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Naples Miscellany 32 (start late-June 2010)
  • (June 20) Update on iSanGennaro! (from previous page, here).This comes from Larry Ray:
    "I just got off the phone with F.  Even more bizarre is the back story to the iPhone Miracle App … F.'s computer engineer son, S., is the one who produced the thing! The newspaper used the names of the CD Music store who commissioned S. to do it... Basically at the first meeting with the client—S.'s first paying gig since he graduated (outside his regular job with a video game design company)— the owners were casting about for something really catchy. One of them mentioned that they had a friend in France who made an iPhone app that featured the patron saint of Paris. So S., without saying a word, designed the whole app as a joke to show them what he was capable of creating...He got one of his graphic buddies from the video game team to do some of the visuals.  S. wrote the whole computer code that makes the prayer voices change and speed up, and the blood to go through all its changes. Next meeting, S. gathered them around and did the proper shaking and moving, and when the MIRACLE! came up it wowed the clients. They went nuts, loved it, and paid him pretty well for the effort... And S. had no intention whatsoever of actually using the 'sample' he created."

  • (June 21) A recent episode of the crime drama, White Collar, was about recovering a bible stolen from a church in New York. The set-up describes the bible as having belonged to the "church of Saint Camillus de Lellis in Naples," and "brought to the United States in 1903." The bible is also called "the healing bible" because of its reputed powers. The writer is listed as Tom Garrigus. It's hard to say how much fact/fiction is involved. To my knowledge, there is no church of Saint Camillus de Lellis in Naples, although there are a number of church-run hospitals in both Rome and Naples connected with the very real person of the soldier-turned-cleric, St. Camillus de Lellis (1550–1614). He founded the order of the Camillians, or Ministers to the Sick, whose traditional garb even today is a red cross on a black cassock. Camillus spent his life caring for the sick and is said to have had supernatural healing powers. He was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746. In the Roman Catholic faith, he is the patron saint of nurses.
       
    In Naples, besides the various hospitals linked with St. Camillus, there is a small church, S. Maria del Divino Amore, not far from the Duomo, that displays relics connected with the saint. The church was originally a large convent/church built in the mid-1600s. The premises were totally transformed (or obliterated) by the urban renewal of the 1890s and early 1900s, which—getting back to the 1903 date in White Collar—would account for people leaving their homes, "saving" something from their local church, and emigrating. I don't know if anyone took the "healing bible"—or, indeed, even if there is or ever was a "healing bible"—but if it's fiction, it's not bad. At least the writer did some homework.

  • (June 23) Italy has just begun a series of national events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the modern nation state of Italy. If you think, however, that national unity—a sense of "oneness"—prevails in Italy, you have not been paying attention. If you are a descendant of Italian emigrants and live in some "little Italy" somewhere in the world, maybe all this is irrelevant to your life, and that is understandable, but it has a great deal to do with what made your ancestors leave the old country. Consider that the president of the Veneto region of Italy recently said that "we are tired of hearing Roman" and Neapolitan dialects in TV." This, followed by various You Tube clips of northerners singing, "We aren't Neapolitans" and praising the virtues of the pseudo-secessionist Northern League. Now, a Neapolitan pizzeria has put up a sign saying, "After so many insults against us, Northern Leaguers are not welcome!" The proprietor claims he has had a number of northerners come in and ask for copies of the sign so they can put them up somewhere in the north where they live. It seems that they are embarrassed by the League and make no apologies for their adherence to the idea of National unity. Whoever said, "These things take time" wasn't kidding.

  • (June 24) Many public buildings in Naples, and even some hotels, are converted monasteries and convents. That much is not controversial. Inspectors from the Ministry of Culture, however, acting on an anonymous tip, did find controversy at San Lorenzo Maggiore, the church/monastic complex in the center of town and a popular tourist attraction in the city. The brothers-in-charge, it seems, have been building, without a permit, what looks suspiciously like a luxurious Bed & Breakfast on the premises above the central courtyard (photo, right): rooms with private baths, air-conditioning and—this is what aroused suspicion even in the face of claims that it all amounts to a bit of "sprucing up" for visiting clerics—king-sized matrimonial beds. The city has closed and sealed the two floors that were being worked on until it all gets straightened out.

