Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Miscellany #80
started in mid-November 2020

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                1. Nov. 12
The National Archaeological Museum
IMPORTANT covid-crisis news: At this writing (Mid-Nov.'20) all museums in Italy are closed. My main entry on this website is here. For internet access:

The Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli - acronym MANN) 
Italian-language websiteEnglish language website.  On-line accessibily.

The MANN site today is not working smoothy, but you can try.

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2. Nov.13
Friday the 13th!

Yes, today is Friday the 13th. Don't worry about it. Interestingly, the number 13 is lucky in Italy (and in a number of cultures in the world). In Naples and the Campania region, in general, you might say "tredici" (13) if you think your luck has changed for the worse as an exhortation to regain that luck. The day to worry about here is Friday, the 17th. That one is very complicated. There's one coming up in September of 2021. I may remember to warn you. On the other hand, I may not. It's unlucky just to mention it.

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3. Nov.14
Christmas in Malta 

Friend Peter H. of Wash. D.C. calls my attention to a remarkable new museum there. It is the Museum
of the Bible, located at 400 4th St. SW, Washington, DC 20024 (tel.1-866-430-6682). It is currently closed, but you can look at their displays on-line here.

Of particular interest for the coming season is

The Nativity Crib is a constructed model of the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family in Bethlehem. In Italian that display is called a "presepe" or "presepio". The Neapolitan models are well-known and are explained here in my original entry on the subject. The island nation of Malta is very well known for them. From the museum's publicity for the exhibit:
Handmade Nativity scenes set in elaborate landscapes called “cribs” is a centuries-old tradition that carries strong significance in Maltese culture. This year, in partnership with the museum, the nation of Malta sponsored a crib decorating contest. Come see the Top 10, featured in this all-new exhibition, Christmas in Malta.
The images shown (above) are two of the ten. Here is a separate entry on the Republic of Malta.

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4. Dec.1   Virtual Museums are taking up some of  the "covid cultural slack" in many places in Italy and elsewhere in the world. If the real museums are closed (and, in Italy, most of them are) and you can't go out, anyway, then you are going to have a few problems going out to a museum. Major tourist sites near Naples have "interactive" displays anyway. There is a good one at Herculaneum, for example. The assumption here, of course, is that you at least have to be able to get out and go to the physical site, itself. We hope that time is not far off. But the technology of developing digital interactive displays has helped some places that are simply too large to see unless you have a few days. The Cilento area, south of Salerno is a vast bulge in the coast that is one of the most scenic areas in Italy. So in the hope that we will all soon be able to get out and "get close", the town of Santa Maria di Castellabate has announced the opening of a modern, interactive" museum on the premises of the 18th-century Villa Matarazzo. It is the museum of the "The Natural Beauty of the Cilento, Diano and Alburni National Park." Visitors, with the use of 3-D goggles, may take a self-guided tour of the three pavilions on the premises (image, above right) and tour the entire park.

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A Short Trip through Time to Better Times

5. Dec.16 - Obviously, this year's Holiday Season is not nearly as good as last year's. So I invite you to return with me now to those untroubled days of yesteryear, precisely one year ago, to Dec. 2019, when everyone was gearing up for the season and wishing themselves a happy 2020. It didn't work out. In the hopes that good times are not gone forever, here is a link to what we all were doing last year at this time and hope to be able to do again:

                          Aunt Sisina's Spectacular Presepe! 

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6. Dec.28
No Firework? Ho-ho-ho!

