Letter from Naples: political echoes amidst the poverty and splendour

All photos copyright the author

Naples. Day Three. Gets me every time. A whole week this time to gulp the fumes, walk the gorgeous bashed-up steep streets all day, drink meloncello and queue up at Michele’s L’Antica Pizzeria. The churches, the paintings, statues, the Capella Sansevero. The gorgeous smell of laundry in the San Giuseppe neighbourhood. The sudden wealthy Chiaia and, higher up, Vomera district, like you just crossed a line from the Spanish quarter, where everything is about the kids – a theatre scene change in seconds.

The famous Naples ‘rich and poor live side by side’ thing is visceral. It couldn’t be any other way. A city built from invasion, possession, religious fervour, destroyed, restructured over thousands of years. Survival. Families hidden underground in wars.

Diaspora. Greek for ‘we scatter.’ A city founded by Greeks. Now a super city found by everyone. The centre of many things. Even since I first came in the eighties, huge huge developments – trains being the stand-out. Naples to Rome. The Italo Bullet. Wheeee.

But nothing changes too. Since Salvini abolished the two year Humanitarian Protection Permit – meaning that refugees, many coming directly from persecution and civil division, through Libya and Lampedusa – from Sudan, Ethiopia and (ironically) Eritrea – were forced back on the streets, unable to do even the lowest paid work.

There are some amazing small charities here, but it’s tough again. You can sense the ones that set up their lives (many in street food, textiles, music, art) before the permit was removed. You can also sense a solidarity and a basic decency from Neapolitans. Not surprising when you absorb the history of the very contrasting neighbourhoods.

I stopped to eat a peach on the steps that lead down to Gucci and Prada and looked back at a fairly ugly (not in a funky Wallpaper way) 1980s block with epic laundry from every balcony – mere yards behind the grandest 1870s villas.

Splendour. Human splendour. I was last here with the brilliant trio of Enzo Zirilli, Alessandro di Liberto and Tommasso Scanapieco. We made an album in Italy called ‘Integrity.’ I love this trio. First worked here with Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, on the first tour of ‘Mirrors’ – yonks ago. Cleveland Watkiss and I were young, nervous and in awe – but peed ourselves laughing.

So always great memories of Italy. Latterly with the amazing Sarah Jane Morris, who gets followed in the streets here. Too much fun.

But this isn’t work. So, a holiday. Bit crap at ‘holidays’ usually. But this feckin place just rocks. The heart of the city is soulful, shabby and unchanged for years. Or so it seems to me. I don’t even mind the McDonalds in Galleria Umberto. I bet old King Umberto would’ve just looked up at the ridiculously impressive domed steel (I think?) and glass roof, as he snaffled his buffalo burger.

She told me she was called Lady Gaga and was eighty-nine in November. Offered me a cigarette. I said thanks (too many times) and that I don’t smoke.

‘But you do eat’ she said.

Sfacciata’ I said.

She winked. Brava Lady Gaga. She loved my taking her picture and posed for about five more – but I like this one the best. It was my first and I took it from the other side of the street. Her two grandsons live with her. One is a doctor.

Can’t help thinking about recent political developments here in Italy. It ain’t that far from the UK – so long as Braverman is spewing her nonsense on Rwanda and her ‘dream of seeing that flight take off ‘ and Therese Coffey still hates the sick, unless it’s her own, down her tee-shirt.

The delightful Meloni – her raging racism, anti-abortion, anti-feminism, her bizarre obsession with The Hobbit, and her losing her shit with Disney for the animated gays in Frozen? I guess any pal of Berlusconi and admirer of Mussolini is no weirder than Trussles and crew. What with her pork markets, the cheese, her ERG stench, her traipsing onstage to M People (what’s wrong with Chris de Burgh?), her desire to let The Poor starve or freeze. Kwarteng.

I’ve only been away a few days. It gives and gives. It may whimper a bit on the surface, English-style. But it’s grim behind those nets. You need only to check the voting records of the now comedically- divided Tory party. Minister for what? Does anyone know who does what anymore? Secretary of State positions are like ever-sliding 1980s workstations. Rees Mogg is WHAT? Therese Coffey. You ‘avin a larf, guv’nor?

The Anti-growth Coalition (WTAF?) The Brothers of Italy. The National Alliance. The Eurovision Song Contest. We’re all in this shit together. Or we were.

Beautiful Italy, though. All this fascism can wait. I’m off to Capri on a boat tomorrow to see if Gracie Fields’ geraniums are still in bloom. Like Naples itself, those buggers will go forever. The geraniums, not the fascists.