Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © Jeff Matthews 

Naples Miscellany 67 (start end of December 2016) 

Links to all Naples Miscellany pages
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(Dec 22)  - Probably nothing to worry about, but the scientific journal Nature Communications has just published a report by Italian and French scientists expressing concern at the hydrothermal conditions beneath the Campi Flegrei (alias the Fiery Fields, alias the site of the mammoth Campanian Ignimbrite eruption of 40,000 years ago, which created the western end of the bay of Naples.) The many small hills in Camp Flegrei are remnant craters. From the report:
...scientists have for the first time identified a threshold beyond which rising magma under the Earth's surface could trigger the release of fluids and gases at a 10-fold increased rate...This would cause the injection of high-temperature steam into surrounding rocks...which can ultimately lose their mechanical resistance, causing an acceleration towards critical conditions.
This is not the first alarm. The entire area was jolted by small movements called bradiseisms in the 1980s and has been subject to increased monitoring since 2005, and geologists on TV never tire of warning the half-million people in the area that the popular tourist attraction, the bubbling sulfur pit called Solfatara (pictured) is really an active volcano and probably part of a potential super volcano like Yellowstone in the United States. Probably nothing to worry about—unless you put credence, as do many Neapolitans, in the fact that the Miracle of San Gennaro did not occur the other day, when it was supposed to. That means bad luck, disaster, and catastrophe.
     [Also see item for Feb 3, below]

photo:  Gianluca Padovan                                              

(Dec 23)  - There may be a study on this, but if so, I can't find it, and I have even searched The Fibonacci Quarterly (yes, it really exists). It is dedicated entirely to this sequence of numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34...etc. ( If you're having trouble with the rest, please go read The Fibonacci Quarterly.) True, I have found some references to this mysterious string of numbers used in cultural contexts in art, architecture, music, literature, but no explanation of the relation of the Fibonacci sequence or Fibonacci spiral to Naples. First, Leonardo Fibonacci (1175-c.1250) was the most prominent mathematician in the European Middle Ages and was responsible for popularizing the Hindu-Arabic numeral system to the Western world. He's why you don't have to count “Hut!-II-III-IV” in the army. He also imported the famous sequence of numbers from them.

The Fibonacci spiral (image, left) is related. It's an approximation of the “golden spiral” and is created by drawing circular arcs connecting the opposite corners of squares in the Fibonacci tiling (image, right);
that is, a tiling with squares whose side lengths are successive Fibonacci numbers. And, no, I don't know why it's only an approximation, but then I don't subscribe to The Fibonacco Quarterly. There is an example of a Fibonacci spiral on the façade of the main train station in Zurich, and there is one in Naples above the escalators leading to the trains in the Piazza Vanvitelli metro station (pictured at top), one of those stations that now count as "art stations" in Naples. There are four of five of them (this one is a good example)—big time architects, lots of money, etc.  But Naples—to return to the study that someone (but not me) should do—Naples is Fibonacci-er than Thou. We had that Fibonacci stuff—the sequence if not the spiral—five years ago. An excerpt from 2005 in the entry on Installation Art:
...the entire exhibit consisted of a single Fibonacci sequence arrayed around the semicircular facade of the church; 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34... They stopped when they ran out of columns or when Fibonnaci died—I forget which, but...
(Unfortunately, it was installation art and was eventually “uninstalled.” (The entire description is at this link. While you're there, please tell me what's going on with Naples and Fibonacci. No, he was from Pisa.)
diagrams from Wikipedia

(25 Dec) This is a fine Christmas present for Naples. Italo Ferraro has finished his monumental labor of love and presented the final volume in public. I don't think I've ever heard of — much less seen — a project like this. I know about fine city maps, even fine historical maps and even fine historical maps with transparent overlays to show how a place has changed over time. And I have seen all that augmented by computer graphics and animation — much of which is very, very good. But this is truly an obsession gone right.

Ferraro is a 75-year-old retired professor of architecture and has been gathering material for his Napoli - Atlante della città storica (Naples - Atlas of the historic city) for 30 years and has been publishing it, bit by bit, for the last 10 of those 30. It is a complete graphic account of how Naples looks today, then traced back through the years and centuries — how this building replaced that one and this new street came in here, and so forth—building by building, church by church, street by street, and quarter by quarter, starting from the historic center of the city, where Ferraro has his home and studio and then working out to the suburbs. Each volume of Napoli - Atlante della città storica covers one City Administrative Unit (CAU) of the city (there are ten of those, subdivided into 30 quarters); I live in the Chiaia CAU of Naples, above me on the hill is the Vomero, over to the west on the coast is Mergellina, further up the coast to west is Posillipo, and so forth. It apparently started with musings by the architect about the bits of an old monastery near his home many years ago. Parts of it were still there but the rest had been demolished during the risanamento (the urban renewal of Naples in the late 1800s). And off he went. Then came endless hours, years, of browsing through archives, shops and private collections of your friends and your students and former students, searching for graphic scraps, paintings, charts, or survey maps to help you unroll the years for the reader. Then preface the images with written histories of each section, all so you would able to stand at any spot in the city and lower this kind of cartographic core sampler down through the ages and tell what this or that spot looked like 100 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, and, in the case of the quarter of Naples where Ferraro was born, the Sanità, what it looked like when the Greeks first got there and dug their first quarries for stone to build their first homes. The ten volumes (four samples pictured) are identical in format: they are 30 x 24 cm (11.8 x 9.4 inches), bound in stiff cardboard with an illustrated glossy paper bookcover. The number of pages varies from 500 to 700+. The editor is Oikos in Naples. Each volume is 200 euros. I know, I know, but  they're worth the price and libraries can afford it.

