You uncouth knave, you!
-or, the cafone
Meta is the first beach town (photo) as you move down onto the Sorrento plain coming along the Sorrentine peninsula from the direction of Naples. It and the others (Piano di Sorrento, S. Agnello and Sorrento, itself) are swamped by tourism in the summer, but Meta probably takes the brunt of the invasion. It is, after all, the first place where tired, poor and huddled tourists (both foreign and local) can go to the beach, bounce soccer balls off their heads (and your head!), take off their clothes in the street, play loud music, eat in the street and throw their refuse all over, and generally behave like a cafone.
That is a very difficult word to translate. It describes one whose behavior is loud and boisterous and totally indifferent to the feelings of others. There are a few great old terms, such as lout, boor, ruffian, varlet, rogue and oaf, but it is not satisfying to shout those insults at louts, boors, ruffians, varlets, rogues and oafs because they are so stupid they won't understand you. Similarly, shouting "sh-thead or "a--hole" at them makes you vulgar and one of them. "Peasant" might work, except that it means "farmer" and offends a humble, yet noble, walk of life, which one should not do.
The origin of the word cafone is obscure, but there are, as always, fanciful popular guesses. Many of them claim that the word has something to do with being a farmer, maybe from the dialectal co' 'a fune (with ropes) referring to the farmers who would show up with their ropes to start rounding up their animals. Or, same rough etymology, when upper-class Neapolitans had to move, they would call "those with the cords" (furniture movers). Maybe it's Latin, from a Roman centurion by the name of Cafo, in charge of distributing land near Benevento to fellow legionnaires who had fought with Caesar in Gaul, Spain and Egypt. To the locals the new settlers seemed, so the story goes, to be a bunch of uncouth ruffians, or, simply, followers of Cafo. (What a way to be remembered!) Or maybe none of those is right; guessing is half the fun. It's not even certain if the word is of local or southern Italian origin since those people do exist all over. Whatever, Meta has now passed what is already being called an "anti-cafone" law, forbidding such uncivil and rude behavior. You can be fined from 25 to 500 euros.
(July 21) - I had never heard the term Gallerija, but then I don't speak Maltese. It turns out that a gallerija is a traditional enclosed wooden balcony typically found in Malta and usually overlooking a square. I was then surprised to hear that the square of San Giovanni Maggiore Pignatelli was not only going to be turned into an open-air contemporary art gallery for all comers, but it was to be a gallerija. Surprised, further, because that small square is the home location of the Orientale university of Naples, my former nemesis...employer. I am still not sure what they mean, unless they plan to add such balconies to Palazzo Giusso, the name of the building (photo, right) that houses the uni. That would be pleasant and certainly an improvement. The square is situated in back (out of sight to the left in this photo) of one of the oldest houses of worship in Naples, the basilica of San Giovanni Maggiore, the site, according to tradition, of siren Parthenope's tomb-indeed, the mythological eponym of the original city! The good staff of the local Kesté pizzeria does its best to keep the square clean during the day and even tends the little garden across the square from the entrance to the university. Unfortunately, the square at night returns to darkness, squalor and vandalism. Now Kesté has teamed up with Artèteka, a national cultural organization, to promote this project to turn the square into an art gallery-or gallerija. Whatever it is, I'm in favor of it.
(July 22) Pope Francis will visit the Campania region of Italy on Saturday, specifically the Bourbon palace at Caserta. He will hold mass and meet with various delegations, including personnel from the nearby Italian Air Force academy. It will be the sixth Italian pastoral visit of his papacy. He will return to Rome in the evening but be back on Monday for a private visit with his friend from the old days in Buenos Aires, Protestant pastor, Giovanni Traettino. About 200,000 persons are expected to attend the activities at the Caserta palace. It will surely not be a perfunctory walk-on and bless-you visit. The pope, after all, will be in the infamous Casernitana, land of organized crime and the so-called "triangle of death" (from poisonous fires of burning toxic waste), not to mention very high unemployment and impoverished communities of immigrants. From his track record so far, he goes to hot spots: Lampedusa (overwhelming crisis of "boat people" refugees); Cagliari (where he gave a passionate speech on the dignity of labor and social justice before an audience of the unemployed; Cassano allo Jonio (near Cosenza in Calabria), a stronghold of the local version of the Mafia, the 'indrangheta. He excommunicated them; Campobasso-Isernia (meetings with prisoners, the poor, the unemployed). He apparently takes seriously, "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" (Psalms 34:18). I'm not a believer, but I'm impressed. (Earlier musings about a papal visit are here.) Also see the item from July 27, below).
