THE BASSI IN NAPLES: OLD PEOPLE IN OLD PLACES
In Italy I started a little side project called ‘old people in old places’, because one of my favourite sights was the silver-haired locals going about their everyday business in a world that must have changed so much from the one in which they grew up. I started taking random snaps of the elderly. The daily rituals of the older generations tell you so much about the flavour of a city, it’s heartbeat, its core - and nowhere was this more apparent than in beautiful Naples, where I snapped my absolute favourite ‘old people in old places’ photos.
Some of the Neapolitan locals still live in small traditional houses called ‘bassi’. The bassi are houses of one or two rooms on the ground floor of a building, with one window and/or doorway that opens directly onto the street. It is said that if you live in a basso, you live most of your life on the street, because for lack of light, air, and space your doors and windows are always open. The street is where you drink your coffee, hang your washing, scold your children, and do your crossword. Passers-by know what you’re watching on TV or having for dinner. They can see what time you’re climbing into bed at night, and what time you get up in the morning. The rhythm of life is on display in the bassi.
One evening, after visiting the museum of Capodimonte, my friend and I decided to skip the bus into town and walk instead. This took us down through a street of bassi where windows and doors were thrown wide open to catch an evening breeze. We saw the green and blue glow of a soccer match or news report on old tube TVs, smelt the fat in the frying pans as dinner was prepared, and heard fast paced Italian chatter - a wife scolding her husband, children wrestling with a ball, old friends greeting each other. This was the time of day that the older generation of neighbours came together. Some stood, cut off at the waist behind their windows, while their friends settled into their plastic chairs on the other side, a plastic cup of wine in one hand. Others brought their living room furniture onto the street beside their plastic pot plants, a brightly coloured pinwheel, and a rust-spotted frame containing a faded image of the Virgin, while dinner simmered away inside. The inside was out, private was public, there was no hiding in this world and you felt wrapped in camaraderie.
Even though ‘private’ domestic life was being clearly lived on the streets, I still felt as though I had somewhat stumbled upon an intimate enclave. It was mesmerising, and I couldn’t resist asking some of the locals if I could take a picture. They were more than happy to oblige, in fact, they were excited. They smiled and waved for the photos, they asked me where I was from, welcomed me to their city, and blew me kisses when I was done. I blew them back, forever grateful for their willingness to let me into their world.