Home alone in Napoli

It happens several times each year that I leave Frank and Emma somewhere in the South of Europe to go and teach in Germany or elsewhere, but this is the first time that I will spend five days alone in Emma outside the UK. I have plenty of work to do, catching up with writing the blog and doing administrative work for the Tango Mango and other Tango-related matters. I’m also close enough to Napoli to go dancing if I’m a bit creative about how to travel there and back. The campsite, Castagnaro Parking, is about 12km from the city centre, easily reached by metro during daytime hours. It has everything I need – showers, internet and solitude. I’m pretty much the only camper there. There’s a hilly woodland behind the camp-site which on the first day I go and explore. Half way up the hill, I find a path that leads around the contour of the hill, so I decide to walk around the whole hill thinking I’d get back to my starting point. However, after about one hour of energetic walking, I get a chance to look over to the other side of the hill and realise that I’ve been walking around the outer contours of a huge crater – so instead of having walked an ‘O’, I’ve walked a giant ‘C’ and am nowhere near the starting point. Never mind, on the way back, I discover wild asparagus which I eat raw by the handful – so delicious!

dancing in Napoli

On the second day, I decide to brave Neapolitan traffic and cycle 10km down to the seaside to join an outdoor afternoon Milonga. It’s a lovely venue, a park inside a crater (Napoli has many of them!) and the music leads me the way to where a dance floor has been put on the lawn and around 100 people are dancing. Needless to say the event includes food (we’re in Italy!). Many people have brought their non-dancing friends or their children. There is a large field for the kids to run around and play football. Everyone is in a spring mood. The hosts welcome me heartily and assign an English-speaking woman to look after me. Paula is very nice – we get on very well, dancing and chatting about Tango in general and the Neapolitan scene in particular. Everyone is very friendly and I have no trouble dancing as much as I want with men and women. On the photo above, I am dancing with Pietro Paganelli, one of the organisers of Milongas in Napoli, and in particular of the one today.

Some say they saw me cycling along the road and thought who’s that crazy person cycling. They consider the traffic to be far too dangerous. I have to say, although there is indeed crazy driving on the road, none of it happened anywhere near me on my bike. I was the only cyclist I met in two hours of riding around Napoli, but I felt very much seen and accepted and made space for on the road – no nasty cutting or squeezing at all. I also made sure that I got back home in time before nightfall.

Next to the camp-ground is a group of interlinking houses inhabited by a large extended family. The first members we meet are Sarah and Francesca, two 16month old twins, and their grandmother. Next, we meet the mother, Asunta, who invites us to meet the rest of the family, so we are introduced to aunts, uncles, cousins and last but not least the twins’ great-grandmother Ottavia, aged 94 but still walking up and down the steep road between the houses, still bending down to pull grass for the chickens and never short of a feisty reply it seems, although we cannot understand all of what she says due to her strong Neapolitan accent. There is a lemon tree with the most gigantic lemons I’ve ever seen! Assunta, the mother of the twins gives us one as a present. We’ll have to wait until we are with a  group of people to eat this one!


There is also Ottavia’s  namesake, her 34 year young  granddaughter who I make good friends with. She wants to learn English and also Tango, so we exchange a private lesson or two for a trip in her car into the city to attend a Milonga. This time, it’s underneath a huge and beautiful shopping centre – the kind that look more like cathedrals than shopping malls. This one has a dance space underneath, complete with vaulted ceilings. Ottavia has been struck by the Tango spell. I recognize many people from the day before in the park. Paula is there too and we join her table. Various people take me to their teachers to introduce me. Everyone is very friendly and again, it’s not at all any trouble to be leading and following, dancing with women and men. I feel very much welcomed. This Milonga is a must to visit when dancing in Napoli, the venue is extraordinary, a round dance floor and vaulted ceilings!

check out these photos of the venue!

We drive back home, Ottavia full of the urge to learn Tango as fast as possible. I wish I could recommend her a teacher here, but although I was introduced to a number of them, I don’t know what their teaching is like.

Ottavia and I enjoy each other’s company, chatting across the fence in the mornings, and I’m invited twice to join the family for lunch. Our English lessons take us further into sharing details about our lives, our hopes and aspirations. I enjoy the close communication with another woman and I think for Ottavia it’s a welcome change to talk with a stranger, someone from outside her close-knit community.

I also use these days to intensify my violin practise, focusing on acquiring a more relaxed vibrato, as well as starting a 30-day Yoga challenge. It is such a joy to be able to open the door in the morning, find a sunny spot outside and roll out the mat for 30 minutes of stretching and core strength exercises and to align the mat to make the sun salutations real greetings.

Five days fly by in this manner and before I know it, Ottavia and I are in the car to pick up Frank from the airport. It’s very lovely to have him back and he’s looking great. The sun must have shone in France too :-)

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