DAY 1 Here I am in Napoli again, back after more than fifty years. I walked down the Salita last night, passing houses carved into soft volcanic stone and sharing the way with a flow of cars and motorinis. The street was alive with the chatter of passersby and women sitting in windows that front the street.

 

DAY 2 I’m staying in an out-of-the-way home with a rooftop deck that I can use when there is sun, but today the rain is heavy and comes in sheets. The house is perched above the city near the museum and park of the Reggia di Capodimonte, one of the two royal palaces in Naples. Walking the waterfront, I pass the former Pensione Le Fontane al Mare—a hotel and boarding house—where I stayed when I was a student.

 

Procida

The nearby island of Procida.

DAY 3 I return to the Villa Comunale, where I walked through the gardens on the first night I was in Napoli, in 1965. They had a carnival set up that night to celebrate the end of summer… rides, concessions, a party atmosphere.

 

Shop on Via Tribunale

A shop in the city’s historic center.

DAY 4 My feet are sore from walking. Last night, while I was visiting a friend, we were met on the street by Pasquale Terraciano, one of the country’s most accomplished performers of Neapolitan songs and poetry. He asked if I would draw during his group’s performance at a concert benefiting stray dogs. We spent the afternoon scrounging up the materials, then I sat up front with a sketch pad and did eight or nine.

 

Pasquale Terriaciano and his band

Pasquale Terriaciano and his band.

DAY 5 I visit the catacombs of San Gennaro. Once covered by mosaics that filled the walls and vaulted ceilings, only traces remain. Later, I look out my window toward Sorrento and see the long traces drawn by pilots as they arc toward the dock or head out to sea. When I first came here, my view of the bay was much closer to the water, a balcony on Via Partenope. Up here, from Capodimonte, it’s a long view. The patterns are clearer at a distance.

Watercolor

A watercolor of skulls in the Fontanelle, a charnel house in Naples.

 

DAY 6 I wander through the Sanitá neighborhood as far as the Cimitero delle Fontanelle, marveling at the shrines you often find on the walls of homes and shops, next to the door. Celebrating a family member or shop’s founder, some of these shrines are extremely elaborate—closed in, lighted, padlocked, with paintings and statues. Others are little more than a hole in the wall with a tiny figure and a flower.

 

Morse drawing

Morse drawing with inspiration from a performance of  La Pazzia (“Craziness”), a concerto by the Neapolitan composer Francesco Durante.

DAY 7 I am invited to attend a workshop on making presepes, or nativity scenes. This art form is so significant in the city that entire sections of Naples are said to resemble it, and are even called “the presepe.” I meet Ezio Esposito, a renowned maker of presepe scenes. Ezio shows me his work, both in his home and at a church that’s being restored in the Materdei district.