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Friday, January 6, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Sitting here in my home office in Italy, I'm looking out at the Good.

The Good is the expanse of aqua blue Mediterranean stretched out in the distance. I can see miles of it from my desk. This is why we chose this villa.

coast of italy, naples, italian, ocean

It was selfish on my part - one look at the upstairs rooms facing the sun setting on an expanse of ocean and I knew this would be the perfect place to write.
Water has a way of inspiring most people.

Living on the West Coast in the United States, quality of  life was always about the water. Seeing it was a bonus if you could afford a view. Fortunately, here in Italy, the amazing view is not expensive. 

Which is Good.

But like with most things, there are trade-offs.

The Bad is the driving.

Italians are friendly, warm, engaging people who embrace you immediately. They ply you with homemade wine, shove dishes of pasta at you and kiss you on both cheeks. They are an enthusiastic and instant family.

Until they drive. Then they become evil. If you ask them, they'll gleefully admit it. It's almost a point of pride that driving is a game of survival.

The kind old man who offers you an extra handful of olives for free at the market will scare the hell out of you in his Fiat Punta. Your helpful neighbor who offers you bottles of his homemade wine will try to squeeze in-between you and the car in the next lane. Motorcycle riders call it splitting lanes. Italians call it "expressing themselves." 

Italian drivers don't drive. They go to war.

The way I will keep my weight in check eating all the bread and pasta we ingest in Italy is from the cardio exercise on the Autostrade. My heart never stops pumping double time as I watch the mirror - and I stay as far away from trouble as possible.

One day, headed for Rome and cruising calmly in the far right lane, my heart started pounding wildly when distinctive Audi LED lights behind me grew brighter by the second.

Unwilling to wait for the fast moving traffic in the left lane to pass traffic on the right, the Audi was coming right up between both lanes at high speed, pushing cars to the side like parting of the Red Sea.

My heart was beating double time as he swerved back and forth on my left bumper looking for an opening in-between my car and the left lanes.

He couldn't have been more than 10 inches off my bumper, so close I was frozen with indecision. Not easily rattled on any road in any country - I've test driven vehicles all over the world - I was scared.

Unless someone was bleeding to death in his car, this just made no sense. I moved over onto the shoulder and let him fly by me. Other drivers were also swerving aside ahead of me, cursing and making Italian hand gestures.

I was just glad to have survived the pass. It was Bad. 

But the most baffling, here in Naples, is the Ugly.

Native Italians who live here in Napoli don't talk about it, but many of the Americans who live here do. It bothers some of us more than others.

It bothers me so much, I'm going to break all the rules of expats and write about it. Much of what should be only a beautiful Naples is filthy. I would be remiss if I wasn't honest in saying not every single square foot of Italy is stunning.

Parts of Naples are dirty in a way that makes you wonder what the hell is wrong here. And it's not all of Naples, a lot of it is just the highways and back roads that connect communities. That, and parts of downtown.

There are piles of garbage that decorate the turnouts of major roads and shoulders of streets in and about Naples. It's frustrating to see, and the explanation - which is complicated, I won't offer here, but there are plenty of stories that explain how the garbage started.

It started with the Mafia. And yes, there has been a documentary

Between my desk and the beautiful ocean view in the distance is a road you can't see from our house, lined with piles of garbage as high as six feet. On that same road are two luxury hotels. Further down that road are oceanfront resorts.

Soon after moving here we rode our motorcycle to the beach, and experienced that road for the first time. The smell was nauseating. Passing the gated property of a high end hotel, we wondered how guests from outside Italy felt when their taxicabs from the airport drove past this enormous display of trash. It would have to be shocking.

It's the kind of waste you expect to see in a third world country. Rusty appliances, dirty mattresses, tires, rotting clothing and mounds of old food.
It's all piled in stinky heaps alongside a road to paradise.

It's too much to comprehend sometimes, and it's Ugly.

But other parts of Naples peg the meter for beautiful, charming and historical.

The neighborhoods of Vomero and Santa Lucia, the Lungomare and Castel Ovo, the Palazzo Reale, the Monastery of Santa Chiara, the National Archeological Museum and Capodimonte Royal Palace and Museum are some of many places in Naples well worth seeing, because there are endless places in Naples that represent the best of Italy.

And that is Good.

The End

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