Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 39 (early March 2012)
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  • (Mar 2) Various projects, some good, some not so good, some almost finished, some stalled, some maybe never to be finished.  In no particular order:

  •    1. A bicycle path. Usually, the only people you see biking around Naples are ex-bicycle racers, now pudgy and middle-aged, trying to recapture their youth on Sunday mornings before the traffic gets out there and runs them all down. The plan calls for a 20 km path from Bagnoli to Piazza Garibaldi. The plan looks good: cordoned off from traffic, tree-lined, etc. By this summer? I say it can't be done, but I hope I'm wrong. 

  •    2. The plan to restore the historical center of Roman and medieval Pozzuoli as an archeological park with museums, congress halls, spruced up old buildings and a lot of new ones (including hotels to accommodate the tourist trade) has run out money and the workers have been laid off for almost a year. It's a disaster. 

  •    3. The fourth and last tunnel on state highway 18 that runs out to Sorrento is almost finished and will probably open in the autumn. They have been digging tunnels on the stretch between Castellammare and the communities on the Sorrentine peninsula for 30 years. The first three were God-sends to anyone who had to drive out from Naples for business. This last one is a 5-km beauty (longer than the others) and will let you by-pass a particularly busy stretch of coast road (or let you enjoy that scenic stretch while the speed-demons take the tunnel!).  

  •   4
    . Fresh off the drawing board are the plans to completely remake the San Carlo football stadium in three years' time for the low, low price of only 300 million euros. What can I say? I never went to the old one (which had a major make-over in 1990). Actually, the plans call for the stadium to be of a part of a larger "urban park" with trees, a swimming pool, and all the rest. In other words, it is meant to transform that section of the city, Fuorigrotta.

  • (Mar 2) Preparations for the America's Cup. Actually, they are cutting it close, but the heavy lifting seems to be proceeding. That is, bulldozers, cranes and barges are out at the seaside just east of the Mergellina harbor lengthening the breakwater by some 50 meters. That's a lot of rock, but they may make it by early April when the "Mergellina" (surprisingly, not "Naples") leg of the so-called America's Cup World Series (elimination races) are due to take place. Not to worry, the boats, themselves, will have a suitable place to dock. The facilities for the participants may also be ready. They will be in the large, adjacent spaces of the Villa Comunale. The real problem, as usual, is the slap-dash, slap-stick approach to managing the affair. The concerts, displays, stands, etc. need commercial sponsors, someone to market the thing. That is not going well. There are either no takers, or, as I understand it, so few takers that the city has had to open another round of bidding. That is really cutting it close.

  • Additionally, they are now going to close via Caracciolo, the main seaside road, via Caracciolo, so construction can finish. They are calling it a "maxi-Ztl" (Zona traffico limitato). That road is the only practical road into downtown from the west; any hope that the parallel road on the other side of the park (currently one-way east-to-west out of town) can be fiddled with by splitting it into a two-way road is illusory since there is also construction on that side of the park. Limited traffic means that buses and taxis will still be able to drive into town on the seaside road, and, no doubt, so will the politicians in city hall. (See this map.)

    One favorable spin-off of the entire affair is that the San Vincenzo pier, the original Naples pier (adjacent to the modern and current Molo Beverello commercial pier at the main port) is to be reopened to the public after many, many decades of service as a coast-guard facility. I'm not sure what this has to do with the boat race, but the timing cannot be coincidental. Maybe the city parenting persons envision spectators strolling out to the lighthouse at the end and looking west to enjoy some of the regatta. (Also see next item.)
  • (Apr 15) The America's Cup. After almost a decade of disappointment, Naples got its Americas Cup. The races started last Wednesday and finished today, Sunday. The city did a good job in providing facilities but could do nothing about the weather. It has been dreary, grey and rainy. Sailing conditions were so bad that they cancelled yesterday's races. No one was happy except perhaps the city organizers who are now patting themselves on the back and looking forward to 2013, when Son of America's Cup comes to town. They think they may even open the San Vincenzo pier for that one, the way they were supposed to do for this one. (2013 update here)

  • (Apr 15) I fell for this once before; I should know better. (See The Little Choo-Choo that Needed a Dictionary.) They announced the "inauguration" of the new and very important metro station of via Toledo; it's the next stop after Piazza Dante (open for a few years) and this new one puts you right into downtown, a block from the main post office. I went down to ride the new train only to learn that it was just a photo-op to show off the beautiful station. The trains won't actually be in service until June.