(Dec 26)- The Trail of Memories. To understand these photos, you have to know two things about Naples: (1) it is undermined with hundreds of “caves”spaces quarried out over the centuries, even millennia; (2) during WWII, Naples was routinely bombed by the Allies, and many of these large underground spaces were converted to air-raid shelters. (There is an Underground Portal on this site with dozens of entries on these spaces.)

What here looks like a swimming pool was actually a cistern used in both ancient and modern times. It is located below ground level (but not below actual sea level) to the west of the large Piazza del Plebiscito, the square on the west side of the Royal Palace. Entrance via this long stairway is from a few hundred feet higher up at Palazzo Serra di Cassano, well-known today as the seat of the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies, which is west of and behind Piazza del Plebiscito at #14 via Monte di Dio, the road leading up to the height of Pizzofalcone near the Egg Castle. The stairway leads down from Pal. S. di Cassano to the watery space you see, which was one of the air-raid shelters. Space along the side was used to install sanitary facilities. From the end of WWII until the 1970s all such underground areas (dozens of them in the city) were used as a "Municipal Deposits." What that really meant was a place to dump the unbelievable amounts of wartime rubble. (More info at the link to the Bourbon Gallery, below.)

Much has been done to recover these spaces in the last 30 years or so and turn them to civic purposes, usually educational and involving some degree of tourism. One such effort has been by Vincenza Donzelli and her Cultural Association “internoA14” to set up premises within the Pal. S. di Cassano as part of a complete itinerary, “The Trail of Memories." At the top of the "trail" in Pal. S.d.Cassano you can visit the "internoA14" studio, where displays include WWII equipment such as an expertly rebuilt German army BMW motorcycle with sidecar, mounted machine-guns and all (!) and then hike down, down, down to the cistern and over to the beginning of another jewel of restoration, the Bourbon Gallery (Tunnel) (entrance pictured), a former military tunnel and escape passage for the kings of Naples built in the final years of the kingdom in the 19th century. It has been rebuilt and well laid-out to show what it looked like when it, too, was an air-raid shelter. Top to bottom, the Trail of Memories is fascinating and educational. If you don't like being underground, suck it up and go anyway. I did.

I have been in the Bourbon Tunnel and it is well worth the while. I was, however, not aware of the Palazzo Serra di Cassano connection, i.e., the "internoA14" studio, the stairs, and the cistern. That came to my attention thanks to Gianluca Padovan, a visitor to Naples from Milan. He provided the top two photos in this entry and he maintains significant contributions about Naples and Milan (some of which I have translated into English) on the website of Napoli Underground. You can try this link for starters.

(Dec 27) - I wrongly remembered that the 1958 Italian crime-comedy film I Soliti Ignoti was set in Naples. Sorry, it was Rome. Anyway, this is really about giving titles to foreign films. Sometimes, titles are word for word translations (Gone with the Wind/via col vento). Sometimes they are not. The worst changed title I know of was of Billy Wilder's hilarious 1972 film, Avanti. It was set on the island of Ischia near Naples, and the reason for the one-word Italian title in the original was that avanti means “Come in”, the only Italian phrase that Jack Lemon and Juliet Mills ever managed to learn as they knock on each other's hotel room doors. Why not just leave the Italian title in the Italian release? Because Avanti! (here meaning “Forward!”) is also the name of the Italian Socialist party newspaper; thus, they hobbled the Italian film with the awful title, What Happened Between My Father and Your Mother?

Returning to I soliti ignoti, the best English title might just have been to leave the Italian police cliché, in English rendered as "The Usual Suspects". The English title, however, turned into Big Deal on Madonna Street. There is, indeed, a street in Rome named Via della Madonna dei Monti, an aptly respectful rendering of which might be "Road of the Madonna of the Hills"; that has a sweet ring to it, but there is no "via Madonna", which sounds crass, especially in English—Madonna Street. Yuk.  I proclaimed to friend Warren the other day that ...”Surely, nowhere in Italy...” He was, as usual, diligent and helpful. He sleuthed it to pieces and replied:
"Maybe not in Italy, my friend, but there really was a Madonna Street. She was married to Augustus Street and appears in the 1920 census. They lived in Philadelphia. More important, there is also now a Madonna Street who lives in Anoka, Minnesota." This case is closed. And it was a cold case, believe me; today it was -8 C /17 F in Anoka.