(July 23) - Ravello 2014. The Naples-based Universal Forum of Cultures (described here) has self-promoted itself as the greatest cultural event (composed of many separate events) of the year in Italy. I don't pretend to judge those things; I do want it to be successful, however. The "greatest," though? Maybe Ravello is still hard to beat. (See these links to Ravello 2005 and 2008.) They have been presenting unbelievably complex and successful summer-long programs for many decades; this year's events are par for the course. Even birdie. The London Symphony directed by Daniel Harding has already performed. Spectacular, but what else is new? This year's festival also presents the Qingdao Philharmonic orchestra. (Qingdao is a major city in the Shandong province of eastern China. Unbeknownst, you probably have intimate internal knowledge of Qingdao. If you have ever ordered beer at a Chinese restaurant, they usually give you Tsingtao beer. It's from Qingdao!) Their program presents Chinese classical and contemporary music as well as European classical music. Their presence here represents an ongoing commitment by Ravello organizers to present young musicians from China. (The poster on the left is by prominent Chinese "pop master" (the Chinese term) artist Wang-Guangyi [b.1957]. It was done specifically for this year's festival. This guy must be in the trumpet section. Sing them blues, chairman Mao!)
The Ravello list this year is almost endless: Christa Bell, music by David Lynch, lectures and discussions on "Myth, History and Science," photo exhibits, ceramic exhibits, art galleries--all in one of the most beautiful venues in the world (photo, above, right is at villa Rufolo, the outdoor orchestral venue). What is interesting to me is that the Ravello festival is taking place at the same time and right next door to the above-mentioned Universal Forum of Cultures for many weeks and months to come. This doesn't seem to register with large international newspapers who are too quick to remind tourists that there is a great series of cultural events going on in Avignon. (No offense. By all means, go.) On Naples, I read the usual superficial babble about "36-hours to find the perfect pizza" or The city has a new bike path and is now clean and green. No, Naples is not clean and not green (ok, it can fool a teenaged journalist for 36 hours). But if you want a summer of culture... you might as well start here (scroll down to the fourth item below this one, for July 25). Then, it's just one thing after another.
(July 24) -Light at the end of the tunnel? Not quite. I'm not sure what they expected. First reports on the new tunnel (reported here) on the run out to the towns on the Sorrento plain are disastrous. Succinctly, 10,000 cars tried the tunnel last Saturday, the beginning of the first real pre-summer-vacation weekend, and, lo and behold, they got stuck in the tunnel as the traffic backed up from the logjam at the exit.
Consider: there were three tunnels, at points labelled 1, 2 and 3 on this map (right). One and two got you around Castellammare --fine; three got you around Vico Equense --also fine. You came out at the Seiano bridge. That, too, was fine, although there remained a notorious and agonizing climb around hair-pin turns up to the top, after which you could coast down to Meta, the first town. The new tunnel is represented on the map as the long dotted line between points 2 and 3. It is now complete, so essentially there is one stretch of tunnel. You go in at 1 and come out at Seiano.
The problem is that you are still at the bridge. If you have ever tried to shake tooth-picks out of a salt-shaker, you understand the problem. Solution? The head of the Campania section of ANAS (Azienda Nazionale Autonoma delle Strade/ Autonomous National Agency for Roads) says, "We need a new tunnel! Now, here's my plan...". In other words, tunnel through the last hill and come out directly in Meta (which would follow the dotted line from Seiano to Meta on the map). That actually has been done before, by a railway line, the Circumvesuviana, shown as the black lines to the left of the dotted line. It was finished in a flurry of post-WW2 construction. You get on in Naples and get off in one of the four towns on the Sorrento plain (Meta is the first). It involved some very difficult engineering, and the Circumvesuviana people have complained incessantly about parallel tunnel work going on right next door in the same hills.