  • Just kidding! Update:  I mean September. See this link.

  • (Apr 15)  After 16 years of diddling around and trying to decide if and where to build a museum to honor the life's work of Italy's greatest film comic, Totò, the word now seems to be official (in a quasi-offical, I-have-heard-this-before sort of way) that in 2013 the museum will open on the premises of Ferdinando Sanfelice's marvelous Palazzo dello Spanguolo. If you look at that entry, you will note that in Jan. 2009 I wrote about the museum. I stood in the courtyard and had a conversation with a gentleman working on the site who pointed up to the floors that would house the facility and told me that "a few more months" would do it. Totò had a number of choice expressions for situations like this.

  • (May 12) MSC (MEDITERRANEAN SHIPPING COMPANY). The Msc was founded in 1970 by Gianluigi Aponte (b. Sorrento, 1940), and is now the second largest container shipping company in the world. It also has a fleet of cruise ships. A new one, the Magnifica, was added recently at shipyards in Hamburg, Germany. Hometown (Pozzuoli) girl, Sophia Loren, was on hand to cut the ribbon or break the bottle...or the launching. Apparently, she christens all or most of the MSC ships. That's a lot of work —MSC is a very large company. It started with one ship and was originally called the Aponte Shipping Company. As of April 2012, MSC has 455 container ships operating around the world. Only the Danish Maersk-SeaLand company is larger. MAC acquired the Starlaurao cruise line in 1987 and in 1995 acquired Snav, the large hydroil and ferry line that provides service to the main Italian islands. In 2008, Forbes said that Aponte was worth 2.8 billion dollars, making him the 412th richest person in the world. The administrative headquarters of MSC is in Geneva. Forbes says that Aponte is a Swiss citizen and lives in Europe and Russia. I don't know what that means. I also don't know if Aponte still lives in Sorrento.

  • (May 14) The Naples Italia Theater Festival is in its fifth year and this summer will feature events from June 7-24 and September 25-30. Venues throughout the city vary from the spectacular outdoor Pausilypon theater (photo) (an ancient Roman archaeological site known as the villa of Vedius Pollio) to the San Carlo Theater to the premises of the Botanical Gardens and local theaters such as the Mercadante Theater, among others. This summer's program hosts 45 events across a wide spectrum, from Argentine Theater to an Israeli Dance Company to works of established as well as younger playwrights. The program is on-line by searching

  • (Oct. 27) Two new plans after the long hot summer. The first one might happen: 
  • The large fish market (photo, right), the 1930 building designed by the prominent architect of Rationalism, Luigi Cosenza, is on the verge of closing. The building is almost at the docks of the industrial port (and marked mercato ittico on the map in this entry.) It is now a terrible part of town, run down by WWII and never properly rebuilt; it is dangerous and seedy, so the city has decided to relocate the 27 wholesalers who do business in the building to another facility in nearby Volla. Someone has now suggested that the building be made available as a proper mosque for the Muslim community. It is not far from the current rather make-shift worship facilities of that growing community in Naples. It is not the first suggested site for a real mosque in the city, but it is certainly the most interesting. The reaction in the papers has been rather ho-hum. One letter-writer wondered if the presence of a dedicated religious community on the premises might not have a salubrious effect on the general area. (Also see: Islam in Naples.)

    The second plan is as bizarre as they come. There is apparently something called a Formula Indy Championship with international pretensions. In September, 2013, there will be a race at the track in Mugello in Toscana. Another stage of the championship is in 2014, and locations in the Campania region are fishing for it. Some ne'er-do-think in Naples wants to use the long sea-side road, via Caracciolo, as the straightaway. This is a former main road into Naples. It is now a pedestrian zone. Indeed, it's straight, good and true, and one supposes that they'll worry about the curves at either end when they come to them. It'll be just like the infamous America's Cup races this summer (see above), only worse! I give it no chance of happening. Also, the mayor is against the idea.

  • (Nov. 1) HALLOWEEN was last night, but it was All Quiet on the Southern Front. However, as you may read here. Neapolitan children have internalized yet another non-Italian custom in addition to Valentine's Day (I expect St. Patrick's Day and Attila the Hun's birthday to be next); they (the kids) have no idea about Paddy or Addy and now take pleasure in going from door to door and "trick-or-treating." Last year, I lectured them at the door on the origins of All Hallow's Eve, that it probably came from the Celtic Samhain feast that marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year. Then I cautioned them on the pitfalls of unwarranted syncretism. I did this until they set fire to my front door and wandered away. Yestereve, however, it rained like crazy and kept them away. This is good.

