Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 58 (start late-Dec. 2015)

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Dec 29 - "Artists like me are really lucky to live in Naples," says Selene Salvi. "Everywhere you turn, you run into great masters." (Click that link for some examples of her works on this website.) She then enclosed a snapshot she took of a painting at the still ongoing exhibit The Other 19th Century (mentioned here). It's actually very funny. The artist was Saverio Dell'Abbadessa (1827 - 1882), a Neapolitan. The title of the work is "The Young Salvator Rosa drawing in the Santa Theresa monastery, surprised and being scolded by the monks" from the year 1873. Given the year, maybe the artist just found the idea amusing of one of the great names of the Neapolitan Baroque,  Salvator Rosa, defacing the walls of a monastery. The year 1873 was just a decade or so after the unification of Italy (1861) and only two years after the forces of the new nation took Rome itself. Everyone in Italy was in an anticlerical mood at the time! Dell'Abbadessa was known for "religious, historical and anecdotal" works. I'm not sure what that last one means, but I like it. Selene says she has been to this exhibit twice already. "Next up is the 'Masterpieces of Naples' at the Portici Palace. Gotta hurry. That closes on Jan. 7."

#25 in the series of period postcards from Naples
22 23 24
27 x
Dec 31 - The sea cave known as the Blue Grotto on Capri was known in ancient times and was used as the personal swimming hole of Emperor Tiberius as well as a marine temple. Numerous Roman artifacts, including statues, have been recovered and are on display. The grotto was then "rediscovered" by the public in the 1820s. There are plans to restore the grotto to its ancient glory by placing identical copies of the statues where they originally stood in the grotto, presumably somewhere near where the people in this period postcard from the late 1800s (?) are standing. (Maybe you could do that before the age of mass tourism. You cannot today.) Mark Twain's description from 1869 in The Innocents Abroad:

"And thus the wonderful Blue Grotto is suggested to me. It is situated on the island of Capri, twenty-two miles from Naples. We chartered a little steamer and went out there. Of course the police boarded us and put us through a health examination, and inquired into our politics, before they would let us land. The airs these little insect governments put on are in the last degree ridiculous. They even put a policeman on board of our boat to keep an eye on us as long as we were in the Capri dominions. They thought we wanted to steal the grotto, I suppose. It was worth stealing. The entrance to the cave is four feet high and four feet wide, and is in the face of a lofty perpendicular cliff —the sea wall. You enter in small boats —and a tight squeeze it is too. You cannot go in at all when the tide is up. Once within, you find yourself in an arched cavern about one hundred and sixty feet long, one hundred and twenty wide, and about seventy high. How deep it is no man knows. It goes down to the bottom of the ocean. The waters of this placid subterranean lake are the brightest, loveliest blue that can be imagined. They are as transparent as plate glass, and their coloring would shame the richest sky that ever bent over Italy. No tint could be more ravishing, no luster more superb. Throw a stone into the water, and the myriad of tiny bubbles that are created flash out a brilliant glare like blue theatrical fires. Dip an oar, and its blade turns to splendid frosted silver, tinted with blue. Let a man jump in, and instantly he is cased in an armor more gorgeous than ever kingly Crusader wore."
[related entry here]

(Jan 1, 2016) - Happy New Year! These folks (image) have been celebrating every New Year's day with a nice winter's dip for the last 50 years. They belong to the Marechiaro year-round swimming club on the Posillipo coast. Water temperatures in January have ranged from 5°C/41°F to 13°C/55°F—that is, frigid to chilly. But they do seem happy. On the unhappy side of New Year's is the fact that while one-thousand towns and cities in Italy banned fireworks for the celebrations, Naples was not one of them. The fireworks, however, were noticeably more subdued, but I think I can still proudly shout "We're number 1! ...we're number 1!" The city cranked out 18 injured and twelve more injuries from the rest of the province of Naples, one of whom is in guarded condition in a local hospital. There was also a serious brush fire in the suburb of Agnano, certainly the result of fireworks and the fact that it has not rained for weeks.