Building a new tunnel, however, won't solve the problem; it will just lengthen the salt-shaker. You will now have the tooth-picks backed up from the town of Meta, itself, back into a 3-mile tunnel. The problem is not that there are too few tunnels; there are too many cars. Other towns in Campania (such as Pozzuoli) have imposed traffic quotas based on odd and even last digits of license plates. If your plate ends with a 2, you can drive on even days of the week. (Italians calculate Monday as the first of the week; thus, M-W-F [1-3-5] are odd days; T-Th-Sat [2-4-6] are even. Sunday is not counted. Everyone can drive.) "But!"...you gasp (to the traffic cop who has just pulled you over)..."my culture recognizes Sunday as the first day of the week. This violates my freedom of religion as guaranteed by the UN charter!" Or maybe, "I thought it meant the date, not the day. Today is the 24th; that's an even number. So what if it's Wednesday?!" (This can be tricky. Keep Thomas Aquinas on speed-dial.)
(July 24) - Hometown boy (sort of) makes good. The mayor of New York city, Bill de Blasio, was here with his family for a few days. He came down from Rome where he had a few official meetings and then spent the rest of his vacation in Naples, on Capri, and visiting the birthplace of his maternal grandfather, the town of Sant'Agata dei Goti about 20 miles NE of Naples. He was greeted enthusiastically by people waving signs that said "Welcome Hone, Bill." He met with Naples mayor, Luigi de Magistris (selfie, right, from la Repubblica) at Borgo Marinaro, the fishing harbor at the Egg Castle, and he got a nice Marinelli tie from the management of his hotel, the Renaissance Naples Hotel Mediterraneo (Four stars. I've actually been in that place. They're the ones who wouldn't let me on the roof to take pictures. The didn't give me a tie, either.) He and his family went to Capri and he and his son bombed around in a motor boat. They ran into a lot of New Yorkers. (On Capri. Wow, imagine that.) No one seemed to notice that he ate pizza with those "notorious utensils" (ABC news), a knife and fork. That is what Italians do when they are seated at a table, but then no one minds if you cut it and pick it up in your hands, either. If you order small square slices at street vendors, you use your hands, but then you are usually standing up outside. No one really cares, much to the mock horror of Jon Stewart and probably genuine consternation of many in the US who are pretty sure that Italy is somewhere in Italy. He said he was a fan of the Naples soccer team, which was the right thing to say. While he was here, there were two three-masted 300-foot schooners in Naples, the Eos and the Athena, both owned by Americans. I wonder if he tried to hitch a ride home. I hope he and his family had a good time.
(July 25) - The first six months of "The Impossible Exhibit" currently displayed in the monastery of San Domenico Maggiore have drawn 80,000 visitors. I think they must have called it "impossible" because it was, at the very least, implausibly ambitious: a nine-month exhibit, cycling through a series dedicated to grand masters of the 1500s, featuring prominent displays of Raffaello, Caravaggio, and Leonardo. The exhibit continues to vary the displays and has finished with Raffaello and Caravaggio, at least for the time being; it now features Leonardo da Vinci, his "machines" as well as paintings. The exhibit features large-scale models of Leonardo's devices (also known as "gizmos"--you know, flying machines, calculators, etc.) as well as touch-screen displays of a number of works of art (photo). In August, Raffaello, Caravaggio, Leonardo and other favorites from that wacky band of geniuses from the Italian Renaissance will be back as the exhibit shifts to a feature called Masterpieces in Detail, a collaboration between the city of Naples and the RAI (Italian Radio and Television). Experts will be on hand to explain in detail 117 masterpieces from the 1500s. The exhibit runs through October. So it wasn't impossible, but it is unbelievable.
(July 26) - From China with love. My next door neighbor, local poet, Giacomo Garzya, has just returned from a trip to China, where he took more photos than the Chinese take of us when they are here! At first, he told me that he had written no poetry because he doesn't know anything about China; fair enough, but then he relented and showed me Suzhou. Suzhou is a large city on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. The city's canals, stone bridges, and gardens have made it known as the "Venice of the East." The classical gardens in Suzhou (photo, right, were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997. (photo by Louis le Grand)
| The poem, however, is not about the
gardens. He penned these lines about his
departed daughter while he was in the gardens.
That's all. He has done this before, this
painful, perhaps endless, exercise to mend the
heart. On the left, below, is, another such poem
from a collection, Campania Felix,
(Naples, M. D'Auria editore, 2014). On the right
is his new poem. Translations are mine.
Editorial restraints prevent me from providing
the original Italian.
MOUNT SAN COSTANZO
I have trod in your footsteps
I have seen with your eyes
I have held fast to memories of you,
to your places of contemplation.
The rust in my mind
has not eroded even one.
