Tonight, dear Reader, you are invited to join William and I on a double date with our neighbors Brad and Erin. We are heading into Napoli’s centro storico (historic district) where Napoli Sotterranea offers guided tours of the city’s mysterious underground.
Let’s Nerd Out A Little
The chaos and cacophony of the world above dissolves as we descend over a hundred steps (I lost count) into the cool, dark earth. Our english-speaking guide, Alex, begins by describing the malleable, yellowish tufa stone surrounding us. He explains that these caverns served as underground aqueducts for over 2,000 years, providing water for the entire region. Okay, now go back and read that sentence again – over 2,000 years. Billy turns to me and exclaims, “You love aqueducts!” I smile. I love that I’m married to someone who knows I love aqueducts.
We wander through the labyrinth of caverns, occasionally passing from one large cistern to another through passageways so narrow we need to walk the length of them turned sideways. In some places it is so dark that we rely on handheld candles to illuminate our steps. Napoli’s underground also served as a shelter from the bombings that nearly destroyed the city during WWII. I try to imagine what it must have been like for those people. We pass replicas of bombs coming through the wells above and the dusty remnants of children’s toys, gas masks, and a sewing machine.
Then Alex imparts on us the most interesting fact I have learned about Napoli (so far anyway): Napoli was the only city to free itself from German occupiers during WWII. Free itself. To be clear, there were no Allied Forces sweeping in to save the city. There was no organized resistance by the Italian military. The scrappy, disorganized, and totally pissed Neapolitans liberated themselves! Bloodthirsty men, women, children, the old and young alike, took to the streets of their ravaged city and waged guerrilla warfare on the big, bad Nazi super army. And TRIUMPHED. This resistance is called The Four Days of Naples or Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli. For all of their quirks, this haphazard resistance movement speaks volumes about the enduring spirit of the Neapolitans.
**For my extra inquisitive readers, follow this link to a (poorly written but no less interesting) thesis paper about the resistance.
She’s A Slow Burn
Up until now I haven’t written much about Napoli itself and, if I’m being honest, it’s because I find the task truly daunting. My initial experiences in Napoli were characterized by the blaring of insistent car horns, oppressive heat, congested roadways, and trash. Truly, it was an assault on every one of my senses. Then something happened. The temperature dropped (Lord, you heard my prayer!) and the city quieted in the wake of Ferragosto. Like the world around me, my pace slowed. I took the time to read graffiti, to explore the shops and buildings I had been scurrying past for weeks, and to even risk a few calories on new Italian treats.
Though it was hardly love at first sight, I cannot deny that my affection for Napoli is growing. She has endured ruin and reconstruction many times over at the hands of the Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish, the Germans and – heck! – she has even suffered at the hands of her Northern Italian counterparts. But come what may, Napoli remains true to herself. Raw, emotional, unyielding, and even ugly at times, she doesn’t tidy up and “put on her face” for visitors. No, no. Napoli is stubbornly herself. You may not like her, but you can’t help but respect her.
This is not to say I will never write another blog lamenting the maddening inconveniences and incongruities of Napoli, of course! Rather, this post illustrates the fact that she could care less what I think and, more importantly, I have acquired a newfound respect for her glorious and harrowing history.
After the tour, the four of us sip wine and enjoy dinner at Sorbillo, one of the most popular restaurants on the lungomare. It is rumored to be one of city’s best pizzerias and, sure enough, I manage to finish my entire pizza even after partaking in the polpette and arancini appetizers. Our next stop: il gelateria! Sigh. Life in Napoli… when it’s good, it’s really good.