Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 29 (start late-Feb 2010)

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  • (Feb 19) This, from one of those weekly puzzle magazines that throw in random tid-bits of information on the order of “Did you know that...?”
    ...during the 1700s in the Kingdom Of Naples it was not uncommon for the rich to will their fortunes to their own souls. These wills were called testamento all’anima. Most of the time, the will was interpreted as giving the fortune to the church in return for memorial masses for the deceased. Astute minister of the kingdom, Bernardo Tanucci [image, right], finally got a law passed to prohibit these wills.

    If that is true, they should have added the note that Tanucci was a notorious church-baiter. He loved to needle the church fathers and was even responsible for getting the Jesuits expelled from Naples.

  • (Feb 19) Richard Lynn is a professor emeritus at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. His many books and articles bear titles such as Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis and Race Differences, Immigration, And The Twilight of the European Peoples. Briefly, he believes that IQ has a large racial component, and that the whiter you are, the more intelligent you are. This (1) comes as a surprise to all those dumb dark folks in Egypt and India who invented astronomy and mathematics, and (2) irritates the hell out of local journalists, who have jumped all over his latest venture into sociobiology: “In Italy, north–south differences in IQ predict differences in income, education, infant mortality, stature, and literacy” (in Intelligence, Volume 38, Issue 1, January-February 2010, Pages 93-100). The last sentence in the journal abstract says, “The lower IQ in southern Italy may be attributable to genetic admixture with populations from the Near East and North Africa." He forgot all the racial mixing with those other swarthy types, the Greeks —you know, the ones who invented the alphabet. His claim that southern Italy has not produced outstanding intellects or artists since 1400 shows a stunning gap in his knowledge of this part of the world. Maybe sociology and history are just too hard for him.

  • (Feb 21) In terms of high-profile points of urban decay, there are three constant ones: (1) Piazza Dante, (2) Molo Beverello, and (3) the adjacent small harbor of Molosiglio. All three have been in the news recently as one plan after another "to do something" gets mulled over by the perennial overmullers in City Hall. They (the above-mentioned places as well as the overmullers!) are all in need of repair and then constant supervision. (1) Work has started on cleaning up Piazza Dante. That's a tough one. It looked fine a few years ago when they opened the new Metro station. There are two problems: vandalism and motor vehicles trying to deliver across the square to shops; the paving stones have come loose or are actually broken from being pounded by traffic. That is easy to fix: at the edge of the square, install posts that cannot be removed. That will block traffic. The other problem... well...maybe snipers. (2) Molo Beverello is the main passenger boat harbor and the most visible part of the city to tourists. It's where you get the boats to go to places such as Sorrento and Capri. Buying a ticket at Molo Beverello is as difficult as finding a metaphor for how difficult it is to buy a ticket at Molo Beverello; the place is crowded with pickpockets, beggars and druggies. Now, people avoid Naples because of the port; that has hurt local hotels, and that might get some action. (3) The adjacent small park at Molosiglio (see the link above) is a pit. The operators who run small rides for children in the park got tired of waiting for the city to do something, so they cleaned up the waste-filled fountain, themselves but are not about to take on the vagrants who have pitched tents on the premises.

  • (Feb 21) Campania regional elections are coming up and as with all elections in Italy, the city kindly provides the ugliest possible metal-tube frames for political parties to stick their posters on. While they are up, they block your view of the street, Mt. Vesuvius, and each other—but that's what a thriving democracy is all about! The theory is that these billboards will keep you from slapping your posters up on walls. Ho-ho. The city is awash in illegal election posters. Most of them areepasted over someone else's illegal campaign poster. AND many of them have been put up by underpaid illegal immigrants hired by political parties, all of whom officially frown on hiring illegal workers.

  • (Feb 21) In 2005 the European Union banned asbestos from all new construction and started programs to find safe alternatives. In Naples, a paper has surfaced (apparently drawn up last March) that lists 400 buildings in the Campania region still contaminated by asbestos. Twenty-four of the sites are in the city of Naples, itself. Some don't surprise me, such as older garages used by the city for their buses and trams. Some, however, do: the main police station downtown and the Prefecture at Piazza Plebiscito (photo, right). This gives me second thoughts about having a coffee at the delightful Gambrinus bar, right around the corner (on the right in this photo) in the same building! Sugar? No, I'm trying cut down, but I will have some chrysotile fibers, thank you.

  • (Feb 24) In  1997, the European Union met in Oviedo in Spain to draw up a Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. The convention recognized the "living will", a declaration whereby you may specify what medical measures should be taken (or not taken) in extreme end-of-life situations where you are not able to express your own wishes. (In the words of the convention: "The previously expressed wishes relating to a medical intervention by a patient who is not, at the time of the intervention, in a state to express his or her wishes shall be taken into account.") Italy did not sign the treaty, and the whole issue of the testamento biologico, as it is called in Italian, is still contentious. Nevertheless, a few places in Italy have set up the appropriate bureaucracy where you can register your "living will". In Naples, there are now two such places: the first was the district of Quarto, and now Ottaviano has been added to the list.

