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Naples Miscellany 31 (start mid-April  2010)

  • (Apr13) Restoration of the church of Portosalvo has finally started. It's hard to tell how the work is going because they have draped safety screens over all the scaffolding, which is normal. Also relatively normal is the fact that they are going to pay for the restoration by selling ads on the screen. Big ads. (See this link.) That is of some concern, since, after all, it's a church and blah blah blah. I've noticed a giant ad for Original Marines, a shop that sells men's clothing and sporting goods. So far, nothing offensive.
  • (Apr14) This is just like Bingo Night at St. Mary’s except it’s for a good cause! The Polish monks who run the church of Santa Maria del Pozzo di Somma Vesuviana (photo, right), near Naples, held a raffle to raise 70,000 euros so they can at least start on the restoration of the church, a historic gem that dates back to 1510 (and even that was built on an earlier Angevin house of worship). One of the monks was a bit apologetic about trying to sell 8,000 tickets to the faithful, one of whom will win a car. That's gambling! "Times are tough," he said.






  • (Apr16) Brandi is the best-known restaurant/pizzeria in Naples. It has sat just off of via Chiaia for 300 years, when it was called Pietro...e basta così. Its major claim to fame is as the inventor of the Pizza Margherita, the genial idea of one pizza chef named Raffaele Esposito, who in 1889 sent a pizza to Queen Margherita at the royal palace (200 yards away. “Sorry, your majesty. We don’t deliver.” !? No, I don’t think so.) with the red, white and green trimmings of the (then) new Italian flag. The restaurant is decorated with photos of the fat & famous, throwing back enormous three-hour multi-course Italian meals. They may have started with pizza as an appetizer, but they then wound their way through pasta, fish or meat, cheese, dessert and resuscitation heart paddles. The photos and nostalgic decor will no doubt remain, but all you will now be able to order up is pizza—and, ok, maybe a few pizza side orders such as insalata caprese. The owner claims that this has nothing to do with economic difficulties. It’s what people want, he says. The establishment is dead in the center of Tourist Naples, and when the Japanese, Americans, and ten-foot-tall blue-skinned Na’vi tourists show up this summer, all they’ll be able to get is pizza. Not just Margherita, mind you. There’ll be a lot of choices.
[see this update]

  • (Apr19) Why is Madame Butterfly wearing a pair of Nikes? State support for opera companies in Italy comes from the umbrella fund, FUS (Fondo unico per lo spettacolo). The fund currently supports 14 Opera-Symphony institutions throughout the nation, including San Carlo in Naples. A law cutting back on the level of state support for most of these institutions has just been approved. Potentially, the cutbacks will effect everything from the number of artistic personnel and stage hands to the number of performances put on each season. Part of the plan is to incentivize private investment. The new law has made exceptions for la Scala in Milan and the Accademia nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Support for those two will continue unchanged due to their “particular national interest.”  Given the spectacular history of San Carlo, the fact that the state does not consider it a “particular national interest” seems to be an unforgivable snub to the artistic director of San Carlo, Roberto De Simone. “We taught music to the world,” he says. “Now they'll put on their rock concerts and turn it all into a super market.”

  • (May 5) I’ll take one of those...and one of those...and... It's early May and the isle of Capri is awash with wealthy house hunters. There are, in fact, 30 exclusive villas for sale on Capri. There’s a nice little number down by the Faraglioni: two level home, three bedrooms, terrace, two baths, studio, kitchen—all for the low, low price of €4,950,000 (that’s just so you don’t scream “FIVE MILLION EUROS!?”) At the other end of the list, we have the famous Villa Castiglione (photo, right); it’s on a hill at 250 meters above sea-level, built on the ruins of one of Tiberius 12 imperial residences, and has never been subdivided into apartments. You get the whole thing. It’s spectacular. The current owner wants out. It’s yours for €35,000,000. Don’t try to bargain with them. If you can’t meet that price, they’ll find someone who can. Easily.

  • (May 25) Larry Ray and I have finished translating The Subsoil of Naples, a book commissioned by the city of Naples in the 1960s. It's a thorough compedium of the geology and urban history of the area, including chapters on all of those fascinating chambers beneath the city, tunnel construction, the aqueduct and why buildings and streets tend to cave in every once in a while. (See the above link.)

