Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bill is Paid

I have a few inquiries on this, so just to let everyone know...I successfully paid our gas bill. It turned out to be quite easy...other than the fact that I got sick in the middle of the night, resulting in a late morning start. Arriving at the post office about 9:30 a.m. is the thing to do. Now I know. Except when I arrived, the little letter/number ticket machine had a big out of order sign on it. I just don't know why I was even surprised at that. Thankfully, there was only one other lady present waiting in "line." I put that in quotes because Italians don't do lines. They don't form them, stand in them, or honor them. It's every man for himself. This includes Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican and large groups of nuns. As an aside, DO NOT get between a nun and her chance to see the Pope in person. Just don't do it. In fact, I'm adding that to my Life Rule Book. So far, there are three other rules:
1. Do not wear Pantyhose (decorative tights do not count).
2. Do not allow a Doctor you know socially to see your hoo-ha (i.e., in a feminine exam).
3. Don't pinch the whores. (This is one coming from Aunt B. - she observed a French phrase on our local Metro during her visit here. After lots of studying and attempts at translation, this is the best one we came up with. We decided this is a good general rule, whether that's the Metro's intended directive or not.)

But back to the gas bill...being the Good American that I am, I stood in line behind the one other lady there waiting. A man came in right after me, and being a Good Italian, he attempted to get in front of me. There was an exchange of glances in order to indicate that I saw he was attempting to jump in front and he saw that I saw him trying to do may or may not get the picture. Upshot = I got my turn and paid the bill. Easy peasy. Nine a.m. must be the magic hour.

Today saw a return to Pizzeria Brandi (where the Margherita Pizza was invented - for reals, as our friend K. would say). Nathan, K., and I took the Metro towards Centro (downtown Napoli) and took a chance by getting off at a stop none of us knew. We wandered through a nice, little area before happening upon something we were familiar with. From there, we took a walk through Chiaia, browsed the windows of shops such as Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Frette, Rucinella, and so on, then had lunch at the beautiful, Pizzeria Brandi. Afterwards, K. treated us to coffee at Caffe Gambrinus, the prettiest coffee bar I've visited yet. It's quite famous and has a reputation for being snooty and overpriced. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It's gorgeous, the coffee costs the same as any other bar in Centro, and the decorations are divine. Joining true Napoletano culture, we drank our coffee standing at the bar, but we took a peek into the rooms with tables, and they are sublime, reminding me of the grand coffeehouses of Vienna. And prices for sitting at one of these gorgeous tables are no higher than any other tableside coffee in a nicer bar here (and still cheaper than the Big S. back the U.S.A.!). Nathan thought his coffee was a little bitter, and I have to say, it's a bit of an assembly line with the coffees already waiting rather than being made after you order, but for me, the lovely atmosphere made it a lovely, post-lunch stop.

I am headed off for almost two weeks in Venice, Florence, and Siena with Friend K. I will try to post a few updates as we travel around, but I'll be using my phone only (with an itty, bitty, touchscreen keyboard), so a longer description of our Big Adventures will have to wait. Ciao!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Pay Bills

Today, I tried to pay my gas bill. Gas for the home, not the car. We are the only Americans I know who have to pay their gas bill the Italian way. Most families here either have a bombola (key word in the first four letters!) or their landlord presents them the bill, they give the landlord the cash payment, and landlord pays the bill. To backtrack, a bombola is somewhat like a huge propane tank. Most are outdoors, and due to new Italian laws, must be buried underground. There is some sort of voodoo activity you can do to make sure your bombola is not leaking, there are certain people to call when it's time to refill your gas tank, coupons that must be used, and so forth. All in all, I was quite pleased when our landlord agreed to install "City gas" in our house. We still have our bombola - it sits in the backyard...a little bit of yard art for our enjoyment. But the real gas comes through city gas lines. We moved into our house on almost the last day of October. Our first bill was presented to us last week by our landlady. She told me it covered three months, but when I studied the bill, it seems to cover only the first month. Who really knows? It's higher than what we'd pay in the U.S., but not totally outrageous considering I actually use our heat! Anyway, our landlady informed me that I am to take the bill to the Post Office and pay it by January 31st. She kept telling me my deadline, wisely, since the bill is in her name!

