Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 68 (early August, 2017)
Links to all Naples Miscellany pages



(1) Aug 9 — The best thing about August in Naples is that the place is empty. That is also the worst thing, because there is always a hard-core minority that stays in the city for the summer holiday (although they may close up whatever shops they may have and just do nothing — always a pleasant break. All municipal services run on reduced schedules, so if you're waiting for a bus you have to be careful, especially given this year's dramatic weather: there has been almost no rain in months and the temperatures are in the mid-30s° C (mid 90s° F) with high humidity, producing a ridiculously high "feels like" index (if that is the proper term for the opposite of the "wind-chill factor"). Italian meteorologists have started using the term "perceived temperature", which is fine, but it's strange to hear people who don't understand what that means. ("Gee, it was almost 50° yesterday," [that would be 122°! Instant shrivel up and die temperature!] I heard a woman say. I started to explain, but she was having none of it. "No, no. I heard them say 49°!") The biggest disappointment of the summer (besides the brush fires!) was the central funicolare, the main cable car. It is crucial for many thousands of persons a day under normal circumstances, yet it was "closed for repairs" for a period of ONE YEAR (!), which period was to end about one week ago. It ended, the mayor showed up for his photo op and glad-handing and chauffered ride back home again. The tourists  and locals climbed aboard what was billed as a conveyance not just "repaired" but completely overhauled, yea and verily, "made new" and off they went. It went up, then down, and then stopped — clink! clank! grind!— in the middle. Disgruntled tourists and locals had to climb out onto the tracks and trudge down the emergency stairs to an exit. Conclusion? See you in September. Back to the drawing board.



(2) Aug 10 — There's something strange about this boat. According to the Vessel Finder website, she is "the ELADA (IMO: 9522192, MMSI: 213777000) and is a general cargo ship built in 1980 and currently sailing under the flag of Georgia. ELADA has 141m length overall and beam of 20m. Her gross tonnage is 7898 tons." I don't believe it. That vessel is not 141 meters long, since she appears smaller than a motor yacht called the Sea Rhapsody anchored farther out behind her this morning, a vessel claiming to a mere 66 meters long. Besides that, look at the construction; look at the snub-nosed submarine bow. There is no way that boat was built in 1980. That is clearly modern yacht construction from within the last 10 years. Also "general cargo ship...sailing under the flag of Georgia." Maybe I'm paranoid. I think that is my newest suspect for a Bond-Villain boat. The earlier one was the "A". Hang on... another marine site has her listed more realistically 45m/135 ft in length. Call sign 4LOF2. Leaves the year of construction blank. Even more suspicious. I think maybe it's just some rich Georgia godzillionaire enjoying our peaceful waters instead of his own (there is naval conflict going on in the Black Sea at the moment between Georgia and Azak.. Akazi.. Zhakaz... you know the one. Cargo vessel, indeed!    


(3) Aug 22  —  There was what most people call a "small earthquake" (until their houses collapse) at the town of Casamicciola on the northern coast of the island of Ischia yesterday. The first tremor registered a 3.6 (then upgraded to 4). There have been at least 14 aftershocks. (The numbers are on the MMS [Moment Magnitude Scale], although most TV speakers just give the numbers because they're not sure what it all means. Think old Richter scale and it's pretty close. It's a measure of intensity.)  There was one verified fatality; an elderly woman was killed by a chunk of falling masonry. A few dozen persons were injured, some seriously.  It doesn't have to be an epic film disaster quake to upset people's lives. One hospital was evacuated (later reopened), hundreds of persons stayed outside all night. Some unreenforced structures (that describes most buildings on the island) collapsed, and there are a dozen or so persons unaccounted for. They may just be wandering around. Geologists note that this was a "seismic" and not a "volcanic" quake. That is, the tectonic plates moved; it had nothing to do with an eruption. As far as numbers go, the infamous Casamicciola quake of 1883 is now calculated to have been less than a 6, and it killed 2300 persons.


