Thursday, 22 December 2016

A day in Naples September 2016

Diary - Friday 2nd September 2016.

We had breakfast with stunning views over the bay, did our hand washing and, like seemingly everyone else in and around Naples, hung it out on the balcony to dry in the sunshine. We bought tickets from a little shop crammed with all manner of things and got the train from by the lake at Lucrino to the terminus at Montesanto in Naples. As my friend Francesca had predicted, this was by a street market where we bought a banana, a pinafore and a hat, but most loved the stunning fish displays with lots of ice and running water. We walked a long way through the narrow bustling Naples Split and looked in three very differing churches (although sadly we missed the mosaics at St Chiara because I misread the instructions). We bought a slice of cold cooked pressed courgette slices in olive oil, from one of many shops with beautiful displays of hanging lemons and pasta shapes in decorative bags. We picnicked in a square and found the hedonistic statue of the reclining naked man with a horn of plenty in his hand and his feet on a crocodile (said to represent the Nile).
Many of the shops sold models of humorous and historic characters, some of whom represented our images of Sir John Falstaff, the Montagues and Capulets, Friar Lawrence and a whole load of Shakespearean characters. Last year, at the age of almost 65, was the first time I'd been to Rome, where in the Jewish Quarter by the Tiber, I saw the theatre of Marcello. At the time I had a very strong feeling that those great works of literature, first performed by William Shakespeare's group of players in Stratford on Avon and London, could not have been written by someone who'd never set foot in Italy. My walk through Naples Split yesterday brought that feeling back. There are several possible contenders for the authorship, I'm convinced that whoever wrote those plays wasn't a poor man from Warwickshire and must have spent time in Italy.
The very best part of Naples Split, was when, as Francesca had said we would, we found a whole group of little shops and workshops making and selling the special local crib figures and the crib structures, animals, groups of villagers and workers which I'd seen with Francesca (and Michael Palin!) in the National Museum of San Martino in 2015. There were also many models of white robed clown type figures with back masks which seem to be a symbol of Naples. It was an entirely delightful experience. It's the detail in expressions on the faces of these small figures, cooking pizza, mending shoes, tending the animals and generally going about their business which I love the most of all. I bought a hen, a duck, a rabbit and a camel to add to our own crib and a masked tambourinist as a reminder of our day.
We headed away from the Split, through narrow streets and pathways smelling of soap powder and fabric conditioner (from the vast amounts of hanging laundry), frying onions and baking bread, mixed with motorcycle exhaust fumes and in places stale urine. The smells of Naples are totally unique. Helen contemplated going down 164 steps to see historic parts of underground Naples, but the English tour was an hour later and that was a long time to wait. Instead we headed for the Archeological Museum. It's said to rank amongst the best in the world but we were really too tired to take it in. The disabled loo was out of order and the lifts didn't entirely link up, so it wasn't the easiest of places for two hot, tired travellers with difficulty on stairs. The whole place felt somewhat cash strapped and many galleries were closed because of staffing shortages. However Helen saw three or four mosaics which she had studied in GCSE Classical Civilisations at the Mount School, so she was very pleased we'd been there. I could see why they'd had to move the vast numbers of spectacular marble statues from Pompeii and Herculaneum to a museum to preserve them, but here, devoid of all context, they lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. I also wished they'd put replicas back into Pompeii and Herculaneum as without them these towns appeared much more humble than would have been the case if the statues were in place. Most disappointingly we were unable to visit the scale model of Pompeii, which had been the thing I'd most wanted to see. Maps don't give a good picture and on the ground Pompeii is so vast that it's difficult to work it all out, seeing the scale model would have really helped me understand it. It was tantalising to stand in the doorway of the room and see it there ahead of us but not be allowed in.
We walked slowly back towards Montesanto, Helen tried on a couple of things in clothes shop sales but nothing was quite right because of her height. As we neared Montesanto we saw ahead of us what Francesca had described as a 'cable car . I'd imagined pods on wires and dismissed the idea of using it as I'm afraid of heights. This was what I'd describe as a cliff lift, something we'd used a lot on the East Coast of my native Yorkshire when we'd been children with an ailing father. I'm not afraid of cliff lifts, so despite our tiredness I persuaded Helen that this was an unmissable experience. On my first trip to Naples, Francesca had driven me to the monastery museum of San Martino above us, where on the terrace we'd found Michael Palin and a film crew. They were recording a programme about Artemisia Gentileschi, against the spectacular views of the roofs of Naples backed by Vesuvius. The walk round from the top of the cliff lift to the terrace was somewhat further than we'd anticipated and we struggled as we were very tired, but the views were worth it, we took photographs and I was able to show Helen the Naples Split where we'd spent our day.
Back down the cliff lift, through into Montesanto station where we had a ten minute wait for a train to Lucrino. During the journey two musicians entered the carriage, one had a recorded music machine with speakers strapped to his legs and a guitar in his arms, he was playing Italian and American music  including 'My Way', accompanied on tambourine by the other guy who also used the tambourine as a hat to collect contributions. They made a good sound and it certainly brightened the journey as the sun was setting.
Back Lucrino we bought mozzarella and olives, then headed home to eat them with tomatoes, rice and bread before collapsing into bed.

Jan Loxley Blount 03:09:16

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