naples’ children

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It’s simply impossible for me to tire of the dark, craggy, cramped, decaying alleyways of Napoli. Because I find them so beautiful. What is that expression? Life in the streets. But that’s not subtle enough. That has no emotion. No color. No fragrance. I’m just an American who falls in love with corners of places. Pages in books. The picture I see in everything. What do I know about it? Not much. But I love it all the same.

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Napoli gang of 11-13 year old boys smoking on the beach for the first time after they robbed a sweets cart.

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The unofficial leader of the gang, a tall blond boy, teaches the other boys how to smoke after they bummed cigarettes off kissing teenagers and robbed a food cart and cafe of crisps and chocolates.

tumblr_md8jtcWuUM1qznevxo1_1280Boys playing football in the corner of a small piazza.

photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler

naples scenes in a few steps

napi4I love walking down the little market walk ways under Renaissance awnings. There’s nothing on earth quite like the streets of Naples. I’ve heard it said certain spots in Napoli hearken back to the ancient world, only a few other spots in the world like Calcutta can recall another time so long ago.

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In the connecting pedestrian streets of the picaresque Spaccanapoli, Naples boasts one charming cafe after cafe another. I love the coffee of Napoli; the rich, strong demitasses of espressos, the sweet nuttiness of a nocciola (espresso, sugar and ground roasted hazelnuts), or a frothy and properly hot cappuccino.

napi5The children of Naples play in the grotty, wonderful streets against the backdrop of statues, paintings and colored walls peeling for centuries. In between the tiny fiats and citroens and three to a vespa. They find their games anywhere and everywhere, cheerfully kicking their “footballs” under the feet of passersby, in front of store windows, around fountains and niches of ruins. There is such a sense of play underneath it all.

napi2From the moment I first walked these streets a few years ago I became enchanted with the market trinkets hanging from stalls, the smell of cheese and bread, tomatoes and fish wafting out of trattorias. I loved the cobblestones, the gorgeous archways, the warm colors. I am enchanted with the best people watching in Italy.

napi1Old world art, architecture and pop culture kitsch mix in any given corner of the historic center of Napoli. There before me is amazing street art graffiti, a sticker of a carefree Einstein placed prominently over a cafe and a quiet tea shop tucked up in the most unlikely of places. There is an empty neighborhood chair left leaning against a wall amid an array of inexplicable traffic signs – there’s even a post-modern Madonna under the auspices of a revolver.

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Near to the beautiful garden Cloisters of Santa Chiara, is a street art Eve with Eden’s snake, underneath an old Campania tree. The hand painted Spanish tile, fountains and arched windows of the cloisters are a near silent oasis in the heart of the city. Lemon and orange trees and flowers line the green, manicured gardens of the inner courtyard. It is a private, clean and calm spot to pop in for a little bit, for a lovely walk or a sit on a bench with a book or a friend.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

napoli’s purgatorio

Naples is the flower of paradise. The last adventure of my life.

Alexandre Dumas

This was a residential “street”, an alleyway with the delightfully macabre name of Vico Purgatorio Ad Arco, “Purgatory Lane”. I have a love affair with alleyways, you see, and never have I been more sated than in Napoli.

exclusively residential, the end of purgatory alley, naples, italy, 2012 (digital)

Every narrow opening makes you stop and turn and take in the sights and sounds of Naples. There’s something very beautiful about an alley way, something personal and old, full of secrets and stories and the every day life of strangers. I love the alleys of Boston and New York and New Orleans. Naples alley ways are incomparable because they are places people live to catch sunlight in the darkest places. Neapolitans hang their laundry on little racks on tiny iron balconies. They stack pretty painted clay pots and urns full of flowers. They tie little flags and bunting. The alleys are dark and dank and should be places for trash and death and forgetting. But they are walk ways. They are corners to stop for a moment and discuss the weather with your neighbor. They are short cuts and open windows and the sounds of football playing on an unseen television. They are windows across from cousins and lovers looking at each other when their parents are busy cooking or cleaning. They are the sounds of getting ready for the evening pasieggeta. They are as I always imagined them: gritty, velvet thick, enchanting, private glimpses of the real Napoli.

This is the foreboding sign which points in the direction of Purgatory Lane. Most people would cross the street to avoid it. But we are different, aren’t we? This makes it all the more inviting. Entering purgatory is like stepping back in time. Even in the midst of the buzz of modern life.

Kids play football in the streets, they run through the alleys laughing and dodging each other.Vespas and motorcycles line the private walks to the apartments. There are surprising flourishes of pinks and golds and soft blues among the blacks and browns. Colors and shadows mix. I walk through unnoticed.

Life is there, the good and the bad. You are just a tourist. Anaïs Nin once said, “I don’t want to be a tourist in the world of images.” I want to step into the picture and become a part of it. But I am always on the other side of the lens, watching, capturing, stealing images like the thief that I am. I am stalking moments and feelings. I want trouble and grit to make something beautiful out of it. I am selfish, a little bit soulless, in my pursuit of another perfect shot. I chase strangers with the cunning of a secret admirer. I photograph statues like living things and people like sculptures. I cannot tell the difference between the saints and the sinners on the streets.

