Friday, 18 July 2014

Love in Naples

It's official. I am in love with Naples. I thought it might just be a one night stand but the passion has intensified over the past 24 hours. Now it's a two night relationship. Naples is wild. It's a love or hate relationship. Its passionate or its painful. It's sexy or it's just plain dirty. So full of life and energy and madness. As far as rules go - forget them. Here's a few examples: texting while riding a Vespa with no helmet and weaving through oncoming traffic in laneways only one vehicle in width; a 12 year old, no helmet, jumps on his motorcycle in Sanita district and speeds off; two women and two children under five, on a Vespa in the busy back streets (Spanish quarter) - no helmets; u turns in the face of oncoming traffic as a matter of course; short changed at the Central station when buying tickets for the Metro from a very helpful member of Trenitalia; short changed at the local deli when buying ingredients for dinner; overcharged in pretty much every transaction. Tourists are simply an obvious opportunity to make a few extra biucks. I'm wearing a label on my forehead - 'Tourist, take me for a ride.' So what's to love. It's the adrenalin, the energy of the place. I've always been attracted to taking risks and this is the city for risk takers be it taking your life in your hands crossing the road or riding your motorcycle or wandering in narrow laneways from which there may be no escape. These days I've mellowed and take very calculated risks but there's something about this place that has me reliving my mis-spent youth. It's LOVE. Not Rome and romantic love; not Malta and slowly falling in love with the relaxed style and ordinary everyday things; not Lisbon and its sophisticated charm. This is Naples and it's full on passion which might burn out quickly but I suspect this will be a love that will linger. My previous love of this intensity was probably India almost thirty seven years ago and before that Andrea forty years ago this year.

Pizza Australiano

Alice Springs marked clearly and the Simpson Desert is a mozarella desert
Sanita from above. Don't go down we were advised.
Pizza Australiano from the Sanita district which we were told we should avoid because of its bad reputation and where they recruit priests very young.

Had my confession heard at Basilica Santa Maria della Sanita

Thursday, 17 July 2014

In Naples

Naples, Napoli, capital of the south, home of the Mafia and gangsters and exploding Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii frozen in time. A risky place; a place with a reputation.
The moment I stepped into the sunlight eight hours ago and began the trek to our accommodation down Via Toledo I knew that this place had something special for me. Rome has elegance and ruins and history, but Naples has the edge - charm, energy to burn, street life where the locals outnumber the tourists, rough edges abound and superb old palaces and civic administration centres sit in a state of decay Rome could not cope with.
Palazzo Reale is enormous and sits at the end of Via Toledo fronting the expansive square which is Piazza del Plebiscito (the name says it all). It is a functioning administrative centre but almost impossible to navigate and it is in great need of some tender loving care. There was a protest going on by some builders on the Pallazo scaffolding (they've begun restoration work) exhorting the lavorare (workers I think) to take action about something. They banged metal rods against the iron work creating a shocking piece of music.
Naples just seems to speak in a really unpretentious way while full of contradictions and surprises. A case in point - the Central Station where I fully expected to be mugged and robbed as I arrived has been transformed into a shiny piece of world class architecture.
That was my first shock. And then it just kept getting better. I love it L.O.V.E. IT.

My apologies for my over enthusiastic review.I'm not usually one for superlatives - in fact i am normally an enemy of the over use of the superlative. In this case I make an exception. Of course day two may prove me to be a naive fool.

Louis Vuitton and me

'Scusi, can you help me?' A well dresed middle aged man, blue shirt, tie, gray hair has pulled up beside me. He leans across the passenger seat of his little car.
'Do you speak English?'
'Si" I reply. We've reversed languages.
'Can you help me? I am from Milano. Where is the Colosseom from here?  He has a map on his lap which he thrusts at me.
I try and take in my location and get my bearings. Then, like an expert I offer my well informed advice - I've been in Rome almost 36 hours.
'I'm from Milano,' he repeats his plea.
'You are at the Piazza Republica' I tell him, 'You need to go back. It's the opposite direction.'
'I see,' he is so grateful 'Where are you from?' ' he enquires. ' ...Australia! My wife is Australian, from a place in Victoria. Melbourne' he turns this into a question as if asking me to confirm his wifes birth place.'And you?' he hurries on. 'From Brisbane! Yes I know Brisbane.' I have a moment where I sense there is something not quite right. "Melbourne? A place in Victoria." He is unsure of the status and whereabouts of the city of Melbourne? But I am the good samaratan and choose to ignore my doubting voice.

