Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


Naples Miscellany 44 (start Jan 1,  2014)
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  • (Jan 1) Iqbal's Carpet (il Tappeto di Iqbal) is what is now commonly called a "social circus"; that is, an organization that uses the circus arts to intervene in the lives of youth who are marginalized or at social or personal risk. The goal is not to turn out professional jugglers, clowns and acrobats (though that may happen), but rather to teach self-awareness, individuality, collective unity and self-discipline. Such organizations are found in more than 80 countries in the world; in the best cases, they get help from professional circus companies. (For example, the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil donates 1% of its income to such social action programs as well as providing technical help and instructor training.) In the worst cases, they are on their own. At the moment, Iqbal's Carpet in Naples is pretty much on its own.
The  co-op was founded in 1999 by Giovanni Savini in Barra, a section of Naples in the eastern part of the city. The entire area is infamous for overcrowding, high rates of sexual abuse of minors, juvenile delinquency, school truancy and dropouts —you name it. It's not a healthy place to be a child. Iqbal's Carpet has now been without a home for a year, so they are forced to take their activities to the streets and available public spaces. The building they were using was taken over by squatters and no one has done anything about that. A source within the volunteer organization that runs Iqbal's Carpet says, "We had 40 or 50 kids here. We could train them, make sure they got to school, things like that. Now we're back out on the street." These people undertake to transform the lives of youth. They deserve a happy New Year.

  • (Jan 6) Today is Befana, which name derives from "Epiphany." It is the traditional end of the Christmas holiday season, the last of the Twelve Days of Christmasindeed, the one, at least in English, song, with "12 Somethings something"or something. It is one of the two gift-giving days of the season (the other being Christmas morning) and, at least in parts of Italy, including Naples, just as important. Typically, the gift-giver is represented as a benevolent old crone. (If you are interested in that tradition, the main entry on the Befana is here.) The shops along via San Gregorio Armeno that specialize in Christmas items such as Nativity scenes will start shutting down, although at least a few stay open to catch the last bit of holiday trade. Various entries in these pages having to do with the tradition of the presepe (Nativity scene) displays are (here) (here) and (here). One of the things that many visitors find amusing about some of the nativity displays is the fact that they may contain very "non-Christmas-y" figurines; that is, while they show the Holy Family, the Three Wise Men and attendant heavenly hosts, shepherds and livestock, they may also display figurines of political figures. Thus, if you want to show your displeasure with the current mayor of Naples you can park him way out back behind the stable somewhere! There is less of that this year. Unsurprisingly, the new pope, Francis, is doing well in the displays.


(Jan 11 )The Carditello Lodge, one of the 22 royal Bourbon sites from the 1700s, long in a state of decay, has been acquired at auction for 11.5 million euros and will be turned over to Mibac (Italian acronym for the ministry of cultural activities). Presumably this is the first step in the process of restoration of the site, located to the south-west of Caserta, midway between the towns of San Tammaso and Casal Principe. This comes after the tragic death on Christmas day of Tommaso Cestrone, the so-called "Angel of Carditello," age 51, a shepherd who volunteered his services as a watchman at the site in exchange for a place to stay for himself and his family. There is a complete list of the 22 Bourbon sites at this link.


  • (Jan 17) Today is Friday the 17th! Unlike many cultures that view Friday the 13th as unlucky, in Italy, today is the day of bad luck. The Friday part may be traceable to the fact that Christ was crucified on a Friday. In ancient Rome, it was, in fact, the day on which all executions were carried out and also the day when Romans paid their taxes. The number 17 (and not 13) is unlucky apparently because if you write 17 with Roman numerals as XVII, you can rearrange those letters to read VIXI; in Latin that means "I have lived" and is in the past perfect tense/aspect (i.e. it describes a finished action); thus, "I have lived and am done living. My life is over." So, put Friday and 17 together and you have a very unlucky day! In the smorfia, the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams as numbers to bet on in the lottery, the number 17 is associated with disgrazia, that is, an accident or disaster. Thus, in Naples, if you dream of such, bet on 17 as one of your numbers. Interestingly, the number 13 is considered lucky in Italy (as it is in a number of cultures in the world). In Naples and the Campania region, in general, you might say "tredici" (13) if you think your luck has changed for the worse as an exhortation to regain that luck. Having said all that, I'm not sure if the word for "fear of Friday the 17th" is friggaheptakaidekaphobia or friggadekaheptaphobia. Frigga was the Norse goddess for whom "Friday" is named. I should stop now. It would be just my Frigga-luck if my computer started to act x^ci*%tz ...
[More on good and bad luck at Evil Eye.]