The Frederick II University of Naples   
(Jan 2) - New Differences: An investigation of Universities in the North and South. That's the name of a report by RES (Institute of Economic and Societal Research in Sicily), located in Palermo. The report buries the lead; that is, the most striking sentence is many pages into the document: “For the first time in the more than 150 years of our existence as a unified state, the university student population is decreasing.” The article, abundantly backed up by statistics, focuses on the differences among the north, the center-south, and the south. All indicators point to the general decrease in Italy, but the situation in the center-south is worse and the situation in the south is much worse. Factors cited are the worsening economic situation, particularly in the south, and increasing skepticism on the part of young persons that a university education will provide them with a better job. (Decreasing birth rates —that is, fewer potential students— doesn't count. The percentages are dropping. The number of instructors has also decreased in general (but it's worse in the south) and the number and variety of degree programs is lower in the south. All of this, and much more, runs counter to what 28 European nations have expressed as a short-term goal —to have 40% of European young persons (30-34 years of age) with a university degree by the year 2020. That is not going to happen in Italy, which was at 23.9% last year. That is last place out of the 28 nations. The Lazio region of Italy (of which Rome is the capital) has the highest regional percentage of young people with degrees (31.6%). Four southern regions in Italy are among the bottom of the 272 European regions in those 28 nations.

Talk about secondary... This really is Capodichino airport in Naples, but in late 1943. Photo via Herman Chanowitz, the gentleman sitting on the tail section of the slightly damaged German Focke-Wulf fighter plane.

(Jan 4) -Secondary airports. The only airport serving Naples with scheduled commercial flights is the Naples International Airport at Capodichino. There is a much earlier item (2003) in these pages about the possibility of opening commercial service at the "Carlo Romagnoli" (alias Caserta-Grazzanise) airport, 30 km/20 miles north of Naples. Grazzanise was (and still is) a military airport, built in the mid-1960s on the site of an earlier airfield used by the Royal Italian Air Force in WWII.
     By the early 2000s, it seemed a good idea to have a major secondary airport for Naples. It was even feasible and had been tried in November 1992 when Grazzanise handled all commercial traffic into and out of Capodichino for 10 days when the runways at that airport were down. And everyone knew that the Naples metropolitana train line was going to have to dig up the entire airport to build the world's most beautiful underground train station. So you'd need a go-to airport for, oh, maybe a million years while they did that. In 2004, the Grazzanise airport was certified to handle commercial traffic and in 2008 an agreement was signed between the Campania region and the Transportation Ministry to build a new airport at Grazzanise to handle traffic to and from Naples. That agreement also incorporated a third airport to handle commercial traffic, the one at Salerno-Pontecagnano, about 20 km south of the city of Salerno. It was (and remains) a General aviation (GA) airport; that is, it serves all civil aviation operations other than scheduled commercial air services.

     The economic advantages for both Grazzanise and Pontecagnano of being promoted to handle international commercial air traffic would be enormous. Yet in 2013, the government backed out on the agreement to build a civilian airport at Grazzanise, which left the poor grazzanisani all perplexed; they had been counting their new hotels, shopping malls and traffic jams before they hatched. Thus, Capodichino remains the sole commercial airport for Naples, and Pontecagnano remains the only other civilian airport in the Campania region. What happened? The only intelligent speculation I have heard is that the city realized the absurdity of closing down the Capodichino airport for years just to build a train station. Indeed, they have rerouted the train line well away from the airport. The train station will now be a short walk or bus ride away. Capodichino thus stays open. No other airports need apply.

