We bid farewell to Pollenzo, our home for the past four days. We picked up our lunch sacks and boarded the bus that would take us to the Turin airport. Our flight was uneventful and we landed in Naples ahead of schedule. We proceeded to baggage claim (and no one’s luggage was left behind, thankfully!) and boarded another bus that would take us to Hotel Naples.
Serena and Camila warned us we would experience a bit of culture shock upon our arrival in Naples. And it was the intent of the CIEE to expose us to two very different Italian cultures. Right on both counts. As the bus wended its way through the garbage-strewn streets, we saw beautiful historic buildings marked with graffiti and aggressive motorists driving all kinds of vehicles—cars, trucks and too many Vespa scooters to count. Pollenzo seemed very far away.
I exchanged my suite of rooms for a tiny but modern and comfortable hotel room on the third floor of Hotel Naples. Instead of rolling hills, my window faced a busy street. But I made myself a cup of tea, unpacked and settled in to my new home for the next four days.
We had a few hours to ourselves before we were expected at dinner. Some group members took advantage of the down time to relax while others attempted to work up an appetite by taking a walk around the city. I decided to join the group who planned to watch the Italy-Spain UEFA soccer match. Camila gave us directions to Rudy’s, a bar that planned to set up a canopy on the street and a large projection screen so that fans of both teams could watch the game. We got there by getting lost only twice (this would become a theme for our time in Naples) but still managed to be one of the first groups of spectators to arrive. While Mike and Kyle went across the street to buy tickets, Roxanne and I settled into some plastic chairs to watch the final preparations, which was highly entertaining. Two men, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, were attempting to set up the projection screen, and although we couldn’t understand their Italian, their vehement gesticulations indicated that the process was not going well. We went across the street to buy a drink and saw the same two men carrying a large flat screen television to the canopy area. We settled into our seats to watch the game, and the reason that the television was not the first choice became abundantly clear—the reflection from the screen made it nearly impossible to see the game at first. But the assembled fans didn’t seem to mind and adjusted to the non-ideal situation quickly. The situation improved as the sun went down and the screen became easier to see. We made friends with a young man from Montreal who was proudly wearing an Italia shirt. The game was exciting, but ended in a 1-1 draw.
It struck me that this is not the kind of event you’d see in the US. Americans tend to be private, preferring to watch a sporting match in their own home with family and friends. Perhaps we might be so public as to watch a game in a bar. But I can’t imagine an American sporting event in which narrow city streets are lined with televisions and projection screens under canopies while fans sit in uncomfortable cheap plastic chairs, sharing drinks and commentary. It’s a shared public event, not a private one, and even if it only lasts a few hours, it’s a shared common experience amongst a group of people who do not know each other, and it’s a community, if only temporarily.
After the game, we met Camila who escorted us to the piazza where we would meet up with the rest of the group. They were all relaxing at a large table under a canopy, with cold drinks, peanuts and green Spanish olives. We pulled up extra chairs and joined them and enjoyed a pleasant hour in the piazza. The Neapolitans were strolling through the piazza, enjoying the warm summer night. A large group of small boys played an intense game of soccer as the sun went down. We made friends with the elderly couple sitting next to them, who had brought their dog along (and Marisa reciprocated by showing them pictures of her dog).
Around 8:30 pm, Serena told us that our table was ready, so we walked across the piazza to the Palazzo Petrucci ristorante. We were pleased to see that faculty from the university who would be our lecturers were able to join us for our five course meal. The starter was a millefeuilles of Campania’s mozzarella cheese (buffalo mozzarella is a specialty of the Campania region) with raw prawns and sauce of peas (shown below). I had had raw shrimp once before and thought I would probably not eat it again, but I did, and it was delicious. This was followed by small cups of potato soup with smoked trout and crispy seaweed with grated fresh ginger. I had eaten seaweed before, but never a crispy variety. The first course was spaghettoni with Neapolitan trallo, cockles and thyme lemon. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente, and the cockles were flavorful, if a bit chewy. The second course was seared red mullet with chives and cheese provola, anise salad, yogurt and potatoes with extra virgin olive oil. The flavors went together amazingly well. The dessert was served in a parfait glass and consisted of Neapolitan pastier with wheat grains, candied fruit, and ricotta cheese. When the dessert was served, we sang Happy Birthday to Steve, who received an extra dessert, a chocolate molten cake with one large birthday candle. What an incredible meal, with lively conversation and a birthday celebration that Steve will not soon forget.
Serena accompanied us on the long walk back to our hotel. Pollenzo was a distant if fond memory, and we were already ready to embrace a new city.