Lost in Translation, Naples, Italy
For thirteen months, I lived and worked in southern Italy. I rented a flat in the city of Caserta, just outside Napoli. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Napoli is the kind of city that doesn't quite win you over, doesn't quite turn you off. There is something to be said for any place on the face of this earth that can still surprise whoever dares to implore. From what I've seen, the best slice of life here is rarely planned, difficult to predict, impossible to recreate or explain. You just have to be there. At the right place, at the right (or wrong) time. So much is left to the imagination; so very little explained.
Napoli isn't the sort of city you can just label and file away, It is beautiful. Infuriating. Confusing. Living here is like going down a rabbit hole of sorts, regardless of voluntarily immersion. Napoli doesn't house wallflowers. Quiet observation is simply not allowed. The people, the noise, the seasons, the chaos…you become involved.
Last December, I was randomly pulled over during my daily commute to work. Two uniformed polizioti nosed their vehicles into oncoming traffic and waved my car to the side of the road - where I always illegally pass. I mean, always. For a moment I thought they had orchestrated a blockade to track down my vehicle and take me away for breaking the “law” on a daily basis. I use the term “law” loosely, since it strikes me as a concept somewhat open to interpretation here in Naples. Il poliziotto asked for i miei "documenti" of which i had none…having recently lost my driver’s license and permesso di sogiorno while hiking the Amalfi coast, and my denuncia (italian police report and proof of having lost said documents) was at home. To top it off, I had neglected to print my current rental car agreement and instead presented the officer with a contract three months expired.
A very angry polizioto seized my passport and walked off, at which point I decided it was best to pretend I couldn't understand his accusations. He returned and began asking questions in rapidfire succession, to which I replied in english, slipping up just once but recovering in time with a marked grammar error. Twenty minutes and one phone call to a translator later, I was informed I would be fined, my car would be towed, and since I was no longer allowed to drive, I would need to gather my things and go with the police. I laughed, which was not so good, I think…because they began waving their hands and talking over each other in heated Italian. I replied with some not-so-nice english slurs myself, thankfully lost in translation. I then marched off to my car, and slammed the door shut.
By the time the officer had come around to tap on my window, I was in tears. In a fit of frustration, I asked them to send me back to the states, and told them I would gladly return home, away from this hell-hole country. This changed everything. Suddenly, they became offended and intent on convincing me Italy was the greatest place on earth. They waved their hands at the sky and asked if I had ever tried buffalo mozzarella or una vera pizza napoletana; implored me to give Italy a chance. One officer even invited me to coffee and offered a personal tour of his beloved city. A crazy turn of events; complete cultural whiplash. The polizia let me go, tore up the ticket, and tried to make me smile. Before I drove off, he said, "See? Naples isn't so bad. We're nice here. Don't cry!" Just another day…in Napoli.