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Good and Evil on the Streets of Naples


It doesn’t take long for a foreigner in Naples to wonder upon the nature of good vs evil, for Naples is full of Italians, and Italians are full of gloriously conflicting passions. For a brief moment in my life I was lucky enough to experience Naples from the bottom, and the memories have not dimmed. But let me start at the start, and explain that for a while I was one of those backpacker types. You know the ones, scruffy looking, staying in youth hostels, and trying out their first beard, and a bit disdainful of people who have regular jobs.

I probably took it a bit further than some – forgive me my delusions, but I romanticised about being down and out – I thought if I let go of everything maybe I would be able to see clearly the riddle of good and evil. Hostels were fine, but I thought sleeping out was better. Sometimes this resulted in meeting new people and being invited into their homes; and sometimes it meant sleeping beside roads, under bridges, and in fields. I was never really down and out – my parents were rich – really I was nothing more than a faux tramp with a safety net. But I was dirty, and I was often hungry, and people took me into their lives: I loved it.

As it happened the winds of chance eventually deposited me in Naples and when this story begins I was sitting against a graffiti covered brick wall beside some unused railway tracks somewhere near the Piazza Garibaldi. I had spent my last money on a pizza, and was stony broke. The weekend was impending and I could see no way of wrangling funds from my father.

As I sat pondering this problem, I noticed three feline looking Neapolitan youths making their way through a hole in the fence on the other side of the tracks. They were in high spirits and there appeared nothing menacing about them. They quickly approached me, and established that I was a tourist with no grasp of their language. Our attempts to transcend the language barrier created that bonhomie it usually does. However, it was not long before their leader, the tallest of them, motioned for me to empty out my pockets. It didn’t seem in any way evil – he smiled when he did it – he just asked me to empty my pockets.

Even without the apparent good cheer I don’t think I would have been worried, because you see, I had nothing. I had no watch; I had no valuables, I had no money – basically I was skint. So I emptied my pockets like I was unfolding a joke, and they in turn could only look disappointed when it became obvious I had nothing of any value. Then I stood up, because it had all gone a bit far and I wanted to leave – and I was bigger than they had thought – and their eyes widened, and they moved off – all of us still smiling. They crossed the tracks and found another hole in the fence, and went looking, I assume, for some new mischief.

All in all it was a very amicable hold up, but enough of a sense of unease had sunk in for me to decide that I might want to get the hell out of there. So I shouldered my pack and started following the railway line at pace. I had no destination and no map, but getting away from the crowds seemed like a good idea. I have always believed that the devil prowls in the city; so if you want to choose between good and evil choose rural over township when you can.

Vesuvius looms over the whole city and it was obvious that the upper slopes weren’t inhabited, so as good an idea as any seemed to be to make my way upwards with Vesuvius as my only guide.

Later the next day I had found my way to the more genteel suburbs on the lower flank of the volcano near San Vito. It was here that I met Cooper. I was making my way down a street when I saw an impressive looking Alsatian dog looking at me. I called to him and it became apparent that he had a problem with his rear legs. Standing still you couldn’t tell, but when he moved you could see his rear legs didn’t work properly. Maybe it was from having to survive with a disability, but it was obvious that he was a very wise dog. I don’t know why I named him Cooper. He stayed with me for the next few days.

Cooper and I eventually discovered a park with amazing views over Naples and we decided to settle in for a while. At lunch time a large Italian family arrived and set up a picnic and with that wonderful Italian generosity that is a reality, not a caricature, they invited me to join, and the big, bosomy women insisted I eat until I could eat no more. One of their children got a kite caught in a tree, and I climbed it and brought it down. Cooper disappeared around this time – I think he knew I was going to be fine.

Bright memories these: everyone playing the role they had been assigned with great passion and enjoyment – both good and evil. Naples is that sort of city. Be careful, but just make sure you let yourself experience it.

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