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Naples Miscellany 54 (start mid-June 2015)
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(June 10) - The Naples-Cuba connection! It may seem strange, but Naples and Havana have a lot in common. The first time I had cause to consider that was when I ran across the phrase "the Cuban-Neapolitan Baroque". That was in connection with the Cuban composer Esteban Salas see that link, often called the first American composer. It started to make sense when I considered that both Cuba and Naples had been parts of the far-flung Spanish empire in the 1500s and 1600s and that Spain had developed in Naples an extensive tradition of music conservatories, turning out composers who later influenced Salas greatly. (That's all about Salas. Really, see that link!) Now I am reminded of all that when I read that Giuseppe Klain, a professor of multidimensional design on the architecture faculty of the Second University of Naples has an exhibit called HAVANAPOLIS running through June 30 in the Cuban capital, precisely on the premises of the Casa Garibaldi, the seat of the Dantre Alighieri Society, which promotes the Italian language in Cuba. He is presenting 30 photos of Naples and 30 of Havana, essentially a comparison and contrast of persons, historical centers, churches, etc. —many of the things that have landed both places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. When the exhibit finishes in Havana, it will open in Naples.
(June 10) - From the great number of buildings and monuments shrouded in nets and scaffolding in Naples, the city is either falling apart or is one vast perpetration of installation art. (We shall see.) One of these is the vast Galleria Umberto, the signature building of the 'new Naples' of the 1890s. It has been through 125 years of splendid ups and god-awful downs. One of the worst of the latter occurred recently when a chunk of masonry fell from the east entrance on via Toledo and struck and killed a young teenaged boy, a kid just out for a stroll with friends. When something like that happens, there is understandable public outrage. "Why can't the city maintain these buildings!?" is the common cry, and so the city starts another round of slow and underfunded repairs.
(June 13) - There is an update to the running series on the construction of the Metropolitana train lines, this one concerning the short but very important line that will connect the university campus at Monte Sant' Angelo with the station at the Mostra d'Oltremare (the Fair Grounds) and thus into—and out of—the city. See this link.
(June 15) - The New York Times has just run a feature entitled "Seven Leading Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings." The Vele [Sails] di Scampia residential complex in Naples pictured, left made the list. (My entry on Scampia is here.) The defender of the Vele was Ada Tolla, a Neapolitan architect with a degree in Architecture and Urban Design from the Frederick II University of Naples. She did graduate work at Columbia University in New York and currently teaches at that institution's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Architecture. She is the co-founder of the architectural design studio LOT-EK, whose approach to architecture (from their self-description): "...has achieved high visibility for their sustainable and innovative approach to construction, materials, and space and through the adaptive reuse ("upcycling") of existing industrial objects and systems not originally intended for architecture." Such an example is the DRIVELINES Studios in Johannesburg, a residential complex made of 300 "upcycled" shipping containers artist's version, above right. Tolla is a respected Modernist architect. You may have your own reasons for liking or disliking that school of architectural design. Her defence of the Vele, however, contains none of the architectural clichés you might expect — nothing about "Form follows function" or "A house is a machine for living in." She says,
If somebody put this complex in front of me right now without adding any context, any history, I would consider it a really strong piece of architecture...the Vele is not a failure of the architecture, but rather a failure in execution and management. Demolition is often an attempt to sweep things under the carpet, and that doesn’t seem like the right way to learn from the past.That is not a knee-jerk defence of Modernism. She simply says not to blame on architecture what is not the fault of architecture. If you want to judge the architecture, look at something similar in an area that is not permanently on societal life support. Try the "sails" of Villeneuve-Loubet, between Nice and Antibe on the French riviera. The buildings (architect, André Minangoy) are so similar to the Vele that some Neapolitan websites have photos of them in among photos of the grimey Vele di Scampia as if saying "Look! Ours could have looked like this! Beautiful, imaginative, on the beach with a nice boat harbor! What? Scampia is at 900 feet?! And they can't afford boats? Oh." Then you can decide whether you like it or not. But if you're going to hate the Vele, have some good reasons — corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment...
