Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 53 (start late April 2015)

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  • April 25 & update May 1 - First, the not so good news: the recently opened looooong overdue tunnel from Castellammare out to Sorrento has been temporarily closed due to a land-slide. Should be open very soon. That's what they said 10 years ago.
  • The only large-scale amusement park/fun fair in Naples, Edenlandia, due to open in June, will not open. No details.
Good news! I know it doesn't look like it. =========>>

  • If you saw the original entry in this space from last week, I had been duped (or at least drinking the same kool-aid of optimism as local reporters. They claimed that Piazza Municipio (photo, above right) had changed radically. I interpreted that to mean that the square that runs from city hall (the building at the very top of the square) down to the port was no longer the gaping open wound in the middle of the city that it has been for many years. Well, (the photo is from this morning, May 1), it still gapes although it will open for business for at least some train service two weeks from today. There is said to be an entrance somewhere in this mess that will take passengers down to the train. Anyway, the one working track is below those two buildings in the top-right quadrant of the photo. I suspect that the entrance is up at the top, in front of the city hall near the recently installed, famous travelling fountain of Naples (photo, above, left). Today is international workers' day or labor day, the day when no one works. This morning everyone was working. That yellow crane was swiveling away and men were moving paving stones in around the fountain. The workers are getting overtime, double-time and free tattoos of Karl Marx inked on the body parts of their choice. The fountain and entrance may make it. The rest? Well, Schubert is likely to finish that unfinished symphony of his, before they finish this square.
(update: June 4, below)
  • More good news. If fountains can be funny, this one is. It's  the Carciofo (artichoke) Fountain at Piazza Trieste and Trento (alias Piazza San Ferdinado.) It was built in the 1950 when Achille Lauro was the major of Naples. It is called Artichoke because it looks like an artichoke.
  • This is not good or bad, it just is. Today, as noted, is April 25,  "Liberation Day" in Italy. Interesting to me is that not too many people really know what it celebrates. I asked around. Everyone I asked knew that it has to do with  the Second World War, so the schools are still functioning, but there was confusion as to the year—April 25, what year? (the correct answer is 1945). So it has nothing to do with the Allied Liberation of Rome (June 1944). It also has nothing to do with the official surrender and cessation of hostilities (VE Day - May 8, 1945). April  25, 1945 is the day on which Italian resistance forces (that is, enemies of the residual Fascist state in the north known as the Italian Social Republic (alias the Republic of Salò ) entered the city of Milan and the retreating German forces finally headed for the hills, the Alps. (They would be out of Italy by April 29. Time-line: Mussolini was executed on April 28; Hitler committed suicide on April 30). Naples held the usual patriotic stuff today, but strangely, at least to my mind, used the occasion for a production of the One Hundred Bombings of Naples, a multi-media presentation about what it was like to hide in bomb shelters while hell rained down around you. It was performed in an actual former bomb shelter, the Bourbon Tunnel. The story of the real bombings is here.

  • (May 3) - The poster on the right is one of the many the city is using to hype this year's edition of Monuments in May. The motto this year is cori, cuori e colori (choirs, hearts and colors - above that at the top is the dialect 'o core è Napule/il cuore di Napoli / the heart of Naples). In theory, all or most of the churches and various other indoor and outdoor monuments should be open and the streets a-swarm with various types of entertainers all out to thrill and delight you. As I mention in another entry on this topic, "...it is a month-long bath of culture, an attempt to open everything in the city that can be opened—all the museums, churches, and archaeological sites. The larger ones are usually open all year round, but in May the city makes an extra effort to put the city's considerable cultural wealth on display for tourists." It usually runs reasonably smoothly.  