I probably haven't talked much about it here, but this place is a cash society. There is no card swiping, credit using, sign a screen and you're done. Hand over the real money. So Nathan spends a lot of time at the ATM machine that is on his way to the parking lot at work. He brought me the money and off I trundled to the post office today. I got a late start due the handyman being here all morning, and arrived at the post office about 12:20p.m. First big oddity: you enter the post office through this one at a time entry system that mimics bird and butterfly conservatories at zoos. Push the button and enter (alone) the antechamber. Wait for the door to close behind you. Then the door in front of you opens. You're in! Yay! The post office has one of those letter/numbering systems to prioritize/call clients. Pick the letter that fits your need, push the button, out comes a printed paper with a letter/number combo ala Bingo. Now wait, wait, wait for your number to be up! My letter, "A," did not print out. I pressed the button and got a printed message that basically said, "We're not printing letter A. I elected to just press all the letters, get a number for each, then go to the first one that came available. This turned out to be a great decision as people filed in quickly after me, all pressing Letter A. They would then ask a clerk or another customer about the non-printing issue and get some sort of response that left them still standing around. Would all of us Letter As get to rush a clerk, were we waiting on a sign, on the machine to be fixed, what? Thankfully, one of my other letters got called. Once I explained what I needed, the very nice clerk explained to me that the post office closes at 1pm (every day! pretty good gig, I'd say), so Letter As were no longer being given out due to time. I can return tomorrow between 8am-1pm (although clearly, one needs to arrive by 11am for Letter A issues). Thank you, Nice Postal Clerk, for taking the time to really tell me what is going on in this country rather than dismissing me, leaving me bewildered and confused.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Daily Life: Laundry

This is my first installment of the promised, "Daily Life" series. I love living here. Well, I will love living day. I can see that in my future. But it is hard, and no one warned me just how hard the adjustment would be. I heard all about the crime, but I'd traveled in Italy before, so I wasn't scared about that. I heard about the traffic, but I didn't plan to actually drive places, so not an issue. The difficulties come with every day chores. Think about your daily life. Now imagine doing all of those things using a cobbled together electrical system, water that may or may not be clean, gas that may or may not actually heat your water, driving on roads marked with lines that all the other drivers follow, going to stores where you know exactly where they are, what their hours are, and what types of things they get the picture. Some days, I don't go to the grocery store because it means I'm going to have to speak Italian to the produce man, and I just don't feel like coming up with the word for "lettuce." Or the checkout lady is going to ask me something, I'm not going to know she says, so I'm going to guess and just say something in Italian back to her that may or may not make sense, thereby completely misrepresenting my entire, fellow countrymen by confirming her opinion that all Americans are crazy. Daily life can be a challenge.

First up...Laundry, previously my favorite household chore, is now the bane of my existence. In America, I did laundry once a day. A quick wash, dry, then queue up a TV show on the DVR (which is the subject of an entirely different "Daily Life" post), and fold/iron. Didn't take much time, thought, or effort.

Fast forward to Italy. First off, many Italian houses don't have electrical systems upgraded to run an American size refrigerator, washer, and dryer. Pick one and use European sizes (itty, bitty) for the other two. Or either pay to upgrade the system yourself (about $400) or rent a house that caters to Americans, in which case, some of the landlords have even installed American, 110-120volt electrical outlets. The base provides us with loaner appliances, which include an American size refrigerator, and either American or European size washers and dryers.  Sadly for us, the American washers/dryers were too big for our house. European ones are what we got.

The washer fits approximately two bath towels and a bunch of hand towels - no exaggeration. When I overstuff the drum, I can fit in both bathmats as well. Just one set of overnight guests means  an entire second load of just towels. Unfortunately, one load takes roughly 3 hours to wash. Again, no exaggeration. I washed two loads of towels this morning. I put one load in at 8:30, pulled it out the very minute it stopped spinning, put in the second, and pulled that one out at 3pm.  Over six hours for two washes! This leads to the next item on the laundry agenda...

The dryer. Now, first off, I'm so thankful I even have a dryer. Most Italian homes do not have one because the electricity to run it is so expensive. We have yet to see an actual electricity bill, so  I took the ostrich approach and spent the last 10 weeks drying every single load, with absolutely no regard for time of day (electricity is cheaper after 7pm), number of loads, length of drying time, etc. I made a conscious decision to not care, at least initially.

