Friday, July 8, 2011

Pat Thompson: Siena, Italy

Ciao! My name is Pat Thompson and I am studying City and Metropolitan Planning and Film and Media Arts at the U. I just spent five weeks studying Italian in Italy, living in the wonderful city of Siena, which is located in the heart of the Tuscany region. I had an amazing time learning about the culture, language, and people of Italy. I was fortunate enough to have the ability to travel around Italy and see some amazing places on the weekends while always returning “home” to Siena. I went to Venice, Verona, Lucca, Rome, Florence, Montepulciano, Pompeii, Sorrento, and Naples. Of all the places I saw on my side trips, Naples was the most amazing to me.
Now, I must explain.
Naples has a bad reputation. There is no denying that. Naples is the biggest and most important port in all of Italy. It receives trade goods, cruise ships, and everything else coming into and going out of Italy, both legally and illegally. It is a mecca of cheap labor in Italy and also serves as the origin of the fake and counterfeit products that enter the country. Thousands of immigrants come to Naples in order to find work and a cheap place to live, and thus the inhabitants of the city are made up of Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Albanian, North African, and many more. Naples is also one of the poorer cities in the country with more and more native Italians choosing to leave the city because of the immigrant populations and living conditions. Naples is also mainly controlled by the Camorra. The Camorra controls everything from the fish and coffee trades to the handling of garbage disposal.
When the seven of us announced that we were planning to go to Naples, almost everybody told us not to go. They said that the place was filled with trash; they told us we would get robbed; they told us there was nothing interesting there. They give us every reason not to go, but they failed to convince us. I saw this trip as a chance to experience a different part of the culture and something that is often brushed under the rug when I read and hear about Italy. I wanted the full experience of being in Italy, and I wanted to see both the good and bad, especially since I am studying urban planning. There is no better education about how cities work than to see one that, arguably, does not work.
So, we went.
We spent three days and three nights in Naples after stopping to see Rome at night from one in the morning to five in the morning on our way there. Even going from Rome to Naples was a huge change considering that Rome puts so much time and money into preserving their past and maintaining the presentation of their city, which issomething that was almost non-existent in Naples.  At five in the morning, we left Rome for Naples. Like I said before, there were seven of us so we felt confident that we could watch each other’s backs and keep an eye out for any person getting too close to any one of us. Our first test was the train ride to Naples from Rome, which is a good representation of how the trip went. We decided that we would take turns staying awake and watching for anything fishy. Well, we sort of accomplished that. I was the only one who stayed up at first. I managed to make it through the first two hours of the train ride and 24 hours of being awake, until another student woke up long enough for me to get at least 15 minutes of sleep and then take the reins again. As each person walked through our car, I would give them a mean look, informing them not to even think about messing with us. I was tired, and I was ready for anything.
Regardless of all of our precautions both on the train and once we arrived in the city, it was all unnecessary. We had absolutely no trouble in Naples, ever. We walked around the city for hours; we went out at night; we walked through the train station; and we even took the subway. Yet we had no issues or even anything close to an issue. Now, this doesn’t mean that Naples is a city to take lightly. We heard of a few issues where people got robbed, but I believe that because of all we did in watching each other’s backs and not taking valuable items with us, we prevented anything from happening. It left a lot more time for us to enjoy the city.
Naples is a very different city compared to anything else I have seen in Italy. Most cities I have been to put a huge emphasis on tourism, whereas Naples has no real tourism to speak of. Because of the influence of the Camorra in politics and city government, they have no money or time to pay attention to maintaining the buildings or even picking up the trash. This means that while Naples is a rather modern city with a lot of people living there, the buildings show signs of wear, and the streets are filled with piles of trash. There are hardly any traffic lights, and thus crossing the street is a life-altering experience in and of itself. The city seems very dirty at first glance; however, if you spend some time walking the streets or talking to the people of Naples, your initial opinions of the city are bound to change.
We met some very nice and very interesting people there who, at first, were very hard to understand since they speak in a truncated form of Italian native to Naples. We were able to enjoy some incredible food, mainly pizza since it is the standard in Naples. It was created there after all. In two and a half days, I had five pizzas! While this may seem extravagant, it should be noted that one of the other students had eight pizzas. This kind of indulgence in pizza seems odd to most, but you have to realize that we were in the heart of pizza country. The people of Naples make pizza like no others. It is simply amazing.
Aside from all the great food and the ever exciting streets of Naples, we were lucky enough to be able to visit one of the lesser known gems of Naples - the National Archeological Museum of Naples. This is one of the few reasons most tourists come to Naples. While this museum truly was fascinating with its Greek and Roman statues, ancient jewelry from Pompeii and Herculaneum, and its magnificent frescoes and mosaics from the ancient homes of Pompeii, it did not top the experience of walking the streets of Naples to find the museum itself. Don’t get me wrong, the museum is a must see, but I believe I learned more about the life and culture, both past and present, of Naples by walking to the museum.
To sum up my experience in Naples, I would say that it was one of the most profound and enlightening opportunities I have ever been afforded. It has left me with a better understanding of the way Italians live, the tolls and benefits of modern day life, and an appreciation for the simple fact that, at the end of the day, all humans have more in common than we let on even though we live very differently from each other. Life in Naples is not like anything in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have many things in common. Everyone is still trying to make it through the day, long enough to see their friends and family, and long enough to enjoy a nice meal and reflect on those who have come before them and what they will leave for those after them.

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