beautiful place, intriguing and exciting, not dissimilar to New York in spirit but with the look of a long and rich history. As I walk along, still with no real sense of direction, I cast my eyes to the street and the array of Pr*da, G*cci and D*lci and G*bbana bags which line them. I really do need a new purse. So I zero in upon one and allow myself to be pursued until at last I break at 15 euro settling reluctantly on the small polished leather Pr*da bag. Don’t worry, I know it is not Prada but it started out at 45 euro and it is quite pretty so I still feel victorious…and I really did need another purse as the only one I have brought abroad is too big and quite literally falling apart at the seams. I briefly consider buying a second one for a lark, but as my funds are limited, my time is short and the risk of buying knock off material great, I move on.
Now there is a moment in movies which you often see but which I have never experienced when a person walks into a place and is quite literally stopped in his or her tracks by the beauty of it. I have never experienced this until today. I came around a block and encountered what I believe was an open air shopping mall under the cover of a great cross shaped archway so breathtaking that I had to stop to take it in. I take a moment to walk through this beautiful place, enjoy the peace imparted by the flying buttresses above. It’s funny, it reminds me a bit of Grand Central or Union Station (perhaps their very designs were mirrored after this place) but the effect is completely different. You go to GCS or US to meet everyone in the world, to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big city and the excitement of a thriving metropolis, but it seems here, you come to breathe and to slow down, even if it is, as with me, a fleeting moment. I try to take a picture with my I-Pod only to discover it is dead. Perhaps that is best, I shall just enjoy this moment for myself, a private respite undisturbed by the need to capture and covet it. I think sometimes cameras are a nuisance; a device you feel beholden to. So often I have seen people so fixated on getting the perfect picture, they miss the action around them. There is a woman, crippled and bent in the doorway begging for money with the face of an angel, sad and beautiful.
I do notice though that upon my departure, my pace has slowed and I seem so much more aware of the beauty of these narrow cobblestone streets with their lights strung delicately between the buildings since I am now forced to make only mental note of all I see and experience. Little gifts from the universe abound all throughout the city, wrapped in bright colored paper and delivered to my doorstep, like the woman on the Vespa, from behind a lovely and vivacious twenty something but come round the front and she is a hard-faced forty with a cigarette and a senior who jumps on the back. Husband or father? They kindly give way as I pass and I’m happy to have seen them. Or the bull-faced bouncer in the café who angrily tosses his cigarette across the counter onto the floor as he makes some dismissive comment to his companion, yet when I catch his eye and smile he grudgingly breaks the moment, face never changing with, “Ciao……..Bella.” The incongruity of the moment makes me laugh out loud. I catch sight of a narrow little alleyway and a restaurant with faux gaslights out front. “Restaurante Cucciolo a Bohemien” a bohemian pizzeria. Perfecto!
I walk in and immediately, I am struck by the photos on the walls of celebrities and artists of the theatre, opera and movies. OMG, I have come to the Neapolitan Sardi’s. There is Pavarati, smiling down at me as if to say, “Well done Laurel, you found us!” I am not even sure that the restaurant is truly open as I am alone here and the server actually closes and locks the door behind me.
“Are you open?” I ask timidly, to which this kindly Italian man with a generous face lined with years of service and laughter responds, “Yes”. “Do you have internet?” “Yes.” Wow, ok, I am doing quite well. He goes to get me a menu and I take out my computer. “How do I get on the internet?” “Yes.” Whoops. Ok, perhaps not as well as I thought. Nope, no internet access at all. Screw it, who cares? I peruse the menu which is entirely in Italian, which of course, I do not speak. It is of no consequence. I recognize the word insalata, know how to cobble together enough Italian for house red wine, and ask for a recommendation from the server who can say the words meat and fish in English. We shall go with the fish.
Oh, before I order, “Do you take credit cards?” “Ok.” I pull out a credit card to show him and he smiles reassuringly, “Si, si”. I return his smile, knowing that I now have no idea what I have ordered nor what it will cost and that I am likely paying 1 euro for internet I cannot use, but it is small price to pay for the joy that I am experiencing in this moment. This is a moment no one else will ever have, encapsulated for me. The salad comes and it is a thing of beauty. The fish comes and it is of course, amazing!
I end with a cappuccino and the “special cake”. It is not the best thing I have ever experienced, but it is wonderful. Everything in this moment is wonderful because I am so filled with the joy of it all and I feel especially brilliant for this adventure, knowing that soon I shall return to the ship, filled with people who never left because Naples was too hard or too hot or too ugly. Or that it was easier to nap or take a taxi or that they’d been here before and had nothing new to see. Please oh please, let that never, ever be me. Thank you universe for reminding me that I am special and that romance, beauty and yes, even magic exist in the world, if you just take the time and make the effort to find them.