Me and D found long-term housing and recently moved to a lovely little yellow house in Forio on the other side of the island. Before we moved, we went to Ikea to pick up a few things to set up the kitchen and while I was excited to go on the mainland for a day trip, D was in a bad mood. He was nervous about driving since our 12-year old Fiat Punto was acting like a dick, the starter wasn’t firing the engine every time you turn the key. You have to do it a few times before it starts. It isn’t a big deal if you’re in a parking lot, but if you’re in a queue to get on and off the ferry it can be nerve-wracking. Also I think the car senses D’s mood because the more nervous he gets the more it acts up. You have to be pretty zen around the car, basically you have to not give a shit about cars beeping all around you waiting for you to get out of the way.
The day of our Ikea trip, D wasn’t feeling very zen around the car and I was trying to keep the mood light. We weren’t off to a good start (pun intended) because every time we had to turn off the car (at the ticket office, at the port, in the queue), it took forever to get it to start again and cars beeped and sped around us, giving us stare downs as they passed. D was doing breathing exercises to keep himself from losing his shit and I ate snacks trying not to get bummed out by the car.
Finally we got on the ferry, but the big showdown was having to drive off the ferry an hour later when we arrived at Pozzuoli. Of course the car wouldn’t start and we were left sputtering on the boat while all the other cars zoomed off. D was sweating bullets and wanted to scream, but instead he shouted to some ferry workers who were hanging out by the opening and waved them down for help.
They came running over and D goes, ‘I need to push the car off the ferry’ and they immediately got into position. I sat in the passenger seat and looked at them in the rear view mirror and I saw them smiling, like this was something interesting for them. As the car started to gain speed from four guys pushing it, D jumped in the driver seat to steer the car.
‘Put it in third!,’ one of the guys shouted and they all laughed, their laughter echoing across the walls of the empty belly of the ferry. It sounded like a school cafeteria and everyone was excited to have a break.
I realised a bit of magic was happening. The Neapolitan art of ‘sdrammitazzare’, the art of taking the drama out of something, downplaying the bad vibes and turning it into a party. The guys pushing our car were having fun! They pushed the car off the ferry ramp and wheeled it to the side of the road. And then instead of walking away, they all crowded around the car, fighting with each other to take turns turning on the car and discussing what was really wrong. They wanted to know where we were going, what we were going to buy, what we did for work and where we lived on the island.
‘O, so we’re neighbours,’ one of the guys said. ‘We’ll see each other again!’
And another asked me, ‘But do you trust this guy to take you where you need to go?’
‘I have no choice.’ I said and that was so funny and we all laughed.
And then D shouted to everyone to be quiet and he turned the key half way. You could hear the subtle buzzing of the mechanism firing some gasoline into the engine. He turned the key and the car roared alive. We all shouted and clapped and the guys shook our hands and we thanked them a million times and they waved us goodbye and wished us a fun trip to Ikea.
And our mood was changed, and just like that life was different, clearing away the anxiety and self-questioning and we were happy puttering our way to Ikea.
It’s a great word. Sdrammatizzare. Downplay the negativity and take the situation lightly. Neapolitans, who are also masters at pouring drama into the most mundane everyday occurrences (just try having a conversation on a Monday about what to make for Sunday lunch next week), are known for this. Like ants attacking a breadcrumb, they’ll surround someone who is sad or in a bad mood and try to show them that they’re not in as bad of a place as they really are. And yeah, they can also take the act of sdrammatizzazione too far when they ignore societal or political problems, but it works well for a lot of things during everyday life.
This Neapolitan lesson of sdrammatizzazione has been incredibly helpful during these first few months of moving back to Italy. Sure there’s a lot to complain about and it’s easy to think that every difficulty that we come across is a sign that we can’t achieve what we really want. I can hear those voices from family members that told me that Italy was an impossible place to live in, that my parents sacrificed everything to give me a better life and now I want to turn my back on them and go live in Italy. But there is this new voice that comes, a Neapolitan voice that says, ‘Hey, look at you! You have a job and a place to live and so what if there’s the unknown in front of you. You have new friends and neighbours and people that care about you here and want to see you stay. So here, sit down. You hungry? Here’s a plate of cheese, bread, and my mother’s canned vegetables.’