Sunday, December 27, 2009

Now we're in Naples. It was the capitol of it's own kingdom for hundreds of years before becoming part of Italy at the end of the 19th century. It is organized much like how I would want to build my own capitol city: wide boulevards, imposing castles, galleries, theaters, and one of the most spectacular archeological museums in the world. It's charming in a sketchy sort of way- the wide boulevards are connected by narrow alleys. Although charming it does have a few downsides:
1- the Camorra- the name of the Napolitano mafia is the most violent in the world. More drugs, prostitution rings, and murders flow through these crime families than any other on the peninsula, and they are some of the most powerful in Europe. The most lucrative trade however is little discussed but has an amazing impact on the life of southern Italians: garbage. Hazardous waste has been illegally shipped by the mafia from northern Europe and Italy to southern Italy, where it has been illegally dumped in the countryside. The damage caused in these areas is horrendous, both for the agriculture (nothing grows as well when industrial chemicals are in the groundwater) and for the people. There is a fantastic film that depicts life in the Neapolitan suburbs where the Camorra is most powerful called Gomorra. However, serious government efforts have made significant gains against crime in recent years.
2- A few years ago, you might remember hearing reports of the garbage in the streets of Naples. This was because the Camorra, that wasn't getting enough in kickbacks, stopped taking out garbage. Having a monopoly on the system, the Camorra effectively turned the city into a trash heap in a few days. In the media, this was greatly exaggerated. That being said, Naples isn't a very clean city. It's charming and beautiful, but not that tidy.
3- The waiters can be really pushy- they will insist that you must try the house special, for every course, after the first time when you refused, at least a dozen times. You must be insistent. You must stand by your convictions and not be persuaded by their wiles- if they ask enough they know that you will eventually say yes to stop them from asking again. The important thing is that you must know what you want. They respond well to polite firmness- you don't need to be rude, but state quite plainly what you want and they will get it for you quick enough.
4- Naples, like many other cities, set off fireworks to celebrate new years. Unlike other cities, the Nepolitanos start the explosions over two weeks before hand, and its not unusual to hear pavement-cracking, earth-shaking explosions on a regular basis there. When we were calmly eating our pizza at a restaurant on the street, we heard this explosion from the alley behind us. Car alarms were going off, there was smoke, and we heard a bunch of kids scream. We were a bit nervous, nay, afraid of all the comotion. But the italians all around us were as unperturbed as if a bird had flown by. They saw how worried we were and told us to calm down- that sort of thing happends all the time.
Anyway- Naples in a nutshell: Strangely calm when everything around them is going crazy.

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