Directly across the street from the Porte di Napoli there is a caffetteria / juice bar – I get the “Profumata”: fennel root, pineapple, and apple, chased by a multigrain croissant and an Americano – where a big-breasted mother with eyes that grab you and a vast rayon tank top is at the cash register. Her 40-year-old son, in rolled-up white shirt-sleeves and black apron, dispenses espressi. We get to chatting in some non-existing Italian on our part and a bit of halting English on his.
He has been to Mexico, once, via Ft. Lauderdale – but not to New York, where we say we are from, and for which he has an appreciative pull up of the chin and a Neapolitan hand wave that could change weather patterns. There is a tired intelligence in his eyes, and as he gives his weight to a large lever operating the espresso machine and then presses up on it, he rests a temple against the biceps, wiping the sweat and boredom of a life behind the counter, and I sense that, if not for the patrimony of these 20 square meters of commercial space on the waterfront,
and the responsibility felt to his overbearing mother after his father had left or died too young he could have been somebody. Instead of a barista, which is what he is.
Later, as we pull out of port towards Capri, the waves are capped in sparkling, sharded crystal purple. I discover by accident that it is only visible through polarized sunglasses. Maybe that’s the secret to seeing everything here in the right light.
On the ferry back to Napoli, the flatscreens in all the compartments are showing Torto e Ragione – Il Verdetto Finale, a family-court-type reality show. The sound is piped in extra-loud through the ceiling speakers. The judge is a blonde cougar, an angular red, black, and white 80s dress under her undone robes revealing serious cleavage. She smiles obligingly when the defense attorney smiles suggestively and makes goo goo eyes at her. Surely there’s some serious legal spread-eagling going on between tapings.
It’s a custody case and there’s a lot of animated, convinced talking over each other, but one thing everyone can agree on is the necessity of being well-dressed, which they most emphatically are, including a 77-year-old grandma who looks like a tenured high priestess in flowing, tailored black, creme, and gold silk robes and a full head of glorious white hair the hue of a noble-bred pigeon’s wing. Also: tastefully applied mascara. The other women – including the stereotypically mercenary, ill-figured, ill-tempered prosecutor – wear high heels; even the long-suffering mother in danger of losing her baby girl to a rapacious absentee father. She’s also wearing an endearing floral-patterned grotesco dress with an elegant yet family-oriented cut.
Finally, the jury is given its marching orders, first by one side, then the other; it files out to deliberate. A camera spies on their pros and cons, the 12 deciders a perfect cross section of an ideal Italian society, age-, race-, and gender-wise. True and glorious Commedia dell’Arte this is.
I’m in Italy for ten days, meandering from Lecce to Verona via Firenze, stopping here and there, everywhere. Sure, one shouldn’t confuse tourism with immigration, but if I may be permitted to say this: Italia, paese meraviglioso – ti voglio bene!