Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger

Indexing previous reporting from my 2019 Italy trip:
The Naples Diet
Lines in Italy Explain My Exasperation
His Dying Thought: Oh, right; this is how you die in Italy
The Surprising Truth About Real Neapolitan Brick Oven Pizza
The Surprising Truth About Real Sicilian Rice Balls
Marzipan, You Idiot! Marzipan!
Naples: Mistaking Soulfulness for Danger

Naples is just 90 minutes from Rome via fast train. The two are nearly neighbors; one could imaginably travel back and forth for dinner.

Everyone advised me to watch my ass in Naples. But Naples was not only totally cool, it was better than cool. It had soul.

After a lifetime of travel, I recall all the places I'd been told were "dangerous", and they share two traits:

1. They weren't dangerous
2. They had extra doses of soul and colorfulness.

It's taken decades for me to put it together, but I've finally realized that it's the soul and color, themselves, that people find dangerous. Those things aren't a silver lining; they're the dark cloud. Creativity, spontaneity, real feelings, authenticity...such things scare people. The preference, oddly, is for predictability and conformity. Folks are comfortable around people who project that they're a "type" of person who "nice" types of people would associate with. It's an awkward, shallow, deluded ballet of rote signification that Marxists would dub "bourgeois" and Richard Pryor mocked as bland honkey tight-assery, and it explains the enduring popularity of chain motels, formulaic films, scripted customer service, fake smiles and NO SURPRISES (oh, lord, how most people loathe surprise; surprise is, itself, the Great Danger).
Read Surprising Behavior Breaks Things (an exploration of Groucho Marx, computer hackers, beta testers, Banksy, and Kali the Goddess of Death)
Not me. I hate every bit of that. I crave surprise. I live for authenticity, creativity, and soul, to the exclusion of all else. Not coincidentally, this makes me extraordinarily scary (it's no wonder I've at times felt afflicted by a Casper-the-Friendly-Ghost curse). I'll never speak the expected next line in whatever vignette you're staging.

Read this story about how the entire town of Bardstown KY warned me away from Maxine's tavern where I had one of the very best experiences of my entire life with the kindest and most interesting folks in town. In that same series, I traveled to Newfoundland, which Canadians had always described as a realm of kooks. Immediately upon arrival, I thrilled and marvelled at the unscriptedness of Newfoundlanders, yet it took years to fathom that this spontaneity wasn't in spite of their kooky reputation, it was the basis for it. Creativity,  soulfulness, and unaffectedness make people clutch their wallets and guard their children. Forgive my rant, but this planet's a fucking bore where hardly anyone appreciates the delights.

I know danger. I've performed in crackhouses where I saw gunfire. I traveled solo each week into 1980s Time Square at age 16. I've played meringue gigs in the South Bronx at 3am, associated with murderers and crackheads, and had my car dug out of a snowbank by complete strangers/angels with thousands of dollars of music equipment in the trunk outside the city's most notorious housing project. Naples isn't least no more so than other major cities where precautions are always prudent. 

After all the warnings, I should have known I'd love Naples. Not because I'm Fearless Jimmy Danger, but because I'm not a "nice" person who says "nice" things and seeks out "nice" people who say "nice" things to maintain a tight-assed charade (I'll dig your car out of a snowbank any time, but I won't stick around to twinkle at you and tell you what a great pleasure it was to meet you....unless it actually was, which is unlikely).

Returning to Rome was like reentering a black and white film after a full-color scene. Rome's got some soul, but nothing like Naples (as Romans would readily agree). And, once again, that, apparently, is precisely what spooks people about Naples.

Next installment of my Italy trip: Two Recent Glimpses of Ridiculous Death


Display Name said...

Ooooo. I demand examples. My parents and their partner had a beatnik bar with beatnik poems painted on the tables. Everyone loved Maynard on the Many Loves of Dobie Gillis Show. Jughead in Archie comics used to be a beatnik. I was shocked when several years later my best friend's dad a kind man yelled at my best friend for dressing too casually saying with venom you look like a goddamned beatnik!

Jim Zurer said...

Hi Jim

We are now in Naples and eating pizza...

I always describe Naples to my clients as "Italy on steroids". For some an acquired taste....but for us so very appealing. And we love Rome as well.

Jim Leff said...

Jim, great to hear from you, man! I'll spoil an upcoming installment by BEGGING you to hit Ristorante Bourouta, an extremely primal Moroccan hole-in-wall (I"m pretty sure I was the first non-Moroccan ever to enter.....and it doesn't google at all). I didn't have opportunity to give it a full whirl, but the stuff I saw there and tasted there impressed me profoundly. It's very close to the main train station, just down the block from the well-known (and faded) Mimi alla Ferrovia on Via Carriera Grande somewhere between #37 and #26.

If you're not up on serious Moroccan food, I'd urge you to check out my app, which offers great on-the-fly ordering advice and orientation:

Jim Zurer said...

Jim...good to "see"'s been a while.

I appreciate your recommendation for the Moroccan place in Naples but I don't think I will be checking it out on this trip. I am committed to researching local cooking for my clients. A tough job but someone has to do it....

I will pass along the information to my son who has spent two summers in Morocco working on films.

Hope to catch up with you sometime in the future.


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