Naples, The Beauty And The Horror
Luigi De Magistris, a left-leaning former prosecutor, was the latest would-be savior for the troubled Italian city. But look around, things in Naples are worse than ever.
“The monastery of Santa Chiara has a dark dark heart, but why, why every evening, do I think of how Naples was, how Naples is.”
NAPLES — Some considered him the “Sun King,” when he was elected in 2011. Luigi De Magistris, the left-wing mayor of both the most beautiful and ugly place on earth, now must manage a city teetering on the brink of economic collapse after the Court of Auditors rejected his 10-year plan to balance Naples' finances.
What happened to the man they thought would be their Messiah? Two and a half years after his election, De Magistris appealed to President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, so that Naples would not be reduced to ruin. Is the end of an era far away?
View of spaccanapoli (c) from Castel Sant'Elmo. Photo by marioriccio via Instagram
“If he wants to know how we are doing, I’ll tell him: we’re like these courtyards,” says Renato Nunziatelli, a middle-aged plumber, adding — “follow me.”
We go to Via Benedetto Croce — known better as spaccanapoli, the street that “splits” the city — to the convent of Santa Chiara, a masterpiece commissioned by King Robert of Anjou, just a few dozen meters away from where the tour buses stop. The walls of the basilica are filthy, covered in blue paint and black soccer-team graffiti. Three steps alongside the church lead to two courtyards.
The first is closed by a gate and inside it are empty cans and plastic bags. This scattering of garbage is in one of the most prestigious dumps on the planet. The stench of urine is unbearable and it’s the same a bit farther up in the alley of San Pietro a Majella. Scooters whiz past, their passengers without helmets, others smoking cigarettes loiter on the sidewalk.
The second courtyard is a haven of oleanders, if you can manage to avoid looking at the empty wine bottles, remains of a DVD, and syringes. A stumbling man climbs out of a bush, swearing. “It’s like the Berlin Zoo here," my guide quips. "The drug addicts come to shoot up.” Welcome to Naples, indeed.
It’s raining now, and water begins to soak the mattress that’s resting on the wall, the dirt washing off the cobblestones and forming pools on the bags that are resting on the dumpsters.
The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, but Pietro Treccagnoli, a journalist for Il Mattino newspaper, notes that the UN organization may withdraw its sponsorship because of the deepening degradation. "It’d be the first time in history,” says Treccagnoli.
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Outside the main train staion. Photo by SpirosK photography via Flickr
It goes without saying that all of this, as much as one can summarize such a complex situation, can’t escape the fault of the mayor. The social fabric is so uneven: Both the poverty and aristocracy follow you from the train station at Piazza Garibaldi up to the highest perch of the city at the Castel Sant’Elmo fortress.
Along the train tracks outside Naples' train station. Photo by 77alis via Instagram
The economist who had been De Magistris' budget commissioner, Riccardo Realfonzo, before resigning in protest, said that the Court of Auditors has done exactly what he'd recommended more than a year ago. “The city is broke.”
Realfonza says the entire public sector needed to be overhauled, with major job cuts and new priorities. "Instead, we’ll have to have the highest taxes on public services in Italy,” he says. Why? The answer that Realfonzo gives is fierce: “Because De Magistris is a character from an operetta. He doesn't know basic arithmetic.”
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Photo by Michael Tinkler via Flickr
Former mayoral candidate Roberto Fico is pitiless against the first citizen of the city. “He presented himself as the new era for the city, but has fallen into the old, broken models of Italian politics. There’s a lack of transparency and citizens are uninvolved.”
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Photo by chrisjohnbeckett via Flickr
Meanwhile, back at City Hall, De Magistris has said that these have been the most difficult hours since he took office, but he swears that the city will rise again. Two and a half years ago there were 2,500 tons of waste on the streets of this city, but not any more. “We run a city with a half billion euros worth of debt but we still haven’t fired anyone. In truth, that’s not much short of a miracle. But we can’t be held responsible for the previous budget deficit. Get rid of 3,000 people? That would create an uncontrollable social unrest. It won’t happen.”
There are scars on all this city's architecture, but it’s here at Piazza Bellini where the contrast between the absurd and the sublime reaches its apex. A woman points out the inside of the Greek-style walls, a dump for the last millennium.
“The mayor didn’t involve the healthy forces for the city — the world of culture. But, perhaps in this failure the city will be reborn. We are bent, not broken. Naples is immortal and it’s good that you know it now,” concludes Maurizio de Giovanni, a writer.
Not long after, nearby, a boy drops a bottle of beer. The sound of the shattering glass sends a shiver down my spine.