(Dec 30) - These—how can I put it?—desperately beautiful works are by the “Neapolitan Rodin”, Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929). They are of his wife, Anna Cutolo. The photos come to me from Selene Salvi, artist in her own right, who tells me she saw these at the Capodimonte museum and saw a number of paintings of Anna Cutolo by various artists at other venues but none that approached those done by her husband. “...He was obsessed with her.” Selene then felt moved to pen this “confession” in the voice of Anna Cutolo.

Confessions of a Neapolitan model:

My name is Anna, Anna Cutolo. Those who like me call me Nannina, or Cosarella, because they say I look like a little girl.  I'm a model, in the sense that they pay me to pose for them. Even nude. I'm not ashamed of it; I've done it a thousand times. Maybe a little bit when I started, but then it just got natural because I saw that their eyes were not full of desire, they just wanted to transform me—at least that's what they told me. I am much in demand. Maybe because a poet told me once that I looked as if I stepped out of painting by Titian, what with my red hair and my “pale gentle head”* [trans. note: a phrase from Neapolitan poet Salvatore Di Giacomo's biography of Gemito]

Those who have painted me include Giuseppe De Sanctis, Vincenzo Caprile, Paolo Vetri, Salvatore Postiglione, maestro Morelli and many others. But I fell in love with one of them. It was something in his look, I can't explain I pose only for him, for my Vincenzo and his madness. Maestro Morelli, don Mimi, tells me that I have lovely breasts, lovelier than those of the Venus di Milo. Once he put a fan in my hand and had me undress. He told me to look in his eyes as if I were seeking a kiss. I felt like laughing, but I held it in. Now I'll tell you a little secret, but you mustn't tell anyone. One sculptor (not my husband—I'll let you guess for yourselves) looked at the painting that don Mimi had done of me and fell in love with me. He had me pose for his loveliest work, a half-bust without arms, just like the Venus di Milo. I don't think it was my “pale, gentle head” that inspired him, do you?
Selene then adds in her own voice: "Anna Cutolo married Vincenzo Gemito in 1882 and gave him a daughter, Giuseppina. Anna fought for Vincenzo in his darkest years. She never abandoned him.”


(Jan 2) - This was the first sunset of 2017. The photo was taken from seaside in the bay of Pozzuoli looking over Cape Miseno at the end of the bay (and the gulf) to the island of Ischia in the background  on the right.
photo: La Repubblica

A Nursery Rhyme for the Befana

(Jan 5 ) Tomorrow, the 6th, is la Befana, which means tonight is when the old crone, Befana, delivers gifts to good children and lumps of coal to bad ones. These days, to stroke their self-image, it's gifts all around. Befana is plausibly from the word “epiphany” (the revealing of Jesus as the Christ to the Three Wise Men). Thus Jan. 6 is sort of the “official” end of the holiday season. There are four other entries on “Befana” (here, under B in the index). They all use this picture (right) because it was this Befana doll I found displayed years ago in my local cafè when I first wrote about the holiday and where I learned just the other day about the nursery rhyme(s). I was eavesdropping on a regular who usually talks quite audibly to himself—some of it very interesting. He recited this:

La befana vien' di notte/ con le scarpe tutte rotte/
col cappello alla romana/ viva, viva la Befana.
[The Befana comes at night/ with her shoes in tatters (lit. 'all broken')/
with a Roman hat/ long live, long live the Befana.]

Then he giggled. It's a nursery rhyme. I asked around, thinking that everyone must know it. Not so. I found a few who knew the first two lines, but not much after that. And my poet friend, Giacomo, had never heard of it at all! “It's just a nursery rhyme,” he sniffed. (Really? Two of Italy's great modern poets, Giovanni Pascoli and Gabriele D'Annnuzio wrote poems about the Befana.) Perhaps the anonymous children's nursery rhymes (filastrocche) are the most fun. There are hundreds of variations on this particular rhyme. Lines 1, 2, and 4 are usually the same. Variations generally happen in line 3: for example, col cappello alla romana [with a Roman hat—no one really knows what that means*] or con le toppe alla sottana [with patches on her garments]. Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912) is one of Giacomo's favorite poets and Pascoli wrote:

Viene, viene la Befana/Vien dai monti a notte fonda/ Come è stanca! la circonda/
Neve e gelo e tramontana!/ Viene, viene la Befana.
Here she comes, here comes Befana/ From the mountains in deepest night/
How she is tired! All bundled up/ In snow and ice and the cold north wind!
Here she comes, here comes Befana!

I know—five lines. But he's a poet. They're allowed to do that. “Just a nursery rhyme,” indeed. Hmmph. I challenged Giacomo to give me one third line, maybe like my own modest attempts: con la faccia della rana ["with the face of a frog"] or pur' mangiando la banana ["even eating a banana"] or pur' essendo non campana ["though not being from the Campania region of Italy," though that line also means "even though she's not a bell." Poetic license. ].

“C'mon, it's one lousy line!"
“I ain't writin' no third line for no poem about no Befana. Got that?”
“That means you are going to write one. Think of Pascoli and D'Annunzio!”
“Never heard of 'em.”

