The streets of the historic center of Naples are narrow and crowded. The buildings huddle together in the sunset, casting a dark shadow onto the already darkened streets. Seagulls scream from up above the chaos. Neon lights throw even more color onto the walls and balconies, but between the lights of the open storefronts, most of the city is dark. A darkness I’ve never seen in Italy – not in an enormous city like this one. Looking down into the alleys, they’re almost pitch black, but when we walked down them, they come alive. People sit out in their open doorways. Circles of folding chairs line the street and chatter murmers from the neighbors as we pass. I realize I’m looking straight into their living rooms, kitchens. Kids bounce on the couch through one doorway. Two dogs run to their owner as he opens and shuts a gate blocking them in their bedroom. One woman’s house has white marble floors and white leather couches – mirrors on the walls and a golden statue of a cheetah on a pedestal. The next had a curtain half covering the doorway, a television flickered in a dim room with just a table and two chairs.
Then turning out into the piazza a restaurant had their tables full with families and couples, and a Spritz bar across the street had mismatched tables flooding out onto the sidewalk underneath electric-orange signs that promoted 1 Euro drinks. We stopped and sat and watched. An old woman sat outside her doorstep on the sidewalk, hands folded in her lap, nodding to people she knew that passed by. A man eating alone at the restaurant keeps leaning down to pet the dog that’s at his feet – unbeknownst to the owners that held the leash at the next table. When he pays and gets up to leave, he starts to walk away, but then remembers to go back and say goodbye to the dog before he goes.
We keep walking up through more of the neighborhood streets. Birds in cages hung outside some windows chirp randomly. A bar has a projector showing a soccer game in another piazza. A cat roams the edges, looking for attention. I call it over and it rubs against my legs. I have never seen a friendly cat in Florence.
We wait in a small line in the gelato shop. I pick double strawberry and chocolate. When I order the man has been singing behind the counter to the music in the background – typical Naples music, to draw in the small amount of tourists, I assume, but he sings it well and puts on a show. When he hears my order, he changes it. Double strawberry and a different type of chocolate – better, he insists. I don’t have a say in the matter, nor did I really want one. Trust when you travel. Rami ordered then – local flavors with fancy names. The man knew instantly from the Tuscan accent where we had come from.
“AHHH! BISCHERO!” He exclaimed, pointing at us and grinning with excited recognition. Now, the closest literal translation of that is “AHHHH YOU FOOL” but he wasn’t meaning it as an insult. He was just pulling out probably one of the only Tuscan words he knew, which is hilarious. It’s like someone hearing a Boston accent in Alabama and pointing at you and shouting: “MASSHOLE” and being really excited about knowing that word and wanting to share it with you.
Bischero is truly a Florentine word – it originated at the end of our old street in what is now Piazza Duomo. The family of the Bischeri used to live in buildings near the back of where the Duomo is now, and when Florence laid plans to build the Duomo, they offered the family money, etc to move so they could clear the way for the construction. The family said no, a few times, and so those in power burnt their houses down instead, and thus their surname became the Florentine term for fool. Yes, bischeri! We agreed, and he launched into questions about how we liked it there, and soon the line behind us was growing so he held up our cups and set us off into the street with Ciaos streaming behind us.