Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


Naples Miscellany 33 (start early-Sept 2010)

DANTE:  What?! You want one whole euro for this dump?
VIRGIL:  Hey, you moron! That's the entrance to Hell!
DANTE:  I'll give you 75 cents, not a penny more.
  • (Sept 1) A cave for a song! —by which I mean not a place to sing in, but one of the many caves and quarries beneath Naples for 1 euro apiece! In its rush towards the return of feudalism the privatized state, the Italian Agency for Public Economy [Ente Pubblico Economico], formerly the Agency for Public Property [Agenzia del Demanio] has published a list of properties for sale in Italy. Choose the region of Italy you want, then the specific province or town, then the kind of property you're looking for. The caves of Naples are under the "other" section (altro patrimonio) and are listed as "ex-air-raid shelters." No one knows why the price is so low, but the local urban spelunkers are outraged that the state is selling off the ground around them. The complete listings for Italy are vast and include old churches, cemeteries, castles, university buildings (the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples is going for just over 8 million euros), and for 17 million euros, you can get the Botanical Gardens of Naples! That's a lot of money; you could get 17 million caves for that.

  • (Sept 1) It's not as easy as it looks in the movies. The cops nabbed a couple of petty bad guys the other day trying to pull the ol' switcheroo on a Dutch tourist: sell him a fine laptop computer for only €60, then distract him for a second and switch the package so when poor dumb tourist opens it later to admire the deal, he finds a brick. It didn't work. It does work magnificently in the film Pacco, doppio pacco e contropaccotto [roughly, Package, Double Package and Double Package Redux] from 1993, director Nanni Loy's last film. It shows a classic escalation in which thoroughly congenial thieves con the same two marks three times. Your sympathies are with the con men since the two weasly tourists think they are buying stolen property (itself a crime). The marks keep coming back for more in the hope of finally getting the real goods (two cameras). The final scene is around the dinner table where the entire family of crooks discusses the day's work. The head of the family is a kindly old gentleman who had faked being the retired police inspector who had "helped" the marks for the third con. He winces and complains of a pain in his back. His daughter (who was in on round 2) looks concerned but is reassured when Father says, "It's nothing. It must be the weight of these cameras I have to drag around all day. But it's all we have to live from."
  • (Sept 5) As noted here in June, the most noteworthy thing about the recent World Cup soccer matches in South Africa was the presence of the most obnoxious musical instrument ever devised, the vuvuzela. Apparently, it—or something very much like it has been used in Naples for years on the occasion of the yearly Piedigrotta Fesitival. It is called the trummettella in Neapolitan, a diminutive of tromba (trumpet); thus, "little trumpet." It is described in literature of the period as a "crudely painted tin cone that produces a single strident tone." It was used in Naples for that one yearly event and apparently formed a minor part of the festivities, in somewhat the function of a ta-taah! fanfare every once in a while. It did not drone on for hours, days and weeks. In any event (and I'm not sure why one would want to brag about this) local newspapers seem to like the idea that this mindless and unmusical toy has long been a part of local culture.

  • (Sept 16) "Aw, c'mon, Don't you get it?! Band of crooks?! Hitler?! You're firing me?!" A local paper notes that cartoon illustrator, Pasquale Venanzio, from Sorrento, who went to work in 1991 for the publishing house, Egmont Ehapa Verlag, in Germany as an illustrator for German-language editions of Walt Disney publications, lost his job in 2007 for sneaking Adolf Hitler into a cartoon panel involving Donald Duck and the Super Band of Crooks. Venanzio attended a school for illustrators in Milan and worked in Copenhagen before going to work for the German publishers in Berlin. The story gets out just now because some alert reader in Germany was thumbing through a few back issues, noticed the illustration, and contacted the newspaper, Bild-Zeitung, a rag ever on the lookout for unimportant nonsense. Interestingly, the Bild-Zeitung took the cartoon panel off its website the other day to avoid coming into conflict with German law that prohibits such displays of Nazi icons unless in an historical context. The illustrator lives in London and was not available for comment. (In the offending illustration, above, Hitler is on the far right. The text is irrelevant: the goon says, "I still get cold chills...[shudder]." Donald says, "Well, uh, I seem to have a natural talent for this.") Maybe Venanzio should move back to Sorrento, where such things don't matter. There is no such law in Italy regarding Fascist symbols.

  • (Sept 19) The Geophysics Observatory in the town of Casamicciola on the island of Ischia has been reopened. The facility was built in 1885 after disastrous earthquakes on Ischia in 1881 and 1883. The facility was the brainchild of Giulio Grablowitz (1846-1928). Nature magazine said this of him in its 1928 obituary: "He remained at this observatory for more than forty years until it was closed in 1926, furnishing it entirely with instruments of his own design...He was also a member of the government commission which planned the geodynamic branch of the central meteorological office, and was one of the founders of the Italian Seismological Society." Grablowitz lived long enough to see his life's work closed "for economic reasons," which must have saddened him. After a long history of decay and abandonment, starts and restarts, the facility, refurbished and with working instruments, was presented to the public yesterday afternoon. Besides being part of the island's museum structure, the facility is expected to do current science, as well.

