They’re always saying that the Italian birthrate is at an all-time low. But maybe the statisticians responsible for coming up with the figures are somehow failing to take into account Napoli. Napoli, a place you can always count on for chaos and the sight and sound of running children. Or children crying in strollers. Or children screaming at any stage of their growth period. They are everywhere, all around. All the time. The pride and joy of Neapolitan life. The beat and the pulse coursing toward the veins of the Vesuvio. Even if you can’t see them right away, signs of them are never far from sight. Like a battalion of strollers for sale on the street, as though to “subtly” (or, as subtly as Neapolitans can attempt) suggest that maybe you ought to have another. And if you don’t have at least one, well, you might be persona non grata after a certain age.
I used to think it was a provincial act to want to have mass amounts of babies in this way. To fulfill one’s “duty” to family. But lately, I find that the obsession with birthing in this town has got to be more than merely rote or biological. It has to be more meaningful than that. And if it isn’t, I refuse to believe it. There just can’t be that much simplicity to a concept so unnecessary and grotesque at this point in any other country except Italy–the one country as a collective that should be offering up more of its progeny, but does not.
That Napoli is consistently looked down upon not just in general but by certain cities (most of them) of the north accosts one with the idea that maybe, just maybe, this is how Neapolitans get back at the rest of Italy and the world for automatically underestimating and disregarding their value as a culture. For he with the army of children to back up any so-called “uncouthness” wins. He with the arsenal of loyal followers (in the purest sense of the word, not that bastardized Instagram sense) will come out triumphant in the end. He with the sangue on his side in an endless and dripping vat more potent than any wine is the one who has the true power. Let the Milanese and other assorted northerners think what they want.
I’m not a child person. Never have been. It’s just one of many ironies to me being in this country. I feel like a traitor to my own kind. Like I’m little better than Matt Dillon as child serial killer Jack in The House That Jack Built (though not all of his kills were children–in his defense). Just one look from an expectant-of-exaltation and taught-to-be-entitled-to-reverence Neapolitan child and I wince. It’s like someone’s punched me on a bruise. I don’t want to give them what they’re looking for. I don’t think that they’ve earned it by sheer virtue of not having fully developed sex organs yet. Big fucking deal that they’re “innocent” or “cute.” It doesn’t move me. The only thing about them that does is that they are products of what represents a larger form of defiance and insubordination than even the Camorra. Neapolitans can’t do anything? They’re too lazy? Bullshit. They’re the only ones keeping the legacy of being Italian alive, the only ones with the palle to endure the insufferability of reproducing.
I think about this as I gaze at the literal squadron of strollers in front of me in what otherwise looks like a bombed out and abandoned milieu. Against all odds and every setback (with most specific regard to the financial), Neapolitans will continue to thrive with one sole purpose in mind: propagation of the species. If the motherfucker that is Donald Trump tried to separate a Neapolitan mother from her son–well, I don’t even want to know what might happen. All I do know is that she wouldn’t allow it, would tear him to shreds with one dagger-laden look. This is no shade to Mexican migrant workers, I’m only trying to iterate that the Neapolitan parent-child bond is more extreme than any that can be fathomed elsewhere on this earth. I think about this as I sit in front of the Monteoliveto Fountain and watch a mother and her two sons, somewhere around three and five, walk past, with a stroller to boot. I can’t tell what gender a child is when they’re at stroller age (if, in fact, they ascribe to any at that point). And I see in her eyes a countenance that is both intense and dull. Like she was built to be this person, this protector, but that somewhere, deeply recessed, she wonders if she had another purpose. Of course, no woman is allowed to think that for too long, so she brightens up a bit as she starts to speak to her older son, Antonio, I hear his name is. It’s always Antonio. She’s telling him to be careful, that he needs to fa attenzione meglio. But he will not. He is a Neapolitan son, and it is his parents’ job to do that for him. The contract they signed with their blood.
About twenty minutes after my sighting of this prime example of Neapolitan rebellion, I start walking toward the Dante stop (you didn’t think Dante wasn’t going to have a train stop named after him, did you?). A man starts singing a song that commences with the word principessa as I scurry toward the steps. Principessa is something I get called a lot while walking down the street. I didn’t think anyone actually really said that apart from Robert Benigni in Life Is Beautiful. It must be that American-grade steel-cut stick up my ass that makes them slightly mock me in this way. Or are they trying to rebel in the only way they can: by fucking and impregnating (which all starts with a “complimentary” word)? Ensuring if they can’t get ahead in life the way the Milanese think that they have (and only by stealing all the wealth from the south back in the day), they will still have spread generations of seed to last however long this earth does. Which really doesn’t seem like much longer. I try my best to roll my eyes only minimally, and I almost feel bad that his flattery is wasted on someone like me, immune to any ideas of ever having a spawn at this point, in addition to a total glaze-over reaction when it comes to any romantic gesture.
After about thirty minutes of waiting to get on the train, thick with the scent of human sweat in the high heat of the day, I ponder some more. Marvel, really, at how subversive their revolution is (and it’s not even a quiet one–literally screams at you with the fresh lungs of a newly born baby).
Passion–the kind that doesn’t fizzle out–is what it takes to truly care about a child long-term. In the United States, most notably, a level of detachment occurs over time, like a chart that relates a child only being as “loving” and interested in their parents’ lives as it correlates to the period of time said children are being given money. In short, love is currency for money, in many ways, in the parent-child dynamic of America. Not so in Naples, a country unto itself in essence. But what’s even more remarkable is that not only do these Neapolitan women have the strength of character to care so much about their children forever, but also the energy leftover to be naturally talented in so many other areas (not just cooking, you little misogynist).
I reach the Università stop and disembark, feeling suddenly heavy with the burden of my disused and wasted hourglass figure. I’ll always be a conformist with no uprising act to speak of so long as I stay in Naples.