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Naples Miscellany 26 (early Nov to mid-Dec 2009)


  • Tony Quattrone (photo), a good friend and long-time resident of Naples and extremely knowledgeable about local politics, has started a new blog in English about politics in Naples. It is off this site at this link. His first posting is about the initiative taken by some politicians to propose Roberto Saviano, the author of Gomorrah, as a candidate for the office of president of the Campania Region. His second item (as of Nov 10) is about the issue of political parties not putting forward as candidates for public office anyone who is officially under investigation or suspected of having committed a crime.  If you are interested in the politics of this part of Italy, I encourage you to check out the site. It shows great promise.
  • Once upon a time there was the Italsider steel mill in Bagnoli. That was closed in preparation for whatever the future might hold for the area—beaches, boat harbors, and happy peasants serving the jet set, so they say. The premises of the steel mill, however—the actual earth beneath the mills—are so permeated with poisonous substances (of the category Cer 170503, in the Europe-wide system of classifying such waste) that nothing can be done with the area until that material is removed. Thus, 10,000 tons of it are in the process of being collected and shipped to the industrial town of Moerdijk in the Netherlands, a place that apparently has a pyrolysis plant—that is, a unit that can detoxify the material by heating. Remind me not to move to Moerdijk.
  • The final 19 km (12 miles) of track for the high-speed train connection between Naples and Rome are now complete and have been officially opened in the presence of Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano. That doesn't mean you can ride on those tracks yet; that won't happen until mid-December. The high-speed link over much of the stretch has been in use since December, 2005, but the completed link between Naples and Rome will cut travel time to 70 minutes, an improvement over the good old days (around 1930) when, as one elderly gentleman assures me, it was an all-nighter sleeping car affair.
  • This is even better than the orange juice someone has been selling down on via Toledo. On the same main thoroughfare, one enterprising vendor has set up a stand and is hawking photos of the great Neapolitan comic, Totò, as protection against the H1N1 virus! The hand-lettered sign says that the pix will make you immune and "always cheerful."
  • On a similarly cheerful note—tinged with the sad surprise that comes from knowing that this behavior always (!) makes the papers because it is unusual—a South African tourist lost his wallet with cash and credit cards yesterday on the most heavily traveled tram in Naples, the one that runs along the port. Two employees of the transit authority found the wallet, turned it in and it all—contents safe and sound—wound up back in the hands of the rightful owner.
  • And on the really bright side of the news—this one wins the Dirty Harry Award for the week—a French tourist was driving a Porsche around the grubby port section of Naples. He was also wearing a €30,000 Rolex watch, which fact did not escape the eagle-eyes of two punks on a motorcycle who tried the oldest ploy in the book: they ran into his driver side mirror and then signaled that they should all pull over for the inevitable discussion about fault, right-of-way, insurance, etc. and then maybe hug and make-up over a coffee. Frenchie wasn't buying; he drives a Porsche and wears a fortune on his wrist, so he ain't that stupid. Enraged punks then pull in front of him, forcing him to stop. Punk numero uno on the back of the bike jumps off, yanks the door open, grabs the watch (leaving the wrist partially intact) and runs back to the bike where punk #2 is already vroom-vrooming for the getaway. Frenchie then puts the pedal to the metal and runs them over. Actually, the driver made a getaway; the watch-grabber is in serious condition and under arrest at a local hospital. The paper did not dwell on the legal ramifications of all this. I am betting that the driver of the Porsche will be charged with something—excessive use of force, etc. The law frowns on vehicular homicide against someone who has already robbed you and is running away. Most experts on vigilante justice suggest that you yell at the ne'er-do-well such that he turns around. Then you kill him. Then you plant a pistol in his hand (called a "drop piece" in the trade and at least one of which you should always carry with you for such occasions). Make my day.

  • For many years there has been a "doll hospital" in Naples. It is in the heart of the old city, on via San Biagio dei Librai ("Spaccanapoli") just west of the large cross-street, via Duomo. In spite of the "booksellers" [Librai] in the name of the street at that point, the area is well-known for the presence of craftsmen specializing in making small (and not so small) figures for the traditional Christmas display, the presepe. The current proprietor of the doll hospital, Luigi Grassi, displays similar craftsmanship as he repairs the many dolls and other bric-à-brac of childhood brought in each year—not just by children, but by nostalgic adults. Now, perhaps in a similar vein, a "hospital" for toy and stuffed animals has opened at the Naples Zoo. The point is to develop in children who visit the zoo a "green" mentality counter to the still prevailing one that has parents and children simply throwing out a stuffed animal with a tear in the fabric. Your child can take in Boopy the Bear for a diagnosis and out-patient surgery by a staff member. Critical cases might take an extra day or two.

