I get into the cab after arriving at Porta Garibaldi in Milan under the misguided impression that my driver will not talk to me. After all, this is the most “American” city in Italy, ergo no one is supposed to give a shit about your business other than you paying him for services rendered. But alas, there seems to be something about my “fuck off” aura that prompts people to question me about my life when I would really rather just stare into the abyss.
After a few minutes of silence, the driver can’t resist asking, “Are you here on vacation?”
I make the mistake of honestly responding, “I’m not sure.”
“What do you mean?” he demands.
“I left New York to come to Italy and now I don’t know what I’m doing.”
He balks. “You left New York? You must be crazy.”
I try to tell him in my broken Italian that the construct of New York is a fantasy that doesn’t exist and probably never did, not even in the 80s. But he doesn’t have the patience to let me get the words out fully. He tells me that if I think I’m going to have it any easier in Milan, I’m sorely mistaken. The hours are just as long and the breaks just as infrequent. I try to deflect his undercutting by saying that I might go to Naples afterward, where I have “ties,” as they say.
He scoffs. “Naples is filled with uncivilized people. It would be a great city if there were no Neapolitans in it.”
I resist the urge to tell him that he’s the uncivilized one for saying such a thing after I just told him my family was from there. He then proceeds to tell me that if I’m looking to do nothing, then Naples is the place. Before I can respond to him positively or negatively, he informs me that he’s from Calabria, further south, but that, for all its issues, it doesn’t have half the problems of Naples.
“You know what the difference between a Neapolitan and other Italians is? A Neapolitan will take his trash and just throw it anywhere. They have no class.”
The cab ride is only half over at this point and I’m well fed up with this man’s opinion. I look out the window to see a Dolce & Gabbana ad with a slew of very deliberately multi-ethnic people modeling the clothes. Milan is trying so hard to be the representation for Italy as a whole, to prove that there are no signs of “non-progressivism.” But the problem with trying to present oneself in a certain way is that it always comes across as inauthentic. At least in Naples, they put on no airs, no pretense of being a certain way. What you see is what you get–even if the rest of Italy at large sees them as “uncouth.”
He drones on for the rest of the ride, finally stopping at my destination by means of a haphazard parking job. When he tells me the cost of the ride, I throw an indeterminate amount of change at him and scream, “I’m Neapolitan, bitch!” and then run out of the car and into the night. Surely he was expecting such a brash action based on my uncivilized breeding.