Traffic signals are just a suggestion

I learned to drive in the DC metro area, specifically in Silver Spring, Md, and as anyone who has driven in this area knows traffic is a nightmare. Maryland drivers are the most aggressive and the most self-entitled people on the road. We practice a “pay it forward” style of driving which means that whatever wrong has been done to you by another driver on the road you are required to pass that wrong on to someone else. That driver that just cut you off and almost took your front quarter panel with them? They were just stuck behind a phantom braker for the last 5 miles. We never use our turn signals but can’t stand it when others don’t use them either. We don’t want you in our lane but we’d at least like to see a turn signal as evidence that you want to be there, that way we get satisfaction as we speed up to box you out. We hate when people tailgate us but will tailgate you when we think you’re going to slow. We’ll also not-so-subtly passive aggressively speed up and tailgate you back when you’ve gone around us because apparently 15mph over wasn’t fast enough for you. We always drive at least 10mph over the speed limit so anything below that is too slow. If you’re in the left lane YOU MUST BE GOING AT LEAST 10 MPH OVER THE SPEED LIMIT otherwise, as stated before, you are too slow. Move out of the way. Sitting in the left lane doing the posted speed as an attempt to police your fellow drivers is going to result in you getting hit from behind, that is a guarantee. We weave in an out of lanes because we think we’re going to get where we’re going quicker but then enjoy it when others who do it get stuck in a slow lane and we catch up to them. When we see a cop on the side of the road we slam on the brakes and cause accidents. When we see a cop on the other side of a divided highway we slam on the brakes and cause accidents. We curse the idiots who cause accidents but will slow down so abruptly to see the accident that we, in turn, cause additional accidents. We learned to drive in a classroom, had nine hours of behind-the-wheel practice with an instructor, and took our drivers test in a parking lot. I know what you’re thinking, “You realize the stupidity of all of that, right? You realize how hypocritical you all are? You people are insane!” and you’d be right but, here’s the thing, we are actually proud of this. We are insanely proud of how bad we drive, it’s a testament to our driving ability if we can make it to work, the store, and home without running into someone or something. So think of us what you will but unless you bring your A game, you best just stay at home, Loser.

What does any of this have to do with Naples? A lot, actually. I thought I’d seen the worst driving in the world in Maryland. I’d even been to Puerto Rico, the place that, according to some, had the worst driving they’d ever seen, and then I came to Italy. Granted I haven’t visited every country in Europe but if I had to venture a guess I would say Italy has the worst drivers in all of Europe. At least all of southern Europe. And Neapolitan drivers are probably the worst of the worst. In other cities they at least acknowlege traffic lights, here they’re like pretty Christmas decorations left up year-round on the side of the road. What’s a STOP sign? Lane markers? There are lanes? Is that what those white dashed lines are? Do the cars six-wide know there should only be three down this highway? Pass on the off-ramp? Don’t mind if I do! Pfft, pedestrians, who do they think they are? Of course I have the right-of-way in my car, they’re just squishy bags of flesh, I can’t take them out very easily. Why would I want to stay in one lane when I can drift back and forth across all the lanes like I’m floating down a lazy river? Speed kills which is why I drive faster to get away from the other cars. Neapolitan drivers are like Maryland drivers but with a complete and utter disregard for anything. It’s not just flouting the law, it’s ignoring the fact that driving a 2000lb machine the way they do might result in bodily harm to themselves but more likely to others. I guess when you live at the base of a volcano that could erupt and destroy everything in a matter of moments you learn to live life in a way that doesn’t waste time thinking about such things. The thing is, Neapolitans are proud of the way they drive, just like people from Maryland. They know they drive like a bunch of crazy people on crack but they do it better than anyone else and that’s alright with them.