(May 4) - In August of 2012, the newspaper, la Repubblica, wrote sadly that the area where Naples was born seemed to be destined to die a death of a thousand cuts. That area is known by various names: Monte di Dio, Pizzofalcone, il Pallonetto, and Monte Echia. (A map of the area is here. Number 7 on the map marks the original height of the Greek city of Parthenope [seen in the photo] founded centuries before the sister city of Neapolis. It's one block from the Egg Castle.) La Repubblica then provided a laundry list of everything that is not being done to keep this area from falling apart. Besides residences, Pizzofalcone contains the Nunziatella military academy, the Institute for Philosophical Studies, and a number of historic churches with their works of art; it's all densely packed into about one sq. km right next to Piazza del Plebiscito and the Royal Palace. The degradation is visible and disturbing. My interest this morning was to see how the elevator was coming along. Currently, there are four stairways on and off this hill. They are difficult and, at night, totally dark. An elevator would be a boon—a one-minute easy way down to the seaside and the rest of the city and an easy way back up. I could have saved myself the trouble. The photo shown here was taken a few hours ago. It is identical to the one I took for my 2012 description of the area. Nothing has changed—cars parked in front of the site, and that crane working on the top station looks pretty much in the same position.  The only difference is that in this photo there are more cars parked in front of the entrance, including my own (HEY! HEY, YOU! Get away from...). The construction site opened in 2009 and the lift was to be lifting by April 2011. It's not major engineering; one shaft, two stations. When I took that other photo in mid-2012 one of the workers said, "Hang on for a few months, chief. We're almost done." Then he smiled.



(May 6) - Word comes from various sources on the successful restoration and presentation of some frescoes and mosaics in the Villa of the Mysteries at the archaeological site of the ancient Roman site of Pompeii. The treatment involved the use of the antibiotic amoxicillin to treat a strain of streptococcus bacteria that was gradually destroying the original pigment of the frescoes. Restoration also involved the use of lasers to remove dirt from surfaces soiled from the old excavation of the site in the early 1900s. The restoration began in 2008 and some of the results were displayed in March of this year. Additional work continues on a portion of the site that collapsed in 2012 during a rainstorm. The Villa of the Mysteries probably derives its name from what some scholars says are representations of the rites of female initiation to marriage. The villa is one of more than 100 such structures discovered in area of Vesuvius. They were built beginning in the second century BC up to the mid-first century AD and are in what is called the "second style".



(May 7) - SuperAbile Onlus. The Italian acronym Onlus stands for Organizzazione Non Lucrativa di Utilità Sociale (that is, non-profit organization for social utility. Here the word (the way it is written with an upper-case A,) means Super Able but is also a brilliant pun on superabile/surmountable ). There are many hundreds of such organizations in Italy, they are active in environmental projects, public health, amateur sports, public cultural activities in music and art, etc. They are supported by public monies as well as by contributions from the public. The interesting billboard sign shown here was put up by SuperAbile, whose concern is making the cities of Italy more liveable for those, for example, who live their lives in wheelchairs or are otherwise not "able", (a large group that includes the blind, the deaf, the elderly, etc. It's a long list.)  The organization has borrowed the Ignobel Prize concept from Harvard's tongue-in-cheek awards that "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think" (such as, for example, the research that showed that presence of humans sexually arouses ostriches!) SuperAbile has posted 60 such signs throughout Naples to award the 2015 Ignobel Prize to Architectural Barriers. Each sign includes an image of a scene in Naples that is particularly egregious in ignoring the laws (they do exist) requiring restaurants, schools, public transportation, etc. etc. to accommodate the disabled. The scene on the right on the sign shown here is a stretch of the seaside where restaurants have simply moved their tables out to take up the entire sidewalk, a public right-of-way. The English term for all of this is Universal Design
—that is, make it as easy as possible for as many as possible. The campaign features images of various Italian who have won the real deal, in this case Franco Modigliani, winner of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Economics. There is no reason for the choices of Nobel laureates, as far as I know, other than the juxaposition of  Nobel/noble and, sadly, ignoble/Ignobel.