Jeranto,* San Costanzo high above,
where the silence spoke your name,
and of your generous soul,
there just a step from heaven.
*A bay on the Sorrentine peninsula
SUZHOU 苏 州市
your eyes green with jade
your silken hair black
long like your neck
adorned with pearl
sparkle in the gardens
and your gentle smile
fills the sun with joy
gives life to cormorants
of the river and
ends the tears
of him who has seen
a lotus blossom wilt
of him who has lost a love.
He spoke out against the corruption and lawlessness that have "scarred" this beautiful land (in reference to the infamous toxic waste fires of Caserta) and for inclusiveness in this area that has such a large number of immigrants. One such group was made up of Senegalese Muslims, led by their imam, impressed, he said, by the popes words of reconciliation. They carried a banner that said "No to crime and racism." Another banner that caught my eye was carried by a group of kids. It said (in English) Francesco Boys Forever (photo, above). Above it was written a pun on one of the pope's lines in which he had said to a group of young people that their lives were not meant to be timid and fearful..."gioccate la vita per i grandi ideali"--"play life for great ideals." The kids substituted scioccate (shock) for gioccate. I don't know who they are, but I like them. They also added the pope's favorite line, ...scusate il ritardo...sorry I'm late.
(July 26) - Speaking of things Chinese, some demographics: There are about 210,000 Chinese in Italy (i.e. citizens of the People's Republic of China with permission to reside in Italy.) The highest percentages of Chinese are in the north (the region of Lombardy, capital Milan, has 44,000; Prato in Tuscany also has a large number, as does Rome. In the south, the numbers are lower. The province of Naples (shown in green in the image, right) is one of five in the Campania region of Italy. (The city of Naples is the capital and largest city in the province). The current population of the entire province of Napes is slightly more than three million. Of that number, about 76,000 persons (about 2.5% of the total population) are foreigners. Of that 76,000, around 6,000 are Chinese. Thus, Chinese make up about 8% of the total number of foreigners in the province of Naples. (That is not a particularly large percentage; Ukrainians in the province, for example, constitute about 25% of the total foreign population.) The number of Chinese residing in the province of Naples has approximately doubled in the past 15 years. It is common knowledge that there is a Chinese section of town (that some call "Chinatown") out in the Poggioreale section of the city, behind the main train station in the industrial part of Naples, which, in spite of the gleaming towers of the Centro direzionale, is seedy.(below) The entrance to the new "Chinese-Italian" tncGold (for The New Century) wholesale megastore in Naples:
Chinese presence in the province and, indeed, elsewhere in Italy can largely be traced to various recent waves of immigration, one in the late 1980s from the province of Fujian on the SE Chinese coast and then more recently from northern China with the closure of a vast number of mines and factories in those regions. In Naples, the Chinese tend to be active in the food service industry, textile and clothing business, at the port of Naples, and at enterprises such as the one shown in the photo (left). The Chinese do not assimilate readily in Italy for whatever reasons: cultural and racial differences, the transient nature of their work, etc. They tend to work very long days of 12-13 hours and one now even hears the expression "the new Chinese rich," meaning those Chinese with enough money to hire local Neapolitan women(!) to watch their children while they (the Chinese women) keep working! The Chinese are close-knit and dedicated to their cultural roots. To that end, in Naples they have opened a few schools for their children, one of which was just shut down by the authorities. The children, as children will do, quickly became bilingual in Chinese and Italian, but they were not learning to read and write Chinese. The community decided to remedy that situation by opening a school that hosted 40+ children between the ages of 6 and 13. They got some teachers and parents could put their kids in this private school (at the cost of 100 euros a month) for as many as 12 hours a day! Statistics on truancy from Italian schools by Chinese children are inexact, but the Italian state's point of view was clear: the school was clean, the children well-fed, etc. etc., but it was run illegitimately (that is, not rated, licensed or accredited academically); parents and children are residents and the children have to attend an accredited school. This does not preclude a group from running a private extracurricular institution, but it may not be a substitute for a legitimate school.