  • (July 1) Filangieri Museum. The good news is that this small jewel of Neapolitan museums may reopen soon. It has been closed for 10 years for many reasons, some bureaucratic and some having to with the fact that it is adjacent to major eternal construction on the new Naples metro lines. Some of the displays were moved to the Maschio Angioino and some just sit in the closed, dark museum. The displays include a large table-top model of Naples from the 1600s, sculpture by Antonio Canova and Francesco Jerace, a collection of weapons from the Orient, presepe figures, paintings by Luca Giordano, Ribera, and Mattia Preti (among others) and musical and theatrical manuscripts from the 17-, 18-, and 1900s. The bad news is that I am always skeptical of notices that tell me that something is going to "reopen soon."



  • (July 3) TAV stands for treni alta velocità—high speed trains. They are common now in many parts of Europe. Considering the time wasted getting to and from airports and being herded around inside of them, travel  times by TAVs are competitive for mid-range distances of, say, 500-700 km (300-500 miles). The prices are competitive, too. The Italian TAVs provide service, for example, from Milan to Naples in as little as 4 hours and 10 minutes and from Rome to Naples in 1 hour and 10 minutes. The goal is to span the entire boot of Italy with a high-speed train corridor from Milan to Reggio Calabria. The high-speed corridor is largely complete as far south as Salerno.

    Crucial to the completion of the network in the south is the planned interchange station at Afragola (image, right), near the main Naples train station. It will hook northern and southern Italy together, be linked to municipal Naples train services, and also provide easy access to the main north-south autostrada highway. That Afragola transfer station was started about five years ago, but work was interrupted almost immediately for financial reasons. Work is to start again on July 16 and will take 852 days to complete. (When they put the time in days—meaning "working days," so forget Sundays and holidays—it tricks you into not thinking of it as three years!). It will be a high-class "signature" station as they say when a high-class architect is called in—in this case, Iraqi-born futurist Zaha Hadid. She has about 20 completed structures throughout the world, and they are stunning, including, in Italy, the National Museum of the 21st Century Arts in Rome. The Afragola station will cover an area of some 38,000 sq, meters (about 9.3 acres) and include a large park and hotels. [update here]


  • (July 7) Mt. Vesuvius National Park is, obviously, centered on the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius. The park is rated as a Category II protected area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a category reserved for areas designated "national park" within their respective nations. The Vesuvius park was founded in 1995 and covers 7,000 hectares—about 17,000 acres.

       Within the park there are nine trails or footpaths for visitors; they have a total length of 54 kilometers (33 miles). The administration of the park is housed within the Medici Castle in nearby Ottaviano. The castle was originally a medieval fortress from the year 1000, was destroyed in the 1300s, and was transformed into a residence by Bernadetto de' Medici in the 1600s. By the 1990s it had come into the hands of local organized crime. It was seized by the state in the early 1990s and earmarked for the Vesuvius park. In spite of irritating difficulties such as unscheduled closures, strikes and what-not, the park remains a popular tourist attraction. Contact info: Palazzo Mediceo, Via Palazzo del Principe – Ottaviano 80044 (Napoli); tel. +39 0818653911.

  • (July 11) "All hope abandon ye who enter here..."—the sign posted somewhere at Lake Averno—has served well over the centuries to keep busybodies away. The lake came into possession of the Pollio family in 1750 as a gift from the Bourbon king of Naples. They kept it until 1991 when they sold it to a mob boss. Right, the entire lake. The state has now seized the lake and attendant establishments—a farm, a restaurant, and a disco on grounds that it was all acquired with ill-gotten gains and the owner was on the lam, anyway. One of the ill-getters of the ill-gotten says in protest that they had really fixed the lake up. The lake hasn't looked this good since Dante put that sign up. 


