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Ahhhh, la bella Napoli.

A raw, primal city where breathtaking beauty is sometimes juxtaposed with the stifling stench of garbage and exhaust.

It’s a city of extremes: The food isn’t just good, it’s delicious; the driving isn’t merely erratic, it can be downright dangerous; the espresso is so strong that at times it is called “liquid crack”; and men converse so passionately that outsiders might think they are arguing.

You either love Naples or hate it.

I love it. I’ve fallen head over heels for this southern Italian metropolis, which daily tests my resolve.

That’s precisely what I love about it. I feed off its energy, the chaos, the weirdness that has become the ordinary.

Venture beyond the gated security of “fortress America” — the U.S. support site base at Gricignano — and delve into a city of fashion, theater, culture and entertainment.

A city of life.

Be smart and be careful, but be not afraid.

This is not, by any stretch, an all-inclusive listing. It’s a steppingstone to learning about and living all that is la bella Napoli. I hope it will encourage you to experience this fabulous city — or to find something similar in yours.

Plane sightEver want to feel small? For just a moment, in order to gain a little perspective and regain your sense of wonder? Take a jaunt out the back gates of the U.S. Navy base at Capodichino, safely pull off on the side of the road, and watch mammoth metallic birds come in for a landing on the runways of Naples’ International Airport. And for a brief moment, it’s like you can reach up and touch them. They come that close. I frequently see Italians pull off the side to watch, taking a break. For me, if the appreciation of feeling tiny in the presence of such mass doesn’t get to me, then the giddiness and awestruck expressions of the gawkers certainly does — especially when they are children parked atop car roofs.

If you’re hungryNaples can feed your appetite for adventure. Restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, and snack bars abound. This is where they say pizza was invented. Go and get it. And if you tire of Italian cuisine (though I can’t see how you would), those who wish to titillate the palate with “ethnic” eateries, are in luck. Neapolitans have embraced a desire for diversity. There is a substantial number of immigrants here, and they brought their home cooking with them. These restaurants pepper Via Bausan, a street near the U.S. consulate’s building. It shoots off Riviera di Chiaia on the waterfront side, or is accessible by walking down stairs off Piazza Amedeo.

Take a breakSure, the chaos gets to me too, sometimes. But you don’t need to get far out of town to unwind. I think when God painted “beautiful,” his brush stroked the Amalfi Coast on his world canvas. The perilously curvy, two-lane road just out of town is filled with hairpin bends — and with breathtaking views and charming villages set among rocky cliffs jutting from the Mediterranean Sea. You’ve probably driven it. Now go back, and fish it. Several villages are set on the water, offering beachfront access to the sea bass and other anglers’ delights that are as good as the views from above.

Look sharpSure, a base-sponsored tour will take you to “shoe alley,” and that’s cool and all, but know where to shop for the latest Italian fashions, a prized industry of this country. Try the Vomero district of Naples, or downtown’s Via Toledo or Via dei Mille (the latter of which is geared more toward those with a higher expendable income) for the latest in Italian attire.

Feed your inner artistMany here with more classical tastes have heard, and possibly visited, the famed San Carlo Theater, one of the world’s oldest opera houses. But it is not alone. Naples is one of the top cities in Italy for performers. Did you know there are at least 10 other theaters in which to enjoy the true art of dance, opera and performances? You don’t have to speak the language to enjoy the performances, as many include dance spectaculars from around the world in which only the words of body language are spoken.

Private dancersNot quite my most comfortable moment, but hey, I do what I can for the readers: Want night life that leaves little to fantasy? There are strip joints along Via Partenope near Castel dell’ Ovo that let men (well, that’s all I saw), appreciate, the, um, art of dance. The clubs, such as La Femina, are “a bit of Paris in the heart of Naples,” said manager Aniello Russo. Clubs offer the lure of the risqué at hefty prices. Cover charges are in the 25 euro range, and drinks bought for spectators and the dancing dames run between 10 and 14 euros, depending on the cocktail. Private showings run 100 euros for roughly 20-minute sessions. And now, I feel like I’m one step and an arranged pole dance away from being a pimp.

Read it right hereBook and music lovers, here’s your paradise. If you’ve missed stateside stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, hop down to the La Feltrinelli store in Piazza dei Martiri on Via S. Caterina, or the one on Via S. Tommaso D’Aquino, off Via Roma. You could spend hours listening to music selected for the display cases, or browse for the latest bestsellers. Don’t speak the language? There are books to help you learn. But yes, they sell books written in English. In the Martiri store, the English section is in the basement section. Stores open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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