  (4) Sept. 13 Fatal accident at Solfatara.  From my description of the Solfatara active volcano (yes, it really is) in Pozzuoli:
The Solfatara is, at present, a protected nature reserve open to tourism. It is, indeed, at the "bottom of a cavern" —a large crater of volcanic origin and one that is still very active, geologically. In its long history, the Solfatara has suffered from benign neglect as well as commercial exploitation...
"Benign" went sour quickly yesterday when an 11-year-old boy fell into a hole in the ground; his parents fell in as well when they rushed to save him. All three suffocated quickly from the high concentrations of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide that build up just below the surface. The hole was apparently not much more than 3 or 4 meters deep (10 to 12 feet). "This has never happened before," at least in the memories of those who claim to know. If that is true, they have been lucky. Documentaries on the Solfatara drill it into you: This is an active volcano and a dangerous one. This is not an amusement park, not a fun fair, not "Volcano World." This is smack on top of the old Campanian Ignimbrite eruption. Do not take it lightly. It has enough power left down there to put Vesuvius to shame.

But tens of thousands of tourists flock through the Solfatara every year; film crews come, scientists come, and school field trips come. Yesterday, a musical troupe from Switzerland was standing around waiting for permission to start filming when they saw the commotion. They ran over and were too late to help. Everyone ventures out unsupervised into an area that since yesterday is, by definition, a death trap, one run, oddly enough, by a private family. There is very little in the way of protective service
s such as guards, first aid stations, even adequate guard rails. There are a few signs that warn you to watch your step and a few areas that are sloppily cordoned off. Maybe this unfortunate family ignored a warning sign. That's what 11-years kids do. It's hard to say. There is a "lesser" tragedy here, and I know that is not an adequate expression. The surviving member of the family is the seven-year-old sister who ran for help when she saw her brother and parents go in. She came back too late to help. But things will now change. Now that it's too late.


(5) Sept. 19 Today is the Roman Catholic Feast Day of San Gennaro (St. Januarius), the patron saint of the city of Naples and the day on which believers await the "Miracle of San Gennaro" (see that link for more than you want to know). Spoiler alert: it happened this morning at 10:05. There was all-round happiness (it's strange that even atheists feel better when the miracle happens; after all, as the great mathematician, but awful philosopher, Blaise Pascal, hedged in his non-blazing, lily-livered "wager", "Golly, you never can tell, so you might as well believe." What guts!) The cardinal of Naples, Crescenzio Sepe, gave a sermon on the plight of the victims of the Ischia earthquake and pleaded for more Christian tolerance of the many refugees who now wind up on Italian shores in search of somewhere where they can have a decent life. Good sermon. Those who refuse to believe in miracles may scoff at the affair as a hoax, but even nominal Roman Catholics wait for it. Doctors who have seen "miracles" but are required by science to use the term "spontaneous remission" more or less say what Pope Francis said when asked who could get into Heaven: "How do I know? Who am I to judge?" So, take it or leave it, but there it is.


(6) Sept.  23—  Artists Fulvio De Marinis, Selene Salvi, Ugo de Cesare and Raffaele Concilio have started Opus Continuum, an artists' collective for the purpose of breathing new life into the medium of figurative art. They stress that this is not a reaction against abstract art but, quite the opposite, a simple expression that artists should be able to feel free to paint what they want in the way they want without having to cater to the commercial whims of critics and gallery owners. The organization will be run by artists and for artists. It will be self-governing, hold a yearly exhibition, and establish a physical presence in what will be an exhibit hall as well as a museum. The logo by De Marinis shows the bird-goddess, the siren Parthenope, the eponym of the city later renamed Neapolis. "Who better," says their manifesto, "to represent this timeless solidarity?...combative and stately even armed with brush and palette instead of lance and shield." Then, "We are not living in the past. It is not our aim to “repeat”. We shall continue to innovate. We hold only that in order to be truly “original” and to have an eye consciously on the future, it is important to know where we came from." They have a Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/Opuscontinuum/  Their manifesto is published there in Italian and English.

