Living in Pozzuoli isn’t really living at the dodgy end of Italy at all but as una mezza-Veneziana, I’m (almost) comedically obliged to paraphrase a quote from one of my favourite films (Love Actually)!
I should point out that I don’t in any way subscribe to the Lega Nord notion of the North being superior to the South but I can tell you that after living in Pozzuoli for a short while, I did notice several marked differences between Puteoli (as those lovely Romans named it) and Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta.*
(*Venetian does not use double consonants – la Serenissima is Italian… there’s a difference.)
Perhaps the biggest difference (apart from the smell, which I’ll come to in a bit) is all the noise. In general, Venetians – thanks to centuries of living in such close proximity to each other – have a very developed sense of privacy, and are, in my opinion, far more reserved and quiet than the average person in the South.
Especially in Pozzuoli.
(Also, for the record, Venetians are not ill-mannered, as some tourists like to claim. The same cannot be said of some tourists.)
It’s not unusual for people in Pozzuoli to shout across the alleys to each other, or to hold a conversation with one person three floors up, while the other is at ground level. Or even to stand under a window, and call someone’s name instead of ringing their doorbell.
People in Pozzuoli are loud.
Sometimes it felt as though we were living in the land of caricatures and stereotypes. All those things you see cartoon Italians doing and saying seem to happen there. It appears that Pozzuoli is populated by what non-Italians would think of as ‘typical’ Italians.
Passione was, I suspect, coined to describe the people of Campania.
The Bells, The Bells
We lived right by chiesa Sacro Cuore (church of the Sacred Heart), and the bells went off on the hour, every hour. It was brilliant, especially at noon when they were particularly enthusiastic. However, I do have to say that they did sound a bit tinny and flat… Venetian church bells, on the other hand, are sonorous, and I do prefer them.
Still, honestly, despite being irreligious, it nevertheless filled me with comfort to hear the hourly bells.
There seemed to be no problem with people playing music loudly either; on a daily basis we heard drum practise from an apartment across the alley, ’80s pop from another apartment, and someone, somewhere had the good taste to blare out a variety of classical music. A man who lived across the courtyard to us sang to himself… loudly and beautifully. He was a real joy to hear.
It took a bit of getting used to – not least because we’d spent the previous nine months living in rural Slovenia, which is exceptionally quiet… to the point that there are regulations regarding how much noise you can make after 10 pm.
Not so in Pozzuoli; it’s a free-for-all.
Having said that, with a few exceptions, it was actually pretty quiet at night, which is no mean feat, since our apartment was spitting distance from the lungomare (seafront), where there are lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants.
One of the biggest downsides however, was the way that sound travelled throughout the palazzo we lived in, and the fact that no Italian seems to remove their footwear when indoors. I’d even hazard that Anna Maria, who lived in the apartment above us, actually kept her stilettos by her bedside, and put them on the minute she rose.
Another downside was that unlike us, most of the population of Pozzuoli is nocturnal. Yes, we’d go out for la passeggiata in the evenings, and we’d eat late (an Italian habit I’ve had all my life), but would always be tucked up in bed while our neighbours were out partying.
People partied seven nights a week.
In the five months we lived in Pozzuoli, I did not have one single unbroken night’s sleep, thanks to the aforementioned neighbours coming home between 3-4am, slamming the front door (despite the sign asking people to not do so), clip-clopping up the marble staircase, slamming their apartment door, clip-clopping across their wooden floors, dragging furniture around (maybe they only had sofa beds, which needed to be pulled out each night).
Consideration for one’s neighbours was non-existent.
After we moved out, our landlord moved back in, and turned the apartment into a music venue. I’m glad we were not his neighbours!
These observations are not in any way a complaint about the noise; on the contrary, I really didn’t mind it… as long as it wasn’t keeping me awake!
While Pozzuoli was certainly noisier than we’d become accustomed to, all of life is there, as they say, and while it may attract tourists (mostly other Italians), the day to day noise is a reminder that this is a living, breathing town, filled with people who are simply going about their daily business.
In some ways Pozzuoli felt like a mix of the places we lived in Morocco and India… but with a vastly easier language, and an alphabet we could read!