(Jan 5) - Centola is a small town in the scenic Cilento region of the province of Salerno (there is an entire Cilento portal on this website here). Centola has a population of about 5,000 and looks down on a stretch of coast leading from the southern end of the bay of Salerno to the northern end of the Bay of Policastro; it is widely judged to be one of the loveliest coastlines in Italy. Idyllic, indeed. But times were very tough in the early 1900s. Italy's involvement in WWI and massive emigration from the area depleted the fighting- and working-age male population, leaving large sectors of the economy and general life of the area to the women. An initiative called Project Centola has just issued a 2016 calendar as part of an attempt to preserve the town's "historical memory" for the benefit of the younger generation. The calendar is called Cilento, a Calendar of Women in the early 1900s. It is a painstakingly assembled collection of black & white photography, ranging from simple family photos to women harvesting olives, women gathering water from wells, and women doing what you see in this image —young, lovely and noble women working in a difficult age.

“May the great time in you still greater be, while all the year is your Epiphany.”
- Richard Crashaw (1612–1649)

(Jan 6) - Today is the 12th day of Christmas, the Epiphany, known in Italy as the Befana (a corrupted form of epiphany, itself from the Greek word for appearance or manifestation), represented in Italian folk lore by a benevolent old crone who brings gifts to good children (or lumps of coal to bad ones). Long before Santa Claus started showing up at Mt. Vesuvius, today was the traditional gift giving day of the year, recalling the Magi, the three Wise Men who appeared with gifts for the Christ Child. And Italians are not familiar with the loony cumulative song that starts "On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me..." (first published in English in 1780). I did however get my Italian Jr. High School students to learn it. They were very good at remembering the 'Twits a-tweeting' and 'Five MacBook Airs' and very good at figuring out how many gifts there were in all. The answer is not 78, by the way, because it isn't 1+2+3+4... etc. but really 1+(2+ 1)+(3 + 2 + 1)…etc. The answer is...start counting. We counted them, but I was curious if there was a quick Gaussian way to figure it out so I got on Dreambook last night and channeled the Great One, himself.
"Carl Friedrich, my main math's the deal...what am I missing?"
He was way ahead of me. Not surprising. "You're missing the fact that you're not too good with numbers, you moron. You want it with the cows or without the cows?"
"What do you mean, cows?"
"The maids hane to be a-milking something, right? Of course there's a quick way! Now, how many angels can fit on the head of a pin is another matter." 

(Jan 9) - Next-door neighbor and poet, Giacomo has just returned from a Christmas cum New Year's vacation in Cuba! When he left, he asked me what I wanted from Cuba. Cuban rum? Cuban cigars? A Cuban woman? I allowed as how a 1955 Chevy (pictured) would do just fine —but possibly pimped out like a Caribbean rainbow.

“¿A poem?” he said, practicing his Spanish punctuation in advance.
“Sure, that was a sweet little ride. Poetry in motion.”
“No, a real poem. No car. A poem. You may think of it as a 1955 Chevy in fine ink,
 if you must, you peasant.”

So that's what I got. At first I thought it was a poem about Marlon or Merlin or Marilyn. No, it was called The Marlin —indeed, the Atlantic blue marlin (Makaira nigricans) (pictured), the iconic grand crested fish of the Caribbean, the creature with the spear snout and long dorsal fin, the creature that Hemingway dedicated so much space to (speaking of fine ink).

Actually, the poem was pretty good —and relatively long, almost epic by Giacomo's terse standards. The Marlin is a timeless witness to the story of the great island, Cuba. Each verse describes a bit of history: (my translation)

The Marlin
And the Marlin
was there to hear
the hum in the deep,
everything kissed the waves,
the sun
the wind
the great endless ocean
of the gulf of the Mayans,
of the great Caribbean.

And the Marlin
saw the royal palms sway
and all the palms
before hurricane forces
and forces of evil
and saw the pelicans
withdraw into their beaks
nevermore to dive in the sea.

And the Marlin
saw the sky sprinkled with blood   
of the slaughter of indios
and Hatue's heroic death
saw the vultures rip
the rotting flesh of the conquered
the vultures always in hiding
to swoop like eagles from heaven
by the hundreds
in the great island of Cuba.