  • (May 29) Italy's grand Tremonti Recovery/Austerity Plan to save the Italian economy includes such things as cutting the salaries of politicians (good!), fighting tax evasion (hah!) and a broad series of budget cuts to regional governments, such as Campania, of which Naples is the capital. Cuts seem to hit culture first. (See the San Carlo item, above). Now, word comes of cuts to the following: the Anton Dohrn Aquarium (photo, right), the Benedetto Croce Library, the Center for the Study of the Herculaneum Papyri, the Marine Park on the isle of Vivara (Procida), among others. Some may be closed, and some may simply wind up with so little money that they can't function. Some, such as the aquarium, though scheduled to be closed, will wind up incorporated into the university. No one knows what that means.
  • (May 31) This news will not warm the cockles of your spaghetti ai frutti di mare. Most Neapolitans like a few marine bivalve molluscs in their spaghetti or Pantagruelian soups once in a while. The favorite two of these little "sea fruits"  are the tellina and the cannolicchio—respectively, the cockle and the European razor clam. Well, there is trouble in clam city thanks to new European Union (EU) fishing regulations that regulate how close in to shore you may spread your net upon the waters. The new, greater distance, though obviously meant to prevent overfishing and depletion of the creatures, will cause great difficulty in trying to meet local needs.

  • (June 10) Yesterday was Italian Navy Day, and it was celebrated for the first time in five years in the Bay of Naples. The centerpiece was the presence of the "tall ship," the Amerigo Vespucci (pictured), a training vessel built after the design of large, late-18th-century ships of the line. The vessel is a full-rigged three-master with an overall length of 101 meters (331 ft) including the bowsprit. The ship was built in nearby Castellammare and launched in 1931. It is one of many sailing vessels used to train young seamen in navies throughout the world. In the summer months, the compliment of 223 officers and men is augmented by 140 first-year students from the Italian Naval Academy in Livorno. The Amerigo Vespucci was meticulously overhauled in 2006.  (Also see Boats of the Bay.)(Also see this entry on the ill-fated sister-ship, the Cristofero Colombo.) Both vessels were modeled on the old Bourbon flagship, the Monarch (see this link).

  • (June 12) The Oscar Niemeyer boondoggle auditorium in Ravello took ten years to build, had a glorious opening, has not been used a day since the opening in February and is now in such run-down condition that it will not host any of the events for this summer's Ravello Festival and will not even be available to musical groups as rehearsal space. Since the European Union kicked in 18 million euros for this baby, a lot of folks are screaming mad. It seems to be the fault of petty politics: the party that was for it was in and is out; the party against it was out and is in. That's the theme; supply your own variations. So, there it sits. It still looks pretty good in architecture magazines, though.
  • (June 19) The Vuvuzela—that delightful African monotone plastic bugle that is ruining the World Cup matches for the unrabid—is now selling on the streets of Naples as Italy gears up for it's second game in the round-robin prelims. The Neapolitan version is shorter and, thus, higher-pitched and, thus, more irritating. Now you can stand out on the balcony, wave the flag, and go nuts. It's a good thing that rabid sports fans have short attention spans. Maybe four years from now, it'll be something else. I favor the hula hoop. (related item here)

  • (June 19) O ye of little bandwidth! The iSanGennaro! This new iPhone app, brought to you by a Neapolitan DJ "lets you experience first-hand all the excitement of the miracle of the liquefaction..." This is in reference to the Miracle of San Gennaro. A vial of the saint's clotted blood appears on the screen; then, you shake it by moving the iPhone just right. If you do it just right enough, the miracle of liquefaction appears, accompanied by the written notification "Miracle" and then... I'm not sure. At least one happy cyber-supplicant claims to have installed it and had a whole series of miracles happen to him and those around him. The creator of the application assures us that iSanGennaro! is a tribute to Neapolitan religious tradition and in no way meant to be a sacrilegious sleazy Jesus-on-a pancake 40 Mb rip-off.    (See update on next miscellaneous page, here.)