Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 68 (early August, 2017)
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Aug 9 — The best thing about August in Naples is that the place is empty. That is also the worst thing, because there is always a hard-core minority that stays in the city for the summer holiday (although they may close up whatever shops they may have and just do nothing — always a pleasant break. All municipal services run on reduced schedules, so if you're waiting for a bus you have to be careful, especially given this year's dramatic weather: there has been almost no rain in months and the temperatures are in the mid-30s° C (mid 90s° F) with high humidity, producing a ridiculously high "feels like" index (if that is the proper term for the opposite of the "wind-chill factor"). Italian meteorologists have started using the term "perceived temperature", which is fine, but it's strange to hear people who don't understand what that means. ("Gee, it was almost 50° yesterday," [that would be 122°! Instant shrivel up and die temperature!] I heard a woman say. I started to explain, but she was having none of it. "No, no. I heard them say 49°!") The biggest disappointment of the summer (besides the brush fires!) was the central funicolare, the main cable car. It is crucial for many thousands of persons a day under normal circumstances, yet it was "closed for repairs" for a period of ONE YEAR (!), which period was to end about one week ago. It ended, the mayor showed up for his photo op and glad-handing and chauffered ride back home again. The tourists  and locals climbed aboard what was billed as a conveyance not just "repaired" but completely overhauled, yea and verily, "made new" and off they went. It went up, then down, and then stopped — clink! clank! grind!— in the middle. Disgruntled tourists and locals had to climb out onto the tracks and trudge down the emergency stairs to an exit. Conclusion? See you in September. Back to the drawing board.

Aug 10 — There's something strange about this boat. According to the Vessel Finder website, she is "the ELADA (IMO: 9522192, MMSI: 213777000) and is a general cargo ship built in 1980 and currently sailing under the flag of Georgia. ELADA has 141m length overall and beam of 20m. Her gross tonnage is 7898 tons." I don't believe it. That vessel is not 141 meters long, since she appears smaller than a motor yacht called the Sea Rhapsody anchored farther out behind her this morning, a vessel claiming to a mere 66 meters long. Besides that, look at the construction; look at the snub-nosed submarine bow. There is no way that boat was built in 1980. That is clearly modern yacht construction from within the last 10 years. Also "general cargo ship...sailing under the flag of Georgia." Maybe I'm paranoid. I think that is my newest suspect for a Bond-Villain boat. The earlier one was the "A". Hang on... another marine site has her listed more realistically 45m/135 ft in length. Call sign 4LOF2. Leaves the year of construction blank. Even more suspicious. I think maybe it's just some rich Georgia godzillionaire enjoying our peaceful waters instead of his own (there is naval conflict going on in the Black Sea at the moment between Georgia and Azak.. Akazi.. Zhakaz... you know the one. Cargo vessel, indeed!    

Aug 22  —  There was what most people call a "small earthquake" (until their houses collapse) at the town of Casamicciola on the northern coast of the island of Ischia yesterday. The first tremor registered a 3.6 (then upgraded to 4). There have been at least 14 aftershocks. (The numbers are on the MMS [Moment Magnitude Scale], although most TV speakers just give the numbers because they're not sure what it all means. Think old Richter scale and it's pretty close. It's a measure of intensity.)  There was one verified fatality; an elderly woman was killed by a chunk of falling masonry. A few dozen persons were injured, some seriously.  It doesn't have to be an epic film disaster quake to upset people's lives. One hospital was evacuated (later reopened), hundreds of persons stayed outside all night. Some unreenforced structures (that describes most buildings on the island) collapsed, and there are a dozen or so persons unaccounted for. They may just be wandering around. Geologists note that this was a "seismic" and not a "volcanic" quake. That is, the tectonic plates moved; it had nothing to do with an eruption. As far as numbers go, the infamous Casamicciola quake of 1883 is now calculated to have been less than a 6, and it killed 2300 persons.

