Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 © Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 40 (mid-November 2012)

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  • (Nov 12) There is, as of quite recently, a Buddhist center in Naples. It is on the slopes of the Camaldollili area of the city, above and in back of the Vomero section on the way up to the second highest point on the Campanian plain (the first is Vesuvius), the Camaldoli convent. Their website says, "For the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition." Mahayana is the larger of the two main branches of Buddhism existing today. (The other one is called Theravada.) The center offers courses and retreats and welcomes inquiries.

  • (Nov 12) Another of the infamous cave-ins of Naples has just occurred up near the airport, when part of a restaurant disappeared into one the many caverns dug beneath the city in centuries past. I have that information from Larry Ray, the English-language translator for Napoli Underground (NUg), who writes: "...Fortunately no lives were lost as a restaurant and pizzeria suddenly crashed into a huge, deep, black chasm yesterday...Fire Department and emergency workers responded and cordoned off a gaping hole some 10 meters across into which most of the pizzeria and large trees plunged. The remaining sheared-off wall of the pizzeria dining room hung over the edge of the cavity below with tables and chairs just as they had been set for evening diners. These dramatic and shocking sinkholes that swallow entire buildings, automobiles and recently a loaded garbage truck and its driver, who perished, are quite common....". His complete comments are on the NUg website at this link. (as of 2019, inactive. sorry)

  • (Nov. 18) A year ago, when I wrote about the archeological site of the Fèscina (photo, right; full article here) in Quarto, it was so overgrown with weeds that you couldn't really get near it. It was a small mausoleum of a type widespread in the Hellenic Age in the eastern Mediterranean, but apparently unique in Italy—truly an unusual and worthwhile feature of the local archeology itinerary. And you couldn't get near it! Now I hear from friends at Naples Underground (NUg) that a local band of volunteers from an archaeology club has cleaned it up! Besides the material of mine at the above link, you may also see some newer photos on the NUg site here, as well as read an English translation by Larry Ray of the NUg article by Fulvio Salvi.(update: 2019 - That NUg website is "suspended" until further notice. Sorry.)

  • (Nov. 21) There is an interesting cultural organization in town called No Comment. They have a website that deals with good and bad things in the city. Such an item appeared the other day when they sarcastically praised the official opening of the "Counterfeit Market Place" for Christmas 2012.
"In spite of inclement weather, there was a splendid turnout by illegal vendors and onlookers as the Counterfeit Market Place occupied every available bit of space on the pedestrian walkways and in front of churches in the ancient, historic center of the city. As is customary, this will go on until January 6."

Unfortunately, someone in the organization thinks that one Berlitz lesson in English in 1981 qualifies him or her to crank out this self-description on their page. No comment:

"Sublime and infernal Naples. Urban survival to the pure state, soaked of anger and of passion. City from the perpetual chaos and to do foolish. Naples I apostrophize social, creative and suffering City female impudent, angry and impassioned rebellious Creature for irresponsibility, That doesn't meditate and it doesn't mediate. Imprisoned of immovable once and without memory that possesses her/it and it consumes her/it."

  • (Nov. 24) I should have taken advantage of the outdoor pools at the thermal baths of Agnano when I had the chance this summer. Now they're closed, as are the hotel and the restaurant. The only functioning parts of the Agnano baths are now the indoor facilities that provide treatments as part of the National Health Service. It's the usual story: of the 83 personnel that work in the entire facility, management claims that 40 of them are redundant. The Baths are 1.5 million euros in the hole, and management has started laying off personnel. That, in turn, has made the labor unions unhappy, and now everyone is on strike (including those who run the indoor treatment facilities), at least for a few days. The other problem is that the outdoor pools and physical structure of the main building, itself, which houses hotel and restaurant, really do need work and shall have to undergo an extensive process of recertification. That will take some time even if the problem of lay-offs is solved. Too bad. I remember when it was a dump. Then they turned it into a nice place. I hope it will be a nice place again. (See update here.)