We actually still have no idea how much we're going to have to pay for the days upon days of dryer use. The many hours of use are because the dryer, inappropriately named as it turns out, doesn't actually dry your clothes, at least not in a timely, efficient manner. If I press the button that says "Very dry," the clothes come out damp. After lots of experimentation, this button is the only one that even gets me to the damp stage. The other buttons are just completely useless. This first cycle, to get to "damp," takes about 2-3 hours. At that point, I empty a big pan of water from underneath your dryer (which has caused us to ask, where does the water go in American dryers?), clean out the full, lint filter (full every time), and press that little "Molto Asciuto" button one more time. After another 1-2 hours, voila - dry clothes. So this means one load of clothes washed and dryer-dried takes, quite literally, all day long.

We decided that whenever possible, we need to start line drying the clothes. At least until we find out how much it actually costs to run the dryer five hours every day. In addition to an outdoor, marble sink with laundry washing drainboard/scrubber thing over it (which I intend to NEVER use), our house came with the deluxe version laundry line. It's wonderful - three, long, plastic coated lines that run almost the entire length of our roof terrace. Huge! And the view is divine. I love my laundry line...sort of. It's a love-hate relationship. After the long washing process, I load the clothes into the basket, go up to the roof terrace, and spend anywhere from 15-30 minutes actually hanging one, tiny load of laundry. Trying to move faster means nice, clean clothes drop onto the dirty patio one-story below. Also, after the three hour wash cycle, there are only about four hours of daylight left. In order for the clothes to get dry enough, they need to be hung just so. Shirt arms stretched out and pinned. Large items draped over several lines at once to maximize airflow. Delicates go on my lovely, perfect octopus (thank you, Ikea!). It's a science, involving physics, meteorology, and all sorts of other things I haven't studied in approximately 92 years. Despite my meticulous hanging procedure, I've yet to get anything fully dry on the line, save a formerly, blue towel I left up there for a solid week. That was really dry...and sun-bleached to a sickly, off-white color.

Once the hanging bit is over, I pray that a sudden rainstorm doesn't come up, or if it does, that I at least remember I have clothes on the line. Then, once darkness falls, I go back to the rooftop, take everything down, and now transfer it to a humongous drying rack inside the the dining room, to be exact. This rack holds about one-half of one load of laundry. Everything else gets spread out wherever. We currently have a bath mat hanging in the bathroom, another running along the backs of the dining room chairs, a dog bed draped on top of the dog crate...and the rest of today's load...I caved. They're in the dryer. I just couldn't help it. When I took those towels, now stiff and scratchy, off the line, I just couldn't take it. I do not like stiff clothes. And the sun does NOT impart a fresh scent to them - it just fades them. People who say they love line-dried clothing - "Oh, the clothes are so fresh," "Oh, the clothes feel so good" - don't actually have to line dry every single load. Of this, I am sure.

And so, one of my big questions since we've gotten here - "Where are the women?" - is answered. All over Italy, piazzas and coffee bars are populated by groups of men. There are never, never, never (never!) groups of women hanging about. You know why? They're at home doing the laundry.
A more typical drying line in urban Naples - these are the apartments directly behind our house. After I hang out my clothes on our long lines, I turn around and see our neighbors with their poor, pitiful, short lines. I must admit to being embarrassed at my "wealth." In reality, my neighbors are most likely pitying me, the "Silly American," who has no idea how to hang out her clothes. I fully expect one of them to come a'knockin' on the gate soon with instructions.

On the Way to Church

Driving to church yesterday, we came upon these two contraptions. I've noticed a lot of horse drawn buggies of late. These seemed to be actual modes of transportation rather than farmers on their way to fields. It calls to mind a conversation that's come up several times with various friends, which goes something like this: We do not live in America anymore. Revolutionary concept, I know. You'd think the 6 hour flight+1 hour layover+7 hour flight to get here would have been our first clue. What I really mean is that back in the U.S., we think Western Europe countries are just like us. Moving to Italy would basically just mean eating lots of pasta, wandering cobblestone alleys, and checking out lots of Roman ruins. Yes, yes, and yes. But daily life still goes on, and it's beyond different!

