“Those of us who love Naples…”

4 Jan

“…are constantly called upon to defend her…” writes Shirley Hazzard in her  The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 7.36.15 PM

And yet how can you not?  That’s what I thought when the Times came out with this article a few days before Christmas:In Naples, Gift of Coffee to Strangers Never Seenabout the Neapolitan tradition of buying two coffees at an espresso bar and only drinking one, leaving behind the paid receipt on the second one for someone who can’t afford it — “sospeso,” suspended — to enjoy.

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 7.40.33 PMThe Storico Gran Caffè Gambrinus, which honors the Neapolitan tradition of the “suspended coffee.” The practice, which boomed during World War II, has found a revival in recent years. Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times (click)

There may not be anything particularly Neapolitan about such a tradition of anonymous generosity — except perhaps the poverty it was born from.  But there is something distinctly Italian about the idea that even the poorest person deserves a moment of luxury and pleasure.  You could leave old shoes or clothes too.  Or donate money to someone.  But an aromatic stretto is a gift of a different order because it confers another order of dignity on the recipient: a moment of rich joy at a beautiful place like Gambrinus (shown in pic).

Surfeit and excess has always been the mark of sacrifice and offering.  I remember going to the Virgin of Guadalupe on Fourteenth Street here in New York once on December 12th, her feast day.  And young Mexican guys bringing massive flower arrangements — massive, layered, wedding-like affairs — in her honor; bouquets that easily could have cost these guys a night’s restaurant pay or more.  But, in some sense, sacrifice is about being free, if just for that day and that moment, of necessity.  “My cup runneth over.”  I’m not bound by the material limitations of my existence.  Not today.  I expand and give.  Like the Christmas carol: “A child shivers in the cold, let us bring Him silver and gold.”  Not blankets, or food for His mom, or pampers.  Luxury.  Opulence.

I don’t get a chance to write about Naples as often as I want to.  Here’s a piece from an old post about a favorite film:

“[Garrone’s] Gomorrah is a must, must see film.  The trailer kind of stupidly makes it sound like a mob film — albeit an ‘unromantic’ one — but it’s really about a hundred deeper things: the loss of the profound Italian love for the land and its fruits; the destruction of centuries of Italian craftsmanship; the beauty of the language of one of the world’s most ancient and unfairly maligned cities; the environmental degradation that comes from moral degradation; and the fraying of the social bonds and ties that once made life for the poor bearable.  SEE it.  You’ll never look at a peach the same way again.  It’ll break your heart.”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com


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