far too much writing, far too many photos

[continued from previous entry]

Somewhere during the ascent, he who had greeted/harassed me introduced himself: Maxim. Dutch by birth, I believe, with a french name and many years living in London under his belt (pre- life in southern Italy). The hotel/b&b was his, and he appeared to be the only staff, as least far as management/desk person/customer relations went. We reached the landing, he opened the door, ushered me in. My room, it turned out, was just inside, right off the cosy reception area. Right there, immediately across from his desk, the door to the landing just to the right of my room’s door, ensuring that everyone who came and went would pass right by my home away from home. Felt like renting a bungalow off a highway. I asked if there might be another room in a quieter location, Maxim shook his head in the negative — the hotel was full up, I had no recourse. I resigned myself to my fate, he opened the door to my hideyhole, I shuffled in.

And saw straightaway that despite its unfortunate location, it was a lovely room. Spacious, with a high ceiling and a set of floor-to-ceiling windows at the center of the long wall that fronted on the courtyard. And a long bathroom that was as large as some studio flats you’ll find in New York City. With a kind of wacky shower that I’ve only seen in Italy: just the far end of the room, basically, turned into a shower stall by a big sheet of rigid, transparent plastic that extended halfway across. No pesky door to open or close, no annoying curtain to get tangled up in. Just the end of the room. Wicked.

Unpacked, got keys, received a fast tour of the rest of the place — a long hallway, basically, that took a hard left at two points, ending at the living area — a huge, comfortably furnished space, w/ enormously high ceiling (and ceiling fresco, circa 1800), dining tables, narrow floor to ceiling windows looking out either side (opening to small balconies), comfy sofas, large-screen TV. Airy, nice.

The more I talked with Maxim, the more my first impression of him slowly dissipated, leaving me with a talkative, likeable host who seemed to suffer from the occasional control issue. The lock to my room’s door turned out to be tricky — Maxim’s response: a clear impulse to shoulder me aside and lock/unlock the door himself. He mostly left the hotel door locked, did not hand out keys for it. Result: the bell had to be rung, summoning Maxim to open the door. Meaning he was tethered to the hotel, remaining there during my entire stay — always home, never out. The double-edged sword of control: the gratification of maintaining one’s hold over how things are done and the turning of one’s life into a kind of prison. Reminded me of my mother (bless her wacky heart), made me feel sympathy for him. He looked sadly bored at times, trapped there — up early to take care of breakfast, up late to let in guests returning from the evening out..

So. Settled in, then set off to explore, taking a different route downhill from the one taken on arrival — walking along an avenue with actual sidewalks instead of through cobblestone sidestreet racetracks. Past small stores, cafés, convenience shops, the avenue busy with traffic, the neighborhood looking old and tired (w/ garbage strewn around), like the rest of what I’d seen of the city to that point — but with life & energy, graffiti, posters and handbills everywhere, providing ragged layers of color and visual input.

One thing about Naples: there’s no lack of sensory input. Just the opposite — sensory overload could prove to be a major part of living there.

Wandered past the hulking mass of the National Museum of Archaeology, slowly heading downtown. Puddles everywhere, slowly drying. Skies overhead gray. Cafés scattered around with liberal abandon, providing near-constant temptation. And trash, a startlingly common part of the landscape. (During my stay, that last subject came up during chats with locals I encountered. They made vague references to the Mafia and said nothing more, the topic moving quickly to other themes.)

[this entry in progress]

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Hotel room — Naples, Italy:

España, te amo

[continued from previous entry]

The bus spat us out in the middle of la Piazza Garibaldi, near a big amorphous bunch of other buses (all pooting out clouds of exhaust), with no signage to indicate what came next. Which left a bunch of people standing in the middle of, more or less, a wasteland, looking around blinking, searching for anything that would provide direction. I noticed a kind of kiosk thingie not far away, covered away with the remnants of posters – dragged my bag over there, pulled out camera and took a few pix, immediately in my element. Then noticed the bulk of a building — waaaaay the hell over to the far end of that ugly, sprawling, rundown urban space — looking like it might possibly be a station. Grabbed the body bag, crossed to the sidewalk that stretched around the edge of the plaza, and beat feet, threading my way through people, tables and stalls selling all kinds of stuff, and stretches of broken sidewalk strewn with litter.

Turned out it was a station. A big one, with stores and slick ticket stalls and lots of people, many looking every bit as lost as I felt. I found signage indicating access to the Metro one flight down, and also noticed a number of elevators to lower levels scattered around, every single one of which was out of service.

Found my way downstairs, bought a Metro day pass — a total bargain at around 3 euros. (Important note to travelers: Metro passes can’t be bought in the Metro in Naples. You have to find news kiosks or tobacco shops for that. And when you first enter the Metro with a new pass, you must validate it in one of the yellow machine thingies. It is genuinely important to take care of that silly detail, otherwise you may find yourself having an unpleasant encounter with a ticket inspector during your ride, and by unpleasant I mean paying a substantial fine.) Managed to find my way to the right line, despite wacky signage. Went one stop, dragged myself and my bag up to the surface, stepped out into the Piazza Cavour and the loud chaos of Naples. Skies gray, traffic skidding by one side of the piazza. Layers of graffiti, handbills and posters on tired, rundown buildings.

