“I don’t see how an American can ask me if Naples is safe!”
Bonnie Alberts is an American, a well-travelled American, who has lived in Naples, Italy for a decade.
“I don’t understand the reputation – it’s a breathing, working city.”
Bonnie sent me directions on how to find her for the interview – they were very Naples. They took me just beyond the junction of the vicoletto and the vico, (both with the same name), to the shop sign. There I rang the buzzer to her apartment in the palazzo above.
A door opened to a courtyard, where the directions then led me to another doorway and a flight of stairs. I could hear Bonnie way before I could see her.
Her small apartment, full of art and warmth, looks out over the narrow street in Chiaia where I had just pressed the buzzer – it felt a whole treasure hunt further away.
“For the first five years we were in Posillipo with balconies overlooking the Bay but we wanted to be in the centre.”
She describes those first five years on Posillipo as a welcome “step back in time” but “we did not know that another, more modern, Naples existed.”
Now they are in the midst of change.
“There is plenty of modern stuff going on in Chiaia and my sense is that the younger generation has travelled and is bringing ideas back …”
However, she adds: “… many people are just trying to put food on the table and for them it is hard to see the long term benefits.”
Her impression of the city as a whole?
“I’ve never lived anywhere that I’ve seen people with so much pride in their city. It is a heart thing, it is ‘bella Napoli’ – there is a great affinity for the beauty of the city … This city has been the home, the ancestral roots, for people for generations.”
Had there been any surprises when she arrived.
“What surprised me was what people were saying. I don’t think people realize the impact of negative comments they make.”
Bonnie gave the example of a lady she met at a conference who waxed lyrical about her own town and then scorned Naples: “That pit – I would never live there.”
Bonnie’s voice is rich with frustration: “She hadn’t even been to the city. I just could not figure it out and that’s when I started to work on this website.”
The website, constantly updated and in English, is Napoli Unplugged.
There is also a book, the Napoli Unplugged Guide to Naples, published in 2015 which has four authors – Bonnie is one of them. The book is not a typical skeletal, functional guide; rather it illustrates, photographs, knows and reveals Naples.
I ask Bonnie about her background. Her first career was to do with electronics and hardware configuration; then, she moved towards the arts by way of an interior decoration business followed by a degree in historic preservation.
All that was before Naples – the city her husband had known all his life and that he longed to return to.
They arrived together in 2005.
What does she enjoy the most about life in the city?
“The people – there is an absolute appreciation of life. They appreciate the sun, they appreciate the sea, they appreciate having food on the plate … regardless of what else is going on. And, in the most part, they will always look out for you.”
Her advice for visitors is to start any visit at Castel Sant’Elmo: “I love the views from there”.
And then to: “explore the stairways”.
“The thing is that when people get here the city is last on their list … they’re propably going to go to Pompei, Capri, Amalfi Coast. But Naples is one aspect of the region that merits its own exploration. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. You need at least a week or more …”
She says that part of the reason the city merits such time is that it is built on hills.
“.. so that you have to get up to look down; you have to get out to sea to look back; and you have to look up. It is eye candy. And then you can go underground.”
The interview, on a beautiful January morning, ends with a stroll on the Lungomare in glistening sunshine. A few young couples linger by the sea.
“Most of them are leaving not because they want to leave but because there is no work here.”
Bonnie is in no doubt that “the society is changing rapidly”.
Perhaps the developments and the new interest in Naples – “they had a record number of people on the Lungomare for New Year’s” – will bring enough opportunity, and the right opportunity, for the heart of Naples to stay at home.
“We don’t want the local population moving out because of tourism. God help us if that happens.”
My thanks to Bonnie Alberts for the interview and for her time.
This is a link to the website of Napoli Unplugged put together by Bonnie with more information on her work.
If you are interested in the Napoli Unplugged Guide to Naples here is a link to the Amazon website for further information as well as user reviews.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018