| Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
|There is recent (2015)
section called allegro
ma non troppo
main index © Jeff Matthews Dec 2010
Explanation: When I first put up the original version of this website in 2002, it was called the Around Naples Encyclopedia The pages all contained shorter items mixed with longer ones, approximately 15 entries to a page. That proved impractical, so in May 2007 I started putting longer items up as single pages and began a series of miscellaneous pages for shorter items. They start here. This Early Miscellania section of Naples: Life, Death & Miracles is an attempt to go back and select the shorter entries from 2002-2004; the longer items from those original pages are up as single entries, elsewhere. The items in this section are in chronological order. Most of the entries here remain linked from the main index under the bold-face title of the respective entry. The small numbers at the top of each entry are for the convenience of the reader; they have nothing to with the index. (Some numbers may be missing, which means that the entry has been moved.) As of April 2014, I am in the process of adding updates to some of these items.
2.entry Oct. 2002
I see that the First International Pasta Exhibition is opening tomorrow down at the gigantic passenger terminal of the Port of Naples. Typically, they will spend a lot of time talking about eating and not enough time actually handing out free samples. I fully expect panels of self-important sociologists to hold forth on "Societal Incorporation of Emerging Syntheses in Higher Order Gastronomic Structures".
No doubt there will be some justifiable complaints about "fast food". MacDonalds are all over and—food philistine that I am—I have eaten there. The main one is in the university district and is actually not a bad place for students to sit and read. No one hassles them if they nurse a soft-drink for an hour or so. I am reminded of at least the title of Hemingway's short-story, A Clean Well-Lighted Place. Everyone needs a place to sit sometimes.
There is an Italian anti-fast-food society with the English name "Slow Food". They use a stylized image of a snail as their logo (photo, above) and send out invitations to their monthly affairs. You show up and spend a half-hour or so warming up by admiring the vittles— the texture of this noodle or aroma of that artichoke. Ah, maccheroni 97!—an excellent year—with an aggressive but not presumptuous bouquet that we think will amuse you.
entry Oct. 2002motorcycles (1)
The son of the mechanic who works on my car got in a traffic accident the other day. Nothing serious, but he did spend the night in the hospital for observation because of a minor concussion. He went off his motorcycle and into a car. Of course, he was not wearing a helmet—this in keeping with the proud skull service that Neapolitans pay to their well-known streak of suicidal anti-authoritarianism. My own unscientific surveys (I stand on the corner and count) show that only about half of those who ride on scooters and motorcycles bother to wear helmets.
One of the most popular TV
programs in Italy is Striscia la notizia. It
does everything from poking fun at Freudian slips of
the tongue by newscasters to exposing corruption
involving the black market sale of residence permits
to illegal immigrants. Periodically, they dwell on
the fact that so few two-wheeled motorists in Naples
(and Palermo, where the situation is even worse)
wear helmets. (They even have a few choice video
clips of motorcycle cops (!) down here
cruising around bareheaded.
4.entry Oct. 2002
My friend, Bill, and I never cease to be amazed (itself, an unfortunate comment on the human condition) at the presence of absolute goodness. When we grow weary of reading about car-bombs, snipers and other aberrant human behavior, we drop by the Sisters of Calcutta mission hidden away in a non-descript little church on via dei Tribunali in the old city, once the site of the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo, one of the original music conservatories of Naples.
We went there to find Ernesto, an elderly ex-merchant seaman who finished his days there. He was destitute and blind—and totally well-taken care of by these sisters who carry on the work of Mother Teresa. They hustle around, chirping out orders in their delightful little butterfly accents, pushing men out of the way who are eight times their size, getting food distributed, bed linen changed, furniture moved, tending to the ill and all the other things one has to do to care for those who simply have nowhere else to go.
At times, they also take over
what should be in the hands of the social services
in a city of a million people. Last Christmas, I
dropped by and they were serving a holiday meal to
500 Ukrainian refugees, most of whom were young and
healthy. The sisters are helped out by a great
number of Neapolitan teenagers who pop by to sort
clothes, make gift parcels, run errands, etc.
(The bust of Mother Teresa shown in the
photo is on via Tasso.)
See also: Mother
Teresa and the Jelly Bean Caper
5.entry Oct. 2002
The paper reports that a group calling itself by the English name "Snob Club" is going to convene at one of the most exclusive hotels along via Parthenope, the seaside road at Santa Lucia near the Castel dell'Ovo. These ridiculous people are going to eat truffles and then—ready?—shine their shoes with champagne.
(2) Rossini once called truffles "the Mozart of mushrooms". What can I say? I still like The William Tell Overture.
I know nothing about shining
shoes with champagne, but I am tempted to go down
there anyway just to hear these people mispronounce
the name of their own club as "znob". This is in
keeping with the rules of Italian phonology. (Such
rules in your native language operate when you try
to pronounce a foreign language. That's why you have
an "accent".) In Italian, phonetic assimilation
requires that voiced consonants such as "n" be
preceded only by other voiced sounds. Thus, an
"s"—normally pronounced as the unvoiced sibilant
("sssssss") becomes voiced ("zzzzzzz"). I realize
that if you majored in ceramics or automotive
repair, all this may be of little interest to
entry Nov. 2002counterfeits
One of the most interesting collections in the National Museum in Naples is the one dedicated to counterfeit coins from the 18th century. At the time, the archaeological digs had recently opened at Pompeii and Herculaneum, both buried by the massive eruption of Vesuvius almost two millennia earlier. With interest in Roman artifacts running high at the Bourbon court of Naples, enterprising locals started turning out "genuine" Roman coins. After more than two centuries, these coins have, themselves, now acquired a decent numismatic value.
Naples has always had a reputation as a hub of counterfeit goods. It is no problem at all to walk into some stores in town and buy brand name clothes, handbags and shoes that look like the real thing and that may even be well made. Whether or not what you buy really is the real thing, however, depends on the luck of the draw. The counterfeits should cost less.
Currently there is an epidemic of counterfeit watches. In the past, if I was approached on the street and offered a "genuine Rolex," and I looked at the watch and saw "R-O-L-L-E-K-S," then even I had enough street savvy to demur politely. ("I already own a K-A-R-T-I-E-R.") The problem with the new counterfeits is that they are so good that even an expert from Rolex or Cartier has to take a second (and third) glance at them. The watches have turned up in reputable stores where at least one prominent merchant claims he bought them legitimately from a company in Milan that had imported them. Everyone concerned claims to have paid the appropriate import duties and other taxes.
I didn't notice it at first, but
a few days after I bought a new pair of eye-glasses,
I had occasion to examine the frames more closely.
"Giorgio Armani" is inscribed on them. I flattered
myself into thinking that I was wearing a
fashionable set of specs. I know he makes
clothing—but frames for glasses? I don't know.
entry Nov. 2002black market
There is a bit of
unpleasantness going on down at via San Gregorio Armeno, the
street in the historic center of Naples known for
the shops that make and sell the wherewithal for
your yearly Christmas
presepe, the manger display.
It is no secret that
Naples is a hotbed of blackmarketeering and just
plain street-hustling, people out trying to make a
buck. In some cases, these unlicensed vendors are
not so itinerant—no opening of the jacket to reveal
rows of tiny angels and stars pinned to the
lining—("Pssst. Hey, buddy—wanna buy some tinsel?")
They use quickly deployable tables and shelves to
display boxloads of goods right on the open street
just feet from legitimate shops trying to do
business. The shopkeepers have complained, and the
police have been moving in to chase off the "abusivi,"
who have, in turn, reacted violently by overturning
rubbish bins and setting fire to the contents. Who
knows if the situation will settle down in the
2014 - I wrote the original item over 10
years ago. The numbers have not changed
9.entry Nov. 2002
Neapolitan musicologist Roberto De Simone is a most remarkable person. He was born in 1933, began to study piano at the age of six, entered the Naples conservatory at 13, and at 15 performed the Mozart Piano Concerto K.466 with a cadenza he wrote himself. He began a concert career but eventually gave it up to devote himself to the study of literature and folk music of the local area (Campania).He was the artistic director of the San Carlo Theater in the late 1980s and was appointed director of the Naples Conservatory in 1995. He has spent his professional life rejuvenating the cultural history of his city. This includes collecting folk tales and music, and reviving a number of seldom or never-performed pieces from the vast repertoire of 18th-century Neapolitan comic opera—works by Pergolesi and Jomelli, among others.
photo from 2003
He has written, among
much other work, a requiem in memory of the poet
Pier Paolo Pasolini, a cantata for the 17th-century
Neapolitan revolutionary, Masaniello,
and, in 1999, a remarkable oratorio, "Eleonora," in honor of the
republican heroine of the Neapolitan revolution of
1799. He is currently reworking his stage version of
The Cat Cinderella, based on the oldest
version of that fairy-tale, a dialect tale by Giambattista Basile from the
early 1600s. As with many of his other works, he
will take the show on the road in a version that
employs a modified Neapolitan dialect in order to
make the work accessible to a wider audience.
