Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews 

Miscellany p. 74
link to all Miscellany pages

started July 2019  

1. -
July 9
Mens lassa in corpore lasso. A tired mind in a tired body. (Thank you Latin Lady, Suzanne Toll!) The admirable 30th Summer Olimpiade (the Student Summer Olympic Games) are progressing nicely with college-age kids running, jumping and swimming at venues throughout the city (including the athletic track and field at the former NATO base in Bagnoli). In the meantime, everyday heroes on their way to work and back on the narrow-gauge iron horse called the Circumvesuviana are giving as good as they get. Their events play out along the stretch of track from Naples to Vesuvius and south to Sorrento. At one point a few days ago they were stuck for 40 minutes in a tunnel and whiled away their time inventing their own Olympics -- called the Vesuvianiadi (accent on the ni) --to honor themselves, "participants in the Vesuvian Games") They dummied up their poster, a 5-color pennant alongside the train (image). The train ride itself is their main event: The Napoli-Sorrento Marathon. Other events include the elderly or disabled being carried from one train to another by train personnel (I'm not sure who gets the medals on that one); the triple-jump from a stalled passenger escalator; the 100-meter dash from the station at Nola to the one at Piazza Garibaldi; Stone Throwing at Passing Trains (by punks along the track); and the ever popular Greco-Roman Wrestling with the thief who has just grabbed your bag. Acquatic events include Diving into Sweat. One little English tourist lass was heard to exclaim, "Mummy dear, this is the worst train in the whole world, isn't it?" Mummy barked, "WHAT?! Shut UP! Go ask your father! Here, have a cigarette."        

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2. -
July 10 - Boats of the Bay '19
She's back. You may recall this from the original boat page. Ocean Victory, still a beauty. Not been here in a few years. Sigh.

Just a yacht at twilight, when the lights are low
/ And the flickering shadows softly come and go,
Though the heart be weary, sad the day and long / Still to us at twilight comes love's old song,
My yacht, Ocean Victory, 249 feet long

My overventilated enthusiasm for big boats and parody of a grand old song, Just a Song at Twilight (or Love's Old Sweet Song, 1884, music, J.L. Molloy, lyrics, G.C. Bingham) caused friend Larry Ray (whose many comments on Naples you may read here) to grow equally breathless:
Imagine everyone in evening wear, black tie with champagne glasses eternally filled, mingling and taking the night air on the aft second deck as lights from the panorama that is Naples begin to twinkle on. The entrance to the formal salon for dining just behind them is an arc of deck-to-overhead glass through which may be seen serving staff in white livery placing crystal flutes of varying sizes and heights at each place setting. Beef Wellington with puff pastry embracing a fine Parisian paté is just the beginning of the three hour meal, and each seat at the table has a wonderful view of the glittering Bay of Napoli and its coastlines.
  Larry, himself no stranger to immortal sea chanties, had cited the opening of one of the greatest of all buccaneer ballads, which I repeat here:  "Livery placing crystal flutes (doo-dah, doo-dah)"

Other information about Ocean Victory:  the yacht is owned by Viktor Rashnikov, Russian billionaire and majority owner of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works, one of the world's leading steel producers. Ocean Victory is ranked as the tenth largest private yacht in the world, ordered in 2010, delivered in 2014. The builder, the Ficantieri yards, are in Trieste. The vessel is not for charter.
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3. - July 11 - Boats of the Bay '19. Together at last.

I was just trying to get these two together with favorable lighting conditions. And I bade the setting sun stand still in the heavens for a second and, yea, it worked. The big boat (75.75m/249 ft) is Ocean Victory, described above, and the smaller (50.50m/166 ft) shimmering blue sailing vessel (that usually looks black unless the light is right) on the left is Better Place, described in detail on the last Miscellany page at this link.
The other two boats on the right asked me if they could stay and I said 'yes'.

(more Boats at Aug.5, below)

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4. - July 12  - (This box also appears in an earlier separate item about the island of Delos.)

Mystery of the Cyclades

Greece and the Cyclades                

Everyone knows at least a little bit about ancient Egypt, right? They came before the ancient Greeks and had pyramids and mummified pharaohs. That's all you need. The ancient Greeks? They had Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, A2+B2=C2, Zeus and a few other divine hangers-on. Congratulations. You have passed Ancient History 101 and will get your "bare-bones participation certificate" if I don't forget to mail it.

