Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany # 54 (start mid-June 2015)

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(June 10) - The Naples-Cuba connection! It may seem strange, but Naples and Havana have a lot in common. The first time I had cause to consider that was when I ran across the phrase "the Cuban-Neapolitan Baroque". That was in connection with the Cuban composer Esteban Salas (see that link), often called the first American composer. It started to make sense when I considered that both Cuba and Naples had been parts of the far-flung Spanish empire in the 1500s and 1600s and that Spain had developed in Naples an extensive tradition of music conservatories, turning out composers who later influenced Salas greatly. (That's all about Salas. Really, see that link!) Now I am reminded of all that when I read that Giuseppe Klain, a professor of multidimensional design on the architecture faculty of the Second University of Naples has an exhibit called HAVANAPOLIS running through June 30 in the Cuban capital, precisely on the premises of the Casa Garibaldi, the seat of the Dantre Alighieri Society, which promotes the Italian language in Cuba. He is presenting 30 photos of Naples and 30 of Havana, essentially a comparison and contrast of persons, historical centers, churches, etc. —many of the things that have landed both places on the UNESCO World Heritage List. When the exhibit finishes in Havana, it will open in Naples.

(June 10)
- There are two separate entries in these pages on the knights Templar, one of which claims that the founder was Neapolitan! (That one is here. Sorry, more homework.) Indeed, they still fascinate. Now, an exhibit is coming up on June 12 
at the Egg Castle called Naples from the Medieval Dawn to the Sun of the Renaissance. It will be a "narrated exhibit" (their words), essentially a springboard into the presentation of a number of recent books on the subject of the Templars and Naples; it will also introduce a later exhibit entitled The Arcane in Naples.

(June 10) - From the great number of buildings and monuments shrouded in nets and scaffolding in Naples, the city is either falling apart or is one vast perpetration of installation art. One of these is the vast Galleria Umberto, the signature building of the 'new Naples' of the 1890s. It has been through 125 years of splendid ups and god-awful downs. One of the worst of the latter occurred recently when a chunk of masonry fell from the east entrance on via Toledo and struck and killed a young teenaged boy, a kid just out for a stroll with friends. When something like that happens, there is understandable public outrage. "Why can't the city maintain these buildings!?" is the common cry, and so the city starts another round of slow and underfunded repairs.

Now, however, the city announces that the real culprits through all these years have been the concessionaires on the premises, who are contractually bound to maintain their properties and have failed to do so. As a result, the city is evicting all of them! What?! Right, city-hall is taking over all of the spaces at "via Toledo 50", the official address of the Gallery. It seems that the legal minds at city hall with their fine-toothed comb (or maybe it's a hairbrush) have gone back and reread the fine print from the 1880s, t
he beginning of the 30-year urban renewal of Naples called the Risanamento. At the time (1885) the city expropriated the original properties in order to knock down all the buildings and put up the Gallery. Concessionaires in the new Gallery then came in under an obligation to maintain their properties, which obligation, so says City Hall, carries through to subsequent concessionaires. Since they have not done so, they can be evicted. The city will take over.

There are so many questions here that this thing will be tied up in the courts forever. Does this mean that the city will take care of the repairs? Haven't they been doing that, anyway? Who is/was responsible for the common areas such as that huge glass dome, for example? That may be like the condominium I live in; everyone puts into the kitty for common repairs. And so forth. (
I asked a lawyer about something called Succession Contract and Law of Obligations. His eyes went into überglaze.) Concessionaires have already said they will sue the city because it is just taking out its own incompetence on them, the shop owners and others who maintain office space in the Galleria. I am not clear on who the party of the first part or the party of the second part is in any of this. But the lawyers are throwing their own party even as we speak. I hope this will not affect work currently underway to keep pieces of the building from falling on people.

(June 13) - There is an update to the running series on the construction of the Metropolitana train lines, this one concerning the short but very important line that will connect the university campus at Monte Sant' Angelo with the station at the Mostra d'Oltremare (the Fair Grounds) and thus into and out of the city. See this link.

