The Market of Thieves in Naples

The Piazza Garibaldi Train Station in downtown Naples is a good example of organized chaos and I found myself squarely in them idle of it. That so many people come and go, jockey for parking, flag down taxis or even manage to just walk around is strictly an Italian thing. No, make that a “Napolitano’ thing. Because I’m more convinced than ever that there is a difference between the two. Naples is an entity all its own, and Piazza Garibaldi is like no other place in Italy that I know of.

I wasn’t here to catch a train however. Piazza Garibaldi is well known for a lot of different reasons. But one of the best is that it has a market on the far side of the piazza. Right behind a towering statue of old Garibaldi himself. The “Garibaldi Market’ is the most common nickname for this maze of vendors and their wares, but I prefer another label that is perhaps known only to the locals: “Mercato di Ladri” or the “Thieves Market”.

While it’s true that many of the vendors sell typical market items like shoes and sweaters and socks and the like, a lot of other vendors sell merchandise that you may want to think twice about: designer purses that look like the real thing but cost a heck of a lot less, leather jackets, watches and more. I’m drawn to the tennis shoes that sure look like they sports a Nike emblem but actually doesn’t. A closer examination shows the word “Mike” not “Nike”. And of course there are plenty of computer programs, music and DVDs for sale. I’m going to feel guilty about this, but Christmas IS right around the corner, and I do have some shopping to do.

I glide down an aisle of vendors and spot a young kid hawking DVDs. There it is: the latest Harry Potter flick, still playing in theatres all over Italy and the rest of the world and mine – if I want it – for only three euro. A bargain at twice the price! Curiously, I flip through the other DVD’s for sale: Mr. & Mrs. Smith, March of the Penguins, some Hillary Duff film that I know my daughter will scream for, and a lot of other titles. The fact that these movies are dubbed in Italian doesn’t make them any less valuable. The authorized versions of these DVD’s won’t hit the street for months. These movies are still in the theatres and already available.

I tell this young entrepreneur that I’ll be back, that I’m still looking. He replies, “I’ll have King Kong next week!”. I guess repeat business is what it’s all about. But he could probably care less. It bugs me that this youngster isn’t in school. He’s no more than 12 or 13 at most. But he’ll make 20 euro today, and in Naples that’s not bad for a kid. Easy money just for taking the risk of selling black market merchandise for someone whose interests probably run a lot deeper. I move on.

Around the corner I spot computer programs for sale. The latest Adobe drawing and photo-editing software, different audio and video editing software, plus more Game Boy programs than I ever imagined. I hate to think I’m contributing to downfall of modern business but like I said, I have some shopping to do. And if that’s not good enough, I have an article to write. And how can I substantiate what I’m writing about if I don’t have the actual merchandise in hand? Yeah, that’s the ticket. This will be a “professional purchase”.

The crazy thing is, this kind of stuff is sold day after day. It’s not like someone is pulling a fast one over the eyes of the Italian Police. But it’s not for me to pass judgment. In the meantime, I double back to the young DVD salesman and pick up a few titles that will make great stocking stuffers on Christmas Day. Immediately afterwards, I head of out the Thieves Market. As interesting as it is, it is also claustrophobic. The old saying “You can check in, but can’t check out” was probably written with this market in mind. It’s not the fist time I’ve been here, so I’ve learned that I need to keep tabs on my wallet and other belongings I have on my person.

About an hour later I’m at a local cafÃ?© sipping an espresso, when a Carabinieri and his partner stroll in. He is but one branch of the Italian police. There are others and each has a specific role. This one seems nice enough – he is after all – having a cafÃ?© like myself. So I ease down the counter a bit and say hello. I explain I’m an American and would he kindly explain something to me. He nods. So I ask him, “These kids selling DVD’s and CD’s. I see them in all parts of the city. Can’t something be done to halt the flow of contraband merchandise?” He takes a sip of his espresso. “Of course we do what we can. It’s against the law! But the people that do the selling aren’t the problem. The concern is the individual who is doing the P-R-O-V-I-D-I-N-G. We want the big fishâÂ?¦.not the minnowâÂ?¦”

I make a note to myself that if I ever produce a movie this guy has got a part in it, no questions asked. But I suppose what he says makes sense. More often than note, if one of these kids gets arrested he’ll be back on the streets within a few hours. Back to selling his wares. I thank the cop for his time and feel a lot better knowing the DVD’s I purchased are in the glove compartment of my car and not in my back pocket.

I step out of the bar and into a light drizzle. I got what I came for. But I’m not kidding myself. DVD’s, CD’s and more. You name it and it costs money. Name brands are expensive and not just in Naples, Italy. So you tell me, what price-conscious shopper isn’t going to save a few bucks where he or she can?

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