Aperitivo hour in Naples – like everything in this city – is flexible. A Naples hour can be anything from 60 to 120 minutes or, if the vibe is good and the evening sultry, a whole evening that stretches into dinner then dawn and even beyond.
Alba agrees to meet me with some of her friends for an aperitivo at 6pm. In typically Neapolitan style, she says she’ll call later to let me know which bar but that it will probably be one along Via Alabardieri in the heart of the city’s luxury shopping area. It depends how they all feel. Several hours later and I am having a crash course in the latest aperitivo etiquette. Alba’s friends chatter like starlings over each other as they recommend one aperitivo after another. A glass of chilled Falangino (the local white wine), an Aperol Spritz (11 percent less alcohol than Campari, milder and less bitter), a Sanbiter (a non-alcoholic bitter served in tiny bottles that comes in red or clear) or a sparkling glass of Prosecco (the Italian equivalent to French Champagne or the Spanish Cava). I can tell already it’s going to be a Naples-style aperitivo “hour”.
As the evening wears on, I try a Negroni cocktail (red vermouth and bitter Campari, dry gin) but notice Alba’s friends, both the men and women, order an Americano (red vermouth, bitter Campari but topped up with soda water, not gin). Taking it easy is how the Neapolitans party late and stay stylish while eating the amounts of pasta, pizza and gelato (ice cream) they do.
“Neapolitans don’t just respect ritual,” says Simone Colombo. “We love our rituals. We need our rituals. We need our traditions. We love our traditions.” He is a newsstand seller, born and brought up in the Spanish Quarter of the city. Every morning I greet him near my hotel and the subject of our conversations has grown as the days pass and my limited Italian improves with the help of better mastery of the Neapolitan language of the hands.
He pauses and then joins his hands together as if in prayer, his fingertips and face turning upward towards the heavens. “The influence of tradition is in how we worship our God, how we eat, how we drink. Our capital city may be Rome but Naples is the country’s soul.”
Show me the soul of Italy!