  • (Sept 26) A dead pigeon? The historical municipal archives of San Lorenzo are located on the premises of the ex-monastic complex (now a museum) adjacent to the church of that name in the heart of the old city. The premises were once the seat of the administrative council for the city before reorganization early in the 1800s. The archives still contain valuable information for historians and researchers. Local papers have been lamenting the fact that the place is in horrible condition. The large Naples, daily, il Mattino, ran a photo today that drives the point home: there has been the carcass of a pigeon lying in the middle of the floor of one of the rooms for one year! It's not that the room is unused and hidden away somewhere. The photoshows a gentleman calmly browsing through material just a few feet from the dead bird. No doubt this is another case of "It's not my job to clear away dead pigeons." [Here, insert the unsavory task of your choice]. Call the dead pigeon removal team." Even better, let's form a commission.

  • (Oct 7)  Local papers have been citing recent English-language publications on the advisability of sinking seven four-kilometer bore holes into the Campi Flegrei to study the geology of this still active volcanic area and center of the famous Campi Flegrei caldera collapse of 40,000 years ago. The project is set to begin shortly, but critics say the drilling could trigger eruptions. Popular journals such as the on-line version of Popular Science have run articles with Photo-shopped illustrations of Vesuvius in the throes of a cataclysmic eruption, destroying Pompeii all over again. Vesuvius and the Campi Flegrei are nowhere near one another and geologically not really connected, so that sensational scenario is not going to happen. Of course, if you live in Pozzuoli...

  • (Oct 24)  The rise of Bagnoli from the pit of urban decay continues its progress, as painfully slow as it is painfully necessary. A new 300-seat multipurpose auditorium (photo) has just been completed on the vast grounds of the ex-steel mill. It fronts directly on via Diocleziano, the main road from Fuorigrotta to Bagnoli and is directly across from a stop on the Cumana train line, which should be convenient once the auditorium is inaugurated (this week) and regular activities commence. (There are other entries in this encyclopedia on the urban renewal of Bagnoli.
See "Bagnoli, future of" in the index here.

  • (Oct 24) In less optimistic news, the garbage crisis is back (not that it ever really went away). Emergency pick-ups will now be running until the problem is over, say city and federal officials. (And if you believe that, you should be hauled away and dumped on the heap where they keep the very gullible. Also, public transportation continues to degrade as cuts in schedules are announced for all bus lines and cable-cars. No money, they say. 

  • (Oct 29) This poster caught my eye yesterday as I was walking around town. I'm used to imaginative restylings of Vesuvius and even of the entire Italian peninsula; I recall one for the soccer championships a few years ago, for example, that had the peninsula as a player's leg with the toe of the boot kicking a Sicily that had been drawn as a ball. Good fun! This one on the right, however, is grim. The text reads "150 years of exploitation has reduced you to the bone." Northern Italy (the exploiters) is red and beefy and rich, while the south (the exploited)...well, you can see for just a skeleton, including the macabre bits of the two islands of Sardinia and Sicily. The text continues at the bottom: "It is time to change with civil insurgency." That phrase, while not a cliché in Italian, has a feel to it somewhat like "civil disobedience" or "non-violent resistance" in English. The poster is the work of an organization called Insorgenza civile, one of many in the south that have been gearing up for the nationwide celebrations that will start shortly on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Some of them are out-and-out nostalgic Bourbon groups with members calling themselves "Duosiciliani"; that is, citizens of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. They all have in common the desire to at least restore to national consciousness some recognition, some memory, of how the unification of Italy came about in 1861. It was violent, the ensuing 10 years were also violent, and the local perception of being discriminated against ever since is widespread. [Here is a relevant entry with some historical background.]

  • (Nov 7)  A visit to central China by a delegation from Naples has just concluded and will probably result in a "sister city" relationship, this one between Naples and the city of Xiaogan in the Chinese province of Hubei. The purpose of such "town twinnings" is to promote cultural and commercial relationships beneficial to all concerned. That part of China area is heavily industrialized and already has substantial European investments from France and Germany but, thus far, almost nothing from Italy. The initial Chinese cultural contribution in or near Naples will probably be an archaeological display and a performance of Chinese classical music early in 2011. Naples is already paired with 17 towns or cities in the world, including Budapest, Santiago de Cuba and Kagoshima, Japan (more at that link).

  • (Nov 8) Someone with more spare change than common sense found a friendly note on his car windshield yesterday. For the price of €2, parking automats issue a "scratch-off" ticket for one hour; that is, you use a coin to scratch the hour, day, month and year of your short little sojourn in your parking space and leave the ticket displayed on the dash where it can be seen by traffic cops, who will then pass you by in their vigilant search for free-loaders. The motorist spent some time (probably the first hour of his paid parking!) scratching off and dutifully displaying 18 (!) tickets on his dash. The friendly note left by a passer-by said: "Dear friend. You paid €36 to park. Why didn't you just park the car with no ticket at all and pay the fine of €24? You do the math."
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