(June 15) - The New York Times has just run a feature entitled "Seven Leading Architects Defend the World’s Most Hated Buildings." The Vele [Sails] di Scampia residential complex in Naples pictured, left made the list. (My entry on Scampia is here.) The defender of the Vele was Ada Tolla, a Neapolitan architect with a degree in
Architecture and Urban Design from the Frederick II University of Naples. She did graduate work at Columbia University in New York and currently teaches at that institution's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and also at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Department of Architecture. She is the co-founder of the architectural design studio LOT-EK, whose approach to architecture (from their self-description): "...has achieved high visibility for their sustainable and innovative approach to construction, materials, and space and through the adaptive reuse ("upcycling") of existing industrial objects and systems not originally intended for architecture." Such an example is the DRIVELINES Studios in Johannesburg, a residential complex made of 300 "upcycled" shipping containers ( artist's version, above right). Tolla is a respected Modernist architect. You may have your own reasons for liking or disliking that school of architectural design. Her defence of the Vele, however, contains none of the architectural clichés you might expect nothing about "Form follows function" or "A house is a machine for living in." She says,
If somebody put this complex in front of me right now without adding any context, any history, I would consider it a really strong piece of architecture...the Vele is not a failure of the architecture, but rather a failure in execution and management. Demolition is often an attempt to sweep things under the carpet, and that doesn’t seem like the right way to learn from the past.
That is not a knee-jerk defence of Modernism. She simply says not to blame on architecture what is not the fault of architecture. If you want to judge the architecture, look at something similar in an area that is not permanently on societal life support. Try the "sails" of Villeneuve-Loubet, between Nice and Antibe on the French riviera. The buildings (architect, André Minangoy) are so similar to the Vele that some Neapolitan websites have photos of them in among photos of the grimey Vele di Scampia as if saying "Look! Ours could have looked like this! Beautiful, imaginative, on the beach with a nice boat harbor! What? Scampia is at 900 feet?! And they can't afford boats? Oh." Then you can decide whether you like it or not. But if you're going to hate the Vele, have some good reasons corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment.

(June 16)Once again, the non-profit social organization Piedi per la Terra (Feet for the Earth) is running a summer camp for kids in the only jungle in Naples, the Vineyard of San Martino. It's the entire hillside below the large white San Martino museum. It's quite visible from the sea and is an usual aspect of the city; that is, it's  lovely and green and guaranteed to provide you with...well, like when Dorothy steps out of her black & white house into the technicolor land of Oz, and who doesn't still want something like that? It's perfect for kids. (Don't worry, they cage up the flying monkeys for the duration!) My friend and next-door neighbor is taking his 6-year-old daughter to that camp this year, and I'm sure she'll have a good time. The camp is for ages 3 to 12 and is run as a "day camp"; that is, from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m with activity themes changing weekly. You sign your child up on a weekly basis, for one or for all ten. Last  year there were 10 sessions, from mid-June through mid-September with such themes as How a Farm Works, Our Tree Planet, The Chicken is My Friend and one that I wanted to sign up for (!) that would have taught me how to make toys from recycled products. From the organization's promotional literature

Since 1998 we have promoted environmental education and activities for children. They play with nature and science in true hands-on surroundings, experimenting with their sense of creativity, getting valuable experience and learning how to cooperate with one another.

(June 18) - Napolislam is the name of a film directed by Ernesto Pagano opening here shortly about the daily life of the Muslim community in Naples. It is, however, not about the lives of immigrant Muslims, but about the Neapolitans who have converted, which makes the topic much more interesting. There is a small but growing native-born European Muslim population in a number of places in Europe, commonly, but not only, in the south —Naples, for example. The whys of voluntary (that is, unforced) religious conversion are always interesting. Statistics are difficult to interpret. According to many sources, there are about 1 million 100-200 thousand Muslims in Italy, the overwhelming majority of whom are immigrants from Muslim countries. Depending on the sources, there are among that total between 70,000-120,000 Muslims "who are Italian". That is difficult to interpret since "who are Italian" may mean "native-born been-Catholics-forever" who have converted or may mean immigrants who have taken up Italian citizenship or, by now, even second-generation children of Muslim immigrants, who, by definition are both "native-born" and "Italian". Tricky. Some conversion may be "fashionable", but I suspect that is a relatively small number in this case, or at least not long lasting. This is not the Middle Ages, so a more important driver of religious conversion (at least in Europe) are your personal changes in values or, expressed differently, the perception that your traditional faith no longer meets your spiritual needs. Even the close historical ties between southern Italy and Islam, although many centuries ago, may have something to do with it. The film poster (pictured) is interesting: Vesuvius in the background and modern young Muslims standing in the shadow of the steeple of the Church of the Carmine, right off of the old Market Square, one of the most historic sites in the city and where the Muslim community meets for Friday prayers. The film should be interesting.

Other entries dealing with Islam:  see "Islam" under 'I' in the index.
Also see The Arab Influence on the Italian Renaissance.

