7 (late November, 2007)
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Tourism is down in Naples this year by about 10%. That is across the board: the numbers of tourists arriving, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, visiting museums, etc. In a chicken-or-egg situation, the Campania region of Italy (of which Naples is the capital) is also spending less money per visitor than in past years.
The Science City fair grounds in Bagnoli, in collaboration with the Mt. Vesuvius observatory, is holding an exhibition called "Land of Ice and Fire." It will run through mid-December and feature displays and discussions on climate change, sustainable development, local and global seismic risks, and characteristics of the planet's polar regions. The exhibition is part of the Futuro Remoto program, an annual science fair in Naples. I understand that they are even setting up an ice-skating rink!
A recent poll conducted by the Neapolitan Association of Students Against the Camorra (organized crime, the Neapolitan version of the Mafia) produced some startling results. 6,227 students in 29 high schools in the province of Naples responded to questions; 70% signed the questionnaire with name and surname. More than one-third said that there were at least some positive elements in organized crime, and a small number (249 students) regarded some members of the camorra as "heroic". 871 respondents recognized the "merit" of organized crime in providing jobs for those who need them, and more than 1,000 claimed to be satisfied with the level of power that the camorra enjoys. Questions about confidence in the police had some ambiguities: 37% to have no such confidence, yet the percentage of persons who report crimes to the police (a display of confidence) continues to rise over previous years. The "glass is two-thirds full" school points out that 61% of respondents said there was "nothing positive at all" about organized crime.
The city is determined to curb smoking even in outdoor public places. "No smoking" signs are already in place in the Villa Comunale, the sea-side park in the Chiaia section of town. Now, a restriction on smoking in the San Paolo football stadium is set to go into effect. There is to be a smoking section, presumably in the upper echelons of the stadium, closer to heaven or to the fresh air (depending on whether you are a smoker or not). The regulation is to be enforced by roving "no smoking" wardens. (In lieu of loading an MP3 laugh-track onto that last sentence, I encourage readers to guffaw and chuckle as they see fit. In any event, it is not a job that you really want in Naples.) Weirdly, the issue has split along political party lines. The right is against it; the left is for it, with a couple of splinter parties unable to make up their mind. But that is normal.
There must have been a clown in that casket because this bread sure tastes funny! A few days ago, some honest, hard-working bakers were down at Piazza Plebiscito handing out free bread. They were protesting against the unfair competition from some 400 illegal bakeries run by the camorra (the Neapolitan version of the mafia). These establishments, commonly working out of basements around the city, have not been using standard, clean wood to fire their ovens. Instead, they have been turning to funeral homes and using wood recovered from caskets. Such wood gives off fumes from the varnished outside surfaces and who knows what-all from the inside. The city estimates that it is a 400 million euro per year business.
At four in the morning a few days ago, the pilot, co-pilot and some other members of the crew of an early-morning flight from Naples to Milan left their downtown hotel and thought they would grab coffee at a local cafe before heading up to the Naples Capodichino airport. They were promptly robbed by two armed bandits who burst into the cafe, cleaned them out and fled. What with shaken nerves, police reports, etc. etc. —well, these things take time. The plane sat at the terminal for a while with no crew before the 140 passengers found other flights.
The Frederick II University of Naples is now going into Distance Education in a big way. The program—called "Federica" (the feminine form of the name of the university, and no, I don't know why) is going to put up 52 courses on-line, downloadable in the from of iPod lectures. When I was teaching at the university, I noticed how students failed to show up some of the time —maybe most of the time. Now, they will have another excuse.
If you drive around Naples for any length of time, you will be approached at a stop-light by someone who either wants (1) to sell you packets of paper tissues or (2) to clean your already clean windshield with dirty water. These people are almost all illegal immigrants. Some are cheerful and some are in an even worse mood than you are, but this is how they grind out a living. How much do they make? They get the tissues in the morning from suppliers down near the train station. If they pick up, say, a stash of 48 packs, each containing 6 smaller packets of tissues, they pay eleven euros. If they can sell them all —that is, each small packet for 50 cents each—they will take home about 400 euros per month. "Take home" means just that; it is undeclared income on which they pay no taxes. If you add to that the extra income from washing windshields (done by them or perhaps a nearby family member), they probably make about 700 euros a month. That is not a fortune, but it is better than many part-time legal jobs in the city, which may pay from 400-600 euros per month. Before taxes.
The beautiful new "Sirio" trams have turned out to be refrigerator cars, at least according to the passengers who complain that even with the chilly season upon us, it is still colder in the tram than outside on the street. Drivers are unable to adjust the automatic climate control from their compartment (it's somewhat of a sealed-off cockpit) and they may be blissfully unaware that you are freezing to death back there). The city is working on it.