But what about the Cyclades, that group of Greek islands (image), totally wrapped in mystery but one of the great movers of early European culture even before the Bronze Age (c. 3,000 BC)? What? They had pyramids! What? Great art, too (image), and links to the south (Crete) and likely to the west (Sicily). These islands are the center of active archaeological research to uncover the real beginnings of ancient Greek civilization. The investigations are called the Keros project and reveal "the largest prehistoric marine transport operation that has ever come to light anywhere in the world," says Dr Julian Whitewright, a leading maritime archaeologist at the University of Southampton. The ancient transport undertaking meant hauling 10,000 tons of white marble from Naxos, an island some 6.5 miles (11 km) away. Archaeologists say it would have taken over 3,500 trips with 24 sailors rowing solidly for five hours in open water, all to reshape a tiny island into a sacred pyramid. It was part of a worldwide explosion of monumental building. The ruined pyramid of Keros (known today as Dhaskalio) is roughly the same age as Stonehenge, the lost city of Eridu in Iraq, and the earliest pyramids in Egypt. Why Delos? That has yet to be determined. So maybe you've been to Greece and even the Cyclades -- that is, you've been to that tourist trap Mykonos. Golly. You tourist.

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5. - July 19  - Too many Charleses?
Statue of Charles III in Piazza del Plebiscito.     
I have mentioned Marius Kociejowski [MK] before. He has an upcoming book (soon I hope), The Serpent Coiled in Naples. The wait is driving me crazy, but maybe that is the goal of a writer who says that Naples appeals to his "inner spiritual anarchy". This is the first in a series of excerpts from that book. For purposes of listing the chapters by short titles in the excerpts table (below), I have used convenient reference subtitles. Here I simply listed Ch. 1-Intro. The author's own original title was the name of his book. Thus: from

The Serpent Coiled in Naples

On  Via Tribunali one can step into the Pontano Chapel built in 1492 by the humanist Giovanni Pontano in memory of his wife Adriana Sassone. In 1759, the kingdom of Naples was Carlo di Borbone (otherwise known as Carlo III, King Charles III of Spain, Charles V, Charles VII, and simply Charles. Such intricacies are better left to the historian to disentangle...
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These are the chapters in Marius Kociejowski's The Serpent Coiled in Naples that currently have small excerpts on Naples, Life, Death & Miracles. There is also an extra item from the same author.

Ch.1 - introduction (above) -  Ch.2 - An Octopus in Forcella Ch.3 - Listening to Naples  - Ch.4 - Lake Averno -
Ch. 5- Street music - Ch.6 - Leopardi - Ch.7 - R.di Sangro  - Ch.8 - Old Bones - Ch.9 - The Devil  - Ch.10- Signor Volcano -  
Ch.10 (2)  -    Ch.11- Pulcinella  -    Ch.12 - Boom -   Ch.13 - Two Women   -  Ch.14- The Ghost Palace
Ch.15- An Infintesimal Particle - (extra) Riccardo Carbone, photographer.

Indeed, the many names of Charles III. Thus it is not that there are too many Charleses, but too many names --titles, really-- for the same Charles, and Kociejowski deftly and wisely leaves it to historians to figure them all out. That is probably the second biggest problem in European historiography from the year 1700. The biggest one has to do with another Charles, Charles II (November 1661 – 1 November 1700), also known as El Hechizado (Bewitched -- because of his physical deformities) in Spain, where he was born and where he lived and died. He never set foot in Naples, but was known there simply and affectionately as il Reuccio, the Little King. There is an entry on him here. You will see at that link how the difficulties involving his inheritance touched off the Wars of the Spanish Succession. It is not as dry as it sounds. It was the WWI of its day, far-reaching and bloody. I have written this just to assure you -- the next time you read that Charles III was really Charles the Someteenth Else-- in Naples he was originally called Charles III of Spain and then Charles III,  OR, more interestingly, he was also known simply as Charles of Bourbon -- with no ordinal number (termed a "regnal number). Then you have arrived. No number needed. This showed the importance of the fact that he was the only Spanish king ever to reside in Naples. He was just Charles. That's all you needed.
[This item also appears in a separate box near the beginning of the first entry on The Bourbons.]

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6. Aug. 15 - (Boats of the Bay) Lots of masts out there this morning. "Real" sailors probably like the two dead-tree rafts in front, the Trinakria  and the Zanziba. Peasants. I draw your eye to the wallet-stopping Maltese Falcon, a so-called "Dynaship"--the automatic sailing ship of the future, with carbon-fiber masts and self-furling sails stored within the masts. The vessel is 88 m (289 ft.) long. The ship was launched in 2006 and sold in 2009 to Greek godzillionairess, Elena Ambrosiadou. She lives in London and is founder of the Cyprus-based hedge fund Ikos. She studied chemical  engineering in the UK, is beautiful and has brains like she has money -- lots of. The Maltese Falcon was built by Perini Navi yards in Viareggio, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey. She is one of the largest private sailing yachts in the world at 88 m (289 ft). The dynaship concept is an invention of German hydraulics engineer Wilhelm Prölss and was meant to operate commercial freight sailing ships with as small a crew as possible. The ship has fifteen square sails (five per mast) stored inside the masts; they fully unfurl into tracks along the yards in six minutes. The three carbon fiber masts are free-standing and rotate.

