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Looking around Do you know that kids show 'Go outside' with the woman and her collie in the biplane? I took her message very much to heart.

Surviving Naples, Part 3: The Art of Eating Alone

ITALY | Tuesday, 14 July 2015 | Views [290]

So it was finally day 30. The last full day before we headed home. The trip had seemed to last an age, but also, now it seemed to be over too soon. I was so relieved to finally be getting away from my friend. The tense silences, the loneliness, the passive aggression had started to wear heavily on my soul. I don’t know if it was her or the humidity but I found breathing a suddenly strenuous exercise. The thought of getting away from her, not just for a few hours but forever was like the hope of paradise. I wanted so badly just to go home and hug my mother, to sit on my own sofa and have a real cup of tea. Travelling is all well and good, and truly I love it, I couldn’t live without it, but the only feeling better than finally getting away from home, is the feeling of finally going back to it.

On my last day I could have gone to Sorrento, or Pompeii but I felt me and Naples had some unfinished business. I felt like it had a good side which I hadn’t seen yet. It had already slowly grown on me. I was no longer terrified of it. The constant staring from people sitting on the pavement no longer bothered me. The ugliness took on a strange grimy beauty. On the train back from Herculaneum I had admired the graffiti that lined everything. Some of it was truly very good. Most of it was political. I wanted to head to the museum of archaeology but it was closed. Not knowing what to do now I just sort of wandered around that part of the city.

I saw a cute little bookshop near Piazza Cavour and decided to go in. I brought a book of Neapolitana poetry. Hoping to see if looking at the words could help me decipher the mess of noises I heard people speaking. It didn’t, written down it’s even weirder. The man in the shop frowned at me when I bought it. A gift? He asked. No, for me, I replied. He was surprised but shrugged and sold it to me anyway. I still have it. I still cannot understand the majority of what it says. Most of the day I just spent walking around. Getting more and more comfortable in the city without actually seeing anything of much merit, just normal people living their normal lives. Things that seemed insane to me were starting to feel normal. Like the traffic. Driving in Italy is generally quite atrocious but in Naples you’re a pedestrian at your own risk. They don’t really have traffic lights to cross the road, just zebra crossings or scesci. You have to just step out and pray. The cars won’t stop, they’ll just slow down, hoping to just miss you as they speed past. But Naples is great practice for other places that live just as dangerously, like Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City, and years later when I visited these places I was very grateful of the practice. It never stops being terrifying, but you figure out how to read the traffic, and work with it rather than trying to part it like Moses.

I sat down for a long time at piazza Dante in a café. There were two men behind me having a sort of business meeting about the finances of the café. When I first got to Naples I was so terrified, so desperate to leave. Now I was so sad to be going. If someone asks me what I saw or did in Naples the truth is, I did nothing really. And although I saw a lot, it was nothing I could recommend, nothing worthy of a travel blog, but maybe worth a story, a story of people and day to day living in the world.

My last act in Naples, and Italy in general really was to go for real Neapolitan pizza. I had a slice of original pizza earlier, which is actually like thick sweet bread with tomato and cheese on top, but now was the time to go to a proper pizzeria, as recommended by google. There are obviously quite a few world class pizzeria’s in Naples but I chose to go to Da Pallone, because it was only a ten minute walk away on the via Nazionale. If only I had walked this way instead of in the opposite direction the other day, this part of town actually looked nice and classy! The pizzeria was cute and homely. It was pretty full but not too busy. There were two long tables at the front of the restaurant for solo diners, but they were mostly men. A business man, a young guy probably a student, etc. But for some reason my request for a table for one was somehow quite strange.

I had come across this before in Italy. A young woman dining alone just isn’t normal. The waiters look at you and repeat your question “per uno?” like they can’t possibly have heard you correctly. At first this made me uncomfortable and when eating alone I would devour my food as quickly as possible and then leave quietly out of embarrassment but over the years I have become accustomed to the solo life. The key is to do it with confidence. You are not a lonely cat lady who can’t get a date, you’re a smart, sophisticated woman who thinks she deserves a nice dinner and she’s not going to wait until some idiotic man offers her one. You’re an adventuress not a loner. Take a book, or write in a journal, look preoccupied and nonchalant. Staring at your phone makes you look like you’ve been stood up and are frantically trying to get in touch with someone. Smoking is excellent for these situations, not that I would recommend the risk of cancer just to look slightly less alone (I’ve recently quit). Smoking not only gives you something to do but, despite what everyone says nowadays, you definitely look cooler. Or you at least look like the kind of person who does not give a shit about your health warnings, your risk of second hand smoke or your dining conventions. Maybe not the kind of person you would wish to approach in a restaurant, but certainly one you wouldn’t pity. If you’re a confident person then none of this will matter to you anyway, and good on you for naturally not caring, if you’re not don’t worry confidence is easily learnt, or if all else fails, pride and sarcastic arrogance are good masks. In Italy, even this attitude does not leave you immune from commentary. Old men will share their despair that such a lovely girl is eating alone, and you’ll have to smile through like it’s a compliment, instead of a sexist opinion of female worth only being connected to whether or not a man buys her dinner. Waiters might take a dislike to you, especially if a place is busy and they have to turn away two paying customers for one. Especially if you order the cheapest thing on the menu, but how is it my fault that the vegetarian options are always the cheapest?

On cue the waiter asked me again if one was correct and he and his colleagues repeated “sola” amongst themselves four times as they tried to decide where to seat me. Eventually they put me on the front table, but not the same one where 3 single male diners were already seated. But I just wanted some pizza so I didn’t really care. Real pizza, authentic pizza, as I often pretentiously inform my friends when they question my choice of toppings, comes in two flavours: Margherita or Mariana- which is a Margherita with garlic. Toppings are a bastardization of true pizza, and in my opinion pretty unnecessary if the pizza is good enough. I ordered a Margherita and was greeted by possibly the largest pizza I had ever seen. The concern at me, a small girl, dining alone started to make a little sense beyond plain sexism. It was so delicious I ate way more than my poor stomach wanted me to, and even then I couldn’t finish it. I tried so hard but one more mouth full and the whole pizza would have ended up back on the table. Maybe I should take this moment to say, by all means, go to this restaurant. I’m no reviewer, and my story is told merely for entertainment, and pseudo-philosophical musings, not judgement or criticism.

As the waiter, a different one, younger and chubbier than the middle aged man who seated me, took away my plate he looked at me again and shook his head as if grieved “sola, sola.” All I could do was awkwardly smile and reply si, sola. My friends always ask me how I can travel on my own. Aren’t I lonely? As if loneliness, even for a second, was too unbearable for words. And if 'alone' automatically meant lonely. They shake their heads; alone, alone. One should never be afraid to be alone. I had been more miserable in the company of my friend than I had been alone on this trip. Yes, being with people is more enjoyable sometimes perhaps, but it’s also more stressful. And besides, company can be found in the strangest of places. Even on the streets of Naples, watching a gang fight, you can find a friend. Most people care about you, they might not even know you but they care, they care enough to give you a friendly smile, to give you directions, to share a bowl of risotto they’d made, to invite you to tag along with them on a day trip, to tell you their life story on a balcony in Venice. You’re only alone if you want to be. When I got up to leave, fully satisfied with my last night in Italy I didn’t feel sola, I felt libera.

Tags: da pallone, eating alone, naples, pizza, sola, solo

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