And the Marlin
saw pirates and corsairs
hunt silver and gold
saw Havana burn
in enemy fires
and blinding flashes
of guns from arrogant fleets.


And the Marlin
heard the crack of whips
on the skin of black slaves
forced from Africa
to work cane and tobacco
and heard and saw them
sing and dance
to recall their distant roots,
cloaked in the many colors       
of their many homes in Africa.       

And the Marlin
saw the blacks break their chains
and the Spanish curse
the poetry and courage
of José Martì
and watched the long fight
for freedom.

And the Marlin
saw the grand hotels and houses
and brazen women
in glistening gringo Cadillacs,
rush to pleasures of the senses
to drown themselves
in Antilles rum.

And the Marlin
saw the poor
who live from simple things
every day and minute to rhythms
of rhumba, son and salsa,
saw the great divide
between rich and poor
not just in Havana where
the homes of those with nothing
are not worthy of the name.

And the Marlin
saw corrupt Batista fall
to Che and Castro
saw new Cuba with her Revoluciòn
saw the Cubans praise Fidel
read in Creole and Mulatto faces
the joy of giving and receiving,
of love of life and smiling
at the hard lot of poverty
and of hunger.
And the Marlin
saw children
fill the schools to study,
for ignorance leads to nothing.

And the Marlin
marveled at the courage of the people
and their history
and drank the canchánchara
of warriors at the barricades
in the high sierras of the island 


and dropped back
down into the sea.


(Jan 9) - Robin Red Breast. Speaking again (see above item) of fine ink, here's some more. Giacomo, mentioned above, was so taken with his own latest book of poems, Pettirosso (Robin Red Breast) that he had the cover illustration (image, left) tattooed above his left shin or ankle (shankle?). This is serious narcissism, folks. In all fairness to Castro, the tattoo was not done in Cuba but here in Naples just before he (Giacomo, not Fidel) left, not far from my favorite watering hole in a place that sells lottery tickets and tattoos. Really. The tattooee is in his 60s and about to retire to spend his golden years doing what he loves to do —travel and write verse. This is his first venture into body art —also known as second childhood. I got a sneak preview as he came out of the tattoo parlor. I said, "Oh, that's one of those henna plant dye things —fades in a couple of weeks, huh?" No, it's the real deal. Forever. Lady Giacomo was not amused, but short of lasering hubby to death, there's not much she can do. Giacomo's daughter and son-in-law, however, thought it was "like awesome" (their precise words). Father Dearest was no longer just another old coot; he was one very hip daddy! Lady G., however opined that the suffix -ful would go much better with awe. They are still negotiating, but I'm pretty sure the nose ring will have to go.

(Jan 14) - Tourism boom. The Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo - MiBACT) has just released the numbers for 2015. It was a record year all over Italy, the best year ever. There were 43 million visitors in all of Italy (up 6% from 2014). By region, the top three were Lazio, Campania and Tuscany. To no one's surprise, the Colosseum in Rome (Lazio) topped the list of tourist attractions. Also predictable was Pompeii in Campania in second place in the entire nation. The Campania region (of which Naples is the capital) had just over 7 million visitors (up 7% from 2014). The top five attractions in Campania were, in order, the archaeological site of Pompeii, the Caserta Palace, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, the archaeological site of Herculaneum and the archaeological site of Paestum (pictured).

(Jan 15) Lighthouses for sale!
If you like lighthouses, you may have mixed feelings about this. The Ministry of Economics and Finance is selling off two of them on the Campanian coasts. (Nine others in the rest of Italy are also on the auction block.) One is the Capo d'Orso lighthouse (image, left) at the town of Maiori on the Amalfi coast; the other one (image, right) is the Emperor Point lighthouse in the town of Forio on the island of Ischia, best known in lighthouse lore for the fact that it had a woman lighthouse keeper, Lucia Capuano, who took over the lonely task when her husband died. The lighthouse was built in 1884 (details on both sites on this lighthouse page). The Capo d'Orso lighthouse is from 1882, although an earlier station was established in 1862. Both structures are in ideal locations for development for tourism. That is why you may have mixed feelings about turning them into a hotel, B&B, restaurant or whatever. Lighthouses are no longer as useful in this day of electronic navigation aids as they used to be (although I personally know sailors who tell me that, psychologically, "There's nothing like seeing that light!" After the first round of bidding, the lighthouse at Maiori had seven bids and the one at Forio had six. They now go through a lengthy decision-making process to evaluate the potential of each proposal. It has to be something that will add some class to the area. Pool halls need not apply.

