III. AT THE PORTA CAPUANA

III

Then some will inevitably tell you that what you’ve seen is not the real city. The real city is its outskirts, the rundown, dirty, crime-ridden outskirts – what you’ve seen is the relatively polished, the cleverly cleaned-up version of what this city is or can be, a better phrase, because we don’t want the criminal, we want the charming, (it is so complicated to explain.) In a counter bid to our obsessive encasing of historical ruins, the makeshift basketball court in the shade of the Porta Capuana, youths playing while a bunch of people of many oriental nationalities camped right underneath its bastions, seemed the perfect example of the prejudice of beauty in the face of stones and history – they are revamping the area alright, cleaning the pavement, restoring the old gate (with funds for the peripheries of the European Union) – yet these teenage basketball players, born and bred in the hood, don’t, literally, give a damn; they play there just as they could be playing anywhere else, provided they have a basketball court (The surprise lies in their not playing soccer.) So this is the issue with the broken outskirts, they have nothing, never had nothing, and young folks there have no courts, or fields or pools, nothing, what are they going to do? – you go in and you feel that crime is lurking behind piles of trash – those youths can only go down the wrong road of the bad life, while these kids at the Porta Capuana, right across the street from what was the official Courthouse of the city of Naples for five hundred years, live a life of hardship, you’d imagine, but the easy kind. What does one expect? Crime at every corner? No, but neither does one expect this baroque eccentricity which does exist. No, it doesn’t. People just live normal lives here – that’s all.

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II – FACING THE WORLD

II

Areas around train stations don’t usually get much attention. Yet this one, and its large rectangular square, may be the best ordinary gateway into the city in all its ‘splendor and squalor’ (S&S – Naples’ rhyming code to its much maligned beauty and decay?) You’re not really encouraged to walk right, but the hood oozes life of all colors and creeds – in the throbbing heat of summer, too, when the rest of town only seems discernible through the style of dripping laundry hanging dry out of windows and balconies; neither is there a reason to go left, but the air smells salty like seawater, seeping in from behind a few boulevards, some unpleasant buildings and the docks – you don’t see the sea, you smell it; And, finally, why venture to the other end of the square, despite any beautifying revamp, to a statue of Garibaldi, the hotels, and the pulsating beat of avenues leading to other visceral hubs? The image of veins and arteries, often used but seldom with any meaning, comes to mind, pounding beneath your feet. There’s a church dome some way off up to one of the hills, and a former castle and a former charterhouse; the craggy outline of densely populated humanity, and spots of greenery that were once pastures and vineyards, praised by those who saw the city a few hundred years back, or less, when, you’re constantly reminded, this was a capital, and what a capital! – left now to talking buildings and people that look instead of listening.

I – WHERE TO LOOK

I

It is the day Ethiopia will plant 250 million trees to tackle climate change and yet another boat of refugees will sink in the Mediterranean; posts are viral with the reactions of Italian Navy officers rescuing dead bodies, of mothers, of infants, of newborns wrapped firm in their mother’s denim leggings; (globalization for all of us, baby; or the impression of safety you think denim leggings will give against the very blue waters of the Med? I was staring, spellbound, at the same sea only yesterday afternoon, from the soothing shores of Cape Posillipo, the ‘respite from worry’ of ancient Greek seafarers – this would have struck a discordant note with the death bulletins from south of Sicily.) This morning Vesuvius shows the bay and the city its sinuous flanks and round top, the middle ground being wrapped in clouds, white and light blue, like the clouds can steal the hues of the morning sky – anyone can wax poetic when it comes to the bay of Naples – guide books informing the impression-thirsty traveller where to look at dawn and where to look at sunset, where to be as the sun rises and where as the sun sets (then do whatever you like in between, explore what’s in between sunrise and sunset, like the vows some exchange at a wedding, for better, for worse, for rich and for poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part – who’s us? – the Baroque absurdity of existence coming out in the crumbling palazzi, some wonderfully restored, which you will just stumble on, not visit, as they come to you unexpectedly. You can’t feel it unless you’re here.)

FLAKING OFF THE WALLS

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A gust of warm wind rushed in with the man from the foyer. The chandeliers rattled; dust whirled down onto the carpeted floors.

“Lily and Becky?” he asked.

“My sister couldn’t…”

“Yes, it’s you and your sister. The gig’s outside the castle. 6am to 8pm.”

Lily nodded.

