An Act of Sincerity In Naples

I recently wrote about how, when we’re learning something new or reading a book, the good shit sticks.

Meaning, we’ll remember what we’re meant to.

The same applies to traveling. Perhaps you won’t remember every exquisite bowl of pasta that you had in Rome or the name of your llama while hiking Machu Picchu.

Instead, you may recall the kindness of a stranger who bought you a pint of Guinness at a bar in Dublin, or the look of the solo violinist’s face who played for nobody but the starry night in an empty Berlin square.

These experiences stay with us, often for reasons we can’t explain. We don’t prepare for these moments. They find us and nestle in our hearts for years to come.

It’s moments like these that change us.

My chair teetered on the downhill slope of the alleyway. Past the outreached arms of the narrow buildings, I watched the dusky Napoletana sky shift from a soft pink to violet.

Ah, Naples.

The night before, I’d come to A’ Cucina Ra Casa Mia with what felt like ten others from my hostel, fully aware that the odds were slim we’d be getting a table.

No dice.

Tonight, I came alone. I’d spent the day roaming the ancient Italian firecracker of a city and was one of the first ones at the restaurant when it opened its doors at around 7pm.

When with a group of ten obvious tourists, it’s understandable why the servers wouldn’t be champing at the bit to serve us.

But when traveling, we owe it to ourselves to go to the local spots — the best spots — to face our fears of rejection, try the local language, the local food, and savor the experience of a foreign place.

This, I was told, was a local spot and one of the city’s best haunts.

Why was I nervous? The fear of rejection, standing out, or not knowing what I’m doing. I don’t; that’s nothing to be afraid of. We’re all just people.

I sat in the vacant alleyway as locals and tourists would drift by in the evening heat. I sipped a glass of wine, took out my notebook and sketched the city, the bay, Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance.

The server stood in the doorway, calm and seasoned, taking in the energy of the night. He was tall with dark skin, short grey hair and crystalline eyes. His smile conveyed kindness and warmth.

Sketches and spaghetti.
Sketches and spaghetti.

The server brought my food and set the plate of thick noodles with massive prawns on the blue and white checkered tablecloth. “Vacanza a Napoli?” Are you vacationing in Naples? He asked in a sincere tone.

Sì,” I told him I am, slightly surprised that he took an interest in a tourist like myself.

“Solo?” Alone?

Sì,” that’s right, my friend. The man leaves and serves others as the restaurant fills. When he returns he asks:

“Visitando la famiglia?” Are you visiting family?

“Nope,” I shook my head.

He gives me a thumbs up and nods his head in approval.

“Buono, buono. Buon viaggio.” He smiles and throws up a shaka as he leaves the table. I was overcome with appreciation.

Throughout the past six days I’d had my fair share of indifferent, even rude, waiters. It’s expected. I’m a tourist, I’m solo, I don’t speak the language, whatever.

I wandered around Naples by myself, scribbling and wondering what the point of being here was.

That is the point. I wrote. I observed. I felt the way the sunlight changed the city throughout the day. And damn, it was beautiful.

I feel that there’s a light guiding me from city to city, alleyway to alleyway, shore to shore. I feel that there’s a light shining over me no matter what I do — no matter if I’m scared, or discouraged, homesick, or not feeling like me.

That light helps me see the details. It shines upon these moments in time, shared between human beings. The light is there. Look for it. Open yourself to it.

Be that light for others, and you’ll never succumb to the darkness.

Times like this one bring me so much joy.

This man’s simple act of encouragement is what I’ll remember for years to come.

His gesture said: You’re a bit lost; good on you, lad.

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