Something else I noticed was how different the accent and speech patterns were. Neapolitan lingo seems so much more laid back, and the accent is very pronounced. I spent five months waiting for someone to say, “Shaddappa you face”!
(By comparison, Venetians don’t have much of an accent – well, not to my ears, anyway.)
Another big difference I noticed between Pozzuoli and Venezia is that modesty seems to not be a word in the Southern Italian lexicon; while I am absolutely all for people dressing entirely to please themselves (heck, I do), the amount of exposed flesh and underwear on show did take a bit of getting used to.
Actually, if I’m honest, I never got used to it.
I have a nagging suspicion that there’s a small part of me which feels a tad envious of the carefree attitude there… I suspect that all of our years living in conservative countries (Morocco, India, Thailand etc.) had an effect upon what I now consider being appropriately-clad. I realise that it’s likely a failing on my part that my immediate reaction upon seeing a middle-aged, bra-less woman in a diaphanous electric pink frock, with her thong clearly visible, walking along the high street, is to feel a little taken aback!
Unlike in Venezia, this end of the country has the most wonderful pizza. Of course it does – we were a stone’s throw from Napoli, the oft-espoused home of the best thing you can do with some dough, a tomato, and a bit of basil.
There is no shortage of greengrocers in Pozzuoli, and mini-markets with sizeable fresh produce sections, which was of course, brilliant news for two people who don’t eat meat.
Our favourite greengrocer was about seven minutes’ walk away, and run by an old man who proffered samples of his most delicious soft and stone fruit for us to try. In our first week there, amato mio and I munched our way through 9kg of fruit and 3kg of fresh baby plum tomatoes. This was in addition to all the other fresh veg and salad we were eating.
We really took advantage of locally-grown food and low prices. €2,50/kg for fresh cherries – sì, I was totally all over that!
The only downside of our greengrocer was that we never knew when he was going to be open. Most shopkeepers in Pozzuoli close around 13h, reopen at 16h, and don’t shut up for the evening until 20h; some however, including, it seemed, our greengrocer, re-open when they feel like it. I can’t say I blame them, I would love to have that kind of attitude toward work… but if I did, I’d have no work.
And then I couldn’t gorge myself on fresh cherries.
Fortunately, we also had a good family-run mini-market close by, which seemed to have somewhat more comprehensible opening hours.
At first the owners weren’t overly friendly but after a week or so, suddenly they opened up, and started chatting (in Italian of course – English is rarely spoken) – asking us whether we were actually living there, how long would we be staying, etc. And then whenever I bought fruit and veg there, the elderly woman who always served me would throw in free herbs. Barring that first week, I almost never bought herbs the whole time we lived in Pozzuoli!
I do actually think a contributing factor to this growing acceptance may have been me removing my dreads – I suspect I ceased to look quite so intimidating once I no longer had green hair!
Not much I could do about the fact that I towered over most people there though. It’s a common story, and in fact, outside Britain, the only place we’ve lived where we’ve not felt like Hagrid and Madame Maxime was in Belgrade (Serbia).
Having seen our first winter in years when we lived in Slovenia, and then spending a few cold, grey, and frankly, damp, days in Britain, prior to moving to Pozzuoli, I can say with complete honesty that it was so wonderful to be back in the warm.
If there’s something this part of Italy has, it’s shedloads of sunshine. In the five months we lived there, it rained once – for about 30 minutes. Temperatures were around 36°C, although with the humidity, it often felt so much hotter. However, because buildings there are built close together, creating air-flow channels between them, and because the walls are over half a metre thick (these are after all, converted palazzi), they are pretty good at staying cool. In fact, the entrance to our building, which has a marble staircase and stone floor, bordered on the chilly, even in the hottest weather.
That said, by the time Ferragosto came around (August 15th), we’d actually bought a fan!
The downside of the humidity and warmth, is of course, the mosquitoes. I think I am doomed to live out my days being a walking feast. And unlike in Thailand, there were no jingjoks to eat them, so we were rarely able to have our windows open.
(When we lived in Chiang Mai, we met Dr Rampa Rattanarithikul, the world’s foremost taxonomist on all things mosquito. Like me, she gets eaten alive but she told me that it’s a sign of good fortune to be ‘blessed’ with a mosquito kiss. To be honest, I’d be very happy to not be quite so fortunate. I certainly didn’t feel terribly fortunate when I contracted dengue fever back in 2013.
