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 relocated from Brazil to Italy when I was a child, and I was immediately captivated by the aesthetics of Naples. The first striking feature I noticed were the buildings—magnificent baroque palazzos that I couldn't compare to anything I had seen back home. In Naples, I experienced what it means to live in a city with a profound sense of history. I also delved into the local mentality and lifestyle, which, in my opinion, is unparalleled. Neapolitans embody a combination of a generous heart and an opportunistic, astute spirit. They navigate their lives under a timeless shadow of contrasts, making them authentic and inherently likable.

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

Neapolitans are renowned for their sharp wit and sarcasm, possessing a strong sense of irony that infuses their humor with a biting edge. They take delight in making wisecracks that often target one's weaknesses or failures. Additionally, Neapolitans are known for their resourcefulness and a keen eye for seizing new opportunities. If the need arises to fabricate a story, they won't hesitate—this city is home to many cunning individuals with more than one trick up their sleeves! However, beneath their shrewd exterior, Neapolitans harbor a generous heart, especially when it comes to helping those in need—be it a friend, a relative, or even a neighbor.

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

In Naples, every child undergoes the sacrament of christening. However, as they mature, many may not feel as connected to religion as their parents may have hoped. Despite this, social scrutiny in Naples can be quite oppressive, particularly concerning one's ties to the church. Consequently, a significant number of individuals conceal their true feelings, attending religious events not out of personal conviction but rather out of respect for their families and local communities. This often serves as a strategy to avoid confrontations on a topic that is challenging to dispute in this close-knit community.

"Naples is a vibrant city teeming with eccentricities and events unfolding in a bewildering and disorderly manner. It is a realm of paradoxes, the unusual, the topsy-turvy, and the surreal."

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

A fundamental role, indeed. For Neapolitans, the ties to home are unbreakable. Even as adults with families of their own, they see no reason to be far from their parents. A case in point is my own experience: when I moved in with my stepdad as a child, it was to his parents' house that we relocated. The same holds true for his sister, who lives in a flat right across from my grandparents. This close proximity provides an environment where families have a tendency to intervene in important decisions made by their sons or daughters. However, the younger generations are showing a trend towards greater independence. When they do decide to leave the nest, it is often to explore the world and, in some cases, to settle abroad.

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

Neapolitans are undeniably superstitious, placing great faith in the whims of luck and believing they can influence it. A favorite pastime for many is engaging in luck-based games like Tombola or Lotto (Lottery). To enhance their chances, they turn to the enduring popularity of "Smorfia," a Naples-born invention. Smorfia is a kind of manual that "translates" dreams into lottery numbers. According to Smorfia, if a player dreams of their hometown, they should bet on number 1; dreaming of a naked woman suggests playing number 21. A dream inducing fear corresponds to number 90, and so on. This system can be applied to various games and competitions, ranging from horse races to football. Rooted in ancient pagan beliefs still thriving in Naples, playing these luck-based games becomes a form of daydreaming—a hopeful escape from the challenges of everyday life.

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

Music holds a profound significance for Neapolitans, serving as a major medium of expression. In Naples, it predates other art forms such as painting or architecture. Scholarly music has its roots in the renowned Neapolitan Opera, but alongside it thrives a culture of everyday music. This includes impromptu singalongs around a dinner table or the subtle singing of a song in the middle of the street. These spontaneous forms of expression often act as conversation starters, helping Neapolitans forge connections and deepen bonds. Festivities, parades, flash mobs, or any street activities are especially popular among the younger generations, further highlighting the enduring role of music in the vibrant culture of Naples.

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 decide to fabricate a story, they won't hesitate; this town is full of cunning individuals with more than one trick up their sleeves! However, beneath their shrewd exterior, they are generous when it comes to helping those in need—be it a friend, a relative, or a neighbor."

Today, where do you live in Naples?

