Michaela Merz

Vedi Napoli e poi muori!! Or in translation «See Naples and die”

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As a child I read this sentence and imagined that travelling to Naples is the last thing one should do, if one would then die.  My interpretation of the well-known Goethe quotation was of course completely wrong. Nonetheless Naples was for me a symbol of death and not of life. Regardless of whether I thought about the crater of Vesuvius, the unfortunately buried town of Pompeii or the deadly Camorra. But there is really a lot to see and admire locally and so finally I recently went there.  Despite the slightly queasy feeling I had based on my early childhood, mistaken interpretation.

I had a cold and didn’t feel particularly well, but everything had been booked, so I hoped for an improvement. The opposite happened. After arrival the flu knocked me out. My throat hurt as if someone had stuck a knife into me at short intervals, every time I coughed I thought that part of my lung had come with it and my limbs and head hurt so much that the first two days I could do nothing – except sleep.

The third day I woke up and I still didn’t feel well, but at least I had the feeling that now I was slowly getting better. So I spent the day in bed and looked out of the window to see what was happening in Naples. My window faced the sea and below my window was a narrow street ONLY FOR PEDESTRIANS to a fort. I observed the incredible creativity of the local people and their many methods of outwitting the observation camera, which filmed this path. The motor cyclists got off their motorbikes, turned their motorbikes round and pushed them in backwards. Probably because in this way it was not possible to recognise the number plates. After a few metres, when they were out of reach of the camera, they climbed on and rode further. A car driver came, opened the boot and pulled a blanket over the back of the car to hide the number plate and then also drove on. The number plates were covered with all sorts of materials: with paper, cardboard, cloth, two helmets. So many people ignored the driving ban that after 10 I stopped counting.

So I watched the very colourful, lively atmosphere. I observed numerous, unusual scenes, for example how the street traders move about in gangs and that they warned each other of approaching police controls. I saw how the flower sellers target their customers and how the group dynamics in the groups of youths lead them to dangerous nonsense, e.g. climbing into and onto everything possible and impossible to make selfies.

Then my head slowly began to function again and I read that, in the building in which I was staying, the opera singer Enrico Caruso died on 2.8.1921 of pleurisy. Although he himself had been born in Naples in poverty, he had enjoyed an impressive career, with for example 863 appearances in the Metropolitan Opera in New York. But as in 1901, when he appeared in Naples, he had been torn apart by the local press, for the rest of his life he refused to appear again in the city of his birth. Whether he died in the same room as I was now lying, – fortunately – I could not find out.

And so I didn’t see anything. I didn’t visit the old town or the catacombs, I didn’t climb Vesuvius or Castel Sant’Elmo, I didn’t see Pompeii or the main shopping centre, Via Toledo.  Everything I wanted to do, ALL were unaccomplished, without exception. I got to know Naples from its daily life. I saw the garbage collection in the morning, the screaming tourists in the evening, the fishermen sailing out and I read a lot about the city. For example, that during the legendary quattro giornata the Neapolitans liberated the city of Naples from the fascists off their own bat, even before the allied forces arrived. Or that the 23-year old NCO Salvo d’Acquisto accused himself falsely of an attack on the Germans and so saved the lives of 22 randomly arrested civilians. It cost him his own life. Impressive!!

I can’t really give any tips. Naples is not suitable for dying.

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