Thursday, March 11

Lost and damned

Get lost in Naples sooner rather than later” I'd thought to myself as I boarded an amateurishly tagged Cumana headed in the general direction of the 'new metropolis'. I'll know the place by the sole of my boot by the end; the sandal worn cobbles of hidden Roman courtyards, the freshly imported granite cubes of the Piazzas, I'd know how to follow the tarmac ribbons of the avenues with their constellations of potholes or the diminishing angles of paved back streets. I contemplated this naivety as I stood, dripping, on an 18th century rococo mosaic, iron and glass dome towering above, as I took a brief respite from the incessant rain, utterly without clue as to my whereabouts.

The reality of exploring a vast unknown metropolis during a two-day downpour, with dwindling daylight and deficient language, was dawning upon me at last. Feet damp, umbrella failing, I move on. Pausing for a few moments near a street shrine to gaze up at a crumbling Roman arch in the old city wall, itself beneath a greater arch with a five meter high depiction of the crucifixion, “I feel your pain, dude” I mutter, “at least it wasn't raining when The Man came for you”. Peering over my shoulder in paranoia for black suited tails, I dart across the square past a crumbling church, another victim of the '81 quake, long dead, yet held upright by the crowd, its vacant windows laughing silently at my verminesque scurryings past overflowing gutters.

The city drowning around me, I tread past mounds of detritus; a wheel-less moped propped up on bricks, a metric ton of potato peel half glimpsed in the yellow light of a restaurant's kitchen door, a dumpster with ominous rolled carpets hanging out like soggy cigarette butts from an overflowing ashtray, little pyramids of sawdust and metal shavings from the bottom floor wardrobe sized workshops grudgingly dissolve; reminding me of the the grizzled moustaches ritually melting teaspoons of sugar in shots of espresso, throwing them back and sighing in the 'bars' that I passed at the entrance to this Medina, these labyrinthine canyons of fabrication and fornication glistening with their raw, teaming life.

Recovering from my lapse of concentration, I focus upon the task at hand; exploration. A blessed oasis of calm and dry is found at the end of a street lit only by the escaping light of shuttered homes, a café. Not a 'bar', but a rent-a-table-for-an-hour-as-you-sip-your-latte kinda place; intellectuals converse in French as I drip into a corner seat, order my latte and write. Gazing out of the ivy I glimpse a square of tenements clustered around a central pit; some kind of communal ashtray come urinal that I realise is a small section of preserved Roman baths; the current street level being four or five meters higher now. Thinking upon this I come to understand a little of the disregard for ancient architecture and casual disinterest in history of the city; these are its foundations not in some learned in the classroom, few precious relics of a distant golden age kind of sense but a very literal one. The city is build upon the flattened road-kill corpse of its predecessor, generation upon generation of stones used and reused to build upwards, first floors becoming cellars becoming crushed foundations. An organic agglomeration of material. It is little wonder that the 'old' enshrined in Britain for its rarity is, in its plenty, considered building material here, that and there are no building regulations to speak of... hmm better reconsider the analysis, though it makes a pretty image.

Time to move on; winding up a switchback stairway in a cliff of restaurants I emerge onto a plateau. Looking down the next side street I realise that I can see for about two miles in a straight line! A gap the width of a mini extends in an arrow straight line down a curving ski-slope and diminishes in the distance, streetlights blurring in their infinite replication. The eye is drawn to a red glow atop a tower (like the eye of Sauron), “I know that tower!” from there the bearings are simple, navigating by my red star, the warrior turns for home.

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