Or: Bambinos in the Woods
Today we explored a new to us city: Napoli.
For me it was a completely fresh experience especially since, I blush to admit, I haven’t been in Italy since 1982, and that was during one of those “If this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium” bus tours.
At first I was apprehensive because I speak hardly a word of Italian other than a few words gleaned from menus. However, as with many European cities, English is the ubiquitous default language and everyone we came in contact with was more than happy to put up with our stuttering attempts to communicate.
However, I never really did get over my fear of Italian city traffic! As we left the busy port, with its bewildering maze of construction and roaring trucks, I could see this would be a very easy city in which to get lost. I was so glad we were walking, not driving. At each corner, we were lucky if we could locate a street name, and then it took even longer to locate that street on the map. If I were the navigator in a car, we would have been miles away before I figured out where were had been. By that time we would be lost again.
However, being a pedestrian in Naples does come with its own dangers, particularly when crossing the street. Looking for a crosswalk helps but that is still no guarantee that a car won’t cross dangerously close. I suppose a crosswalk means if they hit you, it’s their fault. Otherwise, pedestrians are fair game.
I am also afraid I misinterpreted the meaning of the little honk. We were at one busy crosswalk with cars dashing to and fro when one car gave a gentle honk and I took that to mean, “Go ahead,” as it would in England. I gave the driver a thank you wave and smile and strode right in front. Luckily, he was aware enough of my touristic blunders and didn’t hit me. As we went by other intersections, I soon realized the quick honk means, “Heads up, I’m coming through.”
My favourite parts of Napoli were the narrow streets that were (mainly) free of vehicle traffic… Except for motorcycles and scooters, they were everywhere! Every time scooters came to an intersection, they gave a warning hoot before scurrying through. One woman’s horn must have been on the blink because she yelled at each corner! Perhaps that is one reason why so many had faulty mufflers, having a loud vehicle become a safety feature!
The narrow streets are like canyons lined with balconies on either side. The balconies in turn are lined with all manner of flapping laundry. On the street level are the shops,and all are vying for your attention. Quickly you can see what is prized in Napoli: food, wine, lemons, pasta, shoes, clothes, tobacco, and mobile phones. I loved the shop that had beautiful little landscapes made with cork wood bark.
With all that traffic, all that honking, and all those people, you can well imagine that Napoli is a rather noisy city and you would be correct… Except in one place… Inside the Duomo.
This cathedral is an oasis of calm. A sanctuary of peace. A marble and gold haven of coolness. The contrast between one side of the door and the other was so sudden, it was almost unbelievable. It reminded me of the moment when you are snorkelling that you first put your head under the water. Instantly you are surrounded by silence and in that silence you suddenly become aware of a whole new level of completely unexpected beauty.
After being refreshed both physically and mentally, I was ready to charge out into the streets and brave the traffic with more vigour and, I hope, more savvy than before. I am not ready to hit the streets like a local, however. At one intersection I watched in awe as one fellow crossed a busy three lane street against the light, directly behind a police car. To top it off, the fellow was smoking. Apparently he likes to live life dangerously!