And so...I've made a list of "daily life" sorts of things and plan to post an entry on at least one of these topics each week. Of course, I'm going to break that commitment right away as I'll be out of town all next week. My closest friend here is moving back to the U.S., but before she goes, she wants to see Venice and Florence. I invited myself along on her trip, we booked a flight to Venice and a room at a GORGEOUS hotel (hope it's as pretty in person!), and plan to spend a few days there, then train to Florence for a few days, then visit one of the Tuscan hilltowns before returning to Napoli for her flight home. I do not want to lug a laptop around as we'll be doing a lot of walking with our luggage; however, I do plan to attempt some brief updates using my iPhone. I'm pretty slow at tap, tap, tapping on the screen, though, so we'll just have to see how that goes.

I will, however, start off my series this week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cross Country Skiiing - One Time and One Time Only

My new profile picture says it all. I don't think we need to discuss the issue further...except I would like to note that the background of that picture is a hill. I thought cross-country skiing was across FLAT land. I will post the same picture at the bottom of this post since I don't intend for that to be my profile picture forever.

So moving right along past Day Three, on our final day in Chamonix, our group once again split up. The guys decided against another ski day and instead did the trip up to Aiguille du Midi. K. spent the day exploring town further and resting, and I took a cable car trip up the other side of the valley, using the Brevent lift. I found this to be far, far more terrifying than the Aiguille du Midi trip. That cable car was large and packed with people. Even though we could see just how high up we were, the snow beneath the car gave the illusion of a soft landing, and with all those bodies around, again, an illusion of safety...I might be able to bounce off of one them in the event of a disaster. Not so on the Brevent lift. It's a small, gondola type car which I had all to myself as we went up, up, up over a clear-cut path littered with spiky, tree stumps. There was just no place for my mind to go for reassurance of possible survival. I was quite breathless upon arrival at the top, especially as a paraglider went flying by at close range.

The day was sunny and incredibly warm at the top of the mountain. I roasted in a ski jacket and fleece pants, and the lounge chairs set up for folks to sit and sunbathe at the edge of the mountain made perfect sense. I was also intrigued by the number of people up at the top of the mountain walking their dog around the ski area. These were not patrol dogs, just regular people who apparently put their dog on the gondola and took him/her up for a little jaunt in the snow. But then, dogs were everywhere in Chamonix, even in nice restaurants and bars. France is clearly the place for me and Crazy Dog, but Crazy would have to learn some manners, like the French dogs have. Several of them even carried their own leashes! Meanwhile, back in Naples, our nutso ran away from his BFF's house when a maintenance man left the gate open. He apparently galloped about in a mud field somewhere, or perhaps just the gutters with all the other Neapolitan strays, until our friend's landlord found him and drug him home, with mud covering him up to his stomach. Scully once again earned his nickname, even though at this very moment, he is lying peacefully in his dog bed, looking so innocent and cute. He had a hard morning patrolling our grounds to keep them safe from Sinbad, the one-eyed cat, who cleverly taunts Scully from atop our fence.

But back to the Brevent ski area...following a little wander around, I braved another cable car - this one stretched between two mountain peaks and is a pretty, red box that slowly moves horizontally and slightly up while dangling over absolutely nothing at all. At the top was yet another nice, sunbathing area, a couple of men with a yellow lab who were straight out of an L.L. Bean catalog, and the most panoramic restaurant yet. I'd intended to ride some other cable cars and/or the train that connects the villages throughout the valley, but one look at this restaurant threw my schedule out the window. It was irresistible. Before taking a seat, I availed myself of one of the lounge chairs, planning to read for awhile. However, it was quite disconcerting to sit back in a lounge chair on a bright, sunny day and see only snow-covered, mountain peaks while listening to the clicks of skiers stepping into their bindings. I didn't last long before heading over to the restaurant.

Our last night in Chamonix was lighter fare after the many pounds of melted cheese consumed the previous days. We loved our wintertime visit to the Alps and hope to do another weekend trip in the summer for some hiking among that gorgeous scenery...cross-country skiing, however, will most likely never be attempted again.

Glacier Walks & Melted Cheese

Mer de Glace Glacier, 4.3 miles long and 656 feet deep
Following our trip up Aiguille du Midi, K. and I headed down the cable car in order to catch the Montenvers train up to Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice). The nearly empty train wound it's way up the mountain, giving us perfect glimpses of soaring, alpine peaks and Chamonix town far below. Arriving in mid-afternoon meant our follow-on trip in adorable, little red gondolas down to the glacier was peaceful and uncrowded (very unlike our trip down from Aiguille du Midi, which resulted in a small brawl with a large, drunk fellow who'd taken a liking to K.).

