Snapping Out of It in Naples: Letters from Italy

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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—the folks who brought to America great things like pizza, sfogliatelle (Italian filled pastries shaped like shells), and my personal favorite: high volume emotional outbursts.

It’s behavior I never see in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, 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 the animated hands flying through the air that entertained me as a child. 

At the cafe, I order a cappuccino and BAM! Even before my milk is steamed, the show begins with shouts of “No, NO!” from the cafe owner. He waves his arms in protest against a pleading gentleman 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. This is nothing like my quiet LA Starbucks, where hands solely move to click laptops and answer cell phones.

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, an exasperated Mamma yells, “Aldo, vieni qua!” Aldo continues to kick his soccer ball until Mamma grabs him by the collar and drags him to the bus. 

Later, at the trattoria, our waiter, Marco stands at my table and bellows: “Spaghetti, Gnocchi!” He’s not angry, just passionate about pasta. This is no Beverly Hills lunch spot, where waiters 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, and she grabs a baseball bat and whacks poor “Puch” mercilessly. It’s the puppet version of Cher’s “Snap out of it!” Moonstruck slap. As we laugh, a teenager on a Vespa bursts through the crowd to speed down an alley. All of us startled grown-ups lift our arms and shout “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.

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