I reside on Vomero Hill, a tranquil and residential area of Naples. Many of the residents have called this place home for numerous years, fostering a close-knit community where everyone knows each other. This familiarity creates a sense of coziness and security, akin to the atmosphere of a small village. The neighborhood itself is visually enchanting, adorned with parks and lush squares that contribute to the overall beauty of the surroundings.

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

Certainly, the attitude towards public property in Naples has undergone positive changes. There's a noticeable improvement in the state of walls and surfaces, with fewer tags and posters compared to twenty years ago. In the past, there was a growing trend of vandalism that has since been curbed. The persistent efforts of the mayor's cleaners to erase tags day in and day out may have contributed to this shift, as people likely grew tired of repeatedly retagging. Additionally, the rise of murals and the recognition of artists like Jorid may have instilled a sense of respect for their work, discouraging individuals from painting over these beautiful creations of art.

What do you think of the Neapolitan street art?

Ten years ago Bansky created his fist Italian work in Naples featuring a praying Madonna haloed by a gun. This piece was a direct critique of the hypocrisy of taking a human life and then seeking solace in prayer—a behavior prevalent in local gangs. At the time, it seemed unlikely for a local artist to use such a sacred symbol in Naples and associate it with human cruelty. Banksy's bold move paved the way for a new generation of artists to satirize, through their works, the city's chronic issues, the cynicism of the political system, and the tolerance towards the Camorra, the local mafia. The walls of Naples have become a canvas for changing the way social debates are conducted.

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

The food, without a doubt, is a highlight—especially the pasta. Nowhere else have I tasted a pasta dish as flavorful as in Naples. The region boasts some of the world’s finest tomatoes for crafting the sauce, along with the highest-quality olive oil, and more. The local expertise and the quality of ingredients elevate Neapolitan dishes to an exquisite level of taste. Is my enthusiasm too biased?

Cadavre Exquis

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

It would be "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" because Naples is a vibrant city teeming with eccentricities and events unfolding in a bewildering and disorderly manner. It is a realm of paradoxes, the unusual, the topsy-turvy, and the surreal.

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

"Thus Spoke Bellavista" by Luciano De Crescenzo is my choice. The film, based on De Crescenzo's eponymous novel, perfectly captures the Neapolitan lifestyle. It narrates the leisurely routine of a building where residents spend their days absorbing the philosophies of Bellavista, a wealthy retired philosopher. The tranquility of the old palazzo is disrupted when a director from Milan arrives, representing the antithesis of everything Naples stands for. The clash between the philosophies of two cities serves as a catalyst for a delightful satire on Naples' spirit of "far niente": the art of taking things slowly, engaging in endless arguments without reaching decisions, and going round and round in circles.

If it were a local dish?

A Neapolitan pizza, what else? It might sound simple, but there is no other dish that evokes the essence of Naples more vividly for me.

A singer?

Pino Daniele. There's something in his songs that captures the Neapolitan soul; his bittersweet verses reflect the town's melancholy but also its warmth. Daniele delves into the challenges of everyday life, embodying a spirit of resignation in the face of chronic stagnation. His most famous song, "Napule è" ("Naples is"), is an ode to a city of contrasts. The verses poignantly express, "Naples is a thousand colors and a thousand fears... the scent of the 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 striking.

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 revisit the era of the Bourbons in the 18th century to gain insights into their daily lives: I'm curious to observe them riding in horse carriages, baking bread, crafting pastries, and more. Sneaking into the Palazzo Reale, I would witness how courtiers prepared for a Gala reception. They spoke a dialect that was a peculiar blend of Old Italian, Spanish, and French, and listening to them converse would be intriguing to uncover.

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-year-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 a 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 cast 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 appreciate the idiomatic expression "Và te cocca," which means "go to sleep." When someone makes a somewhat foolish or irrelevant statement, it's common to tell them to "go to sleep!" It's another way of saying, "you can leave now; there's no need for you to keep 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.