Giorno e Notte a Napoli

I try to evoke something with my words — an image, a scene, a feeling, most of all. Yet as much as I try, these words can’t fully capture the way life moves me.

And life moves me deeply.

I love to travel because it gives me the opportunity to observe seemingly insignificant moments of time in unique landscapes, places, cultures; sometimes I observe, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to be an actor on life’s stage.

We remember being moved by a gesture of kindness, perhaps the smallest, most trivial ones, most of all. They’re done in passing, reflexive instead of planned; and perhaps that’s who we really are.

Naples, Italy’s southern, uncut gem, feels like a city where the point of being there is to just be there. There’s so much happening — the chaos and the colors and the history — there’s also much sincerity, beauty, and genuine humanity.

I think that’s relevant anywhere, for no place, culture, city or country is black and white cut and dry. No. You’ll find the good and the bad wherever you go. In Naples, I observed a lot of good.

These are my notes and observations from a week in Naples.

The alleyways glow with iridescence, changing color, character and form as wandering souls endlessly saunter through. The day progresses. The light fades. The shadows creep and the smell of pizza, either fried or baked, overwhelms the senses.

I don’t know why I came here. But I don’t know why I wouldn’t come — not a town, not a village, but a city, bustling and bright, ancient and historic, nestled by the gentle sea.

The view from Virgil's tomb
The view from Virgil's tomb

There’s yelling and laughter. Clothing, flags and colors flap in the wind above.

Locals, many of them who can’t be older than thirteen years old, rip through the narrow streets on mopeds. A man in a meat store whistles as I pass; a little girl prepares to ask or tell him something with enthusiasm. I wonder what it is.

I move from my hostel through the streets and make my way to the water’s edge. I have to take a dip. It being my first evening, I opt for a watering hole near the city center and find locals and tourists diving from the jetty in front of the colonna spezzata, or the monument to the fallen in the sea.

I head down to the water and lean against the stone, sipping an Ichnusa and writing in my journal. Then the ink in my pen fades, depletes, and is no more. There are rocks before me to the left and the jetty to the right. In between is a sailboat close to the shore. In the distance unfurls the coast of Sorrento. The ancient city is behind me.

Here I rest, content to listen to the lapping of the water against stone. The evening air is sultry and the light reflects off the stone like gazing at the sun. The water is warm, a bit gritty and a deep blue evening color. This is being over seeing, and if I left Naples doing nothing but this, I’d be happy.

What do you learn from being alone? What do you learn from being alive? Why do I worry what I’ll say; just say. Why do I worry what I’ll be; just be.

I suppose that’s something you learn from being alone — you learn to observe, which is really the only option when you’re alone: to observe, to be, to notice the world and recognize yourself in it.

So often we’re moving from thing to thing, place to place. And when I do I want to understand it, grasp it, perceive its essence and depth. Physically, I’m in the bay of Naples. I’m surrounded by other people and ancient history. Maybe here, but my mind is elsewhere.

It’s human, often a challenge, to be mentally where we are physically. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe we don’t need to understand everything that’s happening within and without.

It’s a gift, a fucking gift, to look around, even if it doesn’t hit me like some great revaluation, just to look around and be surrounded by this bay, by the city on the coast, the history that’s sailed these waters, the light which reflects off the sea, the Castel Dell’Ovo at the water’s edge, and Mount Vesuvius, that looming, picturesque, ode to her majesty, planet Earth.

To sit here with my journal and to feel this is enough. It’s almost overwhelming to try and see the truth of things, how this moment comprises a remarkable page in the book of my life.

So I’ll just say thank you. Again — as often as I can, every fucking day, whenever I hope to understand.

I have no towel and I’m wet. That’s fine with me; the sun still shines and I have time to waste.

I sit outside at PizzeriaAl22 for dinner. I’m the only one sitting in the street. On the balcony above, a man wearing a white t-shirt and white sweatpants slowly rises from his chair and stands, watching the street with a particular intrigue.

I sit below, noticing how he observes the street. As we grow older, do we become more interested in the details of life, or less? Does this alleyway brim with the same charm as it once did, or has it lost its luster.

Does the magic of each moment fade, or somehow, someway, through an act of fate or circumstances or a necessary reshuffling of self, do we recall what it means to be a kid? I wonder if this man’s in pain.