(7) Nov. 1 From the national TV today, you'd think that Halloween was an Italian holiday. It isn't. To be sure, there are places in Italy with witches and such (near Benevento, for example) (see this link for an extended piece on that and a special rant on people celebrating Halloween in Naples!), but, generally speaking, this particular bit of cultural conflating has faded a bit, at least on my block. Maybe it's the electric fences we put up down at the gate. Yes, it helps to live in a gated apartment complex. Last night, they missed us completely. Yesterday afternoon, I did see one adult woman with halloween-colored hair walking down the street; she was wearing a skeleton costume. She was frowning and walking very fast. I don't know why.

 


(8) Dec. 7 I got my first pre-Christmas zampogna busking of the year the other day (on the 5th). That is unusual because it's too early. You don't show up at the beginning of December with your bagpipes (zampogna) and starting playing Christmas music for coins on the street (busking). But there he was, down from somewhere a few miles north of Naples in the hill country, ideally a small town that still has genuine folk festivals. (I'll feel defrauded if I find out he's my next-door neighbor.) He was decked out in rustic but splendid garb and was playing a burnished instrument that simply shone. The piper usually comes with his partner, a ciaramella (folk oboe) player and they inevitably play a carol called Tu scendi dalle Stelle. (If known at all in English, it is called From Starry Skies Descending.) They symbolize the shepherds in the Gospel of Luke who received the "good tidings of great joy" and then went forth to "glorify and praise God for the things that they had heard and seen." There's an entry on that carol here. There is a complete entry on the bagpipe tradition here. There is separate and shorter entry here as part of the series "Give me that Old-Time Profession!"

(Also see the home page general index under "Christmas.")



(9) Dec. 8 There's nothing worse than intangible pizza. Nevertheless, the craft of the pizzaiuolo (a pizza maker who specializes in vowel toppings) has been added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List for 2017. In Unesco-ese:

Inscribed in 2017 (on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity)

The art of the Neapolitan ‘Pizzaiuolo’ is a culinary practice comprising four different phases relating to the preparation of the dough and its baking in a wood-fired oven, involving a rotatory movement by the baker. The element originates in Naples, the capital of the Campania Region, where about 3,000 Pizzaiuoli now live and perform. Pizzaiuoli are a living link for the communities concerned. There are three primary categories of bearers – the Master Pizzaiuolo, the Pizzaiuolo and the baker – as well as the families in Naples who reproduce the art in their own homes. The element fosters social gatherings and intergenerational exchange, and assumes a character of the spectacular, with the Pizzaiuolo at the centre of their ‘bottega’ sharing their art. Every year, the Association of Neapolitan Pizzaiuoli organizes courses focused on the history, instruments and techniques of the art in order to continue to ensure its viability...
Anyway, big celebrations in town with free pizza. There are 7 entries on "Pizza" in the index (look under P!) including this intellectual affront on Samuel Morse and the Semiotics of Pizza. Eat you heart out. Great topping.



(10) Dec. 13 'BREAD-'PLATES, not 'BREAD-plates

   That is, the plates are made of bread (!) not made to hold bread.

or

   Just think what the Earl of Sandwich missed by not calling his contraptions Grain-based dinnerware!


It's not really that new of an idea, even though a local paper got excited enough to call it "revolutionary," "sustainable," "ecological," "tree-hugging," and "a good idea."


In the heart of the Cilento & Vallo di Diano National Park, 100 km south of the city of Salerno, but still in the province of Campania, the small town of Sanza (image, left) perches at about 500 meters above the Tanagro valley and the A-3, the main north-south autostrada from Rome to the south. Sanza is in the coastal Cilento "bulge" that sticks out into the Tyrrhenian Sea and separates the gulfs of Salerno and Policastro and is much closer (c.10 km) to the southern gulf. Sanza was and still is famous for the quality of the bread. Now, thanks to Angelo Avagiano, a "contemporary farmer" (as he calls himself) who produces an entire array of plates and bowls (pictured) made of grain, you can eat up and then eat the breadware (or whatever it's called). No dishes to wash! The grainbased dishes are made from the same famous grain he has always used and is fired to impermeability in the same wood-fired ovens he uses for his bread. What's for dessert? Probably bread. Maybe that's a problem.


