A local’s guide to Naples - Dominique Alves Da Silva - Citimarks

Dominique Alves Da Silva

Dominique Alves da Silva

Che sarà, sarà (whatever will be, will be!)


Citimarks: Dominique, what were your first impressions of Naples?

Dominique Alves Da Silva: My family and I moved from Brazil to Italy when I was a kid, and I was instantly drawn by the aesthetics of the city. The first thing that I observed in Naples was its buildings: I was amazed by all those baroque palazzos I could not compare to anything I had seen back home. In Naples, I found out what it is like to live with a strong sense of history. I also discovered the local mentality and lifestyle that has no equal in the world. Neapolitans combine a generous heart with an opportunistic, canny spirit. They live under a timeless shadow of contrasts and that makes them real, hence, likeable.

What would you say are the main traits of the Neapolitan character?

Neapolitans are very sarcastic. They have a strong sense of irony and their humor can be quite biting. They love making wisecracks aiming to pick up on one’s weaknesses or failures. Moreover, they are always on the lookout for new opportunities and come up with the most inventive ways to seize them. If they must make up a story, they won’t think twice: there are lots of cunning little devils in this town with more than one trick up their sleeves! But under that shrewd mind of theirs, Neapolitans have a generous heart for people who are in need: a friend, a relative or even a neighbor.

Are they still as religious as we are reading in history books?

In Naples, every kid receives the sacrament of christening. But, as they grow up, many of them don’t feel as close to religion as their parents eventually wished them to be. But social scrutiny here in Naples can be quite oppressive with regards to ones links to the church; so most people are actually concealing their true feelings. If they don’t miss any religious events, it is likely out of respect to their families and local communities; also to avoid confrontation on a topic that is hard to dispute.

"Naples is a colorful city full of eccentricities, of things taking place in a confusing and disordered manner. It is the land of the paradox, the unusual, the upside-down and the surreal."

Is the family still playing a major role in their life?

A fundamental role, yes. A Neapolitan can never be too far from home: they may be adults, full grown-ups with kids and everything, but still find no reason to be separated from their mom and dad. Case in point: when, as a child, I moved in with my step dad, it was at his parents’ house we settled at. Same story for his sister; she lives in a flat right opposite to my grandparents. This proximity is a favorable condition for families to constantly butt in when their sons or daughters are to make important decisions. However, younger generations tend to be more independent, and when they decide to fly off the nest it is to travel and eventually settle abroad.

Neapolitans are some of the most superstitious people I have met. Travelers from across generations have noticed the same thing.

They are terribly superstitious indeed. They have great faith in the unpredictable strokes of luck, and believe they can provoke them. That’s why their favorite pastime activity is playing lucky games, such as Tombola or Lotto (Lottery). To maximize their chances they believe in Smorfia, an invention “made in Naples” of a never-aging popularity: it is a kind of manual "translating" the dreams into Lottery numbers. According to Smorfia, if players dream of their hometown, for example, they should place their money on number 1; should they dream of a naked woman, they must play number 21. A dream causing fear corresponds to number 90 and so on. This frame of reference can be applied in any game or competition, going from horse races to football. It relies on an ancient pagan belief still thriving in Naples. Playing lucky games is their way of daydreaming, of hoping for a better life: it is an escape from their everyday struggles.

Travel writers have also noticed a liking for music. Is it something still relevant today?

Music is a major medium of expression for the Neapolitans. It is a form of art that, in Naples, preceded other arts, such as painting or architecture. There is the scholarly music that was born in the famous Neapolitan Opera, but there is also a culture of every-day music: the singalong around a dinner table, or the hissing, the singing of a song with low voice in the middle of the street. These spontaneous means of expression can serve as conversation starters: they help Neapolitans get to know each other and eventually bond. Festivities, parades, flash mobs or any other street activities are extremely popular with younger generations.

Kids hiking on breakwater rocks at Mergellina beach on the south coast of Naples.

