Naples is a slap in the face. A hard slap. Within 5 minutes of my arrival I was accosted by a purse-snatcher – in plain daylight in the middle of a street – and found myself tussling with him over my handbag. I won and he lost, but more on that in a minute.
My arrival into Naples was as inauspicious as my (shortened) stay there. As the Air France jet started its descent, we flew into thick black cloud that hovered menacingly over the city. An omen? I found the presence of the clouds odd because the two hour flight from Paris had been sunny and uneventful all the way down. Suddenly a rainstorm of biblical proportions broke out. Turbulence ensued and then we landed, rather rockily. The taxi ride to the hotel was even worse. We descended a slippery narrow hill (in the pouring rain) with such velocity that I found myself sliding across the back seat from one side of the car to the other. I groped for the seatbelt. It was broken. To make matters worse, every time we passed a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary – of which there were many and had been erected for each fatal road accident that had occurred there – my pious taxi driver made the sign of the cross, not once or twice but three times. He kissed the side of his index finger then touched his fingers to his forehead, chest and two shoulders. Three times. All without lifting his foot from the gas pedal.
Not knowing how to say “Slow down!” in Italian, all that came out of me was “Tranquillo!” which I screeched several times, now clutching a shred of leather strap that dangled from the ceiling . My taxi driver laughed and said “Calmo! Calmo!” then slowed up a little bit. The phrase “See Naples and die” ran through my head. Only I hadn’t even seen Naples yet…only the airport, black cloud, rain and a portion of shrine-studded road.
Then his cell phone rang and he launched into a lengthy and animated discussion with his mother. I know this because every sentence was punctuated with “Mamma”. With the phone clamped to his ear, he spoke and made gestures with his one free hand – all the while reaffirming the Holy Trinity every time a roadside shrine appeared. We continued our descent into Dante’s inferno, or rather, the city.
We finally reached the hotel. I staggered out of the car, checked in, dumped my bag in my room and went out again (it had just stopped raining). And was immediately attacked by a purse snatcher.
And it’s funny because just as I entered the road marked Via Alessandro, a mere 4 minutes from the hotel, I received a flash, a premonition. A voice in my head said “What if something should befall you in this street? Like a car running you over or something landing on your head from an above balcony?” And it was while I was looking upwards that a motorcycle drove by, driven by a male whose face was covered like a jihadist. He slowed down as he passed and grabbed the strap of my handbag which was wrapped around my torso, causing me to spin around. I remember standing there, visibly shaken, and staring at the back of this cowardly brute with disbelief and defiance as he drove away. I couldn’t believe his audacity! He’s a coward because he covers his face and his targets are single women. The next day my torso would be black and blue.
But he had failed to snatch my bag, so he turned around and came back. By this time I was walking quickly back to the hotel. He reached out and grabbed again the strap of my bag which broke. I was now holding the bag with all my might while he was pulling on the strap which broke again. He was babbling unintelligible words to me in Italian; I was shrieking intelligible words to him in English.
There was no way he was going to get his hands on that bag. Everything essential was in it – my passport, my bank cards, my phone, my brand new YSL fuschia lipstick…..My determination was greater than his and in the end he drove off, bagless. Vigliacco! That’s “coward” in Italian (I looked it up). And it’s too bad that I didn’t know this word at the time because when you say it with force and accompanied with a flamboyant hand gesture, it comes out as a guttural rasping utterance which is quite satisfying.
I noticed that there were people in the street who appeared to be oblivious to what had just occurred. I marched into the hotel and told the two men at reception of my street scuffle. They looked embarrassed and apologized profusely. “We are very sorry, Signora,” they said, “but this is Naples.” Somehow I didn’t feel reassured. They then instructed me to leave everything in the safe in my room and to go out with nothing. “Nothing?” I protested. “But I need to take some cash, at least. And a map.” They told me to put a few things in zippered pockets or in a secure money belt hidden under my coat.
For someone who lives and breathes freedom, I found this restriction on my personal liberté very depressing.
Photos taken from my hotel balcony.