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  1. Wealth
May 31, 2007

See Naples And Die

By Spear's

Crime, filth, squalor and obnoxious, thieving natives – what’s not to hate about Naples, asks Josh Spero

Crime, filth, squalor and obnoxious, thieving natives – what’s not to hate
about Naples, asks Josh Spero

You emerge from Central Station into something a love-child of Dante and Dickens might have imagined, a cross between sooty, noisy Victorian London and the Inferno’s eighth circle. Wherever you look in Piazza Garibaldi, battered Fiat taxis with flaking leather seats shunt into one another, constantly honking their irritation and packing the entire square without order. A choking black miasma hangs in the air as the taxis’ exhaust pipes belch out thick smoke. The drivers may shout ‘hotel’ to unwary tourists but they’re really advertising a sneering kind of daylight robbery in their death traps.

If you can avoid being knee-capped by one of the taxis as it judders forward, waiting for the filthy train station to disgorge its prey, next you have to dodge the hawkers and peddlers who stand all around the edge, vending someone else’s possessions from snatched suitcases. They strew the pavement with them, flung-open and exposing their contents, and will try to block you bodily as you go, grabbing your elbow or your shoulder to sell you trousers or a mobile phone from a handbag. Pickpockets feel you up until you spin away; it’s a city of not-so-Artful Dodgers.

Automotive disregard for the law and safety is a constant in Naples. Whoever said that traffic lights were merely suggestions in Naples was right on the money; you take your life in your hands crossing a road. Cars do not even allow ambulances to get past: no doubt one of Naples’ many gunshot victims is writhing in agony inside it, but hey, that’s Naples.

Where, other than Naples, do staff go on strike even when they’ve been paid? The National Archaeological Museum, a pleasant-enough pink behemoth containing all the treasures of Pompeii the Neapolitans could snatch, was largely shut at high tourist season. One of the burly men drafted in as emergency cover explained, with the omnipresent Neapolitan shrug, that they could do this because it was Naples. Different rules apply. Pompeii’s bronzes and mosaics were left behind velvet ropes, although happily the filthy Gabinetto Segreto, where erotic Roman art is kept, was open.

There seems to be a derisive attitude possessed by Neapolitans towards almost everything. The guidebook promised a local ‘zest and vitality’ but if this was ever on display, it took the form of shocking rudeness and scorn. From the man in the train station who would not book me onto the first train out of Naples (despite the surfeit of empty seats) to the hotel clerk whose idea of first aid was standing there snorting, the nice inhabitants of Naples were clearly on holiday.

The Camorra – the Neapolitan mafia – pollutes the city’s streets, businesses and institutions. You can practically see shop-owners being shaken upside down until the Euros fall out of their pockets, so gratuitous is the racket. If you shouted ‘mafioso!’ on any street corner, three men would probably turn around. The Camorra is also responsible for the heaps, piles, pyramids of rubbish on every other street. It took over garbage disposal for the city, which of course means it does not happen. Black bags tower over pavements, supported by broken crates filled with rotten oranges and squashed lemons.

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Even leaving Naples did not go smoothly. As the train due to take me across Italy to Bari on the east coast pulled out of Central Station, I hooted my good riddance to Naples and sat back in my seat, confident that here was one place I would never return. The train driver had other ideas. An hour outside Naples, the train pulled in at a station, then reversed course and headed back to Naples. No, I hadn’t taken the wrong train – the driver just decided he didn’t want to do the journey, which is supremely Neapolitan. I ended up back in Naples, huddled on a platform by my suitcase and praying for another outbound train.

There is no law or order in Naples. It is a state apart from the rest of the world, run according to pragmatism and corruption, most of whose inhabitants survive despite their city, not because of it. Naples reduces its citizens to their lowest state, making survival dependent on crime or violence or pure will; those left behind are swallowed up in the filth and the poverty.

Mount Vesuvius buried the wrong town: if it had sent its ash and lava a few miles west, it would have done us all a favour.

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