I have come to the conclusion that people who do not like Naples are often those who, for the frivolousness of their comfort avoid encounters with anything that makes them feel uneasy and puts them at risk of accepting that they still may have a conscience. They recognize the beauty only when it shines, and despise all diseases, including diseases of our time, because they live in the illusion of imaginary, controlled order. Naples, that amazing city, for better or worse, with its rebellious energy, poses threat to that prevailing, seductive and dangerous illusion.

I have tried to write about pizza several times, trying to find adequate words that would be enough powerful to start with, but in the end I figured out: I should accept the fact that I will hardly ever be able to write a good text about pizza Napoletana.

The truth is that it probably means that I share with the Neapolitans the same awe and even the same religiosity when pizza is concerned. Until the above mentioned unsuccessful attempts to write this text, I was aware that when pizza Napoletana is mentioned, I feel the adrenaline that may be compared with the wildest car ride of breakneck speed ever… something completely different from the restrained, dosed and monotonous adrenaline that boosts your concentration when climbing very vertical Alps slopes. This adrenaline is more like cozze e fagioli (mussels with beans), also one of my favourite dishes, but pizza is something different. A good pizza Napoletana converts kilos of adrenaline into Vesuvian eruption of endorphins.

A rational part of my personality always searches for explanations, so I tried to bring to consciousness of what fascinates me so much about pizza Napoletana. I do respect, but I still take with a grain of salt, popular scientific explanations of the reasons why we are susceptible to become addicted to pizza, pasta, or carbohydrates in general… I simply think that researches on addictions can be summarized as follows:< potentially, we can become addicted to everything that gives us pleasure. There are some things in life that we do not choose, they simply choose us. No matter how it is hard to accept it sometimes…

Pizza is the masterpiece of Neapolitan gastronomy and, at the same time, the most popular dish in the world. The result of this paradox is that the pizza has the same fate as Federico Fellini, genius of the Italian film, known by everyone, but understood by a few. Popularity often brings this kind of malediction.

Of course, the truth is that even in Naples one may find different kinds of pizza, and not all of them are of the best quality. Qualifications of pizzerias, more or less formal, are countless in Naples. The other day, when I visited the Neapolitan pizzeria in Zagreb, charming pizzaiolo Daniele Milone, Sicilian from Messina, asked me: Have you tried pizza in Neapolitan neighbourhood called Fuorigrotta, in pizzeria Di Napoli? Yes, I replied. It is good, but I prefer pizza from the nearby unpretentious pizzeria Pizza e contorni. There is one anecdote that reminds me of that pizzeria: After my husband and I discovered it by accident, since it is probably the only pizzeria in Naples that has 24/7 service, it became our frequent stop on our trips from Rome to Calabria. Fuorigrotta is a type of neighbourhood that Italians call quartiere popolare, and in Naples it means almost quartiere malfamato quartiere malfamato quartiere malfamato quartiere malfamato (infamous neighbourhood). The immediate vicinity of the stadium makes it gentler because of many passers-by. On one occasion, we wanted to share our pleasure of visit with the owner of the pizzeria who routinely asks guests who are leaving pizzeria: Was it good? At our response that the only reason why we return to Naples is the pizza prepared in his pizzeria, he asked and commented in surprise: How come you return to Naples only because of pizza? There's good, even better, pizza in Rome. At that moment, I remembered probably the craziest thing we ever did in order to taste a potentially good food: the ride through trackless mountains, some thirty kilometres south of Palermo, looking for best cannoli, because an accidental, passionate and equally enthusiastic acquaintance that we met at our journey told us that in an Albanian inland village, Piana degli Albanesi, cannoli were absolutely exceptional. I have to admit that while wondering along a steep pathway that stood for a road, I panicked a little because I realized that we could have been swallowed by the mountain, and no one would ever know what happened to us, why and when. It was too late to blame navigation and modern technological achievements, and the only thing we could do was to continue our ride desperately wishing and hoping to find, as soon as possible, something that at least looks like shelter.

Returning to reality, I thought that what the owner of the pizzeria had commented was a true picture of a gentle mentality of Neapolitans, who may hardly be impressed by anything, but also an evidence of how the right people are often unaware of their heroism. Just like geniuses, they are not aware of their originality, because the things they consider simple, even trivial, for other people are difficult to understand. It is hard to tell whether it is good or bad.