*But Selene Salvi has found a reference to "ramazotta" (a kind of cap or headgear, also known as a "Roman hat" in Vocabulario universale italiano, compiled by the Società tipografica Tramerer & Co. Napoli 1835. But no pictures!

(Jan 6 ) First snowfall of the winter. This is what Mt. Vesuvius looked like yesterday morning, just in time for the Befana.

(Jan 7 )For Roman Catholics, the holiday season ended yesterday. Not so for some other Christian denominations, such as the Eastern Christian Orthodox faiths. They celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the older Julian calendar, which currently corresponds to January 7 in the Gregorian calendar, the day after the Western Christian Church celebrates the Epiphany, that is, yesterday. Today is Orthodox Christmas. Though not widely celebrated in predominantly Roman Catholic Naples, if you know where to look, you can find celebrations such as the one shown here (image, right). The photo is from a few years ago, taken on the premises of the church of Santa Maria la Nova. The original description is here.

(Jan 11 )Bunkers from WWII. Friends at Napoli Underground (Nug)cavers, urban spelunkers and archeologist/ historianshave uncovered yet another left-over WWII German bunker (image, right, at yellow pin-drop, left). (There is an earlier item about the same topic at this link with links to the Nug site and other photos). This one is a small circular fortification in reinforced cement; it is just north of Cape Miseno (land mass at bottom of image) at the end of the Gulf of Naples (the bay of Pozzuoli is at bottom right). The bunker is located along the roadside of via San Nullo in Licola about 1800 meters (2,000 yards) inland from the beach. The beach was important. It is a slightly curved but smooth 8 km (5 mi)-long stretch between Cuma to the south (near the bottom of the image) and Lago Patria to the north (the body of water at the top). If the Allied invasion of the Italian mainland had not come ashore at Salerno on Sept. 9, 1943, the next logical beachhead would have been along this stretch. The invasion would thus have had to by-pass Naples (not a good idea strategically for the Allies) and put troops inland between Naples and Caserta, dividing Allied attention between the three German divisions in the south at Salerno and Naples and six German divisions tenaciously defending the infamous Liri Valley (later called "Death Valley" by advancing Allied troops) just ahead of them to the north, leading to Monte Cassino. But if Salerno had been seen as untakeable, the Licola beach would have had to make do. German forces had obviously spread bunkers from Salerno to Naples to delay (and possibly stem) the Allied drive on Naples, but, just in case, they also placed bunkers such as these to guard the potential Licola beachhead.

bunker photo courtesy of Nug
[There is more on WWII at the WWII portal.]

(Jan 13 )Evil-doers beware. The most famous case of art theft in the 20th century was, no doubt, the disappearance of Leonardo's La Gioconda (or whatever her name isyes, there's another story there, as well). It was stolen in 1911 and recovered when the moron who stole it from the Louvre in Paris tried to sell it (!) to a museum in Florence. In case you are thinking of pulling a similar stunt in Napleslook, there's a nice bank right down the street.

The Salvator Mundi (Saviour of the World), the "recent" masterpiece attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, has just gone on display at the Naples Diocese Museum
(<==see that link). It will remain on display through March 31 and then go to the Louvre. It is part of a wider exhibit dedicated to Leonardo (ticket image, above). The exhibit includes copies of the originalunless the painting on display is not the original, but, itself a copy, in which case one of the copies may or may not be...well, you get the idea. If the work (shown above) is what they say it is, it was painted around the year 1500 and was done in oil on walnut. It measures 45.4 cm × 65.6 cm (25.8 in × 17.9 in). It is currently the property of a private collector in New York City and is commonly referred to as the “De Ganay Leonardo” (after one of the many persons who owned it over the years). The work—now widely authenticated by international experts (heavyweightsnot exactly Moe, Larry & Curly) as a genuine Leonardo is, to put it mildly, priceless. It is all the more interesting given its erratic history and the fact that its existence was not widely known until the 1970s.

Oops? See update below 

    The work, posed as Cristo benedicente [Christ Blessing], was apparently done for Louis XII of France; then it was owned by many others before showing up in 1900 in the possession of a British collector, Francis Cook. The painting had been damaged by earlier attempts at restoration and looked to be just another imitation of a purported original by Leonardo that had gone missing—but this couldn't be it—it had to be just another imitation, of which there are many. The work was sold cheaply at auction in around 1900. Someone got a good deal because subsequent examination beginning in 2005, and authentication by experts as the original Leonardo put it in the hands of Russian collector Dmitry Rybolovlev for $127.5 million. Experts look for Leonardo tell-tales, including the precise optics of the globe in the Saviour's left hand, "Leonardo-isms" in style, even adjustments of pentimenti (lit. "regrets"—that is, mistakes. Imagine that, Leonardo da Vinci saying, “Man, what was I thinking? Gotta move that pinky finger.”) Yet, there are more than a few skeptics in the local press.