  • (Nov. 1) FAT CITY. Campania is now officially the fattest region in Italy. Out of 6 million inhabitants, 3 million are overweight; of that number, 700,000 count as "obese" and about 250,000 of those are children. (Compare to an earlier item.) These are statistics released by the Matthews Commission on That's What You Get For Letting Them Trick-or-Treat.
  • (Nov. 4) Of Tangos & Milongas.  I'm not a choreographer and am even a worse dancer, so I don't know exactly how these South American dances differ. (My vision of the tango —if that's what it was— stems from Billy Wilder's masterpiece, Some Like it Hot, where Jack Lemon in drag and Joe E. Brown danced the night away, fervidly passing a rose from mouth to mouth.) I had heard of an organization called Urban Trekking (Trekking Urbano in Italian), a loose collection of organizations dedicated to exploring the cities of the world, but I had really never heard of Social Tango. It shows up on a search as (1) direct marketing software and (2) an organization that teaches those South American dances that confound me. (I'm guessing that here we're talking about the second meaning.) Somehow, a group from Social Tango celebrated the 9th edition of Urban Trekking Day two Saturdays ago by pounding through Naples for three hours and then delicately padding around the cavernous premises of the Galleria Umberto dancing the tango. Or maybe it was the milonga. It was slower and more graceful than I had imagined. They weren't cutting any rugs, that's for sure. (Nor could they, since the Galleria is paved with lovely mosaic tiles.) Graceful, well-lighted social activity in the middle of the city
    —maybe an idea whose time has come.

  • (Nov. 6) Since June of this year the Naples music conservatory, San Pietro a Maiella, has had a new director. She is Elsa Evangelista, born in Naples, a graduate of the conservatory, where she studied composition, choral music and directing, organ and composition for the organ. She has previously served as the choir director at the conservatory. She has a particular interest in (and is widely respected in the field) in restoring partial manuscripts from the Neapolitan repertoire of choral music from the 1700s and performing these pieces, some of which have not been heard in generations. She has directed numerous choral recordings and has performed at well-known music festivals in Italy and abroad.

  • (Nov. 8) Edenlandia & Zoo bankrupt! I last looked in on the premises of these facilities five years ago and expressed cautious optimism. It now seems that both the large amusement park/fun fair, Edenlandia, and the nearby Naples Zoo are bankrupt and have been officially put on the international auction block. Both facilities had a long history of problems (see those links, above) when they were taken over in 2003 by the Park and Leisure Corporation, which tried to administer both as a single enterprise. For a while, it looked good, but the company wound up 13 million euros in debt and was finally declared insolvent. A final disposition on how to deal with the crisis in case there are no takers to buy the premises (that also include the adjacent ex-dog-racing track) has been put off until February of next year. The area is at the west end of the large Mostra d'Oltremare in the suburb of Bagnoli and has always seemed the perfect place for facilities that serve the leisure time of citizens in a crowded city. Perfect places to take the kids. Lots of potential. (update: here)

  • (Nov. 10) Toy Museum. I know that for many years, there has been a small, family-run establishment known as the "Doll Hospital" in the historic center of Naples, but it had not occurred to me that there was never any real "toy museum," something quite common in many cities in the world. Now I read that we finally have one! It's a good one, too. It's on the premises of the Suor Orsola Benincasa university and is quite recent. The contents of the museum make up the on-going collection of Vincenzo Capuano, professor in the Department of Education of the university. There are 850 items on display, roughly grouped into toys of tin, of wood, toy soldiers, puppets and dolls, and table top items such as board games, from antiques to Disney, from teddy bears to trains and toy theaters, cars and space craft. There is also an interactive multimedia section in which you can use an iPad to carve out your own Pinocchio. The museum is dedicated to Ernst Lossa, a gypsy child killed in 1944 at the age of 14 while in detention in a Nazi psychiatric hospital, the victim of one of their monstrous experiments in eugenics. From the literature posted about the museum on their website: "Ernst is the symbol of youth denied and of violence against those who are different and weak." The museum may be visited on Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm.

                                                    END OF MISCELLANY 39

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