(June 21)For the summer solstice, my neighbor, poet
and friend, Giacomo Garzya, wrote this. He has a number of items in these pages (under Garzya in the index). I translated it.
The Summer Solstice

Let the stars in the heavens
drink deeply,
the time of the sun is upon us,
the crowns of garlands
dress the blonde braids
of the maidens in flowers
midst the dancing stars
and songs to Bacchus.
Let them drink their songs of wine
and midnight fire,
let them drink with joy
to the new season
and the rich new harvest,
to life and to love.                                     

Naples, June 20, 2015

(June 22) -
guess I am part of the problem. I have written with mechanical or electronic aids for a very long time —I think since Miss Morris in Jr. High told me I had the handwriting of a child. That's when I got a typewriter, and, later, when computers came along, I loved that fact that I could hit keys and watch letters pop up magically on the screen, from whence I could edit them out and change them in an instant. No ink stains, no white-out, no torn-up first drafts—none of that. I agree with Mark Twain (strange, also the name of my Jr. High School!), who hated to write by hand, submitted the first-ever novel in typewritten format to a publisher and loudly proclaimed that writers should travel with personnel secretaries. In spite of personal allergy to writing by hand, I have a lot of sympathy for those on the island of Ischia who have just started a summer course in calligraphy, the claim being that no one really knows how to handwrite anymore thanks to computers, touch-screens, texting, etc. etc. It's all the fault of the digital revolution! “It's not just aesthetics,” says the group leader. “Calligraphy, writing by hand, helps us to build mental maps.” That is some wobbly psycholinguistics, at least according to those who think that literacy, itself, is some sort of a culprit since it destroyed the ancient tradition of oral story-telling, a tradition based largely on formidable powers of memory and mental map-making. (That's what I should have told the school-marm, but who knew?) But I digress. Of course, the folks on Ischia are not just learning to write legibly; from the looks of it (image), they are studying to be medieval manuscript writers—you know, that stuff no one can read, but still...
I like the idea of a course like this. Wow, my mental maps feel better already. Of course, all I did was push a key. 

photo: la Repubblica

  detail of Perez' Crucifixion of Apollo del Belvedere from 1974

(June 24) - Augusto Perez. The 2015 Ravello Festival has just started and runs through Sept. 5th. This is the 63rd edition. The festival is presenting a major retrospective of Augusto Perez (Messina 1929-Naples 2000), a significant Italian sculptors of the 20th century. He trained in Naples and then taught for years at the Fine Arts Academy there. Perez first came to the attention of the public at the Venice Biennale of 1960. Twenty-seven of his works will be on display at both the Villa Rufolo and the Oscar Niemeyer auditorium. The exhibition is the largest Perez retrospective since his death 15 years ago.

(June 26) - Boats of the Bay 2015. They're back, and then some. This is a small update to last summer's Boats of the Bay. One shot pretty much says it all. The beautiful three-masted Eos is back (details at that last link). The newcomer so far is the vessel on the right, the Rising Sun: motor yacht, 138 meters (454 ft) long (slightly smaller than a modern guided missile cruiser, but the Rising Sun has chromium-plated hawseholes and onyx countertops!), built in 2004 by Lurssen Yachts. Call Sign: ZCII7, Flag: Cayman Islands. Owned by US businessman, David Geffen, who gives so much money to medical research that we can forgive his horrible taste in boats. That thing in the back is a cruise ship. Don't.

(July 7) - The Emerald Grotto. This submarine coastal grotto is along the well-known State Road 163, the so-called Amalfi Drive. It's only about 3 km/2 miles from Amalfi, itself, (adjacent to the location in the photograph shown at that last link). Promotional literature about the grotto hypes it, of course, as a "unique jewel of nature nestled in the silent and solemn bay...". Two things are certain: (1) it was officially discovered by a fisherman in 1932 (although kids swimming in the area must have known about it forever); number two is more interesting —the entrance is entirely underwater. You can't row in (as you can in the Blue Grotto at Capri, for example). If you try to run the blockade by free-or scuba diving your way in (possible), the local sirens (nasty ladies) release the kraken. No, you take the elevator, installed from street-side down through the rock in the 1950s at the same time as they planted a ceramic Christmas manger display on the floor of the grotto. What you get, once you're in, is a roughly rectangular surface area of water roughly 45 x 32 meters, with a cavern roof about 24 meters above water level. The name 'emerald' comes from the perceived color of the light filtering through the underwater entrance from the outside. There are stalactites and such, which you expect since this is karst country. Many reported impressions are negative: too expensive, too short, too tip-focused. (Hey, this is the Amalfi coast!) Some are positive —lovely, romantic and, golly, they'll even serenade you if you want.
Whatever your take is on all that, know that their geology is wrong. You're likely to get a rehash of what is on the official website of the grotto and much published 'hotel literature': i.e., the grotto formed on dry land (true) and found its way down below the surface thanks to the phenomenon of bradyseism (totally wrong). An Italian geologist I know said that the position of that cave has as much to do with bradyseisms as cabbage has to do with breakfast. (Everything is food with Italians!) Bradyseisms are small up and down movements of the land caused by the violent reaction (termed 'phreatic activity') of hot magma and cold water coming into contact below ground. The resulting steam drives the land up in the same way as steam from a boiling pot of water jiggles a lid on top. Shifting magma or water may then change the equation and the land may again subside. That has happened in nearby Pozzuoli quite recently. The port facilities had to be rebuilt in the 1980s because of the change in sea-level (but it was really the land that had shifted). You need a volcanic source of magma. The position of the Emerald Grotto, on the other hand, is due to tectonic activity, the collision of the Earth's crustal plates, the force that drives mountains to the surface. The grotto is part of the whole local Sorrentine peninsula, itself an off-shoot of the Apennines, a mountain chain that started rising 20 million years ago. Yes, the grotto formed on dry land, but the perceived position of the grotto in relation to sea-level is not because bradiseisms are bouncing the mountains up and down, but rather because of the rise and fall of sea-level in the Mediterranean over millions of years and countless glacial periods that have locked water up as ice and then released it again, over and over. Regular tectonics and regular rising and falling of sea level from glaciation cycles put the grotto where it is.

