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Naples, Italy: How Spontaneity Created the Best Surprise

In 2007 I went on a Mediterranean Cruise that went through Italy and Greece. Part of the cruise amenities were excursions (which is common) that took travelers to different sites at the ports of interest. I purchased a pricey excursion into Florence to first go to Pisa and see the leaning tower, but to then go to Florence and visit the Uffizi art museum. I was so excited to see the works of Botticelli and da Vinci. However, when we got to Florence the tour guide let us look at 12 paintings in this enormous museum, then rushed us through the flea market so fast that making purchases was nearly impossible. I was so disappointed about the museum, so the next day when we arrived in Naples I decided not to go on the excursion and to just go into the city by myself.

Of course, as soon as I got off the boat I realized that I had no idea what to do. So, I did what any red-blooded American female would do and walked up to a taxi driver and asked to go to the nearest mall

He shook his head no.

I blinked, wrinkling my nose and wondering how he could just tell me no, and he proceeded to tell me he would take me on a tour of Naples for 80 euro.

I said no, I wanted to go to the mall, but he insisted, he would take me on a tour of Naples for 80 euro and I would not regret it.

He was right.

The driver took me on one of the fastest rides on narrow streets that I would ever want to take. I saw beautiful architecture, between hoping that I would survive the twists and turns at a rapid and frightening pace.

Eventually, we reached the top of city, and the road opened up to one of the most breathtaking views, with the ocean in the background and the city nestled into the gently sloping mountainside. Naples is a city of staked architecture, built into the side of a mountain, and overlooking the Mediterranean. I can only imagine what it is like to wake up every morning to that luscious view.

But, that was not the surprise. As beautiful as the view of Naples was to me, I was quickly ushered into a small, unassuming shop where I was presented with examples of some of the most exquisite jewelry making I had ever seen. The owner of the ship hand carved shell cameos into some of the most wonderful pieces I had ever seen.

The art of cameo making is so entrenched in the Naples community that in 1876 Giovani Della Rocca, who was a member of the Italian Parliament, sponsored a decree which created a School of Coral in the area of Torre del Greco

I was able to spend a small amount of time observing how a cameo is made. The shell is first cut into a crude shape and attached to the top of what appears to be an awl that has been specifically designed to receive the shell so that it can be held by like a lollypop and stabilized for the cutting process. As the shell sat on the top of the tool, the artist carefully chipped at the shell, creating a delicate design. I must have stood watching for the better part of an hour as the artisan chipped delicately at the shell, an expert in shaping and sculpting on such a miniature space.

The Artist

When I had watched the art process to the point that I was craving the finished product, I started to browse through the finished products. Gods, goddesses, and all manner of mythical creatures could be found in intricate patterns that had been shaped onto the top of those beautiful pieces of history. I was fascinated and moved by the process, from which I fell in love with the finished products. I bought half a dozen or so to give to friends, plus one made of abalone that I kept for myself. They were not inexpensive treasures, and while I knew that my friends may never have appreciated them the way that I did because I had experienced watching the art first hand, I still wanted them to have a piece of what I thought was some of the most fascinating and spellbinding art that I had ever watched made.

I was acutely aware that the taxi driver was likely being given kickbacks to drive tourists up to this little, unassuming shop. There was a photo album in the shop that had pictures of actors and politicians, such as Gary Sinise of Forest Gump and CIS New York fame and Hillary Clinton with the shop owner and wearing his products. I did not care that there was a somewhat divisive nature to the idea of the taxi driver pushing me to go on the tour, then taking me to this shop with whom he clearly had a business relationship. In fact, I was grateful.

One of the Owners on the Left, and my Taxi Driver on the Right

The shop was more than worth my time, and the tour was better than any I had taken from the ship. I was so grateful to the taxi driver for pushing me to go on this tour rather than going to the local galleria to buy something meaningless and without the background that I found on this trip to the top of this beautiful city. From the beautiful view, to the little, quaint shop across the way, I had one of the best afternoons of my entire trip.

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