Friday, February 12

Naples in the style of Kerouac

The story so far: In search of work and new horizons off the back of a near anonymous email, without contract or checked references, I take the leap into the unknown. My preconceptions hazy, my bags packed and flights booked within a week, half expecting to be kidnapped by the Mafia or sold into back-alley sweat shop servitude or become an IDless body dumped in a river... I land in Naples.

First impressions: a Mafia infested, semi-active volcanic, beauteous, crumbling, Romano-Greek-Aragonese-Sicilian ruined grandeur metropolis of Southern Italian sprawling condominiums, washing flapping in the stiff coastal breeze smelling of fish, pizza, rubbish strewn in the street. My contact an erect, greying, warmly wrapped in dark overcoat, Roman nosed Neapolitan seignior; my Mafia looking manager speaks near no English, though coveys his socialist political stance, troubles with his book, disgust with the weather/other drivers/pedestrians/weak coffee/Americans on the drive to my hotel 'Solfatara'. Ensconced in a room with a view (ships, docks, coastal fortresses, a hundred thousand homes, Islands, bays, lagoons and Vesuvius) sniffing the sulphurous fumes of the local crater, I rest weary, readying to teach who-knows-who-what to Caribineri's kids with super model mums as boy-racers on scooters running combs through slicked hair zip through red lights under my window.

The week that was: Rising at the civilised hour of ten, croissants, coffee and cereal as I prep the afternoon's lessons in the warm welsh summer weather. Read 'All Tomorrows Parties' (William Gibson) then 'Lonesome Traveller' (Jack Kerouac) on the Metro down the coast to hook up with the other teachers; an Irish pro classical singer improvising for cash, a lifelong teacheress pickled and sustained by olive oil and golden sunshine, a semi-native graduate son of a Glaswegian ex-pat (interesting accent!), to be taxied by the 'Old Man' to our various classes in various schools. Teaching from a tin, we deliver Trinity grade English to state school classes. In order to begin one must pass through three ordeals, first; grapple with unfamiliar consonant clusters (to great hilarity) in the register, second; subdue/entice/fraternize the inevitable alpha male malefactor to desist his public cock comparisons, third; cut through the solid wall of sound raised by over-many teenage Italians placed in close proximity... And so on and so forth. Evenings spent in relaxation and wind down mode in pizzerias with glass of delicious local wine, wandering ruined amphitheatres imagining gladiators and chariots, walking docks admiring many coloured wooden boats raised and upturned for repairs, then home dodging though madness traffic of armoured cars, lorries, three wheeled fruit motor-vans heaped to the brim, battered and beat cars with scooters nosing through the needle eye gaps here there and everywhere, in the distance the scream of ambulance sirens a little needed warning.

Now: It is Carnival week. Eggs, flour, firecrackers, rotten veg, are the ammunition of choice for the students; experience of re-enactment shield-wall comes in handy while fending off missiles with umbrella. Packs of wild children stalk the dusk preying upon lonesome travellers and grannies. Religious effigies mounted on poles accompanied by brass bands, choirs of undulating voices, swarms of scooter-mounted leather jacket horn tooters, are paraded through the streets to gather alms. Church bells summon the masses to their dawn-dusk hourly opiate. My heedless irreligious flatmates cook fantabulous meals and waft the scent down stair wells to taunt the lent-fasting tenants, then insistently lay bowl upon bowl butter dripping broccoli-pasta, spiced olive oil roasted veg, ubiquitous pizza and desert pastry deliciousness upon underfed looking me (oh the woe!). Duty calls, my fork is restless, salivations drip upon the keyboard.