Naples is a city that is falling but never falls. Arches, columns, towers, all seem on the brink of detaching from the skyline, crushing whole blocks with their sudden collapse. Yet they linger on.
Naples is a city of dust. Everything is covered by it, from the statues of saints to the dough of Neapolitan pizza. It is a hot, livid dust, filling the cracks in cobbles and shaking itself from each over-hanging sill. It is dust that rises and falls in chorus, as if some harbour colossus stands sand-blasting the whole city from above, pockmarking the great walls of brick and stone but making slight impression.
Naples is a city with a heart. An enormous, aged heart, a maze of alleyways, each hung with a thousand sheets. Finding your way in, past orbiting rings of scooters and trucks, you are taken by the crowd; a mindless beast that moves at the pace of the old and infirm. You may see ice cream, pastries, roasting chestnuts, but no sooner have you desired them than the mob carries you on.
Naples is a city of churches. Everywhere they buttress the weight of walls; wedges on street corners, doorstops between listing palaces. From their bolted doors, imperial staircases descend in twin flights, gated against a less pious world. Above, crumbling arcades have ceased to vie for the greater glory. On every ledge tall forests of grass are sprouting, lending fringes to cherubs or battlements to bell towers. Idle too long and a cassocked priest may appear at the rose window, dust falling from his tonsure, his hands bearing a crossbow for a crucifix.
Naples is a city of superstition. Here, a mannequin of a football coach leans against a marble Madonna, plastic and stone both polished to reflection by daily caress. A street vendor cradles the manger he has made, a temple for the miraculous birth in miniature, while immigrant hawkers from the port drag long, bejewelled tails behind him. They move north, necklaces and bracelets glowing with glass diamonds. In the street, the smoke of incense and house fire becomes inseparable.
Naples is a city of time. Condensed history; history that accrues without a filter or a means of disposal, the culmination of twenty-seven centuries spent building on ruins. All things are piled upon and gestation is slow. Even German bombs have failed to penetrate the wreck that lies beneath the ruin. Smouldering shells have been added to the heap, tail fins projecting from broken domes or cartoon fuses threaded through by electrical cables and broken drains.
Climbing the hill to the castle, the churches raise their heads once more. Crosses of wood and iron are twisted into weather vanes far above the city, predicting nothing but outlasting all.