Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Miscellany 75
Started March 2020

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1. Mar. 18, 2020Aid from China

This is not normalcy, but it's a good start. Some help from China for all Italians hit by the Corona virus crisis arrived a few nights ago at the Rome airport. A charter Airbus A-350 from Shanghai landed with 31 tons of medical supplies and a team of 9 doctors —one, a specialist in cardio-pulmonary intensive careand a representative of the Chinese Red Cross. They have all been directly involved in treating corona virus patients in China. This team is similar to one that China has already dispatched to Iraq and Iran. A spokesman for the team said, "Let's just call this solidarity, an expression of the good will that people feel for Italy. A lot of people want to help."

And a different kind of gift for Italy, the Campania region and for Naples in particular also arrived yesterday.The city of Chengdu, capital of the Chinese province of Sichuan, has announced that as of today, 18 March, it is reopening its grand exhibit on Herculaneum -- an Ancient Mediterranean City. They opened it in November but had to close down in the face of the corona crisis. With the announcement came a warm message from the director of the Sichuan museum to the effect that we can get through this together and that love, mutual aid, and cultural exchanges such as this can help to overcome international problems. If all that sounds too gushy and cliché-ridden for you, I suggest you are jaded.
Go wash your hands.




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2. Mar. 19-
Music for all Seasons

There are great songs connected with the seasons: Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma, (English lyrics by Johnny Mercers); the Gershwins' Summertime; The immortal Ancient Song by Ezra Pound ("Winter is acummen in...Raineth drop and staineth slop..."); and my favorite, Spring Starts Tomorrow. No, really, March 20, 03:50 (GMT Greenwich Mean Time or not quite UTCUniversal Temporal Conspiracy). The Sun crosses the celestial equator going northward; it rises exactly due east and sets exactly over there somewhere. Also called the spring equinox or vernal equinox, it will be earlier than it’s been in over a century! That has to do the heavens and calendars (more on calendars here).

I remember in my college band, way back in the caves, when members of the reed section (clarinets, saxes and those other things) showed up one morning all bent out of shape; they were sputtering fortissimo vituperation because they had just seen a billboard ad for Texaco featuring Benny Goodman, the King of Swing (image, above left). (He had released a record produced by Texaco called "Swing into Spring.") On the recording, Benny sounded great, as you might expect, but the billboard ad had a drawing of a Texaco gas-station guy who really looked like Benny, playing the clarinet, and our reed players were fuming! Why? Look carefully at the image. What's wrong with it? (hint: nothing to do with the bird.) I took this from my page on obnoxious advertising (which is pretty good, but I don't think I give the answer there, either. A free case of Corona beer for the right answer! Earliest time-stamp counts. Void where prohibited by law or if I can't get out of the house.)


But all this has, as far as I can tell, nothing to do with the other corona
—the virus. But maybe that's just what "they" want you to believe. Some day, you'll look back on all this and sigh, "I don't remember a damned thing. That virus fried my brain." No, no. I'm kidding. You'll see that it was all connected to this early spring. But how can that be? I don't know, but that's more of what "they" want us not to know. Anyway, winter is over. Spring is here. Stop whining. Go wash your hands.

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3. Mar. 20 - Toilet Paper -                 Much a-Doo-Doo About Nothing

James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916), the poet from the U.S. state of Indiana explained graphically in his homespun

The Passing of the Backhouse what things were like back on the farm in the old days.

                But when the crust was on the snow and sullen skies were gray,

                Inside the building was no place where one could wish to stay.
                We did our duties promptly, there one purpose swayed the mind;
                We tarried not, nor lingered long, on what we left behind.
                The torture of the icy seat would make a Spartan sob,
                For needs must scrape the flesh with a lacerating cob,
                That from a frost-encrusted nail suspended from a string
                My father was a frugal man and wasted not a thing.

So that's one choice: "a lacerating cob." However, the reason there is no mad rush on toilet paper in most places in Europe, including Naples, is the alternative of water, the bidet that bathroom sink placed low down so you can sit on it, the thing that hicks think is just for French whores. Well, that too, yes, but anyone can fill it with water and wash what needs to be washed. If you haven't got a bidet, you can take a shallow plastic basin shaped to fit on the toilet seat and fill that with water.

Next in the drama from Naples today is the government's decision to send 100 members of the regular army to help the cops keep people from assembling and to stop joy-riders from just cruising around. The troops won't bother people out shopping on foot. My odalisque went shopping today and tired herself out bringing home the vittles. (image, left: she is seen here, resting after the ordeal.) It was slow but orderly.

