Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 34 (late Nov 2010)
Links to all Naples Miscellany pages


  • (Nov 22) I had the pleasure of cyber-sitting in on the First International SpeleoMovie Web Festival yesterday. It was sposored by NUG (NapoliUnderground) and moderated on-line by one of the members of the organization. I am claustrophobic, so even watching a film about the recent daring and arduous rescue of a spelunker trapped hundreds of feet underground in northern Italy gives me chills, but it was one of the films on the agenda, and it was well-done. Also, there was one about cleaning out a WWII bomb shelter in Milan to turn it into a museum and a film about Celtic burial chambers in central Italy. I'm from a generation when caves and graphics meant throwing camp-fire-flickered hand shadows on the cave wall after the hunt, so it took me some time to get used to the technology: watching the video-feed, trying to keep up with the running chat and chime in every once in a while. The videos and moderator comments were in Italian, but NUG English-language translator, Larry Ray, from way over in Gulfport, Mississippi, kept up a running English explanation for those who needed it. There were a handful of people on the chat-line and about two dozen people watching from wherever. I look forward to the next one, but I'm still not going down in any damned caves!
  • (Nov 22) If you have ever wondered if it's possible to sneak through a toll barrier on the Naples tangenziale highway by sticking right behind the car of the paying customer in front of you, the short answer is "yes"! I was NOT trying to cheat the benevolent city government out of 80 cents; I was in the wrong line, the one that accepts only prepaid cards—no cash, checks, money-orders or bottle-caps, please. By the time I noticed, it was too late. I couldn't back out because there were cars behind me, so when the barrier raised to let the car in front of me through, I roared right behind him. The barrier started to come down and stopped just short of doing a Marie Antoinette number on my car; it lifted back up and I was away! Heh-heh, I gloated. Let's see them get their 80 cents out of me now! So, yesterday, 15 months laters (!) I get the €10 ticket in the mail. Listen, you lowlife scofflaw, they said, we have tried to contact you on numerous occasions... Wrong; it was the first and only notice. I paid and now have to go back to the toll station and see where the camera is hidden.


  • (Nov 25) The restoration of the court theater within the Royal Palace have been completed and the theater has been reopened. In spite of its prominent location, the court theater has been one of the lesser known venues for music and theater in the city simply because it was closed for so long. As you may read in the main entry (link, above) the history of this small jewel of 18th-century Naples parallels that of the famous and larger theater of San Carlo, adjacent to the Royal Palace.



  • (Dec 1) The"Wishing Tree" for Christmas is already up in the Galleria Umberto and collecting bescribbled scraps of paper in its branches. The original main entry and episodes of "treenapping" are here.
  • Item on this year's display of installation art has been moved to this page
  • (Dec 17) Today is Friday the 17th! Unlike many cultures that view Friday the 13th as unlucky, in Italy, today is the day of bad luck. The Friday part may be traceable to the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday. In ancient Rome, it was, in fact, the day on which all executions were carried out and also the day when Romans paid their taxes. The number 17 (and not 13) is unlucky apparently because if you write 17 with Roman numerals as XVII, you can rearrange those letters to read VIXI; in Latin that means "I have lived" and is in the past perfect tense/aspect (i.e. it describes a finished action); thus, "I have lived and am done living. My life is over." So, put Friday and 17 together and you have a very unlucky day! In the smorfia, the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams as numbers to bet on in the lottery, the number 17 is associated with disgrazia—that is, an accident or disaster. Thus, in Naples, if you dream of such, bet on 17 as one of your numbers. Interestingly, the number 13 is considered lucky in Italy (as it is in a number of cultures in the world). In Naples and the Campania region, in general, you might say "tredici" (13) if you think your luck has changed for the worse as an exhortation to regain that luck. Having said all that, I'm not sure if the word for "fear of Friday the 17th" is friggaheptakaidekaphobia or friggadekaheptaphobia. Frigga was the Norse goddess for whom "Friday" is named. I should stop now. It would be just my Frigga-luck if my computer started to act x^ci**%tz........

  • (Dec 30) After an urgent appeal from the department of veterinary medicine of the University of Naples, the Naples zoo has taken in the last 100 members of a species otherwise doomed to be butchered into extinction—a local subspecies of the Capra aegagrus hircus, the small domesticated Neapolitan goat. The animals are native to the slopes of Vesuvius and have been for many centuries. The male of the species weighs from 60 to 65 kg; the female from 50 to 55. Their tight wool is black or dark red; they are beardless, have short horns and long floppy ears and are as cute as the dickens. Traditionally they have been used for their milk to make cheese, although the male has also been used for meat. The creatures have fallen on hard times near Vesuvius since they tend to feed on the distressing amount of refuse discarded in what is supposed to be a national park. In spite of what lore says about the formidable digestive track of goats, they can die from ingesting delicious-looking and very chewable discarded toy animals that are filled with some kind of plastic. The zoo has taken them in and now announces an "Adopt a Goat" program. I don't think that means you take a goat home with you; it's probably a deal where you can contribute to the care of the animals in captivity. It's all in the name of biological diversity, but the gene pool is now small enough to cast doubt on whether the animals will survive.

  • (Jan 8, 2011) Belated word comes to me of the passing of Mr. Aldo Sinigallia in October of last year. He died peacefully at the glorious age of 99 years; he was the oldest member of the Jewish community in Naples, a lover of music and literature, and a gentleman. He retained a fine tenor voice into advanced years, though he never realized his dream of becoming an opera singer. As a young man, since he was a Jew in Fascist Italy, he was denied entrance to the professions and the university. He got great satisfaction almost 20 years ago when, at the age of 80 he became the second oldest university graduate in Italian history. He wrote his graduate thesis on The Influence of Napoleon on the Liberation of Italian Jewry. They even showed him getting his degree on national television. He was wearing a fine new blue suit and a smile a mile wide. Rest in Peace.

