Naples is a slap in the face, a hard slap. Within five minutes of my arrival – in plain daylight and in the middle of a street – I was attacked by a purse-snatcher 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 which 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 we landed, rather rockily. The taxi ride to the hotel was worse. We descended a slippery slope (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 worsen matters, every time we passed a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary – of which there were many and 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. Kissing the side of his index finger, he 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, I invented a word. “Tranquillo!” I squeaked, now clutching a remnant of leather strap that dangled from the ceiling. My taxi driver laughed uproariously. “Calmo! Calmo!” he said, then slowed a tad. The phrase “See Naples and die” ran through my head. Only I hadn’t seen Naples yet … just 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”. “Oh dear God, if there is one,” I muttered to myself, “Must he speak with his mother now??” Phone clamped between his ear and shoulder, he spoke and made gestures with his one free hand – all the while reaffirming the Holy Trinity every time another Virgin Mary appeared. We continued our descent into Dante’s inferno, or rather, the city.
Finally, we reached the hotel and I staggered out of the car, checked in, dumped my bag in my room, went out again and was immediately attacked by a purse snatcher.
And it’s funny because just as I entered the road marked Via Alessandro, a mere four minutes from the hotel, I had a flash-like premonition. A small voice in my head said “What if something should befall you in this street? Like a car running you over or a flower pot 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. Slowing down, he 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. 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 the strap of my bag again. I was now holding the bag with all my might while he was pulling on the strap which broke. Babbling unintelligible words to me in Italian, I shrieked intelligible words to him in English. There was no one around because it was Easter and everyone was … well, I don’t know what everyone was doing. What do Neapolitan men do at Easter, cruise round the city on handbag-snatching pursuits?
There was NO WAY he was going to get his hands on my 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). It’s too bad I didn’t know this word at the time because when you say it with force accompanied by a flamboyant hand gesture, it comes out as a guttural rasping utterance which is very satisfying.
Marching into the hotel, me and my broken handbag, I recounted my street scuffle to the two men at reception. They were embarrassed because only ten minutes earlier they had greeted 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 instructed me to leave everything in my room safe and 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, unhappily, sans camera, sans handbag. But for someone like me 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. I left earlier than planned and took the train up to Rome.