  • Potemkin Village, White Elephant—the Albergo dei Poveri is its own metaphor. Three years ago, the Naples city council approved spending tens of millions of euros to restore the Albergo, ye old royal poorhouse, started in the late 1700s and never finished. The façade was finished some months ago and really does look good. If that is all you see, you're impressed. None of the rest of the building, however, shows any signs of progress towards the purported goal of turning the whole thing into a "Youth City," a giant assemblage of schools, activity rooms, and multimedia facilities. If you stand in front of the building and stare up at and through the top row of windows, you find yourself staring at blue sky—there is no roof to speak of. At the most there are a few timbers to support the workers who perched up there all morning the other day to protest the lack of funding to finish the job. Main article: Albergo dei Poveri; update here.
  • Tony Quattrone's latest item on his new Naples political blog (mentioned above, first item on this page) is about organized crime and the garbage crisis in the area. See this link.

  • It has been a long time in coming, but the recently opened Naval Museum of the San Martino museum was worth the wait. In two large halls, visitors can trace the major events in the history of the Bourbon navy from the conquest of the kingdom of Naples in 1734 until the unification of Italy in 1861 and then the continuing history of the Italian navy in the first few decades after unification. The display is replete with large royal barges (photo, right) and remarkable scale-models of frigates and gunboats dating from the end of the 18th century, models of 19th century turbines and steamships, weapons, and significant specimens of instruments such as octants and astrolabes. There is ample explanatory material in both Italian and English.

  • Old Spanish plaques. I’m sure I can find one. Oh, here (it’s at the Mergellina harbor, beneath the Church of Santa Maria del Parto). A year or so ago, Spain and Naples agreed that it might be not be a bad idea to remind people of the Spanish history of the city (the Kingdom of Naples was a Spanish vice-realm between 1500 and 1700). There are a number of old plaques in the city put in place back in the Spanish day and very much in need of renewal. They are worn and illegible. (They are also in Latin, which makes them really illegible.) A few letters to the editor in the paper that carried this item: (1) Aw, c’mon. Who cares?! Haven’t we got real problems to worry about?; (2) Forget the Spanish; the Bourbons are the only ones who ever really loved this city; (3) We’d all be better off as part of Spain again.
  • The parish priest at the church of Santa Maria del Carmine alla Concordia in the Spanish Quarter, don Mario Ziello, stood up in front of his congregation last Sunday and denounced the hoodlums who are trying to "shake down" his church by approaching laborers involved in construction work there. Authorities say that the only question is whether the hoods are free-lancers or members of the mob, the camorra. The latter is likely, since lone-wolf goons know better than to wander around that part of Naples and muscle in on the mob. Only the workers have been approached, not the priest, himself. Nevertheless, says don Mario, "I have no intention of using money that the faithful have given to my church to pay off these criminals. Those who know me know that I won't back down." 
  • Although there is at least one St. Nicholas church in Naples, the saint, himself, is not particularly associated with the city. Elsewhere in Itay—Bari, in particular, where he is the patron saint of the city—and in many other places throughout the Christian world, Nicholas of Myra (270 AD-347 AD) is venerated as the protector of sailors and children and, indeed, was the prototype for the gift-bearing "Father Christmas," "St. Nick" or "Santa Claus'; in those places, his name day, December 6, is the day of gifts for children. I was, thus, surprised when I wandered into the church of Santa Maria la Nova in the old city. I had come to admire the spectacular ceiling once again, and I ran into a small celebration of the "The Arrival of Saint Nicholas" going on in the adjacent courtyard. It was the eleventh such edition of the celebration and the third time it has been held at Santa Maria la Nova. The saint came out and walked around the courtyard once, followed by children dressed as angels (two of whom were wearing the horns of Lucifer, the fallen angel—perhaps meaning that God's mercy extends to all); St. Nick then distributed small gifts to the children. A handful of parents were present and the hosts of the event, "Bohemia, the Czech-Italian Cultural Association," handed out Bohemian pastries and hot wine, yea, even unto strangers like me. The entire festival lasts into early January and features a number of musical events on the premises of the church. (related item here)
  • It wasn't 34th Street and it certainly wasn't a miracle. Two enterprising would-be Santas rigged up a scooter-drawn sleigh (we're short on reindeer in Naples) to pull around the downtown area the other day selling souvenir Christmas photos to families with children. They were doing fine until the municipal grinches pulled them over. It seems (1) they had no license to do that kind of business and (2) they had no license to drive a car or scooter, not to mention a sleigh. They got a hefty fine. Ho-ho-ho.
I kind of like this,
but maybe that's me.

  • It took them 450 days to do it, but the gargantuan scaffolding that had transformed the Galleria Umberto into a piece of installation art called Gargantuan Scaffolding is all gone and every piece of glass in the dome of the structure has been replaced. Everything has been polished up. It looks good.
  • There are plans to tear down the old Collana Stadium in the Vomero section of Naples. It is one of the historic sports arenas of Naples and served the local community well even after it was replaced by the San Paolo stadium as the main soccer venue for the city. Collana has been closed for about five years because it is no longer structurally sound. (San Paolo is no longer structurally sound, either.) There are problems in getting rid of the old stadium since parts of it should be saved in order to provide smaller but important athletic facilities for the community. Local politicians stress that they don't want a repetition of the Jai Alai affair in Fuorigrotta. The shell of that place is still standing.