Real news again. One of the most important cancer research organizations in Italy is the Istituto Nazionale Tumori IRCCS Fondazione Giovanni Pascale. It has various hospitals in the nation. The one in Naples (image, right) is in the high Vomero section of the city, indeed, in the "hospital zone." (The nationwide organization was founded in 1933.) In addition to what it always does  try to find cures for cancer the Naples hospital has announced a fund-raising drive to finance resources to sequence the covid-19 virus (the cause of the current crisis). They announced it 2 days ago and have already got 850 thousand euros from businesses and a number of show business personalities. So, go shelter in place. Then, wash your hands.

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Looking for Bright Spots

4. Mar. 21   0600. The bad news is that the lock-down is complete. Go outside, you get arrested unless your house is on fire, but then you will be shamed for not taking one for the team and going out like Giordano Bruno. If you need food or medicine, they will deliver when they get around to it. But if you want something to eat right now, well, you should have thought of that yesterday when you weren't hungry. A bad headache? Here, take two bromides and call me in a month.

Even the good news is that the lock-down is complete. Joggers, people walking their animals, joy(!?)-riding masochists off the street! This doesn't mean "Do not assemble even in small groups" or any of that freedom-loving democratic nonsense; this is a flat-out goose-step ("Hi, my name is Joseph Stalin. Get off this damned street NOW! Ok. Please.") It is bizarre to see and experience and it is surreal. Is it working? Is there any genuine good news. Well, a doctor I know says, "Look, we just have to wait for the smoke to clear." (I'm not sure what that means. Maybe my house is still on fire.)

But here look at the image. This is from yesterday. Look on the left side: Positivi (they have the virus)=749; Deceduti (dead)=17; guariti (cured)= 30. Notice anything? CURED! There have been more cures than deaths! I called a doctor and got an ambivalent answer. He wasn't giving me the run-around. He just wasn't sure
"They're trying some drugs." I'm glad it wasn't "spontaneous remission" (alias "miracle"). So something is happening. Not a cure. Not a vaccine. But something. Bright spot? Yes. There are a few, even from northern Italy, the heart of corona darkness. The town of Vo, in the region of Veneto, says there hasn't been a new case of COVID-19 there since March 13. At the first mention of the virus, they quarantined the town locked it down and tested everyone. Then they checked again after the period of quarantine. There had been some presence of the corona virus at the first test. Now it was practically zero. Testing and social distance seem to be the key. But the town of Vo has 3300 inhabitants. The city of Naples has one million. Is that a problem? Yes. Is it a bright spot? Yes. Generally, as we speak, researchers from around the world have already identified 50 drugs to test against covid-19. Many of the drugs are "veterans" of other virus wars and are, thus, already approved and do not need to wait for approval. Bright spots.


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5. Mar. 22

Things that Don't Work

Empty? It certainly is. I just saw a bus go by, empty. It's like a ghost town run by ghosts. Try not to worry because anxiety and worrying put stress on your immune system. And worrying about worrying does the same thing. Don't. Also, I see that NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover has fixed itself by hitting itself in the head (it has a head?) with a shovel. I do that all the time, and it has a salubrious dare I say 'exhilarating'? effect on me, so I want to think there is some way we can use that to get at the corona virus, but I don't think so. Thus, a lot things don't work.

Friend Peter, an expert on things that don't work, reminds me of the Curonians, a tribe living on the shores of the
Baltic Sea in what are now the western parts of Latvia and Lithuania from the 5th to the 16th centuries. They gave their name to the region of Courland and they spoke the Old Curonian language. Curonian lands eventually merged with other Baltic tribes. Is there a link, a solution here? I have to remind my friend that we are talking about Corona and not Cours. But nice try. He may advance to the next round.

The thing is that while we fret over this problem, our other problems don't go away. There sre other problems? Greece had an earthquake the other day. Magnitude 5.7 (some sources say 5.3); either way, it does more than grab your attention it sways buildings and sends Athenians into the street screaming, "Zeus Almighty! What is this?! Pandemics, earthquakes...What's next, frogs?! Is it something we said? Can we have our make-up sex now, please?" It was the worst earthquake in Greece in 21 years and felt as far away as Calabria in southern Italy.

