Neapolitan baroque shambles, graffiti-fresco raunch, meandering mosaics & uncensored satyrs: reading Queneau basking in the trashy lo-brow camp
herein lies a hodgepodge of random observations from Naples from a short trip we took last weekend [for no particular reason & in no particular order]. although Naples is only 2 hours by train from Rome, it is a whole different world...
i read Queneau on the train but i'll talk about that at the end.
we've been through Naples a few times, but this is the first time we've explored it in depth. if you're looking for a place to rest your bones, look no further than Decumani Hotel de Charme. it's in a central location right off the Spaccanapoli, but quiet, a good base for exploring the historic part of the city, where most of these photos were taken.
artist Diego Miedo appears to be the dominant force setting the background tone in the contemporary streets of Napoli. his style is unique in that it's brushed & not sprayed, a bit Picasso-esque. to be honest i wasn't crazy about most of it, seems a bit amateur, not very thoughtful. he's like the De La Vega of NYC [a least of the early 00s—for anyone in NYC during this time that like me got tired of seeing his juvenile scrawls everywhere]. Miedo is prolific but mediocre in his prolifickness & his art is taking up too much real estate in Naples—in my opinion, i'd be curious to know what the local home-owners think of his stuff on their houses.
a lot of the doorways in Naples open right into people's living rooms or kitchens, so when you're strolling by you really get a glimpse right into people's lives. & they hang out their windows & stare when you walk by, not particularly rude to foreigners, but not particularly polite, which suits me fine, such shrugging indifference. except for the motorino mentality [making Rome pale in comparison] which is downright hostile.
we flâneured down to the Santa Lucia area which was a bit dull [in comparison to the centro historico or Spanish quarter] except for the scene down on the waterfront where Neapolitans bask like seals on the rocks. it's a phenomena—they flock to every inch of flat real estate along the water to tan/fry their bodies to a crisp.
in general, Neapolitans seem fatter than their northern counterparts, at least from our observation. especially the kids. & its a bit puzzling why as their diet is not much different than the Romans. except they are perhaps poorer & less educated so don't eat good quality foods or indulge in more junk food. if their environment is any indication, they don't seem too concerned with looks [except in the bling & bronzing department] or taking care of themselves or their immediate environment. there's a reason Naples is famous for it's garbage, it's a serious problem. we often saw heaping piles of garbage & i don't think they are even striking at the moment. unlike Rome where we have regular & efficient garbage pick-up & street cleaners, Naples is for the most part a dump. granted this has more to do with politics & the camorra & is not a lifestyle choice. the thing is i don't think most Neapolitans give a shit & don't give a shit if you give a shit. they are the honey badgers of italy.
while i'm being critical, i find most of the architecture in Naples to be overly Baroque, which gets to be overwhelming in it's tacky gaudiness.
we also went to the national museum, where these frescoes & mosaics are from [or actually, most were originally from Pompeii but are now housed in Naple's museum].
a common motif that particularly interested me in all these frescoes & mosaics & statues is the mythical morphing of animal & human forms, interspecies mixing, like the centaur & [dearest to my heart] the satyr.
what's up with goat wattles anyway? i've asked a number of people what they are for & have never gotten a clear answer as to their function. & the internet doesn't seem to hold the answers. i guess this is a question for our Goat Rodeo site.
obviously the ancient Romans in Vesuvius didn't hold back in such lovely forms of expression [there's a whole wing of the museum dedicated to pornographic art]. perhaps the above explains how the satyr came to be in the first place—lonely goatherders getting frisky with their goats & producing bastard diabolic offspring.
incidentally, the mosaics were some of the best i've ever seen. it's hard to see the detail in some of these, but in some the tiles are tediously tiny.
& i may as well piss off a few more Neapolitans by saying [gasp] that i don't think the pizza is all that. we had pizza one day at Il Presidente—admittedly their sauce is boss & the mozzarella da best but the crust was all soft & spongy like bread. the next day we went to Vesi & admittedly it was my bad for not getting a margherita [the golden standard if you want to get down to it] but got a porcini pie [which were canned] & there was no sauce [which in my mind doesn't even qualify it to be pizza [& now i've offended Romans because they love their pizza bianca which to me is oxymoronic]]. if it was any consolation, there was D.O.C. mozzarella [from Campania, as is most good buffalo mozz in Italy] & delicious little cherry tomatoes grown on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius & the crust was crispier than Il Presidente. i tasted J's margherita & the sauce was pretty damn good [but perhaps not as good as Il Presidente was her verdict]. still, the crust still wasn't crispy enough—as far as i'm concerned it should crack when folded. but the other two key factors for good pizza [sauce & mozz] are spot on in Naples. i'm still gonna hold my ground [pissing off all of Italy] & say the best pizza pies come from Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, with Lombardi's a close second. best pizza by the slice—that's a whole different story... [suffice to say it could be in Rome]].
the Pompeii frescoes have a certain intriguing textural quality to them, especially the ones with the rust red & carbon black backgrounds [the black paints they actually got from burning ivory which sort of makes you feel guilty for even viewing them, but what's been done has been done—may as well appreciate it for the elephants that died to make it].
the one dinner we had in Naples we ate at Bersagliera on the waterfront, watching the boats come & go with the castle & Vesuvius as a backdrop. they've done their harbor well in Naples, not too flashy or touristy, still functional, with plenty of waterfront places to get something to eat or drink or just chill out.