10.entry Nov. 2002
is risking a lawsuit, but the publicity is probably
worth it. He has opened a hole-in-wall, stand-up or
take-out fast-food place near Piazza del Gesù
in the heart of downtown Naples. His advertising
logo, displayed prominently over the entrance, is a
large red letter M, clearly meant to remind you of
Below the M is the word Maren's—an English-looking play on the Neapolitan word for snack, "marenna", itself a variation of the Italian "merenda". The M also stands for "mamma"—mother—says the proprietor, a reminder that he prepares snacks just like mother used to make. Indeed, there are no fast-food burgers here—just typical and traditional Neapolitan fare: small pizzas, enormous sandwiches with ham and mozzarella, rice balls, etc.
large letter actually reminds you more of the metropolitana
logo common throughout Europe. Unless McDonald's
wants to make a case that they own part of the
alphabet and wants to sue most of the subway lines
on the continent, this may wind up in the same
category as the time when Warner Bros. threatened
Groucho Marx with a lawsuit over the title of a Marx
Brothers film, A Night in Casablanca, so
close on the heels of the Warner Bros. film, Casablanca.
Groucho reminded the studio that he and his brothers
had been brothers for longer than the Warner Bros.
had been brothers, and that he was seriously
considering a countersuit over that. The studio let
to think of it, there was a great 1931
he sue someone?
entry Nov. 2002advertising
At times I have taught a college course in The Language of Advertising. I think, however, that it is swiftly becoming a foreign language to me. Many of the billboard ads near my house are so graphically striking that they distract from the product name—surely a mistake from the advertiser's point of view.
A delightful example is the
one in the photo (left): an infant is nursing at a
huge orange that has been graphically stylized to look
like a mother's breast. I didn't remember whether it
was an ad for milk or orange juice. Now that I look
again, it's neither one. It's selling yogurt.
Some of the ads are overtly pornographic. There is no subtle double-entendre in that ad of the woman kneeling astride an ecstatic man and about to descend to do what comes naturally usually only on Neapolitan television stations at 1.30 in the morning (or so I have heard). It is just one big clumsy single entendre Yet, I don't remember what those two are selling. (If I remembered, though, I'd probably buy it.)I saw one yesterday that showed a dismembered mannequin—torso here, leg over there, head off to the side. All the body parts were nude, as if they were lying there waiting to be pieced together in a department store show window. And I don't remember what I am now supposed to be convinced enough to go out and buy. Glue? Body parts?
12.entry Nov. 2002
One of the best-selling CDs in Italy at the moment is Oggi o dimane by the Neapolitan singer/actor Massimo Ranieri. He started out more than 30 years ago singing Neapolitan songs for the local market; then, he won the Italian Song Festival in San Remo in the early 70s and since has had a very solid career both as a singer and film actor.
This recent CD takes advantage of the typically oriental flavor of much Neapolitan music, a sound due to that erratic Middle-Eastern "quiver" in the voice that almost all Neapolitan singers use—a sound traceable to the Spanish and, hence, Moorish influence in southern Italy. As well, much Neapolitan music employs chromatic elements of Middle Eastern scales. In addition to all that, Ranieri chose to record the numbers using a background of Greek and Middle-Eastern instruments, including the mandolin-like bouzuki, and a variety of North African percussion instruments. Indeed, one number features another singer doing a verse in his own North-African native language. Thus, a century after they were written, these songs—often with texts by great Neapolitan dialect poets such as Salvatore Di Giacomo ("Napulitanata" and "Marechiare") have taken on a refreshingly "new" sound—but one that actually works quite well.
entry Nov. 2002strikes
Strikes are common occurrences in Italy. Generally, they are not the tooth-and-nail labor/management battles to the death that they are in some places. More than anything else, they last a day and are meant to disrupt the economy just enough to provoke some sort of settlement, even if it's just a quick fix. Nevertheless, the term "general strike" has an ominous ring to it: factories closed, public transport at a standstill, helmeted and betruncheoned police holding the line against the onslaught of banner-waving, oppressed workers singing the Internationale in all major and minor keys at the same time, etc. There was a general strike yesterday in Naples. Yesterday also coincided with one of the "Green Days", those days on which you can't drive your car unless it is equipped with a catalytic converter. Thus, it was pretty much of a stay-at-home day for me unless I—shudder—wanted to walk to the post office to pay some bills via the handy postal money-orders that everyone now uses. Wait. The post office is a state entity, and postal workers belong to the same great umbrella labor union that just called a strike. Call up first and ask:
"Yes, most of the post offices are closed, but we're open here. We don't belong to that union."
Good news—the post office is open. Bad news—everyone else in Naples will be in line trying to pay bills in that one post office. Even worse, they will all be driven to some ecstatic degree of consumer rage by the fact that they have to walk to the one open post office in the neighborhood and wait an hour in line. I take a chance. (A fistfight with a queue-jumper in the post-office is a small price to pay.) I walk into the post office and it is absolutely Twilight Zone empty. The only one in the building is Post Office Lady behind the glass window—and she might be an alien. I carefully step around the crop circle in the middle of the floor, walk over and pay my bills in no time flat.
(Later that evening). The
TV says that the strike was only a partial success
since it was boycotted by two other big labor unions.
Nevertheless, in spite of my success at the
post-office, I went for a forced march in the
afternoon because there wasn't even one-third of a
scab strike-breaking bus to be seen anywhere.
entry Dec. 2002Pompeii (1)
The National Archaeological Museum is planning a major exhibit for January on the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79 a.d. that destroyed Pompeii. Unexpectedly, they will have something new for the exhibit —the skeletal remains, uncovered the other day, of a slave.
Archaeologists from the Japan Institute of Paleological Studies in Kyoto were working in the area of the presumed location of an ancient gate that led out from the city of Pompeii in the direction of Capua. The exact location is uncertain and has been the object of archaeological speculation for some time.
In the course of digging around, the team came across the remains of a male skeleton with a metal ring on the leg, showing where he had been chained at the calf. It was a common Roman punishment to keep unruly slaves chained at night so they couldn't flee. The skull shows evidence of having been crushed. Presumably, then, he was not suffocated by noxious fumes or overwhelmed by the flow of volcanic debris; he was probably struck by a heavier projectile thrown up by the eruption. The eruption occurred just after dawn. Still chained in place, he couldn't run.
Here, one thinks of Mark Twain's
grand paragraph from The Innocents Abroad:
[Read MT's complete passage about Naples from The Innocents Abroad.]
Courage is a function of choice,
and, certainly, the soldier so described was
courageous— heroically so. Our recently-found slave,
of course, had no choice. Yet, there is no way to know
how he behaved at the end, even chained as he was.
"Unruliness"—especially in a slave—is not necessarily
a defect of character. There was a second
skeleton—that of a woman—found close by. Who knows if
or how he might have tried to shelter her? Or she him.
entry Dec. 2002Christmas (1), San Gregorio Armeno (2)
I don't remember if, last year, there was one-way pedestrian traffic in the historic center of town near and on via San Gregorio Armeno. I do remember being pushed by a horde of people in a direction I didn't want to go, but I chalked that up to the staunch nonconformist in me—the different drummer, the road less travelled by—all that.
This year—with the Christmas push almost upon us—the city is thinking of imposing just such a restriction. If you look at the map of the historic center of the city (click here), the area of concern is along via San Biagio dei Librai (known as "Spaccanapoli"—the street that "splits Naples") and the parallel street, via Tribunali. They are connected by a north-south street, via San Gregorio Armeno (unnamed on the map, but where numbers 27, 28, and 29 are located). It is the "Christmas street," the site of the many shops and stalls that sell material for building the presepe, the manger display, the most typical of all Neapolitan Christmas customs.
Within the next few days,
it will start becoming virtually impossible to walk
near via San Gregorio Armeno. There is an unbelievable
mass of people, tourists as well as locals out trying
to do some shopping. Thus, says the city, we need
one-way walking on the lower road moving east, then
left and up San Gregorio Armeno and then left again
and one-way west and back out of the center. We should
also have, says the city, traffic wardens enforcing
this. This is almost certainly unenforceable, but I
don't want to find out.
