Mykki Blanco Tells Us Where to Eat, Bathe, Party, and Cruise in Italy
“Italian culture is very intense and very passionate,” says the artist Mykki Blanco, who first visited Milan over a decade ago. There, Blanco experienced a degree of acceptance and freedom they weren’t accustomed to back home. As the 37-year-old multi-hyphenate put it, “It was one of the first times I felt my own personality mirrored back to me.” Call it serendipity, then, that Blanco, who resided in Naples for much of the past year before enrolling in graduate school in Switzerland, opted to title their new, six-song EP—a globe-trotting, genre-bending experiment in disco, Europop, and alternative funk—Postcards from Italia. Curious about their adventures in Italy, we got on the phone with Blanco last week for a virtual walkabout through their favorite destinations.
BAGNI REGINA GIOVANNA
The second day that I was in Naples, my friend Lorenzo was like, “I’m going to take you to one of the most beautiful beaches near Napoli. And behind the beach, there’s gay cruising.” So, Bagni Regina Giovanna is called “Queen Giovanna’s Bath.” At one point, [there] was a queen. It’s fabled that she would summer there with a lover. But the lover couldn’t come back with her to the king. So she would have her soldiers drown them in this pool, in this grotto.
There’s a wonderful sandwich shop [run by] a family: a man, his wife, and his four sons. They make these really delicious paninos. And we would bring bottles of white wine and listen to music. The bath itself is quite lovely. On the other side are these flat rocks I call the catwalk, because underneath the water [there’s] a piece of rock [that] kind of jets out and touches another rock. If the waves aren’t crazy, it’s actually shallow enough for you to slowly walk from one side under the water to the other. It’s quite chic.
There’s a path where the cove meets rocks. There’s a wooden fence. You have to climb over the fence, and then there’s a gate, and the gate is always half-pushed open. You walk to your right through this olive grove above the rocks and then you reach a cliff. You go down, and there’s this abandoned beach bar. People hook up in there. And then you go a little bit further and it’s the gay nudist side. There’s a place to swim, but it’s direct sunlight. If you’re going to go to that side, you need to go at four, because then it’s not as hot.
You’ll just see a slew of condoms and little gel lube packets that you would get at the clinic. Someone actually took what used to be a fence door and made it a pallet and leaned it up against a tree. And that’s where people hook up. I went once or twice just to cruise. But usually I went with friends. Two people had their birthdays there. It was really, really fun. Italy is literally not about the apps. Italy is about cruising.
Me, an artist named Jim C. Nedd, and an art critic and writer named Olamiju [Fajemisin] all met living in Napoli this summer. We became great friends. Simultaneously, all of our apartments were up. So we were like, “Okay, what are we going to do?” Jim made an executive decision and was like, “I booked nine days in Ischia,” and Olamiju and I both hadn’t been there. It was amazing. We stayed in this really cute apartment where all of the decor was orange, the couch, the sheets, the curtains. We went to this amazing restaurant on the mountain. Rabbit is very popular there.
Wait a minute. How could I forget? This is kind of the most important story. I’m not going to say his name, but we met someone on the island who befriended us and sold us weed. And this person drove us around and was telling us that they were having a hard time on the island. And we were like, “Is it girl troubles?” And they were like, “Well, no. I do have a new girlfriend, but her family doesn’t like me because I accidentally killed someone.”
And then we found out that he had accidentally killed someone in a car accident. And we were in the car with him, so that was kind of unsettling. But I mean, hey, life happens to everyone. What else happened on the island? Oh, Jim and I had a really wonderful day on the bikes. We went to this amazing beach that’s half-hot spring, half-salt water, almost like an estuary. We played tons of Uno. I got very competitive and they said I was a dictator.
This year, Napoli won this huge championship, and they hadn’t won this championship in 30 years or something. And [Diego] Maradona, the famous soccer player, he’s a saint-like figure. When I arrived there, I was completely ensconced in this city and I did not realize that the football team are like demigods. There are little shrines to them everywhere. There’s also a beautiful photo of the library. I needed to find a place to work, so I of course went to the Nazionale Biblioteca. It has these amazing frescos, but people really do go there to do work.
Then this wonderful plate of linguini alla Luciana. It’s linguini with octopus and red sauce. This came from one of my favorite restaurants in Napoli. It’s not on any kind of guide. It doesn’t have a Michelin star. It’s not even on a hidden Napoli blogspot. I think I was going to a gig in Torino or Rome and I wanted to eat lunch. I saw this restaurant where there were all these old Italian people, not tourists, because Naples is full of tourists in the summer. They just looked like normal Italian families. And I was like, “I bet you this fucking restaurant is really good.” And it was. It was called E Pronto o Mangia, and I took so many people there.