The city may put on a fireworks display somewhere for New Year's Eve just to keep people happy, but home displays are strictly forbidden. To that end, the cops have already confiscated tons of illegally produced fireworks. They don't make beautiful patterns in the sky such as this image, but they do blow off fingers and blind people and have done so many times. The home pyrotechnics are everything a juvenile fireworks nut and his insane father could ask for. They are loud, highly explosive, and very dangerous, little more than small one-bang hand grenades, hilariously called "firecrackers" with defective or too-short fuses. These are strictly forbidden. This means, in Naples, that the city will consider frowning in your direction if you set one of them off. In most years, Naples proudly leads the nation in the race to the Emergency Rooms for the coveted "We're Number 1!" trophy to see how many people are injured or maimed by shoddy home-blown fireworks. This year, because of quarantine restrictions, the illegal street-side stands that sell these things have not cropped up in the usual places: the Sanità, Forcella, and the Mercato Pendino sections of town, but people still have them from somewhere, the high-powered wherewithal that will let them give the New Year a hand —finger by finger. Indeed, if you live near someone who makes this stuff and stores it at home all year waiting for New Year’s, you may never know about it until a house down the street explodes. Or if you live upstairs from that person, you may simply never know about it at all. Never.
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Jan 1 update  Well, it wasn't bad. Of course, there weren't supposed to be any fireworks at all, but people weren't having any of that nonsense. Of course there were fireworks, but it was subdued and actually fun to watch. It wasn't the usual preview of WWIII horror show, and the casualties were very light. Last year the province of Naples (the city itself plus the "outback) had 48 people in the hospital, including a number of children. This year in the same area there were eight -- 3 in the city and 5 in the rest of the province. No children. All adults, patched up quickly and only one or two held over for further observation. The whole show lasted about 30 minutes. The air cleared
quickly and people went to bed.
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added Jan. 4 , 2021
Ancient Roman Snack Bar Discovered in Pompeii
Possum tubera solani fricta habere?*

It is easy to overlook the fact that much of what was buried by the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD such as the major Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii is still buried and, indeed, will remain buried because, as in the case of Herculaneum, a modern town (Ercolano) has been built on top of the old one, and you don't just march in and tear down the homes of tens of thousands of residents just to see the marvels of antiquity. In the case of Pompeii what you see as you go through the ruins is, indeed impressive (see this consolidated Pompeii page). Much of the recent work has been in a section that is currently being excavated for the first time. The new discovery is of a Thermopolium, essentially a snack bar serving hot fast-food and beverages to customers in a hurry to grab a bite and then rush off to build an empire. The site was buried in volcanic ash, and is exceptionally well preserved. Massimo Osanna, director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii spoke with news media about the new discovery: “As well as bearing witness to daily life in Pompeii, the possibilities to analyze this thermopolium are exceptional because for the first time we have excavated a site in its entirety."

The volcanic ash meant that many items and even human remains were perfectly preserved for thousands of years. Some of the detail preserved by the volcanic ash is, indeed, almost uncomfortably personal — human remains, of course, including those of a person fleeing the eruption who was, said the director, “surprised by the burning vapors just as he had his hand on the lid of the pot he had opened”. This snack bar or stall is one of many that have been found by archaeologists in ancient Pompeii; however this one is the first to be fully excavated. The service counter was decorated with polychrome patterns and pictures of animals that were probably on the menu, such as ducks and roosters. In some of the food pots there were tiny pieces of duck bone as well as bones from pigs, goats, fish and even snail shells. The site was partially uncovered last year and now has been revealed in its entirety. The word, itself, thermopolium — is from the Greek “thermos” for hot and “poleo” to sell. These eateries were very popular in the Roman world. Pompeii alone had around 80 of them.
*Can I get some fries with that?
[related item on Roman fast-food here]

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8. added Jan. 6 , 2021
illustration: Gary Larson (permission pending)  
Today, Jan 6, is called Befana. It marks the end of the long Christmas and New Year holiday and is the other gift-giving holiday of that period, the first being Christmas Eve or Day. Traditional crèche (presepe) gifts and now the northern import, Santa Claus, handle the first one and Jan. 6 is the purview of la Befana, an old witch, a hag who flies around on her broomstick with gifts for the kiddies.* This year, there is some confusion: Will she get here at all? Does she have to wear a quarantine mask? The word "Befana" comes from "Epiphany"; the day is a religious feast day in Christianity to commemorate the manifestation of Christ, the Savior. In English the day may also be called "Little Christmas." The evening of the 6th is when the Three Wise Men, the Magi from Persia, the Three Kings came with gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the Christ Child. "Manifestation" here means His revelation as God incarnate, as Jesus Christ, the "anointed one," the Messiah. Indeed, "epiphany" derives from the Greek verb phainein, meaning "to appear." In classical Greek it was also used, for example, for the appearance of dawn but especially for the manifestation of a deity to a worshiper. The dates and traditions vary from Eastern to Western Christianity, but the event, itself, is important to the faithful in all branches of Christianity.
*In some places there is an earlier gift-giving day, December 13, the feast day of Santa Lucia. Her remains are in Venice, but there are other areas where the devotion to her is very strong Syracuse on Sicily, for example. She leads a month-long  parade of gifts for the kids. Here is an entry about the church of Santa Lucia in Naples.

