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.
Napoli gang of 11-13 year old boys smoking on the beach for the first time after they robbed a sweets cart.
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.
photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler
I had one shot. I couldn’t blow it. I wanted to hide and be invisible and take his portrait across the piazza. I had one frame. And then it would be lost, the moment, the intensity of feeling, his direct gaze before self awareness gets the best of him. He gave me more than I could have hoped for, my Neapolitan. My soldier. I cannot hide from his direct gaze.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
From 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.
Old 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.
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.
Naples is the flower of paradise. The last adventure of my life.
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.
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.