He reaches across and grasps my hnd in a firm manly grip s if we are having a reunion. We are best mates.
'And your wife?'
'From Brisbane also' I say.
'You have been most helpful' he races on. 'I work for Louis Vuitton. You have heard of him?' He shows me his card and his folder of fashion shots. Beautiful women in beautiful clothes. The folder is bent badly in one corner and a luittle dog eared.
'Here,' he says reaching behind to the back seat. 'I would like to give you this for your wife. A gift.' He has pulled a large plastic bag on to the passenger seat and flashes a huge handbag at me, metal studs blinking at me in the sunlight as if they are blinded by the sudden light. 'and for you..' He has in his hand a black box. For a moment I think he is going to ofer me a diamond ring to go with the handbag. He flips he lid. 'For you.' he proffers a silver watch with multiple dials and functions but only long enough to have me believe I am the luckiest man on the Viale today. Reward for good deeds.
I am dumbstruck. 'But why.? I thought you needed directions!' All I did was show you my map. I don't know you.'
'No. Take it' he urges
'Why?' I say.
Now he is saying something and pointing at this dashboard. 'I am short of petrol,' he says. 'Can you help with something, anything, so I can fill my petrol tank?' He sounding a little desperate all of a sudden. This is a weird moment. I almost can't believe that he's asking me for petrol money in exchange for a watch and a Louis Vuitton handbag. My voice says 'walk away' But I'm still here at the window. He has my hand again. Thanking me, asking me to help with petrol.
'But I don't understand.' I'm still in his thrall. 'You are a highly paid Louis Vuitton representative and you can't aford petrol?' I am hearing myself make this stupid statement as if it is reasonable and can't believe myself.
He has one more try. 'Just something for petrol. My wife is Australian.'
I shake my head partly to say no, partly in disbelief at both our performances.
It's over.
'Okay. If you're not interested. If you don't want them Okay I will not waste my time.'
nd he drives off iin the opposite direction to the Coloseum.  

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Kev and his roman nose.

My father always said we came from the Po Valley in the north of Italy, which was true in the broad sense - the Po being an absurdly broad valley. He also sported what was referred to in the family as a Roman nose. I share his nose as do a range of my cousins. 

I found a fellow Roman Nosed personage in the San Lorenzo cemetery in the suburbs of Rome. It could be Kev in marble.

The cemetery is full of grand and grotesque images of the dear departed.
This veil is killing me.

Drinking is part of a monk's life.

Maccas made me.
You'd go cross eyed too.

Taaa Daaaaa1!


Thursday, 10 July 2014

Sad Suq

Valletta has been in decline since the sailors went home in the 70s. Half way down Merchants Street where market stalls take over the pedestrian space every day, there's a little gem. You can't read the sign. It's hidden by the tents and cafe signs of the new trade. Its almost invisible. It's the old Valletta Market, the Is-Suq tal-Belt market, which has fallen on hard times because of the shift of population to other shiny areas, and the competition from supermarkets. There are no supermarkets in Valletta which makes it pretty special in my mind for the opposite of convenience reasons. It's all small, local traders, The prices are the same or better than the supermarket but////....?

Anyway back to the suq.  It was built in the 1880s and was the first steel framed building built in Malta. Maltese is an Aramaic/Arabic based language and suq/souk is one word which carries such a lot of memories when I think of Istanbul and Morocco and the big bazaars of the east. This one is tiny. Three  floors lined with shops, only a few of which have traders operating from them. There is a set of escalators at the entrance which stopped working years ago and the place feels like it has been left to rot. It's unloved and shabby.

I go there every day to get my fresh meat, fresh fish, fresh fruit and deli needs. That's four shops out of the nine operating - another twenty shop fronts have signs and names but no traders. The place has been abandoned. It's a bit sad. The traders are talking about how to revive it. If they did, it could become a real tourist attraction for all the right reasons - full of local life and colour, fresh, local, historic and, underneath that crumbling exterior, quite beautiful.

