It is early afternoon in Naples, with shoppers and early shift workers heading home. Into the basement Piazza Garibaldi station of the suburban Circumvesuviana railway system pour thousands of punters en route to suburbs along the Amalfi coast, a short ride away by graffiti-daubed electric train.
On the northernmost platform, a little girl of around four years old, with big dark eyes and dressed in pink, mingles with the crowds. But she is not travelling. She shuffles from one punter to the next, with her sad, appealing eyes looking up hopefully as she holds out her hand. This little girl is one of the youngest of the city’s all too numerous beggars.
In one respect, Naples is no different to any other southern European city: each has its own underclass. But here, there seem to be so many of them: the elderly woman in her usual spot outside Stazione Centrale, the man stepping out into the Mergellina traffic queue brandishing his plastic cup, and a host of itinerants slowly moving around the city with their belongings piled onto elderly prams and pushchairs.
At first, you wonder why the man running the station Tabachi where you buy bus tickets does business from behind a glass screen. Then, having taken ticket and change, you turn around to see an outstretched hand: another of the regulars working his patch. And then there are the more entertaining beggars.
Accordion players are a class of entertainer you will see on many street corners: on occasion, they will follow groups of likely looking tourists in an attempt to increase punter yield. But they are not nearly as determined or sophisticated as those musicians working the Cumana and Circumflegrea commuter trains that run out to the western suburbs.
Here, it is not unusual to be serenaded by a duo who have brought along a small amplifier for the vocalist, avoiding the stringent ticket inspection at Montesanto terminus simply by being on the train’s inbound working and staying put. Accommodating these extra passengers is an achievement in itself, given the lines’ routine daytime crush loading.
The dubious reward for those heading out to Bagnoli and Pianura is to be treated to a mix of easy listening with the accent on popular Italian standards: tourists will be reassured to know that they will hear Volare at regular intervals throughout their journey, along with the passage through the train of the chosen collecting vessel.
Which, of course, is why this disparate group is out there. Naples has well established and chronic unemployment, but its citizens still need to get by.