Zuppa di Castagne e Fagioli (Chestnut and Bean Soup)
Going to the gym in Naples is like watching a monkey ride a motorcycle- undeniably entertaining and yet woefully disturbing. Gym trends in Naples are stuck somewhere in 1999 and appropriate workout attire is apparently optional. Lululemon does not exist. Tabata is a Japanese restaurant. Paper towels are used as workout gliders.
Last week I spotted three old women working out in jelly sandals and pajamas. They bopped around on the tread mill and made some movements that approximated stretching all the while lugging around large plastic bags. God knows why these women joined a gym. I would imagine their doctors told them they needed to loose weight and then wrote them a prescription for a gym membership. You can get the government to pay for almost anything here if you are of temperamental constitution. Cough, cough….This includes trips to the thermal baths of Ischia.
My favorite type of Neapolitan gym rat is not of the old lady wearing flying cat decorated pajamas variety. Believe it or not, there is an even more entertaining sort to be found here at the gym: the middle aged aspiring buff man who has recently discovered the sacred hallows of the gymnasium. These suns out guns out fellows live at the gym. Most of them are in their sixties, wear spandex and stare at themselves in the mirror while flexing their nascent muscles.
There is one such recently baptized gym evangelist that frequents my gym in the Vomero. He wears tight spandex bicycle shorts that likely crunch his testicles to the point of unintentional castration. Serves him right! When he lifts weights, he grunts and grimaces, clanks and claps. He grins every time a young male gym employee walks by and then bro slaps the same employee on the ass. I don’t know this man. But it doesn’t stop me from hating him.
He is one of a crew of heterosexual, homophobic gym pederasts who stare into mirrors to the point of shattering them under the spells of their narcissistic gazes. They are ding-dong dumb bells who puff out their chests with the sad pseudo confidence only 60-year-old men who have recently discovered Tinder could possibly display. (Do yourselves a favor ladies and swipe right…) I hate them ALL. And my husband, Peppe must have recently detected my latent hatred because last week he (un?)wittingly crop-dusted the testicle cruncher while walking past him in the weight room. I have thusly noted that whenever I must silently punish a person, I need look no further then Peppe and direct him to fart on command.
There is another type of person at the gym to whom Peppe really ought direct some of his flatulence: the women with platform ‘work-out’ sneakers and fully contoured faces of caked on MAC make-up. While the resulting acne these ladies will likely develop is probably punishment enough, I think it would do them good to get caught down wind from Peppe the Puffer.
I mean these women don’t even work out. They simper around the gym in hot pink sports bras and shimmery eye shadows looking confused about how to operate a dumbbell. Generally I think they just want the attention of the young male gym attendants. But for this, they must compete with the heterosexual gym pederasts, which is no easy task. The result is usually a stiff competition involving clanking weights, groaning and lots of bends and snaps of bums and boobs jiggling all over the place. We are all really not so different from bonobos I think.
My single best gym experience, if not life experience, involved a visit to Naples from my French stepson. It just so happens Alex is an instafamous body builder in France and has like 498,000 followers on Instagram. Not only is he incredibly muscular, but he also looks like the result if John Galliano and Stretch Armstrong mated. I mean this as a compliment. As Diana Vreeland would say, “the eyes have it.” And Alex’s ice cold gaze and fashionable facial hair have it.
When Alex visited our Neapolitan gym, all of these crazies simultaneously came out of the wood works. The pajama gals, the testicle crunchers and the lip kit ladies all competed for Alex’s attention. Other than that one time Anderson Cooper came to work out at my very homosexual Washington D.C. gym, never had I seen so many people of varying ages, appearances and sexual orientations all silently competing to capture the gaze of the gym’s singular alpha male.
Alex reduced my Neapolitan gym to a pack of primates and all of this was caught on video and likely posted on YouTube to the tune of a Kanye West song. I will resist the urge to post a link to said video as I will likely be caught in the background farting around and building a Jenga tower out of dumbbells or some other similarly insalubrious bullshit.
