Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellaneous page 69 (start mid-February 2018)
link to all Miscellany pages

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.

- - - - - - - - - -

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.

- - - - -

Mar 11  -
Hiking Above the Amalfi Coast

My friends from Napoli Underground (NUg) have spent a few weekends over the winter hiking mountain trails along the Amalfi Coast, also known on the other side as the Sorrentine peninsula. It all depends on your point of  view, obviously. It's a single peninsula with over a dozen communities spread through the Lattari Mountains, the highest peaks of which can run up to 1,400 meters/4200 ft. There are dozens of marked trails to chose from. The idea was to pick two points and hike from one to the other and back, wherever they had left their off-road vehicle. In this case they chose as their point of departure Santa Maria del Castello, a tiny community actually part of the Sorrento-side town of Vico Equense, but perched at 700 meters/2100 feet above the Amalfi-side resort town of Positano. They wanted to hike to the north-east (directly in back of the photographer) along the cliff trail to Mt. Catiello in an area called The Three Points and then turn around. Winter weather didn't cooperate and group leader Fulvio Salvi complained that they didn't even get halfway along the trail before they decided to stop. You are, after all, above steep cliffs and on trails that are slippery when wet. They only covered about 6 km/4 miles, but during occasional breaks in the weather, the view was stunning. He took this photo from directly over Positano (the mass of buildings at the bottom. After that, you see the entire final stretch of the Amalfi coast:  in order, Li Galli islands, Vetara rock, Isca rock, and the isle of Capri hidden way off behind the clouds 20 km (12 mi) in the distance.
photo by NUg
Here is the orignal NUg article at their site with additional photos and information.

Additional information on the Lattari mountains here and here.

- - - - -

The Association of European Migration Institutions

Mar 15  - I call your attention to a very interesting website: AEMI, the Association of European Migration Institutions. In the interest of "creating public awareness and understanding of Europe's migrations: history and heritage," AEMI holds conferences at various sites and publishes an on-line journal of papers  presented at those conferences. The most recent conference was in New York last month and  was entitled Transnationalism and Questions of Identity, part of which was dedicated to "Italy in Movement." At the extreme right of their home page logo bar you will find "links", a long list of organizations that provide information, country by country, on migrations and access to data bases. If you are at all interested in what has been going on in Europe since Europe was Europe (about 1300 years ago ) and, indeed is still going on, spend some time on this site.

- - - - -

Mar 19  -
The Varnishing!

Actually, it's called the vernissage, but my splendid translation makes it sound more like a fantasy horror film, just what you want if you're trying to draw folks into your art show! It's really the "pre-opening" of an art exhibit. The tradition started in the 1800s of staging a preview of the works of living artists. The name presumably comes from the fact that they used to give the paintings a final touch of varnish to protect the newer ones from heavy-handed (and low-brow) visitors just curious to see if the work was "still wet." The preview exhibits could be public or private; in the latter case, they were often called a "private view" in English.

My friends at Opus Continuum, a new art collective in Naples, after months of intense work opened their first exhibit yesterday. There were more people than they had hoped for, music, a short film and lots of paintings (image). It is all in the interest of promoting the medium of contemporary figurative art.
(More details are on an ealrlier previous page, here.) The exhibit is called IMMAGINARIA 2018  and is on the premises of the Casina pompeiana (see item for March 21, directly below this one) on the grounds of the Villa comunale of Naples, the long public park along the seafront east of Mergellina. It runs through April 7. Entrance, free. Hours: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Closed Sunday.

Opus Continuum has a Facebook page with additional photos at

In my day this is how people dressed for these things!

A Private View at the Royal Academy, by William Powell Frith (1819-1909)

 - - - - - -

The Casina Pompeiana

Mar 21 -  This  building is on the grounds of the long seaside park just east of Mergellina, the Villa Comunale of Naples, which was once upon a time the Royal Gardens. The building is on the north side of the park and along the inside road, Riviera di Chiaia. It is 300 meters in from the east entrance at Piazza della Vittoria and is just across the wide internal park promenade from the large Anton Dohrn aquarium and zoological station on the sea side of the park. It's the Casina Pompeiana (Pompei Lodge). Over the entrance is engraved "Belle Arti foundato nel 1861" [Fine Arts founded in 1861]. That is the year of the declaration of the new united kingdom of Italy and here is where the city committed itself to being a vibrant part of the artistic life of the new nation.