Murals of Totò, a venerated Neapolitan comedian, are scattered across the city.

"If Neapolitans must make up a story, they won’t think twice: there are lots of cunning little devils in this town with more than one trick up their sleeves! But under that shrewd mind of theirs, they are generous with people in need: a friend, a relative or a neighbor."

Today, where do you live in Naples?

I live on Vomero hill, a calm, residential area of Naples. Most residents have been living there for many years, so they know each other; this gives a sense of coziness and security in the area, it feels like a small village. The neighborhood is beautiful, full of parks and verdant squares.

Has the city changed in the past, say fifteen years?

It surely has. Today Neapolitans show more respect to public property. You can see it on the walls: they have fewer tags and posters than twenty years ago. Back then, there was a growing trend for vandalism that has been tamed since. The mayor’s cleaners kept erasing the tags, day in day out, so I guess people got tired of retagging them time and again. It is also possible that, when murals started to spring and artists, such as Jorid, gained local reputation, people felt that they should respect their work and stopped themselves from painting over these beautiful creations of art.

What do you think of the Neapolitan street art?

Ten years ago Bansky drew his fist Italian work in Naples featuring a praying Madonna haloed by a gun. This was a direct criticism of the hypocrisy of killing a human being and then going to church to pray for one’s soul: a behavior very typical of our gangs. At the time, it was hard to imagine a local artist daring to use a symbol so sacred in Naples and associate it with human cruelty. Bansky did it and paved the way for a new generation of artists to satirize, through their works, the city’s chronic problems; the cynicism of the political system; the tolerance towards Camorra, the local mafia. Their walls have changed the way social debate is conducted.

If you had to leave Naples, what would you miss the most?

The food, hands down. Especially the pasta: there is no other place I have tried a pasta dish more tasteful than in Naples. The region has some of the world’s best tomatoes for making the sauce, the finest olive oil etc. The local know-how and quality of the ingredients make the Neapolitan dishes exquisitely tasteful. Am I too biased?

Cadavre Exquis

If Naples was a book, which one would that be?

It would be "Alice’s adventures in Wonderland", because Naples is a colorful city full of eccentricities, of things taking place in a confusing and disordered manner. It is the land of the paradox, the unusual, the upside-down and the surreal.

If it was a film, which one would it be?

“Così Parlò Bellavista” by Luciano De Crescenzo. The film –based on De Crescenzo’s homonymous novel- is the perfect depiction of the Neapolitan lifestyle. It recounts the nonchalant routine of a building whose residents spend their day listening to the philosophies of a rich retired philosopher, called Bellavista. The calmness of the old palazzo will soon be disrupted by the arrival of a director from Milan, a city that represents the opposite of everything Naples stands for. The clash between two cities’ philosophies serve as a lever for a delightful satire of Naples’ spirit of “far niente”: of taking things slowly, of endlessly arguing without making any decisions, going round and round in circles.

If it was a local dish?

A pizza Napoletana, what else? It may sound banal, but there is no other food that reminds me of Naples more strongly.

A singer?

Pino Daniele. There is something in his songs that expresses the Neapolitan soul; his bittersweet verses refllect the town’s melancholy but also its warmth. Daniele points to the hardships of everyday life, to a spirit of resignation in face of this chronic stagnation. His most famous song, “Napule è” (“Naples is”) is an ode to a city full of contrasts. The verses say: “Naples is a thousand colors and a thousand fears…the scent of sea and a bitter sun. Naples is some dirty litter that nobody cares about and everyone awaits its fate.” The clarity of his lyrics is poignant.

If you could travel in time for one day, which century of the Neapolitan history would you go back to and what would you like to discover?

I would go back to the rule of the Bourbons in the 18th century to find out more about their everyday life: I would be curious to watch them ride a horse carriage, bake bread, make a pastry etc. I would sneak in the Palazzo Reale to see how courtiers prepared a Gala reception. They spoke a dialect which was an odd mix of Old Italian, Spanish and French: listening them talking would be interesting to discover.