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9. added Jan. 7 , 2021

Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA)

The self-description and mission statement of the AWA:
The Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) is an American not-for-profit organization with headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Florence, Italy. AWA is committed to identifying and restoring artwork by Florence's female artists in the city’s museums, churches, and storage facilities. The foundation achieves its mission through sponsoring restoration of artwork, and promoting research on female artists. As of 2018, AWA has restored 61 paintings and sculptures from the 15th century to the 20th century. Myriad paintings and sculptures by ground-breaking women artists have been overlooked for centuries and many works are currently in need of restoration. Compelling artistic treasures continue to be a silent, undiscovered part of the city’s creative heritage.Through education (lectures, books, seminars, and conferences) and by exhibiting these works in Florence and abroad, we can show this vital cultural legacy and its importance in Florence, in Italy and in the world. 

This is their website available in both English and Italian with a single click.
The website is extensive and well-done and has detailed biographies of 22 women (with samples of their work) from the period of the Florentine Renaissance into the 20th century.
AWA photo is by Francesco Cacchiani
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10. Jan. 25
Nino Taranto (1907–1986, born and died in Naples) was an Italian actor, primarily comedic, active in vaudeville, radio, TV, singing,
poetry and voice recordings, and film (if I have missed anything, he was active in that, too!). It is a given that the most popular Italian film comic (and deservedly so) was Totò (who did most of those other things, as well). That is not debated among movie goers, film critics, and especially other comedians, those who try to make a living by making you laugh; Massimo Troisi, the very popular comedian (from Naples) once laughed when a reporter asked him "Are you the next Totò?" and said, "That's a joke, right?" In other words, as the Latin phrase has it: Ubi maior minor cessat roughly, no one is in second place. In other other (sic) words , there's Totò and then there's the rest of us.                                       (image c. 1935-40)

Nino Taranto's complete name was Antonio Eduardo Taranto. Just counting his films, he appeared in 83 of them between 1924 and 1971. He started as  a child actor in local stage companies, studied mime and dance and joined local theatrical companies, and even toured the United States, playing to the large Italian immigrant community. Back in Italy he successfully entered into the sceneggiata genre (tear-jerking melodrama). He also tried to start his own variety company (alà Eduardo De Filippo), which was a financial disaster and flopped. Taranto achieved large notoriety thanks to two macchiette (i.e. comic musical monologues caricaturing stock characters of his invention, Ciccio Formaggio and the Baron Carlo Mazza. In the 1960s he was Totò's side-kick (more like a funny straight-man in a number of successful film comedies. He has recently been the subject of TV specials about his life. Some biographies have also been published. It comes late, but it's gratifying to note that within easy walking distance of my house there is a small public garden named for him and a statue of him in Lucrino, at the western end of the bay of Naples, where he spent his summer holidays.

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11. Jan. 28
nce Upon a Time...