  • (Dec.7) The Frecciarossa [Red Arrow) 1000, self-proclaimed the most beautiful train in the world, is the Italian State Railways entry in the TAV (High Speed Train) market. A full-scale mock-up of a coach of the Frecciarossa 1000 is currently on a road-show that has included Berlin, Milan, and now Naples; it will then move to Rome, Bologna and Florence. The Frecciarossa 1000 is expected to go into operation in the summer of 2014. The effective cruising speed of 360k/hr and top speed of 400k/hr (225/250 mph) will get you from Rome to Milan in 2 hours and 20 minutes, which is totally competitive with air travel, teleportation and other inferior modes of transportation. (Consider that with a train, you walk on with little or no muss, fuss or lead time in the middle of the city and get off in the middle of the other city; there is no hour trip to the airport to be there one hour ahead of time so they can rummage through your luggage and private parts!) The train is sleek, built for comfort, and was projected and designed by AnsaldoBreda, Bertone, and Bombardier. The train is also built for interoperability, which means that the tracks and train will be compatible with the high-speed train lines in other European nations. If you can't wait until 2014, you can walk through the free exhibit and the coach (photo, above), set up along the sea-front of via Caracciolo. It is enjoying a good flow of tourists, joggers who stop by, school kids and, of course, train buffs.

  • (Dec.7) Speaking of train buffs, they will be happy to know that the Pietrarsa National Train Museum is open once again. It is housed on the premises of the old Bourbon Royal Workshop for Mechanics, Munitions and Locomotive Production and now considered one of the premier sites in the relatively recent field of Italian Industrial Archaeology. Call first: 081-472003; open Mon-Sat 8:30-13:30.

  • (Dec.8) The Maya Bomb! There is an earlier item on illegal fireworks in Naples here. The latest bit of explosive insanity to be confiscated by the coppers is the so-called "Maya Bomb," named by its artisans in honor of the Mayan end-of-the-world "prediction" coming up in a few days. O ye of little (or is it too much?) faith! If the world does end, you won't have a chance to set this thing off on New Year's eve. The device was confiscated in Pozzuoli by the Finance Police who say this was not your normal finger-blower-offer, but actually contained enough kick to destroy the entire shack in which it was found and had potential to cause further damage even 50 meters away.

  • (Dec 15) The local NATO HQ, Allied Joint Force Command Naples (JFC) celebrated the official opening of its new 21-acre (85,000 sq, meter) Naples headquarters the other day. Well, not exactly Naples. It's located in Giugliano at Lake Patria, about 10 miles (16 km) north of the old HQ in the Neapolitan suburb of Bagnoli. This will be the first time that NATO has had a headquarters in the area designed and built specifically for it. The Bagnoli HQ had served NATO since the 1950s in a large complex from the 1930s originally built to house a "Young People’s College" named Colleggio Ciano (named for Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law). For most of that time, the HQ was called AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern Europe); it changed names recently to JFC. [Also see later development.] [Latest update from Nov 2013 here.]

  • (Dec. 24) What?! No chestnuts roasting on an open fire? And is that the Oriental Chestnut Gall Wasp (OCGW) nipping at your nose? (Apologies to Mel Tormé & Robert Wells, 1946.) When I heard someone ask, "Hey, where are the chestnuts this year?" I remembered that I had not bought roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in a while. According to most agricultural sources, there is a major crisis in Italian production of the European sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa). Italy has traditionally been the largest European producer of chestnuts, but there has been a problem for over a decade. It started in northern Italy and has worked its way south into the local area. The problem is in the form of the OCGW (Dryocosmus kuriphilus) (image, right) a parasite insect. The infestation is now considered the most serious threat to the European chestnut ever!  Production in various places in Italy (including here) has dropped by over half and in some cases as much as 80%. Even if you can find chestnuts, you can expect to pay much more than in years past. It's not just that people like chestnuts; areas in the Campania region (and elsewhere) have built up traditions over centuries. There is now an entire chestnut tourist industry —festivals, dances and songs; schoolkids go on field trips and study their chestnut heritage— that sort of thing. The parasite made its way into Europe from China thanks to the marvels of globalization. There are agricultural counter-measures, but most sources I have seen claim it will take at least five years before castanea sativa can be expected to make any sort of a comeback. I walked around this morning and found one vendor right where he has always been, at the corner of via San Biagio dei Librai and via San Gregorio Armeno in the heart of the old city and the busiest place in town on Christmas Eve. He denied there was a problem and sold me 15 chestnuts for 5 euros. That's 30 euro-cents a chestnut (almost US$0.50) That may be a problem.   [UPDATE: - DEC. 2014, HERE]

  •  (Dec. 26) The new via Caracciolo & via Partentope
          Looking west towards Mergellina.     

         Looking east towards the Egg Castle.     