  Sept. 13 Fatal accident at Solfatara.  From my description of the Solfatara active volcano (yes, it really is) in Pozzuoli:
The Solfatara is, at present, a protected nature reserve open to tourism. It is, indeed, at the "bottom of a cavern" —a large crater of volcanic origin and one that is still very active, geologically. In its long history, the Solfatara has suffered from benign neglect as well as commercial exploitation...
"Benign" went sour quickly yesterday when an 11-year-old boy fell into a hole in the ground; his parents fell in as well when they rushed to save him. All three suffocated quickly from the high concentrations of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide that build up just below the surface. The hole was apparently not much more than 3 or 4 meters deep (10 to 12 feet). "This has never happened before," at least in the memories of those who claim to know. If that is true, they have been lucky. Documentaries on the Solfatara drill it into you: This is an active volcano and a dangerous one. This is not an amusement park, not a fun fair, not "Volcano World." This is smack on top of the old Campanian Ignimbrite eruption. Do not take it lightly. It has enough power left down there to put Vesuvius to shame.

But tens of thousands of tourists flock through the Solfatara every year; film crews come, scientists come, and school field trips come. Yesterday, a musical troupe from Switzerland was standing around waiting for permission to start filming when they saw the commotion. They ran over and were too late to help. Everyone ventures out unsupervised into an area that since yesterday is, by definition, a death trap, one run, oddly enough, by a private family. There is very little in the way of protective service
s such as guards, first aid stations, even adequate guard rails. There are a few signs that warn you to watch your step and a few areas that are sloppily cordoned off. Maybe this unfortunate family ignored a warning sign. That's what 11-years kids do. It's hard to say. There is a "lesser" tragedy here, and I know that is not an adequate expression. The surviving member of the family is the seven-years-old sister who ran for help when she saw her brother and parents go in. She came back too late to help. But things will now change. Now that it's too late.

Sept. 19 Today is the Roman Catholic Feast Day of San Gennaro (St. Januarius), the patron saint of the the city of Naples and the day on which believers await the "Miracle of San Gennaro" (see that link for more than you want to know). Spoiler alert: it happened this morning at 10:05. There was all-round happiness (it's strange that even atheists feel better when the miracle happens; after all, as the great mathematician, but awful philosopher, Blaise Pascal, hedged in his non-blazing, lily-livered "wager", "Golly, you never can tell, so you might as well believe." What guts!) The cardinal of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe, gave a sermon on the plight of the victims of the Ischia earthquake and pleaded for more Christian tolerance of the many refugees who now wind up on Italian shores in search of somewhere where they can have a decent life. Good sermon. Those who refuse to believe in miracles may scoff at the affair as a hoax, but even nominal Roman Catholics wait for it. Doctors who have seen "miracles" but are required by science to use the term "spontaneous remission" more or less say what Pope Francis said when asked who could get into Heaven: "How do I know? Who am I to judge?" So, take it or leave it, but there it is.

Sept.  23—  Artists Fulvio De Marinis, Selene Salvi, Ugo de Cesare and Raffaele Concilio have started Opus Continuum, an artists' collective for the purpose of breathing new life into the medium of figurative art. They stress that this is not a reaction against abstract art but, quite the opposite, a simple expression that artists should be able to feel free to paint what they want in the way they want without having to cater to the commercial whims of critics and gallery owners. The organization will be run by artists and for artists. It will be self-governing, hold a yearly exhibition, and establish a physical presence in what will be an exhibit hall as well as a museum. The logo by De Marinis shows the bird-goddess, the siren Parthenope, the eponym of the city later renamed Neapolis. "Who better," says their manifesto, "to represent this timeless solidarity?...combative and stately even armed with brush and palette instead of lance and shield." Then, "We are not living in the past. It is not our aim to “repeat”. We shall continue to innovate. We hold only that in order to be truly “original” and to have an eye consciously on the future, it is important to know where we came from." They have a Facebook page  Their manifesto is published there in Italian and English.


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