Living with your back to death with your hands clinging to life. The Neapolitans have been entrusted every September 19 for centuries to Saint Gennaro, their patron. They go to the cathedral and solemnly wait for the bishop to raise the tabernacle with a few drops of the saint’s blood. You hold your breath. It is September and the heat and humidity that summer has left still tend to stick. The women cool off with the fans, another Spanish heritage, and the men consult the schedule for the next Napoli game. Then the bishop exclaims. The blood has been liquefied! What was a solid mineral has been transformed into a liquid just out of the wound. The liquefaction of the blood of Saint Gennaro has been going on for four hundred years and there is no science or logic that can tear down the walls of faith around it.
The religion that Naples exudes is popular, dotted with superstitions so old that the traveler already considers them a modernity. Creeds and mysteries are added to the city. The latter is at the height of the best legends that roam the nights of the world. We are talking about Vlad Tepes, known as the historical Dracula, who after being kidnapped by the Ottomans on the battlefield, found his bones on the grave of his son-in-law, of the Ferrillo family. This means that researchers discovered that in the cloister of the church of Santa María la Nova, between the port and the Spanish Quarter, the bones of the vampire rested. The only thing that Naples needed to keep from falling asleep.
It was not enough for him to view Vesuvius every day, threatening and beautiful at the same time. Or the Flegrean Fields, another volcano located on the coast and rising at a worrying speed. The city needs strong emotions. From the Plaza del Plebiscito the Neapolitan world already promises a vision between decadent and artistic. Naples survives destruction at every step. Its streets are dirty. The buildings look like they came out of a bombing. Traffic collapses the old town and engulfs it in a fog of pollution. But there are few avenues in the world with as much life as Via Toledo, where the color of its palaces does not fit into the pantone. Coffee shops proudly display the best coffee in the world. They are not presumptuous at all. When the traveler tastes the black pleasure in his fiery cups, he knows that there is even modesty.
AND The Spanish Quarter is the best example of what Naples is. An open-air market, where you can buy any type of goods, as if we were in Cairo or Calcutta. Vendors display their wares and exhibit the art of oratory seduction. They are able to sell their home and make a short-term profit. Their faces are old and sunburned. It is perfectly understood that Caravaggio abandoned Roman pageantry and hid among the Neapolitans. He dedicated himself to painting saints and virgins with the same physiognomy as the fishermen and whores who walked through the Spanish Quarter.
The pantheon of Naples is completed with Maradona. And this fact portrays how needy the Neapolitans are for gods. As if their baroque churches weren’t enough. The soccer player left the city thirty years ago but his divine halo still remains. At the door of a church, the writer observed a small shrine painted blue. I thought it was a typical saint of ancient centuries and when he got closer he discovered that it was a Maradona hair, guarded by candles and plastic flowers. Meanwhile, a wedding was taking place and the children used the door through which the bride entered, dressed in white, as a gatehouse.
AND The important thing is to have faith. Determine what and for how long it is the least. Perhaps the only invariable religion the city has had has been gastronomy. There are few places in the world where you can eat better. And this is not a cliché. It was in Naples that Queen Margaret of Savoy herself, in 1889, asked to taste the food of the poor. The cook, Raffaelle Esposito, had it easy: dough, tomato, mozzarella, basil, salt and oil. The palate of the poor is refined in the capital of Campania.
Hopefully the city can leave behind the darkest moment in its history, the one that lives with the Camorra and that affects all its streets. It would be the miracle you need. And we must not underestimate the power of God in this city, which makes the liquefaction of the blood of Saint Gennaro possible every year. The problem is that the God of Naples does not like heroics. May the traveler, while awaiting divine action, read Saviano or Erri de Luca. His books are the best transcript of Naples on paper. And you don’t have to wait once a year for it to happen. In any case, it is worth the messy world that its streets breathe. Despite the price to pay.