Both photos are taken
from the same point, Piazza Vittoria, at the east end of the Villa Comunale. It is the point where the seaside road, via Caracciolo, coming from Mergellina (left) changes name to via Partenope (right) to form a single 2½-km road from the Mergellina port to the Egg Castle. That road has changed in the last few months. It has been transformed from a busy road into the city and is now a pedestrian zone with a bicycle path. It is well-frequented and is rapidly showing itself to be a fine adjunct to the large Villa Comunale (the tree-line in the left-hand photo), to which there is easy access through a number of gates. The via Partenope side has a number of street-side open-air cafes, now free from traffic congestion, and the patrons of the many hotels can simply walk out onto the street for a stroll. The whole thing is pleasantly anachronistic; after all, when that long stretch of road was built in the 1890s, it handled only pedestrian and horse-drawn coach traffic. Now, with the bike path, there has been an increase in bicycle use in Naples, something I thought I would never see (also see the first item on this page). Domenico Rea once wrote about via Caracciolo:
...this summer the decay of the road has passed all limits. The roadway itself is pounded day and night by cars, and the spacious sidewalks are disappearing under the weight of parked cars. There are hundreds, thousands of them stopped, immobile like flies on fly-paper...
He would like the change.

Unfortunate update: see the first item on the next miscellany page.

  • (Dec 29) Below are two views of the Neapolitan mask figure, Pulcinella, on the streets of Naples during this holiday season. Both are in the historic center (map); the one on the left is on "Spaccanapoli," that is, via S. Biagio dei librai. It is in front of a shop as a holiday decoration and will be removed in a few days. The one on the right is permanent and is just off of via dei Tribunali one block west of the large church of San Paolo Maggiore.

Syncretism rules!* The typical masked figure is wearing a red Santa Claus cap instead of his usual white one. He has a red cowboy hat on one elbow and in his left hand holds a
fèscina, a basket used in the grape harvest.
(See Nov. 18, above.)
They forgot the pumpkin,  Christmas tree, 4-leaf clover, May Pole and the Confederate flag! 

This head of Pulcinella is by Lello Esposito, the Neapolitan artist who is most recently known for his large sculpture of San Gennaro installed at the church of the Incoronata del Buon Consiglio.

: a term used in religion and anthropology to mean the union or merging of different beliefs, customs, traditions...etc. At a popular level, an example of this in Naples is the Christmas/Wishing Tree.

  • (Jan 24) Zoo emergency, again. The crisis mentioned here has not been resolved, and the international press has reported that animals in the Naples zoo are days away from starvation. This means, of course, that a local paper ran a timely feature on it yesterday!  I suspect that if past performance is any indicator, the city will find a band-aid solution to the problem. The last time this happened, 10 years ago, animals were fed by supplies from private citizens who carted food in (see this link). Some favor releasing the large carnivores into city hall while the city council is in session. Yummie. A modest proposal.

  • (Jan 26) BUT! It now seems that Alfredo Villa, the Italian-Swiss owner of a company called Brainspark has agreed to buy the Zoo and Edenladia property and pump enough money into it to bring the whole leisure park back to life. What's more, say this morning papers, the jobs of the dozens of personnel connected with the facility will be saved. Everyone seems to be happy. I have heard this song & dance before, so I am wary of running over there and giving the tiger in the above photo a big congratulatory hug. Stay tuned.

  • (Feb 3) The Monaldi Hospital  is now ranked by the Italian Ministry of Health as the second best hospital in Italy. It is the highest ranking ever for a local hospital in the national ratings. Monaldi placed behind the Molinette hospital in Torino and ahead of Maria Adelaide hospital, also in Torino. The Campania region (of which Naples is the capital) now holds 8 of the top 20 places on the prestigious list. The Monaldi was finished in April of 1939 and was part of the massive effort by the Fascist government to create a new "hospital zone" on the hills above the city of Naples. The first hospital finished was the Cardarelli in the 1920s; the Second Polyclinic Hospital complex is from the 1970s. When the Monaldi opened, the original name was “Principe di Piemonte”; it had beds for 2000 patients and specialized in respiratory and pulmonary ailments, still its specialty. In WW II, after the Allies took Naples in 1943, the Monaldi served as premises for the 300th US General Hospital. After the war, the eminent physician Vincenzo Monaldi (1899-1969) became director; the institution was later renamed for him. In 2011 a new administrative organization was formed (A.O.R.N. - Azienda Ospedaliera di Rilievo Nazionale dei Colli  MONALDI-COTUGNO-C.T.O) [Corporation of Hospitals of National Importance.] Colli (hills) refers to the area of the Colli Aminei, the area of the high Vomero section of Naples where the hospital zone is located. The Cotugno hospital and the C.T.O orthopedic and rehabilitation center are the other two in the corporation.

  •                                                   END OF MISCELLANY 40

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