The Dirty South – Italian Style

Probably one of the most emotionally fulfilling experiences I’ve had since moving abroad occurred two weeks ago when I visited my father’s first cousin and his family outside of Naples. The last time I saw this side of the family was 8 years ago when I was 16 and on a whirlwind summer family tour of all the major Italian cities with stops at my mother’s hometown – the island of Ponza – and also a few days spent in Brusciano, the small town outside Naples where my father grew up.

Just to quickly set the scene of that trip four score and seven years ago, it is important to consider my emotional status at the ripe age of 16. I’m not sure what all of you were like, but to put it bluntly, I was a total hormonal lunatic with teen angst seeping out of my pores. I didn’t speak a word of Italian (and only understood a few key phrases like wooden spoon and how to properly curse off Roberto Baggio on Sundays) and really had no interest to learn. We were in Italy during July, it was 300 degrees and in general one does not think their family is very “cool” at this point in their teenage career. I was tired, probably pining for my boyfriend or Justin Timberlake and well, just acting like a huge pain in the ass. I think  you get the picture of my first embarrassing encounter with this side of the family and hope you won’t judge my behavior too harshly as we’ve all gone through a bratty phase at one point in our lives, right??

So back to the present, I took the (overpriced) train down to Naples and was met by father’s cousin Rocco, his daughters and niece. I was nervous about the whole language thing even though I’ve been taking classes since September and can generally communicate with the Fiorentini. For those of you who are unaware, once you get south of Roma, all bets are off in this country. The dialects can be so strong and so defined even between two neighboring towns that there are instances where people who live 20 minutes from one another use completely different words when referencing the same thing! This was a phenomenon I never truly understood. I mean I grew up hearing southern dialect between my parents and relatives, but didn’t yet have an ear for the great difference between the Italian that is taught in schools and the Neapolitan way of speaking.

But how exciting, right?! People are instantly identifiable but the way they speak and while we kind of have a hint of this in the states, with for example New York, Boston, Southern accents, in Italy these strong differences actually imply a different language! If you think of it, Italy was only unified toward the end of the nineteenth century, before then, it was just a pile of city states that one day were all meshed together, so naturally 200 years later there are still great differences between regional speech. History can be so exciting sometimes!

Alright, I’ve got tons of pics to share but just to give a quick rundown of the trip. I of course went to see my family and revisit my father’s hometown but I also made stops at some notable museums in Naples. You see, I am trying to look into possible internship opportunities for my Masters and have been weaving my way through the major cities over the past weeks. Naples offers a diverse selection of museums with my favorites being: Museo Madre in the city center, and Museo Capodimonte located in a quaint neighborhood at the top of the hill (providing breathtaking views of the city below and the Bay of Naples). There was also an unforgettable pizza experience at Da Michele and multiple sfogliatella (riccia) were consumed throughout the duration of the trip.

I left Naples floating on cloud 9, completely enamored by the simultaneous grit and natural beauty that defines this complicated and in many ways lost city. Walking down Via delle Mille near the water I felt like I was on 5th avenue as I was surrounded by fabulous women in high fashion get ups, effortlessly managing their 4 inch stilettos through the romantic cobblestoned streets. With a quick subway ride though, I was back in the city center feeling suffocated by foreigners shouting at me to buy squishy toys and sunglasses. I heard the garbage problem was taken care of a few months ago, but Naples is still a mess and stinks like dirty baby diapers in some areas. Yet, there is something about the city’s complicated history and identity and the passion of its inhabitants that is absolutely intoxicating. I feel like I need more time to explore this area of the world as I feel a pull or some sort of natural connection to the ebb and flow of its unstable rhythms. Wow that was a bit too poetic but I like it… and let’s get real: I also need to get back and have some one teach me how to make real pizza dough.

Allora, ora le foto:

From L -R: Ninella, me, Concettina and Rocco (my father's first cousin)

My, I think 4th cousin if I did the math correctly, Arianna still warming up to the American and her camera...

Typical meal: fresh salad just with olive oil and salt, sliced prosciutt', marinated peppers, pasta with sauce, a side meat dish, and not pictured: a beautiful round of bufala mozzarella that finished the meal off perfectly.

Typical pictures of the grandchildren dressed in costume. It seems you can find similar images in all home of Italian grandmothers.

Concettina took me to a local bakery to have a go at the sfogliatella. The top left is the riccia and the other is morbida or frolla. The one that looks like a shell far surpasses the soft one in both texture and flavor. I am foaming at the mouth thinking of that first bite.