(June 16) - Once again, the non-profit social organization Piedi per la Terra (Feet for the Earth) is running a summer camp for kids in the only jungle in Naples, the Vineyard of San Martino. It's the entire hillside below the large white San Martino museum. It's quite visible from the sea and is an usual aspect of the city; that is, it's lovely and green and guaranteed to provide you with...well, like when Dorothy steps out of her black & white house into the technicolor land of Oz, and who doesn't still want something like that? It's perfect for kids. (Don't worry, they cage up the flying monkeys for the duration!) My friend and next-door neighbor is taking his 6-year-old daughter to that camp this year, and I'm sure she'll have a good time. The camp is for ages 3 to 12 and is run as a "day camp"; that is, from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m with activity themes changing weekly. You sign your child up on a weekly basis, for one or for all ten. Last year there were 10 sessions, from mid-June through mid-September with such themes as How a Farm Works, Our Tree Planet, The Chicken is My Friend and one that I wanted to sign up for (!) that would have taught me how to make toys from recycled products. From the organization's promotional literature:
(June 18) - Napolislam is the name of a film directed by Ernesto Pagano opening here shortly about the daily life of the Muslim community in Naples. It is, however, not about the lives of immigrant Muslims, but about the Neapolitans who have converted, which makes the topic much more interesting. There is a small but growing native-born European Muslim population in a number of places in Europe, commonly, but not only, in the south—Naples, for example. The why's of voluntary (that is, unforced) religious conversion are always interesting. Statistics are difficult to interpret; according to many sources, there are about 1 million 100-200 thousand Muslims in Italy, the overwhelming majority of whom are immigrants from Muslim countries. Depending on the sources, there are among that total between 70,000-120,000 Muslims "who are Italian". That is difficult to interpret since "who are Italian" may mean "native-born been-Catholics-forever" who have converted or may mean immigrants who have taken up Italian citizenship or, by now, even second-generation children of Muslim immigrants, who, by definition are both "native-born" and "Italian". Tricky. Some conversion may be "fashionable", but I suspect that is a relatively small number in this case, or at least not long lasting. This is not the Middle Ages, so a more important driver of religious conversion (at least in Europe) are your personal changes in values or, expressed differently, the perception that your traditional faith no longer meets your spiritual needs. Even the close historical ties between southern Italy and Islam, although many centuries ago, may have something to do with it. The film poster (pictured) is interesting: Vesuvius in the background and modern young Muslims standing in the shadow of the steeple of the Church of the Carmine, right off of the old Market Square, one of the most historic sites in the city and where the Muslim community meets for Friday prayers. The film should be interesting.
(June 21) - For the summer solstice, my neighbor, poet
(June 24) - Augusto Perez. The 2015 Ravello Festival has just started and will run through September 5th. This is the 63rd edition. Of local interest, the festival is presenting a major retrospective of Augusto Perez (Messina 1929-Naples 2000), one of the most significant Italian sculptors of the 20th century. He trained in Naples and then taught for many years at the Fine Arts Academy there. Perez first came to the general attention of the public at the Venice Biennale of 1960. Twenty-seven of his works will be on display on the premises of both the Villa Rufolo and the Oscar Niemeyer auditorium. The exhibition is the largest Perez retrospective since his death 15 years ago.