  • (Jan 10, 2011) Buildings that are 400 years old contain more than a bit of history. Palazzo Balsorano, at via Crispi 4, at Piazza Amedeo is certainly no exception. The date of construction is not known exactly, but it certainly was in the period when Spanish-built residences and churches started to spring up along the western seaside area called Chiaia in what was then a bucolic setting. That puts the date somewhere around the middle of the 1500s. The building passed into the possession of Giambattista Manso (c.1560-1645), a leading Neapolitan literary figure of the day. He was the first biographer of the poet Torquato Tasso, who was a guest in the residence in 1592 and it was here, according to some sources, that Tasso finished his epic, Gerusalemme Liberata.  Giambattista Marino (1569-1625), the leading poet of the Baroque in Naples also stayed there, as did John Milton (1608-1674) during his brief visit in 1638 to Naples during his year-long Grand Tour of France and Italy. The building eventually passed into the possession of Ernesto Lefebvre di Balsorano (1817-1891) after which it became a parochial school, the Institute of the Sacred Heart, which moved to another location some years ago. The building is now subdivided into numerous apartments and offices. It is still a remarkable building if you can see past the hustle and bustle of the streets and traffic. The base is two stories with an ashlar facade; then, there is a terrace with a central structure set back from the terrace; that structure also is two stories with a terrace on top; set back from that terrace is yet another facade and another structure of two stories. There is another story on top, but it looks like an add-on to me; it's well-done, but not part of the original building. 

  • (Jan 28) The launching of a new ship at the Castellammare shipyards is normally a cause for celebration: people congraulate each other, flags are unfurled, sirens go off, etc. Yesterday, it was the turn of the cruise ship, Oceania—104 meters long, 36 m. high, with 200 cabins. This time, however, the celebrations were subdued since there is no more such work in sight until much later in the year, if at all. The shipbuilders' trade in Naples is a precarious one at best. The yards have about 700 workers, and now 300 of them are about to get laid off.

  • (Feb 6) I spend time looking at old newspapers, looking for perspective, wisdom, coupons... maybe something to write about! I tried searching "Vesuvius: 1870-1910" to see if I could get something. I got the usual glum reports on 1872 and 1906 (including one great NYT article on the 1906 eruption). BUT!--it seems that some of our journalists are not taking this eruption stuff too seriously! Witness:
    —from the Des Moines Daily News of Nov. 15, 1898: "ACTIVITY OF VESUVIUS. Much anxiety has been caused in Naples by the renewed activity of Mount Vesuvius. An overwhelming danger of this description produces universal terror. As a matter of fact there is little likelihood that Mt. Vesuvius will do any serious damage. On the other hand thousands die daily from stomach and digestive disorders, who might have survived had they resorted to Hostetter's Stomach Bitters. It is the greatest of known tonics for stomach and digestive organs. It cures kidney, liver and blood disorders.

    —and this, from the Racine (Wisconsin) Daily Journal, June 5 1906: "No matter where you are going on your vacation—whether it's across the ferry or across the ocean—to visit the upheaval of Vesuvius or the down-heaval of San Francisco, here are the clothes for you. A special suit in a dark, checkered grey will not show the dust, not break in shape, nor disappoint you."

    —and this—is nothing sacred?!—from the New Castle News (Pennsylvania), Oct.21, 1904: "Vesuvius has broken out again, and Carrie Nation is preparing for the most picturesque rampage in her whole career. People had better take to the collars in view of these two afflictions."
[Ed. note: Carrie Nation (1846-1911) was a leading member of the temperance movement in the US before prohibition. She was famous for her "hatchetations"—busting up gin-mills with an axe.] I still do not know what the expression "take to the collars" means. If you know, please tell me. (Just in case, I have already taken to the collars.)

  • intarsio frames for
                    eye-glasses(Feb 10) Attention, Fashion Zombies! Forget about statement shoes, "distressed" (torn) jeans, and nipple-rings for your pets. Make a real spectacle of yourself with intarsio frames for your glasses! Even if you have perfect eyesight, specs with plain glass are in with the PIFI (Pseudo-Intellectual Fashion Idiot) crowd. Intarsio (also known as tarsia in Italian and, in English, "intarsia") is the craft of making designs and images from bits of inlaid wood. It is one of the trademark handicrafts out on the Sorrentine peninsula, and now a gentleman who sells eye-wear in the town of Piano di Sorrento has added a line of eye-glasses with wooden frames made from locally crafted intarsio. Once this craze catches on, the proprietor feels sure he can keep the genuine local product from being diluted by cheap foreign knock-offs. He is comforted by the fact that there is a law in China against exporting wood! At least, that is something he read somewhere. There is a separate and serious entry in this encyclopedia on Sorrentine Intarsio

  • (Feb 21)  Francesco Bandarin from UNESCO was in town a few days ago to discuss plans to increase the area in Naples protected as a World Heritage Site. The part of the city currently included on the list of sites considered worth saving as part of our common planet-wide cultural heritage has, roughly, an area of 720 hectares (1,780 acres), much of it in the "historic center" as seen on this map. The plan would expand the area to include the Sanità; that is, the area to the north of the old city (in back of the National Museum) and also incorporate "buffer" areas on the south, such as the port of Naples and extend west to include the Posillipo coast. The plan would bring the total area "under protection" to 1600 hectares (c. 4,000 acres/6.25 sq. miles/16 sq km). UNESCO World Heritage "protection" generally takes the form of providing funds to assist in restoration and maintenance.



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