(July 27)- The Festival of St. Anne on Ischia. One of the most iconic and certainly most elaborate religious folk festivals not only in the Bay of Naples but in all of Italy concluded the other night (July 26) on the island of Ischia; to wit, the grand finale of the Feast of St. Anne (Sant'Anna). It is debatable whether an event that bills itself as "the 82nd edition..." and now even features big-name "video artists" who flash phantasmagorical images on the bastions of the great Aragonese castle can still be called a "folk" festival, but it is certainly festive and, indeed, these "folks" present a sight to behold.
|The person of St. Anne is not found in the canonical New Testament but is mentioned in early Christian apocrypha. Devotion to her in some branches of Christianity goes back to as early as the 6th century. She is the mother of Mary (thus, the maternal grandmother of Jesus) and is present in Christian iconography, usually shown with Mary (as in this 15th-century Greek icon) and sometimes with both Mary and Jesus; her Feast day (and, thus, the day of the festival) is July 26. Anne is also highly regarded in Islam.|
(July 30)- The Association SALERNO 1943 and its museum, Parco della Memoria della Campania (Park of Campanian Memories) have been open for a few years, but I was unaware of it. From their own promotional literature:
The Association SALERNO 1943 was founded in 2007 by a group of friends and fans of local history. It is non-profit... The objectives are the collection, cataloging, preservation, restoration and sharing of all war material linked to the Second World War, which had as its backdrop not only Salerno and its province but also the whole region of Campania and surroundings... the association intends to acquaint new generations with the fact that war means pain and death. The volunteers hope that rebuilding the stories of so many young lives shattered by war, to perpetuate their memory so that similar events will not be repeated. The Association is also involved in preserving the memory of the airmen that during the years of World War II crashed in southern Italy, in tracking, identifying and reconstructing the history of their deaths... the material recovered by the volunteers has already been displayed at corporations, institutions, schools and other public places. Thousands of people, including many schools, have visited the exhibits and have expressed their appreciation. The association maintains a permanent museum in the city of Salerno: the Parco della Memoria della Campania, located at Via Generale Clark 5, Salerno.
(July 31) - Among the many references to "Exodus," from the Biblical upper-case passage of the children of Israel to lesser and later examples featuring Mormons, the province of Jujuy in Argentina, Kansas, and all the books, poems, films, military operations and beer commercials (yes, I saw one) that use the term, I search in vain for a decent reference to what Italians really mean when they say esodo. They mean the massive Outwandering that is supposed to start tomorrow, August 1, when everyone in Italy goes somewhere for a month, at which time they will all climb back in their cars and engage in the anti-esodo. Tomorrow happens to be a Friday, so I think you get an extra weekend, too--or maybe one less...something. Particularly devout exodeurs have already left. There is one problem this year. The weather is not cooperating. Today it rained heavily in Naples in the morning and there are now scattered clouds. The temperatures have barely climbed past 24°C / 76°F. It has been like that for a number of days and is expected to continue for at least a few days longer. That is not beach weather, and the beach is the favorite target of most who leave for the month. (The situation is not much better in many Italian regions.) Local beaches are almost empty compared to what usually happens by late July/early August (photo, above, is from the lower Posillipo section of Naples). Proprietors and hotels are already complaining.
(Aug 1) - Just when the locals has accustomed themselves to referring to the grand Palazzo Sirignano (main entry here) by its new name of Palazzo Tirrenia, for the giant shipping company that has its headquarters in the building, they can go back to using the old name. The Tirrenia company is weighing anchor and setting sail for Sardinia. New headquarters will be in the capital city of Cagliari, a major port. In terms of commerce and Tirrenia traffic at the port of Naples, the move will probably have little effect.
(Aug 1) To use the UNESCO terminology, Nola is famous for its annual festival of "large shoulder- borne processional structures," called gigli (lilies) in Italian. I call them "spire floats." (The festival is described in detail here.) The Naples on-line version of la Repubblica has run a feature about an article that appeared in the English The Daily Mail not so much about the festival of the gigli, but about "the horrific calluses" suffered by those who carry the structures. The Italian journal included photos of the original English text (some of which is in the image, above, right) and also reproduced The Daily Mail photos of the cullatori (lit., 'cradlers', those who carry the spires) specifically photos of their deformations, "ugly wounds" that they are proud to display. The English article is not exactly written to mock the festival, itself, but perhaps more with the intent on provoking that mixture of disbelief and revulsion that at least some of us feel at the sight of self-flagellation or even crucifixion as part of bizarre religious rituals. The Italian journalist, Paolo de Luca, is defensive about the affair, saying that, after all, it is a festival that has gone on for a thousand years, one that attracts thousands of international visitors attracted by the display of intense religious faith, as well as recognition from UNESCO --all this, in spite of the "ugly wounds."