It was mid-November when Michie and I landed in Naples, and were immediately overwhelmed with the forwardness of the males there. A light-skinned curlyhead and a tall Asian girl stuck out, well, like a WASP and an Asian in a city whose natives are short and swarthy. Men crossed the street to talk to us. They blocked our paths until we shouldered past them, they offered us compliments aplenty. “Ciao, Bella!” echoed behind us like a wake, along with a strange clucking noise reminiscent of someone calling a recalcitrant cat inside.
We stashed our stuff, sweating < !> in the November sunshine on our way up the winding road to the hostel. There was a bus, but another hosteller had told us she had heard it wasn’t very reliable. So we toiled upwards, rewarded at the top by a view of the Bay of Naples, sweeping out into the cerulean distance.
Back down in the town, we wandered twisting little streets. Eventually we ended up in the Villa Communale, a gorgeous waterfront park, but were quickly put off by the constant, bothering men catcalling and walking towards us, ostensibly to make our acquiantance. They were everywhere! Michie asked me in an undertone at one point, “Are they comng out of the bushes, or is it me?” I thought they were, as well.
We sought refuge in the world’s oldest saltwater aquarium, which was cool and damp and dark. Michie, whose father is a sushi chef, got homesick for her dad’s cooking, and went from window to window saying, “Ooh, I can eat you! I could eat you! You’re delicious with nori and rice!” Blessedly, we were the watchers, not the watched.
Naples is supposed to be infamous for crime. We saw none, unless you count the moped-riding teenaged boys who stole Michie’s hat off her head as we walked that evening, and then laughingly gave it back at the next intersection. “Grazie!” we gasped. They laughed and sped off.
We got lost. A lot. Naples is built on a hill, and is old. This means no planning went into it. Streets go wherever, and street signs sometimes confuse. At one point, we stopped to ask some carabinieri where we were. They flirted shamelessly as they told us.
The shopping seduced us. The bargains were amazing. Michie’s rallying cry was “You can’t get this for ten dollars!” Translation: Buy it, we can’t get this in North America, with this experience, for ten dollars. And she was right. There was something about Naples. What posessed me to buy that halter-topped, butterfly-printed sundress that seemed saucy, yet in my Vancouver home, I knew would look damned slutty?
Michie and I often looked at each other and said, (shrug) “It’s Italy.”
The nervousness at the forward men wore off. When a waiter at a restaurant hovered, entranced that I could speak French, Michie and I ate with equanimity. It was strange, but not oppressive. “Besides, you can speak French!, said Michie. “You get more hot foreign girl points!”
The truth was, at some point, we stopped worrying that it was different from North America, and started to relax.
We took a day trip to Capri. The Blue Grotto was off-limits, owing to high winds, but we still had a good time. Turns out the trains did a wildcat strike, so we had to take a bus home. The bus driver had a friend on board. They bought us cappucinos at one of the roadside stops, and insisted on driving us up that winding road to the hostel, even though it was completely off-route. They waved us into the hostel, crying, “Ciao, Bella!”
Now, we all learn early that we don’t accept rides from strangers. Michie and I held a brief confab when the bus driver offered to drive us up the hill. You don’t accept rides from strangers. But we went with our guts. These men meant no harm. They backed off when we were uncomfortable and kept a light, guidebook-assisted patter all the way. Their flirting wasn’t threatening, even if it was constant. One of them stole a kiss from me. Michie took a picture. I look at that picture now, and all I see is a Canadian girl, enjoying Italy.
Two days later, we caught an express train out of Naples that plunged us from the playful sunshine into some biting northern snow. It wasn’t just the temperature that had our moods plummetting. Just before Lake Como, I turned to Michie. “I feel ugly.”
She nodded. “Me too. No one’s called us Bella for five hours now!”
I miss that sunshiney feeling, sometimes. You know, the allure of “Ciao, Bella!”