This was a first glacier trip for both of us, and we were awed. Mer de Glace moves at a rate of 1cm per hour (!), and each year, "they" (the mysterious they) carve an ice cave inside the glacier. As we took the gondola down, we were able to see the curve of the glacier in the distance, with just a hint of that color that seems a  mix between sea glass green and cerulean blue, depending on how the light hits it. Just below us, were several crevasses and the entrance to the ice cave, which we had almost all to ourselves. I fell in love with the curvature of the ice, the way it seemed to flow and whisper.

One of the things I loved in Chamonix were some of the vintage posters. On our final night, Nathan and I visited a photography shop and fell in love with some of the postcards showing photos from the late 1800s/early 1900s of explorers, both men and women, walking about on the glacier, generally without rope holding them together, the women carrying parasols, looking for all the world as if they're out for a Sunday stroll. One postcard clearly shows that parasols were for more than sun protection as the women used these for the men to help them across a crevasse or while walking along a narrow ridge - clever girls, weren't they? These vintage photos are contrasted with our trip to the glacier, where K. and I saw several hiking groups, all roped together on the glacier or, off the glacier, weighted down with packs carrying rope, pickaxes, carabiners galore, and so on. We found the painting to the right adorning the outside of a Chamonix bank, and later found a postcard of it displaying the original photograph, which was taken by Georges Tairraz in 1908 of an ascension of Mont Blanc.

K. and I met up with the guys back in town, running into them strolling down the street in their skiwear. They'd been to the pharmacy since Nathan had hurt his ankle in a fall. Nothing too serious, but ibuprofen and a compress was needed. Cocktails were in order, so we had an apres-ski get together at a local bar (in France, a bar is an actual bar, not a place for coffee) before heading off to another delicious dinner.

Day Two was a lazy day of hanging about town, exploring the shops, eating every couple of hours. It was France, home of the best croissants in the world, nutella crepes, gorgeous patisseries, yummy baguettes, and a selection of cheeses to make one swoon. Chamonix is in the region of Savoy, home of such delights as Raclette, Fondue (good fondue, not the stuff made with Velveeta), and, a new discovery, Tartiflette. This dish is very similar to a potatoes au gratin, but to my taste buds, which have been eating octopus salad, fried dough balls, mozzarella, and spaghetti with clams for the last four months, I thought I might actually pass out from pleasure over Tartiflette - potatoes, cooked with cream and bacon and onions, then covered with Reblochon cheese and baked. The reblochon cheese is phenomenal. I must eat more Tartiflette. And to my aunt, who asked in a comment a few posts ago if I'd gained weight since moving here, I now have what our friend K. calls a "cheese baby." My cheese baby was a delight to conceive over other meals, too, such as Raclette, where the waiter brought a small, cast iron, charcoal grill to the table for us to melt our own cheese, then pour it over sausages and potatoes.

I have to also mention the cocktails available in Chamonix. Each restaurant had their own house cocktails, which usually involved some sort of fruit liqueur  or syrup with either white wine or champagne. All delicious...but my absolute favorite is a traitor to Nathan's hours upon hours of perfecting the best mojito, which he learned to make during our station in Key West. Hotel Le Morgane, where our friends were staying, had a swank bar in the lobby, decorated in gray tones with fuzzy chairs and tree trunk coffee tables. One of their specialties was a twist on the mojito - lots of sugar in the bottom of the glass, then fill the glass with fresh mint (lots and lots of mint), then just pour in the champagne and stick in a straw. Voila! If I can get some fresh mint growing around this house, we will change the name (Nathan's a bit hurt that I would like this "mojito" better than his, but it really doesn't resemble a mojito in the slightest) and add it to our cocktail offerings for dinner guests. I think I'll call it Alpine Dream.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ascending the Needle

We've just returned from a six day trip to Chamonix, France, a long weekend intended to be a ski trip but which turned into an eat-our-way-through-every-melted-cheese-dish-available. We went with our friends, D.&K., who are leaving in under a month, so we had to pack in as much fun as possible. From Naples to Geneva, there is a cheap and quick flight to Geneva, Switzerland, where one then catches a 1.5 hour shuttle to the Alpine town of Chamonix. Unfortunately, our flight was delayed over three hours, which led to us missing our shuttle and another delay in Geneva of two hours for the next one. Our quick, weekend jaunt turned into an all-out, full day of travel. After settling into our respective hotels (we stayed at La Croix Blanche, our friends were at Le Morgane), we headed out for a delicious meal which set the standard for the next four days of incredible food. In four days, we didn't have a single, bad meal, and for me, I didn't even have anything mediocre. Every dish was amazing, even down to the simple, fresh bread and goat cheese sandwich.