This is me at Galleria Fonti in this green blazer. That is in the bourgeois part of Napoli. One of the best spots that I went to in Napoli [was] this bar, Perditempo. It’s a bar that functions also as a publishing house. They do a lot of stuff geared towards books on anarchism and socialism. They also have lectures. So in the early evening, they’ll have someone speak. Usually, it’s all in Italian. And then afterwards, it’s a small bar with a DJ. They play a lot of different kinds of music and it’s a staple in the community there. Rootz is also a lesbian owned bar that a lot of people go to. Depot is a fetish Club. Not to be confused with the Paris Depot, because in Napoli, there aren’t gay bars. But there is Depot, which is the closest thing to a gay bar.
Rome was fun. This was outside of a house in Rome: “In this house, even the dog is nervous.” I loved that. This is my friend Emilio, who is a really, really wonderful tattoo artist originally from Mexico City but based in Italy. And his girlfriend Nina, she’s an actress and a model. They’re really, really lovely people. I actually stayed with them before I got my place in Napoli.
I loved this chair. This is actually in Nettuno. Nettuno is really funny because it’s right outside of Rome, but it’s basically this failed community. This community got a bunch of money in the late 70s, and it was supposed to be this prominent seaside suburb of Rome. And they started building all these really tall buildings and vacation homes and then, somehow, the funding got cut. But Nina’s grandmother has an apartment there and they go there a lot to relax. In Italy, everything is always disorganized and so cluttered. But I just love the clutter.
So I go in here with my dry cleaning because I was like, “I’ve been here long enough, I can probably get something dry-cleaned.” And I go to have these two blazers dry-cleaned. The woman literally told me to come back in a month. At first, I thought she was being insanely rude, and then I was just like, “No, she actually really just told me to come back.”
This is at an afters at Kiko’s. Kiko is a photographer. He’s South African and Italian. He’s a sweetheart. He takes really wonderful photos. And we had just had a long one. He was dressing Emilio in his blazers. We were having a good time. Okay, I forgot her name. She’s really sweet. This is at the same afters, and she had this beautiful tattoo that I thought was so charming. Rome is full of a lot of very pretty people. And they’re quite welcoming and quite warm.
If you go to my Instagram, this photo is the BTS of the album cover of Postcards From Italia. This is the park that inspired the name of the release.
THE SPANISH QUARTER
Even though I’m very visibly queer, I’m also, at this point in my life, masc-presenting and 6’3″ and Black. So a lot of times, in places that are dangerous for other bodies, they’re not necessarily dangerous for my body in this kind of way. My friends from LA and my friends from Chicago were told not to go there. The Spanish Quarter is a place, where in a tourist guidebook, they’ll be like, “You have to go to.” But then on the internet, they’ll be like, “It’s too dangerous. Don’t go.”
In the early 2000s, my friend Alessio was telling me people would get shot in the street. You’d be at a rave or at a party and someone would get shot. That’s when the Camorra gang wars were at an all-time high. But now it’s really not. One thing I learned when I was in Napoli is that the mafia has really done away with that that kind of behavior and that kind of rhetoric, because they’re so institutionalized now. Tourism is good for business. But if someone is doing petty crime or petty theft in the tourist districts and they catch you and find out who you are, you’re in trouble.
Nanella is there, which is this amazing restaurant. It’s one of those places where the waiters are rude to you on purpose, but then they do this thing where all the waiters lift the women up in a circle and they play “Time of Your Life” from Dirty Dancing. They have delicious food. There’s this wonderful spaghetti vongole. That, to me, is the dish of the summer. That is what made me gain all this weight that I’m now trying to lose.
In Napoli, it’s common to see children smoking cigarettes on these bikes, which is so funny to me. These three sisters own this bar in the Spanish Quarter and I had a drink and I only had a large bill, so she was giving me change. I just loved that the baby is just casually on the phone. I love a female-owned and run business.
This wonderful, decked out apartment is the apartment of a professor. He was a neuroscientist for the majority of his career in the sixties, seventies, and eighties. And then in the nineties, he decided to become a contemporary artist, and he became famous for making these sculptures out of found objects from the sea. He’s also a specialist on the culture of femminielli.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, in Napoli, trans people were recognized as femmenielli, and they were respected. I’m butchering the exact history, but this man has written many books on this Neapolitan third gender, the femmenielli, and he had a dinner and my friend invited me, so I took a photo of his beautiful apartment.
This was in my place. The bed was so cheap that I had sex on it once and it broke. I moved the bed to the floor during the heat wave. There’s a balcony there, and I have an orchid there, just muted tones, austere, stoic, monastic.