First stop in Naples: Museo Capodimonte

An old Bourbon Palace, the beautiful estate turned into a museum during the mid-twentieth century. It is surrounded by a park and on this particular Sunday there were hundreds of Neapolitans taking advantage of the fair weather and beautiful views.

I was overjoyed to stumble upon Artemesia Gentileschi's, Judith Slaying Holofernes. The display of the work was a bit unfortunate. The lighting on the canvas from this distance was satisfactory, but moving up close, the glare was almost unbearable. Nevertheless, I love this. A definite highlight of the trip.

A small exhibition with video works by Bill Viola. It was a nice to see Italiani taking their time exploring the temporary exhibition.

View from the top floor of the museum.

Museum exterior being used as a goal in this pick up game of soccer. Nothing better than a museum being utilized as a multi-functioning space!

Kiddies getting ready for Carnevale! This little tike was by far the cutest.

Next Stop: Museo Madre

Located in downtown Naples, Museo Madre is in the heart of the city....

The first floor provides a nice mish mosh of contemporary art where the collection was put together through private donations and long term loans. It was a nice treat to see this work by Roy Lichenstein in this museum setting: small, quaint, clean room of former a former palazzo in downtown Naples.

A classic work by Michelangelo Pistoletto, Venus of the Rags.

A work by Neapolitan artist, Luigi Spina as part of the temporary exhibition, Oh Vero! that just closed at Madre. An excellent photography show including artists from the last 50 years that have documented both the beauty and pain of living in Naples.

Not the nicest neighborhood for such a gem of a museum. A sketchy construction site right across the street.

Allora, day 2, the family dropped me off at the train station and I hopped on the Metro to Piazza Amadeo. There is a contemporary space, Pan Palazzo, along via delle Mille. Unfortunately their exhibition just closed days before so there was not much to report. Although, the book store was fully stocked with contemporary art literature and the security guard let me use the bathroom even though the building was closed… nice people in Naples.

Anyway, I then sniffed my way down to the water for spectacular views of the Bay of Naples and the surrounding islands before heading back home to Firenze.

Some girls skipping class and enjoying a morning by the water. I later walked by then and caught a whiff of the pot they were openly smoking along the street. I wish I was that bad-ass at 14.

More ragazzi skipping class and enjoying one another near Castel dell'Ovo by the water.

Bay of Naples.

A great reminder of the Bronx/Naples connection stamped outside the train station in Piazza Garibaldi. I caught this sign as I was racing to catch the train with my pizza to-go box, trailing luggage and a huge smile on my face as I left the city feeling proud to have strong roots in this part of the world.

Now back in Florence I am getting ready for a slew of visitors heading my way all through March. I’m so excited to play tour guide will keep you posted with updates soon!

a dopo!


About Lauren Raffaela

Ciao ragazzi, mi chiamo Lauren. I am writing from Florence, Italy where I am in school for a Masters in Museum Studies. When not in school I spend my days strolling the streets, trying to look like a local. I love to people watch, go jogging before the city is awake, have small talk with old ladies and am constantly stopping to read menus in restaurant and cafe windows just to see what they're up to. My favorite gelato flavor is noccioloso and I try to control my intake to one (or two...) a week. My blog focuses on my adventures and discoveries - both about this beautiful city (and country) and about myself. If you would like to touch base or have any questions please feel free to leave a comment on my posts and I'll be sure to get in touch. Grazie and ciao!
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One Response to The Dirty South – Italian Style

  1. I was laughing while reading the part where you wonder about the dialects and languages differences. In the past, before the cursed (from all Italians) Unification of Italy, Napoli was a capital. Not a simple capital, but the third in Europe behind Paris and London. Napoli had and still has its own language and what you find in the rest of the South Italy are dialects sons of the Neapolitan language. You said “lost” city. You’re right. Napoli is lost city, victim of the Italian governments all over the years. Have you ever asked yourself why you have relatives in South Italy? Do you know why many Americans and Australians have southern Italy origins? That’s the reason. Unification of Italy. Before that, the South Italy (called Kingdom of two Sicilies) governed by the Bourbons, was the fourth State of the world!! It was a commercial, military, economic and cultural power. After 1861 (the year of unification) the Kingdom was completely looted by Piemontesi and others populations of North Italy. There were killings, rapes, and entire cities were destroyed. Because of that the South became poor and lost and people began to emigrate abroad. This people was all southerns and this is why you have southern italy origins and this is why, in the 2011, all the southerns do not want to celebrate the 150th year of Unification. This truth, after 150 years, it’s still hidden by “ufficial” italian history narration. The “strong” powers of politics won’t let us discover the whole truth but everything will go up.

    Greetings from Napoli!!

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