Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 68 (early August, 2017)
Links to all Naples Miscellany pages

(1) 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.

(2) 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!    

(3) 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.

  (4) 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.

(5) 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.

(6) 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.

(7) Nov. 1 From the national TV today, you'd think that Halloween was an Italian holiday. It isn't. To be sure, there are places in Italy with witches and such (near Benevento, for example) (see this link for an extended piece on that and a special rant on people celebrating Halloween in Naples!), but, generally speaking, this particular bit of cultural conflating has faded a bit, at least on my block. Maybe it's the electric fences we put up down at the gate. Yes, it helps to live in a gated apartment complex. Last night, they missed us completely. Yesterday afternoon, I did see one adult woman with halloween-colored hair walking down the street; she was wearing a skeleton costume. She was frowning and walking very fast. I don't know why.


(8) Dec. 7 I got my first pre-Christmas zampogna busking of the year the other day (on the 5th). That is unusual because it's too early. You don't show up at the beginning of December with your bagpipes (zampogna) and starting playing Christmas music for coins on the street (busking). But there he was, down from somewhere a few miles north of Naples in the hill country, ideally a small town that still has genuine folk festivals. (I'll feel defrauded if I find out he's my next-door neighbor.) He was decked out in rustic but splendid garb and was playing a burnished instrument that simply shone. The piper usually comes with his partner, a ciaramella (folk oboe) player and they inevitably play a carol called Tu scendi dalle Stelle. (If known at all in English, it is called From Starry Skies Descending.) They symbolize the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke who received the "good tidings of great joy" and then went forth to "glorify and praise God for the things that they had heard and seen." There's an entry on that carol here. There is a complete entry on the bagpipe tradition here. There is separate and shorter entry here as part of the series "Give me that Old-Time Profession!"

(Also see the home page general index under "Christmas.")

(9) Dec. 8 There's nothing worse than intangible pizza. Nevertheless, the craft of the pizzaiuolo (a pizza maker who specializes in vowel toppings) has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List for 2017. In Unesco-ese:

Inscribed in 2017 (on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity)

The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ is a culinary practice comprising four different phases relating to the preparation of the dough and its baking in a wood-fired oven, involving a rotatory movement by the baker. The element originates in Naples, the capital of the Campania Region, where about 3,000 Pizzaiuoli now live and perform. Pizzaiuoli are a living link for the communities concerned. There are three primary categories of bearers – the Master Pizzaiuolo, the Pizzaiuolo and the baker – as well as the families in Naples who reproduce the art in their own homes. The element fosters social gatherings and intergenerational exchange, and assumes a character of the spectacular, with the Pizzaiuolo at the centre of their ‘bottega’ sharing their art. Every year, the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli organizes courses focused on the history, instruments and techniques of the art in order to continue to ensure its viability...
Anyway, big celebrations in town with free pizza. There are 7 entries on "Pizza" in the index (look under P!) including this intellectual affront on Samuel Morse and the Semiotics of Pizza. Eat you heart out. Great topping.

(10) Dec. 13 'BREAD-'PLATES, not 'BREAD-plates

   That is, the plates are made of bread (!) not made to hold bread.


   Just think what the Earl of Sandwich missed by not calling his contraptions Grain-based dinnerware!

It's not really that new of an idea, even though a local paper got excited enough to call it "revolutionary," "sustainable," "ecological," "tree-hugging," and "a good idea."

In the heart of the Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park, 100 km south of the city of Salerno, but still in the province of Campania, the small town of Sanza (image, left) perches at about 500 meters above the Tanagro valley and the A-3, the main north-south autostrada from Rome to the south. Sanza is in the coastal Cilento "bulge" that sticks out into the Tyrrhenian Sea and separates the gulfs of Salerno and Policastro and is much closer (c.10 km) to the southern gulf. Sanza was and still is famous for the quality of the bread. Now, thanks to Angelo Avagiano, a "contemporary farmer" (as he calls himself) who produces an entire array of plates and bowls (pictured) made of grain, you can eat up and then eat the breadware (or whatever it's called). No dishes to wash! The grainbased dishes are made from the same famous grain he has always used and is fired to impermeability in the same wood-fired ovens he uses for his bread. What's for dessert? Probably bread. Maybe that's a problem.

On the other hand, researchers from
La Sapienza university in Rome and the U. of Cal. at San Diego recently interviewed hundreds of 90+-year-old villagers in the Cilento. Their exceptional longevity and good mental health, says the study, appear due to positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land. Friend JM says that is a bunch of touchy-feely fuzzy sociological hooey. He thinks they're juicin' the plates with something. Me? I don't know.

The revolutionary part is that it really is a "no waste" technology. As noted above, there are other ways to do this. There are already high-tech appliances that will bake bread dough into bowls and plates, but they are high-tech gizmos made from plastic and metal and sold by appliance conglomerates such as giant Electrolux in Sweden. Not only do they chop down all those lush, gleaming metal and plastic trees in the northern forests to make a bowl, but the appliances have to be plugged in! Gadzooks.

(11) Dec. 15 The recent study referred to (above) is quite real. It was done by a team of researchers from the La Sapienza university in Rome and the U. of California at San Diego. The researchers actually studied the village of Acciaroli on the coast of Cilento (pictured), not Panza, but there are many articles in geriatric journals that talk about the general longevity and good health of the population of the Cilento area at large. I did a Google search using the search phrase "longevity studies in Italy" and the first dozen articles or so were about the recent study in Acciaroli; there were a few that go back a couple of years, so the question, itself, of why the people in the area live so long is not a new one. Other articles discussed similar places in Italy such as on the island of Sardinia and some were about regions elsewhere in the Mediterranean (including a Greek island where people "forget to die"!) Many of the articles mention that Acciaroli is just 5 km from the coastal village of Pioppi, the place where Ancel Keys lived and did his research on the so-called "Mediterranean diet." This Acciaroli study concentrated on psychological factors that those who live to advanced age seem to share: strong family ties, religious faith, etc. Other studies focus on genetics, diet, exercise and sexual activity Dr. Salvatore Di Somma, a professor of medicine at Sapienza University says that the older inhabitants, male and female, are sexually very active. “At 95, they have brains more like someone who is 50, and at 50, you still think a lot about sex.”

a couple of curiosities about Acciaroli, totally unrelated to how you can live forever! (Sorry.)  They call their port the World Heritage Harbour because it's the largest sea port in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park, all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Look at the coastline of the Cilento "bulge" on the map in the item above this one. Acciaroli and the port are about one-third of the way down that coast line after you come out of the gulf of Salerno, heading south.) And (this is a good one!) "Everyone knows" that Ernest Hemingway visited Acciaroli in the early 1950s and they will all tell you that here is where he met the “Old Man.” Further, he based the character of Santiago in his novel The Old Man and the Sea on local fisherman, Antonio Massarone.
“Everything about him was old except his eyes, and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”
"...based the character of Santiago" makes this some kind of an urban myth, but it's better then the truth (what isn't?). The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952. Hemingway visited Acciaroli in 1953, so the time-line is skewed. Hemingway plausibly did meet his "Old Man," but after the fact, a fisherman who, also plausibly, reminded him of his Santiago, and they often went fishing together. Still a good story, though.

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