Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 22 (mid-June 2009)

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  • Sabrina, the 32-year-old female elephant, the only elephant left at the Naples zoo, is in danger of dying from an intestinal obstruction. Doctors from the university department of veterinary medicine and experts from as far away as Tel Aviv have converged on the zoo to see if they can save her. It is, according to reports, very iffy. The zoo, itself, though an immense improvement over what the place used to be, still needs to be restructured. Contsruction is supposed to start in September on a major expansion into the adjacent and largely unused area at the east end of the large fair grounds in Fuori Grotta, the Mostra d'Oltremare. The new entity will be called Animalia and will be on the order of those large safari parks where animals have more room to roam. [Sad update here.]
  • You may know that UNESCO has an impressive list of what they call World Heritage sites—places that must be saved at all costs because of their unique place in the cultural history of our planet. The historic center of Naples is on that list and has typically received financial and administrative aid from the UN organization. UNESCO now says that it can't keep dumping aid into a black hole; they have put off until 2011 any further commitment on the nature of their contribution until the Naples city government comes up with a reasonable "management plan"—that is, what needs to be saved/restored, how it is going to be done and how much it is going to cost. The plan was supposed to be ready in 2006.

  • Michelangelo in Naples. A recently discovered wooden sculpture of The Crucified Christ, authenticated as being from the year 1495 and the work of the young Michelangelo is on display through July 12 at the new Diocesano museum in the church of Donna Regina in Naples. The work was first shown to the public in 2004 in Florence and has since been exhibited in Rome, Palermo, Trapani and Milan. The Italian state acquired the small sculpture from an antique dealer in Torino who had, in turn, bought it from a private family. Experts spent ten years authenticating it before putting it on display. Their judgment was based on a number things: the geometrically ideal human proportions of the sculpture (corresponding to Leonardo’s so-called Vitruvian Man); also, the sculpture came at a time in Michelangelo's life in the mid-1490s when he resided at the Santo Spirito church in Florence and pursued intense studies of human anatomy at the church's hospital; and the fact that the sculpture on display is very similar to ones, verifiably by Michelangelo, done at the Santo Spirito. The work is about 43 centimeters (17 inches) high.

  • Aziz, a 30-year-old Moroccan man with psychological problems was finally talked down off the head of the gigantic statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi near the train station the other day where he perched for ten hours, threatening to jump. He has a history as a wandering vendor of black market merchandise and earlier had fled from Sicily to Naples.
  • Ah, the white sands and cool breezes of downtown Naples! I'll canoe over tomorrow and see how things are going. Some weeks ago they dripped tar between the cracks of all the tiny paving stones (called sampietrini) down at Piazza del Gesù Nuovo. With soaring summer temperatures over the last few days, the tar started to melt; by 11 a.m. passers-through were beginning to complain about the goo on their shoes; by 2 p.m. it was slow-motion city in the piazza ("Gasp! Pull left foot up...just a few more steps...I'm almost... to...the...shade!") providing future paleontologists with the pleasure of finding human remains stuck dead in the stuff, reminders of the Great Neapolitan Mammal Extinction of 2009. Not to worry, said town parenting persons; yea, they moved and caused tons of white soil to be dumped onto the square, turning it into what looks like a beach. I like it, actually. Stay tuned.

  • Molosiglio is the small boat harbor directly in front of the southern façade of the Royal Palace. It has berthing for about 140 small pleasure craft and shares some facilities with a small, adjacent harbor used by the Italian coast guard. A plan has just been scrapped that would have converted Molosiglio into a tourist port, meaning,at the very least, additional berths for hydrofoil service to and from the various pleasure ports in the gulf of Naples such as Sorrento and Capri. The reason for the thumbs-down is that the place is already too congested. That is absolutely true. As it is, the port has a small park in front and an access driveway already overcrowded with parked cars since the port also shares space with one of the largest A.S.L. (Assistenza Sanitaria Locale) health clinics in the city.



