Photo by Massimo Pizzotti
Of all the dangerous things I’ve done in my life, a ride on a scooter in Naples has to be among the most terrifying. It brings to mind the familiar phrase: “Vedi Napoli e poi muori” – "See Naples before you die".
“Hold on tight, we have a packed itinerary to get through,” calls my friend Alessandro Tofani, as we pull away from the kerb. I am glad to be wearing a helmet, unlike Alessandro, as we whizz along Via Spaccanopoli, the knife-straight street that cuts the age-old Centro Storico in two. The street teems with locals but Alessandro rarely slows.
Just outside the opera house, we are sandwiched momentarily between two cars that treat the red traffic signal merely as a recommendation to slow down. Pedestrians swirl alongside the road in a bright combination of colors like the tricolore salad of red tomatoes, creamy white mozzarella and green avocado.
We pick up speed again, weaving our way through small winding streets, past shops and a bewildering array of ice cream parlors. The streets become a kaleidoscopic blur of stalls selling giant salamis, fresh-skinned rabbits and wheels of pecorino cheese as big as car wheels.
Then we screech to a stop as a car backs out of a side street. Looking up, I see a shop crammed with religious icons. Statues of female saints reveal hearts that spurt blood, while bare-chested saints self-flagellate. A striking, dark-haired young woman outside, wearing a white skirt and pink lip-gloss, toys with a cross that hangs around her neck. Alessandro locks eyes with her, his look long and lingering.