(Many thanks to F. Salvi and P. Humphrey for their help.) 

(July 25) - "I don't think we're in Kansas , anymore." No, nowhere near, but the Naples suburb of Quarto had a tornado the other day. Right on the heels of ten days of sweltering heat and humidity, at least for these parts (35° C/95°F plus 70 to 80% humidity), the sun was suddenly darkened (and I was sore afraid), temperatures dropped, got rain, then hail, then a lot of rain, and out in Quarto what you see in this photo. No damage to life or limb, but some to property. Friend Larry reminds me that a local on-line Naples paper led with "Circe, the cyclone, arrived from northern Europe to chase out Charon's deadly heat." We have us one erudite journalist here. If you're not familiar with Circe or Charon, just ask yourself if you would like to go to hellor would you rather be a pig?*

[*Tag line is from Swinging on a Star, 1944, mus. Jimmy van Heusen, lyr. Johnny Burke, introduced by Bing Crosby in Going My Way, 1944, Academy Award for Best Song, Best film, Best Everything Else.]

(July 25) - Next-door neighbor Giacomo Garzya (see entry for June 21, above) has just come back from his first-ever visit to the USA and was moved to write some poems about his impressions, a few of which I have tried to translate. Here's one about New York.

Skyscrapers shine

from a million lights
the shimmering river
sets aflame
the blue of the night sky
the taut steel cables
of the loveliest bridge hum
to the rapid beat of lovers' hearts
to the sirens of ships
to the flight of gulls astern
to the quickstep of all
who race the clock
to be in Manhattan
before the stage lights dim.

photo G.Garzya
New York, 16 July 2015.

(July 25)-One Small Step for a Bow-BowPompeii is second only to the Colosseum in Rome as the most popular tourist site in Italy, year in and year out. I don't know how the tourists do it. Both sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, and both are worth seeing, but I can think of no other place in the nation that ambushes cash-laden clients with such an array of inefficiency, chicanery and corruption as does Pompeii. Barely a day goes by that you don't read of this-or-that many hundred tourists waiting in vain for the place to open, or even of being locked inside while the staff goes on strike—or to lunch—which is pretty much the same thing. It usually takes a threat by UNESCO or other European holders of the euro-strings that the whole damned place will be removed from the list unless it shapes up. Then, maybe, something gets done. That is what happened here, and it seems to have done some good.

In this case they have restored and reopened for public view the famous mosaic of a dog on the premises of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii. The mosaic bears the inscription cave canem—beware of the dog. Astute paleo-bowserologists are divided over whether this meant, Pwease don't step on widdle poopsum or, possibly, Amicus, if you step on Lothar, the Wonder Shredder, you will never believe that you once ever owned a leg. In any event, the mosaic has somehow become iconic of the Pompeii site, and you now can get in to see it again.

The House of the Tragic Poet was discovered in November of 1824 and has interested scholars and writers for generations. The size of the house itself is not remarkable but the interior decorations of scenes from Greek mythology are numerous and of high quality. They are remarkable. They have inspired poetry and fiction, among which is Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii (O he of "It was a dark and stormy night." Talk about tragic.) 
-thanks to Jeff Miller for bringing this item to my attention.
END of Misc. page, #54.

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