  • (Feb 2) The building in this photo is the Palazzo Doria d'Angri in downtown Naples. It was designed in the 1700s by Vanvitelli. (More details at the first link, above.) It is one of the most historic buildings in the modern history of Italy; the balcony above the entrance is where Giuseppe Garibaldi stepped out on September 7, 1860 to announce to a cheering throng that "L'Italia è unita"--Italy is united-- this, after his conquest of the kingdom of Naples. The scene has been immortalized in paintings, books and films; children study it in school and take tours of the premises. (I, myself, took such a tour, but they wouldn't let me step out on the balcony. I had a great speech prepared!) Well, it's too late for any of that now; the papers have announced that the building (or at least the piano nobile, the story above the entrance, the one with the balcony) is up for sale. That's right; for only 4.5 million euros (just over 6 million US dollars), you can get this piece of history. The original notice appeared in the magazine Case style (Homes and Style), describing this marvel of 18th-century architecture...1050 sq. meters, late Baroque and neo-Classical, fresco'd ceilings, grand salons, etc. Needless to say, there is some consternation that important bits of history are just being sold off like this.

  • (Feb 16) No future. BagnoliFutura, the company that so many had hoped would play a vital part in the regeneration of Bagnoli a few years ago, has declared bankruptcy and its assets are being sold off. Yesterday, many of the 80 employees of the company demonstrated at the entrance to the BagnoliFutura site in Bagnoli (a portion of which is seen in the photo on the right). As recently as last week, there was talk of all the things that could still be done—shops, residences, even a long bridge from the North Pier in Bagnoli across the waters to the small isle of Nisida! To the long-suffering residents of one of the seediest places in Italy, this is just more pie in the sky, various slices of which have been dished up for over 20 years ever since the Italsider steel mill was torn down. There would be boat harbors, green parks, this, that and the other thing. There have been bright spots such as the opening of the North Pier and Science City, but, in between, there has been corruption and mob-driven violence (such as the arson episode that destroyed the very same Science City). In the index (click here) you will find various entries under Bagnoli and Bagnoli, Future of if you want to have an overview of what has happened over the last 10 years. Update here.

The above item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.

  • (Mar 9) More overbearing nanny-state interference with the rights of citizens —thank God! There are many conscientious dog owners in Naples who scoop up after their hounds' daily deposits on the sidewalks of the city. I don't think many of them live on my street, however. These bastards (the owners, not the dogs) let Fido run loose early in the morning before anyone is really out and about to see what the world looks like. By 9 in the morning my street is chock-a-block with tug-boat-sized dog turds (TDT). Now the city is building a data base to match samples of these specimens to DNA samples taken from the dogs when they were registered and given a license. Find the dog. Find the owner. The owners will then be subject to a 500-euro fine (a hefty $685). Libertarian, anti-authoritarian Neapolitans (which is pretty much all of them) will claim that this is more interference in local customs and traditions, specifically the one that says that stepping in the Sirius Stuff brings good luck (see this link)!

(Mar 13) Another Ecomonster (a wonderful Italian neologism) bites the seaweed! We hope. The papers are pleased that another unfinished concrete hotel skeleton put up along the coastline of the Sorrentine peninsula in the last few years—another little piece of Pukehengeis going to be demolished. This one is near the town of Meta. (The photo on the right shows the harbor of Meta looking down on it from the north as you come out the coast road (SS145) and Montechiaro onto the Sorrentine plain. The town of Sorrento is visible in the distance along the coast. The town of Meta is the second of six along this stretch of coast; they are, in order from north to south (that is, moving out from Naples), Vico Equense,  Meta, Piano di Sorrento, Sant'Agnello, Sorrento and Massa Lubrense, the last town on the peninsula.

The structure in question is in the photo on the left, along the cliff face past the harbor. It is in a part of Meta called Alimuri, which at one time was the site of an old naval shipyard built around 1650, during the last 50 years of  the existence of Naples as a Spanish vice-realm. That was a time when all of the coastal towns along the peninsula were subject to ferocious raids by Saracen raiders. There are other such ecomonsters along the coast, stretching past the town of Massa Lubrense at the southern tip of the peninsula and around into the bay of Salerno along the famed Amalfi coast (behind the mountain range in the background of the photo). They were mostly put up in the lawless building frenzy of post-WWII Italy. (This particular eye-sore has been there for 50 years!) Some, as ugly and out-of-place as they are
, survived threats of demolition and now thrive as hotels. But at least the useless skeletal structures are being torn down. So they say. What usually happens is that the wild-cat land grabbers sneak in there and throw up the structure ("throw up," in this case, is not necessarily a metaphor.) Then they turn to the city hall and say, "C'mon, it's almost finished. Give us the license. It'll be good for tourism." This time, it didn't work. Again, so they say.

[update! They did it. Ka-BOOOM!]

