Naples has managed to transform me from Heddi, a naïve high school exchange student from the Maryland suburbs, to “Eddie,” a well-travelled, intensely curious polyglot enrolled at the centuries-old “Orientale” University. Bruno is a quietly perceptive geology major with big dreams, whose only defect is hailing from a wolf lair of a local village. It’s a match made in the Spanish Quarter, that ghetto we out-of-town students call home, sewn together with spiderwebs of laundry, serenaded with Camorra shootouts, and paved with volcanic cobblestones as slippery and pockmarked as sucked candies – all washed clean by the hot Saharan scirocco. We fall unpredictably, feverishly in love.
Love takes me deeper into my adopted city – into the damp underground caves echoing with the ghosts of ancient Greece, Rome and WWII; and into perilous closeness with Vesuvius, the world’s most dangerous volcano. Love takes me into Bruno’s isolated and diffident hill country, dotted with villages considered so unlucky they can’t even be named. And into the house of Bruno’s mother, as unreadable as a matrioshka even as she threatens disownment and the loss of his ancestral land, for daring to fall for a skinny foreigner. Naples feels for me, feels with me. And in the pulsing heart of that Spanish labyrinth, I discover that love, like the city itself, is a tangle that cannot be unwound, a puzzle that cannot be conquered. It’s a journey that reaches a crossroads in Rome, with Bruno lying in a hospital bed with a spontaneously collapsed lung, a broken man.
I know you’d rather I was dead. I’m hardly alive…Three years on, Bruno’s remorseful, heart-rending email reaches me in my self-imposed exile in New Zealand. Soon our present-tense emails ping-pong not only with deeper insight into our past-tense love story as it slowly comes undone, but also with fresh, escalating passion. When an event unexpectedly takes me back to Naples, it begs the question: now years later, are we being handed a second chance?