  • Yesterday I got tossed out of what I thought was a museum. The fragmented mural on the entrance (photo, right) should have been a tip-off. "Hey, you! [meaning ME] This is a school! What are you doing walking around in here?" Well, the sign in front still reads, Industrial Arts Museum and the door was wide open. The helpful information near the front gate tells you that the institution was founded in 1882 to fill "...the need to create a link between schools and the labour market...[and to provide a place]...where the new generation was to be trained in...pottery, metalworking, cabinet making and gold work...enabling ongoing comparison between antique and modern articles and encouraging pupils to think about techniques...thus transcending the purpose of a mere collection." The museum is apparently still on the premises (if you make an appointment!). It has 6,000 items grouped into sections such as archaeology, southern pottery and late 19th-century applied arts. I had heard about this place, never really look for it, and stumbled upon it by chance. I may make an appointment, but they ruffled my feathers and I may not. I'll show them.  (update from May 2016 here)

  • Trashminoes? Readers may be familiar with Alexey Pajitnov's hugely popular video game, Tetris: players manipulate falling blocks (called "tetrominoes") to create a horizontal line of blocks without gaps. As the game progresses, the tetrominoes fall faster, and the game ends when the stack of tetrominoes reaches the top of the playing field and no new tetrominoes are able to enter. Now, a northern Italian website, bastardidentro.com, has created NAPOLTRIS (with the R backwards to give it that Russkie effect). To the strains of a popular tarantella, you try to manipulate falling bags of garbage and other refuse (such as discarded tv sets) before they descend on one of Napoli's many monuments that form the field of play. A newspaper this morning was complaining about it (the game, not the garbage).
  • The city government has released what should satisfy anyone's demand (see UNESCO item above) for a plan of action to fix up entire portions of Naples. Between now and the "Culture Forum" in 2013 (and I have no idea what that is), Naples will use 250 million euros from the POR fund (Programma Operativo Regionale) plus 135 million from elsewhere for a number of projects. These include (but are not limited to): finishing the conversion of the gigantic old Albergo dei Poveri into something called la Città dei giovani (City of Youth); redoing the area from Piazza Mercato to Porta Capuana in the east along the port, still visibly marked by signs of WWII destruction; "saving the Acroplis" by opening an area near the museum for an "Archaeology Park" (this would entail destroying one of the worst-looking—but functional—buildings in city, a gigantic high-school; maybe that is not such a good idea); cleaning up the Girolamini area near the Duomo (I hope that includes finally reopening the very large church of the Girolamini); opening the Totò Museum; reopening the Filangieri Museum; and distributing Wi-Fi points throughout the historic center of town.
  • Over the past eight months, €700,000 have been spent along the Posillipo coast to conserve the areas of Marechiaro, Gaiola, and Riva Fiorita. That is not a lot of money compared to the eventual return from boat tourism along this very popular stretch of coast. After all, Marechiaro is so beautiful and romantic that it inspired the great Neapolitan poet, Salvatore di Giacomo, to write "quanno spónta la luna a Marechiaro...pure li pisce nce fanno a ll'ammore..."—"When the moon shines on Marechiaro, even the fish make love."

  • Piracy on the coast! Yesterday (June 19) at 8 p.m. there was still enough pleasant light and view for a 37-foot Manò Marine cabin cruiser (of the kind in this photo) with a crew of two to be idling off the lower Posillipo coast not far from Villa Rosebery (the Naples residence of the president of Italy—which is probably why this episode made nation-wide news in the first place). It was boarded from one of those speedy rubber dinghies by two pirates brandishing firearms. While the accomplice sped away in the dinghy, Long John and Captain Hook swiped watches (one was a Rolex, of course), jewelry, 1300 euros in cash, credit cards and a cell-phone. They then forced the two men to don life-jackets and jump in the water. The bad guys sped off, tossing an additional life-preserver in the direction of one of the victims who yelled out that he couldn't swim. The two in the water were spotted and rescued by members of a rowing team out for an evening practice. Still no sign of the boat.
  • The Ospedale del Mare (described here), the grand new earthquake-proof hospital in Ponticelli, at the eastern end of Naples near the sea, was supposed to be finished in 2008. It is still nowhere near completion and contractors are threatening to stop work altogether unless they get paid. (update-2016)


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