By Colin O’Brien
To one side of me, the Castel dell’Ovo is nestled on a rocky outcrop and resplendent against the glistening cerulean bay. To the other, steep and grotty streets full of dirty cars and drying laundry wind away from the coast, into the heart of the old city. There’s a warning scrawled in four-foot letters on a bend: “Park here and die – you’ll understand my pistol”.
Paying the bill at a cafe down the street I looked behind me to see Felice Gimondi enjoying a coffee with friends and outside of the hotel, Francesco Moser is chatting away while on the other side of the street a guy on a bicycle cart sells snow cones to locals fishing off the promenade.
Benvenuto a Napoli, one of the world’s most idiosyncratic cities and home to 2013’s Giro d’Italia grande partenza.
Right now, that castle in the bay is the media centre and the hub of all things Giro. Which is apt, because it’s been at the heart of Neapolitan life since before the time of Christ. Legend has it that the Roman poet Virgil planted a magic egg in the foundations to protect it from sinking into the Mediterranean. It obviously worked. One wonders what sorcery was cast to protect Italy’s grand old race from disappearing, but then maybe there’s no need for spells in true affairs of the heart.
It’s been a while since the Giro last started here. Fifty long years for a city that’s fallen on hard times. Within Italy, Naples is often held up as a perfect illustration of all that is wrong with the country. Regional bias and a reluctance to look past the negative means that when it is talked about, it’s only to denigrate and insult and write it off as a cause lost to chaos.
That’s all nonsense. There are problems, certainly, though most are the fault of feckless and impotent career politicians farther north. The Giro gave Naples a chance to show off for once and the watching world another angle from which to view it.
When Mark Cavendish erupted in the final meters of first day’s route, to deny Elia Viviani and delight his fans by pulling on 2013’s first Maglia Rosa, he did it to rapturous applause from the gathered hordes. The boulevard awash with a cacophony of color and noise and warm, evening sunshine.
All of a sudden, the summer was upon us in a place so suited to the warmth and to sultry celebration that you almost expect it to hibernate. Even the aforementioned Virgil would struggle to describe the truest sense of this place; Naples is an emotion, a visceral thing. Rough, complicated, hellish hot, beautiful. A perfect match for the Giro, then. A race too difficult and devilish to enjoy and still too seductive and sublime a prospect to resist.