Gym behavior in Naples is really not unlike gorilla behavior in the wild. The old ladies in cat pajamas are the gorilla gals that pick nits out of some old man monkey’s scalp. She probably eats the same nits when no one’s looking… don’t be judging these nit snackers or cat pajama wearers. They mean well, plus their doctor told them to do it.
The middle-aged ball sack stranglers are barely bipedal and like to smack their own asses and grunt a lot. Give them a smart phone at your own risk. The painted ladies roll around in grassy patches with come hither stares and jiggling breasts. Anderson Cooper and Alex Villani just kind of pounce around like Silver Backs, Silver Foxes or returning war heroes on the ticker tape parade. I guess that means Peppe is the monkey that throws poop?
I don’t know what all of this makes me but I prefer to think of myself as Dian Fossey in the midst of all this lower echelon evolutionary gym behavior. But in fits of self-awareness, I realize I am probably the dancing monkey you sometimes see clanking cymbals on the boardwalk. I’ll do (almost) anything to make a buck. Also, I do like cymbals!
Last night, I had a run in with another kind of gym monkey, the male attendant (read: minimum wage gym employee who lives with mummy and daddy but masquerades as Jean Claude fucking Van Damme). A pack of boys were jumping around the calisthenics areas like the flying monkeys of Oz and I was forced to wedge my mat into a tiny passageway between the medicine balls nobody uses and a rubbish bin.
I did my sit ups in silence while pleasantly listening to This American Life when Jean Claude patted me on the shoulder to chide me that I was, “in the worst possible place in the entire gym” and that I was “blocking the medicine balls.” I already hated this man. He once corrected my posture when I was practicing a yogic chair pose because he thought I didn’t know how to do a squat. Fucktard!
And now, he had the temerity to tell me to get away from the medicine balls. I opened my mouth to tell him, “Listen up bucko I pay 85 euro a month to belong to this parco zoologico… just who do you….” I thought better of it and instead shouted, “Peppe!! Can you please come over her for a second?” That little shit head didn’t know what he had coming. The flying monkeys on the mat would just have to be collateral damage.
After Peppe finished his guerilla assault, we went home and made borlotti beans for dinner. I have a whole week of sniper attacks planned. Don’t make me get the monkeys. No one messes with me and gets away with it.
Zuppa di Castagne e Fagioli (Chestnut Bean Soup)
Serves 6 as a primo
8 oz. dried borlotti beans
6 oz. dried, peeled chestnuts (if you can find fresh, snip them at the tip, cook them separately, then peel and add to bean soup in step 10. If you find canned, rinse them and add directly to soup also in step 10 .)
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
1 bay leaf
4 oz. diced pancetta
1 peeled garlic clove
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon fresh finely diced rosemary
1 teaspoon (1 leaf) diced sage
2 thick slices of peasant bread, diced
Extra virgin olive oil or hot pepper oil
Soak beans for 12 hours in two to three changes of water
Place beans, chestnuts, potatoes and bay leaf in large pot and fill with water
Heat pot over medium flame, bring to a boil, reduce to just above simmer
Cook uncovered for 90 minutes until potato is fork tender
Off heat, remove bay leaf and set aside bean mixture
Brown pancetta in a Dutch Oven
Add whole garlic, rosemary, sage and sauté for 30 seconds
Remove garlic and discard (or if you are me, eat it)
Deglaze with wine, scraping up any collected brown bits
Add bean/ potato / chestnut and their liquid to Dutch Oven
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes
While soup is simmering, fry crostini in olive oil until golden
Once soup is finished simmering, use an immersion blender to coarsely purée (alternatatively you can mash with the back of a wooden spoon)
Ladle soup into individual ceramic casseroles or cocottes
Garnish with a splash of extra virgin olive oil or hot pepper oil, rosemary and crostini
Ideal for cold winter nights and planning stealth fart attacks against people you don’t like.