On the other hand, researchers from
La Sapienza university in Rome and the U. of Cal. at San Diego recently interviewed hundreds of 90+-year-old villagers in the Cilento. Their exceptional longevity and good mental health, says the study, appear due to positivity, work ethic, stubbornness and a strong bond with family, religion and land. Friend JM says that is a bunch of touchy-feely fuzzy sociological hooey. He thinks they're juicin' the plates with something. Me? I don't know.


The revolutionary part is that it really is a "no waste" technology. As noted above, there are other ways to do this. There are already high-tech appliances that will bake bread dough into bowls and plates, but they are high-tech gizmos made from plastic and metal and sold by appliance conglomerates such as giant Electrolux in Sweden. Not only do they chop down all those lush, gleaming metal and plastic trees in the northern forests to make a bowl, but the appliances have to be plugged in! Gadzooks.




(11) Dec. 15 The recent study referred to (above) is quite real. It was done by a team of researchers from the La Sapienza university in Rome and the U. of California at San Diego. The researchers actually studied the village of Acciaroli on the coast of Cilento (pictured), not Panza, but there are many articles in geriatric journals that talk about the general longevity and good health of the population of the Cilento area at large. I did a Google search using the search phrase "longevity studies in Italy" and the first dozen articles or so were about the recent study in Acciaroli; there were a few that go back a couple of years, so the question, itself, of why the people in the area live so long is not a new one. Other articles discussed similar places in Italy such as on the island of Sardinia and some were about regions elsewhere in the Mediterranean (including a Greek island where people "forget to die"!) Many of the articles mention that Acciaroli is just 5 km from the coastal village of Pioppi, the place where Ancel Keys lived and did his research on the so-called "Mediterranean diet." This Acciaroli study concentrated on psychological factors that those who live to advanced age seem to share: strong family ties, religious faith, etc. Other studies focus on genetics, diet, exercise and sexual activity Dr. Salvatore Di Somma, a professor of medicine at Sapienza University says that the older inhabitants, male and female, are sexually very active. “At 95, they have brains more like someone who is 50, and at 50, you still think a lot about sex.”

Finally,
a couple of curiosities about Acciaroli, totally unrelated to how you can live forever! (Sorry.)  They call their port the World Heritage Harbour because it's the largest sea port in the Cilento and Vallo di Diano national park, all of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Look at the coastline of the Cilento "bulge" on the map in the item above this one. Acciaroli and the port are about one-third of the way down that coast line after you come out of the gulf of Salerno, heading south.) And (this is a good one!) "Everyone knows" that Ernest Hemingway visited Acciaroli in the early 1950s and they will all tell you that here is where he met the “Old Man.” Further, he based the character of Santiago in his novel The Old Man and the Sea on local fisherman, Antonio Massarone.
“Everything about him was old except his eyes, and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.”
"...based the character of Santiago" makes this some kind of an urban myth, but it's better then the truth (what isn't?). The Old Man and the Sea was published in 1952. Hemingway visited Acciaroli in 1953, so the time-line is skewed. Hemingway plausibly did meet his "Old Man," but after the fact, a fisherman who, also plausibly, reminded him of his Santiago, and they often went fishing together. Still a good story, though.



(12) Dec. 21 This was the sunrise on the winter solstice over the Sorrentine peninsula this morning. I noticed that it was in a slightly different place than many years ago. (I am very old.) This means that the ancients were right about the precession of the equinoxes and the earth is wobbling like a spinning top that is slowing down and will eventually fall over and stop. We're done for. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year anyway.



(13) Dec. 23  Western Naples, 1701 for Leo Gugliocciello, a friend and contributor to these pages.    

It's tempting to call this remarkable painting "The Good Old Days," but we know when it was painted (1701) and thus know that it was the worst of times. (The previous century had not been kind: revolution, plague, and volcanoes; by 1700 many had fled the city and the economy had collapsed. The Spanish were done and the Austrians were about to move in. That would help. Then would come the Bourbons in 1734. That would then really help). True, by today's overbuilt
post-WW2 lack of standards, at least this newer part of Naples looks bucolic, peaceful and almost empty, so maybe that is something "good". It is painted with the photographic precision typical of the artist. (Link directly below.) The image comes to me though the kindness of Selene Salvi (see item 6, above). The original is oil on canvas and is large (75x174 cm / 29.5 x 68.5 inches - I am a fraction taller than that!)

