Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

  © Jeff Matthews   entry Dec. 2018
Miscellany73 - started 29,  Dec. 2018
Link to all Miscellany pages


1.  Dec. 29  - The recent (Dec.26) eruption of Mt. Etna (image) and simultaneous earthquake in the area near Catania and the eruption on the island of Stromboli north of Sicily have naturally set people to asking if the two eruptions are related. No. They are two different systems. Stromboli is part of the Tyrrhenian "ring of fire" north of Sicily that extends up to and includes Naples and the Flegrean Fields. Etna is actually an extension of the Apennine mountain chain that runs the length of Italy. They're separate; it's just that both are very active, so one should not be surprised if they happen to erupt at the same time every once in a while. As far as Etna goes, this is typical for the area -- periodic tectonic movements and eruptions feeding off each other. It starts with a tectonic process that breaks a magma chamber in Etna and releases magma as an eruption, usually laterally, that is, at some point farther down on the slopes. The terrain around the emptied chamber will probably slide, collapsing more earth around it and creating an imbalance in the entire system, producing the quake. Usually the quakes are more towards the surface. They can cause significant damage but in a limited area. This kind of reciprocal action between seismic and volcanic activity has been frequent over the years. The Etna eruption did not cause severe injury or deaths but did cause significant damage to some structures in the town of Fleri (part of the municipality of Zafferana etnea) where it collapsed part of the facade of the church of Santa Venerana, toppling the statue of that saint. Ironically, she is the patron saint that guards against earthquakes. Etna is messing with us again.

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2.  Dec. 31 - Tonight is New Year's Eve. I usually spend the day wondering and worrying if Naples will once again walk off (or stump off) with the coveted Shredded Body Parts Prize for most injuries from fireworks. "We're number 1... we're number!..." Tonight, however, I shall just grab an abandoned dog (they're everywhere) and we can both crawl beneath the bed and -- as it says in Ecclesiastes -- "Yea, we shall quiver together".

Viaggo in Italia (part 2)


I'll talk about something else. This a supplement to an item on the previous Miscellany page (72) at this link, an item about Robert Rosselini's film, Viaggio in Italia. (You may wish to review that before continuing.) I made the point that the film is boring and revolutionary. At a certain point in the film, morose and melancholy co-star Ingrid Bergman tours a few sites in Naples to try to unbore herself a bit. She goes, for example, to the Fontanelle cemetery and ossuary (bone yard).  For some reason, that doesn't do the trick. But there is one scene in which she seems excited and  enthusiastic. (I glossed over it in part 1.) She is led by a guide through the Solfara sulfur pits near Pozzuoli. (Fumaroles are venting at a few points and the site has been used as the Inferno in some films. The guide then shows her an example of what he calls "ionization" by shining a flash-light (torch) into one of the vents and even holding a burning cigarette next to the same vent. In both cases, every other vent in the area goes beserk, all at once spouting sulfur steam. "Oh, look at that!" she says excitedly. She actually laughs. It is the happiest break from domestic drear in the entire film (if you don't count the thigh-slapping happy ending in which they agree to try not to hate each other any more).

I think the answer to that flaring up phenomenon at the solfatara (shown, left) -- "ionization"-- involves terminology normally found in discussions of astronomy, in which very large amounts of hydrogen are ionized or deionized. But at the solfara, the gas is not just hydrogen, but hydrogen sulfide (H2S), the stuff that smells like rotten eggs. An ion is an atom or molecule that has a non-zero net electrical charge. Since the charge of the electron (considered "negative") is equal and opposite to that of the proton (considered "positive"), the net charge of an ion is non-zero due to its total number of electrons being unequal to its total number of protons. So at solfatara the combined (connected) chambers containing hydrogen sulfide are in equilibrium-- that is, it may be considered one huge cloud of hydrogen sulfide. The fumaroles may leak up and off, as they do, but they don't disturb the general ionic equilibrium. You disturb that by holding a heat or light source to one vent. That starts the process of ionization going by which an atom or a molecule (not ions, but atoms and molecules just hanging around as part of the gas) acquires a negative or positive charge by gaining or losing electrons to form ions. It's like setting off a string of firecrackers. The process of ionization sets up what is called an ionic front; it moves at 10km per second. That's fast enough to make those flare-ups look instantaneous as they shoot out of their vents and become part of the general atmosphere.

