I almost regret telling this story again but to be fair the culmination of events are still a very scary moment from my travels. It is something that should have never happened. It happened in a place I have always considered closest to ‘home’. A place that up to this point I have lived the longest. In a country where I lived twice in my childhood. I was at the wrong place at the wrong time and I made a bad decision. This is my account of my night in an Italian jail.
It was the summer of 2012 and it was my first time back since my senior year ten years prior. What made this trip special was it was my husband’s first time to Italy and his first time to experience a place where I grew up. As a military brat the places you live, though geographically stay the same, change quite a bit after you leave. The majority of people I knew of my six years in Napoli were gone. Even my church family in Bagnoli had shrunk in numbers. I could not show him the three houses I had lived because they were out in the suburbs accessible by car but difficult to get to by public transport. So we spent the majority of our time seeking out the hidden beauty of the city in both places I remembered and those we found along the way. We savored every bite of the delicious southern Italian cuisine made simple excuses to have more gelato, and captured the beauty we saw in photographs.
On the night that this takes place we had just returned from viewing collections of antiquities excavated from Pompeii at the National Archaeological museum. It was early evening and we were walking through the narrow streets of the city. I was on a high of being surrounded by the sights and sounds of my childhood and had just gotten off the phone with an old family friend who lives in Napoli. I was so happy that I had not noticed I had gotten too comfortable. With my Nikon DSLR safely guarded in my arms, I captured street photography with the ease of my android phone. Sure the photos would not be as amazing as my camera but I was going for artsy and using different filters on my beloved hipstamatic app.
In the process of taking a photo of a pizza being made at a pizzeria, my phone was grabbed out of my hands. I turned in shock to see an obnoxious grin and then the back of a man as he ran away with my phone down another alleyway. While my head and my feet questioned each other with whether I should run or just scream, the man who had turned to run down the side street, jumped on a back of a moped with a driver. In less than a minute my phone was stolen and gone out of sight. It was not even the phone that I was upset about but the number of photos I had taken on our journey. So many of them documenting my husband’s first time in Napoli: his first taste of pizza from the birthplace of its creation, his first time on the funicular, an incline railway, and his first time shopping the street markets in Vomero. I screamed when it had happened and my husband who had been a few paces in front of me said he knew immediately what had happened before he turned around.
Our adventurous night began there in the middle of Napoli in the small darkened streets and alleyways. The people who worked in the pizzeria were really amazing. They took us inside, called the polizia, and made me a calming tea. I had not expected the outcome and so I was shaking and in a state of shock. It was then that I had my first ride in the back of a police car, whisked away to the nearest police station to make our report. I was feeling really stupid for feeling too comfortable being home in Napoli that I had my phone out at all. We should not even had been in that area, but I wanted to show my husband ‘Christmas Alley’, another memory from my fading past. We could have easily been walking aback to where we were staying had I not tried to fit just one more thing into our day.
Still shaking, I answered the questions using the best knowledge I have of the Italian language. I was asked to look at photographs to see if anyone looked like the man who had stolen my phone. Already his face was fleeting from my memory. Looking back afterwards I can now draw from their questions that they were hoping I would say it was this man in one of the photographs who was wearing a white shirt. However he was the opposite of my initial description and I kept getting frustrated with their persistence. I soon found myself in a small room for a ‘line up’, however the actuality of the situation scared me more than having my phone taken from me in the first place. I did not know exactly where they were taking me or what I would be doing before I was thrown into the scene I am about to describe to you.
The room I was in was dark and several bodies of police officials and detectives stood inside. I turned where they wanted me to face and I stood facing a man. Although a wall with a glass window was in-between us the man in question was literally inches away from me. He was not the man I had seen. He was white not tan, he had a bald or shaved head not dark hair, and he was more stalky and muscular than the leaner guy I remembered. It was the man from the photographs that the detectives had been showing me. I looked through the glass and saw this man was bloody, amped up on adrenaline, and looking like he could have come out of a Guy Richie film the way he was ready to throw a punch. I looked at the man in the white shirt and instantly the fear kicked me to my core. I wanted to run, to move, to close my eyes. At that moment I was more afraid of him punching through the glass, especially when it was apparent he could hear my words as I spoke ‘Its not him”.
I will be honest I cried when we got back to the room for more questions and information about the scene. I wish now I had checked the photographs on my Nikon DSLR. When we had gotten home to England all the feelings from that night came right back in a spiraling anxiety attack as I found a photo taken minutes before the crime. The man in the white shirt, whom I had been asked to identify, was up ahead of where I was taking photos, talking to a man who very much fit my description of the man who had taken my phone. Bone chilling. Perhaps the other man was just a man, innocent in his own right. However there was no mistaking the man I had to view at the police station, for I cannot get him out of my mind. Whatever he did from when I had taken that photo on my camera to when I saw him at the police station, I will never know.
Luckily I had my camera to document the rest of our trip and I did not let the incident ruin the rest of our time. I still love my beautiful city. The old buildings, the cobblestoned streets, the laundry hung out all the windows, and the women who lower baskets from tall apartment windows to retrieve recently purchased goods. The best was being able to start every morning and end every day with the beautiful view from where we were staying high up near the funicular to see the beautiful bay of Napoli. It may have taken me many years to return, but no one can take away from me the love I have for the city of Napoli. Not even spending part of our night in an Italian jail. Ci Vediamo bella Napoli!