17.entry Dec. 2002
SIAE is the Italian acronym for Società italiania di autori e editori, the Italian Society of Authors and Editors. Although the Italian pronunciation of this combination of letters is amusingly close to "C.I.A.", it is actually the organization that takes care of paying royalties on literature, songs and theatrical works. The Naples branch is very active; the offices are located on via San Tommaso d'Aquino, and the premises have always been a treasure trove of, among other items, all published Neapolitan theater over the last 80 years; that is, a library, of sorts, where the actual first copies of plays are stored—the versions that authors are required to file for copyright in order to be able to collect subsequent royalties. The so-called "Neapolitan Repertoire" for the last 80 years includes virtually all of the works of famous Neapolitan dialect playwrights such as Eduardo de Filippo, for example.
For many years, the entire collection was well taken care of by a local lawyer, Caro Capiola. His interest in making sure that authors got paid for their efforts was personal, in that he was married to an aspiring playwright. Capriloa was tireless in his efforts to protect the rights of those who wrote for the theater in Naples. This included dealing with crafty theater managers who would often try to get out of paying royalties to the author, because the author had just been paid as a performer in his or her own piece. (There were—and still are—a number of theatrical troupes in Naples—the de Filippo family, for one—where the authors perform in their own works.) That would be paying "twice for the same thing" said the impresarios. Not so, said Capiola—and he was right.
In any event, all of this
is now in the past tense, since the entire Neapolitan
collection— some 8,000 original copies of various
theatrical works written for the theater in
Naples—have been transferred to the main premises of
SIAE in Rome. The works still exist, of course, but
the originals are no longer in Naples. The local daily
was a bit nostalgic about that. It's all in the name
of efficiency and centralization, paradox
[related item: Copyright
laws that make your head hurt!]
entry Dec. 2002charity (2), Christmas (4)
Various agencies and people in Naples collaborated yesterday to make the traditional Christmas Eve meal a reality for many who would otherwise have simply spent the day the way they spend most days—alone. The Naples Chamber of Commerce laid on a feast on the premises of the Principe di Napoli Gallery, across the street from the National Museum. Professional cooks prepared meals for 900 people—the homeless, the needy, or, simply, the lonely. It was quite a spread, too. No plastic cups and forks—real plates, glass and silverware, all served on a number of well-set tables in the Gallery.
Elsewhere, the main train station at Piazza Garibaldi served its yearly Christmas meal to the needy in a building adjacent to the station, called, simply, "Track 10". That term has already become proverbial at Christmas in Naples for those in need near the station: "Track 10 is open this year." That's good news. A secondary train station in Fuorigrotta some miles away from the center of town did the same thing. One restaurant owner in Mergellina rented a bus and drove around picking up people who obviously had nowhere to go; when the bus was full, he took them all back to his restaurant and fed them. Episodes of public and private charity like that were repeated in various guises throughout the city yesterday.
entry Dec. 2002archaeology (2)—
update Apr 2014
From the entry on
"Geology of the Bay of Naples" (click here for the entire
still making news. The papers yesterday carried an
item on the archaeological dig in Nola, where yet
another 4,000-year old structure has been been
uncovered—a 50-foot-long structure containing some
vases and cooking utensils. It was possibly a
communal gathering place for villagers.
Archaeologists have by now determined that this
"Bronze Age Pompeii" was large enough to have
buildings laid out in groups—not necessarily
blocks, but at least according to some plan that
indicates significant social structure. Giuseppe
Vecchio, the archaeologist in charge of the site,
also adds, "Where there is a village, there has to
be a cemetery, a necropolis, and we'll find that
sooner or later." That would be a significant
find. There is apparently a lot more to be
uncovered in the area. Much of what has already
been brought to light is now protected by modern
metal and plastic coverings—good, perhaps, but
maybe not as good as the lava that has served
quite well for four millennia.
update - April 2014:
Although the site was open for a few years
(2005-2008) to tourism, there were
significant episodes of erosion and cave-ins, as a
result of which the sites was closed to the public
in 2009, and to my knowledge, has not reopened.
Many of the artifacts, however are on display at
the archaeological museum of Nola.
entry Dec. 2002Befana, Christmas (5), Epiphany
This morning I noticed in the small coffee bar near my house that what I would have always considered “Christmas stockings” have just been put up as decorations. Then, I remembered that in these parts—indeed, in most of Italy—gift-giving time is far from over.
Long before Santa Claus, reindeer, fir trees, and snow started showing up on the unlikely slopes of Vesuvius, the traditional bringer of holiday gifts was the Befana, an old woman who brings gifts to good children (or lumps of coal to bad ones) on the evening before Epiphany, January 6. "Epiphany" is from Greek and it means “to manifest” or “to show”. January 6 is the twelfth day after Christmas (I think that is the one with Pipers Piping or Drummers Drumming, but I don’t really remember) and is the day on which Christians commemorate the manifestation of Christ, the Savior. It is when the Magi appeared and brought gifts. Depending on the legend, an old woman —either searching for her child (one of the “first–born” murdered by Herod) or having been invited to accompany the Magi—also appeared. Her name, in Italian—Befana—is a corruption of the word “Epiphany”.
Without question, there is something much more peaceful and spiritual about January 6 than December 25. That is, no doubt, due to the commercial glitter of modern Christmas celebrations. At least in Naples, there is no such pitch as “only 15 more shopping days till Befana”. Not yet, anyway. So, the little stockings go up for the gifts, and the children wait.
And this from Richard Crashaw (1612–1649):
“May the great time in you
still greater be, while all the year is your
21.entry Dec. 31, 2002
Stromboli is the northernmost of the Aeolian Islands, a group of some seven islands north of Sicily. Some of the other islands also have active volcanoes, including the appropriately named isle of Vulcano. The volcano on Stromboli is nicknamed, simply, Iddu—Him—by residents of the island and last erupted 17 years ago. The wave that rose and struck part of the island as a result of yesterday’s eruption and landslide at first was called a tsunami. Geologists were quick to point out this morning, however—for those interested in the fine points of describing that wall of water about to wash them out to sea—that, technically, a tsunami is a wave generated by submarine earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. This was just a lot of water.
The Aeolians are tightly grouped, and the eruption provided a spectacular show for the residents of the next island to the south, Panarea. The islands are a popular tourist target for Neapolitans; the faster hydrofoils make the run from Naples in about 3 hours. Tourists are now, of course, on the way off the islands until such time as things get back to normal, whatever “normal” might mean in a place where an island is named Vulcano.
Mt. Etna, of course, right next door on the island of Sicily has been dominating their news recently. It is currently erupting in its usual slow and effusive fashion—nothing devastating, just layering up more and more lava to mark the passage of the millennia, the way some volcanoes do. Vesuvius—with its own nickname of ‘a muntagna (the mountain)—here in Naples bides its time. That comes up frequently in casual conversation—perhaps less casual today.
relevant information in the entry on The Geology of the Bay of
entry Dec. 2002That's Amore
It’s Christmas Eve. In Naples, most people have a traditional meal very late in the evening, often almost at midnight and running over into Christmas Day, itself. I will go to relatives’ and eat something, I suppose, though not what tradition requires—that is, eel. I am not going anywhere near something that looks that much like a snake. Yes, I know it’s a fish, but it’s a fish like a penguin is a bird—kind of, but in an unconvincing sort of way. The eel reminds me of a parody of the worst pseudo-Neapolitan song I know (well, it’s the only pseudo-Neapolitan song I know): That’s Amore.* I owe the caricature lyrics (better than the real ones) to a scuba-diver I met once. Sung to the real melody, they start:
“What’s that thing in the
(So much for today’s zoology lesson. So you were expecting Charles Darwin?)
[*For the sake of completeness and because I am tired of people thinking that Dean Martin composed the song, the lyrics to "That's Amore" are by Jack Brooks (1912-71) and the music is by Harry Warren (1893-1981). The song was composed for the film, The Caddy (Paramount, 1953) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis (photo). That's where Dino comes in. He sang it. Also see Neapolitan Song.]
entry Dec. 2002fireworks
In Naples, some firecrackers have innocent enough sounding names—“Minerva,” for example. Others—perhaps in the quest for nomenclature that will attract the young male—try names such as “Maradona,” after the great Argentine soccer star who played for Naples for many years. Then there are the ominous ones—last year, one bore the moniker, “Big Brother” (certainly more for the popular TV show of that name than as a nod to George Orwell) and another, “Osama Bin Laden”. The fact that that one sold well was less of an ideological statement than a tribute to its being everything a juvenile fireworks nut could ask for—loud, highly explosive, and very dangerous.
