In the ancient heart of Naples. where almost 3,000 years of stratified history is frozen in time, part of Via dei Tribunali (the main east-west axis crossing the Graeco-Roman city) is closely associated with stories of witchcraft. Here (before it was swept away by the wave of modernisation that engulfed the city in 1890) was Vico Pensiero (Thought Lane), a dark alley so called because of a plaque bearing the enigmatic Neapolitan lines “Provero pensiero me fu arrubato pe no le fare le spese me l’â tornato” (Pour thought stolen from me and then returned to avoid paying the price). No one known either the origin or the author, or even the date of this plaque, now kept in the premises of the Società Napoletana di Storia Patria (SNSP, Neapolitcan Society of National History).
The active Neapolitan imagination couldn’t ignore such a mystery, so people took it upon themselves to find an explanation: one evening in the year 1500, a young poet strolling through the neighbourhood came upon the alley in question. Suddenly he heard a meow and saw a kitten crouched in a corner. He picked it up and sheltered it under his coat. Before he had even turned away, a door opened and a girl came out. She had jet-black hair down to her hips and jade-green sparkling eyes. In the voice of an angel, she thanked the young man for taking care of her cat. Literally thunderstruck, he stayed for a long while chatting with the beautiful stranger, who arranged to meet him the next day at the same time.
For months on end the poet lived for these nocturnal meetings, obsessed with one idea: to marry the sublime creature who had captivated him. One day, however, she vanished without warning. Enquiries around the neighbourhood came to nothing: no one had ever seen this girl. He had surely been the victim , he was told, of a witch who wanted to capture the spirit of a handsome young man for her own amusement. But the poet would have none of this and almost went insane: emaciated, in scruffy clothes, he spent all his time sitting at the place where he had met the girl. One night, in the depth of despair, he took up a stone and engraved the words that can still be read today, then disappeared without a trace.
So the next time you are in Naples, you may care to pay a visit to the Società Napoletana di Storia Partria – Castel Nuovo and see this plaque…. a lover’s despairing tribute…..!!!