Naples, Italy 2011.
If you had only one day to spend in Naples, Italy around the Christmas holiday what would you do?
That was the question we asked ourselves on our cruise. Since we had been to Naples twice before visiting Pompeii, we decided to explore the city's center.
An Italian artist creating a nativity landscape... I wanted to flirt with his gorgeous-ness. But felt kinda silly considering he was creating a symbolic womb of Christianity, plus I am married, older, and do not speak more than ten words in Italian two of them being, "Bacio Qui... (Kiss here)". But oh, that strong arm of his covered up in his leather jacket. Gosh dang, those Italians have sexy style even when doing something religious!
Naples conjures images of dark handsome men in alleyways, women on balconies hanging out clothes, narrow streets running along colorful walls, church bells ringing next to wafts of garlic perfumed air and pizza dough swirling landing in wood burning ovens, while young and old gather outside hand in hand, arm in arm with full ruby lips that you want to kiss but cannot because they don't stop conversing, kissing, arguing and embracing conversation which seems nothing short of passionate foreplay.
I dream of being Italian: Long dark thick hair, a tiny waist, full bosom, walking with my hips to the beat of la Traviata.... conversing with my hands that say something simple like, "Do you want dinner?" but read life and death all in one twist of the wrist.
And so Chelsea and I set off for a day in Naples with three goals in mind:
1) To walk aimlessly soaking in the atmosphere.
2) I mentioned to Chelsea that I heard that during the Christmas season one should not miss the street where artist show their handmade nativity scenes. Though I had no idea where that stree tmight be. 3) Chelsea shook her head, "That's my mother," laughed and added, "I heard we should eat Pizza."
Without a map, we set out on foot direction, "Pleasure".
Noting a long line of Italians outside a pizzeria we took that as a sign of a good eatery.
While waiting in line I noticed they had a take out service on the side. We ordered a pizza. I asked if I could take photos (by motioning) they agreed, motioning back that I had to take a photo of them with Chelsea.
Between taking our order, calling it out, smiling, kneading the dough, his pinched Chelsea's behind. (Note expression on Chelsea's face above.) He laughed, we saw no harm and laughed too. We were in Naples, the pizza was incredible, life was good, and Chelsea swore there was cheese in the crust. It was tender, light, with the perfect chew factor. Though I knew there wasn't cheese in the crust, instead it was centuries of experienced hands that knew just how to knead and pinch.
Across the street from I Decumani I saw another line of people going in and out of a bakery. Most of them came out carrying Rum Baba. After dining on our pizza from I Decumani on a street bench we headed towards the Rum Baba line. My stomach screamed, "FULL ALREADY!" Though my taste buds hollered louder to my heart, "Only in Naples for one day!" Then even louder, "...Naples is home to Rum Baba!"
''Traditionally, if you went into a cafe, you'd see a bunch of old guys ordering pieces of plain cake and pouring shots of (rum) or limoncello over the top,'' said Arthur Schwartz, the radio show host and author of ''Naples at Table'' (HarperCollins, 1998).
Although most associate babas with France, the dessert is arguably even more popular in southern Italy, where babas probably date back to the 18th century. This is when Marie Antoinette's sister Maria Carolina married King Ferdinand IV of Naples, Mr. Schwartz said, and there was much cultural and culinary exchange between the two sisters in France and Naples." New York Times
To say it was the best Rum Baba I ever ate in my entire life is to say that Chelsea had to knock me out and drag me back to reality because I wanted to have ten more. Chelsea said, "Mother, focus! Seriously you cannot eat another one let alone ten." God, I don't like it when she gets all grown-up on me. I walked away with a trail of drool behind me.
I regret not having ten more, plus another pizza.
Video attached: How to make Baba Rum: Rum soaked cakes from the Neapolitan cookbook -- enjoy these boozy delights from GialloZafferano, Italy's #1 food website.
Naples is a feast not only for taste, but for the entire five senses. A paradise of living history. The architecture, the crowded streets, the people, the sounds dance to an underground beat mashed-up with opera. You never know what to expect, except pleasure without having to dress up.
Via San Gregorio Armeno, the Nativity street, came upon us with instant love and fascination.
The presepe or nativity scenes, or santons/creche in French, are a love of mine. Though the Italians take their presepe to whole new level. Numerous shops, and vendors pack the the street (Via San Gregorio) with creative, nativity figurines in splendor variations. Jesus, Madonna and Joseph are but one of many of the figurines you will find. Perfectly detailed copies of household objects, gastronomic delights, exotic animals, houses, hillsides, plants, plus accessories to create your own presepe. Rolls of cork to create the mountains, ready-to-place houses, wells, waterfalls, fountains, columns, trees, grasslands, bridges, towers.... most items are handmade in Naples. Of course you can buy a completed presepe with or without the nativity pieces.
The presepes on Via San Gregorio, in Naples.
Art, as is. Aren't they amazing?
And as the Holy Night would have it I stumbled across an antique shop selling old nativity scenes. I felt like one of the wise men coming to the stable. Joy! Holy Wonder! Praising the high heavens. Thank you baby Jesus.
As the sun set we hesitantly made our way back to the dock withour taste buds bursting
we were not ready to sail.... though the sea beckoned.