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  • PAPERSKY #09 NAPLESPHOTOGRAPHY: PAPERSKY

Naples is Italy’s Living Room City

, 2004/04/25

Spaccanapoli is a popular downtown neighborhood in Naples, famous for its long narrow lanes that crisscross historic residential neighborhoods festooned with drying laundry. While we were shooting there, the owner of a religious art shop suddenly approached us. “Hey you, do you know Girolamo?” he asked. The Girolamo he was speaking of is Girolamo Panzetta, a famous television personality in Japan. He was born in Naples, and evidently he is a friend of the shop owner.

For many Japanese people, Girolamo is Italy. He was the first “real” Itailan icon to appear on the scene. The persona he presents on TV is the stereotypical image of a merry, chatty Italian, but to be fair, it is one that is appropriate for a good number of Naples’ residents. About another typically Italian character trait Girolamo once wrote,“southern Italians value their families greatly.” Girolamo’s sentiment brings to mind a scene from the 1972 classic “The Godfather” in which Marlon Brando’s mafia boss character gives the advice “spend time with your family!” The characters in the movie are depicted as rather exaggerated caricatures, with their vows of family allegiance, but in Naples, deep familial bonds, the kind that make one think that maybe those distorted families seen in mobster movies are real, actually exist. A pizzeria that we visited boasts 21 relatives working together in the business. Theirs is one of numerous small communities that are made up of people working in shops and professions that are handed down over generations. The history of these families is not fabricated or generalized. Rather, it is made of real, individual memories. This is the kind of history that I believe in.

The shopkeeper that we met in Spaccanapoli shuffled around the back of the store and brought out a Japanese copy of Panzetta Girolamo’s how to be Italian (Wani Bunko). He handed it to me and ordered me to read. I opened it and inside found several lines underlined in red marking a passage that seemed to be about the shopkeeper himself. When I mentioned to Joseph, another editor who was with me in Italy, that the shopkeeper wouldn’t understand my Japanese, he said, “Just read it!” So, feeling a little strange, I read it aloud. As the man listened to my words in a language that he couldn’t understand he nodded his head in agreement. His expression of happiness and contentment will forever be burned deeply into my heart.

PAPERSKY #09: NAPLES | family

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