Sunday, April 17, 2011

Naples = Fried Fantasy

That's a bit misleading.  Napoli is more than just delicious fried food sold from street stands (food that Italians call "fried fantasy").    Think lightly breaded squash blossoms fried and finished with a pinch of salt.  Or arancini, a ball of fried rice with meat, tomato sauce, and peas in the center.  Tasty.  (Notice the arancini recipe to the right includes "pills."  I guess I should have ordered it.)

Anyway, I adore that city.  It's fast and brimming with energy, but it's not a stressful energy.  It's gritty, but with beauty mixed in.  The atmosphere is working class, without the pretentiousness of Rome.  And don't get me wrong, I love Rome, but like most international capitals, there's a certain coldness and arrogance that comes along with being one of the most visited and important cities in the world.  Naples doesn't have that problem.  There are far fewer tourists than in Rome, Florence, or Venice, yet still plenty to see and do.  Pompei is a half-hour away by train. Also nearby you have the Amalfi coast -- gorgeous beaches, a string of charming villages, and the blue Mediterranean. The Archeological Museum in Naples is incredible, as are the churches and the art collection in the Capidomonte, which includes a late masterpiece by Caravaggio. And Naples is refreshingly cheap.  So there's my pitch.  Next time you're in Italy, ignore its reputation as a dirty and dangerous town, and pay a visit. It really feels like the perfect place for Caravaggio to have been -- and despite the incident just before his death when he was attacked in the doorway of a tavern and left with a face so slashed he was unrecognizable, he seemed to have felt at home in Naples. His painting there became even darker, and the models he used shifted from the softer Romans to the tough, wrinkled working class of southern Italy.  Here's one painting I saw there, the "Seven Acts of Mercy":


One disappointing difference between Naples and Rome is the presence of really bad graffiti.  Both cities are covered, but in Naples, nothing is sacred.  There were tags on every monument, and sometimes even on the facades of churches.  Here's a statue of Dante that towers over one of the central piazzas.


While it's great to be in a place where they would actually erect a monument to a poet, which would be almost unheard-of in the States, I was disheartened to see it adorned with such terrible tags.

Finally, a few photos from my visit to Pompei.  Here's one of the volcano, seen from the ancient streets of the city, followed by a field of spring wildflowers on the edge of town.



The Archeological Museum in Naples contains most of the mosaics that were dug out from the ashes of Pompei.  These works of arts are more than 2000 years old. Some of them contain more than a million tiny tiles.  I was as stunned by this exhibition as almost anything I've seen in a museum.  Here are a few highlights.





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