(May 21) - This may not mean much to those of you who live in the lap of all-day every-day zombie consumerism ("Must buy! NOW!") but around here, it's a big deal. Naples now has its first 24/7 supermarket (pictured). Conveniently, it is located in the Vomero section of town at the top of via Tasso across from a building known as a haunted house. Remember, this is a town that still grabs some shut-eye at 2 p.m. for a couple of hours and wakes up only if it really has to. Most supermarkets (itself, an alien import) now, however, regularly stay open through that noonish nightmare of nothingness, but this is something special. You can actually go shopping in the middle of the night. Of course, to do that, you'll have to start your car at 3 a.m., wake up the guy at your gate to let you out of your full-security locked-down urban fortress (his German shepherd is grouchy at that time of the morning, too!) and then wake him again when you come back a few minutes later with the bread (and doggie treat. If you forget that, your ankle will do nicely).


(May 24) - At Pompei work is almost completed on the restoration of 86 plaster casts of the remains of persons who perished in the famous eruption of Vesuvius of 79 AD. Some of them are already known since they were uncovered in the 1800s. This display, however, will be part of an exhibit set to open on May 26 as "Pompeii and Europe 1748-1943." The first date is of the initial re-discovery of the buried city under the Bourbons and king Charles III
—the beginning of the scientific rediscovery of Roman antiquity in the area. The second date is the year before the last eruption of the volcano, which took place in the middle of WWII. The victims were swiftly buried in hot ash and apparently died almost instantly. Modern X-ray techniques, indeed, reveal intact skeletal structures preserved within a natural case of pyroclastic materials through the centuries, thus making it possible to make plaster molds. (photo, la Repubblica)


(May 25) - "Fool me once...etc." This is directly related to the item called "The Little Choo-Choo that Needed a Dictionary" (at this link). I fell for this once before, when I thought the Italian term inaugurare as in "to inaugurate a new train station" meant that I could run down there and ride the new train. I was wrong. Really, they were wrong, but... So they inaugurated the new station at Piazza Municipio two days ago. Not the whole station, but the line that drops you at city hall and the main port and then continues on to the main train station. This is not just a big deal. It is the biggest deal in 40 years of remaking public transportation in Naples. So I went down to get my ride and suddenly it all seemed so familar. This exchange ensued between yours truly (YT) and a friendly gentleman (FG), who was also at the ribbon cutting:
YT: "When can we get on the train?"
FG: "June 2."
YT: "Huh? I thought they were inaugurating this thing today."
FG: "They are. But it's like a ship. You break the bottle of bubbly on the bow, the ship slides into the water and we all say auguri
—good luck! best wishes! That's what the word means. Passengers will have to wait a bit longer. Think of the metaphor of the ship...ship and meaning, ship and meaning."
FG: (Now, I'm getting steamed.) "But you said like a ship. That's not a metaphor; that's a simile!
Hah!"

Having destroyed FG with my repartee, I stalked off into one of the dark tunnels to seek my train. A security detail caught up with me and kindly showed me the exit. Strangely, it is quite similar to the entrance, except upside-down. So it's "Fool me once, blah-blah-blah...fool me twice..." and I have to have it explained to me by Long John Chomsky.


(May 28) - Nice poster. It's plastered up right near my house and was put up by the Vitignoitalia (vines or vineyards of Italy) organization to advertise a wine festival/tasting on the premises of the Egg Castle. Too bad the poster plaster people did such a poor job. Their handiwork is wrinkled, the edges are not aligned well, and they spilled gobs of glue on the sidewalk below for you to slip and hurt yourself. (It has happened.)

It's not surprising to see Vesuvius used as an advertising icon of Naples. There have been thousands of examples over the years. Most of them seem to be hand-drawn stylized graphics; not too many use altered photos such as this one. I find it very imaginative. You can choose between a glass carafe pouring wine and a foundry ladle pouring molten metal that then becomes a flow of lava as it starts to splash its way down the slopes of Vesuvius.

Speaking of poor poster plaster people, one of the greatest of all Italian films is acknowledged to be Bicycle Thieves (1948) (originally translated as the singular, The Bicycle Thief, in English - I don't know why). The director was Vittorio De Sica. It is a masterpiece of Neorealism. The plot revolves around the plight of a father and his son in post-war Italy. They have a bicycle and find a job using their bike to put up posters. Their bike gets stolen and the rest of the film is about how they never get their bike back. (Spoiler alert: No, they never get it back. Spoiler alert two: never.)