(July 7) - The Emerald Grotto. This submarine coastal grotto is along the well-known State Road 163, the so-called Amalfi Drive. It's only about 3 km/2 miles from Amalfi, itself, (adjacent to the location in the photograph shown at that last link). Promotional literature about the grotto hypes it, of course, as a "unique jewel of nature nestled in the silent and solemn bay...". Two things are certain: (1) it was officially discovered by a fisherman in 1932 (although kids swimming in the area must have known about it forever); number two is more interesting—the entrance is entirely underwater. You can't row in (as you can in the Blue Grotto at Capri, for example). If you try to run the blockade by free-or scuba diving your way in (possible), the local sirens (nasty ladies) release the kraken. No, you take the elevator, installed from street-side down through the rock in the 1950s at the same time as they planted a ceramic Christmas manger display on the floor of the grotto. What you get, once you're in, is a roughly rectangular surface area of water roughly 45 x 32 meters, with a cavern roof about 24 meters above water level. The name 'emerald' comes from the perceived color of the light filtering through the underwater entrance from the outside. There are stalactites and such, which you expect since this is karst country. Many reported impressions are negative: too expensive, too short, too tip-focused. (Hey, this is the Amalfi coast!) Some are positive—lovely, romantic and, golly-gee, they'll even serenade you if you want.
Whatever your take is on all that, know that their geology is wrong. You're likely to get a rehash of what is on the official website of the grotto and much published 'hotel literature': i.e., the grotto formed on dry land (true) and found its way down below the surface thanks to the phenomenon of bradyseism (totally wrong). An Italian geologist I know said that the position of that cave has as much to do with bradyseisms as cabbage has to with breakfast. (Everything is food with Italians!) Bradyseisms are small up and down movements of the land caused by the violent reaction (termed 'phreatic activity') of hot magma and cold water coming into contact below ground. The resulting steam drives the land up in the same way as steam from a boiling pot of water jiggles a lid on top. Shifting magma or water may then change the equation and the land may again subside. That has happened in nearby Pozzuoli quite recently. The port facilities had to be rebuilt in the 1980s because of the change in sea-level (but it was really the land that had shifted). You need a volcanic source of magma. The position of the Emerald Grotto, on the other hand, is due to tectonic activity, the collision of the Earth's crustal plates, the force that drives mountains to the surface. The grotto is part of the whole local Sorrentine peninsula, itself an off-shoot of the Apennines, a mountain chain that started rising 20 million years ago. Yes, the grotto formed on dry land, but the perceived position of the grotto in relation to sea-level is not because bradiseisms are bouncing the mountains up and down, but rather because of the rise and fall of sea-level in the Mediterranean over millions of years and countless glacial periods that have locked water up as ice and then released it again, over and over. Regular tectonics and regular rising and falling of sea level from glaciation cycles put the grotto where it is.
(July 25) - "I don't think we're in Kansas , anymore." No, nowhere near, but the Naples suburb of Quarto had a tornado the other day. Right on the heels of ten days of sweltering heat and humidity, at least for these parts (35° C/95°F plus 70 to 80% humidity), the sun was suddenly darkened (and I was sore afraid), temperatures dropped, got rain, then hail, then a lot of rain, and out in Quarto what you see in this photo. No damage to life or limb, but some to property. Friend Larry reminds me that a local on-line Naples paper led with "Circe, the cyclone, arrived from northern Europe to chase out Charon's deadly heat." We have us one erudite journalist here. If you're not familiar with Circe or Charon, just ask yourself if you would like to go to hell—or would you rather be a pig?*
(July 25) - Next-door neighbor Giacomo Garzya (see entry for June 21, above) has just come back from his first-ever visit to the USA and was moved to write some poems about his impressions, a few of which I have tried to translate. Here's one about New York.
(July 25)-One Small Step for a Bow-Bow—Pompeii is second only to the Colosseum in Rome as the most popular tourist site in Italy, year in and year out. I don't know how the tourists do it. Both sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and both are worth seeing, but I can think of no other place in the nation that ambushes cash-laden clients with such an array of inefficiency, chicanery and corruption as does Pompeii. Barely a day goes by that you don't read of this-or-that many hundred tourists waiting in vain for the place to open, or even of being locked inside while the staff goes on strike—or to lunch—which is pretty much the same thing. It usually takes a threat by UNESCO or other European holders of the euro-strings that the whole damned place will be removed from the list unless it shapes up. Then, maybe, something gets done. That is what happened here, and it seems to have done some good.
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