Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Sept. 2003

blackout, rainfall 

  Natural and Man-Made Catastrophe

About two weeks ago, Naples had its worst rainfall in living memory. The report was of a downpour at the rate of four inches an hour. That didn’t keep up for an hour, but for 15 or 20 minutes rain fell at that rate. That was impressive, indeed. It then eased off to a solid one inch an hour for much of the day. 

Rain like that, or anything even remotely like that, always causes problems in Naples. There are two main concerns: one is that the city sewers can’t handle the run-off. As a result, streets are flooded. Indeed, down at sea level at the small port of Mergellina, streets were turned into lakes as a result of rain water flowing downh from the Posillipo hill directly above the harbor. The second concern is for the structural integrity of the subsoil. The large hill that much of the city rests on is honeycombed with natural and man-made caverns (mostly man-made, from centuries of quarrying). Every time it rains heavily, some piece of the city, somewhere, is almost guaranteed to cave in. [Also see Cave-ins and sink-holes.]

The rain caused some damage to the San Carlo Theater. The drainpipes that are supposed to get water off the roof of the theater, even when they are in perfect, unclogged condition (and they weren’t), couldn’t begin to cope with that amount of water. The damage seems to be minor, limited at first appraisal to some minor staining of the fresco by Cammarano on the great ceiling of the theater. The water had to flow somewhere, so it seeped into the cracks on the roof and found its way through to the ceiling.

The big disaster, of course —and this happened just yesterday— is totally man-made. It was apparently caused by someone or something in Switzerland. Maybe a cow backed into an Automatic Teller and Milking Machine (conveniently situated in every pasture in the nation for all your financial and dairy needs) and set off some sort of a chain-reaction a là Rube Goldberg (or W. Heath Robinson, for you Brits). In any event, all of Italy was blacked out for almost an entire day. Much worse than the great loss to the economy was the general feeling of disappointment on the part of many Italians at no longer being able to laugh up their sleeves at the electro-technologically backward United States for that blackout a few weeks ago in the northeast.

The only place in Italy that was unaffected was the delightfully self-sufficient island of Sardinia, where I happen to be at the moment. I am very happy not to have been in Naples during a major blackout. It happened at 3 o’clock in the morning, so there weren’t that many people trapped in elevators. (What were they doing up at that hour?) Fortunately, the Metropolitana —the subway train line— doesn’t run all night. 

I have never been trapped in the elevator in my apartment house. Now, if my wife or any other Neapolitan actually knew that I had just written that sentence, they would go through a series of ritual movements and oaths to pacify the power that I have just challenged. I have evoked the possibility —nay, the certainty— just by mentioning it. I don’t believe in all that, so I say, go ahead, Elevator God, take your best shot!

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