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Notte Italiana

“The problem with visiting Capri,” an Englishman had told me, “is that it makes it difficult to return to Naples.” And I started to experience what he meant as the ferry docked in the port of Beverello. From way out to sea, I had heard the constant honking and looked in dismay at the soup of thick brown smog that hung over the city, realizing that I would soon be wading through it, filling my lungs with all that filth. It was true, Naples was not a city that inspired affection from this angle, but I took comfort from the thought that Capri was just over an hour away and that I could go back any time I wanted. Besides, on the whole, I liked Naples. Sure, it was dirty and dilapidated but, occasionally, it presented you with something that knocked you for six, mostly when you least expected it. There you would be, walking through narrow, badly-lit streets, with washing hanging from the lines above, and surly, menacing youths buzzing around on Vespas, you would turn a corner and BANG! There it would be; something so beautiful that it was like a punch to the chest. 

My gloom didn’t last long. After all, this evening I had been invited out with a group of locals and I was very much looking forward to it. They were, apparently, taking me to a club they knew, and thought I might enjoy. A girl called Clorinda was to pick me up outside my flat at 9:30 and, at 9:30 sharp, I was standing outside the door of the apartment block, showered and shaven and in my very best clothes – not all that impressive by Italian standards, but certainly passable for an Englishman. I sat on a concrete bollard and started to whistle, good-naturedly. 45 minutes later I was neither whistling nor good-natured. I started to face up to the dreadful realization that I had been stood up. I went back inside, took off my jacket, lay on my bed and let homesickness wash over me in a sudden convulsive wave. I badly wanted to see my university friends; I wanted to go out for a drink with Colonel Jim. I wanted someone to talk to, someone on the same wavelength as me. There was no one like that here! My relationship with the other teachers was one of mutual suspicion and grudging tolerance. They were all so … FUCKING … politically correct, so … FUCKING … pompous. I would have given anything for someone to come bounding into my room with a beer and a corny, politically incorrect joke.

No chance of that with this bunch. For the first time, I started to think of the Christmas holidays, started to wish that they’d get here just that little bit faster. The doorbell rang. It was Clorinda. “I thought you were going to wait outside!” “ I did! I was out there at 9:30. I waited for 45 minutes.” “Yeah, we got caught in traffic. Anyway, get your jacket, we’ve got to go.” I felt my homesickness lift. On the way to the car, I asked Clorinda about the club.  “What type of club is it? Am I OK dressed like this?” “Oh, we’re not going to the club any more.” “We’re not? Where are we going?” “Around.” “Around what?” “Just around.” “Oh.”

There were three others in the back of the car, so it was a bit of a tight squeeze. I hoped it wouldn’t take us long to get where we were going. Despite the fact that it was Sunday, the traffic was bumper-to-bumper. We crawled along for about half an hour and eventually arrived in a piazza. The car stopped and the others started to get out. “Are we here?” I asked Clorinda.  “Where?” “Where we’re going.” “No, we’re just stopping to pick up some other people.” “What? There’re more coming? How on earth are they going to fit into the car?” “No, they’re going to follow in their car.” “Oh.” Hands were shaken and cheeks kissed. 

“Tutto a posto?”“Everything OK?” everybody asked everybody else and, having ascertained that tutto was, indeed, a posto, they all jumped back into their cars and off we went again. The ritual was repeated about four or five times in four or five different piazzas around the place. I had been cramped up inside that car for nearly two hours with only the occasional three-minute break to ask a bunch of strangers if everything was as it should be, and now we had collected a parade of five or six cars behind us. I looked out of the window to my right. “Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Clorinda looked round at me. “Animal House”, said the sign outside.  “Clorinda, are we back at my flat?” “Yeah, we’ve come round in a circle. We’re going down to the historical centre now.” There was no way I was going down to the historical centre. I couldn’t take any more of this.  “Can you let me out, please, Clorinda?” “Out? But why? We haven’t been out of Vomero yet!” “I know, but I don’t feel well. I want to go to bed.”

Clorinda shrugged, pulled over and let me out. I said “goodnight” to the confused faces inside, waved to the snake of cars behind us, all full of Clorinda’s friends, who were no doubt wondering what on earth was going on, and fled into the safety of my flat. Jeremy was alone in the kitchen watching TV. I was glad of that. Jeremy was the only one that I was vaguely fond of. He would never be a friend; he was too cynical, sarcastic and chauvinistic to be anyone’s true friend and neither did he want to be. But at least he wasn’t politically correct.  “What’s wrong?” he said when he saw me. “You look like you’re having a ‘mare. Grab yourself a beer and tell Uncle Jerry all about it.” I told him about my great night out and he broke into raucous laughter.  “You’ve had a notte italiana!” he said.  “A what?” “A notte italiana. That’s what we call it when the Neapolitans spend all night driving around like that.” “But where do they go? Where do they end up?” “Nowhere. They just drive.” “Why?” Jeremy shrugged and lit a cigarette. “Beats me. They just do. They seem to like being in cars, being stuck in traffic. That’s a classic Neapolitan night out, that is.”

I shuddered. I’d certainly think twice about accepting any more invitations.  Jeremy and I stared in silence at the TV screen for a few minutes. A saucy young girl was dancing around a snowman, taking all her clothes off.  “Jeremy?” I asked. “You don’t know any really, really politically incorrect jokes, do you?” “Jokes?” Jeremy dragged on his cigarette and looked askance at me in suspicion.  “Nah! Why?” “Nothing.”

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4 pensieri riguardo “Notte Italiana

  1. Hey funny story Giacomo. For over 20 years from 1970 to 1991 I lived in Bedford, England, home to a very large Italian community, and during my late teens I had a whole load of Italian friends and pretty much became part of that community. I remember very well how we used to pile into three cars and just drive round and round Bedford for three hours or so – it was the “Italian way”. A large part of that community originated from Avellino, not so far from Napoli. I guess your story explains it!

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