Campania is an amazing place. It’s got some of the most desirable real estate in the world along the Amalfi coast. Mention Positano and normally erect people swoon drunkenly.
And then there’s Naples and its garbage. You see, Umberto I doesn’t swoon. He just stands there in his bronzeness, the symbol of Naples’ “problems” scattered at his back as he looks out to sea.
So which place would I prefer to spend some time? The answer may surprise you. It’s Naples, hands down.
You see, I’ve been to Positano. I’ve taken lots of Positano pictures.
But once the shutter had calmed down, it was time to go. Positano is pretty as a model in sandals, a symbol of modern style and grace and perfection. You kiss her on the powdered cheek and then go, feeling just a tad empty. Where are the hardware stores? Where do the old men get their coffee?
The picture of kids playing soccer on the marble floors of Galleria Umberto I screams “Naples” to me. It’s about people going about their daily lives, just stressed enough to get clever, just wary enough to be interesting.
Garbage? Garbage is the flaw, like Marilyn Monroe’s birthmark, that give us permission to peer closer, to be unafraid of the immense beauty that lies below the surface.
Naples is wealth and poverty side by side. It’s a city with problems times 2, which raises the bar for everything else. Pizza times 2, seafood times 2. Opera times 2. The elegance of an overpriced coffee (times 2) at Caffe Gambrinus, where the Lonely Planet tells us, “Mussolini had some of the rooms shut down to keep out left-wing intellectuals.”
(Damn those intellectuals. How you gonna have a totalitarian state with those bums, anyway? Everyone knows knowledge is dangerous.)
Take Naples’ tourist heart, Via San Gregorio Armeno. That’s where the nativity workshops are. It’s where you buy stuff for your presepe. Yes, at this time of year the streets are full of tourists. But go into some of the sunlit courtyards where all manner of little figures and miniature huts are displayed and if you aren’t transported back in time when craftsmanship was the norm and the little workshops were situated below the little apartments where the artisans lived, then your radar is off.
To me, that’s what a vacation is for. To be transported. To have life wash over you like tidal wave. To know that people live differently but not better or worse. To know that someone crafted a figurine out of sticks, or even an open-air shopping mall out of a marine power and fishing port.
Yes, even the curmudgeon in me knows that Positano has its place in the world.