Hmmmm. I wonder if that is correct. If it is, send me my Nobel Prize, pronto. I should note that correspondent and good friend of this website, Jeff Miller, actually saw a demonstration of this at the Solfatara some years ago where a guide used a burning newspaper to set off the process. Jeff is said to have exclaimed with typical midwestern overstatement, "Golly." I have not seen it personally, and I thank him for his contribution. If I have not described the process accurately,
please let me know.

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3. 
Jan 1 - With all hospitals and first responders reporting, it was more or less par for the course. To me, it actually seemed subdued (from my vantage point under the bed). I wasn't paying attention.There were 37 injuries in the province of Naples, which includes the capital of the province, itself, the city of Naples. That is one fewer than last year, so gooooo team! In the city of Naples, itself, there were 23 injuries. Typically, most injuries are to the hands, face, and eyes. (They range from superficial burns and boo-boos to missing fingers and, this year, a missing hand. You can lose an eye or be blinded.) There were no deaths, but there was one serious injury to a 37-year-old woman in the town of Sant'Agata dei Goti in the province of Benevento when a sky-rocket exploded inside a temporary structure set up to accommodate revellers. Someone set it off at the stroke of midnight and she took it directly to the chest. She is in critical condition.

An ambulance in service for the night was damaged by various explosives purposely (!) tossed at it in Pianura. That report comes from an association that really exists called "Nessuno tocchi Ippocrate" (roughly: Leave Hippocrates Alone!), formed to try to get hoodlums not to attack first response vehicles of the health services. The association reports that in 2018, there  were 82 such attacks in the province of Naples. And someone tried to rob a bank by blowing the ATM machine off its foundations and loading it onto their small flatbed truck with a crane that they happened to have handy (Never leave home without one!)  The coppers, however, chased them down, got back the loot-o-matic and actually apprehended one of the n'er-do-wells. So, all in all -- subdued.

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Befana for Refugees

4. Jan. 6 -
Today is Sunday, January 6, the 12th Day of Christmas, the Epiphany (from Greek, meaning appearance or manifestation). It is the feast day in Western Christianity
that marks the visit of the Magi ("Wise Men from the east" in Matthew 2:1) to the Christ Child. In Italy it is also known as Befana, (usually shown as a witch-like crone) plausibly a bit of linguistic sleight-of-tongue from "epiphany." It is the last "gift-giving" day of the holiday season, remembered in the English-singing world as "Twelve Something Something." The day is eagerly awaited by children (and no doubt by parents, who are finally out of money anyway.) A gift from Befana came a day early yesterday when the rescue ship Sea Watch docked in Naples with 32 refugees aboard after spending two weeks at sea looking for a port that would take them. (The rescue ship is run by Proactiva Open Arms, a Spanish non-governmental organization. She cruises a given area in the Mediterranean waiting for distress calls.) The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, issued a statement welcoming them and giving an email address where citizens can indicate their willingness to provide lodging, money, transportation, food and medicine. All this, of course, is contrary to the declaration by leaders of the current "populist" government of Italy (elected largely on a single-issue anti-immigration platform) that Italian ports are closed to immigrants. This kind of confrontation goes on quite a bit between the federal government and the city of Naples. The last time was when the mayor heard that a U.S. nuclear-powered vessel would be passing across the Bay of Naples, but he, the mayor, had declared Naples a nuke-free, peace, love and kumbaya city, dude. The Italian Ministry of Defence informed the mayor that Naples was part of Italy and that he could take his declaration and...  (the next part was garbled in transmission). Win some, lose some.

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4. Jan. 18 -  This entry comes from Marius Kociejowski. He lives in London and is a friend to this website, a poet, essayist and all-round magical maker of words. He is author of travel books with titles as delightful as Zoroaster's Children. That one was my favorite title until this next one, The Serpent Coiled in Naples, soon to be published. This look at the life and work of photographer Riccardo Carbone is a short excerpt from that book. I can't wait for the rest. [I have added a single editorial aside about the history of photography— jm.]


