I was born in Naples. I’ve spent there more than 30 years of my life. Over one third of it all, therefore. I know it, I walked over its streets countless times, I’ve spoken with hundreds of its inhabitants, I’ve smelled all its fragrances and stenches, I’ve celebrated the occasional triumphs and despaired at the stubborness of its problems, I’ve taken many pictures of it and thoroughly tasted its cuisine.
There are countless aspects of it that I love and countless that I hate. The latter prevent me to love it as it would deserve.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of being a neapolitan. No matter how many times I got sneered at, laughed at, discriminated against for being born there, I’m still proud of it. I wouldn’t change the place I was born to anywhere in Italy. I refuse to be part of the, huge, numbers of southern italians that wished they were born elsewhere, that envy the northerners, that emigrate north to find a better life and spite over their once neighbours. I dislike this attitude. No matter where you’ve been born, no matter its issues, you will always find parts of it that you can be proud of. Your origins should never be forgot nor rejected. Doing so is silly and cowardly in my book.
Naples is a complicated city. That’s said of many cities but totally true in the case of Naples. Some of the other southern cities share the same level of complexity but none has also such a proud past. None has been so glorified in songs and literature as Naples throughout its history. It’s a city of artists who have been molded by poverty and the cunning that requires surviving it. That generates a level of inventive in overcoming life’s difficulties that is unparalleled in Italy, if not in the whole Europe. A huge part of the things that make Naples attractive comes from this. That’s splendid. Overcoming continuous difficulties over centuries and producing a definite culture that is also welcoming of foreign influences is quite an accomplishment. That’s what I am the most proud of my city.
Yet Naples enrages me. Yes, enrages. It is my hometown, and thus it shouldn’t or I would have left it much earlier. But it truly enrages me. There’s just so much potential in the city, in its people especially, yet it doesn’t show at a first glance, and not even at a second. Seems like its inhabitants are neglecting the city while at the same time loving it too much. Because they do, oh, sure they do.
The proudness in being Neapolitan is justified. If only by it being the birthplace of pizza. That alone should grant a thankful spot in anybody’s heart for the city. Yes, I’m bowing to the most used cliché about Naples but it is useful in the discourse of showing those who don’t know it its potential. Of course its accomplishments don’t stop with pizza.
Ancient greek city, predating Rome, for centuries kingdoms’ capital and one of the top 10 european cities in size and culture, hosting one of the world’s oldest university and the first public one, city of arts spanning from ancient roman ruins, to medieval churches, spanish buildings and french castles. There’s enough to see in Naples to keep you busy for a month, trust me on this. I’ve lived there for 30 years and still find places that amaze me, yet undiscovered.
If we add the immediate kilometers around, we find one of the most impressive array of historical and naturalistic places any city in the world can be proud of: Positano, Amalfi, Mount Vesuvius, Ischia, Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum… I’m missing quite a few, honest. You can take a couple of months of your life visiting it all and never be bored one day.
I therefore truly understand why neapolitans are proud of their city. I am too, I admit. I do love the city; if I didn’t, it wouldn’t enrage me as I said, it would leave me indifferent. I do care about it and that’s why I write articles about it, as I can’t stand the distorted depictions of the city I keep seeing in media and among its own inhabitants. Something must be reasserted, truth must be re-established, people should be more aware of Naples’ beauty and negligence. I strongly believe issues should be faced, told and thought upon, not ignored, never; friends and lovers should point out the mistakes and the shortcomings of a person or a place they love or they are being dishonest.
Therefore, Naples enrages me because it can be an unforgiving, neglectingly indifferent city that hides its beauty instead of offering it to the world. You must discover Naples, it won’t show itself to the tourist in haste, it has to be savoured and you should go deep into it to do so. If not, you’ll mostly notice its issues, that are aplenty: it is relatively dirty, loud and rude for the average western traveller’s standards. It can be weird as many of its customs are unique to it and even in nearby italian cities can be seen as incomprehensible. It is way less violent than media like to depict but it has a long series of south american difficulties to face: people pushing you, skipping queues, not giving back the exact coin change, unpaid taxes, black workers, the “what are you doing here stranger?” glances in some of the shadier areas, rusty gates and modern buildings already in ruins, unwholesome characters and downright criminals walking under the very same sun as intellectuals and university’s students, authorities’ inaction and corrupted politicians.
