“Are you sure you know the way?”
“Is it really better than my way?”
“Yes.” Louder, wounded, exasperated, emphatic.
“Okay – your directions have got to be clear.” Ominous …
The tyres rattle and echo off the tunnel walls. It’s six o’clock in the evening, a bright, dark night and all of Naples seems in a rush to get somewhere.
I am the driver – he is the navigator.
We burst out of the tunnel on to the large roundabout of Piazza Sannazaro.
Obediently I take his left rather than my right, and swing round at the head of a wave of following traffic. Instantly there’s confusion.
Straight towards us, against the flow of roundabout traffic, comes one lone, ancient Fiat. Either we are wrong or the Fiat is wrong. Thankfully the raised, apologetic hand in the on-coming windscreen suggests the error is his.
We swerve past and bump on up into the narrow streets ahead.
So far tutto ok.
Then the parking doubles up on either side of us, and squeezes available road to a skinny thread. There’s no sign of the right turn we need – our best chances are all blocked to incoming traffic.
The car is forced higher and higher up the back of the city. Concern tickles as scooters, pedestrians, commuters and families multiply with every cobbled yard.
Finally, we see it – a right turn. We take it and then regret it. We need another right turn and there are none. Our one-way street triple parks its sides and refuses to let us right.
Then, finally, just before the steep left turn at its end there’s an unmarked opening headed the way we think we need to go.
We tip the nose of the small Peugeot downwards and speed on. Suddenly tutto not ok. Another dead end with only one option – an entrance into an over-parked cul de sac.
We edge down it in search of a place to turn when another car suddenly beams up out of the dark and heads straight for us. There’s no awkward bumper-off. We know we’ve lost. We clunk into reverse and bump our wing mirrors backwards in short, inexpert jabs.
I cling to the wheel – the navigator is on pause.
Somehow we manage an eight point turn in the steep handkerchief of the junction and head back up the narrow street we’ve just whooshed down. Thankfully no-one comes the other way. We pop out the top and turn left.
An error – this time a major error. Ahead of us stretches almost a km of tripled parked, one way street with an oncoming parade of headlights.
To turn or pause is not an option. We slink forwards, cram ourselves into gaps and pray for mercy. Shoppers stream to and fro as cars jink past or layer themselves into a kind of parking jigsaw alongside the small supermarket that rules the street.
It’s obvious that everyone apart from us knows exactly what they’re doing.
A large, brand new Range Rover, forced by us to do a couple of un-macho half hops to get past, winds down its window and from somewhere above us announces in polite Italian that, just in case we hadn’t noticed we’re going the wrong way up a one way street.
Apart from this no-one says a word in the whole chaos causing half-hour – no-one yells, no-one hoots, no-one even flashes their lights.
How can you not love a city that drives like this? On the Naples scale of problems-to-get-excited-about our inane driving skills hardly seem to register.
Naples’ drivers have their own priorities – to keep moving and to keep safe. The extraordinary is ordinary.
As for us – we did, eventually, manage to arrive together.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018