  • (Feb 28) The Underground Naples entries in the general index indicate just what a "hidden city" lies beneath Naples. The Greek quarries, Roman aqueducts, natural caves, ancient and modern sewer systems, and sub-surface chambers from old Spanish buildings long since covered by the modern road-bed above all combine to bring pleasure and excitement to urban spelunkers, archaeologists and jewel thieves. What? Indeed, a few days ago, a band of mole-men hit the Monetti jewelry shop on via Toledo and cleaned it out. It's in the heart of one of the fine shopping districts, and it all happened in broad daylight. There were no doubt guards walking around broadly in that daylight, too, maybe in front of the shop. That's all irrelevant because the bad guys came up from the murky darkness of the netherworld (cue demoniacal laughter!) through the maze of passageways, even convenient stairways, entered the shop from below and left the way they came.  

  • (Mar 1) Two years ago the Naples superindendency for archaeology managed a partial restoration of another bit of ancient Rome among the many in Pozzuoli. This one was the Antonino stadium, built in the mid-second century A.D. It was an athletic field, the second largest one in the Roman world, measuring 260 meters by 65 meters, and the site of a regular Roman Olympiad on the earlier Greek model. The stadium is on the via Domiziana, the road that has connected Naples and Pozzuoli since ancient times and is located near the modern Olivetti complex of offices and small businesses. The ancient stadium has been through countless seismic disturbances. The via Domiziana was broadened in 1932, which cut into the grounds, and since the 1960s the area has been subject to severe urbanization. Nevertheless, they restored at least part of the site, but so far it has not been opened to the public due to lack of funding for maintenance and supervisory personnel.

  • (Mar 2) Dept. of "Take a gander at this sauce for the goose...": City assessors for Naples generally drive around town in their freebie cars, serving the public, mind you, and never running private errands. But when they went out to the parking lot yesterday morning, they found their cars blocked and off-limits. It seems the city has not paid the car insurance on their free wheels in spite of repeated dunning notes from the insurance company!

  • (Mar 3) A recent BBC on-line item about Naples has caught the eye of local journalists. It starts:
    Welcome to Naples, a crime-free utopia of moral and ethical values. Sound unlikely? One fledgling online community is hoping to channel their city's ancient roots to create just that. The people of Partenope City - after Naples' historical original name - cross at pedestrian crossings, park their cars without blocking people in and never jump a red light. These are just some of the values the site's founder, 35-year-old Claudio Agrelli, believes have been forgotten in the 'real' city.
    The BBC is excited about the project called Città di Parthenope, an on-line community of about 3,000 Neapolitans who use their website to instill civic pride and civilized behavior. If you join (it's free) you can start a blog, sign and circulate petitions, list what works, what doesn't, complain, praise, AND you even get a classy ID card! The organization was started about a year ago.

photo © NewfotoSud/Sergio Sieno      
  • (Mar 5) There are a few large-scale excavations of Roman Neapolis beneath the historic center of the city. The site beneath San Lorenzo is one and is open to the public. As well, there are on-going projects such as the Roman amphitheater. Smaller sites are less known, but they're down there. It has been known at least since the mid-20th century and now through the work of archaeologist, Mario Napoli, that the area to the south-east of the Duomo was the site of Roman thermal baths. You can walk into almost any shop in that area of this map and ask, “Can I take a look in your basement?” and probably hear, “What basement?” That’s because the shop-keeper fears you are from the Commission to Declare this Place a Monument (motto: "Sorry, you have to move."). Yet, occasionally serendipity trips down the stairs and you discover (re-discover, really) a treasure. Workers checking for gas leaks beneath a building on via San Nicola dei Caserti (to the right of number 30 on the map, linked above, almost at the edge of the displayed area) have rediscovered a Roman thermal bath complex. There was a locked gate (“Been locked forever,” according to old-timers who live nearby). Workers got through the gate, and suddenly they were at the top of a stairway leading down about 4 meters and, lo and behold, the Roman bath. If there was a gate at the top and then a stairway going down from the modern street-level, someone must have known about it a lot less than "forever" ago. It is in the same general area as the excavated Carminiello ai Mannesi baths. Further disposition from the CDPM is awaited.

  • (Mar 7)                                                                              Napoli: the 1900s

The Castel Sant'Elmo is slowly going from being that huge fortress on the hill next to the museum (San Martino) to being a fine museum in its own right. The Back to the Baroque display still features the 40-Hour Devotion altar, and now there is an art show running entitled Napoli '900—about a dozen rooms full of painting and sculpture done in Naples between 1910 and 1980. (Pictured above is a display dedicated to the founder of the Futurist Movement, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti; on the left is a bust, Neapolitan Girl, by Vincenzo Gemito.)

  • Custodians at Pompeii had a union meeting the other day from 8.30 to 10.30 a.m. The way it usually works is that they lock the gates and put out that annoying sign that tells tourists to come back in a while. This time, someone forgot (or maybe “forgot”) to tell the ticket-office (staffed by employees not involved in the meeting). They kept selling tickets. Thus, when the custodians were finished discussing their future, they returned to find the most famous archaeological site in the world aswarm with paying customers, calmly climbing all over ancient things they weren’t supposed to and maybe even stocking up on souvenirs.
  • Another offensive ad! —this, according to various women’s groups in the city. (It’s a similar situation to this item, reported earlier.) The new one has a very beautiful and voluptuously clad woman holding up an espresso maker (??—I think, but I really couldn't tell because the hordes of men drooling in front of the billboard were blocking my view). She says (in normal text above her head): “Buy this gizmo? Are you craaazy?” Then in LARGE print, scrawled over most of the surface of the ad...”We’ll give it to you for FREE!”

END of Misc. p.#29

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