Neapolitans mentality is not easy to understand.
To do that it could be necessary to retrace carefully many ages of history that the south, and Naples in particular, went through. History, experiences, culture, philosophy, coincidences and chance events as background worked together to forge folks or a race, I could say, unique and special.
It’s a matter of fact that as years go by fashion and culture are influenced and change adapting slowly but, in the Neapolitan people some atavistic characteristic endure in the time, being so strong and deeply rooted that could be considered a genetic factor even. Gesture, distrust, cunning and adaptability are the main example of those characteristics that evidently, evolution or development provided no improvement or repression in the time.
Surely, some cliché is now outdated and to forget like the false rumor that Neapolitans are, in general, goof-off. An old good story says: (literal translation)
There were four Neapolitans called: Everyone, Someone, Each and None,
Once an important piece of work needed to be done.
Everybody was sure that Someone would have done it.
Each could do it but in the end None did it.
So, Each blamed Someone because Nobody had done just what Each should have to carry out.
Nowadays, because the high unemployment rate a lot of young people go away just to find a job and it’s irrelevant and provocative to argue such a thesis.
Everywhere, work isn’t a thing most people like specially if we refer to unrewarding or hard ones – usual and popular in the past here – and it’s peculiar that in Neapolitan dialect many still use the term “toil” to mean “going to work”.
Under this point of view we may consider the famous phrase that the actor Eduardo De Filippo says in the comedy “Natale in casa Cupiello” (Christmas at Cupiello’s home) :
<Cuncè, che brutto suonno me sò fatto stanotte. Me sò sunnate che lavoravo…..>
(Concetta, what a bad dream I had tonight. I dreamed I was working….)
Naples is a “training for life”, an “university of life” where we all are performers or actors and the fun thing is that we don’t realize that even. The uniqueness marking Neapolitanism is in the frail border separating fact and fiction, fun and dignity. Sometimes this border overlaps making difficult the identification and giving back comedy and tragedy. The well-known “macchietta” (“odd character”) is a forerunner, an old theatrical tradition with sketches where the robust and colorful dialect becomes humorous through ribald and double senses.
In Naples anything becomes difficult but possible at the same time.
Do you remember the film “Il Giudizio Universale” (“The last Judgment”) of Vittorio De Sica?
In spite of the universality of its moral, it’s not a case that the film was produced by a Neapolitan and filmed in Naples. People are sure that the Last Judgment is arriving so, any bad cynic and sinful person is worried to expiate – at once – the one’s own sins in a sort of competition but, as soon as they hears that it is not true their usual life then go back as nothing happened!
Just a way to highlight the innate opportunism and adaptability of we Neapolitans.
< A famma fà scì ‘o lupo do’ bosco> (Hunger let wolf came out) is a way of saying meaning that the deprivations sharpen the wits… and for Neapolitans this is a rule. For example, there is no work or way to earn money – bizarre and absurd – that Neapolitans don’t have carried out o tried to put into practice.
“Simme ngegnuso e fantasiuse” (we are ingenious and imaginative) under this point of view.
Another distinctive element to leap out at the foreigner is our gesticulation, sometimes incessant. Probably, this is a characteristic of many Mediterranean people but, for Neapolitans it acquires a symbolic meaning and not a mimicry only. In some case, the hands gesticulation acquire such a form to come close to the art. Practically, “reading” the movements of the hands we can understand the sense of the talk between two fellow citizens. Evidently, our ancestors – for lack of knowledge and willingness – had to concentrate and summarize soon and good their dialogues. As others populations created dialogue patterns and expressions – based on drawings paintings and symbolism – in Naples, possibly, gesture and aphorisms (we can call Neapolitanism) improved in the time. Even the dialect is subject in the time to this simplification and adaptation and still going on. In the era of the SMS and with the input of some modern comedian (macchietta) also the dialect is changing according to new terms and social class. “Napule è…” “Naples is…” this too, making reference to the homonym Pino Daniele song whose lyric – among others phrases – says
Napule è mille culure……… (Naples is a thousand colors)
Napule è nu sole amaro…… (Naples is a bitter sun)
Napule è ‘na carta sporca … (Naples is a dirty paper)
nisciuno se ne importa e ognuno aspetta a’ ciorta….. (nobody care and everybody wait and hope)
Naples, where the ancient lives with the modern and probably, it’s this aspect too to hit the tourist.
All along, the presence of important and famous artists coming from anywhere in the world is the proof.
I read that the German philosopher Gadamer is popping over Naples from long and during the first visit in 1972, after a long walk in the old town, he said: <I never saw so much humanity!>
Naples is loved or detested without middle ways.
Unluckily, we are an on-going mix of good and bad things that in the end give no possibility to reach a conclusion. Neapolitans are friendly informal frank and generous but till a certain extent because expedience always is at the gate. A Neapolitan can be very open and sincere but can be reticent and conspiratorial as a Sicilian.
<L’occasione fa l’uomo ladro> (Opportunity makes the thief), this is because we all take precautions, always.
However, for better or for worse, in the end a good lunch and some good time can’t be lacking. It could be said: “….scurdammece ‘o passato, simme ‘e Napulè paisa!” (forget the past, fellows we are from Naples!) as a famous song says.
I think that this sort of superficiality and kindness sometimes have the purpose to ease the situation as a safeguard. Then it comes into play the trick and the wisdom of the Neapolitans that in the time, because the adversity, often turn nasty into rudeness and abuse. Aside from the organized crime (Camorra) that is not object of this talk, I would like that any fellow citizen will realize that even a simple paper chucked away in the street becomes a disaffection and insult towards the city and fellow citizen. We should change starting from the minor faults while – alas! – the wisdom is by now in the old proverb only. It is not easy because the deep rooted atavistic behavior I mentioned above and it needs a strong determination that must involve anybody starting from local institutions, school, security forces, upper class, clergy and storekeepers.
I finish this piecemeal chat with a beautiful Alessandro Siani sentence, a new fashionable comic:
“Naples is a not-sent postcard remained at the bottom of the boots (Italy), scrunched up, dusty and a little bit helpless but, alive. A living city waiting for a mayor that picks up it, clean out and lovingly send it all over the world.”