    Whatever the case, my sincere thanks to Selene Salvi (known in the underworldshe does a lot of archeology—as 'Wheels', 'the Catwoman' and 'Bonnie'), who pointed out to me that I had placed an image of one of the copies (!) of the painting in the original draft of this entry, instead of the real thing (now placed properly at the very top of this item). She says the whole exhibit is confusing. Says she has decided to return our her getaway car to U-Heist Rentals. 24 convenient locations in Naples.  Visiting hours: Mon-Sat 9:30-1630.

update: Nov. 16, 2017.  Someone is confused. Yesterday at Christie's in New York the painting shown directly above sold for $450.3 million, a record (to put mildly). The keen-eyed among you will notice that it is not the same as the image on the ticket shown at the top of this entry. Assuming that Christie's got it right and did not scam some poor sap out of his last $400 million, the Naples Diocese Museum owes me a serious refund of 6 euros!

update: Mar. 30, 2019. The Missing Leonardo! The New York Times of Mar. 30, 2019 reports that this fascinating work has now gone missing! Their article is at this permalink:

update: Jan. 20, 2021.

Are you confused yet?
Italian police have recovered a "valuable 16th-century copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Saviour of the World." It was stashed in a cupboard in a flat in Naples. It was stolen some time in the last few months from a collection of art works inside the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples. The painting is believed to be by Giacomo Alibrandi, one of Leo's many copy-cats.  I'm not sure why it's valuable. This is not the original (which has also been stolen). It's a copy by a talented hack. Maybe I'm jaded, or just irritated at this Leonardo person, whoever he was. I hope he's getting a kick out of all this. I'm not. (The one recovered is the top image of the two displayed in this entry.)

(Jan 16 )The papers call this the largest archeological site in Europe. I think it is more likely to be the largest construction site with archeology a secondary (but significant) consideration (they keep finding bits and pieces of ancient Greece and Rome). It is the Municipio (city hall) station of the no.1 Metro line of the gigantic ring that will sooner or later gird the city. It will occupy the entire underground space between the city hall and the main commercial port of Naples. (The Angevin Fortress is the building on the left in the upper photo.)

Although there are smaller stations in the “ring” that have yet to be completed, this station is somewhat the “home stretch.” It is scheduled for completion in 2019, years behind schedule, but that was expected. (Above ground, the whole square will look like this artist's CGI rendition, left, seen from the vantage point of the city hall, looking over the port towards Vesuvius.) The station is already running limited service. The name of the station will likely be changed to Municipio-Porto. It is to be another of the “art stations” in the city. (This entry is also the most recent one in the chronological history of the construction of the Naples Metro lines, here.)

Jan 17 - (Only if you're on a budget and are not claustrophobic...) They are called sleep boxes, transit hotels, pod hotels, capsule hotels and probably (at the very beginning) Draculairs (ok, I made that one up). They used to be drab and functional (a bed and a communal bathroom), but now there's one in Singapore called the Capsule Pod Boutique Hostel, (for some reason, they skipped 'cabana' and 'little grass shack') aesthetically designed with a shared kitchen and common room with flat-screen TV. Some now even have swimming pools.

They started in Japan as “capsule hotels” (kapuseru hoteru) and have spread rapidly —that is, extremely small, cheap, basic overnight accommodations generally close to the centers of cities that are major tourist draws or near (or even in) transit facilities such as airports and train stations. Currently, the only one in Italy has recently opened at the Capodichino airport in Naples (ask for the airport that sounds like a cup of coffee). It is called the Benbo and is on airport premises. The hotel has 42 rooms, each of which is 4.5 meters (almost 15 feet) long and wide enough for a bed and a desk. They are equipped with air conditioning and a docking station for your electronics. Two rooms are designed for the disabled and some units are connected internally to accommodate families. The entire facility has 16 common bathrooms. Showers are available. Not too shabby. Cost: 25 euros for one night, or if you just want to snooze before a flight, there is an hourly fee. There is a plan to expand the facility, all designed by the Studiotre firm of Naples. Airports at Rome, Bergamo and Palermo have shown interest.

(Jan 18) - Here is another fascinating photo of one of the many subterranean spaces beneath Naples; this one is part of the now very popular tourist attraction known as the Bourbon Gallery (or tunnel). The Gallery was recently restored (which means cleaning up, shoring up, and dressing up) to put on a good show or tourists to the city. One such tourist is the person who took this shot, Gianluca Padovan of Milan who has contributed regularly (and continues to do so) to the website of Napoli Underground (Nug). This photo is from n.12 in a series entitled Naples: Above & Below. All of the installments are on the Nug website starting here. They are all very short insightful comments on the spaces above (castles, fortresses) and below (quarries, aqueducts and cistern) Naples. They are all accompanied by good photography such as this sample. (On the Nug website, the installments may not be in numerical order—because I didn't translate them in order!—but they are all on the same list and easy to find. He said.) My own comments on the Bourbon Tunnel are here.