The artist is Gaspar van Wittel (Amersfoort, Netherlands, 1653 – Rome, 1736), father of the architect (under the Italianized surname), Luigi Vanvitelli. The painting is held in the Zevallos Stigliano gallery in Naples and is entitled "A View of Naples from the Chiaia - Pizzofalcone Quarter." So the artist is perched on the Pizzofalcone height, where the future Bourbon military academy will one day stand. The iconic Egg Castle and Santa Lucia quarter are to his left. The historic old city is about 2 km behind him. He is facing due west about 1.5 km from the building
you see at water's edge (the old San Leonardo church, now gone). (Mergellina harbor is just around the distant curve of the beach, out of the picture.) From that San Leonardo church, it's about 2 km across to the fortress and San Martino monastery on the hill on the right. The empty(!) hillside in the middle is the Vomero hill, totally unrecognizable.  See for yourself!

The coast road leading directly out in front of the artist is via Chiaia, now the inside one of two roads (today's outer broad coast road, Riviera Di Chiaia, is from 1890). There is not yet the lush seaside Royal Gardens, today the Villa Comunale. Until the Spanish moved into Naples in 1500, there were almost no buildings at all out here
nothing to paint! Almost every building along via Chiaia is the result of the Spanish effort in the 1500s to build a new quarter in the western part of the city, mostly for Spanish gentry and nobility who came with the change of dynasties. So van Wittel is looking at what, for him, is 200-year-old construction, some of which is still very recognizable. The prominent building on top of the Vomero hill just left of center (flanked by three trees) is Villa Lucia, today part of the large Floridiana park. Directly below that, past the empty hillside there is a church with a dome and Baroque facade bathed in light. That is the church of Santa Teresa a Chiaia, still very much in use. The prominent and large shiny white building in the lower right quadrant is Palazzo Cellamare, still there but grimy because the residents are too cheap to make it gleam again. If you walk east past that Palazzo and off the right side of the scene, you'll be at the Royal Palace in just a few minutes.



(14) Dec. 24 Sorry, this is largely a repeat from a few years ago, but then so is Christmas Eve. In Italian it is called the Vigilia di Natale. That first word, Vigilia, is Latin and has obviously given us English words such as "vigil" (a purposeful or watchful staying awake). It is used in the same way as "eve" is used in English, both in religious contexts and other slightly poetic (but not antiquated) usages such as "on the eve of..." to mean "the evening (or day) before." Germans call it Heiliger Abend; the Spanish say Nochebuena, and in Basque it is Gabon Eguna (you can look up the rest, yourselves). Since Christian tradition holds that Christ was born at night, tonight is actually more important in a religious sense than Christmas day, itself. In Naples, the churches and duomo (cathedral) will be packed for midnight mass.

On the secular side, it's the day of the grand family cenone (cena/dinner + -one/augmentative suffix) (pron. chay-no-nay, the Big Dinner. In the evening everyone drives to a relative's home to eat. The relatives are usually the same ones every year unless you go to the wrong house. They don't drive anywhere, but they do stay home and cook. In Naples, the cenone della vigilia typically features seafood:* first spaghetti with vongole (clams); then fish, probably baccalà (cod) and anguilla anguilla (pictured - the creature so nice, they named it twice!), which sounds a lot better than "eel eel," a snake-like, catadromous fish. (Catadromous, for Pete's sake! meaning freshwater fishes that return to the sea to spawn.) Relax, they seldom get more than a meter long. (Neapolitans are encouraged to sing "That's a moray" after dinner.) There is also an insalata di rinforzo (roughly, a pick-me-up salad); that is, cabbage salad packed with olives, capers, anchovies, vinegar, and enough spices to pick you up right through the roof. The only things that don't come from the sea at the cenone are the spaghetti and the dessert—12 different kinds of sweet and gooey stuff. If you don't like fish, well, you're in good company; St. Augustine, himself, said "It's like eating a box of tooth-picks!" And if you have high blood sugar—look, stay home. For you, indeed, "It's the most loneliest tiiiime of the year." (Gimme a break on the double superlative; Shakespeare really did write "...the most unkindest cut of all.") Wait for tomorrow for Christmas Day specialties, meat and vegetables.
*added: Dec.29
There is an interesting fact involving immigrant Italian-American cuisine. Immigrant cuisine can differ quite a bit from home-country cooking. In the case of the traditional Vigilia meal, the cenone, it is fish-based in every immigrant Italian community that I know of, including those in the United States. There, however, they have invented some peculiar terminology that is, the English-language term, "Feast of the Seven Fishes." It may refer to the entire day of Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, called la vigilia di Natale in Italian or the meal, itself, the cenore. The term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" is not a translation from Italian; the term is unknown in Italy. It is not clear exactly when this term gained currency nor why the number seven, although you can make some Biblical guesses about that one. Anyway, there are usually more than seven.


