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EXPAT

‘Naples really isn’t as dangerous as people say’

Cousins Rachel and Gabrielle moved half way across the world from New Zealand to Naples. Gabrielle tells The Local why Naples doesn't deserve its negative press, and why she loves the Neapolitan way of life.

'Naples really isn't as dangerous as people say'
Photo: Wikicommons

What made you decide to move to Naples?

We are both from Auckland, and in fact grew up next door to each other. Rachel came here first, and absolutely fell in love with the city, and when I visited her, I did too. I spent some time studying in Paris, but after my course finished, I was drawn back to Naples and here we are.

So many people ask us why we live here, because New Zealand is a paradise and we love it at home too. Maybe we are crazy!

Did you know anyone there before you moved?

Rachel didn't know anyone when she first arrived but over time has made a lovely community of friends – she is the talkative one, so I was lucky I could slip right in with her group of friends. Fitting into the community is easy enough because Neapolitans are in general so friendly and generous.

There are so many places and events to meet people here you end up bumping into the same faces, which really makes us feel like we are at home.

Do you feel like foreigners have misconceptions about Italy, and Naples in particular?

There are many misconceptions about Naples. Often tourists pass straight through Naples to the Amalfi Coast because they have heard that it is dangerous and dirty, which is such a shame. I admit, Naples seems to be quite a particular city but if you give it a chance, it is incredible. In terms of danger for a tourist, I would say it is similar to any other large European city – you have to watch your bags and cameras, but that's normal. It really isn't as bad as people say.

Naples has so much to offer and is in the perfect position to visit the attractions here in the city as well as easily making day trips to the islands (Capri, Procida, Ischia), the Amalfi Coast, Pompei, and Vesuvius.

Working in a hostel (www.6smallrooms.com), what are people's usual reactions to the city?

As I said, Naples is a particular kind of city. Since starting work at the hostel  I have observed that people either fall in love with it straight away, or they hate the place. However, I have also observed that when people do not like Naples straight away, if they are here for more than two to three days, their viewpoint usually always changes and they start to enjoy it – a pleasant surprise for them.

In what ways is living in Italy different from visiting as a tourist?

Living in Italy is so rewarding. In Naples the balance between work and play is really important. People are so happy to enjoy life and it's a contagious feeling. Visiting as a tourist is fast and busy because there is so much to see and do, often in a small amount of time.

Living here you get to see and do everything that tourists do in your own time and also observe day-to-day life here (this is my absolute favourite thing to do.) To walk the streets of Naples and get to know the faces who pass by the same street each day, smell the musty Naples smell mixed with the delicious smell of pasta cooking and a sea breeze whipping up the streets. The differences between being a tourist and living here weren't apparent at first and even now I have to think about when I first arrived to realize how much I have settled in here.

What makes Naples unique from the rest of Italy?

This is a difficult question – there is so much history here. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and Neapolitans are generally very proud of their city so with that combination I think the culture of the city is unique and is preserved and passed on through generations.

Would you say there are any particular qualities people should have in order to 'survive' in Naples?

This is hard to answer too – we certainly don't look like Italians so we stand out like sore thumbs – people know we are foreigners straight away.

One quality that is important is patience. It seems to take a long time to do anything here. If you have no patience don't even bother going to the post office. Being able to laugh things off is important too – this is mostly due to the fact that my Italian skills are very basic (but hopefully improving) and I am often misunderstood or say bad words thinking they mean something else!

Are there any aspects of the lifestyle that you don't enjoy, or haven't yet got used to?

Everyone here seems to look good all the time. I often feel a little scruffy; maybe it's in the Italian DNA but they always seem to be very well groomed. This observance has led to me taking a lot longer to get organized to leave the house and in turn often running late – but I guess that fits the Italian stereotype!

I am still not quite used to the fact that most shops close for the lunch hour and am constantly getting caught out on a Sunday when everything is closed for most of the day.

What are your favourite spots in Naples?

There are so many spots, and it depends on the time of day. The view over Naples from the top of the hill outside Castel Sant'Elmo towards Vesuvius is incredible. Walking along the waterfront is beautiful on a sunny day and spectacular on a stormy grey day too. People watching in Piazza Bellini or from one of the bars is enjoyable.

Being tucked away in the cosy warmth of the hostel is great too. Just walking the streets of Naples you see so many surpising and beautiful hidden viewpoints. It's impossible to name one thing as the best thing about Naples.

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FOOTBALL

‘I represent the nobodies’: How Maradona became the hero of Naples

Few places will mourn the death of Diego Maradona as much as Naples, the downtrodden, gritty Italian city that clasped the troubled Argentine to its heart at his time of need and was repaid with the best years of perhaps the greatest footballer to ever play the game.

