l recently took a weekend trip down to Naples, the second in a few months.
In a general sense, Italians are divided on their opinions about Naples. On the one hand there are a lot of people, particularly Romans and those from the south who are affectionate towards Naples. In the other camp are those who would quite literally like to see it removed from the map.
Those who have a fondness for the city often cite the immense contributions Napolitan culture has made to the Italian identity, particularly the Italian identity that is recognised internationally. You know, the home of pizza, the home of those dreamy old school songs by Dean Martin that your parents probably sang along to and film icons, none more so than Sofia Loren who was born in one of the adjoining towns that sit at Naples' outskirts.
We also, by proxy have the iconic Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii and Herculaneum to attribute to the worldwide contribution Naples has made to both history and culture.
A visit to Naples and it surrounds will no doubt conjure up these kinds of images, its food is widely appreciated as among the best in Italy, and its people are often down to earth, friendly and warm.
But, like so many things, Naples harbours a flipside. It's a city that is irrefutably in decline, and has been for decades. There have been moments in its recent past when it seemed as if it was ready to breakthrough the shackles of its past, to overcome all of the negativity and negative stereotypes which it had also actively contributed to the worldwide understanding of Italian culture. Organised crime, flagrant disregard to the environment, petty crime and high levels of unemployment paint the other picture of modern Italian culture, and Naples like it or not is synonymous with this negative aspect of modern Italian culture, true or not.
When you visit Naples, you notice how different the people are. Not just in their heady looks; the mix of Arabic, ancient Greek and Spanish influence and heritage courses through their DNA and has created a beautiful mix of people. But Naples is a place of exaggeration; extremes are exaggerated, fashions are cranked up to the highest degree and the absurdity of seeing a city all but collapsing around its inhabitants leaves a mark. Why? Who can say for sure? Perhaps there is something to living at the base of an active volcano, or perhaps its simply the price of a connurbation that is so densely populated that it compares with Hong Kong in population density. Or maybe its because the city's fortunes have changed so significantly over the centuries that people are never left with some security should be normal in a city like this.
The schizophrenic nature of city meeting natural surroundings might have a hand in this too. When you consider that Rome is probably the only city in Italy with a comparable history or multiple personality disorder, its so interesting to see how both the people and the surroundings are so different from each other within the space of a two and a half hour drive.
Naples fascinates me. I want to know more about it. Right now, what I do know, is that the city excites and inspires me when I visit it, and leaves me with a sadness and disbelief when I leave it because I haven't yet unravelled why things are the way they are there.
Dave Di Vito is a writer, teacher and former curator.He's also the author of the Vinyl Tiger series and Replace The Sky.
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