It is a melting pot of characters. Like a baroque Berlin, only much warmer and much less organized. This can be extremely fascinating for a tourist, and I did have the same impression when I was in Rio de Janeiro, but at the same time can be frustrating for those who spend their lives in Naples. Novelty fades, characters become old faces, scams become old tricks, the delicious pizza even become yet another slice of the same thing. If the positives subsides, the negatives don’t, as it is a city too old and expert to change in 1-2 generations. I have seen to many aspects of Naples that never changed, not even a bit, from when I was a child that I’m desperately trying to find any hint of some movement in a meliorative sense each time I’m back home, failing most of the time. It is not going to change fast enough for me to stop being enraged at it.
Nor I won’t try to subside my enragement. No. It should be the fuel the city needs to overcome the scams, the rubbish in the streets, the graffiti that never get deleted, the half an hour late trains, the international airport that is smaller than regional ones in the Balkans, the abusive relationship most people have with the city, the state and each other, always trying to scrap by and if it means to cheat their own city, their own neighbor or family, so be it. As an example, what is the point of having one of the undoubtedly most beautiful underground net of the world if it took decades to be built and scores of politicians fed themselves with large hands on the funds for it? The beauty is undermined by the problems, a constant in Naples.
Nothing is ever perfect in Naples. It is in its blood. Yet so often it seems that nothing is ever good either. Things do improve, absolutely, but they are like fresh basil over a margherita pizza: it’s lovely when you smell it but if the rest of the pizza is subpar, you wouldn’t eat it again.
Again, yes, the pizza as a paragon.
That’s basically me with Naples. I don’t want to have to defend it against racism from the north of Italy or a grotesque depiction of its inhabitants in the media. Both will continue well after the city has completely changed. I do want instead the city to start changing, for good, for a better future and to bring the proudness of being neapolitan as the firewood with which the change happens. I don’t want to return there again to eat the same average pizza with awesome basil. I much prefer a great pizza without any basil, thanks.
For this, neapolitans should make an effort to change. Deep inside. Not waiting for politicians to make them change, and invariably complain when the few good ones try to. Northerners chanting that Naples is not Italy or media thinking of Gomorra or “Pane, Amore e Fantasia” are way beyond being cliché at this point but they won’t stop if they don’t see a definite change, even partial to some areas of Naples. And even after the change has materialized, they will continue for decades. Clichés and assumptions are hard to die.
What shouldn’t die is the spirit, the philosophy of life, the proudness in being born in such an amazing city. Loving it despite the issues, loving it even only if you don’t, as somebody born there, who else will? The occasional foreigner falling in love with the city won’t be enough to change it. We ourselves should, as neapolitans.
At the core, my enragement at the city stems from this: the realization that most inhabitants of Naples realize the issues, realize that something must be done about them but prefer to be inactive or to blame others, the outsiders, or, worse, exploit the issues to their own advantage. None of these behaviours will make any difference for the future of the city. That is plain. Yet I cannot move any citizen there to act. In any way. I never claimed to have the solution to the issues Naples is facing since before I was born. No. I do claim that the whole population of the city has the solution and is the culprit, at the same time. Only by doing a little bit, each of us, throughout our lives, will make a lasting change happen.
I don’t see this realization in many neapolitans. More often they are of the mind that nothing will ever change or that a specific politician will change everything for them (spoiler, nobody will) or that they are too small or weak to make any difference.
Thus, rubbish gets removed and thrown again, graffiti gets deleted and then written again, corrupted politicians get arrested only for another to take the role, an illegal shop closes and another one opens, drugs come and go, a camorra clan gets disbanded just for another to occupy the same territory and market, a complain ends and another arises. All in an endless cycle of substituting something negative with another negative, perhaps smaller but still not positive.
Love & Hate
If you love a place this should make your blood boil. Rage is the minimum. Otherwise, do you really love a place?
I guess not. You’re exploiting it. Understandable but we can be better than this. I aim to be, unlike most neapolitans content to tolerate the issues and proclaim the beauty of the “sun, sea and pizza”. Not going to argue against these 3, they are absolutely truly among the most beautiful in the world in their respective categories. But I am not going to consider myself one of the inhabitants of a place that don’t fight for improving it, aren’t proud without also being caring, aren’t enjoying it without also not accepting being discriminated because of it.
Neapolitans accept too much, forgive my french, shit thrown at them without lifting a finger to protest or show the world they are undeserving of it. I personally don’t like to be grouped together with people like this.
Therefore, goodbye again Naples. To next time. Whenever it may be. I am in no rush to meet you again. Please change, or my hate will overtake the love for you. That would be the saddest thing I’ve done yet in my life