It also happened to me, in Venice, when I ate the worst pizza ever, shocked by defrosted pizzas that I used to see in close vicinity of the Vatican, and for which naive tourists probably believe that they embody the authentic Italian pizza. Nevertheless, I do not have much sympathy for enlightened observations that elsewhere, outside of Italy, it is possible to eat better pizza than in Italy. It sounds strange, as if someone said that Sacher cake is better in Italy than in a historic hotel in Vienna. As far as enogastronomic culture is concerned, the Italian awareness is very high; moreover, I lived in Rome for six years and I have never heard anything like that. Still, they are very proud when it comes to one of their national symbols: at the beginning of the last year, the Italian web space was overloaded with articles about the Americans who think that the authentic Italian pizza Napoletana is awful and that their pizza, such as Pizza Hot, is much better. Personally, I accept that someone may prefer something that looks like pizza, rather than a good pizza Napoletana. Tastes cannot be discussed and it is legitimate, although then it does not make sense to talk about pizza Napoletana, but about some other dish. Examples of adaptation to local tastes around the world are extreme: pizza sushi, pizza hot dog, pizza tajin, etc. Without being presumptuous, I think education is the basis for recognition and understanding of the pizza Napoletana. Well trained palates of good potential that are, like any other gift, very rare, might be an exception. In short: there is one thing worse than pizza with ketchup, and it is probably pizza with mayonnaise.

Once I visited a historic pizzeria Brandi, with its interior decoration that was very atypical, noble and chic compared to a typical Neapolitan pizzeria, I could hardly wait to ask the owner what, in her opinion, makes pizza Napoletana so unique? At first, her answer surprised me, although it was a variation and a kind of déjà vu of what I had previously experienced and heard in the Fuorigrotta neighbourhood. Only later, when the owner noticed my disappointment with her demystification of pizza Napoletana, she started to give an explanation she probably assumed I would expect: special water, specific climate, winds and temperature that are ideal for dough rising… In a pizzeria, where in 1889 pizza Margherita got its name, I expected a ‘juicier’ story. Moreover, the Italians, in general, are experts in what is commonly called, but not in the Italian language, storytelling. However, it is all about the Naepoletan charm; you either love it or hate it…

The origins of pizza are ancient, since throughout the history the pizza dough was used as a plate. Publius Vergilius Maro in The Aeneid wrote:

They set wheat cakes for a base

Under the food (as Jupiter himself inspired them)

And added wild fruits to these tables of Ceres.

The word pizza was first documented in 997 AD in The river Garigliano mill rental agreement, kept inthe archives of the Cathedral of Gaeta.

The potential for a story related to special, Neapolitan conditions for making pizza was recognized by Gerardo De Nisco, geologist and associate of the cultural association Napoli Sotterranea (Naples Underground) that opened the first geothermal pizzeria in the world, Le Sorelle Bandiera, in the centre of Naples, in the surroundings of the Temple of Dioscuri. That pizzeria is the result of experimental researches in primis on the parameters essential for dough rising. In its rooms with tuff walls the dough rises 24 to 48 hours. The quality of pizza is satisfying, and a visit to the underground may turn into a fun adventure. On one occasion, by chance and for the love of our dear friends, my husband and I visited that special pizzeria and Naples underground. It revealed to us the importance of making steps forward. It was fun listening to the confessions of a middle-aged woman, mixed up with imaginative cursing and swearing. It is very encouraging to meet and listen to someone who obviously has a much bigger problem with indoor space then you.

I cannot exactly tell how many times I have been to Naples, but I remember the occasion when pizza really disappointed me. Ironically, it was the pizza in the historic pizzeria Da Michele, place known even by people who have never stepped into a Neapolitan pizzeria, thanks to the movie scenes in Eat, Pray, Love. There is no doubt that the pizzeria whose origins date back to 1870 builds its image on tradition: it offers only two types of pizza: Marinara (tomatoes, oil, oregano, garlic) and Margherita (tomatoes, oil, mozzarella or fior di latte, grated cheese and basil). It is not a must, but I prefer feeling comfortably in a room where I eat. Regardless of whether it is about agritourism or a restaurant with Michelin stars, I like when the place, as well as people, has character, and, if possible, the warmth. Therefore, I must admit that white and green marble tables that reminded me of a mess hall in a medieval hospital, were not charming at all. Even worse: pizza was almost burnt and mostly inedible. When I looked at the crowded restaurant, I found out that, unfortunately, it was not an accident.