Every year at this time in Naples, a general cautionary alarm goes out to the public: Don’t use illegal fireworks this New Year’s. And every year, Naples seems to lead Italy in the race to see how many people are injured—or killed—by shoddily homemade firecrackers. Calling them “crackers,” of course, is dishonest; they don’t “crack”, they blow up, sometimes in the hands of a kid who placed a bit too much confidence in a fuse that was supposed to give him 10 seconds to get away. At least that’s what the dealer told him.
The Italian Environmental League reports that in the last two New Year’s celebrations in Naples, 4 have died and 275 have been injured; 30 have been arrested and 40 tons of illegal fireworks confiscated. Yet, starting a few days ago, the illegal streetside stands that sell these things have cropped up in the usual places; the Sanità, the Forcella, and the Mercato Pendino sections of town. It is no problem all to pick up the high-powered wherewithal that will let you give the New Year a hand—finger by finger.
There are 36 legitimate manufacturers of fireworks in and around Naples, and this is the time of year that counts for them. Some of them, too, have had trouble with the authorities for selling prohibited fireworks—meaning, too explosive. They have other problems, as well: Yesterday in Orta di Atella near Caserta a ferocious explosion shook the night when a car packed with fireworks exploded, leaving shredded metal and charred body parts over hundreds of square yards. The three victims were thieves who had just broken into a lightly—or non-guarded legal fireworks factory and made off with their haul. Maybe one of them lit up a cigarette as they sped away; maybe one of them slid across the seat too fast and set off a slight discharge of static electricity. Who knows.
Indeed, if you live near
someone who makes this stuff and stores it at home all
year, waiting for New Year’s, you may never know about
it until a house down the street explodes. Or if you
live upstairs from that person, you may simply never
know about it. Never.
[Also see an update here.]
24.entry Jan. 2003
At 9 o' clock this morning all was quiet. An hour earlier, hordes of very tired people were still driving around, generally wending their way back home after having stayed up all night to see in the New Year. There were two large public parties sponsored by the city in Naples last night: one was in Piazza Plebiscito, the spacious square in front of the royal palace; the other was in the recently reopened Piazza Dante about a mile from the first one. The celebration at Piazza Plebiscito was the one they have every year—fireworks, music, lots of year–end noise. The festivities at Piazza Dante, however, were billed as the celebration “for intellectuals,” whatever that is supposed to mean. Perhaps they stood around and discussed what kind of values are manifested by blowing off fingers with shoddy, homemade “cherry bombs”. (In Naples, however, they use the whole orchard.)
I stayed home and peeped out the window, from where one could see a massive display of private fireworks: sparklers, sky-rockets, bombs and just plain nasty incendiary devices going off from balconies. No one goes into the street. It starts gearing up at about five minutes to midnight and carries on until about one o’ clock in the morning. Depending on the weather, the resulting smoke and haze from all the fireworks may or may not dissipate quickly. Last night there was moist air with absolutely no wind and, thus, by 20 minutes past midnight, you could barely make out buildings 100 yards away. All you saw was each additional flash as another round was pumped into the gloom. Happy New Year.
25.entry Jan. 2003
It is New Year's. I have spent the last hour or so examining the lentil—yes, the common lens esculenta. I never understood why Neapolitans go on a lentil binge at this time of year. It’s because the lentil resembles a coin—I am here repeating what unregenerate lentophiles tell me—and if you gorge yourself on them at the beginning of the New Year, it bodes well for you; that is, you can expect lots of little metal lentils—commonly known as coin of the realm—to come your way. (You have a special reward stored up for you in Paradise if you can say “little metal lentil” five times really fast.) I have now eyeballed lentils—even with a magnifying lens (hence the name lens esculenta—they look like a lens…lenses?…lensi?…esculenta means "edible")—and they still look like little beans to me. OK, a little convex on one side (which maybe means they are concave on the other side, but I’m not sure—I failed fabatopographics, the study of the description of beans. I majored in music in college), but, essentially, it’s a funny-looking bean. I don’t get it. After all, Averroes claimed that lentils cause melancholic blood, obscure vision, constrict the stomach and impede sexual activity. So, come on. Is a little extra money in the new year worth all that?
entry Jan. 2003art, modern (2)
An exorcism, of sorts, will
take place at Piazza Plebiscito today when local poet
Salvatore di Natale will parade around near the bronze
skulls installed in the pavement (see here) and mutter
incantations to rid the city of the Evil Eye caused by
the presence of said crania. The poet’s name
translates as Savior of Christmas, which seems potent
enough to me, but for this occasion he has redubbed
himself Mussasà Abdel Natal.
have seen (photo, left) the three old Fiat 500s
parked, painted and installed as art in the new subway
station on via S. Rosa, so I sympathize with this
letter-to-the-editor in il Mattino. The
gentleman says that he had finally evolved a
satisfactory intellectual interpretation of the
artistic display of old shoes in one of the new
stations when he noticed the other morning that
someone had added a beat-up old hat and jacket to the
exhibit. Is this, he asks, an addition by the artist,
perhaps something we might call “Process Art”? Or is
it crass and sarcastic vandalism? Or—one more
possibility—is it perhaps a simple act of charity by
some artistically illiterate, but good-hearted, person
who has mistaken the exhibit for a collection point
for the needy?
index for art
entry Jan. 2003presepe (2), Christmas (6), San Gregorio Armeno (3)
The holiday season was officially over a couple of days ago with the coming of la befana. The shops on the main thoroughfare for buying one's holiday decorations, via San Gregorio Armeno, are closing down, although some of them stay open most of the year to handle general tourist trade.
One such shop displays the most unlikely cast of characters ever intended for a "presepe" (nativity scene) in Naples. It is a display of figures dubbed, collectively, "The Shepherds of the Clean Hands" —"clean hands" (photo) being the name of the great anti-crime campaign started in Italy in the early 1990s. Depending on mood of the shopkeeper, figures can be identified as anyone from the mayor of Naples to the Prime Minister of Italy to the various magistrates involved in the struggle—or just generally famous and infamous characters. This year, Osama Bin Laden was twice present—once sitting on an elephant! He is directly next to a more traditional rendering—that of a beheading—originally meant to be the execution of John the Baptist. The sign, however, tells us that this is the head of "Bossi," an extremely unpopular (in southern Italy) politician from the north. Busts at the very front of the display this year included Mussolini, the playwright Eduardo de Filippo, and the great Neapolitan comic, Totò.
There is no particular
ideological ax being ground in any of this. It is in
keeping with the whole hodge-podge nature of the
entire street, where, in the midst of items such as
the Star of Bethlehem and The Three Wise Men, which
might focus your devotion to the spirit of the season
(once you get them home), there are also boxes of
white plastic skulls (from the Fontanella
tradition— see here for a
relevant entry), horrible recordings of “Here Comes
Santa Claus” and papier mache mannequins of Laurel and
entry Jan. 2003circus
is cause for rejoicing under the big–top today.
At the Moira Orfei circus, a Siberian camel named
“Tibet” gave birth the day before yesterday to a
bouncing baby girl, named “Magic” (after the “Magic
World” amusement park where the circus is running).
The calf is healthy and as snow white as her mother.
Mother picked a good day for the event; the circus was
taking its one day in the week off; this gave
jugglers, clowns, and acrobats a chance to pace
worriedly and pretend they know something about
dromedary obstetrics. By the way,
[Don’t you get the feeling that etymologists are just having a good time with you sometimes?]
Anyway, the father, Pippo, is also doing well and is strutting his hump around the tent.
Like many, I have mixed feelings
about animals in zoos and circuses. I went to the Naples zoo once many years ago
and vowed never to go back. They had a beautiful
Siberian tiger in a very confined space, and the
animal had obviously gone “stir crazy”. I wanted
somehow to release it and let it run out and go down
fighting—after it polished off a band of obnoxious
teenaged moron who were taunting their chimpanzee
first-cousins in a nearby cage by throwing debris
through the bars.
29.entry Jan. 2003
I see that they
put on Verdi’s The
Battle of Legnano at San
Carlo the other night for the first time in 142
years. He wrote it in 1849. If it was, indeed,
performed in 1861 in Naples, I suspect it must have
been some sort of revolutionary musical salute to the
then recent defeat of the Bourbons and the incorporation of the Kingdom of
Naples into the Kingdom of Italy. (I am not
driven by my scholarly demons to the point of actually
finding a concert program from the other night to see
if I have guessed correctly.) Later update: OK. I was
driven. The opera was running at San Carlo in January
of 1861 while the siege of Gaeta was still going on.