Friday, our group split up, with the guys heading off to ski Le Brevent while K. and I headed up the cable car to Aiguille du Midi (Needle of Midday), a height of 3842 meters (12,605 feet). Thrilling, terrifying, amazing, exhilarating. We packed into one cable car, which held about 40 people and quickly watched the town of Chamonix recede into the distance. Then the transfer to the second cable car. I later learned that these cable cars have the highest vertical ascent in the world. At the top, we found a building setting atop a mountain peak. And by setting atop, I mean the building is directly on a spire peak. The connection to the next building is over a short bridge with nothing under it. Parts of the building hang off the edge of the mountain. Stairs to various terraces are metal, ice-covered, and see-through, so that we could get a good look at the great nothingness below. But the views...what can I say...we were quite literally on top of the world. And the Alps just stretch out into the distance as far as you can see. As K. observed, "these are nothing like the Rockies." At a rough guess, I took approximately 150 photos of Alps peaks, which all look beautiful and "same, same, but different" - much like the 401 pictures of sunsets that also litter our various photo albums. We got an up close view of Mont Blanc, Western Europe's highest peak (over 4800 meters), and got to watch skiers head down an impossibly steep, slippery ridge, carrying skis, poles, and packs, to launch themselves into the Vallee Blanche ski area - an area that is not groomed, not patrolled, and prone to unseen crevasses and avalanches.

Underneath all the padding, this is me, venturing out as far as I'm willing past the big, "Don't go here" signs. The photo above shows the actual skiers walking down this same ridge to reach the top of the "ski" area.

K. and I had a quick lunch in a small cafe with panoramic windows overlooking the majesty, then spent half an hour trying to find the lift to the actual top of Aiguille du Midi. We finally found someone to ask, and luckily for us, the fellow who operated the lift was standing nearby. He'd closed it due to lack of use by the morning's visitors. After a short wait, we headed even further up, where we got a great, overhead view of the building we'd just been tromping around. I have a little vertigo just looking at this photo!

Over the next few days, I'll put up more information about our trip. The rest of the trip, while not quite as scream inducing, was nevertheless, a fantastic, restful time and the fulfillment of a dream of Nathan's to ski in the Alps.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Siren Landing

When my friend and I took our walk along the sea yesterday, we passed Castel dell'Ovo (Egg Castle...I'll explain another day, once I've actually visited the castle). More interesting than the castle was the adorable marina at it's base (Borgo Marina) and the fun restaurants lining it. Today, I learned that the marina is on the site of a crucial piece of Neopolitan legend. Odysseus wanted to hear the song of the Sirens, but had been warned of the danger, so he had his sailors fill their ears with beeswax and tie him to the mast of the boat. As they passed by the island of Nisida (now connected to Naples by a short causeway which takes one to either the prison or the Joint Forces Command Yacht Club), Odysseus could hear the songs of the Sirens, but was restrained from giving in. This rejection caused one of the Sirens, Parthenope, to jump off a cliff in despair. Her drowned body washed ashore at the very spot where modern yachties play.
Now Greek colonists had come to this area between the 9th-7th centuries B.C. (making Napoli one of the oldest cities in the world). Some of these early settlers found Parthenope's body and buried her here, thus the city became known as Parthenope, and by the 6th century B.C., it was a bustling city along the trade route. Around the 5th century B.C., some of the Cumean settlers (Cuma is the settlement very near where we live) moved about 13 miles away, just beyond Parthenope, and formed Neapolis (New City). In only 300 years, Parthenope and Neapolis grew together into one city, which just goes to show that even the Ancients couldn't get a handle on urban sprawl.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shopping Chiaia