(Jan 18) - "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" The circus is in town. (There is in these pages one other mention of the circus in Naples, here.) This is the time of year when the circus comes to Naples. Traditionally it has been the Moira Orfei circus, the best known one in Italy, playing at various venues in or near the city. This season it will be at the Auchan "commercial park," a gigantic shopping mall, in Giugliano. It will play without the appearance of Moira Orfei, herself, who passed away last November in Brescia in northern Italy at the age of 84. She was born in Coidroipo (near Udine) into a circus family as Miranda Orfei, and over her long career became known as the "Queen of the circus" and as well became a popular TV and film personality. She founded her own circus company in 1960; it performed internationally. She suffered a stroke in 2006, recovered and last appeared in 2007 in public at Licola near Naples. Her family continues her life's work. The show must go on.

(Jan 23) - Some euro coins are not that easy to tell apart, especially when you're in a hurry. The smallest denomination coins —the 1 and 2 €-cent coins are very similar, but they're useless. If you drop one, you don't even bother to pick it up. (Well, I do know one guy...) They are so unpopular that merchants often round up or down to the nearest 5. Also, the 20-cent coin is easy to confuse with the 50, so you have to be careful. The one euro coin is fine. The largest denomination coin is worth €2. That's the coin seen on the left. It's easy to spot and, believe me, you pick this one up—this morning it's worth about US$2.15. The designs vary from country to country in the Euro-zone; the one shown here is Italian and bears Leonardo's design of Vitruvian Man. The other side has the numeral 2. A great coin; you can actually buy something with it. Here's the twist: no one confuses the €2 coin with any other euro denomination; the size and bimetallic design make it very easy to spot. The confusion arises between that coin and the 10-Bhat coin from Thailand (image, right); they are almost identical. Some of those coins are now floating around Naples, brought back by sly tourists who got each coin for 25 euro-cents in Thailand and hope to pass them off as 2 euros in Italy. The coins are the same size and have same two-metal composition, so you can really be short-changed if you don't check what they hand back to you in the coffee bar or at the news stand.But the weight is slightly different, so you can't use them in vending machines. (Or so I have heard.)

(Jan 24) - Local papers are abuzz with the lead from a recent press release from Apple Inc.: Apple Opening Europe’s First iOS App Development Center in Italy. And so forth: Next Generation of Developers To Gain Skills, Accelerate Entrepreneurship. The real buzzer, however, is in the part of the release that says:
The iOS App Development Center, to be located at a partner institution in Naples, will support teachers and provide a specialized curriculum preparing thousands of future developers to be part of Apple’s thriving developer community.
To say that the opening of an Apple App Center in Naples is imminent is hysterically premature, but apparently  there were Apple folks prowling the city recently looking around. The most likely site is the largest piece of real estate going to total waste at the moment: the ex-Nato base in Bagnoli. It was built in the 1930s to house a "Young People’s College" named Colleggio Ciano. It's not Cupertino, but it does meet Apple's requirements: large enough to provide ample work space for 600 young programmers. It has somewhat the look of a university campus plus amenities and creature comforts such as a church, restaurants, two swimming pools, an athletic track and tennis courts. If the deal flies, the center will be run in collaboration with the engineering department of the Frederick II University of Napes, almost next door. The Computer Science department of the university is also quite close —the largest one in southern Italy. Looks good. Are there any disadvantages? You're joking. Ask anyone who has ever tried to open and run a company in Naples. The California Kids are not just going to surf in here and build New Cyber-Jerusalem in Naples' Green and Pleasant Land without confronting some harsh realities. The site is very near Science City, for example, the place that got burned to the ground a couple of years ago can I delicately avoid saying 'mob'? ...those engaged in extralegal muscle. You don't pay, you don't play. App yours. [update here]

