Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © ErN 146 Jeff Matthews  entry Dec 2002, rev. Apr 2011

Myths —Urban, Euro & Napo

money machineA myth is a traditional story, possibly with historical basis, serving to explain phenomena of nature or the customs and institutions of a people. Admittedly, the tale of Peirithous being punished for the attempted seduction of a goddess may not mean as much to us as it did to the ancient Greeks, so we now have what are called 'Urban myths'.These are tales that shed light on our own modern-day 'customs and institutions'. The most famous of these, as near as I can tell, involves the woman who put her little rain-soaked doggie into a microwave oven to dry him off! This supposedly reveals something about our relationship to our technology, as does the one about the woman falling asleep under a full-body tanning lamp and getting her contact lenses welded to her eye-balls. 

With that, I am now shattered to report that one of my most cherished stories about Naples falls into this realm of make-believe; it is urban legend, myth, not true in spite of the fact that it should be and that I personally know the guy who knows the man whose cousin's friend heard about it.


The many small brush fires during the dry season in this area have led to the extensive use of fire-fighting helicopters. They are equipped with water scoops hanging from  cables. They drop down close enough to the surface of the Bay of Naples to scoop up water and then fly off to dump it on the blaze. One day, high up the slopes at the site of a fire which had been fought using helicopters, a body was discovered. It was that of a scuba diver. He had been swimming around when suddenly he was air-borne, torn out of his element and subsequently dropped to his death. 


That's the way I heard it, and that's how I've been repeating it all these years, but now it seems that this story in one form or another has been cited as 'true' in so many parts of the world that it can only be false. Too bad. I really liked it. It had potential; the scuba-diver remains might have been discovered by future paleontologists, who would have then concluded that the sea level back at the turn of the 20th/21st century around here was much higher than surmised. It also had great literary value, since with slight modification, it could be the opening of Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro

No one was able to explain what the leopard [scuba-diver] was seeking at that altitude. 

Car theft, too, has a couple of good stories connected with it. 


A man comes out of the house to go to work in the morning and finds his car gone, stolen. The next day, however, his car is back in place with a note inside, apologizing for the emergency that made it necessary to temporarily borrow the man's car. To make amends, the unknown 'thief' has left opera tickets for a  performance at San Carlo theater. Tickets for the whole family. Man takes family to opera. Man comes back home. Man finds his house cleaned out, an easy task for the thieves, since they were absolutely sure that no one would be at home.


Car theft number two
: (This one also involves the San Carlo theater in Naples, but from a little different angle):


Opening night at the opera attracts the well-heeled. They show up in furs and finery—and Mercedes', BMWs and Maseratis. Naturally, when you go into the opera house, you park your big expensive car in the lot adjacent to the theater and give the keys to the 'white cap', the parking attendant, a trusted and good-natured underling living out his twilight years moving other people's nice wheels in and out of tight parking spots. A few minutes into the performance, one of those gigantic double-ramped trucks rolls up and, with the help of the attendant and his splendid collection of keys to other people's cars, loads up twenty or so of the shiniest and most marketable ones, and roars off. Eye witnesses claim they thought the cars were being towed away for parking violations.


Gentleman Thief/Robin Hood myth: 


An elderly woman out shopping on Via Roma  falls and hurts her leg. She is immediately aided by two well-dressed gentlemen who help her up and insist on driving her to the emergency room. While she is being seen by a doctor, the two Good Samaritans wait for her, minding her parcels, coat and purse. She comes out and starts to call a taxi to get come. Her two 'friends' will not hear of it, and they personally escort her home in their car. When she wants to pay them for their troubles, they shrug it off and tell her not to worry about it. They drive off. Only when she opens her purse later that evening does she realize that her benefactors have already helped themselves to her money. During the affair they had every opportunity to rob the woman and leave her, but they didn't, showing, instead, what was no doubt genuine concern for her well-being.


Euromyths: 

In the first week of January 2002, a number of tales about the new coin of the realm, the Euro (€) were making the rounds: 

  • The lack of zeros in the new currency is confusing. So this guy walks into a bank to buy new euros with his old lire and the bank teller undercharges him by a factor of ten! 
  • In one story, the honest patron, not wishing to make the poor bank teller have to make up the difference out of his own pocket at the end of the day, comes in later and gives the money back. 
  • The less mythical version has one happy customer having a good laugh at the expense of the poor Bank of Naples. 
  • Then there is the ATM machine spitting out 10 € notes stuck together, giving you a lot more than you requested. 
  • And some banks are going back to the lire because they can't get enough euros to do business.

These must be true, because I heard them from the guy who heard them from the guy who... 

Or how about the battleship that disappeared from the port of Naples shortly after WWII? Not hijacked, you understand —it disappeared little by little, piece by piece, day by day, apparently the victim of enterprising scrap iron scavengers! Then, there was the time…


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