far too much writing, far too many photos

[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

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