Introduction for Napoli 2014
These photos were all taken during my recent two week stay in Napoli, the high point of my month in Italia. Ever since my first visit in 1970, the unique character of this place and its people has occupied my mind in ways no place in Europe ever quite measured up to.
Physically, it is a challenging and vast city to fully comprehend … since it is built on hills sometimes dropping into the sea, with other hills behind, all with distinct neighborhoods reflecting the architecture of the times and social class divisions that have played out over centuries in relation to the great Bay of Naples. All of this ominously juxtapositioning the deadly stratovolcano, Vesuvius. The area’s transportation is a complex maze of trains, buses, streetcars, funiculars and ferry boats. In addition, the Province of Campania, of which Napoli is the capital, presents another major challenge for the visitor trying to grasp – with some sense of continuity – all that it also contains.
Although I did spend a day exploring Pozzuoli and Posillipo (to the north) and three days visiting the Amalfi Coast, Vesuvius and Pompeii, at the end of my two weeks, I realized that had barely scratched the surface! I did begin to formulate a mental picture of the topography of the city stretching to the other areas visited. But in retrospect, it felt more like a rehearsal for a much longer stay if I really hoped to do justice to all that there was to see, let alone gain something more than a superficial understanding of my surroundings.
Despite trying to understand and utilize the local transportation system(s) I have rarely have I walked more in my life: climbing stairways (one had 200+ stairs) from one neighborhood to another in Napoli itself; travelling along the pathways in and around Ravello; navigating the worn streets of Pompeii and the gravel footpaths around the crater of Vesuvius. My shoes actually fell apart from the stresses I put upon them and I finally welcomed the new pair of Italian-made walking shoes my feet were demanding!
To some degree, I feel that I was able to imprint upon my brain a physical map of the city and a few of its closest outlying regions (exempting the three islands of Procida, Ischia, and Capri). I’m not exactly sure why I always proceed in much the same manner no matter where I travel. It’s likely the need to get a sense of the context of each city in relation to it’s larger physical setting … as well to approach the city itself as divided up into neighborhoods, each with it’s own history and character. (Notably, the challenges presented by Campania Province must be among the greatest any serious traveler can face.)
In my readings about Napoli, I often found it described as an ‘almost Arab city’, something I consider rather far- fetched, likely originating from people whose minds are locked into ‘orientalist fantasy’ projections … with little knowledge of Muslim architecture. Perhaps it has something to do with the lack more exacting, calculated order and missing cleanliness one finds in the northern cities. Back in 1970, things definitely were a bit messy and chaotic, but that, lent itself to an atmosphere where the locals – especially of the working class – could express their values more openly without being crushed by the middle class and its bureaucracy.
Although I saw things I considered problematic (even after I had time to contemplate them over a two week period), my perceptions and reactions evolved in such a way that I left the city full of affection for it – perhaps both despite, and because, of its complicated problems. Personally, the values and aesthetics preserved in the great Archeological Museum, in the Orto Botanico, in the many markets and on the countless rooftop gardens will likely resonate the longest in memory.
As for the physical appearance of boys and men? Except for a few chance encounters with gay youth and even rarer contact with a few other individuals, I found the dominate quality present conforming to a ‘hetero sheep’ mentality, as depressing in Napoli as they as anywhere else in the western world. Unfortunately, never ending obesity … and ugly tattoos (declaring an absurd degree of desperate, confused identity) are the predominant characteristics of so many here. This, coupled with the current hairstyle, (somewhat reminiscent of punk styles from the late 1980s: shaved sides with a raised strip down the center) rendered them all rather repulsive. However, the gay youth I happened to sit near on the train shared another style, setting them apart … and capturing something I thought a Renaissance painter might well have appreciated.
Allof his left me longing for the 1970s when everyone seemed grounded with a stronger sense of self. Nonetheless, I felt that the future, (if there is to be such a thing) always belongs to the individual. And who knows, perhaps a new generation of confident gay youth will assert its own vision.