In order to fight boredom and routine, I like that all other dishes vary, and this element of surprise really amuses me; but I like the classic Neapolitan pizza. Thus, I would agree for a lifetime, without hesitating, to eat pizza I tasted on last Valentine's Day in Sorbilla's old pizzeria in the centre of Naples. It was the most delicious pizza Napoletana I had ever tasted. The occasion was an interview that is still waiting the right moment for publication. Although I am often sceptical about TV stars, this time a media omnipresent Gino Sorbillo made me change my mind.

I was really surprised by a delicious pizza Napoletana in a newly opened pizzeria Basta, in the heart of Zagreb; especially if we talk about deliciousness of the dough. Talkative pizzaiolo Daniele Milone revealed to me that I was lucky, because on that occasion he managed to leave the dough rising for three days. Besides its structure, baking is also essential for pizza Napoletana, and it is something that many people fail to do right. Since the baking time is about 50 seconds, it is not easy to achieve an optimal result. It was cute and fun to recognize the triestine handwriting of the pizza Napoletana in Zagreb, although it was my only complaint. Very simply: the clue is in oregano. In a moment, I recalled a cultural shock I had experienced when I ordered pizza in Trieste. Moreover, it happened on my way back from Naples. For pizza Margherita, the harmony of flavours and all ingredients is essential; it means that nothing should prevail. It means that the variation with dominant oregano flavour is out of the question. Oregano is fine, but in some other context. In Naples, oregano is something completely unacceptable on pizza Margherita, while from Trieste on, it is quite normal, perhaps even desirable. It is an illustrative example of some dishes' adaptation to local tastes. The Neapolitans would probably say that pizza Margherita was bastardizzata (loose translation would be bastardized),since the explanation for oregano on pizza Margherita could be sought in some kind of a hybrid between pizza Marinara and pizza Margherita (according to the precise International disciplinario Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana and in line with the old Neapolitan tradition, oregano is one of the ingredients of pizza Marinara).

During my second visit to the pizzeria Basta,I was delighted when Daniele told me that they had replaced oregano with fresh basil. I said to the owner: Let's make genuine pizza Napoletana in Zagreb, no matter if someone likes it or not.

Pizzaioli Veraci Riuniti (United genuine pizzaioli) summarize the philosophy of making pizza Napoletana in a few words: A little bit of essential ingredients, a rigorous method, and the quest for simplicity, holy patience and fun. Pizza Napoletana remained the most valuable, authentic, extraordinary example of Italian excellence.The essence of pizza makes this product a symbol of Italian design. It is why Pizzaioli Veraci Riuniti hired the photographer Oliviero Toscani, known to the general public for his controversial photographs made for Benetton commercials, to make a photo catalogue of Neapolitan pizzaioli Tu vuò fa’ il Napoletano (You would be a Neapolitan). About his relationship with pizza, he says: It is excellent! The first Italian product. The car, in Italy identified with Ferrari, was not invented by Italians, anyway. However, pizza is our invention, although afterwards it was stolen. You Neapolitans, experts in stealing, were cursed. All Rolex robberies are not as worth as such an easy robbery of pizza.

Still, pizza in Naples is untouchable. Naples expressed this attitude by the Neapolitans' unification and demonstrations in April last year, after the blasphemous McDonald’s Happy meal commercial. It is about a young couple with a small child sitting at a table and ordering a pizza in a pizzeria. The waiter asks the child what pizza he/she wants, and a child replies: Happy meal! The Neapolitans took it very personally. They responded promptly with an anti-McDonald's propaganda video, while the Neapolitan pizzaioli, in the heart of Naples, in a strategic place in front of McDonalds’s restaurant, very demonstratively organized the distribution of pizza to the children passing by. The best Italian pizzaioli: Gino Sorbillo, Davide Civitiello, Teresa Iorio, Simone Fortunato and Vincenzo Capuan, in cooperation with one of the leading international chains of pizza Napoletana, Rossopomodoro, filmed a lovable spot in which they defend the honour of pizza, Un pasto felice (Happy meal) and share their experiences about the children’s reaction to pizza.The campaign was joined by the Movimento 5 stelle, raising the whole case on a political level<. The Communication Agency of the Parliament was required to defame McDonald’s commercial that is insulting for the Italian pizza and McDonald’s was required to withdraw its sponsorship of the Expo 2015. They said to Neapolitan pizzaioli that they did not attack them more severely than they attacked the institution of pizza itself. Thereafter, McDonald’s apologized: We too, da buoni Italiani, love pizzaand visit pizzeria. The aim of our commercial was to present the situation that happened to all the parents: They want to go out, but their children want to be taken to McDonald's. Is there any parent who has not experienced that?

