„Ma prima un’ cafe!“ said he, while I was busy counting all of the statues set between raising columns of Piazza del Plebiscito, named after the plebiscite taken in 1860, that brought Naples into the unified Kingdom of Italy. Paolo continued following me around, telling me story his dad had made up, about the argument three of the statues allegedly had with each other. So, now, I have little to no clue of real stories of figures standing over there, overlooking the piazza. All I know now that there are three figures, some Italian or Spanish royals, arguing about peeing at Piazza and who’s going to cover whom. At the end of semicircle with all the sculptures, looking towards the church of St Francis of Paola reminiscing Roman Pantheon we stopped for a coffee at the Gran Cafe Gambrinus.
Coffeehouse, named after the icon symbolizing joviality, cheer and joie de vivre, was founded at 19th century and it’s a symbol of Napoli and its specific coffee culture. The place is constantly crowded with locals starting their day with a coffee and one of, what it seems, a million different pastries with playful names like, sfogliatelle, cannolini, crostatini con fragolini and many others. While trying to order espresso, standing in line, or rather a noisy crowd that was waving, yelling, throwing their coins onto counter, I noticed that people were paying certain sospeso coffee when leaving. Sospeso coffee is “suspended coffee” you are paying for someone who cannot afford it. For example, you pay for two, drink one and save one for someone in need for it later. This little act of charity, tradition over 100 years old, is everything you need to know about Neapolitans. How caring and genuine they are and how the coffee represents a right of its own, belonging and accessible for everyone. For all Italians, especially Neapolitans (who are a different breed), multiple, daily income of coffee is, more than anything, a matter of lifestyle. The main idea is for coffee to be short, strong, and creamy, which is why the bar is always crammed with people downing their coffee fast, al volo(on the run) and rushing out. It’s a part of Holy Trinity of Italians, as I call it, 1-Drink only wine and water with your meal and NEVER order tap water; 2-Do not put ketchup on pasta/pizza(little less pineapple you rascal); 3-Take your coffee in two sips standing up. Last one came as the biggest surprise to me, to be honest, because everything I ever heard of Italians is that they are big hedonists, very laid back people, dolce far niente protagonists. I found it all true, in every life situation, except in drinking coffee. Here, Italians are quick and efficient. I broke this rule by sitting down to enjoy my espresso with crostatini con fragolini(I just adore saying it), but, in my defense, this is only done to properly enjoy the interior of the place screaming bohemian, art nouveau, with its tall frescoed ceilings, velvet red chairs and drapes, golden wall edges and piano at its end.
Paolo told me to finish my coffee because he is taking me to see yet another Italian masterpiece, of famous sculpture of Christ I must’ve heard of. I asked, and believe you me I have no idea why, is it something from Caravaggio (who is a painter, not sculptor and I knew that). Swear to God I thought Paolo’s going to leave me on my own right there when he looked at me, almost in disgust, picking up his coat, crossing his hands on his back and walking right out, without turning back, with his nose up in the sky (I honestly have no idea how this man doesn’t trip and fall more often given that he never looks in front of him). It was few streets later that he started talking to me, and to be completely honest, it’d probably be sooner if I wasn’t laughing at him and his offended artistic soul every once in a while. Capella Sansevero, turned into a Museum with, I don’t often say “must see” but in this case – a MUST SEE works of art called Modesty and Veiled Christ of Corradini and Sanmartino. Yes, now I know the names and who is who, yes. When you look at the Christ under the veil sticking to his body, revealing his resting face, his swollen veins, thin arms, wounds and limbs you have to question is it really just a sculpture, comprehending how realistic it seems. In fact it is entirely hewn in marble from a single block of stone and it’s not made out of some alchemist process as the legend suggests. Although, hand on my heart, I did not touch it, to make sure it’s only marble, so this remains one of the possibilities. And who else doesn’t love a bit of mystery anyway?
“There was your Caravaggio” said Paolo, shaming me while going out of the Museum. Realizing how foolish I’ve been mixing the two, I replied in a same manner saying “It was quite good… the Caravaggio”.