“Signurì, il Napoli ha vinto, la Juve ha perso, il sangue di San Gennaro si è squagliato: questo caffè lo offro io!”
“Miss, Miss, Naples won, Juve lost, the blood of San Gennaro melted; this coffee is on me”
Attanasio’s bartender, standing behind the counter smiles at me. The old-fashioned mirrored display cabinet behind him, crammed with bottles of bitters, charming trinkets and incongruous testimonies of devotion to Naples’ soccer team takes my thought to Manet’s “Folies Bergère,” but the next question “riccia o frolla signurì?” “curly or shortcrust, Miss? ” followed by the fragrant shell-shaped Sfogliatella pastry tossed right in front of me together with an espresso brings me right back to Naples.
Naples, my city, founded on legends of sirens and ragged gallantry, exasperatingly cunning and disinterested kindness, sooty alleys and baroque golden light.
Naples, with its majestic noble palaces eroded by the ramshackle of the street; Naples, where the sparkling scent of the gulf meets the sticky scent of open-air frying; Naples, in whose silent cloisters the cries of the young boys are echoed and carried onto the street by the wind.
To truly experience Naples, one must start from the original glories: on the one hand the National Archaeological Museum, in the 16th Century Palazzo degli Studi; and, overlooking the city and Mediterranean sea , the imposing Royal Palace of Capodimonte.
What do these two places have in common? Cool rooms where you can lose yourself in reverent reflection for hours, observing magnificent fragments of crystallized civilization at the moment of their maximum splendor – and, mostly at the same time, at the beginning of the ruin.
And here, a little further down, the pulsating artery of the city, the lower streets, called Spaccanapoli by the locals, unfolds in front of us.
The stage of both grandeur and city misery, Spaccanapoli, like a drop of amber, encloses the soul of Naples: the church of Gesù – formerly Palazzo Sanseverino – with its majestic ashlar facade; the 14th Century Basilica of Santa Chiara, an austere sepulcher of the Angio family; the “rival” Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore, a golden enclave of the Aragonese nobility; and the sinuous mystery of the Veiled Christ – preserved among worthy counterparts such as the horrifying alchemical experiments of the Prince of Sansevero, the black soul of the populace.
But then, again: the Bar Nilo, with its neon altar for the “Pibe de Oro”, Diego Armando Maradona; the kaleidoscopic Via di San Gregorio Armeno, where the virtuosos of the Nativity scene compete between the sacred and the profane with Bergoglio and Ciro Immobile; and from Michele ai Tribunali, where under a blackened arch, for no more than 5 euros, you can receive what the locals call “the 3 C’s: Comm Cazz Coce” , crocchè, omelettes, cod and vegetables, wrapped in greaseproof paper, fried on the spot and, it goes without saying, hot.
A few steps from there, we are welcomed by the Pio Monte della Misericordia, guardian of one of the great masterpieces of modern art, which by style and subject is well suited to our city: Caravaggio’s The Seven Works of Mercy
Continuously, the heterogeneity of Naples also comes out in the kitchen: from the Pescheria Azzurra to the Pignasecca Market, where between one rival fishmonger and the other, it is possible, on shaky tables and the scent of brackish water, to enjoy an amazing “cuoppo di mare” (a masterpiece of Neapolitan street food), as well as spaghetti with clams and crumbled tarallo (the parmesan of the poor!); in Concettina ai Tre Santi, where the patron Ciro Oliva is revolutionizing the world of pizza; at La Taverna dell’Arte, where the cornerstones of Neapolitan lunch, the Genoese and Neapolitan ragù, are revolutionized by the twist of chef Marco di Martino.
If , at the end of the day, you feel like a spritz, the soul of Naples welcomes you: we arrive at Borgo Marinari, the ancient fishermen’s ghetto that stands at the foot of the Castel dell’Ovo. Here, among the tourist restaurants, the Barcadero Cafè resides in what was an ancient cave for goiters. It is here – behind the chatter of the fishermen who lovingly repair their nets at the end of the day, and a small votive shrine in Santa Lucia entirely built of shells – that the rocking of the boats and the pink sunset accompany us into the evening.