see Naples and die….or leave


Naples is a slap in the face.  A hard slap.  Within 5 minutes of my arrival I was attacked 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 away 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 up 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 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 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 because only 10 minutes earlier they had been greeting me with a hearty “Welcome to Naples!  We hope you’ll enjoy your stay in our fine city!”  They apologized profusely.  “We are very sorry, Signora,” they said.  They then instructed me to leave everything in the safe in my room and to go out with nothing.  “Nothing?” I said.  “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.

And so I went out again, rather unhappily, sans camera, sans handbag, which was now broken.  For someone who lives and breathes freedom, I found this restriction on my personal liberté very depressing.

Photos taken from my hotel balcony.  I only took two photos the whole time I was there.


13 thoughts on “see Naples and die….or leave

  1. OMG! Juliet .. I was right there with you! So glad you “survived” .. and I think later these encounters will last in your memory more than anything else on the visit. But, on the other hand I was saddened by the lack of help from the bystanders while your bag was being pulled. Did he had a gun? Probably not, but they could at least have given him a verbal sounding out. I hate cowards!! You are my hero!!!

    • Hi Helen. No, no guns are used in petty street crime in Italy. Heaven forbid! Had he pulled a gun I would’ve handed over the bag. A large section of Naples is very poor and run by the Mafia. In all fairness, the people standing closest to me in the street were elderly.

  2. Wow! I hope you are okay. I’ve had something similar happen a couple of times, once in NYC and once in Venice. In both cases the bags were cheap and contained a few bucks and very little else of value. I actually don’t carry purses much any more now, especially while travelling. I hope this doesn’t taint your enjoyment of Naples, though. Eat pizza! There’s lots of good pizza! :)

    And I love your title! :)

    • I’m fine other than some bruises. But I learned a valuable lesson which is to not walk around with your bag strapped around your torso in certain cities and to not put all your valuables in one bag. I guess I should’ve known better because Naples is renowned for purse-snatching. I left early and am now in Rome. I’ll continue with Part 2 in a day or two. Thanks for your comment. ciao-ciao!

      P.S. The pizza, coffee, pastries, pastas, etc. were all divine in Naples. Oh, and the fresh bufala mozzarella…to die for…well, not literally.

      • Good to know that you’re okay. Yup, the food in Naples is divine. Enjoy Rome and the rest of your trip, hopefully without crime-related excitement!

    • I’m in discussion with a literary agent in London. I’ve only written the first half of my memoir. I need to finish the second half. I have a full-time job, so it’s a slow process.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s