By Nicki Kasper
There are times in our lives that we’re blessed with real experiences, the kind of experiences that can change us if our eyes are open to them. If you sit quietly and observe… If you can really take in what’s going on around you and reflect on it for a moment, you have a chance to see so much, and you have a chance to better yourself.
Tattoo Expo Napoli was one of those experiences for me, and I’m gonna go out on a limb, to a very vulnerable place for me and try to share some things about how it all made me feel…
When I first arrived in Napoli, I was invited to go to a pool with Alex de Pase and some friends of his. It was a ten-minute walk, and on that walk, I was surprised at some of the things I saw… There was trash in the streets, dog shit on the sidewalks, and kiosks at traffic lights selling crap that no one needs… I was surprised by it all, and asked Alex if this was typical in Italy. (This was my first trip to Europe, and in the beginning, I felt very much like a dumb American.) It was explained to me that Napoli specifically is different from any other city in Italy, possibly the world, even… There is a large Mafia presence, and it’s pretty much complete anarchy there. In that moment, I was feeling reservations about the city, the trip, etc. My thought was, “where the fuck am I? This is weird!”
Later that night, I was treated to an amazing dinner that I’m still blown away by… The food in Napoli is beyond amazing. Alex and the show’s promoter, Antonio took us to this really nice place that over looked the sea, the food was good, the company was amazing, and it was the perfect place for me to observe many things… Everyone who joined us for dinner was very warm and personable. There were genuine smiles and laughter exchanged.
If I turned my attention out to the street, I could witness some of the anarchy, and oddly, it started to become familiar quickly. They drive as if there are NO RULES… They go balls out whether they’re in a car or on a scooter, they don’t stop at lights, they park behind cars and block them in, and they park on sidewalks. NO RULES. I realized that night that while it may be strange to me, it’s not strange at all to the people who lived there, and it somehow works for them. They have a system. It may not be like any other system in the world, but it’s theirs and it works. In that moment, I started to appreciate it all. I could feel that my eyes were being opened to something I had never experienced and I was grateful and excited to see what the rest of the trip had in store. (After I got some much-needed sleep… I had been up over 34 hours at that point.)
The next day, when I walked into the venue, I was blown away. This was a really nice show. It was so much more than I expected it to be. The show included pretty much everything… graffiti, comics, air brushing, music, the most impressive fine art gallery I’ve seen at a show yet, and of course, tattoos.
The people at the show and the people of Napoli were all so warm and friendly. Even when I had a hard time communicating because of the language barrier, they were gracious, and we seemed to find a way. They were amazing, and genuine. There was this little girl on roller skates that skated by my booth and snagged about 8 stickers one day. I didn’t say anything, didn’t care, really… It was a little girl. If she had asked, I would have given her the stickers, anyway. I was blown away a couple of hours later when she came back… I saw her notice the sign by the stickers. “2 for 1€.” She disappeared again and came back ten minutes later and put every single sticker she took back on my table. She said something in Italian. I imagine it was an apology. I told her it was ok, and gave her the stickers back and smiled to which she said, “Grazi! Grazi!” And came around my table to hug me. It was super touching, and melted my heart a little. There are definitely people in Napoli who will steal from you simply because anything goes there, but not all of them.
The day after the show ended, I was invited to go on a boat excursion Antonio set up as an after party. The boat took us to Sorrento and Capri. It was a two-hour boat ride each way, and we stopped for an amazing lunch in Sorrento. Everyone on the boat (mostly tattooers) were amazing. It was fun to watch them interact and having fun. It was quite honestly one of the most genuine experiences I think I’ve ever had. No one seemed to care what other people were thinking or doing. No one had a huge ego or was trying to impress, everyone was just nice and having a good time.
When we got to the restaurant, there was a guitarist there to play for a few hours of Italian Karaoke. I couldn’t get over how much fun it was to watch them perform. They didn’t care if they looked dumb or sounded bad, no one was laughing at them, only with them. It was the most amazing thing to watch, and I admired them for it. A few times, they played American songs, and that’s when all of them would sing and dance from their chairs! YMCA and Another Brick in the Wall were huge hits, and it was pretty hilarious to watch.
The next day, my flight didn’t leave until the evening, and Antonio picked Jeff Gogué and I up at the hotel and took us on a tour of the city center in Napoli. We got to see his shops and office, and were able to say goodbye to his amazing employees. We saw some mind-blowing architecture, we toured an underground city, went to a church that I am still overwhelmed by, etc.
I was overcome with gratitude, and I didn’t expect to feel that way. I’m a girl who always controls her emotions. I don’t let anyone see them. That was hard for me on this trip. It was hard for me to even thank Antonio without getting choked up. I was grateful for everything. It was hot as fuck there and the air conditioning didn’t work in the venue, or the hotel rooms and I didn’t care. There was trash in the streets and I had to be careful to keep my purse and phone close to me at all times, and I didn’t care… I was grateful for all of it.
To Antonio and his staff, thank you… For everything… you guys are awesome, and I hope to come back next year.
To Alex, thank you for your jokes, your hospitality, and your friendship. You’re amazing.
To Jeff, thank you for giving me a tour of Rome during a ridiculously long layover and for not making too much fun of me when I asked what “the weird looking sink on the floor of the bathroom was…” or how to turn the lights on in my hotel room. You’re a good friend.
I believe that experiences are what you make them… It would have been easy for me to get hung up on the heat, or the oddities in Napoli. But… had I done that, I would have missed all the magic in it. It was a surreal experience, and one that I will always treasure.
I highly recommend the show, and hope to see all my new friends again.
Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao!!!