It’s 10:30pm, and I’m just sitting down to write. I’ll have to keep it a quick one. A long and sweaty, beautiful and adventurous day of travel now at an end, I’ll recount a bit and reflect, see if I can tease out a few details to remember.
Naples has a reputation. I think everyone I spoke with, from Norway to Rome, told me what I should expect in this southern city–“It’s like another country,” someone said. “It’s dirty, and the people are loud.” “Watch out,” I was told at least four times. “You’ll love it,” at least twice.
And more than anything, I’m arriving in this metropolis informed by fiction, the first two novels of Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan quartet. I wrote just over a month ago about my experience with the first in the series, which brought this city to life for me quite vividly. As a friend told me, and as I am seeing for myself in the books, Ferrante paints a certain “quickness to violence,” the characters on tenterhooks, ready to bite, ready to avenge.
But what I want to write about today is not Ferrante and not violence. It’s not quite even Naples. Rather, this phenomenon of knowing a place before we come, of having an expectation, and then seeing how that place fits or breaks the mold we have fashioned for it.
We entered Naples by train, and in the last few minutes before disembarking, I readied myself. I felt nervous. The buildings we passed looked in bad shape. There were piles of rubble. In the train car, a group of teenagers gossiped, and I felt very alien among them.
On the platform, I perceived chaos. I held tight to the suitcase handles. I set my face and marched forward, and I realized, I think, even in the moment, that as loud and noisy and dirty as it might have been (and what train station is not loud and noisy and dirty?), I was projecting that image too. I expected it to be overwhelming, and I think that that fact made it so.
Tonight, in search of a grocery store (although it turns out everything we could find was closed), we stumbled upon a great park, hundreds of people taking an evening walk, and in one of the yards was a free concert of opera arias.
It felt like a different city. Such a different kind of feeling came to me–calm and thoughtful and diverse. The quickness to violence felt far away then. It was a reminder to look twice, or ten times, to look as much as possible, to let this city be what it is and not what I might expect it to be.
For the next nine days, while my husband is taking an intensive pizza-making course, I will be writing. I am thrilled about this in three ways: for my husband taking this crazy and fantastic opportunity, for me eating pizza, and for me writing. I’ll be working on some short stories set in Italy. I’ve completed drafts of two so far, and that’s where I’ll push forward. I’ll also spend some time with this blog, with figuring out how I might reach more people, and of course with exploring of the city. But mostly writing. That’s my plan.
Best wishes, from this sunny city. We’ll see what this next week brings.