The quality of the produce is outstanding. Fish to rival any fishmonger, fresh every day from  their own boat; a deli as good as Mick's nuts, and four or five butchers. The other lovely thing is that the only people there each day are local women shopping for their daily supplies. I'm the random tourist.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Keats and my mother.

My mother loved poetry. She had an anthology of English poets - Keats, Shelley, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, which sat on our tiny bookshelf. It had a dark blue cover as I recall and thin, slightly musty pages.My brother, who has a memory for these things, tells me it was Palgrave's Golden Treasury. In the margins were notes and jottings. When she wrote these I have no idea. In all my 21 years living with her I never saw her pick up that book. Perhaps it was pre me when she had more time - pre kids, pre husband, pre housewife duties, and later pre work. She did occasionally mention her love of English, by which she meant poetry, almost by way of convincing herself and us, that she had had an education beyond grade six and, despite living in a bland suburb of Brisbane and doing her daily washing and ironing chores, she did still have a brain and had once used it in a way that she, perhaps, could only remember and marvel at.

I hated those Romantic poets. At school we were forced to read their works with their fancy and, what seemed to me, convoluted language and words I couldn't understand. I think I was a little overwhelmed by them. They were supposed to demonstrate the heights of the English language and I couldn't get it at all, apart that is for Coleridge's 'Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner'. It had a bit of derring do and action and some great lines - 'Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink' is almost a cliched phrase today but he wrote it down. When I later fell in love with poetry it was with Bruce Dawe and William Carlos Williams who spoke less about melancholy love and more about my life. Simple, straight forward, grounded.

So I surprised my self when I found myself standing outside Keats House in Hampstead London this week thinking that I'd like to know a bit more about him. Of course the 2009 Jane Campion film, "Bright Star" had piqued my interest. In the film Keats was played by young English actor Ben Whishaw and his love interest Fanny Brawne by Abbie Cornish, an Australian actress. Given that Campion is a New Zealander it was quite a mixed team that put it together. Whishaw played him as a melancholic romantic and succeeded in stopping short of portraying him as the cliched tortured poet.

He didn't have it easy. Father dead when he was 9. Mother died when he was 14 from tuberculosis and brother Tom, also dead in his early twenties from TB. TB or consumption was rife. He trained to be an apothecary, a pharmacist with extra duties as assistant to a surgeon, for five years and then threw it in to write. His poetry doesn't seem to have been influenced by the horrific scenes he would have witnessed in an era before anaesthetics where surgeons were adept at swift amputations; where young Keats may have been restraining the patient at the same time as passing tools to, what by some accounts, were more butchers than surgeons. His poetry was full-on romantic. His betrothed and neighbour, Fanny Brawne, separated from him by only a wall in the duplex he shared with his mate on one side and the Brawnes on the other, was the inspiration for his love poems. At this stage, 1818/19/20, Hampstead was still a village in the tranquility of the hills north of the one square mile of London. He was prolific.

So here I am standing in the parlour looking through the window at a 300 year old mulberry tree (why did my father remove ours at 20 years - I assumed it had reached the end of its natural life). Soaking up the life of a poet I will never read but feeling chuffed that I've been in the same house as him. A bit weird. Am I a celebrity chaser?

There's a lot about Keats here, but very little about Fanny. Apparently his relationship with her didn't get much recognition until after she died when letters they had shared were discovered.  She had married and had three children and died in her eighties.

Keats fell to the family curse, TB, and in an effort to beat it went to Rome for the climate but died there within a year. Fanny never saw him again. I'm beginning to understand why my mother was captivated by him, if, that is, she knew of this hopeless romantic story.

 He was dead at 25.

My connection with him? It's still pretty thin but when I discovered that he was born on the same date as my son I wondered if he, having the same star sign might also be a deeply romantic person. So I sent him a couple of quotes to use when the appropriate occasion arises:

" A thing of beauty is a joy forever/ Its lovliness increases; it will never pass".

And "Parting, they seemed to tread upon the air / Twin roses by the zephyr blown apart / only to meet again more close".

And " It is a flaw / In happiness to see beyond our bourne / It forces us in summer skies to mourne / It spoils the singing of the nightingale".