It's not that the Bourbons were fighing battles and
staging operas at the same time. They were through in
Naples; Garibaldi had taken the city in
September, 1860. Maybe he just liked Verdi. Maybe he
liked The Battle of
That battle, by the way, took place in May of 1176 between the Lombard League and the forces of emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Legnano is just a short hop up the A8 autostrada from Milano (see map 19, coordinate B6 in the fabled 1995 edition of the Italian Auto Club book, On the Road with ACI.) If you get confused and wind up in Legnago (with a 'g'), then you are way over to the east near Verona and are hopelessly lost. There is no evidence that this is what happened to Frederick Barbarossa, but he did lose the battle. And no one ever wrote an opera about Legnago, though for the sake of completeness I should point out that in 1879 Giosuè Carducci wrote a poem entitled Song of Legnano, in which he shows no sign of being confused at all.
In any event, the modern
Northern League (anti-Federalists who have recently
pulled in their horns a bit on calling themselves
“secessionists”*) call their “nation” Padania (from
the Latin adjective for the Padus river, the Po, in
modern Italian) and every year have a party congress
in Legnano to reminisce about the good old days when
central government (Imperial authority) got their
cavalry kicked by the locals. Barbarossa’s
grandson, Frederick II, however, soon strode upon the
scene and put Imperial matters right.
(There is a separate entry about Frederick II.)
(*Not too long
ago, a young flight attendant for Alitalia got
herself in trouble—just as the plane was about to
land in Milano—by welcoming passengers to “the
capital of Padania”.)
30.entry Jan. 2003
It was such a good idea. I heard a beautiful baritone voice coming from around the corner. It was slow and melancholy, but somehow I knew it was a street vendor pitching his wares. I asked a gentleman near me what the man was singing, and he didn’t know. I walked around the corner, and then I saw and heard the band. It was a New Orleans-type street band playing a slow march, and the marchers that I saw were women dressed in 19th–century outfits. They wore high pink hats and long dresses that brushed the ground as they walked. Many of them carried folded parasols with them that they tapped on the ground as they walked, as if using a cane or keeping time to the music. I thought, “A singing street vendor with a New Orleans marching band right here in Naples! I can’t wait to write about this.”
Unfortunately, it was a brief dream I had yesterday morning just before I woke up. I am very upset—even saddened—by this, and I will not be consoled at all by any load of ontological dingo's kidneys that says maybe it was all real and what I am doing now is a dream. Save your breath.
There are, however, marching bands in Naples. They are parish bands and are usually made up of not more than four or five members. They parade on the name-day of the local patron saint. They may have a trumpet, trombone, saxophone and bass drum, with someone holding the parish banner marching in front. They parade in the neighborhood around the church; usually there is someone in the ensemble whose job it is to “pass the plate” and solicit contributions for the parish.
And, of course, there are still singing street vendors. They no longer work from hand–or horse–drawn carts; they drive around in those horrible tricycle motor–buggies, screaming into microphones that are cranked up, yea, unto feedback. If their income were a direct function of decibels, they would be driving a Mercedes. I don’t think I have ever met anyone who can really understand the whole pitch, sung as it is, in an old dialect handed down from another century with the words, themselves, distorted from the process of singing. Even my mother–in–law—then in her 80s—told me once, “That’s the man with potatoes.”
“How do you know?” I asked. “What’s he saying?”
“I know from the melody.
He’s probably saying something about potatoes.”
[related item here]
31.entry Jan. 2003
Those of us you who have ever reused a postage stamp or erased a cancellation so you could reuse the stamp are criminals and will no doubt be called to account some day. While you are serving hard time with your fellow felons, meditate on the humbling thought that you are a piker, a rank amateur, compared to true masters of philatelic fraud—three of whom appeared a few years ago in the Vomero section of Naples. I’ve just noticed that the three gentlemen mentioned below now have their own website, so I guess they never went to jail.
For an entire year, Pierluca Sabatino, Maurizio De Fazio and Lello Padiglione drew and lettered by computer, then used on postcards and letters, more than 200 homemade commemorative stamps. None of the stamps were counterfeits in the true sense of the word. That is, they were not imitations of real Italian postage stamps. Each one of the phonies was an original and often biting satirical comment on the times.
One stamp showed a young hoodlum slouching against a backdrop of the Bay of Naples; the stamp commemorated "Two Hundred Years of Organized Crime in Naples". Another issue showed a tank rolling over a sand dune beneath the inscription, "Finally a War!" And so on, from the commemorative of "The Week of Putrid and Muddy Water in Naples" to the "First Exhibition of Stolen Cars," "World Day of the Streetwalker," "Bulldozing Illegal Construction at Mergellina," and "Don't Waste Your Life on Drugs—Steal!" Each stamp bore a message and an appropriate picture—and each stamp was duly cancelled by the post-office and delivered to its destination. Only once did the post-office notice; that was when the denomination of the phony stamp didn't cover the cost of postage. The addressee had to pay postage due.
There was some discussion in the local media as to whether anyone in the post office ever really noticed the stamps, or whether postal employees, indulging their own sense of humor at the affair, just looked the other way.
The Gang of Three even went
out of their way to get caught, always including their
real return addresses and even "issuing" special
commemoratives that read "Check Your Stamps. This
Could Be a Fake!" or "First Strike of Postal
Counterfeiters." Nothing. No reaction at all.
Apparently, they got discouraged at the lack of a real
challenge and blew the whistle on themselves. At least
that way, they would get some recognition. I guess it
worked. Now, the Gang of Three have a website at
entry Feb. 2003Chinese restaurants, snow (1)
“I tre giorni della merla.” If merla meant “eagle” or “falcon”—some swashbuckling raptor—then The Three Days of (name of appropriate winged warrior) might be the name of a good spy thriller. However, merla is merely the feminine form of merlo—blackbird—and “The Three Days of the Female Blackbird” refers to the three days just behind us, the last three in January, traditionally regarded as the coldest days of the year. I have read that the basis of this expression is found in an old Lombard legend, but I haven’t been able to verify this, myself, since the Lombards haven’t been a power in Italy in 1000 years and are certainly all dead. I do know of a person in Naples whose name is about as Lombard as you can get without actually being “Lombard”. It’s “Ostrogoth”. He might know.
The legend was right on this year. The last three days have been the coldest in Naples since winter started. There was snow on Vesuvius for the first time; it was spread down about one-third of the slope, meaning that the snow line must have been at about 2000 feet, low enough to powder the tops of the hills along the Sorrentine peninsula and all of the mountains surrounding Naples, itself. It didn’t snow any at sea-level, but we did get hail, and the temperature was cold enough to keep the hail on the ground for a while. It covered the walkways along the seafront and was enough like snow for a short time to enable kids to scoop together a slush-ball or two.
Speaking of female
blackbirds, this is the first day of the Year of the
Goat in the Chinese lunar calendar. (Indeed, it was
too much to hope that they might actually have A Year
of the Blackbird or Crow or Raven or at least a Year
of the Smooth Segue.) It’s time to go down to the
nearby Chinese restaurant and say good-bye to the
family that runs it; they are going back to China
after years in Naples. I remember when there were
absolutely no Chinese restaurants in the city. Then,
about 20 years ago, they started to roll in. There
seemed to be well over a dozen of them. Then, a lot of
them closed. Now there are 3 or 4 that I know of.
Maybe the ones that left simply made enough money to
be able to return home, as is the wish of so many
immigrants. Naples and southern Italy, in
general—having sent millions of persons abroad over
the years to seek work and a new life—is now in the
unaccustomed position, itself, of being somewhat of a
magnet for immigrants.
entry Feb. 2003Neapolitan culture (5), snow (2)
as Winter Wonderland doesn’t happen too
often—once a decade, perhaps—but it actually snowed at
sea level this morning. The upper elevations of the
city, Vomero at 600 feet, were covered with snow, and
the hermitage of Camaldoli
at about 1200 feet on the hill in back of the city
looked like a postcard from Austria. Vesuvius, of
course, is appropriately picturesque.