a lot of houses open right onto the street in Naples, so you can look right into people's kitchens [hard to resist peeking with all the wonderful smells emanating forth]. & people give you the eye in Naples, your business is theirs. they'll look you up & down, eyes particularly landing on shoes & tattoos & accessories.
if Milan is more on the right end of the political spectrum, Naples is for the most part on the far left. all the stereotypes ring true, the wealth & pretense are in the north, while the real-deal poor working people are in the south. it's hard to make comparisons with U.S. cities as it's a different distribution altogether [«redskins» here are a bit like rednecks only the red refers to communist tendencies]. Naples takes some getting used to though to truly appreciate it, it takes some time to get comfortable & be accepted, which is as it should be. John Turturro made a good documentary [Passione] about the Naples music scene, which i think captured the Neapolitan campy vibe well [without imposing any judgment]. ecco il trailer:
for my tastes, i'll take Rome as a good compromise between the north & south. & it's only a short train ride to Naples.
somewhere in one of the churches [i think it was San Lorenzo Maggiore] we ended up in some back rooms & then down under the church in some ancient excavated site. not sure what it was but it was cool & great how they just let you wander around exploring rather than turn it all into a tourist spectacle.
there was a lot of variety to the Pompeii frescos, some were primitive scrawls, perhaps you could even call them graffiti [and/or the origins thereof], others more refined. & most were anonymous, or at least we have no way of knowing who painted them.
& we managed to avoid getting robbed, despite all the horror stories you hear [including one of j's co-workers having her purse snatched the weekend before]. not that we had anything with us besides toothbrushes & changes of underwear. i bought some hot sauce, pasta, vesuvius tomatoes & limoncello though & as we were walking back to the train station with a full backpack in a crowded area some big guy grabbed me by the shoulders & i turned & grabbed his hands & told him not to toccareme. when i checked my backpack later the zipper was half-unzipped. & then when we got back in Rome & got on a crowded bus in the sweltering heat some old man was pushing against me & i observed that he was positioning himself as such in order to hump & grind himself against some poor unsuspecting japanese girls, so i said «cosa fai?» & he got all defensive. Sono Porchi Questi Romani.
on the train back i finished Pierrot Mon Ami by Raymond Queneau. it's my 2nd or 3rd book i've read by him & i think i can safely say i find him a bit dull. i just can't relate, but then again reading it in translation is inherently biased. besides just the language i'm sure there all sorts of cultural subtleties i wasn't picking up on. it was an appropriate pairing with Naples though, with it's campy slapstick tone & circus sideshow environment—trashy pulp disguised as literature or literature disguised as a pulp trash novel i'm not sure which. unlike other French writers, Queneau definitely didn't take himself too seriously, i'll give him that. & it was at times funny, i just didn't get a lot of the humor. for example it drove me crazy how they were all deceiving & lying to each other about the most trivial things for no real reason, except perhaps to relieve boredom. the plot, if you can call it that, unfolds haphazardly, as designed, to reflect the reality of Pierrot's life—he just takes what's given to him. yet another honey badger. in a moment revealing of perhaps his overall intent, Queneau says:
within the meandering chain of events there's the occasional insightful [if not expository] tidbit. Pierrot's has a job [for a day] at a coney-islandish amusement park, where he is to guide pretty girls over an air vent that blows their skirts up for the «philosophers» to goggle at.
payoff like this was few & far in between, though there's plenty of amusement in the circus & carnival fringe environs. a thing that just occurred to me, i'm wondering if Arcade Fire got their name from this book? evidently not, though perhaps the 12-year old kid that beat up Win Butler got his story from Pierrot Mon Ami. & speaking of Arcade Fire & names [still can't believe they got away with stealing Neon Bible without giving kudos to John Kennedy Toole], i guess you could say Raymond Queneau has a lot in common with John Kennedy Toole, especially in regards to sophistication & humor.
i don't know, maybe my problem was with the voice—i admittedly find it hard to buy into omnipresent 3rd person storytelling. i need a narrator to guide me, to get into one head, like the head of Holden Caulfield, who has the potential to be the French equivalent to Pierrot, at best. Holden's adventures meandered & were perhaps aimless but somehow you gave a shit [at least i did].
that said, Pierrot Mon Ami has a certain dreamy lackadaisical quality to it. i became more engaged when he gets the job transporting animals & begins to treat them anthropomorphically like human companions, to the point that i had to backtrack to double-check [when the waitress says she can't serve them [his monkey & pig friends, or whatever they were i'm still not sure] in the restaurant]. he finds solace in animals, his calling you could say:
& besides the language barrier, i guess you also have to consider the context of it's time, the French literature that preceded him, heavy on plot & heroes. Pierrot is an anti-hero & the genre is anti-literature, lo-brow, and/or anti-mystery in that all sorts of seemingly relevant clues & coincidences are given but are never really connected or their meanings or motives revealed [i.e. who set the amusement park on fire?!]. such is life perhaps. it doesn't matter. only language matters in the end.
mind you the usual disclaimer applies in that these criticisms [both of Pierrot Mon Ami & of Napoli] are only because it's not interesting to me to talk about how quaint & nice things are. that's something to decide for yourself.