The Casina was built in a neo-classical style and originally called the Pompeiorama because it housed a permanent exhibit of paintings of Pompeii. The building was restored in 1891 and became the seat of the Polytechnical Art Society, which hosted regular exhibits. It continued its artistic activities up until shortly after the end of WWII, after which it stalled as the city got more and more involved in rebuilding from the war. Since 1997, however, it has once again been available to the city as a venue for cultural activities. It is spacious and practical. It houses the permanent Archives of Parthenopean [Neapolitan] Song, which stages regular concerts throughout much of the year). The Casina pompeiana is, at this writing, hosting a three-week art exhibit called IMMAGINARIA 2018 (see item directly above this one). It is gratifying to see cultural venues such as this overcome difficulties and survive.
images: top left and bottom right-Studio Dumontet; top right-Fulvio De Marinis

- - - - - -

Mar 24
The image shows the most recent issue of Metro Week --free, large format newsprint, 7 pages stapled at the centerfold (thus, 28 pages). It's full of, and paid for by, tons of ads, and contains human interest tidbits and what's happening this week in Naples. This is issue #10 of their second year in business. They are stacked for the taking at most metro stops, so you'll have something to read while you wait for the train that never comes. Some of the human interest stuff is fun to read. The cover item, for example, "Solo note positive" (Only positive notes) tells us that the city is installing a dozen or so pianos around town (the ones in the image are at the colonnade of the church of San Francesco di Paola across Piazza del Plebiscito from the Royal palace.  Anyone can just sit down and play. They've done this before. It gets very lively. Lots of fun. And here's an item about how they're going to spruce up the iconic Angevin Fortress (Maschio angioino) at the port. They do that a lot. Big tourist attraction. It pays to make it look nice. Wait a minute. "Bomb from the Great War found." That's World War One, kids. Yes, there was a war before number 2. It's strangely written and remarkably uninformative, no doubt penned (or thumbed) by a millennial for whom the 20-year gap between the World Wars means that it was just, like, all one big war, anyway, right, dude? The lead is: "On the 100th anniversary of the first bombing of Naples, a bomb from WW1 has been found in the Bourbon Tunnel." Then there's a picture of the members of the bomb squad holding (!) the bomb. The news item didn't just bury the lead, they left it out altogether. They make it sound as if this is unexploded ordnance from the first bombing of Naples, of which (read between the lines) there were many... (in WW1?). No, there weren't. There was exactly one. From a Zeppelin, and this thing they found has nothing to do with that. They've conflated World Wars 1 and 2. The real bombing of Naples (and it was considerable) was in WW2. So after leaving you to wonder  how a bomb dropped on the city in WWI wound up in the Bourbon Tunnel, they reveal the disappointing fact that the city produced munitions for the First War and stored them down there. Interesting, I guess, but they missed the story. Oh, here's my train.
- - - - - -

Mar 25 - Nature Hikes from Napoli Underground (NUg)

This photo is an obvious relative of the one at "Hiking above the Amalfi Coast" (the fifth entry, for March 11, on this page, above). This one, however, is from an article in 2014 that I forgot to translate! (I am the primary translator for the organization.) The trekking stalwarts had set out to discover if this so-called "Trail of the Gods" was really all it's cracked up to be; that is, one of the most scenic, yet civilized, almost leisurely, enjoyable and totally do-able trails in all of Italy. Their conclusion? It is. I don't how I missed this one when they wrote it, but my complete translation is on their site here.  And this link will take you to another page on the NUg site with a list of almost 50 articles I have translated for them over the last few years. Most are about the immediate area, but sometimes they go nuts and wind up elsewhere. Even in Iceland.
   - - - - - - -

Man Does Not Live by Casatiello Alone, but it's a Good Start

Mar 31- In Roman Catholic and most Protestant Christian communities, today is commonly known as Holy Saturday (Italian: Sabato Santo). It is the last day of Holy Week. There are other names depending on which Christian community you are taking about: Joyous Saturday, Easter Even, and others. Unsurprisingly it is also called the Saturday Before Easter. Don't confuse it with Easter Saturday, the Saturday after Easter. I don't think there is a culinary name for today but there probably should be, at least in Naples, since there are specific traditional foods for the days before Easter, and they may be specific to the day. That is, zuppa di cozze (mussel soup) has to be eaten on Thursday, absolutely. If you are allergic to hepatitis (as am I) avoid it, which I did. I'm not sure about the foods for the other days. There is something called la fellata, a plate of cold cuts and different cheeses, one of which unfortunately is salted (!) ricotta, which I don't like. Also, fellata, is the name of a pastoral and nomadic people of western Africa; they are traditionally cattle herders of the Muslim faith. This so confusing that I avoid that one, as well.