Underneath it all

We live on the side of a hill, literally. In fact, a lot of Italian towns sit on the sides of hills. In this case our building overhangs the neighborhood of Chiaia (key-eye-uh) as well as several other buildings perched on the hillside. I’m always impressed when I’m down by the water and I look up at the buildings; how on earth did they construct them? How have they not gone plummeting down into a heap of death and destruction? How do you even GET TO THEM? I’m told physics has a lot to do with it but I imagine the stone they’re built on plays a major part. Naples sits on the remains of probably hundreds (thousands?) of ancient volcanic flows that built up over time to create tuff, or tufo as the Italians call it. Many buildings are made from it because, from what I’ve heard, it’s rather easy to cut when it’s wet yet dries extremely hard. I’m sure I’m doing a great disservice to the fields of geology and volcanology right now and for that I apologize. Underneath the city is actually a large system of tunnels and cisterns the Romans carved out of tufo to store water. You can take a tour and learn about how they were carved, used for water, used for building materials, filled with garbage, re-excavated for use by Neapolitans during the bombing raids of WWII, and now open to the public for tours. You can also visit my umbrella that I managed to drop in the cistern. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened. I’m also not sure it’s still there but I’m hoping to go see when Brian’s in town. Back to the apartment: because we sit on a ledge cut into the side of this hill our apartment on the 5th floor is actually level with the street which is awesome when you’re bringing in groceries and heavy boxes. The only potential problem I see coming from this is that in the event of an earthquake if, for some reason, the little bridge from the street to the building collapsed we’d have no way of getting to the street. It’d be a pretty far jump. Since there are a bunch of buildings built really close together I’m sure we could find a way down but hopefully we’ll never have to figure that out.

If you haven’t noticed I’m trying to force myself to write something every day hence the randomness and somewhat boring nature of these posts. I enjoy writing but usually am lost for ideas. If anyone has any questions or ideas of what you’d like to read please feel free to let me know in the comments at any time. My plan in the next few days is to attempt to make some video with the GoPro but I have to work out how I’m going to do it. I may write some posts about that which may be useful to some of the REI people, assuming any of them read this stuff.

TTFN

Kern

Maid for each other

We have a maid. Two maids really, a mother and daughter, that come clean the apartment every Monday. Now before you get all huffy and accuse us of being so lazy we needed to hire someone to clean let me just say that yes, we are incredibly lazy, but that had nothing to do with hiring a maid. No, we hired a cleaning lady (that’s what I prefer to call her) because neither of us likes to clean and if there is someone on this earth who would take money in exchange for scrubbing the toilets they are welcome in my house any time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s weird having a total stranger come in and do housework. You feel like some kind of idiot who can’t get their act together enough to wipe down a countertop or fold some clothes; so how do I get over it? I leave the apartment while she’s here! Seriously though I just feel like I’m in the way of her doing her job so vacating for a few hours is the least I can do. While having a cleaning lady (or man, I’m not discriminating) is not necessarily commonplace in the US it’s quite common in Naples and perhaps the rest of Europe. Being a part of the European Union means that citizens of EU countries have a much easier time moving between countries in search of work than, say, and American trying to live and work in Europe would have. EU nationals are allowed to work in any other EU country without a work permit and can live in said country as long as they register their presence (though this depends on the country). Because of this freedom to move around many people from less well off areas move to wealthier areas to work as house cleaners, nannies, etc. It’s not unlike people from Central America moving to the US in search of jobs. So because of this we have two awesome cleaning ladies who do an excellent job cleaning up after us lazy people.

This past Monday I went out for a few hours so I’d be out of the way and went to check out the shops at the top of the hill. We live in Vomero which is considered a somewhat fancy part of town and as such there’s a main drag, via Scarlatti, that is home to a lot of really nice shops, both chain and specialty. My favorite clothing store is Promod, they have some really cute clothes that aren’t crazy expensive. Another favorite is Zara, which is easy to find in the US as well. Finally is Benetton. Rarely can I afford anything in there but I like to wander through and admire everything. It’s always so colorful and bright. Continuing on there’s a bunch of shoe stores with gorgeous shoes and boots that are definitely worth the money if you can stand to part with it (and Chucks for 79euro! That made me throw up in my mouth a little.). There are toy stores, sports stores, cafes, bag/luggage shops, lingerie stores, and a couple children’s stores. Down around the corner on via Luca Giorgano is Fnac which, if I had to guess, is probably Greg’s favorite store in Vomero because it sells English language books and tech gear. Think of it as Best Buy crossed with Barnes and Noble. I like to hang out there on Mondays because it’s got AC and you can spend hours without anyone really noticing. They have a huge camera department with all the high end gear and all the lo-fi stuff as well. They have an Apple bar, music department, and a cafe. I spent a couple hours at the cafe writing thank you cards (yes the cards will be mailed soon, keep your pants on) and people watching.