Today my friend, K., took me to the Chiaia district of Napoli, a ritzy, beautiful, clean area with that Old World charm one expects to find in Italy. She and her husband love walking around Chiaia, and having seen it at last, I can see why. It is charming, with beautiful buildings, quiet streets, tree filled alleys leading down to the sea or up the hill to grand villas, and the best of the best for shopping. We're talking Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Ferragamo. We met in Piazza Amadeo, where the Metro drops off, and as I emerged from the empty Metro and entered an empty piazza, confusion reigned. This is not the Napoli I know. My friend was already there waiting and had realized today was Epiphany, a national holiday here in Italy. We later found the crowds in our walk around the district, but for the morning, we had blessed quiet. I said it was clean, however, Chiaians love to walk their dogs around - this, apparently, is where the fancy dog owners live, and it must just be too much to actually pick up Fifi's poop. One of us stepped in it right away. Our Italian language instructor had informed us that this is considered good luck. I think she made that up.

After a stop off for caffe, we headed down the street, right away passing the gorgeous, baroque, Chiesa Santa Teresa. Mass was just ending, so we popped inside and found two inspiring paintings, a worn and beautiful, tile floor, Christmas presepe, crystal chandeliers forming an arch over the altar, inlaid marble half walls, and a frescoed ceiling. That little church packs a punch. The coral colored facade is covered with statues and cherubs to delight the eye.

One of Chiaia's storefronts
Most of the shops were closed, but we lucked into one filled with clothes on saldi (sale!). Sadly, most did not fit, but we gazed longingly into windows of all the other shops with their large SALDI signs and made plans to return soon. Walking along the waterfront, we took the longer, scenic route to our real destination: Brandi Pizzeria, a pizzeria in business since 1780 and the inventor of the Pizza Margherita...or at least the pizzeria who named it. The original name of the pizzeria was Pietro...a basta cosi (Peter...and that's enough). The owner, Peter, did not have sons and gave over his pizzeria to Enrico Brandi. Brandi later left the pizzeria to his daughter. In 1889, the daughter and her husband were invited to the Royal Palace during a visit by King Umberto I and Queen Margherita di Savoia. The husband prepared three pizzas to present to the Royals, including a white pizza, a pizza with sardines, and a tomato and mozzarella pizza. Queen Margherita particularly liked the tomato and mozzarella pizza, and so the name Pizza Margherita was born. The pizza was delicious, and the atmosphere even better. The host (owner? manager? head waiter?) wore a full suit and wandered about refilling glasses while a talented guitarist showed up with quite a repertoire and got the whole restaurant clapping along.

Every pizzeria I've visited is different. Some quiet and unassuming, some bustling and packing the patrons in, some as family run establishments, and yet others as elegant restaurants that happen to serve only pizza. It's a fascinating range of experiences with only one constant...there's not a bad pizza to be found.
I can't wait to return to Chiaia and see it when the shops, bars, and trattorias have their shutters flung open...maybe even tomorrow.

La Fontana Immacolatella, located along Napoli's waterfront

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year's Eve in Naples is Dangerous!

Just a news link to anyone who thought I might have been exaggerating about our New Year's Eve festivities here - this is crazy stuff...
One dead, dozens hurt in Naples

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Buon Anno

We hosted a small gathering for New Year's Eve at our house and found the way our Italian neighbors ring in the New Year to be one of the scariest experiences possible. Think war zone with incoming rocket fire as you dash through clouds of smoke obscuring your way.

Firecrackers started early on in the day. Our friends came over for a late dinner, and we then retired to the Glass House on the roof for dessert and digestivos. This included using a sword to open our bottles of prosecco after our friend, K., assured us she had watched how to do this on "the internets." She was successful, and there is video to prove it. Ironically, I was concerned about flying corks. Ironic because of what happened at midnight. First, came the amazing fireworks. They were everywhere. On the beach in front of us, on a cape that we can see from the roof, in the yard beside us. They were beautiful. Then the neighbors came out. In the apartment behind us, they started lighting bottle rockets off their balconies. Fireworks were landing in our yard, on the roof where we were standing, hitting the tops of our palm trees. Then neighbors all around started lighting off fireworks, flares, really anything that they could set afire and and send into the sky. I kept rushing through the smoke to go downstairs and check on the dogs - Crazy Dog and his BFF, who had come for the evening. The dogs were, understandably, quivering messes. I was much the same once the fireworks began hitting our roof. Yet we all emerged unscathed and in agreement that this was one of the greatest New Year's ever.

I hope you all had a safe and happy New Year's.