If one day you ever reach the heart of a labyrinth by the name of the Spanish Quarter, there you will find a beast. His black scarred body lies completely still on the pockmarked cobblestones. His eyes are soulless marbles. He breathes more like a racehorse than a dog, his nostrils inflating wildly with every breath and exhaling air as hot as the Saharan scirocco. He may be blind but he can smell you.
You shouldn’t be here. Somehow you’ve strayed from your path steaming with fried squid oil and hashish, chanting fishmongers and catcalling schoolgirls, housewives selling contraband cigarettes from their aprons and stray cats and goats wandering under a spiderweb of laundry. But now it’s just you and the beast. Where will you run to? There is nowhere to go, wedged as you are between crumbling towers and mountains of garbage bags popping with week-old secrets. Then, beside you a door opens: your savior? Again it closes, as if to tell you, “You think you’ve understood this place? In your dreams.”
Welcome to Naples, the place the guidebooks recommend you avoid at all costs. That impenetrable Italian city frozen in time by the Camorra and by life under the shadow of one of Earth’s most volatile volcanoes. And from inside Naples’ most cryptic ghetto, the Spanish Quarter, comes the moving real-life story of two university students from completely different worlds who fall in love and plan their escape. But until then, can Rebecca and Elio’s love survive in a world where washing machines are hurled festively over New Years’ balconies and gunshots are brushed off as backfiring Vespas? Can it survive earth tremors, family threats and a collapsed lung? Can it survive their American-Neapolitan cultural divide?
Only by journeying to the heart of the labyrinth can Rebecca find the answers to these questions. Interlaced with authentic emails translated from the Italian, my memoir Lost in the Spanish Quarter tells the story of a young woman’s heartbreak and her search to piece herself together again by journeying back to where it all began. It is a visceral portrait both of love and of an Italian city whose astonishing beauty has been kept secret from much of the world.
At the tender age of sixteen and three days, I left my native Washington D.C. on an exchange program to Naples. Soon Italian became more of a second nature than a second language. I stayed on to graduate from high school and eventually earn an honors degree in languages and literature from the Istituto Universitario Orientale di Napoli. Along with other poor and adventurous university students, I roomed in the Quartieri Spagnoli, the dark heart of Italy’s darkest and most enigmatic city. As Eat Pray Love readership shows, audiences want to go beyond outsiders’ romantic notions of an Italy which is all wining and dining under the Mediterranean sun. Instead, they are hungry for a genuine Italian experience that lays bare not only the true heart of Italy but also the heart of the writer.
I appreciate your time in considering my query. I especially appreciate the time all of you put into writing thoughtful feedback so that I could rewrite this query letter in the first place. If I nab an agent because of it, I’ll have you to blame.
Heddi Rebecca Goodrich