(15) Dec. 26 Today is what they still call "Boxing Day" in Britain. Since the etymology of that term is not certain, I prefer to think of it as the day when you can return gifts you don't want and spar a few rounds with the shopkeepers until they exchange them. It is also the second day of "Christmastide," the twelve days of Christmas (the one with the turtle doves!), St. Stephen's Day, alias the Feast of Stephen* or, in Italian, simply Santo Stefano. There are a great number of towns, churches, and even entire islands in Italy named after this holy figure traditionally regarded as the first Christian martyr, the so-called "Protomartyr," mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (chapters 6-7).
*The popular Christmas carol, "Good King Wenceslas" [sic] has: "Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the Feast of Stephen"... The carol was first published in 1853. The lyrics are by English hymnwriter John Mason Neale. The melody is an old Finnish folk song. The reference is to Wenceslaus I or Saint Wenceslaus, duke of Bohemia from 921 until 935, and eventually the patron saint of the Czech state. 
I have a few pages on churches in Naples, and I think there a few named Santo Stefano outside of the city proper. But there is one in Naples, not downtown, but out where people used to go for summer holidays before WW2. It stands on the corner (pictured) where you can turn right and head into the Vomero section of town. I always reminded myself to get to it later. It's the church of Santo Stefano al Vomero located on what is now corso Europa (the large street running diagonally through the upper-left quadrant) but which used to be via Santo Stefano; farther up, the street-name indeed changes back to Santo Stefano. This image is at the very top of via Tasso at 170 m./ 500 feet. If you turn left back at that corner, you will soon be on via Manzoni above the Posillipo ridge overlooking the bay.

The church, itself, appears on a map of 1775. At the time, the area was entirely rural, but it was at a time when development was starting to encroach in the form of large private villas which still stand today, such as the adjacent Villa Winspeare. It was a country church, serving farmers, yes, but also serving the landed gentry that was starting to settle the area.
In the 19th century the church developed a reputation for culture, particularly music, with directors from the downtown conservatories. New roads started to creep up the hillside and by 1900, "rural" had turned to "urbanized" and after WW2 even that term was no longer relevant. It as just an overbuilt mess. But the little church is still there. It has even been restored but no longer functions as a working church.
[There is complete history of this church by a cleric, organist and prominent musicologist, Stefano Romano:
La chiesa di S. Stefano al Vomero: Dall’Archivio di una Chiesa di Campagna [From the Archines of a Country Church], pub. Ecclesiae Domus, Napoli, 2009.
366 pages, amply illustrated.]


A Tale of Two Trees

(16) Dec. 28 An odd "Christmas tree" appeared a few days ago on the island of Ischia, where they had an earthquake in late August. In the areas of Casamicciola and Lacco Ameno there are still 2,000 persons without a real place to "go home to." A local resident asked herself if it was still worth putting up a Christmas tree and declared, "It certainly is. It's still Christmas." The result is pictured on the right. It is built from broken slabs of people's homes decorated with vegetation, poignant beyond belief, yet somehow still full of hope.                   Content and photo by Pasquale Raicaldo for la Repubblica.