(Jan 24) - There is an interesting optical illusion looking to the east and southeast in some parts of Naples, especially from the seafront Chiaia section near Mergellina. You get the impression that we have in the winter months two snowy peaks "over there"—across the bay. Everyone knows the first one, Mt. Vesuvius, right now partially snow-capped (photo, above, is from Jan 6). The other one is out on the Sorrentine peninsula, Mt. Faito (photo, right, is from Jan. 14. The view is over the red Nunziatella military academy). The illusion is this: Vesuvius is not really out there; it's 15 km due east from where the photo was taken and about the same distance from Mt. Faito. It's more of a triangle: the camera is A; Vesuvius is B; Faito is C. Because of the viewing angle, you don't see the 10 km-wide Sarno river basin, which separates the volcano from a totally different kind of geology, a jagged peninsula, the result of tectonic-driven crustal uplift. The peak of Faito is just a bit lower than that of Vesuvius and the snaggle-tooth area around Mt. Faito supports a regional park as well a few separate communities, all explained here.

(Jan 30) - The “Green Lungs” of Naples. In 1967 a city report, The Subsoil of Naples, said,
"A flood of houses has submerged Naples to an incredible degree. The hills have been assaulted, the greenery destroyed—the entire area victim of building speculators. Whoever now views Naples from the sea stares at a giant cement presepe clinging to a desolate cliff."
They also predicted that the population of Naples would be 1,425,000 by the year 2000 and 1,650,000 by 2020. The current  (early 2017) population of Naples, however, is just over 1,100,000 somewhat less than in 1951! The reasons for this are increased mobility to move out of the city and the dramatic drop in the birthrate. (See this link and this one for more details.) In spite of that, the general impression is still that Naples is wall-to-wall housing “clinging to a cliff.” But there are still a number of what are called 'urban forests' or 'forest parks' —that is, substantial numbers of trees and other vegetation growing in and around the city. In many cases, the green areas are residual or restored (reforested) bits of what used to be. The advantages are obvious: these green patches filter air and water, provide recreational areas for people, cool the local 'heat islands' generated by city cement and asphalt —all that. Italians like the term polmoni verdi (green lungs) to describe these oases that let this third largest Italian city breathe. Some of these areas in Naples are:
Botanical Garden, Villa Floridiana, Mostra d'Oltremare, Camaldoli, Posillipo, Capodimonte,
San Martino VineyardVilla ComunaleBaths of AgnanoAstroni

   The Campi Flegrei. Larger photo here.        
(Jan 30) -The Big One, round 2? (or maybe it's 3) -   The deep drilling project that started seven years ago (noted here) in the bay of Pozzuoli has recently published new results. The first reports in December (first item, top of this page) set off scream headlines in the local press and more thoughtful gasps in geology journals. The accepted eruptive history in the Campiflegrei is generally correct. There were two great events: a single massive eruption, 39,000 years ago (the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption and caldera collapse) and a subsequent series of smaller eruptions, 15,000 years ago, that created the pockmarks (craters) of the Campiflegrei as well as the Neapolitan Yellow Tuff ridge of what is now the long Posillipo spine that separates the bay of Naples from the bay of Pozzuoli.
There are a few puzzles: the initial eruption was smaller than originally thought and may not have actually “blown” from the center of the Campiflegrei (dead center in this photo) but a bit to the north (farther out into the bay, center left), producing the “campi” from somewhat of a side vent. (This, in spite of the illusion in photos such as this one that you are staring directly across the diameter of an exploded crater.) Remarkably, there was more settling of the caldera after the second eruption than after the larger first eruption. The Campi Flegrei Deep Drilling Project (CFDDP) drilled down 501 meters in the western gulf (the bay of Pozzuoli) to study the deep structures of the caldera, its geothermal characteristics, and its magma chemistry. The study measured argon isotopes in order to estimate the age of various layers. Studies of microfossils (or lack thereof) show that the original volcano, of which there are only a few rim fragments remaining, was well above sea-level. Studies continue. Consensus so far? A relatively placid-looking caldera basin (this photo) is deceptive. The magma chamber below the bay of Pozzuoli is alive and well. But we knew that already from studying the Solfatara, the potential supervolcano lurking beneath the Campi Flegrei.

(Feb 4) -The Salt Mines of Sicily

Sicily abounds in wonders, natural and man-made, from majestic Mount Etna to the UNESCO World Heritage Greek temples of Agrigento to...well, etc. etc. There is no end of spectacular sites to see above ground, but if that is all you see, you miss half the fun. Look down, beneath the surface! For example, there is a limestone cave in the Temenites hill in the city of Syracuse called The Ear of Dionysius (for Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse in 400 BC, a ruler so vicious that in Dante's Inferno, he suffers forever in a river of boiling blood! The “ear” part means that the cave has great acoustics.) And you will see the famous salt mines (pictured) of Petralia (near Palermo), claiming to contain the richest salt deposits in Europe and to be the only facility in the world where production takes place entirely underground. There are more than 70 km (40 miles) of tunnels!enormous boring machines, conveyor belts, and packaging equipment—all of it underground. Until you open that box of salt in your home, the salt hasn't seen the light of day for millions of years. The salt in question in called salgemma in Italian (from the resemblance to gems). In English, it is commonly known as "rock salt". The chemical name is Halite; it the mineral form of sodium chloride (NaCl).
   Another version of this entry appears on the website of Napoli Underground (Nug) here; there are links to the original Italian source article by Attilio Bolzoni as well as additional photography by Roberto Boccaccino, the photographer of the image shown above.