(Mar 15) The Ship Hits the Sand (Forgive the euphemism.) Anyone who lives near a seaport knows that modern aircraft carriers, modern cruise ships and modern freighters (container ships such as the one in this photo) have one thing in commonthey are ridiculously large. They can be over 300 meters in length and can  totally overtax the facilities of even large harbors in large cities. The port facilities in Naples are not insignificant, by any means, but aircraft carriers seldom come in through the breakwater in Naples (sailors taxi into the port aboard small launches). Cruise ships, however,  have to dock and disembark passengers, and in Naples that is a chaotic nightmare compared to more efficient facilities at Palermo, Barcelona, Marseilles and other ports of call on standard Med cruises. (Cruise ships in Naples dock at the passenger port at or near Molo Beverello.) Now it is the turn of the large container ships run by COSCO (Chinese Ocean Shipping Company not to be confused with Costco, the large US retailer). COSCO is a Chinese company with headquarters in Beijing; it owns more than 130 vessels calling on over a thousand ports worldwide. It ranks sixth largest in the world in number of container ships and ninth largest in aggregate container volume.

For a number of years, COSCO has stopped at Naples once a week to discharge the contents of an 8,000 TEU container ship. TEU stands for Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit. One TEU is what used to be one standard container, 20-feet long (6.1 meters), resembling a railroad boxcar. Most containers these days are 2 TEUs (40+ feet); thus, in this particular case, the ship may be carrying 4,000 containers.  Also, the containers may vary in height and width; thus, a TEU is not a precise measure, but rather a rough gauge of how much freight is aboard. Eight-thousand TEUs is a lot. That single weekly run to Naples accounts for 37% of all container traffic disgorged into the city. Almost all of it winds up on flatbed train or truck at shipside for transport to the gigantic Interport of Naples, the largest Freight Village in southern Italy, where the goods are broken down for further distribution to wholesalers and retailers. COSCO has now announced that after three years of trying, and failing, to get Naples to upgrade the facilities of the commercial port, they are not going to stop here anymore. That is an economic disaster for the city and is bound to set off a chain-reaction of lay-offs and unemployment from dockside to freight village to wholesaler to retailer. The papers are already lamenting the downgrading of the commercial port of Naples to a "regional" rather than an international one. The potential good news is that money talks; this kind of threat may actually make the city do something about the situation.

(Mar 17) The fourth edition of the Photomed Festival will be held from May 22 to June 15 in the coastal town of Sanary-sur-Mer, the island of Bandol and the city of Toulouse, in the south of France. The guest of honor this year is 80-year-old Mimmo Jodice from Naples. Jodice was born in Naples in 1934 and still lives and works there.  In 1969 he began teaching photography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples, where he taught until 1994.  He had an early interest in arts, classical music and jazz; in the early 1960’s he discovered photography. During the 1970’s he was in contact with avant-garde artists who worked and displayed in Naples: Warhol, Beuys, De Dominicis, Paolini, Kosuth, Lewitt, Kounnellis, Nitsch and others. Over the years, various threads have run through his work: experiments with the avant-garde, a surreal and uneasy vision of urban landscapes, and fascination with the ancient roots of his city. Collections of his photography are in dozens of museums around the world and he has published some 50 books of his photographs. The subject matter is eclectic in the extreme: books on Boston, Paris, and Naples, ancient Pompeii, Figures of the Sea, Islands of the Mediterranean, and his eerie, stark interpretations of the classic statuary in the Naples Archaeological Museum. Photos such as the one shown here line the corridors of the underground metro station beneath the museum.

(Mar 17) ONE DAY?! - On Sunday, March 15, The National Archeological Museum of Naples opened its doors to show off the museum's spectacular coin collection, one of the most important collections in Italy. It holds about 150,000 pieces, from coinage of ancient Greece to that of the Bourbon mint. The name of the guided tour was Coins and Economy in the Ancient World. It was a rare opportunity since the collection is normally not open to the public (and, no, I don't understand that, either), made even more precious by archeologists and historians, experts in numismatics, who explained everything. Included in the exhibit was the Farnese collection, created in Rome but winding up in Naples through the Bourbon inheritance of Charles III.

Also on display was the famous Borgia collection sold to the King of Naples, Joachim (Gioacchino) Murat, in the early 1800s. There were coins from the little-known period of the independent Duchy of Naples during the Dark Ages. The coin in the above image depicts Sergio II, ruler of the duchy from 870 to 878. The coin has a few indicators of true independence; earlier Byzantine coins in Naples were in Greek and typically had an image of a Greek emperor. This has on one side an image of Saint Januarius (San Gennaro), the patron saint of Naples, and a Latin inscription identifying him, SCS IANV. On the other side of the coin is the ruler, identified in Latin as SERGIU DUX. He is holding the globus cruciger, an orb topped by a cross, a Christian symbol of authority in the Middle Ages. I don't know if the guided tour included the fascinating counterfeit coins from the 1700s when interest in Greek and Roman antiquity was so frenzied that there were not enough authentic items to sell to Grand Tourists. These false coins now have their own perverse numismatic value.  (More on counterfeits at this link.) I don't know much more because I found out about it all too late to go. I repeat: ONE DAY?! This place drives me nuts.