Nisida (separate entry here)              

(May 31) -  The Italian juvenile justice system concerns boys and girls aged 14 to 18 years, who have committed offenses of the civil or penal code. Italy's approach to juvenile delinquency is a broad socio-educational one with emphasis on rehabilitation. Thus, besides the (1) IPM (Instituto Penale per Minorenni/Penal Institute for Minors)—the detention facility—you find (2) “centers of first reception” and (3) “communities for minors,” aimed at psychological evaluation of young offenders. Although such things are hard to compare across national boundaries, Italy does rather well [see Meringolo, P. (2012). Juvenile justice system in Italy: Researches and interventions. Universitas Psychologica, 11(4), 1081-1092]. Naples and, particularly, the small island of Nisida has typically done very well since besides the three-in-one approach all present at the same location, there has been now for a number of years a fourth prong: Nisida hosts The European Studies Center, an observation facility and data bank of the Phenomenon of Juvenile Delinquency in Europe. By most accounts, the little island has been a model of how to handle a difficult problem well.

Word now comes from the Ministry of Justice that the entire facility is being closed indefinitely. No reason given. Just the sudden notice from one day to the next, probably one of those unsigned anonymous letters from a bureaucrat with no face or name. Some of the 50 young persons have already been removed and sent to other facilities. It is really hard to know what this means, and we won't know until the Ministry of Justice steps up with an explanation. The decision to close the facility also affects the 15 members of the staff. They will be staging a demonstration this week to demand some answers.

The kids? Well, there are not that many such facilities in the entire nation of Italy—16 IPM's in all. Most of them are in the southern regions of Campania, Puglia, Reggio Calabria, and Siciliy, where organized crime families involve children in criminal activities from an early age. But in the city of Naples—indeed, in the entire province of Naples, Nisida was the only such combined facility. In the other provinces of the Campania region, there is an IPM in Caserta, one in Benevento, and one in Salerno. Those facilities may or may not have adequate social and psychological services, but there is—or was—nothing like Nisida. (There is an interactive map at this website with a region by region breakdown of juvenile facilities in Italy. Also see this general update on Nisida.)


(June 2) (If you came from the link in the main index and already knew the word accabadora, you are either very well educated or Sardinian. Don't worry, it's just a theatrical presentation!)

The Church of Purgatorio ad Arco on via dei Tribunali (number 35 on this map) did something a bit different this year to start the tourist season. Instead of using the premises to display some arcane aspect of Neapolitan religious lore, they presented something from Sardinia. Since I maintain a small adjunct section on Sardinia on this site I feel justified—maybe even obligated—to sneak this in here.

It was a presentation called "Accabbai - a ritual" and was dedicated to the legendary female figure in Sardinia called the accabadora or agabbadòra (from the Sardinian s'accabadóra, lit. "she who finishes"; also Sard. s'acabbu, "the end"; ultimately from Spanish acabar - to finish, put an end to). The reference is to no less than the woman who helps people die when the time comes
—that is, the aged, the sick, those who haven't the strength or will to take their lives but welcome the release from the travail of life. It is important to note that the accabadora is not a feared grim reaper figure, but a welcome, benevolent angel of mercy. I have no intention to discuss the ethics of "mercy killing" or "active euthanasia" (the word, itself, means "good death"), merely to note that the practice is ancient and widespread (and even modern in some countries). The existence of these women in Sardinia has generated a modest body of literature in Italian, from the skeptics to those who represent the general consensus that, yes, these women existed (even as recently as the mid-20th century) but only in a few small areas. I asked around Naples, and the Sardinian term accabadora is not generally known at all, at least not here. On the other hand, there have been at least two novels at the national Italian level on the subject in recent years, and there is an artist in Rome, Andrea Pes, who draws an illustrated e-book series (don't call them comic books!) called Dora the Accabadora. See? It rhymes nicely. Not so grim now, huh? You should see the cartoon.
photo: La Reppublica    