Meanwhile, back on the mainland, I thought I had said what I had to say about the "Wishing Tree" that local merchants donate every year to be put up in the large Galleria Umberto in Naples. (Those observations are here.) Yet the Naples city hall, the most  gutless wonder since the Escherichia coli bacteria continues to astonish. They can't quite figure out how to stop a bunch of street punks from vandalizing or stealing the tree year after year (this year's version is pictured, left; it was dragged back up into lop-sided place by good-hearted passers-by). The punks are getting better at it since they are no doubt knuckle-dragging offspring of knuckle-dragging parents who did this years ago but who have now grown into full-blown hoodlums.



(17) Jan 1 Barring hanky-panky in the electoral college, I think we did it again! "We're number 1... we're number 1...". That is, I think Naples wins the coveted Shredded Finger Award again this year: most injuries from fireworks. If so, some unfortunate child will be wheeled over from the ER to put his or her stump-print in the cherished Sidewalk of Pain. Ah, the majesty of it all!  In all of Italy last night there 184 injuries. There were no deaths, but there were six gunshot (!) wounds. Mostly the injuries were from Kim Jong-Un-sized atomic cherry bombs and rockets going every which way. Many of the devices were illegal, meaning they were too high-powered or were shoddily made and had unreliable fuses. These are not trivial outpatient boo-boos; some of them involve serious burns, missing body parts, and eye injuries and require hospitalization. One 51-year-old Neapolitan man is in critical condition from a stray bullet. The overall number of injuries is slightly down from last year. Of the 184 cases in the nation, 35 were in the city of Naples, or 46 if you count the surrounding province of Naples.



(18) Jan 2 The Institute of the Sacred Heart is at Corso Europa 84 on the west side of the Vomero section of Naples at about 500 meters above sea level. Historically, the institute and other "Sacred Heart" Catholic schools in 43 countries on 4 continents go back to the foundation of the Roman Catholic religious congregation for women founded in France in 1800 by Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865) in order to further the education of women. The order expanded rapidly in Europe; the congregation and institute were in Rome by 1828 and have been in Naples since 1899.
The Institute was originally located in the historic Palazzo Balsorano in the Chiaia section of Naples but has been at its present location since 1968 and has been co-educational since 1971. It advertises itself as providing classes at the levels of "Elementary School, Middle School & High Schools" (there are three licei /high schools: "Scientific", "Classical", and "Linguistic," all fully accredited by the Italian state) as well as facilities for "Child Care & Day Care" in a multilingual environment of Italian, Spanish and English. The premises are quite large and include dining and athletic facilities, well-equipped language and computer labs, a theater, photographic equipment, musical instruction, a chapel, etc. It's impressive. The institute is run by a foundation named for Romano Guardini (1885 – 1968), an Italian-born German Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.



(19) Jan 6 Today is January 6, the 12th Day of Christmas, the Epiphany, a feast day in Western Christianity that commemorates the visit of the Magi (the Three Wise Men)* to the Christ Child. It is in Italy also known as Befana, plausibly a bit of linguistic sleight-of-tongue from "epiphany." (Earlier entries on Befana are under B in the home page index.) . It is the last "gift-giving" day of the holiday season and still looked forward to by children (and no doubt by parents, who will finally get a breather.)
  *It may also be called "Three Kings' Day" although the identification of the magi as kings has no foundation in the Gospels. It is based on a passage in the book of Isaiah (60:1-5 KJV): "Arise, shine; for thy light is come. and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee... and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising...".
 
The source of the traditional names of the magi, Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazaar is, plausibly, Excerpta Latina Barbari, page 51B (probably written in Alexandria around the year 500): "At that time in the reign of Augustus, on 1st January the Magi brought him gifts and worshipped him. The names of the Magi were Bithisarea, Melichior and Gathaspa.".
The thing that fascinates about this holiday (and others) is the great amount of syncretism involved; that is, the mixing of earlier religious beliefs and traditions into Christianity in the early years of the Christian faith. According to Roman historian, Varro, giving gifts at the new year went back the foundation of the city of Rome, itself, at festivities that took place in honor of the god Saturn on or around the winter solstice. The Latin term for these gifts was strenae (plural) (from the goddess, Strenia, originally a Sabine divinity, goddess of good fortune, inhabiting a sacred wood in Rome). The word has survived into modern Italian as strenna, specifically a Christmas gift. It even spawned an entire publishing branch in the 1800s called strenna editoriale, lavishly printed and illustrated books put on the market in early December in time for Christmas shopping. Thus, the early Roman giving of gifts found its way into the tales of the Three Wise Men and the gifts they brought to the Christ Child. There are books full of these tales of the Magi. I have no favorite, so I picked one I like:

The old woman we now call befana was approached by Three Wise Men, astrologers from the east, a few days before the birth of Baby Jesus. They said they had been following a star to the place where the the Son of God would be born. It had to be nearby. Could she help them find the precise place? They had brought Him gifts. She was too busy but provided them with shelter for the night. They then continued on their way. Later, she had a change of heart and went after them to help them search for the Child. She was not able to find them again. She had missed seeing the Christ Child and to this day she still searches year after year, leaving toys and candy for the good children she finds and lumps of coal for the bad ones.



(20) Jan 7 A day which will live in infamous calendar confusion! Merry Christmas to all Eastern Orthodox Christians! When the Roman Empire split into East and West in the year 395, it solved a few problems and created others. It also set the stage, some centuries later, for a schism between Western and Eastern Christianity, that is, between Roman Catholicism (and subsequent Protestantism) and Eastern Christianity, respectively. The Eastern (or Orthodox, meaning "right belief") faith, itself, has separate divisions within it that may follow various liturgical calendars due to their initial refusal to adopt the Gregorian calendar declared by pope Gregory XIII in 1582. Thus, various Orthodox communities may adhere to either the Julian Calendar (sometimes referred to as the "Old Calendar") or the Revised Julian Calendar ("New Calendar"). Or maybe they have another one! In any event, today, January 7 is Greek Orthodox Christmas in Naples.

Orthodox churches have a long history in southern Italy. Today, most of those original Greek churches throughout the south have become Roman Catholic, but the Orthodox faith may still have services in the Naples Duomo (cathedral) and there is an active Greek church. Today the ranks of the Orthodox faithful have been augmented by immigration from the east
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus. Generally speaking, Christmas eve (yesterday) is a relatively solemn occasion. (Our Gregorian calendar December 6th is the Feast of Saint Nicholas; that is Dec. 19th in Julian calendar and D. Nicholas puts in an appearance on that date to distribute gifts to children. The photo, above, is from a few years ago in Naples. The complete entry is here.) Today, Christmas day, families may gather festively and begin a 12-day period of commemorating the birth of Christ. Although that number is familiar to Western Christians as the "Twelve Days of Christmas") in some eastern churches it may extend even to the number of Magi who brought gifts to the Child there are twelve, not three.






(21) Jan 13 The landscape garden, Ninfa, has been an Italian Natural Monument since the year 2000. It is near the town of Cisterna in the Lazio region of Italy, well below Rome and about 180 km/110 miles north of Naples. The garden, itself, is a World Wildlife Fund "affiliate oasis" and  comprises 8 hectares (20 acres) and contains medieval ruins, oaks, cypresses and poplars, grassy meadows, exotic plants and numerous watercourses. It is set within a larger park of 105 hectares (260 acres). It is all set within the former Pontine Marshes, reclaimed and settled in the 1920s-30s and then later partially "de-reclaimed" to restore marsh area for the purposes of creating this park. The English-style garden was created in 1921 by Gelasio Caetani. The restored medieval village is on the site of a much older site mentioned by Pliny the Younger. Under ancient Rome it was a significant stop on the Appian Way. In Ninfa: The Most Romantic Garden in the World by Charles Quest-Ritson (2009), the author says   
The garden at Ninfa has a unique setting: the ruins of a medieval town near Rome. The site is one of sublime romantic beauty, where time seems to stand still. The garden has achieved cult status among the English and American gardening cognoscenti.

The entrance is at Via Ninfa 68, Loc. Doganella di Ninfa, 04102 Cisterna di Latina. It is not  open all year and is due to reopen in April.

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