  • (July 20) A signficant exibit—"Montevergine Baroque"—is underway on the premises of the Montevergine Sanctuary and will run through October 30. The sanctuary/church/abbey is in the mountains above the town of Mecogliano near Avellino about 35 miles east of Naples. The sanctuary is near the summit (itself at 1400 meters/4600 feet) and is spectacularly visible from the entire valley to the east. (You really can't miss it, although I did manage to get lost on my way back to Naples. Go figure.) The display brings together works by Caracciolo, Giordano, Solimena, and many others from the 1600s and 1700s, collected from "Marian" churches throughout the Campania region. The sanctuary, itself, displays the decorative design and construction of the likes of Fanzago and Vaccaro from that same period.
  • (July 25) It took a few years, but I finally managed to stay for a weekend at the Camaldoli monastery. It was a peaceful and pleasant way to beat the sweltering heat and humidity of Naples. I was pleased to see that a new park has been opened just below and to the east of the monastery: the Camaldoli Urban Park. There are plenty of trees, footpaths and even a small amphitheater that overlooks the gulf.

  • (July 27) Punta Licosa—no sirens this year. For the last nine years there has been a small, almost unnoticed series of classical musical concerts held for a few days in the summer at Punta Licosa, the promontory that closes the gulf of Salerno as you sail south down the Campanian coast. Strabo (Geography, book VI) tells us that the point is between the cities of Poseidonia (Paestum) and Hyele (Velia); he notes the presence of the small off-shore Isle of Leukosia off the point (photo, right). Both Point Licosa and the Isle of Licosa are named for one of the mythical sirens who gave Ulysses such a hard time. The area is at the beginning of a long stretch of woods and pristine beach on many lists of the "best beaches" in Italy and even in the world. So, they started the "Concerts on the Water" series—delicate music dedicated to the ancient siren, herself. "On the Water" because, logistically, the event entailed setting up pontoons and platforms off the beach for musicians to set up and play for an audience not just on the beach but on boats. Word spread and, indeed, some of the boats came quite a distance for the unique event. The bad news is that this year's concerts have been canceled. Organizers say that the event, itself, wasn't forbidden, but since the entire coast is now a protected marine area, "we just can't put out pontoons or moor boats offshore." Rather than put on "Concerts on the Beach," they called off the event this year and hope to have the bureaucratic wrinkle smoothed out for next year.

  • (July 31) The board game, Monopoly, was licensed for an Italian version in the 1930s. The names of the squares (the "properties") that you bought and sold have used the traditional names sanctioned by the Fascist regime of that period; thus, instead of "Boardwalk" or "Park Place, you might have "Victory Gate" or "Via Verdi," for example. That is about to change. The 2011 version of Monopoly will feature the names of cities and towns chosen by an internet vote. As is common with this kind of voting, the results were "mobbed" by fans of one place or another, but out of 22 names selected, two local ones made the list: Caserta (in 11th place) and the island of Ischia (9th place). First place went to Chieti, 200 km NE of Rome on the Adriatic. Only two large Italian cities will be on the new Monopoly list of properties: Milano (16th) and Torino (18th). A number of southern Italian towns made the cut, including Reggio Calabria, Messina, and—poetically and justly—in the province of Bari on the southern Adriatic coast, the town of Monopoli, itself!

  • (July 31) Back in the real word of buying and selling, the state-owned Tirrenia shipping firm, which runs on the popular routes from Naples to the offshore islands and even down to Sicily has just been acquired by General Mediterranean Holding. I'm not sure what this means except that it may be another manifestation of the current Italian government's rush to "privatize" and get out of the business of running the state. (As in this item.)


  • (July 31) And from MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences comes some interesting information on Stromboli (photo, right), the volcanic island in the Aeolian group north of Sicily. It has been erupting, usually in a sputtering fashion, every few minutes for as long as anyone can remember. The traditional explanation has held that large bubbles rise through a few hundred meters of molten magma and pop at the surface. That explanation may be wrong and, according to one researcher, "conflict with the basic principles of fluid dynamics." The real explanation is that "...the eruptions are caused by a spongelike plug located within the conduit, similar to a cork in a champagne bottle, that fractures every few minutes as a result of pressure created by significantly smaller bubbles." Again, I am not sure what this means, but since I live next door to a volcano, I like to keep abreast of these things.