San Valentino a Napoli
I spent last weekend (and Valentine’s Day) in Naples with Valeriano. Most Italians are bemused by my Naples obsession, and can’t understand why I keep going back. I’ve now been to Naples more times than I’ve been to Venice, which is more of a reflection of how much cheaper Naples is…but still. I love Naples. And while a few people were surprised that I would choose such an “unromantic” city for my Valentine’s weekend, one friend understood. “Ah…Napoli. Vesuvio, il mare…” At its most beautiful – walking along the seafront on a sunny day – Naples easily rivals any other Italian city. And even at its grottiest, why shouldn’t Naples be romantic? What makes a city romantic anyway?
Rome, Venice and Paris are considered romantic cities. Naples isn’t. It’s too dirty. There’s too much crime. It isn’t beautiful in the way that Venice is beautiful. But while I can’t deny the dirt in Naples, or the existence of pickpockets and the mafia, I would argue that it is beautiful, even romantic, in its own peculiar way.
A shrine to the Virgin Mary glowing at the end of a dark street, the palms of Piazza Bellini, a glimpse of the bright blue sea from the chaotic streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli, the exquisite statue of the veiled Christ in Sansevero, the faded pink peeling off the walls, the plants and laundry cascading from the balconies, the faint outlines of the islands shimmering on the horizon…
“See Naples and die,” they used to say. No one talks about Naples as a must-see city any more, but even if it has declined, the beauty remains. I know that it’s a question of personal taste, and that some people will never be able to see beyond the graffiti, but it’s a pity. Aesthetics aside, Naples has so much to offer – incredible museums, some of the best art in the world, and, of course, pizza to die for.
We didn’t choose to go to Naples for Valentine’s Day because it was romantic. We chose Naples because it’s a city we both love, because it’s cheap, because it’s easy to get to, and because I was having insatiable cravings for Neapolitan pizza. But I believe that anywhere can be romantic with the right person – a day out at the rubbish dump with the right person beats Paris with the wrong person – and Naples was getting into the spirit of San Valentino. Heart shaped balloons filled the streets of the Quartieri Spagnoli and young men tried to sell us roses. We didn’t buy a rose, but we were forced to buy an umbrella when it started pouring on Sunday, thus disproving Valeriano’s claim that it never rains in Naples. When it rains in Naples, it really rains.
After battling the wind and the rain on Via Toledo, we went to admire the Cristo Velato, and then took refuge in Trianon, where I had one of the best (and heaviest) pizzas I’ve ever had in my life. Over lunch, discussing the rain and our tiredness, we decided to head back early. A quick coffee on Spaccanapoli, and then we were back in the car, driving to Rome (with a stop at Caianello to pick up some mozzarella).
Every time I go to Naples, I end up leaving earlier than expected. Naples has the paradoxical effect of waking me up and making me feel alive, and then suddenly exhausting me. It’s the equivalent of drinking an incredibly strong coffee, and then experiencing a sudden energy slump. After just over 24 hours in Naples, we were crashing.
I’ll be back soon, though. When I’m next craving pizza and beautiful chaos, I’ll be back.