Apr 10, 2006

NAPLES, Italy – The pastel jigsaw of the city fades onto the horizon, as the hydrofoil rears above the water on rooster plumes of spray. Rain pinpricks the deck. I swaddle a scarf over my hair and remain outside, alone.

I've ridden the Mergellina-Ischia route half a dozen times now. Without fail, it inspires a fierce joy. The aliscafo heaves and smacks on the rough slug-grey sea. Nothing touches my elation, not sea sickness, not hunger, not my phone chirping with messages: come back to Rome.

Not today, amici. Today belongs to the Tyrrhenian.


German tourists crowd the CS1 bus. They frown at my laughter: so unseemly. "What's with the funny stuff?" their stares challenge.

Birkenstocks and mullets and my ex absconding with a Teutonic backpacker, of course. But I'm much too polite for blatant nationalistic jeering (plus that's a war no American could win). Nope. It's the public service announcements that are trashing my pseudo-Continental cool.

The video screen illustrates the route, the long 45-minute trundle around three-quarters of the island. Between stop declarations, it displays Italian-language advice for children: don't purchase stolen goods, don't jump queues and one inscrutable loop about the glories of shopping.

My favorite advert cycles through every seven minutes or so. Rowdy boys abuse some playground equipment. Suddenly an 11-year-old vixen appears, olive-eyes aflutter, finger crooked: come hither! A young thug starts forward eagerly.

But wait: she's put glue on the slide. His trousers rip off. As Bad Boy covers his boxers in abject shame, the moral slides on-screen: "Vandals wind up in their underpants."


My study of the Italian psyche can stop right here. What more could possibly be needed?

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