La bella vita

15:55 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Marcy invited me to Napoli over Easter to meet her family. That's a big deal in Catholic Italy. For me, it began with a baptism of fire, eating long, messy linguine pasta in-front of her Mum, aunt and sister. I'd been told about the Italian rules of drinking coffee and wearing clothes. There's even a book of etiquette that is updated annually. I wanted to fare una bella figura (make a good impression)  but I'm not known as a tidy eater. It was a little tricky. The food was delicious; pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, pickled courgette, Neapolitan bread, friarielli and grilled fennel. The thing was, my British politeness was kicking into overdrive. I didn't want to look rude and say "no" when food was offered to me. I said yes every time somebody offered me something - this happened a lot. I must have been inflating alarmingly, because Marcy spoke with her sister, laughed and then told me not to keep eating if I didn't want to.

Even when you are in another country and speaking another language, you can't escape who you really are. My British politeness just wouldn't disappear. Marcy asked me to hold a parking space while she brought the car round. I did and someone drove up to the space eager to park. "Siamo qui, mi dispiace" (We're here, sorry). At the train station somebody asked me a question. In retrospect, he was probably asking me if he was on the right platform for the Napoli train, but all I said was "Sono Inglese, mi dispiace" (I'm English, I'm sorry). I just couldn't stop apologising!

Napoli is an old city, one of the oldest. It is poor, dirty... and full of life. At any moment a beautiful girl might walk past, someone might strike-up a conversation with you or someone might mug you. In Naples anything can happen.

Quartiere San Lorenzo in the city centre is full of old apartment buildings which hug close together. There is barely enough room amongst the streets for a scooter to pass a car and the lower apartments rarely see the sun. There are stalls selling cornetto della fortuna, mopeds whizzing past and some of the world's best pizza. We queued for an hour to get into Sorbillo, one of the most famous pizzerias. It was worth the wait. The pizza was huge, thin and delightfully doughy. I had a simple margherita with smoked mozzarella and it tasted absolutely amazing.

Beneath our feet lay Napoli Sotteranea and another world. 800 years before Christ, the Greeks mined the area for its tuffo stone. The Romans came along and took advantage of the tunnels, creating an underground network of fresh and soiled water systems. Over time the fresh water became contaminated and the network of tunnels was closed in the 1800's after a cholera outbreak. The underground world still had its uses though. First, as a rubbish dump and then as an air-raid shelter during the second world war. Thousands of people have worked in these tunnels for thousands of years and I felt sorry for every single one of them. The passageways were unlit and extremely cramped. It can't have been nice down there.

Back on the ground we went to a beautiful church. At the door, I saw an old lady drop something. I looked down to begin to help her with what she had dropped, only to see a big stone and a cut open cola bottle. My brain was still trying to work out what was happening when a giant beetle ran out from the stone and the old lady smashed it to pieces under her foot. CRUNCH!! I had no idea what was happening. Cold blooded murder in that glorious house of God. I guess anything can and will happen in Napoli.

We also visited Pompeii and Vesuvius. The raw power of nature was impressive. A whole Roman city destroyed and then buried for hundred's of years. Still, that hasn't stopped modern Napoli sprawling right up to the foot of the volcano.

We also visited Sorrento, a beautiful seaside village. It is only an hour from Napoli but it is a completely different vibe. The sun was above, a beautiful girl to my left and the crystal clear sea to my right. Truly, la bella vita.

But this wasn't all holiday. I was actually in Italy to meet, and hopefully impress, Marcy's family. Thankfully they were all lovely with me. No Uncle Knobhead. Easter Sunday came along and our trip was coming to an end. It is traditionally celebrated with a huge family meal, with many courses of food. I'd been warned, so I paced myself. A few of the family did speak English, however a lot of the time I was a bit bewildered. I'd be in the middle of a room full of Italians, all seemingly talking loudly and having their very own conversation. The food was delicious, the company was warm. I even managed a bit of Italian conversation towards the end. I can't wait to go back.

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