Capturing the Soul of Naples


A single man is responsible for what is perhaps the most important visual history of Naples in the 20th century, the photographer Riccardo Carbone (1897-1973) who during his lifetime produced approximately half a million images.

His earliest surviving photograph, dating from 1926, is of the sculptor Vincenzo Gemito working on the bust of the author and musician Raffaele Viviani. Thereafter he took images of whatever presented itself to him, there being no subject too big or too small for him: shoeshine boys are on a par with royalty, fishermen with politicians. Among the photographs he took there are haunting images of the devotees to the cult of anime pezzentelle at Fontanelle, Italian soldiers returning from prisoner-of-war camps and emigrants departing Naples for a new life, all the most notable Neapolitan actors and musicians as well as the city’s top cultural figures, the philosopher Benedotto Croce, the playwright Eduardo de Filippo, the film directors Vittorio De Sica and Pier Paolo Pasolini, visitors to Naples such as Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, Rita Hayworth, Gloria Swanson, John Steinbeck, John F. Kennedy, Rita Hayworth, Alfred Hitchcock and Queen Elizabeth, historical events such as the effects of the Irpinia earthquake, the arrival of an elephant from the Sudan, a duel with swords at Solfatara, a well-dressed lady with her pet leopard and Anna Magnani who deserves a category absolutely her own. Most important of all, however, he photographed ordinary people, superbly, among them images of street children, newspaper sellers, fruit and vegetable sellers, etc, etc, and in doing so he captured the soul of Naples. There are many street scenes, enough for the production team from RAI television who spent some weeks researching sites for the highly-acclaimed adaption of Elena Ferrante’s L’amica geniale, Naples as it was during the 1950s.

One of Riccardo Carbone's many thousands of  images is this popular
memory of US President John F. Kennedy in Naples from June, 1963.
Strangely enough for someone whose life was spent revealing people we know little about him other than he was a monarchist, studied chemistry at university, flew an airplane during World War One, a chain smoker and amateur photographer. After a while Il Mattino took him on as a photojournalist and as such he was the first man in Naples to wed news items to images. Very little survives from the pre-war years because, O Italia, a foolish associate of his sold the tens of thousands of photographic glass plates to an American company specialising in hand mirrors. Their loss is immeasurable, but in the years following the war everything has survived although much of it is badly in need of restoration. During the war Carbone escaped Naples, quite literally headed for the hills. Carbone’s son, Renato, who is president of the Associazione Archivio Fotografico Carbone recognised the value of his father’s work at a time when friends and colleagues were advising him to ditch the heavy burden of an archive, which he took with him every time he had to make a move. It was not until 2016 that the association was formed and the images professionally housed in a small office at Via Toledo 406, which researchers can visit by appointment. Although the archive has been saluted by Ministry of Cultural Heritage as being of “particular historical and cultural interest”, it has received virtually no public funding. It is run entirely by volunteers who go to painstaking lengths to conserve the precious images, including their digitisation and cataloguing. Only a fraction of the 500,000 images has been developed and it is a race against time because many of the negatives were in previous years subject to fungi and bacteria and now require immediate attention. The small operation operates by means of crowdfunding, donations and a brilliant scheme whereby one can adopt a photograph, a copy of which is given to the donor. There are many thousands to choose from because Carbone seemed incapable to taking a bad photograph. So if you wish to have a photograph of a school beauty pageant which just happens to include a yet-to-be discovered Sophia Loren then this is the place to go to. Should one wish to arrange a visit one can contact Giovanni Nicois or Letizia Del Pero at (+39) 0812514023.

[ed. note: About the loss of some of Carbone's early glass-plate negatives, readers should note that in the early decades of photography, glass plates were used as negatives; indeed, they were common even into the 1930s, well after the development of the newer celluloid alternatives. The destruction of many thousands of such plates in early photography around the world is a great loss. The prominent example of Matthew Brady, US Civil War photographer, comes to mind. As famous as his work became, many of his plates were sold off for their glass value to function as glass panes in greenhouses, where exposure to direct sunlight soon destroyed whatever images were chemically preserved on them.

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