//photographs copyright rebecca price butler …  find my work on tumblr & pinterest … please link & credit me.

italian journey

  • Rome is a Fellini movie. It is the annual barbarian invasion. It is a lack of catalytic converters. It is hundreds of vespas whirring and beeping through roundabouts. It is a hypnotic siren screaming through the city.
  • Rome is an open-aired art museum, a feast for all the senses. It is packed with all that I want out of life, footsteps away from the next breathtaking view or taste. It is life and death in some delicate balance, in a dance on the edge of something imperceptible. It is the footsteps of Artemisia Gentileschi, it is the footsteps of the Caesars. It is 6,000 year old Egyptian obelisks, it is 1800 year old Aurelian walls, it is the Grand Old Tour still walkable. It is the burial grounds of the English Romantic Poets. It is a dream. It is the eternal city. All roads still lead to it.
  • Venezia is a Grimm fairytale come to life, a place of winding, labyrinthine bridges and walkways. A place for spies and mercenaries. A city of corners and gondola rides at night, when no-one else is on the water and the gondolier sings old songs out into the dark while you float past the Rialto Bridge and the apartments of Casanova. Venice is the 1700s. Venice is a child’s dream, or nightmare; a place to wander to hear the echoes of your footsteps over endless stone. To move in and out of chocolate shops, each window more and more decadent in their display, until your pockets are overflowing with Venus’ Nipples and confectionaries. Venice is candy and wine, canals and shuttered windows with a latch missing so you can listen to a record playing Billie Holiday songs, her voice finding nowhere to rest, because Venice is not made of earth it is made of bones. Venice is gnocchi and gorgonzola. It is carnival masks and orchestras. It is the smell of water and decay. It is a memory.
  • Firenze is for the maestros. Florence is sweet shops and pignolis and bridges. Florence is theRenaissance. It is inventions and giants and towers. It is candied almonds and hot chocolate and olive trees. It is truffled pesto. It is chestnuts and hazelnut cream. Florence is old bookshops and new students among a sea of young faces and young lovers’ bodies. It is rolling hills and gardens. It is palazzos and art museums and intrigues. It is Dante’s inferno. It is Savonarola’s funeral pyre. It is the last gasp of the Medicis.
  • Milano is birds and textiles and modern life teeming with the future. It is fashion. It is elegant and impersonal. It is brief. It is closed for renovation so you don’t get to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper, which is the reason you went there in the first place. It is Occidental, it is larger than life, it is dry white wines and prosecco. It is always moving.
  • Capri is Tiberius’ playground, it is the Blue Grotto, it is a private boat around the island, it is climbing jagged rocks and everything painted Santorini like; blue and white, yellow and gold. It isAna Capri, it is postcard pretty, boutique hotels, it is capreses and spumante for breakfast. It is the blue-green sea and sailboats glittering among the Bay of Naples. It is the jet-setters and the day-trippers. It is one little piazza and two cafes. It is the Madonna of the rocks. It is the Villa San Michele. It is the bird’s eye view of everything. It is the sparkle of sun on the water.
  • Sorrento is a bustling city-village. It is on the edge of the Bay of Naples, the connector to sights and sounds of the Amalfi coast. Sorrento is orange and lemon scented. It is orange and lemon groves and tomatoes on the vine, ripening to a deep red. It is gigantic, fleshy lemons used for white fish and sweet delicate lemons for limoncello. It is capers and shellfish and bufalo mozzarella from Campania.
  • Napoli is the street, it is life in the streets. Naples is long, narrow alleyways, with tiny rows of iron balconies draped neatly with laundry. It the smell of the sea. It is the best view of Vesuvius. Naples is a garbage problem. It is 30% unemployment thirty years running. Naples is beautiful between the shadows.
  • Naples is a sprawling, glittering, wild animal of a city, it is the pulse and growl of a wild thing. It is a faded kingdom, a half empty castle, a city on a hill. It is the Spaccanapoli, it is the best coffee in the world, the best bread, the best pizza. It is the tarnished jewel of the south, it is, as oneMilanese said to me recently, the North’s shame. It is proud.
  • Naples is a living, breathing chiaroscuro. It is Caravaggios getaway. It is fishing boats. It is theMuseo Archeoligico, the Capidimonte, the cloistered gardens filled with painted Spanish tiles. Naples is the house for the spoils of Pompeii. It is an opera, played out in the living room of the town square, it is the family pasiegetta. It is Januarius’ blood, it is the outstretched wings of aswallow, it is the solemn hum of machinery. It is ecstasy and despair. It is a crying out.

    It is see Naples and die.

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  • * an extra note on rome:

    Roma was my first European city.

    It was my first glimpse of the things I find most beautiful in the world.

    There were ruins, Renaissance architecture, 600 year old fountains and marble floors. 

    There were Greco-Roman mosaics, pagan temples, frescoes, umbrella pines and cypress trees in manicured gardens.

    And ancient aqueducts to wander around in.

    There was hot espresso and spicy wine to drink and penne all’arrabbiata, a classic Roman dish, to taste.

    Rome had decayed beauty balanced out by its bright earthy colors against the perfect sunsets.

    There were fat clouds against azure skies. 

    When in Rome that oft used but true cliché – that la dolce vita – the sweet life, is alive and well in the eternal city.

    There were a thousand church bells ringing throughout the city on afternoon walks, from the very churches packed with masterpieces.

    There were elegant villa museums full of Italian art and baroque curves and decorated with ancient statuary. Rome was everything all at once.