The interior was designed by British architect Ken Freivokh. She (the boat, not Elena) fits up to 12 guests in five lower-deck staterooms and one upper-deck VIP cabin. She comes with various "toys and tenders,"  (I'm not sure what that is, but me timbers are already shivering) including two motorboats, four sailboats, and Jet Skis. She's fast: Maximum speed under sail is nearly 25 knots. Range of 4,000 nautical miles and cruising speed of 15 knots under motor power. Someone (not me) called The Maltese Falcon "a big boatload of ego". (And your point?)
Elena rents this thing out for $540,000 a week. There are a lot of takers. Elena is almost never aboard, because her hedge fund really keeps her trimming. But you can try:  IMO number 9384552;  MMSI 249555000. Call sign  9HUQ9. Port of  registry: Malta. Displacement, 1,240 t; Propulsion:  2 × Deutz TBD 620. Extra perk after you're all very drunk: in the evenings, dinner is followed by a movie projected onto one of the sails. If you mention my name I will track you down and get Elena to keelhaul you. Talk about an extra perk.  

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7. Aug 16 - Just jewelry? Not really.
Section V at the archaeological site of Pompeii continues to show off. Some of the most recent points of interest may be reviewed at this consolidated Pompeii page (towards the bottom). The most recent find-- "a treasure trove of jewelry" -- as reported in various sources is perhaps misleading. It sounds spectacular! It is -- alas & ho-hum -- just unbelievably interesting because it shows you something you're never seen before -- and probably never thought about: items used by everyday women (not fairy-tale princesses and such, just good  women -- like our wives). Those working the site in the House of the Garden found a hinged wooden box -- lying where it fell when they all tried to flee The Eruption. Now they've looked in the box and found "jewellery, glass beads, phallic amulets, figurines, mirrors, pieces of bronze, bone, amber and good luck charms that "provide insight  into 'the female world' of ancient Rome." To be sure, if you take the time to examine the items piece by piece, you see what an eclectic, syncretistic culture ancient Rome was: here is something from Greece, and  there ...wait... that piece is not just any doo-dad, for example, it's a figurine of Harpocrates, the god of silence, adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus, who represented the newborn sun, rising  each day at dawn. And so forth. I don't know if the lady of the house thought much about any of that when she heard the sounds of Vesuvius waking up. Maybe she just hastily swept it all into that box, closed it and ran. At some point the collection will  be put on display at the Pompeii site.
photo: Cesare Abbate, ANSA. Thanks to Jeff Miller for calling my attention to this.

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8. Aug 28 -
The Beautiful Weird Danube

If all you know of the Blue Danube is that it is likely the most popular waltz ever composed (Johann Strauss, Jr. 1825-99) then pull your rocker closer to the hearth and harken. Take the word "Blue" the river winds from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, and if that coincidence isn't ominus, than I have lost my ability to spell. The Danube flows southeast for 2,850 km (1,770 mi) through 10 countries, more than any other river in the world.
Ok, start paying attention because your survival may depend on it. As the river flows through Serbia it passes through a gorge known as the Iron Gates, a passage of 134 km (83 mi) separating the southern Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkans (not far from Belgrade about halfway along). Of interest to us is the large archeological complex known as Lepenski Vir (Vir means "whirlpool" in Serbian), first discovered in the early 1960s. It is dated at 6300–6000 BC and called by some sources "the first city in Europe" due to its permanence and to the sophistication of its architecture. Lepenski Vir consists of one large settlement with around 10 satellite villages. Numerous piscine sculptures have been found at the site. That's right — fish. Sort of (image, below). Look again — it's a hybrid of a fish and a human. About 100 such sandstone blocks have been found engraved either with these fish-people — simple faces, wide round eyes and down-turned open mouths, or with totally abstract designs, plausibly held by some archeologists and linguists to be symbolic — that is, early writing. (See Marija Gimbutas.)
DNA analysis that trace patterns of human migration, chemical analyses of bones and pottery, and studies of burial practices place the site at the moment when farmers from the Near East began to migrate into southeastern Europe and met the hunters and gatherers who already lived there. The conclusion is that that the site marks the meeting and mixing of two cultures and peoples when they started to mix and intermarry. This mixed group is now called the Iron Gates culture or Lepenski Vir culture. The site has a museum that you can visit and the National Museum in Belgrade has a section dedicated to it.
All that is standard, fascinating archeology and history. Conspiracy theorists, however, have stopped eating fish and are watching the skies for the next wave of alien fish-human hybrids. And they're bringing hooks, lines, and sinkers. One of them has your name on it, you fools!