Time perception is another phenomenon typical for Naples. Neapolitans behave as if they had all the time in the world.< When they talk about going out or having a dinner they usually say: See you tonight, meaning from nine o’clock onwards; half past nine, ten, half past ten … Nobody makes a problem about this. During my student residence in Naples, I remember two colleagues from North Europe who could not possibly accept that charming segment of Neapolitan mentality. Every day for two weeks, from early morning, they would start talking about how they hated Naples and wanted to leave the city immediately the day after because nothing made sense any more. Eventually, they stayed till the very end. They are probably kind of people who always struggle and force themselves to finish the book no matter how much they hated it. I have never understood that, because I think that in our free time we should at least have the privilege of choosing what to do and to what extent, and I suppose it should be something pleasant. After that episode, I was grateful to the geography and geopolitics for giving to the Croats a potential of flexibility; no matter if it is about proverbial German precision, or vivid Neapolitan creativity.

It is not easy to understand Naples; in order to understand it, one should leave behind all prejudices, everything we think we knew about Italy and Italians, because Naples, with its special cuisine, special dialect and music listened only in Naples, is an oasis for itself. One of the last stages of the Grand Tour, which in the early 18th century became a status symbol among the European intelligentsia and aristocracy, is the product of the millennium mixing of different cultures. When you go for a walk through Naples, you will be able to recognize and discover all the traces and manuscripts. Thus, the Spaniards left here the drama and theatricality. A nickname of the popular Neapolitan street, about 2 kilometres long, which in Roman times was one of the three decumani, is Spaccanapoli, from the verb spaccare "to brake, to tare to shreds", and not, for example, Dividenapoli, "to divide". Spaccare is much more powerful than dividere and is often used for "to dissipate something". Beside Palermo, for its atmosphere, Naples is the most Arabic city in Italy. Chaos is what you first notice when you step into the old city centre. Simply, there are different kinds of rules. However, apparent chaos is limited by hidden, rigid and cruel rules. Here, you learn very quickly that green and red traffic lights are only colours, and that, in practice, only unwritten and codified street rules apply. Naples is also a city of contrasts, of Nobilità e miseria (Misery and Nobility) with Totò, but also of undeniable and unique charm. On his departure from Naples, Stendhal wrote: I will not forget nor the Toledo street, nor any other neighbourhood in Naples; in my eyes, it is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world.

An important part of rich cultural heritage of Naples is its dialect, which UNESCO has declared comparable with the language. With the arrival of Garibaldi and the end of the Kingdom of two Sicilies, Neapolitan was officially declared the language. Entertainment in Naples is necessarily associated with good food, so that the Neapolitan verb pariare, which originally referred to digestion and the state of pleasure that we feel after an abundant and tasty meal, means now to have fun, without negative thoughts, together with happiness and peace.

It is possible to understand pizza Napoletana without understanding Naples, but only partially. One thing is to surrender solely to the organoleptic pleasure, and quite another to eat a piece of pizza and be aware of how to stay together and get to know a piece of fascinating history of even more fascinating and unique place in the world. The position above the seismic soil, under the catastrophic volcano, and constant threats through the generations, formed the population with strong personality and character.

