Friday, 21 September 2012

On crossing the street in Naples

My first night in the city after a long day's travel from a 6am dawn in the south of France: I go out to find my first Neapolitan pizza. But before I can get to it I have to cross the street.
I stand and watch, my jaw dropping, as a wild stream, a slew, an onslaught of vehicles, like a stampede of wild horses, pours across an intersection, a dense volcanic rush of cars interwoven in impossibly slender spaces by scooters. & into that maelstrom step a young guy and his girlfriend. They are chatting to each other. They pause a moment as a scooter brushes past them, walk on in front of an onrushing taxi that brakes momentarily. It's as death-defying, cooly nonchalant as any high-wire walk. They reach the opposite pavement and walk carelessly on, just as the little red man turns to green, and the tidal wave of traffic comes to a halt. They weren't the only ones: other people too were simply wading across. That's how you cross the street in Naples.
There aren't that many little red men to help you: often enough you just have to walk. I kind of got used to it, but I have to admit I'd often run the last few paces, which must have shown me up very obviously as a tourist. I never saw Neapolitans run. They walk, as if disdainful of the traffic, of the risk of death. In London I'll walk into traffic, but it's because my head has seen the speed of oncoming traffic and the distance across the street, and I know for sure I've got time. That's calculating, it's not daring the traffic to give way. & it works, assuming the oncoming driver isn't talking on a mobile and arguing with a passenger while lighting a cigarette. Ah, Napoli.
& those scooters. Nowhere else is not wearing a helmet the norm. In Napoli, men and women, often enough they don't even wear a helmet to protect an elbow, as you sometimes see in other parts of southern Europe. It really is death-defying, without a safety net, a kind of reckless bravery, an insouciant self-affirming pride in not being safe.
The pizza was excellent.

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