Naples:life,death & Miraclecontact: Jeff Matthews


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Everything is related to Naples
Number 38 in this series. Link to all items here.


Magicians & Fortune Tellers


Susi stares out at us from the TV screen of a local Naples channel and says, "Chiamatemi."—call me. She recites the phone number that also scrolls across the bottom of the screen and then goes back to dealing cards face-up on the desk in front of her as if she were cheating at solitaire. Far from it. Suzi is engaged in cartomancy —the telling of fortunes from the cards. In the course of an hour or so, she gets a few calls from people concerned about their love-life, jobs, health, etc. She talks to them via a speaker-phone in the studio and then consults the cards and gives advice. She is cheerful and friendly. 

Susi is a "mago," a broad term in Italian. Merlin was a mago. So was the stage magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, and it is the word (cognate of the English term "magi") for "Wise Men", referring to those who bore gifts to the Christ Child, for they were said to be Zoroastrian astrologers, magicians from the East. 

Whatever you call them—wizards, magicians, sorcerers, seers—there are still a lot of them around, and they do a land-office business, at least in Italy. According to a recent article in the paper, there are 1,669 practicing maghi in Italy, and they command the trust and credulousness of some twelve million Italians. That is, about one out of five Italians is quite prepared to go to a mago and shell out anywhere from 15 to 100 dollars for a potion, spell, talisman, charm, amulet or incantation—anything to hocus-pocus away a problem. (I can't prove this, but I suspect that the percentage in Naples is even higher. Magicians have always had a solid place in Naples, going back to Virgil, who is said to have concealed an egg on the grounds of what is today still called the "Egg Castle". What happens if the egg breaks? You don't want to know.) (Click here for an entry on Virgil, the mago's mago!)

My favorite mago (and I want him to know this and to understand that I am not being critical of him in any way, shape or form, and that I really think he is a credit to his profession and species—hey, my limbs are going numb!) advertises his services on local TV. 

My mago X has built his pitch along the lines of one of those South American soap operas that take up so many valuable electrons in my television set. It has (1) a beautiful and virtuous heroine, (2) a crisis brought on by an evil rival, and (3) a resolution, this one effected, obviously, by my main man, Mago. It has the same shaky home-video qualities as the soaps and even goes in for the same lighting and those ultra close-ups that let you count facial hairs choking and poking up through too much make-up like left-over shrubbery from the mysterious Siberian fireball explosion of 1908. The whole thing runs about ten minutes. 

First we see mago in seclusion, perhaps at the sea-side or some mountain retreat, but definitely a place on a higher plane, hidden from non-esoteric klutzes like me, a good place with good vibes where you can meditate real good. He does that, staring into a campfire. There are plenty of tight shots of his eyes to highlight their magnetic quality. The camera is so close that at first you think you are about to see a documentary on glaucoma. The background music starts; there are lots of drums, letting you know that this guy is in tune with—maybe even in the same band as—some very heavy voodoo hitters. 

The plot starts. The heroine is a would-be ballerina. She is lovely, graceful and kind. Career-wise, however, she is going belly up, for she is about to be done out of the big lead role by her evil and less talented rival, an envious wench with two left paws. 

Heroine then sees the very same ad that we are watching—mago's blurb for his "positively charged talisman"—and calls the number scrolling across the bottom of the screen (although I can't figure out how she manages to read that number from her side of the screen). Mago's secretary answers the phone, writes heroine's problem down and takes it in to the Man. He then reaches in a drawer and pulls out a talisman. It is unlike your and my talisman. Nothing bulky like a rabbit's foot, bear paw, mandrake root, horse shoe, pyramid, pendulum, animal horn or precious stone. This thing looks like a credit-card. On one side is written "Health, Love, Business", and above that phrase is the watchful and protecting all-seeing open eye common to much esoteric tradition (as well as being on the unesoteric US one-dollar bill, right above the pyramid). Mago then "positively charges" the talisman by pressing it between his palms and mumbling over it. He sends it to Heroine and as soon as she takes it out of the envelope and slips it in her purse—lo and behold!—the door to her dressing room opens and in comes the producer of the big show; he has had a change of heart. She gets the gig! 

The story is not finished, and this is the good part. Even after he sends Heroine the magic credit card, mago somehow senses that all is not well. The other dancer, Miss Bigfoot of 1997, is out to ambush our Goody Two-Shoes, so mago rushes over to the theater, races backstage and—just in time!—pulls Heroine away from the path of a very large prop that Evil Rival has cut loose, intending it to fall on and squash Goody as flat as a positively charged credit-card-sized talisman. 

The End. Phew! Awesome. This reviewer has seldom seen such a persuasive restatement of the non-discursive contingencies of the ontological argument, such breadth of expression, such depth of emotion, such length of body parts. Besides, how many wizards do you know who make house calls? (Hey, my limbs are going numb!)


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