Item two: The morning paper
happily notes the presence of some local people in the
new supplement of the Treccani encyclopedia, somewhat
the standard reference work in Italian and the one you
have on your shelf when you want to look something or
someone up. The last complete edition came out in
1997. This year’s update includes, among Neapolitans,
Olympic swimmer Massimiliano Rosolino; author Luciano De Crescenzo; and
photographer, Mimmo Iodice. It includes also, for the
first time, a horse!—Varenne, the trotter (recently
retired and happily munching clover somewhere), winner
of 60 races in 70 starts. The paper is unclear on
whether or not Varenne is from Naples and, if so,
exactly why he would have a French name.
34.entry Feb. 2003
Eurispes, the European Institute of Political, Economic, and Social Studies is an Italian think tank that, in its own words:
Since 1982, conducts research and other scientific initiatives in the political, legal, economic, social, culture and communications areas such as:
The report actually divides the nation into three parts for purposes of comparison. In the north, 2.4% of the population lives below the poverty level; there is an unemployment rate of 3.8%. Those figures for central Italy are, respectively, 1.6% and 6.1%. For the south (the territory of the ex-Kingdom of Naples—that is, south of Rome, from the Gargano river down to and including the island of Sicily) they are 7.3% and a staggering 17.9% unemployment rate. In Italy, as a whole, 10% of the families have 47% of the wealth. Most of those families are in the north.
The most striking numbers for the south have to do with the so–called “submerged economy”—that is, the black market. One-third of Italian wealth is generated by illegal activities, but most of it is in the south, where there are as many as 11 million illegal workers, and where 70% (!) of manufactured items are counterfeit knock-offs of brand names or are otherwise illegally produced. Eurispes claims that this will amount, in 2003, to 130 billion euros in taxes that will not be paid.
The report doesn’t try to shrink heads. That is, while it does say that one-fourth of Italians report being depressed, and that most of them are women in central and northern Italy, Eurispes doesn’t venture any judgment on the truism that money doesn’t buy happiness. It may have to do, of course, with the question, itself. If you ask one of those women in the 10% group that have half the money in Italy if she is depressed—“Of course, I’m depressed. My cosmetic surgery didn’t work. I had two chins. Now I have three.” Down here in the south—“I don’t have time to be depressed, you moron. I have five kids and my husband is out of work.”All in all, the submerged economy in Naples seems to lend a sort of free-wheeling atmosphere to a place where there is—at least, officially—so little money. Everyone hustles something, and people spend what they have. On a normal Wednesday evening not so long ago, on one of the main shopping thoroughfares in the city, a visitor asked me if it was a special holiday. I said it wasn’t. She said: “Look at all the people shopping. This looks like 5th Ave in New York the week before Christmas.”
entry Feb. 2003Islands
This is less of an island than it is a large
rock sticking up off the eastern
end of Capri. I don't think it is for sale.
There are a number of small islands in and around the Bay of Naples that are, or have been, privately owned. One that comes to mind is the postage-stamp-sized main island of Li Galli (the Gulls). The other "gulls" are little more than rocks sticking up out of the water, but the main gull has a grand villa on it. At one time or another, island and house have been in the possession of the family of Eduardo de Filippo, the Neapolitan playwright, as well as Rudolf Nuryev, the Russian ballet star. The island is outside the bay on the other side of the Sorrentine peninsula in the area where a number of small rocks in the water are named for the sirens in the Odyssey. At least some of the waters are part of a new national park, Punta Campanella, named for the tip of the Sorrentine peninsula, so it is not clear to me whether or not the island is still in private hands.
Another small island is Gaiola off the coast of Posillipo. It has a grim history and people like to tell you that it's haunted (see item 47, below).
The paper this morning was
worried about the fate of the biggest small island in
the area, Nisida. The current Italian national
government apparently has a bizarre plan to make money
by selling off such prime real estate to anyone with
enough money. The Campania region is going to have to
find two million dollars to "buy it back"—meaning,
hold on to it. (For more on Nisida, click here).
36.entry Feb. 2003
I have difficulty believing that they are going to move "Neptune" again. I was down there today looking at it, and in my non-expert opinion of where fountains belong and how they fit in and why they should not be disassembled, moved and put back together every few years, it looks fine. True, they pinched off one traffic lane a bit in order to install the fountain, but they opened up the pedestrian area around the immediate area, and have put in benches and a tourist information bulletin board. The fountain is now on via Medina, adjacent to Piazza Municipio.
There are very few pieces of sculpture that have traveled as much as this one. This fountain started out down by the Arsenal —at the port— when it was built in the 1500s. It was built on the order of Enrico de Guzman, the Spanish viceroy at the time and was situated so that it faced his residence. The design is by Giovanni da Nola; Neptune (the centerpiece) and the two satyrs are by Pietro Bernini.
In 1629, it was moved up to Largo Palazzo, now called Piazza Plebiscito on the order of the viceroy, Alvarez de Toledo. Then, in 1634, it was moved down to the sea at Santa Lucia after being touched up by Cosima Fanzago. There, it was in such danger of being exposed to artillery fire that it was moved up to via Medina, more or less where it is today. In 1647 it was repaired after being damaged in the uprisings of that year; bits and pieces taken away as souvenirs to Spain by the viceroy also had to be redone. In 1659, it was moved again, this time to Calata San Marco, about two blocks from its current location. In 1700 it was moved back to via Medina to be nearer to the main road leading down to the port. At that time, sea horses and tritons were added to the statue. In 1898 it was moved to Piazza Borsa (the Stock Exchange) and, thus, was located at the beginning of Corso Umberto, the broad boulevard leading to the main train station. That square is currently the site of construction for the new Naples Metro underground train line, so in 2001 the statue was moved back to via Medina where it was in 1640.
The statue's current
location is described as "temporary," and it is to be
returned to Piazza Borsa when they finish the
metro station in that square. I hope they leave it
where it is.
update: April 2014. "OK,
when the music stops..."
That last sentence above this
update turned out differently. Indeed, they finished
the station at Piazza Borsa in 2011 (see this link), but
instead of returning Neptune to that site, they put in
its place a large statue of king Victor Emanuele II,
the first king of united Italy. That statue had been
erected at Piazza Municipio when the square was opened
in the 1890s; statue and square were together sort of
the centerpiece of the grand urban renewal project
known as the Risanamento.
Then...follow closely...when they decided to build the
new metro train system and have a grand and brand new
station at that piazza (Municipio-Port), said square
had to be dug up. It is still dug up, though they are
making progress (they are into their second Cheops of
building time, one Cheops being however long it took
them to build the Great Pyramid). The statue of V.E.
II, of course, had to be moved out of harm's way. For
a while, it was stashed off to the side; then, when
they finished the station at Piazza Borsa, they moved
him there, where he still is. In the meantime, Neptune
was getting a well-deserved rest at his current
location, not a bad one, as I say above. Now, however,
they (notice how it's always 'they'?! Maybe that
should be... " It ARE always they? Anyway, I hate
they!) have now decided to move Neptune over to Piazza
Municipio when it is finished. Little by little, I
think Nep is going to go full circle and wind up back
where he started in the 1500s. There are currently
some protesters down at the statue of Neptune, mostly
local merchants who appreciate the open space around
the statue, a place with benches and room to walk at
least a short distance along a street that is horribly
update: March 2015 - The
move to Piazza Municipio is now complete. Naples' most
travelled fountain is now in front of the city hall
about 150 meters from where it was a few days ago.
Now, Neptune stares down across the entire length of
the still unfinished metro construction site to the
main passenger terminal of the port of Naples (photo,
above right). It's probably a better location since
it's a pedestrian zone and you can now walk completely
around the fountain and see it from all angles.
entry Feb. 2003airports
I remember when Naples Capodichino airport looked like an airfield in documentaries about WW2 —maybe even WW1: windsocks on the runway and strange little people in goggles and flying scarves running around mowing the airstrip and hand-cranking Fokker triplanes. Well, maybe not all that, but there were no newfangled accordion tubes that snuggled up to the side of the planes for easy on–and–offloading of contented passengers. There were no contented passengers. There were no busses, either; you walked out onto the tarmac to your plane. Sometimes they got your bags out there before you left; sometimes they didn't. Indeed, it was a throwback to those glorious early days of aviation. They still spelled it "aeroplane," as I recall.
Since the reinvention of mass tourism in the Bay of Naples, that has changed. The sign now says "Naples International Airport" and the place deserves the appellation. The passenger terminal was more than simply expanded; it was rebuilt. It is new, spacious, and comfortable with all the bars, shops and other creature comforts that one expects while one waits. There is also ample parking, one of the few places in Naples to enjoy that comfort so necessary to 21st–century creatures.