Meanwhile, back in that part of the world a "new mafia" has sprung up near Naples. I learned about this from an Australian source, which, like all non-Italian sources, calls all organized crime in Italy, the "mafia". Proper Italian usage distinguishes mafia (Sicily) from camorra (Naples) from 'Ndrangheta (Calabria). None of them work, either, but they do run drugs and sell women (and men and children) as sex slaves. Anyway, Castel Volturno north of Naples is now the center of the Nigerian (!) organized crime in the south. They are ruthless and powerful and giving the hometown hoodlums, the camorra, a real run for their money.

Damn, I just stepped on a frog. Go wash your hands.

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6. Mar. 23 -
You Can Go, But Your Goat is Under Arrest

Monday. Particularly quiet and creepy from my balcony yesterday, Sunday. I counted "traffic" for about 5 minutes. An empty bus passed. Probably the same bus from the other morning. Maybe the same driver, doing his Flying Dutchman Under a Curse thing doomed to sail forever or until the Lock-Down is finished or until the virus calls it quits, whichever comes last. Two cars passed. They shouldn't be out. Two pedestrians passed, one from our building walked out, crossed the street and disappeared into a building down the street. Another guy just walked by, calmly, not wearing a mask. Two scooters passed; one was alone and the other had a man driving and a woman passenger on the back. They both wore helmets and masks. Good citizens. Don't stop them.

There was no legitimate place to go, anyway. Everything was closed, even the supermarket (normally open on Sunday morning). But some people will try anything to get out of the house, just to be outside for a brief respite from the monotony. The coppers stopped a man who was out walking his goat! "Legitimate need, officer. This animal needs to have daily exercise or —uh, you know he gets that thing that goats get." [Officer:] No, I don't know that thing that goats get, but you have about no seconds to turn your goat around and head back where you came from or our animal control goat-catchers can take care of it. And then I will take care of you. Good-bye.

There are a lot of problems with Italian university students abroad under the Erasmus (international student exchange) program. There are about 2,000 of them from the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital, still stuck in France, Germany Spain, etc. and trying to get home. Some flights have been cancelled, some borders are closed, and they are now told that they themselves will be held in quarantine for two weeks. Most of them are out of money, and all of them are out of patience.

A poll on March 18-19 suggests that 67% of Italians are "worried" or "very worried" about the future. That's up 9 points from one week earlier! People in southern Italy are more worried than those in the north (that is, however, typical of all such polls, virus crisis or not). Men are more likely to be victims than women of the corona virus, yet woman report greater anxiety about the future. There are different ways to read that; one says that men lie more than women about their fears. I don't know. I wash my hands of the whole affair. You do the same.

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7. Mar. 24 -
Are We Giddy Yet?

Tuesday. It was hard to interpret the news yesterday. The on-line papers were some hours old and they were still at "Campania Closes its Borders," which means that the Region of Campania (with the major cities of Naples, Benevento, Caserta, and Salerno) won't let you cross into the region, unless you are from here and trying get home, and then you go into quarantine (a 2-week ordeal, so "shelter in place," "hunker down," "go away"). Yet, a later note in the same on-line paper reminded us that the rate of contagion has slowed and deaths are down. A note of hope? So, then...wait for...


...the early morning TV news more up-to-date. Almost cheery. The banks, post-offices and markets are open. Rules of social distance still apply, though. Just get in and get out. Don't lollygag or make overt movements that Big Brother might construe as warm human contact. Got it. No lollygagging. Can I shilly-shally, dawdle or tarry? Not even. OK, maybe a long-distance (5 meters) air-smooch, and you can stop to tie your shoe, but it'll cost you a punch on your "linger" card. But let's go, people, we want to get this show back on the road for Easter!

At least one tradition has made a comeback: wicker-shopping! Wicker
is a bundle of long wooden strips woven together to make furniture and BASKETS in the days before all trees were made of plastic. In Neapolitan that basket is called a panaro. It comes from the Latin panarium, a basket to carry bread. (Paniere is modern standard Italian for "basket".) It used to be if you wanted just a couple of items and you were old, tired, or too lazy to gear up to go shopping, you called a shop and they'd send someone on a scooter with your stuff. He rolled up, you lowered your basket on a cord with the money inside and the Lone Wickerman dropped in your goods and your change. That custom, even without a quarantine going, was disappearing. Now it's coming back, albeit with some heathen iconoclast variations. Note that the image (above) shows the transaction not with a traditional, sturdy cylindrical wicker basket, but with a stinking plastic bucket! (I just checked. I cannot find my family's wicker basket! Woe is me! I now have to become a Catholic and go to confession, right?) I'll ask my neighbor. He's the one who just unfurled his flag (top image, left). I hadn't seen him in ages. Now he's back, parades the colors, and he's off and running!  I don't know if life, itself, is off and running again, but I'll take this as a good sign. What harm can it do to feel better for a day?

