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The station was packed with people moving, passing each other with grace and speed. Mario stood next to me giving me some tips on how to navigate through this crowd without getting my pocket picked. Mario was my guide to Naples, and this city is notorious for thieves, a city where the Mafia still thrives. Naples is a city with attitude and this was my first visit; the visit that made me fall in love with this beautiful city.
We got on the bus and bought a couple of tickets. We sat down and he handed me a pen and told me to write the date where the machine would leave a stamp. It was a trick that the locals used to scam a couple extra rides.. Mario, was taking me to a small town right outside of the city along the coast called Cappella. It is a cute little Italian town with not much to it. It has a local market, a school, and a bit of a downtown area by the water. Cappella though is not built for tourist but local residents.
I was lucky enough to have a friend like Mario to invite me into his family’s home for the weekend and to have a traditional neapolitan meal. Now I don’t know how many of you have spent time with Italians but if you ever get a chance take them up on their hospitality. Italians know how to take care of their guests and you will leave with a full stomach of amazing homemade food and wine.
We were picked up at the bus stop by Mario’s uncle. I hoped in the back of his tiny car and we were off. Mario and his Uncle went straight to catching up in Neapolitan which is a dialect of Italian. If you have never heard someone from Naples speak Italian then there is one thing you need to know. I don’t care how much Italian you took in school, you would not understand one thing they say. It is hard to explain on paper but trust me it is a whole different language. Now I was too busy staring out the window to care what they were saying and before I knew it we were in front of the house.
The house was nothing special but had a quaint seaside feel to it. The first room you enter into is more like a large walk in pantry/garage. The ceiling was low and I, being the tallest had to keep my head bent low just so I would not hit it. I grazed it a few times though despite my efforts. I was then introduced to all of Mario’s family: his uncle, aunt, cousins, and grandparents.
His Grandmother was less interested in greetings, choosing instead to make sure that we were fed. She dragged us in to the kitchen and sat us down. She asked me a few questions. I looked at Mario in confusion and he just told me to say yes. So I promptly said “Si” and she looked pleased with my answer. I was given a plate of pasta, a cup and two large carafes of white and red wine to choose from. Nobody else was eating and it was a little awkward but Mario explained to me that it was customary that the guest should be fed upon arrival.
Mario’s grandmother was Southern Italian and I could tell she wore it with a badge of pride. When she asked me a question like, “ Would you like some more?” I knew that it was a rhetorical question; your answer was always yes and never no. She was the boss of this house and she had final say. Now I fell in love with Mario’s Grandmother. She was hilarious and loved to mess with people. She knew when to be stern and when to joke. She is unbelievably giving and kind. Even though I stood above her by a foot I knew that I would do whatever she said. After being fatten up like Hansel and Gretel she put us to work.
We headed up to the second house up the street to gather what we needed for what I thought was dinner on Grandma’s orders. At the back of the house we were greeted with a large wooden shed, the shed was filled with large jugs and barrels of homemade wine. Mario’s cousins siphoned the wine through a plastic tube and into plastic bottles. This was what I had been drinking earlier and we were gathering more for dinner. His Grandmother grabbed me and pulled me off to the side.
She motioned me to follow; I quickly obeyed and followed her into another section surrounded by a fence. The area was filled with large cages with rabbits, a table and a large space in the middle. In the middle suspended in the air was a rabbit attached to a chain hanging from its hind legs. She walks up to it and grabs it by its ears and asked what I assume was the question, “Do you like rabbit?” I shook my head yes and without flinching she sliced the throat of the rabbit and then striped it of its fur in a couple more motions with a knife. She pointed at me with her knife and asked if I still like rabbit. I shook my head yes. She something I did not catch but she laughed as she made a motion with knife of crossing her neck. I took what I missed as “You better still like rabbit because if you don’t you will end up like this rabbit”. I laughed and followed her outside back to the shed. They had finished up with the wine and we headed back down to the other house.
Back at Mario’s house we played the Italian card game of skopa with his cousins and uncles as we drank beer and talked. Then after a quick nap were went back down to the main house. Mario’s grandmother was in the kitchen making us home gnocchi; her hands were quick as she formed the little balls of dough. I was told that this was just one of the dishes for tomorrow. Everything that we had done that day was not for dinner but actually for tomorrow’s lunch. I could not wait till the next day as we spent the rest of the night eating pizza and playing skopa while watching calcio(football/soccer).
The next day came soon enough and now it was time for lunch. It was a feast, just one course after another of food: pasta, rabbit, cake, mozzarella. When I say mozzarella I mean giant fresh balls of Buffalo Mozzarella that we bit into like apples. We had giant meatballs that were the best I have ever had. We ate until we were stuffed and then finished the rest of the food so not to offend Mario’s grandmother. The wine flowed just as freely as we went through bottle after bottle of wine.
The table was filled with constant conversation. Now if you are not use to it and you just came into the scene you might think they were in a fight but in reality that is just how they conversed. Italians are loud and have attitude and that is part their charm. I was in heaven and was wishing that I was Italian. I could live like this for the rest of my life. It was this lunch that I fully understood the southern Italian way of life. I was in love.
I was fortunate to go back one more time and it was the same as the first and I just fell in love all over again. It has been a few years since I have seen Mario and his family but I hope that sometime soon in the future I will be back at that table with all his family enjoying each others company. Mario’s family and this experience is the reason why I root for Napoli in Serie A and when I think of Italy, I think of the south. I may have lived in Rome but I will always love Southern Italy. They know the secret of life and it is to enjoy it all. It has been awhile since I have said it but I want to thank Mario and his family again for being such wonderful hosts.