My love for pizza Napoletana has lasted for half my lifetime. It started during my studies, when I took the opportunity of student exchange and spent two weeks in Naples. My stay there, while I was continuously going out, was also dedicated to two weeks of gastronomy and tasting, which included pizza Margherita as my daily menu. I stayed in a cute condo in the famous Vomero, with three quasi-friends. I was confused by the fact that the Vomero was considered such an elite neighbourhood. Namely, the only explanation was that our building, as well as all other buildings in the neighbourhood, had a porter; which means that the buildings were guarded. Normally, Vomero was completely different from all elite neighbourhoods I had ever seen. Very soon, I noticed how people were impressed by my address; many years after that, the same thing happened to me in Rome, where people used to ask me where my husband was from, and I would have answered: from Calabria. Though, the effect was opposite. The question that usually followed was inevitable: Is he jealous?, and the hidden meaning was: Is he a mafioso? Obviously, it was their first association, and it is precisely why that fact was so impressive. For some time I used to justify myself, but then it started to amuse me. Therefore, I decided to inform all my new acquaintances about my husband’s origin, without being asked. Actually, it was one of the first things I would have said when introduced to someone. It was almost like: My name is Ines and my husband is Calabrese. If you cannot change it, take advantage of it. The glory of Calabrian mafia extends beyond the Italian borders, so a benevolent friend of mine, from Zagreb, warned me of potential risk and problems I might have because I started dating a Calabrese who studied in Miami. Namely, her husband worked for the secret service and had very reliable information about the connection between being sent to study in Miami and being a member of Calabrian mafia. Fortunately, time has shown that my husband and I are alike, because, among other things, we come from modest family background; however, it did not stop us to try to gain knowledge beyond standard framework, so it turned out that the well-intentioned friend was a bit paranoid.

When other things are in question, I am often amused by the fact how many things in the modern society are considered as a taboo and how many people are hypocritically scandalized by certain things, while, at the same time, the lack of courtesy is tacitly tolerated; to start with greeting and greeting back, responding to SMS messages, e-mails. There are many people who think they are generous because they greeted in return, not to mention the situation when they greeted you first; as if they did you a huge favour. I suppose they think it is acceptable not to greet a person who, in their opinion, is not on their level. For one reason or another. Of course, this may change, since we know that what goes around doesn’t come around, although they do not look so much ahead. It seems that they took over the phlegmatic south Italian philosophy Poi vediamo (We’ll see later). For example, for me it is something absolutely unacceptable, even sad.

After two weeks spent in Naples, since I could not take along the pizza, I brought to Zagreb the idea to buy basil as soon as possible. It is how basil became part of my daily life and my small Mediterranean oasis in inland; something I thought I could not live without. Until, of course, I fatally and finally fell in love with pizza Napoletana.

The case of Roberto Saviano is the other side of the medal of Naples. Saviano is the author of the world bestseller Gomorra, and since 2006, when the novel was published, has lived under constant armed protection and has been forced to change international addresses. Nevertheless, he dedicatedly continued to fight for what he considers righteous and believes in, unfortunately at excessive price. For the last eight years, I have travelled everywhere with seven trained bodyguards in two bullet-proof cars. I live in police barracks or anonymous hotel rooms, and rarely spend more than a few nights in the same place. It’s been more than eight years since I took a train, or rode a Vespa, took a stroll or went out for a beer. Everything is scheduled to the minute; nothing is left to chance. Doing anything spontaneous, just because I feel like it, would be ridiculously complicated. Saviano dreams of things that we often take for granted and that seem to be untrue. His radical way of living and his biggest and unforgettable sin of fighting for justice and truth, is a very convincing argument for self-examination of the obvious. His list of 10 things that are worth living for contains, for example: to throw oneself deep into the sea, where the sea is still a sea, while at the first place there is da buon Campano mozzarella di buffalla aversana. However, when I was thinking about my list, I remembered Federico Fellini’s Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) in the cult classic La Dolce vita. A movie star, an American actress who in the golden age of the Italian cinematography comes to Rome for filming, at the press conference answers: There are lots of things that interest me, but there are three things I like the most:<0} {0>ljubav, ljubav i ljubav.”<}0{>love, love and love. For me, pizza Napoletana stays firmly at the fourth place. In the movie, Fellini himself glorifies pizza in the scene when Sylvia is landing at the airport where numerous journalists and paparazzi are waiting for her. After she charmingly waves her hand for the purpose of photo shooting, there come waiters with a tray, carrying a huge pizza. She was simply welcomed by a pizza.

Why did I want to visit Naples so much for the first time? Aware of the risk that I might seem superficial, I am answering honestly: because of the saying: Vedi Napoli e poi muori! Although it might seem naive, the power of these words seemed to me too strong to be without relevance. I am sure that this saying marked me for my whole life. It shows the power of words to those who are listening.

Goethe describes his almost mystical experience and encounter with Naples using the following words: I seem to be a completely different person whom I hardly recognize. Yesterday I thought to myself: Either you were mad before, or you are mad now.

Therefore, if you are curious and open to life, go and visit Naples, taste the pizza Napoletana and let the Naples seduce you.