Still, the thing to do is to not complain about being bitten but appreciate that it’s actually a privilege; many people never get the opportunity to leave their home environs, much less go to live in different countries, so in a way, I suppose Dr Rampa was right – I am a very fortunate person.)
As I mentioned earlier, we found at first that despite their openness and familiarity with each other, people were a little reserved around us (maybe around other outsiders too) but it really didn’t take long for the ice to break.
Our local pizza place, which was almost outside our front door, is a case in point; it didn’t take long for the owner to know what we liked to eat and drink. Pretty soon he would laugh and and joke around with us… although I did learn to not joke around with him about having ‘molto grande vino’ because instead of pouring a me large glass, he’d open a bottle!
His mother was especially lovely, and very often if she saw us out walking, would come over, and give me a big hug and kiss my cheeks. Three times. That’s the Neapolitan way!
Our landlord, Stefano, was lovely too. When we arrived in Pozzuoli, he welcomed us with a large bag of fresh fruit, and was the very soul of helpfulness after we moved in. He even took us out to the opening night of his friend’s exhibition in Napoli because I’d previously made a comment about how much I enjoyed his work.
As it turned out, Raimondo Castronuovo was just as friendly, as were the other guests and artists there.
Some of Raimondo’s sculptures can be seen in the video above. (And yes, that’s Stefano!)
We also regularly encountered random acts of kindness from strangers at the Metro station, and from other customers in shops. At the local mini-market I mentioned earlier, the man on the deli counter (who was, I think, the son of the lady who gave me herbs), used to invite me to stay awhile, for espresso and a chat. And much tasting of all the different olives he sold!
As a lover of all things ancient Roman, one of the reasons I was so keen to live in this part of the country was all the ruins which litter the region. Ruins, which in most cases, are largely overlooked by tourists. We were hoping to visit Pompeii and Ercolano (Herculaneum) but we just didn’t have time.
We did however, do a lot of exploring to do within Pozzuoli itself, where ancient ruins are legion.
THE TYRRHENIAN SEA
Or Mar Tirreno as it is in Neapolitan.
Named by the Greeks for the Etruscans – the non-Greek people of the area, who settled in what was to become Tuscany. The deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea flows out of the bay and into the Mediterranean, and sparkles so much in the sun that it looks as though its surface is made of diamonds.
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that Tyrrhenian sounds very much like Mediterranean. 😉
Unfortunately, because many people in Pozzuoli don’t seem to give a toss about their environment, and leave their litter everywhere, the sea was just too dirty for us to risk swimming in. The beach was no better; despite there being a ton of litter bins, people still just left their crap all over the place.
(I say beach… I do actually mean huge boulders of volcanic rock.)
And speaking of crap, I’ve never lived anywhere where there’s so much dog mess. Again, people just don’t clean up. To be fair, Pozzuoli wasn’t horrendous – I’m just not used to seeing dog poo on the streets.
Bagnoli, just along the coast was much worse, though. Easily the most gross and stinky place I’ve ever visited in my life. In fact, it was so bad, that one evening, despite having walked there with the intention of going out for dinner, it was so disgusting, that we turned around, and went to our usual pizza place back in Pozzuoli instead.
Which brings me neatly to…
… and the smell I mentioned at the beginning of this post, which, when the breeze is blowing down toward the sea, permeates everything. Do I need to tell you what this means for me, someone with acute hyperosmia? Let’s just say that I was very grateful for our double-glazed, well-fitting windows. The smell still got in but it was bearable.
You might think then, that an overabundance of rotting eggy stench would keep me away from the volcano… you’d be wrong. How many people do you know who get to visit a volcano which is a 40 minute walk from their front door? I’m so glad we checked it out because it was really cool!
Pozzuoli – The Dodgy End Of Italy
While Pozzuoli may not have been the most salubrious of places we’ve lived, and certainly not the quietest, it absolutely didn’t lack in character. And neither did its inhabitants.
In some ways it reminded me of some of the seaside towns in the South East of Britain… only with far superior food.
And Roman ruins!