Sunday, March 25, 2007

Aesop vs. Partenope

I was thinking about the butcher who wouldn't sell meat to my friend. Naples is such a funny place. On the one hand, anyone and everyone will try to pull a fast one, overcharge, underweigh. You go into a bar and ask for a coffee and the cashier says, "Let's say 90 cents." What do you mean, "let's say?" The price is written right above your head, ya noodnik. Or you'll buy some bread and the bread lady will say, "One euro 40 cents," and you give her a euro fifty and she says, "grazie" and doesn't give you back your 10 cents. Of course, you don't care about the 10 cents, in fact, you would have probably handed it back to her or dropped it on the counter, but that's not for her to decide. It's the principle.

On the other hand, there's the butcher, who is willing to lose money over his principles, in this case, how to best feed your 8-month-old. Not very capitalistic, which I like. Very annoying when you want meat and you want it now, which I don't like.

Sales people are either up in your face here or they don't give you the time of day. They tend to look annoyed, bored, hostile. It helps to bring La Bimba along, soften 'em up some. But their friendly, smiling demeanors that emerge when La Bimba bats her baby blues metamorphize into an even more bitter experience when I return to them without her and they look at me annoyed, bored, hostile. How soon they forget!

Sometimes, I reread these paragraphs and cringe over the English. It's all italianated. Awful.

What do you think of this: You go to your car, which is parked in the street, and see that someone rammed into it and left a big dent in its side. A hit-and-run, there is no way to find the culprit and bring them to justice. So, to pay for the repairs, you take down the license plate number of a bus or garbage truck, bring it to a lawyer, and tell her that this driver hit your car. The lawyer then finds a way to get your insurance to pay or the city's insurance to pay. Ethical? Qui si fa così.

Neapolitan morality is like its streets: full of holes to twist your ankle in. The city forces you, expat adventurer, to question your own morals, to question whether a universal code of ethics exists. Most things are fairly harmless if utterly aggravating, like littering. It's their streets, if they choose to live in filth up to their knees, that's their choice, right? At least there's no death penalty...unless you get on the wrong side of the camorra, that is.

More iTunes TV downloads. The Sarah Silverman Show. I hate it. All of these nihilistic programs, what are they good for?

My friend R. and I are having a delicious email dialogue about modern/postmodern/contemporary dance and why it seems to be dead, about why a show like Dancing With the Stars is so popular, etc. Something to ponder: A respected "downtown" New York choreographer said something to the effect of, "'Hey, if someone calls themselves an artist, then I believe them, they're an artist," to which someone replied, "Oh, then if someone calls themselves a surgeon, are they then a surgeon?"

Go ahead. Ponder it. And get back to me.


Doug said...

Brilliant retort, re: artists and surgeons.

Question: to what extent is the Neapolitan character (shorthand, not prejudicially meant!) a function of living on the slopes of a volcano that could go off at any moment? Probably unanswerable, and I'm sure more of "the Neapolitan character" derives from recent history, and even more from the general memory of recent history (not the same thing), and possibly even more from the economic situation in the city. But I wuz wonderin'...

Goethe had some interesting things to say about Naples in his Italian Journey...and you would love his Erotica Romana, if you haven't read both already.

rompipalle said...

Just last night, my friends Salvatore and Nicola were arguing about the Neapolitan character. I plan to blog about it, so stay tuned. Re: the volcano: many Neapolitans say that their character is a function of living on boiling ground, that they are likely to explode at any moment just like their looming camel mass. Haven't read the Goethe. I'll add it to the book list you are making grow exponentially.