Being a language nut, I also avoid things with names I don't understand, such as minestra maritata. It's a broth with vegetables and a big chunk of meat in it. It does not mean "husband (marito) soup" and until I understand why not, I avoid that one, too. And so forth. Today, however, I shall chow myself down on Casatiello, a "rustic" cake, the opposite of "sweet" -- those are the two divisions for anything baked from bread dough. Casatiello has hard-boiled eggs in it (you peel those before eating them, I think). Also, bits of cheese and meat. The name is a diminutive of "home", thus a little home-cooked rustic cake. Mine will not be home-cooked, but hark! I hear the coach approaching on the cobble stones now. That'd better be my casatiello. It should look like the one in the image (above). If it doesn't or if I am still hungry, Orthodox Easter is next Sunday. I'll convert on Wednesday.

- - - - - -

Into Each Art Exhibit Some Human Interest Must Fall

Apr 16 - The good news is that the IMAGINARIA 2018 exhibit referred to above (entries for March 19 and 21) has had such an enthusiastic response that it is likely to be extended for a second time. The better news is that there is no bad news. But Selene has just sent me this potentially more good news:

A strange thing happened yesterday. On the way down to the Casina we found a small bird at curbside on the Riviera di Chiaia. It was apparently injured and was jumping around, unable to fly. It was beautiful! I managed to pick it up carefully and carry it over to the Casina where we found a box to put it in. I called the LIPU [Italian League for the Protection of Birds] and they advised me to take it over to the veterinary clinic near the Frollone metro station. We found out that the little thing was a Collared Flycatcher [ficedula albicollis], quite rare. I read on the web: "The reproductive area of the Collared Flycather is eastern Europe. It is a migratory species and like all flycatchers undertakes a long and dangerous journey to reach its wintering area in Africa, almost always south of the equator." Who knows how it wound up at curbside along Riviera di Chiaia? Let's hope he makes it. Maybe he was just worn out from the journey or was wounded in some fashion. Tomorrow I'll give the vet a call. Their specialty is saving wild species. Let's hope for the best.
(Later) This just in from Selene: "Mission completed. Just got back from the clinic. Indeed, a Collared Fly Catcher. Adult male. They'll let us know more in a few days."

p.s. I have a good idea for a painting.

- - - - - -
"Stand by to Repel Brothers!"

Apr 20 -
If we could go back and hand this story to Gilbert and Sullivan, we might get a rousing, rollicking musical tale of the sea, a steam-punk H.M.S Pinafore up in far distant 2018. Indeed, what jolly good times they are bound to be! -- why, those lads will have electricity! balloon flights to the moon! contaminated water! Except it doesn't rollick very much, it isn't really that funny (for reasons that will become clear), and people aren't sure just what happened. At least not my neighbor. "They kicked a U.S. nuclear sub out of the port of Naples today. I saw it on TV," said friend Giacomo.

Not really. What he saw was an archive video of the USS John Warner (SSN-785) a Virginia-class submarine of the United States Navy. The image (below) shows the  Warner in the Ionian Sea (that's the one below the boot of Italy) during a recent NATO exercise. She was commissioned on 1 August 2015. The vessel supports 40 weapons, special operations forces, and unmanned undersea vehicles. The Virginia-class attack submarine is the U.S. Navy’s newest undersea warfare platform and has the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering and weapons systems. Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships as well as project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles. She has virtually unlimited range. The hull classification SSN stands for "submarine, nuclear," meaning it is powered by a nuclear reactor. About a month ago, the Warner fired six Tomahawk cruise missiles in strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

The only lighthearted moment was that the archive video Giacomo saw was accompanied by a narration of the correspondence between Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris and Rear Admiral Arturo Faraone, head of the city's port authority. The mayor complained that the admiral had given this very same vessel permission to pass through the Gulf of Naples on March 20, following a two-week NATO exercise. Then the mayor said that he [the mayor] had "designated the city a denuclearized zone [and] prohibited docking and parking of any vessel that is nuclear-powered or contains nuclear weapons" and had declared Naples a "city of peace." The admiral responded that "decisions regarding the arrival and/or transit of foreign military naval units in national territorial waters" did not fall under the mayor's jurisdiction, but that of the Italian Ministry of Defense. The admiral pointed out that the USS John Warner had not entered the port of Naples, itself, but had passed about three and a half miles out from the port last month and then left from Gibraltar ahead of the attack on Syria. Further messages from the Defense Ministry reminded the mayor that Italy and the U.S. are both part of the NATO alliance bound by treaty and Status of Forces agreements and not by municipal declarations of kumbayah peace, love & benevolence. Italy provided steadfast logistical support for the strikes in Syria.

It was evident that the mayor knew he had no real power in this and was just "making a statement." Such no-nuke declarations mean different things in different places and circumstances. Some sovereign nations (New Zealand, Palau, etc.) have the power to say no to nukes and have done so. But the mayor of Naples knows (I hope) that his city is not a sovereign state. He said that he felt an obligation to speak out and that he has a right to do so. He does.
- - - - - - -

home page     previous miscellany page, #68  
© 2002 to 2018