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Is this an "Earthrise" moment?
8. Mar. 25 -Wednesday

My housekeeper who has no letters after her name and says she hated school asks sharp questions. I think it's called granny-wit. She said this morning, "Will this bring people together?" There is nothing more exasperating than that question when you think of other things that were to bring people together (according to the peace, love and kumbayah crowd in whatever time-frame): powered flight and a universal language, for two examples. After all, if you can travel rapidly from nation to nation and you all speak the same language ... maybe French or English or ...golly, let's invent one and call it... Esperanto!) ... there will be no need for war and violence. You see, we'll all be able to get together to talk out our problems and settle our differences peacefully. It turned out, as is well documented, that powered flight let us bomb our enemies more effectively and common languages (real or invented) let us torture our prisoners without the need for interpreters.


Yet I, too, am as tempted by "Earthrise" wishful thinking as anyone else. Just the other day I said that at least "we are
united" against a common enemy the corona virus. "Earthrise", you may recall, is the photograph (shown) of Earth and some  of the moon's surface that was taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968, during the Apollo 8 mission. It has been called "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." People were stunned at this graphic evidence that we were a single people on a small, delicate, blue and beautiful (and fragile) planet.  "Look at that," we all said. "We are all in this together."

So I am indeed happy that the dull pall of dread and anxiety hanging over the world at the moment was moderated at least a bit in Italy by officials on Monday. They announced that, for the second day in a row, the number of new cases and deaths had declined (presumably leading to a further lessening of quarantine restrictions). My joy remains bounded, however, by the fact that the SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the pandemic, belongs (according to the New York Times) to "the 6,828 named species of virus. Hundreds of thousands more species are known, with perhaps trillions waiting to be found." Is this another "earthrise" moment?  Well, the photo is beautiful, but I'm just trying to remember what happened after 1968. Wait. Oh, yeah. I remember.

Wash your hands.

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9. Mar. 26 -Thursday
still here!
Awaiting IMMAGINARIA 2020 – In Search of the Golden Bough  
If you have not followed the brief existence of Opus Continuum, the artists' collective in Naples, the first mention I make of it in these pages is at this link. It is from 2017 and they had just announced themselves and were preparing for their first exhibit, IMMAGINARIA 2018. That came and went as did the second edition IMMAGINARIA 2019. (If you want to read about the organization or those exhibits, follow the link in the second line of this entry, directly above.)

If you have followed their exploits over the last thee years, then (1) you are now waiting for news of the next exhibit or (2) you have, alas, given up hope that there will ever be a next exhibit because... well, you can pretty much finish that sentence, yourselves. After all, how can you... etc. etc. Don't be so hasty. Selene Salve of Opus Continuum has just written me this letter.
It's a passionate commitment to the people and to the city she loves. Still here? Count on it.
When we first thought of an exhibit on a descent into Hell, we never thought it would turn out to be real! Last autumn we filmed scenes for our promotional video on location at the sites that history and myth associate with the Underworld of Homer and Virgil, bringing our narrative up to the Christian legends in our own Middle Ages. Those sites were the "itinerary" for our project, our stops along the way. Opus Continuum exhibits always have to do in some way with the myths and legends of our area, the land we inhabit, a land that does not simply recall ancient history but serves as a lens to focus on real events and situations in our own lives and our own times. These are very real places and continue to inspire us.

We were led through this adventure by the voice of the Sybil, declaiming the verses of Virgil as translated into
Neapolitan ottava rima* by Nicola Stigliola (1699). The actual exhibit (a collective display of painters and photographers) will be in the Baia Castle (Bacoli, Naples) with the collaboration of the Archaeological Park of the Campi Flegrei — the Phlegrean Fields.

For obvious reasons we are not in a position to give you right now the exact dates, but we decided to release the video in spite of the uncertainty that hangs over us all. The values upon which we started our organization have everything to do with solidarity and helping one another. We want to believe that our small undertaking might in some way shine its way through to you and impart to you, our friends, some of our hope, our courage and our confidence. We don't face this terrible journey as individuals, alone. We are a group, all of us together, working together and we will "see the stars again."*
   [*note: this is a citation from Dante's Divine Comedy known to all Italians. "E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle."      (Inferno XXXIV, 139), ("and thus we went up and saw the stars again"). That verse is used here and, in general,     in Italian in other circumstances, as an expression of hope.]

