FLICK my FLINT and SNIFF my TREE on the streets of Naples

Seeking the heart and groin of smart retail

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"See Naples and die" the saying goes. After visiting the city recently, I can believe it. Hang around there long enough and you’ll be dead.

The likely causes of your imminent death in Naples are many: you might be run over by a motor scooter, stumble into a pothole in the broken pavements, get hit by falling brickwork from the crumbling buildings or come a cropper with the remnants of the abandoned cranes and machinery strewn across the city due to halting public works.

The only lick of new paint is provided by graffiti “artists”, whose tags adorn every inch of space on every wall, from shops and businesses to historical monuments and cathedrals. You have to wade through more dogshit per square metre than in Paris. Public buses are more crowded and less punctual than those in Mumbai.

See Naples and die? See Naples and throw up, more like. Oh, you don’t want to look in there.

Yet the most enduring memory of my brief excursion to see the city’s most famous sites – all of which were shut because it was a weekend – is of disposable plastic cigarette lighters.

I do not smoke. Despite this, we were accosted time and time again by persistent street sellers who wished us to buy from their myriad wares… of disposable plastic cigarette lighters. Nowhere was safe. On every main road and side road, in every doorway and hallway, even in the toilets and on train platforms, there would be sad little men wandering around selling these sad little items from sad little cardboard trays.

They don’t even try to cover up the illicit nature of the transaction. In London, each dodgy seller would grow a Captain Haddock beard, wear his aunty’s cardigan and shoes, and describe himself as a “pop-up shop”, thereby achieving instant hipster credibility.

Of course, as well all know, “pop-up shop” is just a posh way of saying “no receipts; no guarantee; by the time you find out the product’s a pile of shit I’ll be long gone pal ha ha ha toodaloo motherfuckerrrrrrr”.

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Anyway, one of these street sellers even followed us into a bar, installed himself next to our table and was very persistent. Indeed, it appeared that his disposable plastic cigarette lighter business had been doing so well that he had expanded his stock offering to include Little Tree car fresheners, too.

Later, I noticed that many other street sellers were pushing both cigarette lighters and Little Tree car fresheners. Behind closed doors, the homes of Naples must breeze with a combined carcinogenic atmosphere of tobacco smoke and the lung-melting fumes of artificial pine.

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