'I represent the nobodies': How Maradona became the hero of Naples
Maradona has long been a hero and icon in the city of Naples. Photo: AFP

Buildings around Naples are adorned with depictions of the man who took Napoli to the top of the Italian game and beyond and became an icon and spokesman for Neapolitans, whose chaotic city was feared and loathed in equal measure by the rest of Italy.

“I feel like I represented a part of Italy that didn't count for anything,” he said in 'Diego Maradona', the 2019 Asif Kapadia documentary about his life in Naples.
 
 
So deep was 'barrio boy' Maradona's attachment to Naples that he called Napoli's first ever league title, won a year after he led Argentina to the 1986 World Cup, the “greatest triumph” of his career.
 
Surrounded by jubilant fans on the pitch of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo, he explained why: “I won this one at my home.”
 
Maradona's achievements at Napoli, who had been also-rans until he arrivedin 1984 following a difficult two-year spell at Barcelona, cemented his position as the greatest player of his generation and, in many peoples' eyes, make him the best ever.
 
Diego Maradona on his arrival in Italy in 1984. Photo: AFP
 
Another league title in 1990, the 1989 UEFA Cup, and an Italian Cup also arrived during Maradona's seven years in southern Italy.
 
Maradona's 115 goals in all competitions was a club record that stood for 26 years and his heroics came at a time when Serie A was the world's
strongest, richest league, where the likes of Michel Platini and Zico strutted their stuff.
 
He fled in disgrace in 1991, a failed drugs test, an unrecognised son and a billion-lira tax dispute all left back in Naples, where his penchant for late-night parties, cocaine and women were almost as famous as his magical displays on the pitch.
 
Camorra links
 
Courted by criminals, the King of Spain and even the Pope, Maradona became a quasi-religious figure in Naples. He brought joy to a desperately poor city blighted by bloody conflicts between the competing clans of the powerful Camorra mafia, one of whom Maradona would get to know very well.
 
Indeed the 1984 signing of a genuine superstar by Napoli – who were heavily in debt and had finished 11th the previous season – immediately raised eyebrows, with persistent rumours that a chunk of the world record $10.48 million fee that brought him to Italy came from the Camorra's deep pockets.
 
 
The opening question in his first press conference came from a reporter who asked a confused Maradona whether he knew about the Camorra and its “influence
on football” and was immediately ejected by livid club owner Corrado Ferlaino.
 
“I never asked for anything from the Camorra, they gave me the security of knowing that nothing was going to happen to my two children,” Maradona
insisted in a 2017 interview to Italian TV station Canale 5
 
Murals dedicated to Maradona adorn the walls of apartment buildings in central Naples. Photo: AFP
 
However his access to drugs and women came thanks to the infamous Giuliano clan, who immediately befriended Maradona, furnished his burgeoning cocaine
habit and went to great lengths to make sure they were photographed partying with the world's most famous footballer.
 
Maradona himself admitted that every week he would binge from Sunday night until Wednesday, beginning an intense detox programme each Thursday that would get him ready for the following weekend's match.
 
It took Napoli two years to provide Maradona with teammates capable of challenging for honours, and when the title came in 1987 it caused such wild
celebrations that stories of a summer-long party became as famous as the triumph itself.
 
In reality the city came to a standstill for around a week. To this day Neapolitans name their sons after a football god they've only seen play on old VHS players and YouTube.
 
Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris with Diego Maradona in 2017. Photo: AFP
 
Another title arrived three years later before it all began to fall apart, not long after he and the Argentine national team enraged Italy by dumping the
'Azzurri' out of the 1990 World Cup in the semi-finals – in Naples of all places.
 
His problems had begun some time before. He had tired of the suffocating attention Naples afforded him and in 1989 had signed terms with Marseille, only for Ferlaino to put a stop to the transfer at the last minute.
 
 “After a four-hour meeting, Ferlaino said that if we won the UEFA Cup I could leave, but we won it, and he blocked the move anyway,” Maradona said in
2009.
 
However after the 1990 World Cup he had become a hate figure in Italy and his support network slowly melted away. In February 1991 police announced he
had been caught on wiretaps asking for cocaine and prostitutes from a mob figure. A trumped-up drugs trafficking charge soon followed.
 
The failed drugs test that finished him off came after a match with Bari two months later, and an unprecedented worldwide ban from the game until June
1992 left him back to Buenos Aires, never to reach the same heights again in his career.
 
But he remained an icon in southern Italy, and received a hero's welcome on subsequent visits to the city of Naples.
 
In 2017, he was made an honorary citizen by the city's mayor, Luigi de Magistris.
 
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