Italy 2016 Vol II — The Shadow of Vesuvius

They’ve stuck the old city trains in a backlot you don’t get to see unless you catch it in the last two degrees of vision on your way out of the city of Naples. On a sunny day like ours, the hulking graffiti letters really stand out, the trains spray painted top-to-bottom with overlapping sigils. At least a dozen trains, all identical except for their user-sourced paint jobs.

Newer trains, like the Trenitalia Freciarossa, the Red Arrow, with 300 km/h regional service and little mini bottles of Prosecco with the morning newspapers, heralded the unstoppable, rampaging future; business was coming, along with tourists and cameras, so, subito — put up fancy shops and make those homeless people go away, we’ve got a press packet to put together.

Outside the station, stone underfoot and the smell of urine — humanity’s two ever present signal flags. We are here. Trespassers not welcome. This — the Porto district, was a particular favorite of Allied bombers in World War II; Naples was the most bombed of any Italian city. Unemployment and decay still linger, but the city lives on.

The car takes us by Zona Industriale — onion bulbs of natural gas tanks sprout up everywhere; crumbling chimneys of old industry compete for space with refinery stalks, crammed-together apartment houses, prepaid cellular phone ads over and over — and then a rarity: a lone Bayliner-style boat propped up on stilts in a backyard proclaims the owner’s proud means of leisure.

On the way out, on the main highway that connects the coast, there’s a tiny, bizarre financial district squirreled away from the saltwater: a half-dozen futuristic office towers, a couple with those cubes laid on the pointy-end slicing through the tall bone, black glass, alien spaceships that landed here and decided to stick around. I learn this weird proto-city is called Centro Direzionale, a project of a Japanese architect in 1982.

We aren’t staying here: we’ve got a room in Sorrento. But I can’t get the images of Naples out of my head. It’s clear they’re trying hard to make you forget: the auto route to Sorrento forces you to clear your head to blank by taking you through the Santa Maria di Pozzano— a five-kilometer long supertunnel, a patched-together megastructure that ate up four existing tunnels just two years ago. Twice as long as New York’s (okay, New Jersey’s) Holland Tunnel, it’s a fifteen-minute intermission that feels all the world like the Road to Toontown from Roger Rabbit.

I expected a big red velvet curtain at the end.

Like they want you to forget.

I can’t forget. There’s something about that city.

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