Call it my need for a “Naples fix.” Or as my Italian friends put it: “una vera passione per Napoli” (“a real passion for Naples”). Whatever. I can’t do without a few days in Naples now and then. I need to leave behind the tranquility of Umbria for the noise and chaos of Naples. I need to temporarily exchange the Umbrian gentility and “riserva” for the loud, right-in-your-face Neapolitan social interactions.
Everything about Naples is loud.
[lcaption]A soccer game in a Naples piazza[/lcaption]
The street noises: the plaintiff accordian tango music of a wandering street musician interlaced with the coffee cup clatter of sidewalk cafes. In a cafe, a guitarist’s Neapolitan music is nearly drowned out with the cacophony of plates, silverware, clinking glasses.
Around the corner, street musicians sing Neapolitan ballads accompanied by the music of clackers, tambourines and mandolins – and then the dancing starts. The buzz of Vespas and motorbikes magnifies in narrow alleyways where street vendors boom out a litany of hard-sell chants in napoletano. In the piazzas, the thwack of soccer balls on stone pavements punctuates the shouts of running boys, scrambling to score. Across the piazza, disputes of bellowing taxi drivers’ sound explosively bellicose. Teachers herd school groups, shouting to get attention from clutches of chattering kids on school trips, everyone clamoring to be heard.
[lcaption]Chestnut vendor in a Naples sidestreet[/lcaption]
But the sound I most need when I head for Naples? La musica napoletana. And first task on arrival is finding it. Just off the train on a recent trip, I headed for the spanking new Tourist Information office in the renovated Naples train station, passing an array of boutiques, busy cafes.. Two young employees behind the desk grinned at my greeting: “Complimenti!”, responding with satisfaction, “sembriamo un nuovo aeropoporto, vero?” (“we look like a new airport here, don’t we?”) They both advised Ristorante ‘A Canzuncella for an evening of traditional Neapolitan music, calling up for a booking. Sold out for that night but I was in for the following night.
Task accomplished, I headed to a favorite B&B right in the centro with a new addition: Antonio, working the desk. With a wide grin but mournful brown eyes, he asked me “why go there?” when I told him about tomorrow’s ‘A Canzuncella reservation. And then he pulled out his guitar and started singing a plaintive Neapolitan love song.
[lcaption]Antonio’s musica napoletana captivates Olga from Moscow – at our B&B[/lcaption]
For an hour, Antonio filled the B&B’s small entryway/breakfast room with pining Neapolitan love songs and catchy ballads, drawing into the room other B&B guests. The next morning after serving us coffee and Neapolitan pastries, Antonio pulled out his guitar: not for playing this time but for photos of us – his “fans” – flanking him.
And my explorations that day ended right at the door of the historic Ristorante ‘A Canzuncella, small stone-vaulted subterranean restaurant (once a wine cellar?) covered with memorabilia of the former singer/owner Aurellio Fierro. In 1986, Aurelio and his wife Marisa had created the first Neapolitan cena spettacolo (“dinner show”): one night a week, Aurelio sang for the diners, responding to their plea, “Aurè… e cantace ‘na canzuncella”, (“Aurelio, sing us a little song”).
Tributes to Aurelio decorate the cellar and nowadays, guest performers carry on the cena/spettacolo tradition: that night, Antonio on the mandolin and Nicola on guitar strolled the dining room, serenading us all as we dined on Neapoltan goodness
[lcaption]Antonio and Nicola wander the dining room[/lcaption]
Other than one couple from Ferrara, a a pair of Sicilian sisters and me, the other thirty or so guests were all napoletani. (Try to find a more appreciative public for la musica napoletana. You can’t). And they were all colleagues: men and women of la Polizia di Stato, singing along, clapping to the rhythms, calling out for favorites.
Their enthusiasm was the spark: we all ended up singing right on through to the limoncello.
[lcaption]Three beautiful things about Naples: the sun, pizza, ‘A Canzuncella‘[/lcaption]
I poliziotti invited me out for un digestivo but it was close to midnight. The night was still young for them. But my “Naples fix” had worn me out.
As I was leaving ‘A Canzuncella, a wall plaque in dialetto napoletano brought a smile:
“Napule, tre cose tene belle – ‘o sole, ‘a pizza e ‘a canzuncella” (“Naples holds three beautiful things – the sun, pizza and ‘a canzuncella”……a little song”).
Who can imagine Naples without ‘A Canzuncella? And who can live without a “Naples fix” now and then?
(….and see good times at ‘A Canzuncella on YouTube)
Read more about my need for Naples
Read more on Naples street life
Read about Naples’ link to the Mediterranean diet
Read about one of my favorite Neapolitan restaurants