Which historical figure from the past would you like to meet?

That would be Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy at the turn of the 20th century. I would like to ask her about a 100-years-old mystery: the legend of Piazza Plebiscito. Plebiscito is one of the largest squares in Italy -25,000 square meters-, the most grandiose in Naples and also an historic one. Legend has it that no one can walk the 170 meters between the entrance door of the Royal Palace and the equestrian statues while being blindfolded. Why? Because the Queen allegedly casted a curse, granting prisoners freedom only if they managed to cross the square with their eyes covered. According to the legend, no prisoner passed the test, and still no one can. I am curious to know whether there is a fragment of truth in this story, and if so why she came up with this malevolent idea!

What is your favorite Neapolitan word?

I like the idiomatic expression “Và te cocca” which means “go to sleep”: When someone says something a bit stupid or useless, it is possible they will tell them to “go to sleep!”; this is another way of saying, “you can go now, there is no use for you to continue talking.”

24 hours in Naples

“Il vero bar del Professore” café.

9 am
Morning coffee
At “Il vero bar del Professore”. This coffee shop goes four generations back and it is highly praised by the locals for decades.
10 am
A dose of art
I love the Museum of Contemporary Art, called "Madre". In this art space, visitors have the chance to go beyond the pre-historic and classical periods (whose collections are exhibited in the fabulous Archeological Museum and Museo Capodimonte) and discover the contemporary artistic creation of the city.
12 pm
A “must-see” area that is kept a local secret
When I am in the mood for some sea breeze without bumping into the crowds, I will head to "Nisida", a beautiful volcanic island in the gulf of Naples. The island is connected to the mainland by a stone bridge, so it is very easy to reach. It has beautiful views to the other islands of the gulf and, of course, Mount Vesuvius. "Nisida" is a hidden gem; you will find only locals hanging around.
1 pm
Lunch with a stunning view
“A Fenestella” is my favorite fish restaurant in the elegant Posillipo area. I will look for a table on its balcony to enjoy the view to the sea and the picturesque fishing village of Marechiaro.
3 pm
Shopping time
The “Charcuterie Esposito” is an excellent deli shop to fill your suitcases with yummy local products on the way back home, such as taralli or a bottle of Limoncello. Another good choice for a Neapolitan souvenir would be an authentic espresso maker: we call them Moka pots and they are reputed to bring luck to those who are offered with one; especially the Mokas colored in red!
5 pm
A pastry shop that you love
Poppella, in the Sanità district. They are famous all over Naples for their delicious “fiocco di neve” meaning “snowflake”: it is a sponge cake filled with ricotta cheese and cream, with a hint of citrus and vanilla.
6 pm
A place to explore the street art of Naples
Spaccanapoli is very famous for its street art, but also the quarters of Riona Sanità and Materdei. In general, there are no “graffiti-free” areas in Naples, so always keep an eye out for them!
7 pm
A spot to admire the sunset
At Parco Virgiliano. Located between the Vomero and Posillipo areas, to the west of the city’s historic center, this is my favorite park in Naples. The park has taken its name from the Latin poet Virgile and has spectacular views to the sea and the city from afar; on a clear day, it offers the most breathtaking sunset skies.
8 pm
Diner at a trattoria with homemade food
I am fan of the restaurant "Cucina Tipica Da Vittorio" in Fuorigrotta area, via Diocleziano. The whole neighborhood comes to Don Vittorio to taste his masterful recipes. It is a humble place with divine food!
10 pm
A favorite cocktail bar
“Libreria Berisio”, hands down. By day, the place is a bookshop hidden on a picturesque paved street behind Piazza Dante. By night, it transforms into a cozy little bar where you can cuddle up to your favorite person watching the passers-by, while sipping a Negroni.
1 am
A walk under the moon
A walk along the promenade of Lungomare and the Castel dell’Ovo islet, a fisherman’s hub full of restaurants illuminated by the moon.