In the abandoned megaphone-shaped auditorium, ghosts of opera-goers gazed at their own paint flaking off the walls. Mr. Reynolds excused himself with his best beggars-can’t-be-choosers look; rushed backstage echoing orders. Now a car horn reached Lily’s ears from outside. Becky, of course, double-parked! By the entrée des artistes – the Irony of it.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/11/april-11-flash-fiction-challenge/

AS THE FLAMES FLING HIGH

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In the smoky gray courtyard, the firing squad is lined up, awaiting those to be shot. The former smoke while the latter lit candles in the night on their windowsills. But a section of the confiscated buildings is on fire and firefighters are trying to tame the ever-spreading flames – those who live in the area are out firing questions at officers ill-equipped at this fired-up injustice. The morning sun rises firing the tops of burned-out trees. “Fire! Fire!” a second of hesitation too many, “Fire, fire!” And all, at present, is gone up in tiny little bits of smoke.

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/04/04/april-4-flash-fiction-challenge/

DUMBFOUNDED DUPLICATION

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“It’s in that drawer.” He marched to it confidently. “Found it?” He opened the drawer but found various types of tools, of which, let’s see… pliers, a kind of screwdriver… this looks like a hammer with a double blade at one end, it has to have a name, and, hold on, two more. So one is a chisel, the other is not. They do look similar, though. Small chisel and big chisel? “I didn’t know which size you preferred.” She grabbed the small one. “You do know that’s not really a chisel?” “You mean the big one?” “Yes.” “Yes.”

In response to: https://carrotranch.com/2019/03/14/march-14-flash-fiction-challenge/

THE BOOK AND THE FLIGHT

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On 30th November, 6 years ago at the very least, G. Mur[…]sy flew from Europe to warm Sharm el Sheik, Egypt. So says the faded stub of an airline ticket found in the 2013 reprint of a French book, a classic, written some seventy years ago and set roughly ten years before that. The book has nothing to do with Egypt and would make a few hours’ light reading only of a highly educated passenger, or one suffering from the same existential maladie the book is about, or one whose fear of any possible turbulence only deep philosophical absorption might help to ease. On the plane, G. Mur[…]sy was in class Y, seat 6A – takeoff occurred at 10:55 pm. Lots of people keep their ticket stubs because they forget about them so we can’t suppose G. Mur[…]sy would want this back, or the book either, which a dog ear on page seventy-three signals she might not have liked.

BACK TO THE COUNTRY – THE GOLDEN CITY

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Through the woods, at the end of a track that goes along a stream (mom swears she used to bathe in it as a child with her friends) there’s a mill and the modern-day idea of a quaint cluster of small farmhouses – a B&B proves the point, and so does an old shed, of mossy bricks and rotten beams, untouched by the renovating fury, showing a massive wooden plough, stuck in time and dust and cobwebs. In El Dorado somewhere in the Andes, ploughshares were made of silver, and this gripped the imagination of a farmer who might have heard of the legend. One morning, as he went about his day, he must have stopped and pondered whether it was worthwhile to send at least one of his nine children to check if that was true. (Mom says they would rest under that giant oak after bathing and then run back to the village before sunset, so no one knew where they’d been.)

IT’S EASY TO SMILE AT THE MOON

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It’s easy to smile at the Moon, harder at the Sun. The reflected light of the former gently hits all kinds of eyes, stars dotting the dark expanse all around it, or clouds passing through, their real color unknown to our spectrum. The Sun makes it all much harder, your face ends up all scrunched up, eyes squinting, as if something else was there to decipher. Is Love a Sun or a Moon? What do I want Love to be in the end? Galehot brought Lancelot and Guinevere together and he thought he was doing his friend a good turn, but they never should have kissed, and those old novels are mostly incoherent in their development from beginning till end. Then while Streisand defended her right to be a woman in love, it was over timeless songs in a castle in southern France, there to recreate the Middle Ages, without the wild, without the irrational, for dazed travellers. Time never cuts it quite right, does it?, and the longer a kiss is held, the more it seems to us to be of any worth. But if eternity is in the moment, as we’re gratified to quote from Spinoza, then duration shouldn’t matter. It’s a trap we like, apparently.

THE TOWNS ALONG THE COAST

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At the station early in the morning the first train gets in at 5. No one gets off. The train’s left the Central Station an hour before to reach the end of the coastal line so people can get on. Empty to full, passengers will then alight in the main town, or at some other stop,  to work in the factories along the coast. The line, a feat of engineering constantly monitored, gives its best at 4:35 and 4:40 and a little before 5 when dawn breaks the night and the red lights of the big power poles cease to flicker in the dark. The train driver is the lone custodian of these very early contrasts – because you need the empty 4am to have the full 5am train. The towns along the coast are not so big. There’s a saying, everybody knows it, when a thing or a person is like “the 4am train,” it means that you take this thing or person for granted.

In response to: https://fivedotoh.com/2018/11/29/fowc-with-fandango-contrast/