The WWF Oasis of Lake Campolattaro
(Jan 26) -This World Wildlife Foundation Oasis is an artificial lake created by damming the natural floodplain of the Tammaro river at a point 20 km/12 mi north of the city of Benevento in the Campania region. (The dam was built in the early 1980s.) The lake thus formed is 1000 hectares/2500 acres in area. The lake has been a WWF Oases since 2003 and is adjacent to the towns of Morcone and Campolattaro. The oasis is listed as a “site of community interest” and “zone of special interest” meeting Europe-wide environmental specifications and providing shelter for a large amount of flora and fauna; it is also a migratory crossroads for various bird species. The river Tammaro, itself, starts farther upstream at the Vinchiaturo Pass in the Apennine mountains, is 78 km/48 mi long, has a catchment area of 673 square kilometers/260 sq mi), flows from NE to SE and once past the Campolattaro dam eventually flows into the Calore Irpino river, which then feeds into the Volturno, which flows into the Tyrrhenian sea along the Campanian coast.

(Jan 28) - Wave power at the port of Naples.  Wave power is the transport of energy by ocean surface waves, and the capture of that energy to do useful work – for example, electricity generation or water desalination.  A machine able to exploit wave power is called a wave energy converter (WEC). This kind of renewable energy source is quite distinct from the generation of power from tidal energy. WECs are not yet in wide use. There is a working "wave farm" in Portugal, and in Italy there is a working WEC at Castiglioncello, near Livorno in Tuscany. The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research has now announced that an experimental WEC is about start trials in Naples at the San Vincenzo pier at the port of Naples. That is the pier that starts in front of the southern facade of the Royal Palace (just west of the main passenger terminal at the Beverello pier. The San Vincenzo pier extends two km to the SE and forms a sea wall for the port, terminating at a beacon at the entrance to the port, itself. This WEC project will be called Project Dimeno and will be operated by the Second University of Naples.

(Jan 31) -Trains - Good news and bad. First, the good news from the Italian Environmental League's report "Commuting by Train - 2015" is that the new long-distance high-speed trains running north and south to connect the major Italian cities are getting better and better, having increased service by 370% over the last eight years. You really can go the length of Italy (about 1000 km/600 miles) so fast by hassle-free train that a lot of people forget about hasselful airplanes. Naples to Rome in one hour by train! The bad news is that local city and province trains in Naples and the Campania region are getting worse. Much worse. The report says: "Trains in Campania are few and old. Seventy-eight percent (78.3%) are at least 20 years old. Between 2010 and 2015 service has been reduced by 15% and ticket prices have increased by 23.75%...Travel times are what they were in the 1980's." This affects largely the narrow-gauge trains such as the Circumvesuviana, a vast and important web of rail lines running into Naples, used by 120,000 commuters per day. It is, according to the report, the second worst local train in Italy. (Number 1 is a local line in Rome.) It is subject to mechanical problems as well as cultural/sociological problems(!) such as juvenile delinquents standing by the station to throw rocks at the windows. The only bright light in Naples is the when-never (sic!) to be completed metro subway ring around the city (begun when Zoroaster was a corporal and I was much younger). If the city is a clock-face, the completed stations now let you move around counter-clockwise from 12 to 9 to 6 to 3 and...come back in a few years. It, too, has problems such as juvenile delinquents standing by the station to throw stones at the windows, but at least it's running.
Circumvesuviana tra le peggiori linee ferroviarie d'Italia: la classifica Pendolaria di Legambiente

END of Misc. p. #58

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