Finding lunch is the surest test of marriage
Where I ramble, Mrs Jones generally follows. She suffers teethgrinding, indecisive urban dithering with admirable stoicism. In Naples a few weeks back, we had been to momentous inlaid pietra dura 17th-century churches, visited the Castel Nuovo and admired the huge Hall of the Baroni, named after the particular baroni who got topped in its cavernous grandeur. Later, at the San Carlo theatre, we would get to see a pulsating tenor fight off mosquitoes, a bat, a lost seagull and six stacked jet liners to belt out “O sole mio”. Right now, however, lunch was the priority; it’s why we travel.
Finding lunch, on spec, in a foreign city ranks as the surest test of a marriage. My reliable Italian restaurant guide was trapped in a Kindle, four years out of date. Trip Advisor requires code-breaking skills to decipher its runes. All that is left is intuition. Years of clumping back alleys have schooled me. I can smell or perhaps spiritually intuit, that worthwhile, reasonably-priced establishment, where we will eventually discover competent cooking in an inventive manner.
Believe me, Mrs Jones is patient. Even a walk through a Naples road tunnel in the rush hour had been forgiven. We had both now accepted that to cross any road, she had to be pushed ahead straight into traffic, because it would only ever stop for the bella figura. But on this great restaurant journey, she finally asked “Isn’t this far enough?” Perhaps it was. Except that the good impromptu find is, inevitably, always just a bit further on.
“It’s not likely to be on the main drag,” I said. “But we only want a salad…” “It looks more interesting a little way ahead.” A key discrimination.
We had passed the Galleria Umberto I shopping arcade, big enough to hang hundreds of baroni, and worth a detour.
We missed the famous Caffé Gambrinus and only discovered its overdecorated charm later, eating ice cream after the tenor’s four encores.
By now Naples lunchtime was long past. We were in the Spanish Quarter, marvelling at the vertiginous streets. Scooters careered past, often sporting a husband and wife in law-abiding matching helmets and a grinning toddler perched upright at the handle bars with its naked hair flying in the backstream.
The shops were great: real gritty hardware and fruit shops and deep, bloody, macelleria caves. Good signifiers. And, yes, at last, there was the perfect restaurant. Small. Ignored. Handwritten menu. Ingredients never heard of. Rabbit included (heard of, but always telling). It was Monday. It was shut.
Back we went to Naples’ great, almost secret, walking street – the Via Chiaia. My dear, such shops. I guess if you operate a black economy you have to spend it somewhere. Ferragamo, Prada, high-level Armani shaming Bond Street for conspicuous consumption of handbags. We were in exactly the right area for international salad bars crammed with models sniffing at crispbread.
A friendly welcome at Pescheria Mattiucci