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Naples Miscellany 36 (early May 2011)

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  • (May 1) - The island of Ischia reports that it is expecting a 100% increase in the number of those gigantic cruise ships to dock at the island during the season just underway. Last season, nine docked at Ischia; this season there will be 18. "Gigantic" usually means that they are too big to move into such harbors as Ischia, Capri, and Sorrento; they may be as big as the ship described here. In terms of size and capacity, they are comparable to modern aircraft carriers. They anchor off shore and send the consumer zombies ashore in smaller craft.

  • (May 8) - The annual Monuments in May cultural festival has started. I've noticed a greater number of those red double-decker sightseeing busses moving around the city. Depending on the current state of rubbish removal (precarious, at best) and the part of town, sightseers may enjoy what they see. Most museums and monuments are open for visitors. One of the best for concerts and exhibitions is the 23rd annual Festival of the Vesuvian Villas, hosted in some of the historical residences east of the city in the so-called "Golden Mile" along the coast. (See that link for a general entry on the villas.) As usual, there will also be a regatta in the waters off of Vesuvius. The Vesuvian Villa Foundation sponsors the yearly event. Their events office is in Ercolano. Their website has a complete itinerary.

  • (May 12) - The papers announce that "the" Goodyear blimp will be over —and even moor at— Salerno today on its way to Reggio Calabria as part of a Goodyear publicity campaign to hype safe driving on the roads of Italy. The phrase "Safety together" will be emblazoned on the side of the craft beneath the familiar Goodyear logo of the winged sandal. By all means, if you are driving on the autostrada and you see this thing overhead, take both hands off the wheel, roll down the windows, look out, point up and shout "Hey! The Goodyear blimp is advertising driving safety!" Though the paper says the Goodyear blimp, I imagine the craft is simply one of those that Goodyear has purchased from ABC (American Blimp Corporation), two of which are stationed in Europe: The Spirit of Europe I and The Spirit of Europe II. The Goodyear corporation no longer makes the craft although the company had an impressive history with air-ships in the 20th century. (See "Whatever Happened to the Goodyear blimp?" Those with nostalgia for the grand behemoths of the sky of the 1920s and 30s may see "Zeppelin Attack on Naples" and this item on the anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster.

  • (May 20) - The hydrofoil service from the small port of Mergellina (photo, right) to Capri, Ischia and elsewhere was suspended earlier this year. I have not heard a single opinion that it was a good idea to drop that service. The port is well served by the nearby Mergellina train station; whether you were a visitor to Naples or a local from almost anywhere in the area, Mergellina was the most convenient place to embark for the islands. The small port was clean, well-managed and easy to get to, and you avoided the grime and chaos of Molo Beverello at the main port of Naples a mile to the east. Now, all hydrofoil service is from Beverello. Just getting to the main port is a pain in the neck. The adjacent Piazza Municipio and portside roads are still torn up for Metro construction and will remain so for another few years. You'll probably take a cab. Cabbies may be the only ones who approve of the whole idea. Local comment also points out that tourists are not the only people who go to the islands; there is significant movement of Neapolitans and even residents of the islands, who were served by a convenient port in the western section of Naples. It is also a grind to come into the main port and then get anywhere else.  If you want to go west (left, coming out of the port), say, to get to the Mergellina, Chiaia or Posillipo parts of Naples, you have to turn east (right) and go halfway to Sicily before the cock-eyed one-way streets let you turn around and go back. No matter how you slice it, you are stuck with the main port of Naples, and it is a mess.

  • (June 1) I note that at least one composer without honor in his own land, the Neapolitan, Saverio Mercadante (image, right), enjoyed a successful revival this year of his last opera, Virgina, at the Wexford Opera Festival in Ireland. The work premiered at San Carlo in Naples in 1866. Mercadante can be said to have had a successful career with a number of his works premiering at San Carlo, going back to Didone abbandonata and Ipermestra in 1824. Yet, Mercadante was almost an exact contemporary of Rossini, and Mercadante's music from 1840 until his death (1870) was also running head-to-head with that of Verdi. That's tough competition. Mercadante was also head of the Naples Music Conservatory for a while as well as the musical director of the San Carlo Theater. There is also a Mercadante theater in Naples.

  • (June 15) Many are surprised that there is an organization called ex-Don (ex detenuti napoletani organizzati) [Organization of Neapolitan ex-Convicts]. Even more surprising is that fact that some of them who have done their time and paid their "debt to society" have come forward with a plan they will offer to the new mayor, Luigi de Magistris —to wit, they have offered to serve tourists arriving at the infamous port of Naples. This means they will tell the sheep to take their damned €5,000 Rolex watches off their wrists and then shepherd the visitors where they want to go —a local restaurant, the historic center, etc., all the while keeping an experienced eye out for pickpockets and purse-snatchers of the non-ex variety. They are not trying to replace the police at the port, says one of the planners, but "we need jobs and this is a valuable service we can do." All of this is in the interest of avoiding a repetition of the tragedy a couple of weeks ago when a tourist was mugged at the port for his watch, fell and hit his head and then died in a local hospital.

  • (June 18) Tomorrow sees the Naples leg of the FINA (Fédéracion Internationale de Notation) [International Swimming Federation] Open Water Swimming Grand Prix 2011. It is one of 11 stages in this year's championship and is the only Italian leg of the event. Like its 45 Capri-Naples predecessors, the course is 36 km/22.4 miles of open water from the isle of Capri to the breakwater and beach along via Caracciolo in Naples. The first Capri-Naples race was in 1954 and, with a few years off now and then, has remained a fixture in the athletic life of the city. One favorite tomorrow is the Italian (from Florence), Andrea Volpini, currently leading the rankings after four events; he finished third in this same race last year. He says he's afraid of the cold but not the distance; after all, he won the Hernandarias-Parana race in February in Argentina. That was 88 km/55 miles. Yes, you say, but that was in a river going downstream, so maybe you can float along sometimes. No, they swam in the Parana river! That sounds too much like the Piranha fish for me. You'd better not float along if you know what's good for you.

  • (June 19) The race was won by Rotislav Vitek of the Czech Republic in 7h 05' 49'', just 11 seconds ahead of the Italian, Volpini. After 7 hours in the water, it came down to a sprint. Vitek won this race in 2009, as well. The winner of the women's division was Pilar Geijo of Argentina; time: 7h 34' 21".

  • (July 27) I am not sure why a strike of a union named FIALS (Federazione Italiana Autonoma Sanità) [i.e. Independent Italian Federation of Health Workers] should cause the San Carlo orchestra to be unable or unwilling to play, but that is what happened last week at the San Carlo Theater. Whatever it was, instead of calling off the performance of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, the company performed only with piano accompaniment. It was unorthodox but very well received.

  • (July 30) The seaside town of Monte di Procida at the western end of the gulf of Naples has renamed the main square in the Cappella section of town after Michele Sovente, hometown poet who passed away a few months ago at the age of 63. He was considered one of the most original dialects poets in Italy in recent decades. He started publishing in 1978 and then wrote books of verse and criticism. He has been translated into Greek, French, English, and, of course, Italian. (It bears repeating that some Italian dialects are so different from the standard language that Italians from other regions require translation.) Remarkable about Sovente was his mixing of dialect (his Monte di Procida/Cappella brand of Neapolitan), standard Italian and what he called a "synchretistic Latin, more dreamed and imagined than really existed...". (Readers should note the importance of dialect literature in Naples and elsewhere in Italy, at this link.)

END of Misc. p.#36

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