The problem now is that no amount of expansion of the facilities can handle the projected traffic. The paper this morning writes of the grand plan to open up the military airport in nearby Grazzanise (about 35 miles from Naples near Capua) to passenger traffic. It was tried once, out of necessity, some 15 years ago when the Capodichino airport was partially closed for modifications. The plan, if it goes forward—and that depends on complicated negotiations between the Italian air force and various civilian agencies that have an interest in air traffic in and out of Naples—is to route charter tourist traffic through the new facility as early as this summer. Since much tourist traffic is directed not to the city of Naples, itself, but to other areas of the Bay such as Sorrento and the islands of Ischia and Capri, and since the Grazzanise airport is near the A-1 autostada that runs into the city, the plan might entail nothing more inconvenient than a slightly longer bus ride for passengers, no matter what their destination.
Me, I have a Fokker to
(update: Jan 2016, here)
38.entry Feb. 2003
And then there were five. I am talking about the infamous "Towers" along the Flegrean coast, a long stretch of potentially beautiful beach at Castel Volturno, just up the coast from Naples. Officially, the towers were known as the Villaggio Coppola, built by the Fontana Blu Corporation, owned by the Coppola bothers.
The entire complex included eight 15-story apartment houses (the "Towers"), adjacent hotels, restaurants, a small boat harbor—an entire small city and, collectively, one of the ugliest examples of illegal, "wildcat" construction in Italy. Having said that, it is worth noting that they were built largely to house members of the US military. That particular need is no longer served since the US Navy now has its own satellite city in nearby Gricignano—built on property owned by the Coppolas. (Perhaps there is a book waiting to be written about the relationship of the US government to the Brothers Coppola.) The towers, they say, were an example of what you could get away with a few decades ago with large envelopes of cash. ("Oh, what's that over there?" you would say, pointing into the distance. Then, while the building commissioner was distracted and staring off into space for two or three years, you—with no building permit—put up your "ecomonsters," as the press calls them.)Over the years, I have driven up past that stretch of coastline and have grown accustomed to glancing over and seeing that row of ugly monolithic dominoes on the beach—"Pukehenge," we used to call it. They were horribly visible from a distance and perhaps even from low orbit. Yesterday, I looked over and did a happy double-take. There was one missing. They had blown it to smithereens while I wasn't looking. Today the newspaper reports that at 3 pm another explosion will devour two more of them. That will leave five, and they are scheduled for demolition in April. It's almost worth the drive to watch.
entry Mar. 2003Pietrarsa (railway museum), trains (2)
Unfortunately, one of the most interesting museums in Naples is still closed for extensive repairs. [Update: April 2009. Repairs are finished and the museum is open again!] The Railway Museum of Pietrarsa is one of the most complete in the world. It is located on the premises of the former metal foundry of the Kingdom of Naples, a facility that produced most of the boilers for locomotives and steam-driven ships in the kingdom in the first half of the 19th century. The museum contains original engines as well as scale models incorporated into a display of the history of trains in Italy. The displays include the Bayard, the first locomotive in Italy. It started its run from Naples to Portici on October 3, 1838. With the unification of Italy, the construction of steam boilers was taken over by industry in the North and Pietrarsa was relegated to the role of a repair facility. It served in that capacity until the 1970s when the facility was rendered obsolete by advances in diesel and electrical technology. It opened as a museum in 1989.
update: 2009 - The museum has reopened.
Also see Italy's First Railway
entry May 2003gypsies (1)
I gave a few cents to a gypsy kid who was playing the accordion on the subway this evening. He wasn't all that bad. He looked to be about 15 or 16 and played a good, competent version of a Russian folk song, the name of which I don't remember. He smiled as he played and was not oppressively obnoxious about trying to wheedle money out of you.
There didn't used to be any accordion players in Naples. Now they are a major import item and seem to be in all the trains. The real reason I gave the kid some money was to reward him for being the first gypsy squeeze-boxer I have heard who has not played that annoying "Anniversary Waltz". It seems to be the only song they know, and most of them never get past the first 16 measures— "Oh, how we danced on the night we were wed/ We vowed our true love, though a word wasn't said…" Then they diddle around, lose the rhythm, play some wrong notes and start again.
I wonder if they are real
gypsies from Romania. That song is known as The
Anniversary Waltz (or Song) to
English-speaking audiences and bears the names of Al
Jolson and Saul Chaplin on the music. Jolson recorded
it in 1946. It is, however, "borrowed" from the music
of Josef Ivanovici, a Romanian composer (1845-1906);
it is part of his Waves of the Danube waltz
42.entry May 2003
Today was the beginning of Operation "High Impact". There were so many "Forces of Order" (as Italian so wishful-thinkingly dubs the various branches of law enforcement)—also known as "cops" for purposes of this brief discussion—on the streets of downtown Naples this morning that at least a few bad guys were scared off and most tourists thought they had wandered onto the set of Rambo XII.
These weren't delicate traffic cops handing out tickets. They wore flak jackets and carried automatic weapons. The pulled over suspicious looking cars, and the word is that they confiscated all sorts of contraband by so doing; also, they turned up a lot people without driving licenses or documents and a few out driving around who should apparently have been at home since they were under house arrest for some reason. I did see one bored and heavily-armed cop stop an attractive young woman on a motorcycle because she wasn't wearing a helmet. The gist of the conversation was that he would really hate to see something terrible happen to her beautiful head just because she forgot her helmet. All smiles and friendly words. No ticket, though maybe a phone number was passed.
The best part is the
"Hawks"—undercover cops. They wear civvies, always
travel in pairs and are always mounted on ridiculously
overpowered motorcycles. If you are a punk
purse-snatcher on a 100 cc Vespa, lots of luck. Just
one "Hawk" looks like two longshoremen; they are
unshaven; they scowl a lot; and in the warmest
weather, they wear some sort of jacket or maybe a bush
vest with lots of pockets all the better to conceal
the heat they are packing. Tough customers. Tourists
move away from them because they look like criminals
and criminals move away from them because they look
like undercover good guys. They are about as
undercover as a cat-burglar in black leotards and a
43.entry Apr. 2003
Somehow I admire people who live in volcanoes or at least on the slopes of volcanoes, even when they're extinct (the volcanoes, not the people). Yesterday we had lunch in a delightful restaurant on the inside slope of a crater, out in Baia, just past the bay of Pozzuoli. It is at the end of the Campi Flegrei—the "Fiery Fields"—in parts, a still active and bubbling collection of thermal baths and sulfur fumaroles, but for the most part a welter of extinct craters some millions of years old. (The famous Pozzuoli caldera, however, is only 35,000 years old, and the nearby "Monte Nuovo"—New Mountain—really is new, as mountains go; it surfaced in the 1500s.)
The restaurant was a three-level affair clinging to the slope (photo), making up in vertical space what it lacked in horizontal. From the terrace, you could look across and see other optimists clinging to their bit of slope across the way. You could look down and see a farmhouse at the bottom. It was set in a nice stand of trees, and there was a small vineyard down there, as well.
The residents are not in any actual danger because the craters really are extinct. On the other hand, on the eastern side of the city of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius last erupted in 1944 and is now described as "quiescent". I think that term describes a condition somewhat more threatening than "dormant". I know that the Vesuvius Observatory updates their webpage on a daily basis, reminding you of the number of "seismic events yesterday," for example. Most of the "events" are not noticed by human senses, but sensors indicate a significant amount of activity. They say there is a "plug" building up about 6 miles below the crater. The real optimists are the ones who built on that slope right after the eruption half a century ago and who continue to build and lead their lives with complete, fatalistic disdain for what the future might hold. Last year, the collective communities around Vesuvius considered it important to have a practice evacuation of the area. They chose, as I recall, 500 volunteers and said "Go!". The make-believe refugees from a make-believe eruption then followed the planned evacuation routes to safety. It went well. Evacuating almost a million people in the real thing would be a different matter, I'm afraid. Perhaps the only point for true optimism is that Vesuvius is one of the best monitored volcanoes in the world. It is unlikely that there would be no warning at all of an impending eruption.
for a separate item on the "Geology of the Bay of
44.entry May 2003
The paper reports on the epidemic of obesity among Neapolitans. A survey of 659 Neapolitan men showed that 50% were overweight with 16 % of that group being ranked as obese. Among 6,300 women in the study, 43% of the women between ages 40 and 59 were 19% over their ideal body weight; between ages 50-64, 46% were 27% over their ideal weight. The numbers for children are especially alarming, and I think the paper has made a mistake, or at least made it difficult to interpret. They say that "between the ages of 6 and 11, the 'obesity rate' is 23%". That is unclear to me. Are 23% of children between the ages of 6 and 11 obese? That would be a disaster, I think. Anyway, I haven't seen that many roly-poly kids bouncing around the streets.
