Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures and Advice
Letter from Naples: Snap Out of It!
Susan Van Allen is the Italian-American author of “100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go”. She has been traveling to Italy since 1976–visiting relatives, going on hiking and biking adventures, taking cooking and language classes, and enjoying all the pleasures the Bel Paese has to offer.
Her latest book is called Letters from Italy: Confessions, Adventures and Advice. Once again, Van Allen hits her target audience–women–right in the heart. She compiles an assortment of letters from Italy that evoke the passion that nearly every woman has had at one time for all things Italian, and includes practical advice about where to eat, shop and flirt for the traveling woman.
An Excerpt from the book
One of my favorite movie moments is in Moonstruck when Nicholas Cage tells Cher he loves her, she slaps him and barks, “Snap out of it!” It reminds me of the no holds-barred passion I grew up with. Like “Moonstruck”, my childhood on the Jersey Shore was full of first generation immigrants from southern Italy–those folks who brought to America great things like pizza, sfogliatelle, and my personal favorite: high volume emotional outbursts.
It’s behavior I never see in Los Angeles. Here, if a guy says “I love you” right after he meets you, the gal smiles sweetly and suggests medication. That’s why it was so refreshing to go to the source of the noisy passion I was nursed on: Naples, Italy.
It was all so familiar from the moment I hit the street. There they were: look-alikes of those broad expressive faces and hands flying through the air that entertained me as a kid.
At the caffe, I order a cappuccino and BAM! Even before my milk is steamed, the show begins with shouts of “No, NO!” from the caffe owner. He waves his arms in protest against a pleading signor in a suit. Signore Suit simply wants to leave something behind the counter: a live wriggling eel. The eel, after all, is in a bag; he’d just bought it from the fish cart outside. Thick open palmed “No” hands debate pinched “Per favore” fingers. This is nothing like my quiet LA Starbucks, where hands only move to click laptops and cell phones.
And I definitely know I’m not in Los Angeles when I get to the park and there are no Mommies calmly offering their children choices: “Kyle you can either get in the car immediately or have a time out.” Here in the Piazza Communale exasperated Mammas yell, “Aldo, vieni qua!” Aldo keeps kicking his soccer ball until Mamma grabs him by the collar and drags the screaming kid to the bus.
Later, at the trattoria, our waiter, Marco bellows: “Spaghetti, gnocchi!” He’s not angry, just passionate about pasta. This is no Beverly Hills lunch spot, where servers whisper specials like “Pan-seared Ahi Tuna over Papaya Coulis,” as if it were a rare disease.
Outside, I join a crowd gathered for a puppet show starring Pucinella, the mascot of Naples. We watch that rascal clown declare his love for a wide-eyed signorina puppet. Pucinella goes in for a kiss, signorina grabs a baseball bat and whacks poor “Puch” mercilessly. It’s the cartoon version of Cher’s “Snap out of it” Moonstruck slap. As we all applaud, a teenager on a Vespa bursts through the crowd to speed down an alley. Every one of us startled grown-ups lift our arms: “AY!”
I catch my reflection in a bakery window. That’s me: framed by baba and sfogliatelle, hands raised, mouth open, with all the other five foot tall, olive-skinned ladies. I’ve become a member of the chorus in the land of my ancestors. It feels fantastico to snap out of it.
Some Naples Advice:
Most this story takes place in Naples’ Quartieri Spagnoli, (Spanish Quarter), one of my favorite neighborhoods on earth. I rented an apartment there once, and the fight about the eel took place in a caffe on Via Concezione a Montecalvario.
On weekday mornings, you’ll find the Pignasecca Market, with buckets full of glistening fish, baskets overflowing with friarielli (those tasty bitter greens), and sellers bellowing in operatic voices. Stop by Panificio Vincenzo Coppola (Via Pignasecca 35) for taralle, studded with almonds.
Trattoria Nennella (Vico Lungo Teatro Nuovo 103, closed Sun). This is where the waiter bellows the specials, and you’ll always be served homey, delicious food. It’s been run by the same family for over 60 years—plenty of laughs to be shared with this gang as you mangia.
Osteria Rosa dei Venti (Vico Lungo del Gelso 110) I had one of the best lasagnas of my life in this humble, family run spot.
Maria Mari B&B www.bbmarianapoli.com, A cozy B&B, run by a kind and helpful couple, with sweetly decorated rooms, and windows overlooking a colorful alley.
Hotel Il Convento, www.ilconvento.it, a lovely, restored 17th century palace turned 3-star hotel, offering tranquility in this lively neighborhood.
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