(June 4) - The newest station in the city underground Metro train line has opened at Piazza Municipio, the city hall. The entire underground complex stretches from the city hall at the top (north) of the square down to the entrance of the port of Naples. The entire square is a rectangle about 250 x 75 meters and is not all finished, nor will it be for quite some time, but at least the top of the square is essentially done. For the first time in the 40 years that this largest single-city urban construction project in Italy has been going on, you can get on the line at Piscinola, 15 stops away, up past the high Vomero section of the city, and ride it all the way into townand then stay on and get to the main train station! As the crow flies, that's only a bit over 6 km (4 miles), but in the old days (yesterday) only a crow would have dared it. Major work remains: bring in the narrow-gauge #6 line from the west; that is, from the suburb of Fuorigrotta; then, finish the line from the main train station up to the airport and then on to complete the giant ring around the city. (The ring will have 25 stations, 19 of which are now in service.)

There is a history of various episodes in the construction of the Metro going back to 2002 at this link.



(June 7) - Esoteric Naples - The city gears a lot of its summer-time activities to tourists from other parts of Italy—not just those from abroad. Thus, aside from all the art, music, architecture and archaeology that anyone can enjoy, there are always theatrical presentations, which, obviously, involve language. That might discourage those who don't speak Italian; on the other hand, some of the events are so choreographic, that you might enjoy them anyway. This one, for example. Esoteric Naples: Janare and Benandanti, Tales of Campanian Folklore from the Mouths of Demons and Saints, presented at the Fontanelle Cemetery image right. It is part of a broader initiative promoted by the city of Naples called Fantasmi a Napoli:
Virgil the Wizard (fantasmi: phantoms, spirits, ghosts, etc.). There are four points of reference:
(1) Janare is the local word in Benevento for 'witches'. See entry called The Witches of Benevento;
(2) Benandanti ("Good Walkers") were agrarian visionaries in Friuli in northeastern Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries. They claimed to travel out of their bodies while asleep to battle malevolent witches in order to ensure good crops. During the witch trials in the 1600s many of them were accused of heresy and witchcraft.
(3) The Fontanelle cemetery is the most interesting (certainly the spookiest) example of an ossuary in Europe. There is a separate entry here.

So, from June 25 through 28, you will be led through the Fontanelle cemetery to hear and watch actor/guides present local traditions of witchcraft and magic and compare them to those from elsewhere in Italy. Fortunately, the presentations are at 11 in the morning and again at noon. If it were midnight I might not go. Oh...
(4) Virgil. I remember studying the Aeneid, but not that Virgil was a magician. In Naples he's the one who put the Egg in Egg Castle. Read all about it, here. (If you really do want to see this, call 339 8191605 and book a place. It costs ten euros.)
 


(June 10) - Speaking of bones... (Sorry, it just worked out that way.) Friends from Napoli Underground have reminded me of an interesting small exhibit. Over on the Adriatic, restoration is complete, and “the oldest mother in the world” has been put on display. She is cataloged as “Ostuni 1”
about 20 years of age at her death, dated to 28,000 years ago. Her remains, and those of the fetus in her womb, were found in the Grotto of Santa Maria di Agnano, in the territory of Ostuni (a town inland in the region of Puglia between Bari and Brindisi). The remains were placed in a special display case such as to reunite symbolically the mother and her unborn child. The burial of the woman, together with the intentional interment nearby of a horse and an aurochs, is interpreted as a rite of propitiation and regeneration vital to the groups of Paleolithic hunters of the area. Some cave drawings were also present in the grotto. They were linear and invite speculation that our species had passed from mere representations of reality to abstraction and use of signs as communication. This exceptional find was the work of the the team of Prof. Donato Coppola in 1991. The exhibit is in the Museum of “Civiltà Preclassiche della Murgia Meridionale” [Preclassical Civilizations of Southern Murgia] of Ostuni, on the premises of the church of San Vito Martire.


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