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9.  Sept 6 -

IMMAGINARIA 2020 - In Search of the Golden Bough

Artists of the Opus Continuum collective have presented an ambitious two-part program for their upcoming edition. (Earlier editions are here, here, and here.) Next month they are going to lead you around sites in the Campi Flegrei (Flegrean Fields) in Pozzuoli and Cuma associated with the mythical entrance to Hell. (If they find it, you can probably forget part two, a mammoth art show next year documenting part one.) I know this is difficult to follow, but if you still know how to look stuff up, you will see that a golden bough is a tree branch made of a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. If this is already too hard for you, stay home. The term is taken from an incident in the Aeneid* by Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BC), which narrates the adventures of the Trojan hero, Aeneas, after the Trojan War in which Aeneas and the Sibyl present the golden bough to the gatekeeper of Hades to gain admission. Why do they want to get into Hell? Heh-heh, wouldn't you like to know!?
[painting above, left: Aeneas defeats Turnus by
Neapolitan painter, Luca Giordano (1634-1705)]

*[ed.note: SPOILER ALERTS! If you already know all this, goodie for you. The Aeneid tells of Aeneas, one of the few Trojans not killed or enslaved when Troy fell. Fleeing fallen Troy, he gathers a group (called the Aeneads) who travel west to Italy and become progenitors of the Romans. Aeneas is cast as an ancestor of Romulus and Remus. Aeneas was the first true hero of ancient Rome. Question: what was Augustus Caesar's favorite verse in the AeneidProbably Book 6, verse CV (below, in The Aeneid of Virgil, transl. by E. Fairfax Taylor (1907).
(No, Augustus read it in Latin. The translation is for your benefit. Please, pay attention.)

See now thy Romans; thither bend thine eyes,/
And Caesar and Iulus' race behold,/

Waiting their destined advent to the skies./ This, this is he long promised, oft foretold/
Augustus Caesar. He the Age of Gold,/God-born himself, in Latium shall restore,/
And rule the land, that Saturn ruled of old,/ And spread afar his empire and his power/
To Garamantian tribes, and India's distant shore.

                                    [related item: Virgil in Naples]

Selene Salvi, of Opus Continuum, writes:

Just like our Trojan hero, will have to face a terrifying and fascinating journey of self-discovery. We shall each search for our own personal bough among the dense trees near Cuma for the key that unlocks the entrance to Hell. Let us not forget that the ancient gods, forcibly torn from their natural homes, found refuge in our very souls and, as modern psychoanalysis tells us, are at the root of our problems. We shall thus move along two tracks, one strictly linked to myth and to the history of this landscape, while the other sees us descend to find our own personal Underworld.

If you are not scared by any of this, you clearly need help. Part 1, the outings around Cuma and Pozzuoli to look for Hell, is in October. If you survive you can go to the art show, theatrical performances, and discussions that, with any luck, will be in May in the Archaeological Museum of the Campi Flegrei in the Baia Castle way out to hell and gone at the western end of the bay. As far as your fears and neuroses go, you may (or may not) find the protocatarcical cause as to why you are afraid of going to hell!

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  Sept 13 - 
Today is Friday the 13th! And I say, SO WHAT! That's right, bring it on! The number 13 is lucky (!) in Italy (and in a number of cultures in the world). In Naples and the Campania region, all superstitious nut-bags (except me knock on wood), if you think your luck has changed for the worse you might say "tredici" (13)  to exhort your good luck to return. The day to worry about here is Friday the 17th! It is so unlucky that disaster will strike you if you even attempt to look it up and see when the next Friday the 17th occurs, and I have not done so. And that goes for those idiot savants, too, who can tell you what day of the week any date in history was, will be or never was, all in a split second. If they even think of telling you when the next Friday the 17th is, they die just like that. The Friday part? Christ was crucified on a Friday. In ancient Rome, it was the day for executions and also the day when Romans paid their taxes (pretty much the same thing). The number 17 is unlucky because if you write 17 with Roman numerals as XVII, you can juggle that into Latin letters to read VIXI; in Latin that means "I have lived" and is the past perfect tense/aspect (i.e. it describes a finished action); thus, "I have lived and am done living. My life is over." So, put Friday and 17 together and you have a very unlucky day! In the smorfia, the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams as numbers to bet on in the lottery, the number 17 is associated with disgrazia, that is, an accident or disaster. Thus in Naples if you dream of a disaster, bet on 17 as one of your numbers, but know that if you place a bet on 17, that is itself bad luck. (Look, this was never meant to be easy!) I'm not sure if the word for "fear of Friday the 17th" is friggaheptakaidekaphobia or friggadekaheptaphobia. Frigga was the Norse goddess  "Friday" is named for. I should stop now. It would be just my Frigga-luck if my computer started to... x^ci*%tzk! ...

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