Another place that I frequent is Villa Floridiana, a park that houses a huge villa turned museum with paths that lead all over. You can also walk to a cliff wall and overlook Chiaia, Mergellina, and the bay of Naples. Parts of it have been closed off periodically because of lack of maintenance. Recently some large trees have fallen which resulted in other areas being considered unsafe. In the past I’ve come to meet quite a few of the cats that call the park home but this year there seem to be quite a few more. While wandering through newly opened parts of the park I happened upon a women giving a bowl of milk to a kitten and her mother. I’ve never seen kittens in the park before which makes me wonder if someone has been taking them and adopting them out so the population stays in check. At least that’s what I’m going to tell myself.

The weather’s been pretty nice since I got here but I fear now that I’ve said something we’ll get a crazy heat wave.

Hasta la pasta,

Kern

In defense of shorts

Greg has lived in Naples for six years and I have come to visit him numerous times during that period. If you’ve ever travelled to Europe you know that their fashion sense is similar but also vastly different from ours in the US. What do I mean? Well, they’re similar in that people wear clothes and different in that they are willing to wear stuff that most Americans wouldn’t even dream of spending money on. Up until this summer (or last, if you’re to believe Greg but who wants to believe Greg?) women did NOT wear shorts, ever. EVER. Capris? Fine. Jeans? Have at it. Slacks? Why the hell not? Skirts? Maybe. Shorts? Nope, don’t even think about it. Men would occasionally wear shorts though the preferred warm weather pants are man-pris. (Guys wear these a lot in the US as well they just call them “long shorts” but they are, in fact, man-pris. Google it, you’ll see.) “But,” you’re thinking, “when I went to Italy three summers ago I wore shorts!” Yes, you did, but did you notice what the locals were wearing? It wasn’t shorts. For example: the uniform for teenagers (boys and girls alike) across Naples a couple years ago was skin tight t-shirts, belted, low-slung, tight-fitting drop crotch jeans, and Nike Air Max 97s. Apparently a memo had gone out and every teenager was required by law to wear some variation of this outfit every day year-round even when it was 95 degrees outside. (If you Google “drop crotch jeans” you’ll see they are the latest trend, lord help us all.) Anyway, fast forward to last week when I arrived here and noticed that women and men were wearing shorts! Cute, brightly colored shorts of all different lengths and styles! And! And! They’re wearing flip flops! I can’t express to you how exciting this is because it means that I no longer have to hide the fact that I like to wear shorts and bright colors. It’s one thing to draw attention because of something you can’t help (hello blonde hair, blue eyes, obviously not Italian) but now I don’t have to worry about drawing attention for wearing shorts on super hot summer days. Praise be to Jeebus! I know this seems like a ridiculous thing to get excited about but a lot of times it’s the little things that mean the most. (By the way ladies, a lot of the guys are wearing short-shorts and it’s pretty great. I’m just sayin’.)

This past weekend we took a trip to Ikea (to which I wore rolled up jeans because I wasn’t wholly convinced the shorts things was real) so that we could buy a new dresser for my fabulous wardrobe. (Ha!) During previous visits I’ve put my clothes into a much smaller dresser that Greg bought at Ikea because I didn’t bring all that much stuff with me; staying for three months and having access to laundry meant I was free to travel light. We also bought a new chair with a foot rest so I can spend my days lounging in comfort. The apartment was fully furnished when Greg moved in so there’s not much room to add our own stuff but I plan on buying a couple slipcovers to help make it look not so…mis-matched. Greg isn’t quite on board with it but I’ve tasked myself with making this place look nice and that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ve started looking around for jobs but so far nothing is standing out too much. I’m thinking about taking more classes at Centro Italiano so I can improve my Italian. It’s gotten a bit rusty to say the least. I still have to get my permesso di soggiorno so that I’m official, hopefully by this Friday.

Live long and prosper,

Kern

P.S. I in no way, shape, or form claim to be an authority on style or fashion. My outfit of choice includes jeans, t-shirts, and either Vans, Pumas, or Chucks so please accept my apologies if I offended anyone with my overly generalized critique of Italian style trends. But, come on, those drop crotch jeans are just horrible.