Saturday, August 9, 2008

Southern Hospitality

It was quittin' time. Six o'clock on Friday evening. Grazzanize would soon be a distant but no less disturbing memory and a new Italian city would be circled on the map. I had experienced the worst of southern Italy in Grazzanise, although I can safely say there are places even more dangerous near Napoli Centrale and the port. But little did I know that I was about to experience the best of Southern Italy only a few hours later.

As Friday wound down my Scottish friend, Lynne, and I frantically planned our sleeping arrangements for the next four days while simultaneously orchestrating a final performance with the Camorra Kids. No small feat. Neither of us were working the following week; I was awaiting the arrival of my mother from New York and Lynne was recharging her batteries after the grueling week we'd just had. We texted friends and families spanning as far north as Tuscany and as far south as Siracusa hoping that someone would open their doors to us. One by one each potential possibility fell through, the clock struck eight, the final trains to Sicily and Florence left and we were still in Grazzanise.

Lynne, stuck in Grazzanise
Then Lynne's phone rang. It was Anna Maria Carbone, the mother of three wonderful children who we taught two weeks prior in Paestum, near Salerno. She was getting ready to take the family on a two-week holiday at the seaside but was checking up on us (as Italian moms so often do) to make sure we hadn't been taken out by one of our students, and were eating enough vegetables. She sensed something wasn't right and demanded we come to her house in San Gennaro Vesuviano, a suburban town at the base of Mt. Vesuvius.

Twins, Francesca and Federica Carbone

The Carbones dropped everything. They drove to a toll stop to pick us up, gave us plush bath robes for our hot showers and cooked us dinner at eleven o'clock. Anna Maria prepared roasted marinated vegetables, mozzarella di bufala, crusty bread, gelato and gorgeous peaches, even though a Nutella sandwich would have sufficed. The whole family came up to the rooftop terrace to enjoy our midnight snack. We laughed and ate while Mt. Vesuvius calmly watched from behind and the stars winked at us from above, as if to say, "See, this is the real Southern Italy."

Enzo, Anna Maria and Giovanni Carbone enjoying our midnight dinner

View of Mt. Vesuvius

It was the kind of hospitality I'd always imagined I'd find in the south. Mi Casa es Su Casa--literally--they gave us their house. Well they offered us the house while they were on vacation but the responsibility of a gorgeous four-story home and all its relics was too large.

San Giuseppe Vesuviana

So they gave us their apartment in neighboring San Giuseppe Vesuviana. Anna Maria had already called over to her sister who lives above the apartment, made sure we'd be well fed and even arranged our social calendar by alerting her 23-year-old nephew, Andrea, and beautiful 25-year-old family friend, Carla, of our arrival. All before we had finished our morning shot of espresso.

Ana Maria's sister serving us her homemade bruschetta

Carla, Me, Lynne

Andrea enjoying his Mom's home cooking

After 24 hours in San Giuseppe Vesuviana I had met more friends than in my first three months living in Treviso. The kind of friends that make you say, "I feel like we've known each other forever." Fun, warm, and above all, generous. Proud people who wanted us to experience the best of their region. And we did.

Pizza in Pompeii, dancing in Nola, home-cooked meals that rivaled New York City's best rustic Italian restaurants. Carla's mom even did my eyebrows after lunch, and almost lost her lunch when I told her I pay $32 to have the same thing done at Anastasia in NYC.

Carla and her boyfriend of six years, Pepe, promised us that they would show us the "real" Naples, not the one made so infamous in the press. On our final night before parting ways we went into into the heart of Naples' historical center. The moon was full and I noticed the way it chased the car, just like it had when I was a kid. The ground was damp, creating a magical glow in Piazza Plebiscito, Napoli's largest square. One final aperitivo near Castello dell'Ovo gave us a chance to joke and reminisce about the fun times we'd had, like old friends do. As the four of us walked to the car I watched tourists dine at 5-star hotel restaurants, fumble through guide books and buy goofy Italian souvenirs and, as I do so many times in Italy, I felt really lucky.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Looks like you had a great time. Isn't bruschetta made out of ham??