Does he have people who love him; has he made mistakes; what does he regret? Now he stands on his balcony, I assume every day, watching the world go by.

In the evening, per my hostel owner’s recommendation, I head to the wine shop on the corner, the enoteca, and bring a bottle to fill with the local Coda di Volpe wine on tap for a couple of euros.

The shop owner Mario, a sturdy, soulful Italian man, stands outside in the doorway in a power stance, watching the customers mingle upon the wooden standing tables. “Tutto bene?” He asks with the warm smile of a friend.

“Tutto bene,” I reply with a smile. Couldn’t be better.

At the hostel I remember to put a new ink cartridge in my Helvetica pen. I love refilling the pen. It grows older. Stronger and worn in. It’s seen what I’ve seen. Its ink illuminates the color of my soul.

There’s a Greek woman in the hostel who tells me about Greek hospitality. You always give something at a restaurant, she says, or if you invite people to your home, you always provide something, anything. It’s a way of life, even if you have nothing.

In the morning, I hike to the Roman poet Virgil’s tomb. What strikes me isn’t so much the tomb, which is quite eerie, but a man who sits beneath a tree that blooms with purple flowers. It’s still and peaceful on the outskirts of the city.

After the long walk, I sit and listen to the man — the sage of Virgil’s tomb, Il saggio della tomba di Virgilio, that sounds better — in conversation. He looks content just being alive. The train rattles by; I climb higher; I can feel the deep cold of the ancient crypt seep into my bones.

I head back down to the shore to stave away the heat and rent a kayak at the Bagno Sirena lido. It takes some time and some miles to leave the city center by foot, but doing so is worth it. Colorful and antiquated palaces hang above the gentle water.

While on the move, digging the oars of my kayak into the languid sea, I hear a group of kids give a shout of triumphant joy. I look over to find a salty sea-dog of a man standing over the edge of a boat, reeling in a flapping fish. The kids are elated and surround him with anticipation. The man, too, can’t contain his excitement.

I pass a suave and thoroughly tan man in a kayak, solitarily smoking a maritime cigarette. I wave, and he does so in return.

On the shore, some local kids ask me if the water’s cold. Na, it’s not too bad. I reply. You got this. Girls do their makeup on the rocks. Friends laugh and hold each other in their arms, playing with their hair.

I have found what I’ve been looking for — a place to sit outside on a charming street, cafe style, and have a beer beneath a tree. As I’m waiting in line to order, there’s an old gentleman in front of me sipping an espresso. He looks back and says in Italian what I imagine is: don’t wait behind me, come up and order!

So I do. I sit with the beer and my journal and watch the street come alive. I love what makes us, us. The way we blink or mount a moped; the way we walk with our hand in our pocket.

It’s rather special, perhaps one of the best feelings, the seconds before approaching somebody you know. It’s not easy being human, but look at us — we’re mysterious, fascinating creatures.

I watch a man approach a table wearing a dark green linen blazer. A cigar dangles from his lip. He throws his keys on the table as if he’s been here before. Another man joins him. They both look dignified, elegant yet casual.

What we give up for our youth is wisdom and an acquired grace. Genuine swag. To age, if accepted and welcomed, is to cultivate grace. To move through life as if you know a thing. What does it mean to live a life well lived?

No fucking idea. But this might have something to do with it. Living in a way where we won’t look back, and wonder why we didn’t go. Why we didn’t act the fool.

I look up from my journal and notice the man from inside who told me to order. I thought he was long gone. He approaches a woman and a baby in a stroller and he says something. I don’t know what. He smiles and walks away.

I sit in a square as darkness falls upon the city. A group of kids kick around a soccer ball under the lights of a Burger King.

What am I to do with words — they can’t depict the way life moves me.

What I see is kids being kids. Life being lived. That’s to be fearless. And I’m feeling things too. What’s happening out there touches what’s happening in here, and tears form in my eyes.

When you’re a kid, you don’t really know where you are and you don’t really care, you just want to feel love. You just want to have fun. So we ask a friend to kick a ball under the dim, yellow lights of an ancient city.

We find a way to make life beautiful — life is an expression of what we are. City’s form themselves by what we need. And what we need is beauty.

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