Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellaneous page 69 (start mid-February 2018)
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Feb 14 - This comes from Fulvio Salvi of Napoli Underground (NUg) who told me of his recent visit to Valongo, a small borgo (mountain town) near Naples, just up the coast and 10 km inland near Sessa Aurunca, not far from Caserta. Fulvio writes

   Fortune led me to meet Giovanni Casale, who, together with his wife Dora, is the real "Deus ex machina" behind the rebirth of Valogno, which he himself describes as "a town 90 persons above sea level." It's a phrase he coined in order to underscore the fact that everyone in the village is contributing to rejuvenating the village--this from a population that is largely elderly... he told me of his project to transform with murals one of the places "...of our old liven up the drab gray that is so often typical of our small towns" and turn it into a colorful and fanciful album of design.

   I spent a few hours wandering among the small streets, courtyards, and the underground canteens, or looking up at the balconies and being surprised and delighted at the variety. It was rather like being a child again and paging through the old books of fairy tales that my father had conserved so carefully.

Here you see a few photos he took. The complete story plus dozens of other  photos are on his Nug website here.

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Feb 14Today is Valentine's Day or Saint Valentine's day, if you prefer. Things have not changed considerably since I first wrote about the celebration of this very un-Neapolitan tradition 15 years ago, here. Now, I think the gigantic heart-shaped boxes cost more than €50, but I'm afraid to ask. In the years that have passed, the holiday has been integrated into the cycle of all other holidays and most persons just assume that it has always been so. I saw late last night the crew down at the local coffee bar loading up for deliveries this morning. It used to be that one guy could do it on his bicycle. Now they hire a small van for the deliveries; it looked like 30 or 40 boxes. It's big business. Today, of course, is also Ash Wednesday. Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, the last Big Blowout Day. Thus, today is the beginning of Lent, repentance; thus again, good Catholics shouldn't eat all that St. Valentine's Day chocolate. The last time St. Valentine's Day (Feb. 14) and Ash Wednesday occurred on the same day was in 1945 (!) and before that 1934, then 1923, and then 1877; the coincidence will occur again in 2024, then 2029 and then ...well it all depends on the fact that Easter is calculated using the lunar calendar, and no one except Jesus and maybe the Easter Bunny knows how to do that. I see some severe theological contradictions here and this worries me greatly. It's a good thing I'm not Catholic and don't like chocolate.


Feb 22
- This is a surprisingly complicated website. The Council of Europe sponsors a number of tours of "discovery" under the rubric The Routes of the Phoenecians. There seem to be about a dozen itineraries. The main website is here. On that site I picked one at random, Hannibal's Pathway in Italy, but there are many others to choose from.


Feb 23
Just Another Roman "Gate to Hell"?  Exotic? Yes. Strange? Yes. Familiar? Very.

The website of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science ran a piece the other day about the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis (pictured) in southwestern Anatolia (modern Turkey), calling it a "gate to hell." This particular gate is a stone doorway leading down to a small closed grotto, below which there was a deep fissure that emitted a visible and lethal mist of volcanic carbon dioxide (CO2). The area is still deadly and birds that fly too close suffocate and die. Says the AAAS,

During the day the sun’s warmth dissipates the gas. But at night the gas—slightly heavier than air—billows out and forms a CO2 “lake” on the sheltered floor. It is particularly deadly at dawn, when the CO2 concentration 40 centimeters above the floor reaches 35%, enough to asphyxiate and kill animals or even people within a few minutes.
The site is adjacent to modern Pamukkale. There were a few such sites spread throughout the Roman Mediterranean and they achieved notoriety that was dealt with through appropriate rituals of propitiation and sacrifice. Modern Pamukkale is the site of popular open-air thermal bath located at one the region’s most geologically active areas.

This rings a bell to anyone familiar with popular Neapolitan tales surrounding the Grotto of the Dog and not faraway, the Solfatara volcano. The former led to Mark Twain's fanciful silliness (which you may read here) as well as to a very recent and real tragedy, reported here, a result of which is that the Solfatara site has been closed.

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