But you never know. On the same
page is an entire article devoted to the opening of a
new fast-food chain in Naples. This one is Pans &
Company, a Spanish company that will open franchises
shortly at four locations in Naples. It is part of a
plan to have 20 such eateries in the Campania region
up and running within the year. They will employ about
500 young people just entering the job market with
low-level managers going to Barcelona for a period of
training. The obvious comparison is with McDonald's,
which has opened a number of places in Naples in the
last few years. The Spanish competition in Naples is
really an extension of a campaign started ten years
ago in Spain to provide a so-called "Mediterranean diet" within a
fast-food format—or, as the paper says, "bocadillos
instead of hamburgers". [Also see
this later item
45.entry May 2003
Then all at once the wind fell, and a calm/came over all the sea, as though some power/
lulled the swell./The crew were on their feet/ Briskly, to furl the sail, and stow it; then,/
each in place, they poised the smooth oar blades/and sent the white foam scudding by…
[The Odyssey. Translator: Robert Fitzgerald]
At that point, Ulysses has his men stuff beeswax in their ears and has himself lashed to the mast of his ship, all the better to resist the tempting song of the sirens.
I think all that is supposed to have happened along the Amalfi coast (well before there was an Amalfi, of course). My friend, Bill, got his good ship, Down East, into the water at Nisida in the Bay of Pozzuoli the other day and set out for Amalfi and beyond. He made it across the Bay of Naples in good time, rounded Cape Campanella and headed by the small isle named Li Galli (but originally Sirenuse--see Land of Sirens) from the shores of which the sirens Ligeia, Leukosia, and Parthenope made their futile pitch.Bill reports that you can still hear police and ambulance sirens from the Amalfi coast road if you sail close enough to shore. Also, sailing—that was the real problem. The local maritime wisdom that the wind dies down at noon along that coast ("…as though some power lulled the swell…") and makes you break out the oars turned out to be true. Just past the cape and just off the magic isle, the wind died and Bill had to break out the engine. Ah, there is nothing like the smell of diesel fuel at sea to make you sing with Tennyson that you aim "to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths of all the western stars".
[Also see Homer and Land of the Sirens] to Ancient World portal
entry June 2003volcanoes (3)
Maybe they are trying to tell us something. There are 19 towns in the area around Vesuvius known as the "Red Zone". That is the area that will have to be evacuated in case of an eruption. There are about 600,000 persons living in the Red Zone. The communities at risk are now prepared to offer €25,000 (about $30,000) towards a new place to live to anyone who leaves the area. They call it Project Exodus and the hope is that the project will reduce the population by one-third.
47.entry July 2003
This tiny isle, Gaiola, is but a few yards from shore, just east of Cape Posillipo. It is the site of an ancient navigators' shrine to Venus as well as near the site of the few Roman ruins of "the sorcerer's house" where the poet Virgil, also renowned as a magician, is said to have taught. In this picture, it is watched by a small statue of St. Francis. Gaiola has two small neighbor islets. The modern house on it is abandoned and, at last notice, the isle and house were up for sale—with no takers! Over the centuries, Gaiola has developed a reputation of being haunted and there are many rumors about the misfortunes—including violent death—that befall those who inhabit it. These rumors, obviously, were not started by real estate agents.
entry July 2003noodles
I don't know that this is the world's greatest pasta shop, but I like it. Pasta comes as spaghetti, macaroni, fettuccine, tagliatelle, penne, rigate, vermicelli, capellini, anelli, spirali, fusilli, maltagliatti, et noodle cetera—and those are just some of the common, generic Italian noodles in the present tense. Neapolitan conjugations include—but are not limited to (as pasta-loving legal fleagles like to say) —ziti and paccheri. They come in red, green, white, and even the off-brown of (ugh!) whole-wheat health-food pasta. Also, they are stubby, skinny, straight, wavy, cork-screwy, and shaped like a torus, also known as an "anchor ring" (or "donut" to non-mathematicians). Attempts to create a stable double-torus noodle have thus far been unsuccessful. (See Dente, Al. "Getting a Handle on a Trivial Tubular Neighborhood" in the Journal of Pasta and Topology.) I think this shop has all of them.If all that is just "noodles" to you, then maybe you don't deserve this information. But if you are familiar with the bizarre very-pre-surrealist works of Giuseppe Arcimboldi (1527 -1593), who specialized in painting human figures out of edibles, you will be pleased to know that his spirit is alive and well in Naples. Mr. Noodle Head (photo) and other similar renditions of the human head are to be found in a fascinating pasta shop on via Benedetto Croce, a few yards after entering the old city from the direction of Santa Chiara (approximately,where #6 is on the map of the historic center.)
See also: We Hold these Noodles to be Self Evident
entry July 2003Perched on the hillside leading up to the Capodimonte Palace and very visible from various quarters of Naples is the church, Madre del Buon Consiglio. Interestingly, it is not nearly as old as it looks. It was built in the years between 1920 and 1960 in imitation of St. Peter's in the Vatican. It houses a number of works of art rescued from closed, damaged, or abandoned houses of worship in the city. There is also a path leading down to the catacombs of Naples. Legend has already attached itself to the church: the earthquake of 1980 toppled the head of the statue of the Madonna from the top of the church to the ground, where it crashed and lay inexplicably undamaged.
Madre di Buon Consiglio
update: Sept. 2011: Technically, the church is called La Basilica dell'Incoronata di Buon Consiglio. As of April, 2011, it has installed in the space in front of the church a large bronze bust of San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples.
entry July 2003Croce, Benedetto (3), Filomarino (Palazzo)
Palazzo Filomarino della Rocca
is most recently well-known for having been the
residence of the great Neapolitan historian and
philosopher, Benedetto Croce.
The original structure was built in the 1300s and was
rebuilt and enlarged in the first decade of the 1500s.
Subsequent modifications were added by the renowned
architect Ferdinando Sanfelice in the 1700s when the
building passed into the hands of Tommaso Filomarino
della Rocca. He was responsible for the addition of a
fine library, as well, keeping with the
intellectual tradition of the premises, which
had in the past hosted no less a philosopher than Giovan Battista Vico. That
tradition still survives, as the building currently
houses the Italian
Institute for Historical Studies founded by
The building is on a long street popularly known as "Spaccanapoli" (Naples-Splitter) in the historic center of the city (see number 5 on the map of the historic center of Naples.). The section of the street where the building stands is, today, named via Benedetto Croce.
51.entry Sept. 2003
The scene was the Mostra d’Oltremare, the Overseas Fair Grounds in Naples. Since last I wrote about it, at least the arena, the spacious outdoor theater, has been renovated and is once again ready to host large-scale productions, maybe even Aida, just like in the good old days.
The event in question last week was a bit less ambitious, but still worthy of mention. It was Pizzafest 2003, a pizza cook-off to choose—and what better judges than Neapolitans?—the world’s greatest pizzaiolo, or pizza chef.
Without further ado, may I have the envelope, please. Ahem. The third-place winner is Luigi Picariello from Naples. (Ho-hum.) The second-place winner is Antonio Langella from Naples. (Please hold your applause and ho-hums.) And the world’s greatest pizza chef is—Makato Inishi from Japan! (I told you to hold the ho-hums.)
That’s right. In a fair cook-off, the 23-year-old Japanese young man beat all comers. He came to Naples two years ago for the express purpose of learning the art of pizza cooking, and seems to have done rather well. I don’t know if he is the gentleman I mentioned elsewhere, one sent here with an interpreter to learn the pizza trade. It wouldn’t surprise me, but on the other hand, I have heard that there are at least a few such visitors from Japan in Naples. In any event, there were no sour grapes (not an authentic topping, anyway) on the part of the Neapolitans. They seemed happy that they had taught Makato so well.
This is perverse, I know, but somehow I am reminded of the scene in Doctor Strangelove where Sterling Haden, as deranged general Jack D. Ripper, asks RAF officer Mandrake (played by Peter Sellers) if he had been tortured by the Japanese when he was their prisoner in World War II.“Yes,” says Mandrake. “I don’t understand. They make such bloody good cameras.”
END OF THE EARLY MISCELLANEOUS SECTION. LATER MISCELLANY HERE.