I had a room in a small hotel located up one of the narrow sidestreets that extended out from the piazza. Way up the sidestreet, turned out, the word ‘up’ indicating an uphill slog, the word ‘uphill’ indicating steeply angled enough to mean thinning oxygen in no time flat. A slog made more thrilling by cobblestones in less than perfect repair and cars passing at the kind of speed that could result in shortened pedestrian lifespan. At certain points, the only thing insuring the continued existence of me and my luggage wer iron bars sunk into the cobblestones. A driver with homicidal tendencies were have to be seriously motivated to get through them.

And that’s something that quickly became apparent: I was born in N.Y.C., I’ve spent a fair amount of time living in places like Boston and Madrid. I’m no stranger to wacky driving. But this was another world. These people drove like they had nothing to lose — taking them seriously would probably be smart.

The area: narrow streets (cross-streets providing sudden amazing views);…

old, old buildings of several storeys; litter, garbage; and streetside shrines scattered about with impressive abandon. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like the shrines before Naples. Well, maybe the very occasional one in places like Sevilla, but nothing like this.

Street numbers were, well, not so easy to spot, much less follow. Combine that with the lack of hotel signage, and I’d gone well beyond my destination before I realized I needed to turn back. A 50-something woman on the other side of the narrow street caught my eye, pointed back in the direction from where I’d come. (It’s hard to not look like a tourist when you’re dragging baggage.) I stumbled ahead, dodging passing cars, the woman pointed again, indicating a specific doorway. I pulled up in front of it, stood looking for a bell to bang, gazing in through the bars of the metal door at the courtyard inside, seeing no indication of a hotel/b&b. A male in a long black coat stood in the courtyard, facing me. I realized he was talking to me, asking something along the lines of, er, if I’d been there for a while looking to bother him. (Me silently going ‘Huh?’ in response.) Then I realized he was talking to me in English, with the accent of a non-Italian. I gabbled out something about looking for a hotel, not him. He continued talking at me, more verbiage along the lines of the previous question, as if he were trying to put me on the defensive for unknown reasons, his expression not exactly friendly. (And looking strangely like he could very well be the offspring of an unholy coupling between Stephen Fry and Lurch from the Addams Family.)

He opened the door for me, still talking, apparently accusing me of not knowing something I should have known or not having seen somethng I should have seen. Me not getting why, since I’d arrived at the door essentially at the very moment he started spouting off at me. He made a show of leaning out the door, pointing at something: a little teeny plastic square to one side of the door buzzers, printed with the name of the hotel — another door buzzer, turned out. I watched, wondering if maybe he was having a terrible day, taking it out on the first person he came across, then responded to his ongoing performance with a mild statement along the lines of ‘You’re going to have to excuse me, I just got off the bus.’ He quieted down, I stepped inside and continued ahead, finding myself in the courtyard of an old, tired building, staring up at the overcast sky. My host — because he was, in fact, going to be my host for the next two days — said the hotel was two flights up. I shouldered baggage and began the trudge up the worn stone and concrete stairway.

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

Last Friday morning, real damn early: dragged my sorry ass out the door, grabbed a taxi to the airport. Checked in before most travelers had finished sucking down their first shot of caffeine, made it through security, sat at an empty gate staring at the gray world outside, watching light rain alternate with light snow. Eventually found myself in a smallish, half-empty passenger plane flying across the northern Mediterranean, en route to Naples.

Clouds thinned some along the way, but did not clear completely. When the plane dropped down over the city, sun showers fell, a huge, sprawling metropolis spread out below — visibly old, tired, rundown. And densely populated. Even I could see that from up above, skidding across the sky — a tired, dog-eared city, home to an unnervingly high number of souls, all packed together in a way that would make anyone edgy, uneasy.

The first surprise after touching down: luggage made it from the plane to baggage claim instantaneously. I don’t know how they did that, but it was impressive. No waiting. All I had to do was find my way from plane to terminal.

Wandered from there to an information desk, an exceptionally energetic woman told me where to find the bus to the city center, sold me an inexpensive ticket, sent me on my way. Found myself on a packed bus soon after, and when I say packed that is exactly what I mean. Crammed with people, with a notable under-abundance of seats, leaving many humans standing between mounds of bags, holding on for dear life as the driver navigated hideous traffic into the city. (I have no idea, in all seriousness, how that driver threaded that vehicle through those narrow streets, choked with traffic as they were. Whatever he gets paid, it’s not enough.)

[continued in following entry]

España, te amo

Stepping out on my small balcón after midnight, lots of windows across the way still glowing with the light of lives being led.

Air moist, smelling of coming rain. Cold, though without the wintry edge that’s had a grip on the weather here for the last few days. Sky dark, clouds scattered across its southern half, stealthily sliding in ahead of the rainy front.

I stood for a couple of minutes breathing in the damp and cold, listening to the faint sound of cars passing on the avenue that runs past the other side of this building. Finally went back inside, closed the doors, drew sheer white drapes. Noticed the edges of the closed drapes oscillating gently from cold air that found its way in between less-than-airtight closed doors. Stood and watched for a moment, quiet settling over the flat, then turned out the lights, went to bed.

One more day gone — once present now vanished, like countless others.

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Garage entryway — Madrid:

España, te amo

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