Piccolo Napoli (part 2)

There was a worrying gaggle of backpackers outside the place, all clutching guide books thumbed open to a certain page. That didn’t bode so well.

‘He said it’s the best and cheapest pizzeria in Naples…’ the Incredible Ponce shrugged, and elbowed his way through the stragglers to ask how do you get a table, do you stand around and wait to be called in, should you come back in half an hour, do you leave a name or what? Apparently you left your name and they called you, and it would only be five or ten minutes’ wait.

‘Want to go somewhere else?’ he asked, as he sparked up a cigarette on the doorstep.

‘No, it’s ok, let’s wait, if he said it’s this one, then it’s worth waiting for, I should think. And all these people….’

‘Yeah, all these people…’ he muttered, the cigarette clenched between his teeth. ‘I don’t like so many er… tourists… know what I mean? That means it’s probably in some guide book, and it’s shit. It should be full of Neapolitans, then I’d be a bit more excited.’

‘Mm-Hmm. Well, let’s see.’

‘I’ve had a look at the menu. There are only two types of pizza: Margarita and Marinara. That’s no mozzarella. I’d order the Margarita.’

‘You’re the boss.’

In theory I approved of the spit and sawdust décor, the white tiling, the paper tablecloths and the choice of two pizzas. It seemed awfully French, and showed a lot of confidence. As my brother is fond of saying, he loves any unpretentious bistro that tells you what you will be eating today. I approved of our tiny table tucked next to the kitchen door, where we could watch the industrious to-ing and fro-ing of the white-jacketed waiters, spinning on their heels and wielding pizza after pizza. I liked the tarnished mirror on the wall, the framed newspaper clippings and the old, old photograph of the original Michele, smiling proudly in front of his restaurant. It’s just that the pizza, for me, wasn’t all that great. I prefer dry, thin-crust pizzas, which I’d eaten in Puglia and sometimes in the North. The outer edge was great, the topping was okay, the flavours all right, but it still sagged damply in the middle, like a wet sock. I ate it and said nothing.

‘Huh. Had better.’ The verdict was delivered when the Ponce had finished. ‘Somebody’s got lazy because they’re in the guide books now. Probably used to be fantastic pizza, but look at the number of people they’re serving. I think they’ve gone off the boil. Tourists…. spoil everything.’

After lunch we headed back into the old centre again for some more exploring.  There was graffiti everywhere, on dank walls next to alleyways tall and skinny like models, threaded with the infamous washing and crazy cables. ‘Hands on the pieta!’ read one illustration of a priest with his hands raised high, stick ‘em up fashion. By inference hands off our children. There was a prolific grafitti artist called Diego Miedo, (Jimmy Fear) who’d left the city strewn with naked, cubist figures and faces, and a series of rocket-propelled penises flying off walls, round corners, up doorways and down side streets.

The children of Naples were fascinating. Older than their apparent years, knowing in a way that was disquieting, or perhaps simply ‘chulo’ which translates as ‘cocky, flashy, nervy, a pimp’, and in Colombian Spanish as ‘a black vulture’.  All of the above could have applied. Not only to the seven year old moped drivers, pumped up and alert, but also to the street kids, who apparently unaccompanied, roamed the alleyways and main thoroughfares. Sitting at a café table as the hectic, sleazy world went about its business, we watched two boys and a girl. Ridiculously grown up and romantic, the two attractive children walked hand in hand beside their overweight, mean-spirited friend. They gazed into each other’s eyes. She even clutched a rose in her other hand, was a pretty gamine thing with straggly hair, in a slip and miniature heels. Her ‘husband’ steered her gallantly through the crowds, while the fat kid strutted resentfully, catching my eye and tipping a can of Pepsi over on the table next to us, turning with a satisfied shrug, a clear ‘screw you’, to watch the can spill its contents across the plastic table top and roll onto the pavement.

A woman pushed a pram decorated with all the reserve of a gypsy caravan, a baby as round and plump as a dough ball nestling somewhere inside the frilly confection of white lace studded with pink flowers. It was a slice of wedding cake on wheels. Later we passed her again, paused behind glass in a bakery. Surrounded by all those cakes and truffles, nothing but ribbons, fluff and flowers. The baby was gift-wrapped, warm as toast and all plumped up nicely ready to be served. An ice cream stall with its shutter down but a technicolor poster of a boy devouring a multi-coloured ice cream, burying his face in it, one eye squinting manically out at you, malice in his appetite.  A chubby man with a greasy look about his chops clambered off a bike and hustled into the crowd, wearing a greying t-shirt with the slogan ‘God’s gift’ on the front.

A moped skidded past us out of a narrow alleyway as we queued later at a street stall, to buy pastries. The woman swiveled off the back of the bike, standing with her hips thrust provocatively, her chest out like a drill seargent. She had glossy black hair and was painted like Cleopatra, a pouting, wet mouth and her eyes so overdone they stared out of her head with the intensity of a freshly-heckled drag queen. Her boyfriend was cadaverously thin with sunken knife-ish cheeks and sinewy hands. He was a caricature of a seedy backstreet hustler, dressed in tight-fitting trousers and winkle pickers, wearing a rakish cloth cap on top of hair greased down close to his head. A bent old lady scuttled past us and up an alleyway like a startled crab skittering up the contours of a rock.

‘Ha. The lookout.’ said the Ponce. ‘Did you see the other guy go up there just before? To score smack? Granny’s the lookout, waits on the street till the deal’s finished, ‘case the cops come. Being nosy and that, watching everybody, everybody expects old ladies to be nosy, don’t they? That’s Neapolitans for you! Got to hand it to them.’

‘This place is freaky.’

‘See? I knew you’d like it.’





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