Even the rain punches in Naples. We arrive late to a city of elbows, horns and scaffolding. The train to the city had been carnage. Just out of Meta the driver had roared over the PA system, the train screamed to a halt. The driver slammed through our carriage to the door nearest us and started kicking it. The door was hanging off. Much punching and cursing, the gap between broken door and carriage remained. The train pulled off. At the next station the altercation with the door was repeated, with others joining in the kicking. I resigned myself to the train being taken out of service and being forced off at one of the graffiti scrawled platforms to wait in the rain.
We continued, slowly. People pressed against the door hanging several inches out from the carriage. Every few stops the driver returned to swear at the door, wrestle it hopelessly. None of the regular commuters flinched from their phones. But then yesterday a rock had been thrown through the window, shattering glass like shells on the beach everywhere and we continued with just a shrug.
This is a Naples day. At Naples station, nearly an hour late, it becomes clear quickly that the tourist map with its vague symbols and occasional street names is not going to suffice. Neither is the bland page in the guide describing countless churches and castles. And no map will hold out against this rain.
I spy a sign, Piazza Plebiscito. I know this city. I have been here every night for the past week between the pages of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. And everything centres on Piazza Plebiscito as Lila, one of the two protagonists recognises herself. We head towards Lila’s life.
Streets where the characters fight, love, bicker, survive guide me around the city. Here Nino teaches, the university with its cracked noseless lions at the doorway. Here, via Santa Lucia, Lenu and her family ate to celebrate her novel, her engagement. The shoe shop was there, still chi chi on Piazza dei Matiri. And Piazza Plebiscito, all Naples could be held in its magnificent bowl, no wonder it holds all of Lenu and Lila’s world.
I was cold and wet to the bone. The rain in metal rods, Solara style. All about tall, grey, buildings, plaster dripping. A dark door opened and a wiry arm pulled me in, ‘I’m sorry for the rain. Come, eat.’ We found rufuge in an osteria on the corner of Piazza A Sacacchi. Probably there and with the same decor from the fifties. Austere, functional. No menu but the woman who had pulled us in, with tattoos on her forearms and long, dark hair recited a rapid menu. Vegetarian, I settled on pasta and peas. A brown paper bag of crunchy bread arrived. Brought by Enzo, I swear; all but his hair, which was dark. But the compact frame and energy, the shy reserve. While Lila smiled and charmed. The pasta arrived, swimming with chunks of ham.
Oh no. I picked at the chunks but it was impossible. But dare I challenge Lila, who had assured me it had no meat? I recalled My Brilliant Friend, the mean scenes. Could I take on the Blue Fairy? What would Lenu, the writer, do – eat and be silent…
Enzo saw my uncertainty. He had no English, I stumbled with my Italian but with grace he took the dish. Lila came rushing over, a frenzy of French and flailing arms. I remained resolute. Pasta and pomodore. We reached a resolution.
Enzo brought the dish. And a smile.
And more, you have to try a typical Naples dish he declared as I finished up the delicious pasta. Over came a spongey yellow cake, ouzzing banana liquor.
And there, slicing through the tenements of the square, sunshine and Lila, all smiles once more, ‘See I’ve brought you sunshine.’