Magic princess Aida, who dwells somewhere over the icebow in Vancouver B.C., asked what I knew about Gianni Rodari (1920–1980) Italy's author of children's literature. Translations exist in many languages, and with a new one in English out now, his reputation will grow. I'm afraid that my own exposure to Italian children's literature in my youth was limited to Pinocchio by Collodi (pen name of Carlo Lorenzini, 1826-90) and only because I had seen the 1943 Disney animated cartoon. For
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."[1 Corinthians 13:11 KJV].
No doubt I dreamed as a child, but now that I'm headlong into my second childhood, I want another crack at some of this stuff. I remember Peter Rabbit (about a bunny), and Tom Sawyer (a kid on a raft on the mighty Mississippi now you're talkin'!), and Tarzan (what can I say? I can still do the yell!) by E.R. Burroughs. I did not yet know the Italian equivalent, an Indonesian/Malaysian pirate/Robin Hood named Sandokan, brainchild of Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), a great story teller who knew as little/much about Malaysia as E.R.B. did about Africa. But they sure could make stuff up! In those days I never thought that authors of "real literature" such as Stevenson, Kipling, Wells, Auden, etc. would take pleasure in writing for young and old alike, bringing them together, letting them share and enjoy the same tales and poetry. Thus, I am unfit to spout off about children's literature. I'm just using Aida's question to tell you briefly about another author.

Dino Buzzati (1906 – 1972) was an Italian novelist, short story writer, painter and poet, as well as a journalist for Corriere della Sera. His fame is mostly from his 1940 novel The Tartar Steppe, though he is also known for his short stories. The Tartar Steppe was well received and ranked 29th in Le Monde's "100 Books of the Century". Buzzati entered the world of children's literature with his 1945 book, The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, about a group of bears living in the mountains of Sicily during a harsh winter. The bears are hungry and decide to invade the Grand Duchy of Sicily to survive. They run into humans and have a few scrapes, but ... well, go read it. Just as good, go see the Italian-French animated cartoon, directed by Lorenzo Mattotti (the image, above, is the intro from the cartoon). It screened at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival and was highly praised. One reviewer said it was charming and "refreshingly different," giving parents a good reason to take children to see it. [Spoiler alert] It ends...

...Happily Ever After.

[This item is also on the theater & film portal, here.]

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12.   Feb.14
 Valentine's Day

My original entry on Valentine's Day is from some years ago. It is here. Things have changed a bit this year, but as far as I know, you are still allowed to be in love and to at least try to do that which lovers often like to do.  If you are sequestered in different parts of the continent, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe there's an app. In any event, keep these words of Robert Ingersoll in your heart. Great words from the Great Agnostic:
Love is the morning and the evening star.   It is the air and light of every heart,   builder of every home and
kindler of every fire on every hearth.  Love is the magician and enchanter that changes worthless things to
joy and makes royal kings and queens of common clay. Without that sacred passion we are less than beasts;
with it, earth is heaven and we are gods.

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13.  Feb.15
                                                            Mardi Gras

y original entry on Carnevale and Mardi Gras is here. Obviously things have changed this year. Even in Italy's two best-known blow-out towns for festivities before Lent, Venice and Viareggio, things are as festive as you might expect when you have to sit outside in the freezing cold and stay 6 feet away from the person you would like to get festive with. In Naples, not a famous Mardi Gras city anyway, you see some children wearing their costumes to school, where they play and have a nice time with their classmates indoors and that is as it should be (image, left). But, overall, there is nothing exciting, electric or just plain fun going on anywhere. To make up for this I propose that we all give up repentance and abstinence for Lent.

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14.  Feb.17
Opus Continuum Continues

From Selene Salvi of Opus Continuum: "Along with trying to get a vaccination for my aunt, we went out to Bacoli the other day and put up the canvas for the group painting that I told you about. It was fun. We have a few other things in mind, too, but it's hard to say how that is going to work out.The news on the covid front is not promising. We'll do what he can." Selene's notice for the great group painting is this:

                                                   Opus at Work

We'll soon be working on the large painting specifically designed for villa Cerillo, the Cultural Center of the town of Bacoli. It will be an open workshop where visitors can watch us paint. For further information there are two Facebook links. These are some photos of the artists setting up the canvas. The other is a stop-time very short video of the same process. It looks like a hive of sentient bees.
(My earliest mention of Opus Continuum is here. Updates are linked from that entry.
The next reference to them is Mar.12, 2021, here. )

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