(Feb 13) -South Italian? This is nuts. No, really. NUTS is a too cutesy European Union (EU) acronym for Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics... "a geocode standard for referencing the administrative divisions of countries for statistical purposes...It is the computational process of transforming a postal address description to a location on the Earth's surface (spatial representation in numerical coordinates)..."
It produces strange terms such as "South Italian," a term that includes the "spatial coordinates" for the modern Italian regions of Abruzzo, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and Molise, all grouped as ITF. It does not include the islands of Sardinia and Sicily (ITG). One problem is that this system causes confusion when talking about endangered languages. UNESCO has some important criteria for deciding whether or not a language is endangered or, indeed, worseextinct. There are 5 categories. A language is

Vulnerable if- most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home);
Definitely endangered if- children no longer learn the language as a 'mother tongue' in the home;
Severely endangered if- the language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation   may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves;
Critically endangered- the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently:
Extinct if- there are no speakers left.
The table shown above is from a newspaper, The Guardian, and is the paper's attempt to fit the UNESCO description of "endangered languages" into the NUTS geocode. That is misleading, for there is no such language as "South Italian". There are various "southern Italian" Romance languages (related but not necessarily mutually comprehensible) that go by their traditional names of Neapolitan, Calabrian, etc. and even have their own literature. Together, the may have 7½ million speakers, and some may be vulnerable. Some are not. But there is no single minority language (a variety of language comprehensible within a geographic area) that everyone within the boundaries of ITF speaks. If there is an EU NUT-case bureaucrat reading this, please explain this to me. In the case of Neapolitan, it is not "vulnerable". True, it is not used as a language of governmental communication and news, but it  is commonly used in daily interpersonal relations and is indispensable as a cultural vehicle; as I write, there are at least a half-dozen plays (with theaters packed) running plays in Neapolitan. It is so well-known in the world, that it has become iconic for Italy, which doesn't make people from Milan and Venice very happy. (See this link and this one for more). (The complete NUTS scheme for Italy is here.)

(Feb 14) -There is some bad news about Valentine's Day (besides the fact that I forgot it again): namely, the heart is not an accurate metaphor for the emotion we associate with this day. Love is really controlled by the thalamus, an "ovoid mass of nuclei" in the brain. There is, however, good news: If you are in love, it doesn't really matter, and, anyway, it's much easier to make a paper cut-out of a heart than it is of an ovoid mass of nuclei —and finding even a bad rhyme for "thalamus" would just about put the Hallmark people out of business. (No, don't bother. I've tried. So far, I have come up with: "I hope there's nothing with my gal/pal amiss; won't you be my thalamus.")

St. Valentine's Day is another of those holidays that no one around here used to celebrate. At least Valentine was not a foreign import. He, indeed, was a priest in Rome during the reign of Claudius II Gothicus in the third century. He was beheaded, they say, on February 14, not just for refusing to give up his faith, but for refusing to stop performing Christian marriage rites in an age when Christianity was still a covert faith. Until 1969 the day was a feast day in the Roman Catholic calendar; now, however, the secularization is complete. Paraphernalia of Valentine's Day is evident in all shops in Naples: stylized bouquets with heart–shaped candies in place of flowers, €50 heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, cards, little teddy-bears with the words "Ti amo" ("I love you") embossed on them, and a special newspaper insert bearing paid–for personal declarations of love. The papers also run articles about the commercialization of holidays.

[This was an excerpt from the original entry at this link.]

(Feb 14) -David Seymour (1911 – 1956) was a Polish photographer and photo journalist known for his photos from the Spanish Civil War and for his project "Children of War" for UNICEF that showed the plight of children in Europe after World War II. This photo comes from a friend at Napoli Underground (Nug) who tells me that the discernible labeling identifies the photographer as Seymour and says the photo was taken in 1948. It does not specifically say “Naples” but is in a collection of other photos identified as such; also, 1948 fits the timeline of Seymour's activities in postwar Europe. The photo also fits his spontaneous and harsh but very human approach to his subjects. If this is Naples in 1948, it shows a family or group of friends sitting around playing cards in their temporary dwelling, a underground quarry, one of the many used as bomb shelters during the war and for a few years afterwards as make-shift housing.

(Apr 4) - Currently running (until April 10th) Fatte Pittà, [roughly: Painting Naples and the Colors of Her Songs]. Maybe I'm just fascinated by this image and others like it. The event combines the art of Maurizio Vinanti (presumably the guy in the image painting on a 45 rpm recordwhatever that is!), the poetry of Carla Adamo, and, of course, the beloved Neapolitan Song. Put'em together and what've you gotthe story of the city, her people, streets, dreams, lottery numbers, etc. I'm not sure if this image from their advert represents a particular song (probably not), but I can think of some songs that are impossible to paint! Or maybe not. I guess I'll go and find out. The event is at the Egg Castle and it's free. (If you have synesthesia, you'll love this.)

