Saturday, August 27, 2011

Secrets of Naples

The cliff is in the foreground. It is the shorter one, but make no mistake, it was really high!
Why yes, I love to jump off of very high things!
Crowded much?

As the children chanted,"coward, coward, coward," and I watched with a disjointed glee as the last boy stood on the edge of the cliff, I floated on my back and gazed up at the sky. The boys treading in the water next to me stopped chanting and turned to give me multiple thumbs up...and then...with a, "AFANCULO!" that echoed off of the cave wall, the final boy flew like a cursing angel through the hot Italian afternoon and, PLOP! landed right next to me in the crystal clear water. I watched his bubbles precede him as he kicked to the surface and listened to all of the other boys shouting with joy. They couldn't believe they just jumped off that cliff. I couldn't believe I just jumped off that cliff! So, together, we swam around to the other side of the rocks, climbed up the front, ran along the top of the cave and...wooosh! Plunged over the 20 meter tall cliff again!

This is one of the secrets of Naples. Cliff-jumping.

Upon entering Miseno Beach, also known as the NATO beach, a feeling of suffocation came over me. First of all, it was crowded. There were hundreds of people, umbrellas, beach loungers, ice cream and cafe stands, and pieces of trash. There was music blaring through the speakers (everywhere!); a samba line to the left, screaming parents slapping their kids to the right, an old hairy man in a thong speedo laying in front of me. It seemed as though I had entered a hell of my own making. An Italian beach.

Regardless, with my eagle eyes (okay, I am blind, but I heard the screams...), I scouted out some cliffs about 1000 meters out in the water; there were people jumping off of them! I'd have to swim to get there; everyone had paddled out there in boats. Gauging the distance, I knew I could get there pretty quickly, so I went for it. I swam straight out to sea towards the boat buoys, then I turned left towards the cliffs. As I got closer and closer, I could see that the front side of the cliff wasn't too high. A lot of teenagers were climbing up the face and jumping off the rocks, so I did the same. I didn't understand why I had heard screams all the way from the beach, because this 10 meter tall cliff was not currently producing any screams. Then, just as I thought, "okay, I have had enough," I looked up and saw that some boys were standing higher up on the rocks. Were they jumping off the back side?!

Without thinking much, I followed some speedo-clad Italian teens up the rocks. There were about 10 or 15 teenage boys standing on the edge of the cliff, peering over. I walked towards them and immediately got butterflies. There was a cave down there; it looked to be about 20-25 meters below us. All of the boys were looking over the side and muttering to each other in Italian. I looked over the side and lost my breath. I thought, "The water looks deep, so I probably won't hit the bottom if I jump." I walked away from the side of the cliff laughing nervously.

I reasoned with myself.

I couldn't jump! I just jumped off of some rocks on the Adriatic Coast a week before and hurt my ankle because the water was too shallow. Did I want to make it worse? I can't jump. Am I crazy? I don't know how deep the landing area is...I don't know how close I'll come to the rocks. I can't jump. None of the boys are jumping, they must know that it isn't deep enough down there. I could kill myself! I can't jump.

Then, the breeze blew through my hair, the sun shined down on my face, the boys stopped talking, and all I could hear was the water lapping against the cliffs.

I am free to do whatever I want; I am going to jump.

Breathing in deeply, eying the edge of the cliff, and looking towards the gap in between the boys standing in front of me, I started to sprint. As I got closer to the edge, I could see the cave below...then...air above me, water below me...I was flying! And screaming...loudly! I screamed that scream all the way out of my lungs, took another deep breath, thought about the lightness of my being at that moment and then..."crack!" I hit the water. I went deeper and deeeper, slower and slower, then the bottom greeted me; the sand was soft. I pushed off the bottom, broke the surface and screamed again. Looking skyward, I started giggling as boys were now plummeting over the cliff all at once. Boom, boom, boom!!! Three boys jumped right after me and joined me in the water.

We all looked up towards the cliff where the other boy remained. With a little coaxing, he too became an apparition, flailing through the air and eventually smacking down in the warm, wavy sea. Once all of us were in the water, we swam around, climbed the rocks, and jumped again.

After I had gotten my fill of the cliff, I swam blissfully back to the crowded beach. At that point, I didn't care about the chaos surrounding me. At that point, I was free.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Welcome to Naples

Sunset over Naples
Just trying to fit in!
I am sweating with anticipation.
Neghombo Beach, Ischia Italy

Startled last night by an earth-shattering boom, I woke up smiling because I knew that I was not being stirred out of slumber by a possible Taliban attack or suicide bombing. Tossing my legs over the side of my bed onto the cool, clean tile of the apartment floor, I ambled over to the window and rolled up the garage-like shutter door and glanced over the water towards Naples proper. When I opened my sleepy eyes, I saw a fireworks display more elaborate than the fourth of July in any American town; apparently this is an everyday occurrence in this part of Southern Italy. With a sigh of satisfaction, I thought, "Welcome to Naples!"

The past few days have been an exercise in extreme opposites compared to my life about two and a half weeks ago. Here, it is strange to see a women covered by more than a stringy bikini on the beach, or wedge high heels, shorts (or a mini skirt) and a tank top in the city. Topless little girls ride their bikes in the street; their curly, sun-bleached hair blowing in the breeze, screaming with glee as they remove their feet from the pedals and let gravity take them where it may.

The grown-up ladies are strong, beautiful, and loud, and nobody gives them trouble about it. American women can take a lesson from the Neapolitan women, no matter what their shape or size, the women of Naples can all be seen letting it all hang out on the beaches. My friend Jess and I agreed that there are probably very few eating disorders and body image issues in this area. Why?

Reason one: the food is too good to care!

From amazingly rich, yet light pastries, every flavor of gelato your heart may desire, to "mozerella di buffala," the pizza, OH! the pizza!, amazingly smooth olive oil, and mouth-wateringly-cooked meat of all varieties, all of it is too good to resist. Combine that with the crispy fresh produce and juicy summer fruits and you would stop restricting your diet too.

Reason two: the beaches are too good to care!

As you can see by the picture above, it is absolutely beautiful here. The water is clear and warm; the fish curious; and the beaches clean. Though beach guards (or are they beach salesmen?) attempt to charge you for everything from your chair and umbrella to the sand where you put down your towel, being on a beach in the surrounding cities and islands near Naples is a little slice of heaven. There is no time to think about your butt rolling out of that thong bikini, you just slap on some tanning lotion (or oil?) and run for the sea, pizza in hand.

That is what I will be doing!

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