Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© ErN 37, Jeff Matthews  entry September 2010    
Letters to the Famous & Fictitious

       or Wherefore Art Thou Illiterate?

I am trying to convince the city parenting persons that we should have an official Pulcinella. This archetypal Neapolitan figure is famous throughout the world for dispensing local wisdom, such as Ogni scarrafone è bell’a mamma soia ("Even a cockroach is beautiful to its own mother"—self-explanatory) or A gatta pe fa e press, facette e figli cieche ("Because she was in such a hurry, the cat had blind kittens."—not so self-explanatory) and A gallina fa l'uovo, e a 'o gallo ll'abbruccia 'o culo ("The hen lays the egg; the cock gets his arse burnt" —uh...hmmm... maybe you had to be there.) In any case, the official Pulcinella would undertake to answer thousands of letters from around the world and be a pen-pal to the lovelorn, forlorn and rooflorn (That's right. It means "without a roof.") But, says City Hall, Pulcinella is a fictitious character! Who is going to write letters to someone who doesn't exist? City Hall has not been paying attention.

We all know that Santa Claus gets letters. Sherlock Holmes, too, rated pretty high on a recent poll in Britain as a person "in history" much admired by the general public. Thus, rest assured that even Captain Ahab gets nasty letters from Save-the-Whales, and Emma Bovary receives furtive notes from men anxious to save her from the humiliating traps and moral emptiness of bourgeois existence. "But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" It is the postman and Juliet Capulet is getting another sack of mail! A local paper reports that the Verona City Council really and truly receives as many as one thousand letters a year addressed simply to "Juliet, Verona, Italy". The letters are inevitably from girls, young and in love and seeking advice. A recent one came from a young lady in Naples. She wrote:

Dear Juliet,
I just saw your movie. It was cool. I am having the same problems as you. I am sixteen and in love with a seventeen-year-old guy. Our parents don't want us to see each other, but we do anyway. What should we do? Answer right away.
In the past, the city of Verona has given part-time work to a number of persons just to answer these letters. The town has now announced, however, that it will sponsor a letter-answering contest, the winner of which will be the city's official "Juliet," charged with providing advice to starcrossed lovers, especially those who are too much in love even to go to school. It looks like a good job and I think I could swing it from cyberspace. (I mean, who wants to move to Verona?) I have prepared an answer to the young lady in question.

Dear Answer Right Away,

Problems? You said a mouthful, sister. And what did I tell you about writing with your mouth full. Eschew it. In fact, you should eschew each mouthful twenty-five times before putting quill to paper.

You're sixteen? Well, when I was your age I was fourteen. I am now 722 and, believe me, it hasn't been easy. Sure, it was fun for a while. After all, being told that your "eyes in heaven would through the airy region stream so bright that birds would sing and think it were not night" —well, language like that had quite an effect on us in those days, much the same, I suppose, as "cool" does on your generation. But, you know, fire in the loins can only keep you going for a couple of centuries. After that, what have you got but a few memories and charred thighs?

This Romeo of yours—does he do drugs? Can he even read? These are some of the things that you should consider, because, in retrospect, life has not been one long picnic for me. (And having your retro spected while you're trying to eat can ruin even a short picnic.) Anyway, your knowledge of literature is atrocious, which is pretty bad, seeing as how a trocious is even smaller than a bysmal. In fact, it takes two whole troci to make a single bysmal. Quick, how many bysmals in a palling? See what I mean? You don't know very much, if you will permit the aside.

But all permitting aside, you think the Middle Ages are "cool"? Bifocals? Gum disease? Hot flashes? Ho-ho. Pardon me while I don't laugh. The Renaissance? How would you like to live in an age which calls itself "born again" and then arrests Michelangelo in a motel room in Florence? OK, it was with Florence—something about sculpting an underage model and then not paying her. They call it statutory chiseling. The Enlightenment? How was I to know that it ran on 220 volts? I plugged in my hair-dryer and blew some of the finest minds in history. Then came the Industrial Revolution. Ah, I could tell you tales that would warm the cockles of your heart. Indeed, I spent much of that period in a sweat-shop turning out heart-cockle warmers. I did all right, too, until they found out that the only thing worse for your heart than cigarettes and cholesterol is warm cockles. So, here I am: one who took in laundry for the entire Thirty Years War; one who raised 234 children, not one of whom ever writes.

Oh, one last bit of solid advice. Never ever make an offer like: 'What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?'

Sincerely. Sure.

p.s. How did you get my address? Please, mum's the word. She hates to be called 'mother'.

I'm not sure I could handle a similar Pulcinella gig, though. I'm still trying to figure out that thing with the hen and cock.

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