(May 6) - Boats of the Bay 2017 - Here we go again. It's hard to see how big this tub is, so I'll tell you. It's the Motor Yacht Symphony, the largest M/Y ever built in the Netherlands. She was here last year.  Stats: Length 333.01ft /101.5m; Beam 46.26ft /14.1m; Builder Feadship; Built 2015; Gross Tonnage 3000 Tons; Draft 13.45ft /4.1m; Cruising Speed 16 Knots; Top speed 22 knots. The current owner is French Godzillionaire, Bernard Arnault, the eighth richest person in the world. This zoom shot was taken from a balcony one mile away. The good ship Symphony is the first of the new "bigger" yachts to arrive in the Bay of Naples (Mergellina harbor) this season. The 100-meter mark is the newest definition of "big". It got here on the morning of May 1st, just in time for Labor Day. Guests on board gathered to sing rousing choruses of the Internationale and spit champagne onto the heads of the tired, poor and huddled Neapolitan street urchins who were in the water attaching magnetic mines to the hull.
More Boats of the Bay on this page, below at May 17, June 3, & June 20]

[General Boats of the Bay page is here.]

                                                                                                                        SEIZED!  -in March 2022

(May 17) - This is the SY A, the world's biggest sailing ship (SY=Sailing Yacht) at 143 meters/468 ft overall length. she is "sail assisted" by a 3-mast fore & aft sailing rig with freestanding carbon-fiber rotating masts and fully-automated sails. Launched earlier this year from the Nobiskrug yards near Kiel the ship has now completed sea trials. The owner is Andrey Melnichenko, the same person mentioned here as the owner of the "coolest Bond-villain ship ever," also called the "A" (he loves his wife, Alexandra—or maybe himself). But this new tub has sails. He's gone green! In the photo, that is the end of the Sorrentine peninsula across the bay.

(Jun 3) - After only 3 or 4 years, most vessels one sees in the bay are repeat visitors, but this is the first time I've seen this one. Nice-looking ship, kind of old school. The Leander, built in 1992. Designed by German ship architect, Claus Kusch (1944-2004). Overall length, 79m/238 feet; beam, 14m/41 feet. Interesting history. The original owner was Brigadier Sir Timothy Landon, somewhat  of a shady character (born in Vancouver BC, served in the British and Omani armies and was instrumental in the development of the present Sultanate of Oman. He was one of Britain's wealthiest people. The ship has changed hands a number of times, but for a while after 2007 she was the charter replacement for the British Royal Yacht, the HMY Britannia (decommissioned in 2007 and now berthed as a museum in Edinburgh, Scotland). Her steel hull has a bulbous bow and a classic canoe stern (not unlike a few women I have known!). Six decks in all. There is a helicopter deck and a three-deck aluminum superstructure. Accommodates 22 guests as well as a crew of 23.

(Jun 11) - This promises to be one of the great exhibits at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. Rooms closed for years have been reopened to the public for an exhibit entitled Amori divini [Divine Loves] (also subtitled Love at the time of the Gods), essentially an exhibit on seduction and transformation in Greek mythology; that is, those myths in which at least one of the partners is changed into almost anything from an astonishing array of birds, fish, insects, dolphins, plants, stones, fire, water, even an island. There are about 80 artworks including paintings, sculptures, and ornaments from local Greek antiquity as well as from elsewhere in Magna Graecia, and more modern variations on that theme on loan from various other museums (including this remarkable sculpture, image)*. There is also an original mosaic floor from the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. The exhibit runs till October 16.

*The sculpture is by the great Danish-Icelandic artist Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), who spent much of his life studying and working in Italy and was called "the next Canova." The work, entitled Ganymede Giving Water to Zeus" depicts one version of the myth in whichas the Iliad puts it:

    [Ganymede] was the loveliest born of the race of mortals, and therefore
    the gods caught him away to themselves, to be Zeus' wine-pourer,
    for the sake of his beauty, so he might be among the immortals.
—  Homer, Iliad, Book XX, lines 233-235. (transl. Richard Lattimore, Uni of Chicago Press.1961.)

The myth manifested the
socially acceptable Greek custom of paiderastía, the erotic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent male. The work is on loan from the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen.

(Jun 20) - The Miracle of Dunkirk

There is a significant bit of European history seen here in the Bay of Naples. It is the vessel moored between the other two (better seen underway in the insert). She is the 50-meter Malahne, built in 1937 and subsequently one of the hastily assembled fleet of over 800 private boats in Operation Dynamo, better known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk,” the evacuation rescue of the 300,000-man British Expeditionary Force (plus another 40,000 from other member Allied forces) trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk, France, by swiftly advancing German forces between 26 May and 4 June 1940 during World War II. The Malahne has been recently re-outfitted into a splendid cruise ship. She still proudly flies the Dunkirk Jack on the jack staff at the bow (seen in insert): a St George's Cross defaced with the arms of Dunkirk, the warranted house flag of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. The flag is flown only by civilian vessels that took part in the Dunkirk rescue operation.

[See this link for a newer entry on the 2017 summer cruise of the Malahne.]

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