Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Aug 2013, updates Aug 2022

Two Letters from the Alburni Mts. from August 2013

mid-August Somewhere near the Alburni Massif! (Love those wartime headlines!)
letter 1.
Not having air to breathe is bad, but having no internet connection is unbearable! No email, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, Google — none of your 500 "friends" whom you have never met and would never like in the real world, anyway, where words such as "like" and "friend" have ordinary traditional meanings. (In my own experience, I own up to three counter-examples: J., L., and W. — I have never met them but I like them and they are my friends.) No electronic gimmicks to distract you from the inside of your own head — just books, but who reads those things anymore?

(OK, I got carried away the other day and read one of Mark Twain's stories, A Dog's Tale. The first sentence was "My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a Collie, but I am a Presbyterian." That single sentence. alone, will pretty much get you through hard times with your humor intact! Of course, the rest is sad and depressing and Mark Twain. Then, I read his A Double Barreled Detective in which Sherlock Holmes is revealed to be a nincompoop. At least that's a happy ending. I don't know, but I wonder if Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle ever met. I imagine they would not have gotten along, especially if the gullible supernaturalist Conan Doyle had tried to convince MT of the existence of fairies and mediums.

he collapse of Information Technology happened late Saturday evening and is still going on, now Wednesday morning, which is why you have not heard from me (on the long-shot that you were expecting to hear from me!). Our side of the Alburni mountains is at the foot of the northern flank of peaks (photo, above) that overlooks the Paestum plain and then away to the city of Salerno at the other end of the gulf. That part of the Alburni got slammed by a tremendous thunderstorm: strong winds, heavy sustained rain, abundant lightning (some of it very close—no "bolts" of lightning; the world just flashes blinding white for a second, all around you). There was enough juice in the air to reanimate dead body parts, and in keeping with that spirit, I shouted  "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!" and started thumping some old geezer at the next table on the chest. Actually, I shouted, "IT'S FRIED, THE WI-FI IS FRIED!" There was also a sudden drop in temperature and, worst of all, a heavy hailstorm with stones the size of marbles and even golf-balls. I still have not seen soft-balls or grapefruits. I hear tell they exist. I think there must be a ranking among "hail stories" the way there is with "fish stories". "Oh, 'bout yay long" (hands held a ridiculously large distance apart) becomes "Oh, 'bout yay big" (thumb and index finger touch and round to form a ridiculously large OK sign) until you have ice watermelons falling from the skies, as made manifest in some grossly distended index fingers and thumbs. But I still stand by "marbles and golf-balls.")

The dining room at our farm/inn has an outdoor adjacent terrace, a rectangular space about 15 yards long by 5 wide, fitted out with wooden tables and chairs for those who want to sit outdoors in the summer evenings. The floor is attractive stonework, and the frame of this "open enclosure" is solid timber and roofed over with ceramic, corrugated plastic and mats of cane that join to the main building and provide a passageway beneath. The space is set three or four feet above the gardens and there is a wrought iron fence and railing at the tables to keep you from toppling off. The roof took a very loud beating from the hail, a sustained concert from the world's loudest and worst drummer. The worst part of the hail was the damage to the crops of assorted vegetables and fruits planted around the premises: tomatoes, peppers, apples, etc., most of it ruined. The large Mulberry tree on the grounds did not take a direct lightning strike, but the next morning most of the leaves had holes in them from the hail, as if the tree had been withered by gigantic shotgun blasts of ice. The pyrotechnics and hail lasted a solid 30 minutes, and the rain went on for an hour or so afterward. (I remember that the monkey chased the weasel round and round the mulberry BUSH, but I looked it up and it's a tree. Besides, who are you going to believe —a monkey, a weasel or me?)
The next day and again today, things are back to normal, which is warm and humid but not truly hot, as it was before the storm. Modern electronics has not kept pace with the return to normal of the weather. The friendly folks at the local Italian Telecom station apparently took a direct lightning strike and are soldering things back together. When they have finished that, you'll have this message. But you never know; shades of The Magic Mountain —come for a week and stay for seven years. I don't find myself running around the way I did last summer here in the same place. It's not that I saw everything I wanted to see last year, it's just that I feel a lot slower this time around. I did get a few additions for my website, speaking of infernal information technology.

Of which, there is still no internet, so I read The Mysterious Stranger, instead. I recall an English critic commenting that "It was not at all amiable." Critics are so astute! imagine, Mark Twain having a less than "amiable" view of the human condition. Tomorrow is August 15, Ferragosto, the deadest day of the year. Everyone is on vacation except some TV reporters who stay at their posts diligently and report on people who are on vacation. Do not get sick or have an accident tomorrow. If you are going to have a medical emergency, today is the last day for that. I think the same is true of Information Technology. If the man is going to come, he might come today, but not tomorrow.

Oops. He's here! He'll be back in a hour with the right stuff. Hooray!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

We are now near Paestum, just a fart and a snap down the road from where Herman Chanowitz landed in Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion of Salerno in September, 1943. He pitched his pup tent in a Greek temple. He says she protected him. I said, "Herman, how do you know it wasn't the temple to Jupiter?" He said, "When it's your war, you can tell it your way."

Not a bad morning at the beach, nice and peaceful for about 25 minutes, until the slightly post-pubescent morons hired by the hotel who are what they call "animators" in Italian got hold of a mike and loudspeaker and cranked up James Brown's "I Feel Goooooood!" They turned the speakers toward the sea so that only the swimmers got "animated" at full blast. I was merely stunned by the volume, but some fish were not so lucky, even in the water. The floated to the top, dead. They (not the fish) have decided that no one wants peace and quiet anymore (forget good music). It's an old story going back to the insidious early days of Muzak and "elevator music". You will never be alone. It could be worseout and out party slogans as in a good old East German summer camp song. (James Brown is marginally better than Walter Ulbricht singing the "Fulfill Your Quota Blues." I know, I know, you don't remember that one. I quit the beach and went to the pool. Tough choices all around, these days. Times are tough.

We head back tomorrow. It just rained. Grey weather. I am tempted to skip the afternoon pool session. I won't make the team anyway. I know! I'll while away the rest of the day humming melancholy patches of September Song. You may know that the music to September Song is by Kurt Weill, the German (then naturalized U.S. citizen) composer most known for his collaboration with Bertolt Brecht. Now that you know that, I suppose you might say, "Yes, it's a beautiful melody, but not quite like a great US pop song from the 30s and 40s. It sounds sort of European." Maybe. So does Speak Low, another of Weill's hit tunes. (But maybe I wouldn't say that if I hadn't known it beforehand.) The lyrics to September Song are by Maxwell Anderson. I knew a lot of items on the very long list of things he wrote (d. in 1958) — many screen plays — but I did not associate his name with any of them. Word guys get short shrift (!) in the attribution business. He wrote his own epitaph (which he adapted from a quotation from the Venerable Bede:*
Children of dust astray among the stars
Children of earth adrift upon the night
What is there in our darkness or our light
To linger in prose or claim a singing breath
Save the curt history of life isled in death

*probably the passage where Bede says we are like a bird that flutters into a lighted room, briefly, and  then
flutters back out
into the dark

Look how similar that is to his eulogy for his friend Kurt Weill.

This is the life of men on earth:
Out of darkness we come at birth
Into a lamplit room, and then –
Go forward into dark again.

An excerpt from Maxwell Anderson's eulogy for Weill reads:

"I wish, of course, that he had been lucky enough to have had a little more time for his work. I could wish the times
in which he lived had been less troubled. But these things were as they were – and Kurt managed to make thousands
of beautiful things during the short and troubled time he had."

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