Naples: Where low climbed out of a volcano and whupped high upside the head.

Pan and the Goat: The Romans had remarkable taste in garden statuary, such as this 24″ high marble depiction of Pan getting frisky with a member of the genus Capra at the National Archaeological Museum. (Photos by San Suzie.)

Despite warnings in every Italian guidebook that we would be pick-pocketed, run over by a motorino, threatened by camorristi, or just plain hosed by restaurant owners and taxi drivers, last weekend we decided to go to Naples to pay homage to the birthplace of the pizza and the baba au rum. A 2,800 year-old seaport founded by the Greeks, conquered by the Romans, Spaniards and Bourbons (the Neapolitans are quick to tell you that they are a thousand years older than Rome), Naples is the veritable promised land of high and low culture. It’s a place where you can see two of the greatest Caravaggio masterpieces (1 and 2) within a stone’s throw of graffiti-covered baroque buildings whose stucco is literally falling to the ground.

Our plan was to grab a few of the sublime slices at the nearly 300-year-old Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba and then head over to the archaeological museum to ogle the Roman pornographic art — contained in a titillatingly hilarious permanent display known as the Secret Cabinet. (Boy, did we get an eyeful!) In addition to admiring all the ancient erections, there were plenty of other things to take in during our visit to Naples as well: the glittering Mediterranean, the medieval castles (complete with round turrets and crenelated tops), the volcano that destroyed Pompeii and the hundreds of cioccolato caldo stands where you can stuff your face with sfogliatelle, ricotta cheesecake, and mini-babas for about $2.

In Naples, you can not only see the life-sized bust that houses the actual lopped-off head of San Gennaro (a.k.a. Saint Januarius) at the Duomo, but also admire a vial of his blood that miraculously liquifies at various times of the year. All this in a city where motorino drivers, piled three to a bike, drive so unnervingly fast, you are encouraged to look both ways even when crossing the sidewalk — or face a martyrdom of your own.

Click on images to supersize. More after the jump.

We began the day with buffalo mozzarella, mushrooms, basil, and tomatoes on a perfectly-rendered crunchy-chewy crust. Divino!

We then made our way over to the historic erections at the National Archaeological Museum, where we spent an inordinate amount of time in a separately-housed erotica section, the Secret Cabinetdoing “research,” of course!

Do me like that: More treasures from the Secret Cabinet.

A Roman boner: Simple, to the point, downright modernist in gesture.

Members Only: Relaxing in the shadow of Vesuvius, ca. 79 AD.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Proof that the Romans were as thoughtful in their scrawl as we are in ours: The ancient graffiti on this Pompeiian mural reads along the lines of, “Taking a shit makes you feel lighter.” Wise words, indeed.

Modern Neapolitan hieroglyphics.

There will be rum: We ate several portions of this, the original Baba, a light airy sponge cake soaked in 80 proof stuff (see the 5/6 empty bottle on the right).

The masterpiece of all masterpieces: Caravaggio’s The Seven Acts of Mercy, inside Pio Monte della Misericordia. We were probably still drunk on Baba when we saw this.

In Naples, even the street art depicts gory acts of martyrdom.

The Neapolitan version of Ground Hog Day: When San Gennaro’s blood liquifies, a cannon is shot from the 13th c. Castel Nuovo.

More doilies than Grandma’s house: A Neapolitan child dressed up for the local Mardi Gras festivities.

Vesuvius in the distance. Is it my imagination, or is that mountain smiling?


  1. Vidalia

    I can’t decide if I’m more excited about the prospect of meeting one of the models for the pipe on the streets of Naples or running into the Saint Sebastian.

  2. Yvonne Connasse

    Darling SS – as much as I enjoy a good smutty work of art, it was shockingly the baba au rum that had me drooling…go figure.

  3. San-suzie

    I know what you mean, Yvonne. And that’s why I’ve had to buy a whole buncha new pairs of pants.

  4. Joanne Mattera Art blog

    Thanks for this, C. Napoli is my favorite city in the world.

    Re the Secret Cabinet: About 20 years ago I tried to bribe my way in (the doors used to be locked, and money was the key) but, no, they wouldn’t let women in. Times have changed. I got to see what all the fuss was about a few years ago.

    Those big-boned guys are hilarious, no? I think the message is Be Careful What You Wish For.

    If you’re still in Napoli, be sure to look for the beautiful Diana of Ephesus, aka Artemis, on the first floor of the museum, she of the (many) alabasater breasts, into whose flowing garments are carved all the animals of the world. And don’t listen to the docent who will tell you those breasts are meant to be testicles (!)

  5. San-suzie

    We saw the Artemis, Joanna. She is wonderful. And having been a museum tour guide myself, I never listen to what they have to say. If you like Napoli, btw, you should try Havana sometime. If and when they ever let us go there legally.

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