Good viewing. (Our video is at this Facebook page and this YouTube page.)

*note for culture vultures: Ottava rima (that term is used in English - lit. "octave rhyme) is a rhyming stanza form of Italian origin, basically, 8-line stanzas of iambic pentameter with internal rhymes. Its earliest use is in the writings of Giovanni Boccaccio.
In English, ottava rima first appeared in Elizabethan translations of Tasso and Ariosto. Original ottava rima in English later appeared, for example, in Byron (Don Juan) and Yeats (Sailing to Byzantium).

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10. Mar. 27 - Friday
Dear, what's a good example of irony?

First, the latest scoop here is that you can stop cheering. Deaths, down for two straight days, have levelled off still not too bad, but the quarantine shelter-in-place thing is still on. It has, in fact, been extended until April 14. To wit: stay home except for legitimate need such as for your job or your health or if you must buy food or medicine. If you have to move for reasons of health (say, to go to the doctor's), you may have one attendant with you. You may NOT go outside or to any public indoor venue for play, sports, or recreation. Violators are subject to house arrest for 14 days and must be available at any time to be checked upon. Wash you hands.

What was I saying? Yes, irony. Let's see...dum-de-dum... oh, got it. There is something called Catholic irony, for example. That's when the patron saint who is supposed to protect you from epidemics is named Santa Corona. I know a lot of wonderful Catholics and they all smile when they hear that. They sigh and say "How ironic." Is that ok?

You mean there is a Saint Corona? Sure and there is a very impressive church of Santa Corona up in the city of Vicenza in the Veneto region, about halfway between the Adriatic and Lake Garda, right in the heart of virus darkness. Wow, that really is catholically ironic.

It gets better. North of there, still in Veneto, in the province of Belluno, there is a town named Anzù. There is a
basilica there that holds the sacred relics of Santa Corona. (The fanciful image, above, is in that basilica) She was about 16 when she was brutally tortured and murdered for her faith. They tied each leg to a palm tree bent almost to the ground and when they cut the cords holding the trees they snapped back up and she was torn limb from limb. According to standard Roman Catholic martyrology, that happened in Syria, sometime in the 3rd century during one of the last great persecutions of Christians by the Romans. Her feast day is May 14. She is also the patron saint of lumberjacks, no doubt due to the gruesome manner of her death. There are also a few Santa Corona hospitals in Italy, and since the word "corona" means "crown" in Italian, there are countless uses of the word in the context of "Mary, Queen of Heaven" or to the Crown of Thorns pressed down upon the brow of Christ, but nothing else for Santa Corona, as far as I know.

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11. Mar. 28 - Saturday     
Items of Human and Inhuman Interest

Dispense first with the "In-" part: the criminal scum who broke into Loreto Mare hospital the other night to steal medical supplies i.e., surgical masks, scrubs, and, of course, personal objects and loose change from the locker room on the ground floor. They screwed up because the anti-Covid stuff they were after was on another floor. Let's hope they came away with a really painful (but not contagious) disease.


...and in serve-and-protect human news, at least three stories like this one: a 39-year-old day-worker (that means
day-by-day when he can find work and now he can't), living at home with his aging parents, calls the local carabinieri (state police) station and says he's having money problems and they have nothing to eat. Cop shows up, sees the parents and the empty refrigerator, and comes back with bags of groceries. The man is embarrassed because he can't pay and the cop says "Don't worry about it. Call us if you need anything."


How do you shelter in place
if you have no shelter
and you have no place?

This is major good-guys-at-work news and has to with the image on the right. The people carrying bags are handing them out. They belong to the "The Community of St. Egido" (their logo is the image, above, left) named for (in English) St. Giles, the patron saint of the disabled). They were founded in 1968 in Rome and are active now in 70 countries around the world. Their mission? Help the homeless and the poor. You know the  story:

Matthew 25 - "... I was hungry and you fed me, I was naked and you clothed me. I was a stranger and you took me  in...if you have done that unto one of the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me."
They are all volunteers. Their services are free. A major effort in this crisis is shelter. They're aiming for what engineers call  "tensile structures" and what I call "tents." (Sometimes I say "those things that are supported by compression or bending elements, such as a mast ... you know, tents.") The mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, has said he would like to see a few large "tensile structures" to handle the large number of homeless in this crisis. It has to be done such that you don't just move the problem of dangerous person-to-person contact from one venue (outside) to another (inside ). It requires screening, coordinated by qualified medical personnel.

Flyers continue to be distributed with a simple message: If you need help of any kind, call these numbers.


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