Margherita Pizza For One

It was 5 PM by the time I arrived in Naples or Napoli as the Italians call it. With my Olympus OM-D EM-1 by my side, I wandered around the streets frenetic with motor bikes, autos, and pedestrians. I didn’t feel lonely upon arrival, just somewhat insignificant in the sea of bodies and motion. A stark contrast to my experience just a few hours earlier in the historic center of Paola, a city small enough that my presence was a novelty to the locals.

A street lined with tall light gray buildings dotted with balconies and laundry with a lone figure walking away from the camera towards the direct of mountains that you barely see in the distance.
A quiet street in the small Southern Italian city of Paola in Calabria
Lost and Climbing

In Naples, I am invisible, one of the thousands of other camera touting tourists that invade their city like parasites with a poor sense of direction. It seems fitting then that I would find myself lost last night while navigating an endless set of connecting steep stairways that never seemed to get me where I was going. It feels like the narrative of my life.

After Google maps and GPS failed me due to renamed streets and time closures. Be forewarned, some passageways actually close for the night after a certain hour. After 3 Italians shrugged their shoulders and pointed me to two English speaking Russians, I finally found my way back to the flat. But first I needed to walk 200 more meters of steep stairs to get there.

The Strange Case of the Anemic Cooler in the Night

This morning I woke up from a fitful sleep thanks to an AC unit that neither really moved the air, nor really cooled the air. My brain and body in a warm fog, I tried to do some writing about Ostuni, one of the white cities of Puglia. It was like slogging through quicksand.

As I sat there trying to write I saw an alert pop up on my phone. It was an email that my B&B in Pompei overbooked my room. Apparently, they “would be happy to move me to their sister property”. Unfortunately, this sister property was NOT in the center of Pompei like this one. Instead, it was in the neighboring village, a 25-minute commute away.

I initially chose this property because it was a 5-minute walk from my transport connection to Rome at 8:30 AM on Sunday. I declined their “offer” to relocate me because this was going to make the morning connection a nightmare. Now, I sat here, unsure of the next steps.

Between the heat induced fog and the sudden change, I felt off balance. I was feeling settled knowing that I had this leg completely secured and planned out. I felt like I could exhale for a minute. Now finding myself without accommodations on Sunday had my anxiety crawling in.

When in Italy ….

Then I began to feel guilty. Guilty over the time. It was nearing 11 AM, I was MISSING things in Naples. I had to get out there.

Guilty of letting “people” down. I owed it to… and there was the problem. I suddenly felt overwhelmed with this odd sense of I’m HERE, therefore I MUST… for THEM. Except…. you know what? I DON’T have to. And WHO are they?

Sure, I was raised Roman Catholic. I was baptized and christened, I went to Catholic school with nuns at St. Mary’s Academy in Hudson, New York. I was also pulled from St, Mary’s after telling one of the nuns in front of my classmates that I wasn’t standing up for the pledge because I didn’t feel comfortable with the “under God” part.

Telling your Catholic nun, in front of your Catholic classmates, that you don’t believe in a Catholic God …. that lands you in public school a few days later.

Didn’t I leave behind the Catholic guilt when I left the church? Was it something in the drinking water in Italy? A curse from Saint Francesco of Paola because I eat meat?!

An old Catholic Nun in her blue dress, sweater, habit and white shirt, walking down a quiet alley against a backdrop of red and grey colored stone buildings in Naples Italy.
A Catholic Nun in Napoli, Italy quietly judging me

Wherever this guilt was coming from, I keep hearing voices yelling in my ear. These voices telling me that I have to get out there because “they” are living vicariously through me. These “they” will somehow they’d be disappointed or let down if I didn’t go to X amount of X places. Who is they?!

Who the fuck do I owe it to? I don’t know. Rationally I know I owe it to no-one. But irrationally I still hear and feel affected by the voices and the expectations of others while I am out here.

Espresso and Tears

I finally left the house at 11:15 AM and walked down the neighboring street while I tried to orientate myself to the day, come up with a plan, something. I was in Naples, there was SO much to see. I needed a plan. But I couldn’t formulate one.

I stood at a counter like a good Italian and drank an espresso. I looked at shoes in windows to replace my dead sandals …. and hated them all. Then I started feeling like I would start tearing up as I Facebook messaged with a friend back home.  When I wrote a post on Facebook shortly after asking for some help with the planning of a writing/photo project I did start tearing up.

The Lonely Truth

I’m lonely out here. It’s my truth right now. I should be having the time of my life, right? I’m not. I’m in amazing places and it is palpable, sometimes painfully so, how alone I am in these amazing places.

I exhaled and walked back to the flat because I couldn’t bear to be out there on the street anymore.

Same Stuff, Different Location

Most days I feel like none of this matters. That none of what I am doing right now matters. Some have suggested I end my trip and go “home”. But where is that? Boston has never been home. No place has ever really felt like home. I have a community of sorts in Boston, but everyone has their own lives there. I’m lonely and lost there just as much as I am lonely and lost here.

I am going through the motions here the same way I went through the motions in Boston. I am invisible here like I was invisible in Boston. I’m lonely here like I was in Boston.

Last night I went alone to Pizzeria Brandi, the birthplace of the Margherita pizza in Naples. And I had THE Margherita pizza. Did it taste good? Sure. Was it the best pizza in the world? I don’t know. Maybe it was, but without company, things all taste a little flat. I do know that it would have tasted better with some company.

A photo of a fresh out of the oven margherita pizza with tomato sauce, basil, and mozzarella as made by the restaurant that first created the recipe for Queen Margherita in Naples, Italy - Pizzeria Brandi
The Margherita pizza that started it all – Pizzeria Brandi in Naples, Italy
  1. Hi Michele, I can relate with what you have written. I traveled solo in Europe for many years. Dallas is my home but I never really felt like it was home. I have found a “homeplace” now but that will change as I ended up marrying a European and we will move again. Look forward to reading more of your posts. Stay strong and embrace the lonely moments for those to bring purpose.

  2. Wow…the title was way deeper than it was supposed to mean.. I thought it was just going to be about pizza..haha..but really nice read… Funny part was when the nun was giving you that strange look..?
    Anyways, doesn’t really matter if your travelling alone.. Sometimes taking that road alone is what we need so we can find ourselves…

    1. I shoot my street stuff of people with my phone as a remote trigger on my camera, so I have no idea what she was thinking. Quietly judging my 42-year-old self who was wearing braided pigtails? Maybe she was just hot and annoyed from the stairs she just walked up.

  3. I think there’s something cathartic about traveling somewhere foreign. Maybe it is about being lost and finding yourself. And maybe that nun wasn’t judging. Maybe she was praying for you. And that never hurts (no matter what your beliefs). Good thoughts generate good thoughts! Sending you good thoughts!

    1. Honestly, I think the nun was just hot (it is molto caldi here!!) and tired of walking up 6000 stairs to get where she needed to go while wearing all those hot clothes. Ha.