(Mar 17) This is too beautiful to eat! -or- Iuppiter te puniat gravi trismo! (May the Gods punish you with lockjaw!) Or at least I think that was the old Roman curse upon those who would even think of biting into something this beautiful. Local culinary handicraft is alive and well in Naples. I was made aware of this in a small shop near my house. We were discussing the eventual repercussions of the COSCO decision to stop delivering Chinese merchandise to Naples (see three items above on this page). The local proprietor opined that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea since "too much seems to come from China these days."

"Yes," I agreed, "but that includes a lot of stuff in your shop, right?" (I had just bought a Chinese flashlight.) "I mean, look at all these plastic toys for kids. They're all made in China."

She agreed, but added, "But not everything. Look at these." There, among all the Chinese plastic toys, were four examples of what I referred to, above, as local culinary handicraft. "My daughter makes these." Indeed, they were good luck charms, one example of which (photo) is shown here. They are exquisitely crafted of salt and flour (the two great symbols of abundance). I asked if they were edible and I saw the thought balloons forming above her head, saying, roughly, Good Lord, where did he park his turnip truck? Nevertheless, I have redeemed myself. I bought two of them for my dear niece, Susan, who is about to descend upon us for a visit. I shall remind her not to eat them. The items are the work of Rosella Mòntolo, who makes a lot of other stuff, as I have determined from her website. But these are mine and, soon, Susan's.

(Mar 24) Are you "foofing" me?! Foof is one of the onomatopaeic sounds that Italian humans think their dogs make. Cantonese dogs go Wo-Wo! In Hebrew, it's hav-hav! and in Yoruba (a language spoken in Nigeria) mutts say gbo-gbo!  (This is what inspired the Gershwins to write Let's Call the Whole Thing Off.) I don't know what this might have to do with canine or human cognition. Maybe Noam Chomsky knows. In any event, Foof is also the name of a dog museum in Mondragone, just up the coast from Naples. It has just been given an award as one of the five most innovative small museums in Italy. The facility was the idea of Gino Pellegrino, who will travel up to Torino in a couple of weeks to fetch his prize (I'm sorry, but I'm brimming with bad jokes about this. I'll try to curb myself. OK, really —someone please whack me with a rolled-up newspaper!)

FOOF, seriously, is impressive. There are a number of separate sections explaining how man's best friend got that way. These sections include: Once Upon a Time (canine pre-history and evolution, relationship to wolves, place in myth and symbolism); Dogs in Art; Dogs in Cinema (including, no doubt, this guy); physical and behavioral characteristics; relationship between dogs and children; and The Working Dog. The museum has a 300-book museum and welcomes visits by school groups. (I delicately suggest they add a section about the topic of...well, see the entry for March 9, above, on this page.)

Featured on the premises is a donation from artist Paolo W. Tamburella. They are sculptures of dogs (photo, right) that were part of his installation of performance art entitled Opera per Cantalupo that was set-up in Piazza Plebiscito in Naples in 2012. The reference is to Salvatore Cantalupo, either a local avante-garde film director or a man who is often seen crossing that large square, Piazza Plebiscito, followed by a pack of dogs. I don't know if he feeds them or if they just like him. I suspect both. (This is one of the few episodes of Installation Art here that I somehow managed to miss. Here is a link to some of the ones that I did not overlook.

  • (Mar 26) Campania Felix is how the Romans referred to this area, maybe in happier times. It was a fertile breadbasket as well as the Roman riviera — playground of emperors, other beautiful people and grand poets. (Campania is, for example, where Virgil wrote The Aeneid.) Campania Felix is also the home of my next-door neighbor, Giacomo Garzya, another poet, and is the title of his latest collection, 34 poems, each an image of one of his favorite, secret places in Happy Campania, places along the Sorrentine and Amalfi coasts and out on the islands in the Bay of Naples. It is striking and intensely personal poetry. (English translations of six of these poems are at this link. They vary slightly from the versions in the book, published this week. All of the poems are accompanied by my English translations. There is also an appendix with some critical commentary in Italian and English.) Yes, this is a shameless plug. Go ahead, make my day.

photo by Herman Chanowitz      
(Mar 31) The papers kindly reminded us the other day of the 70th anniversary of the last eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. That is not something that one generally brings up. The last eruption of Vesuvius was in March, 1944. There had been rumblings and various burps and belches in late 1943, but the true eruption came on March 18. From my entry on "Recent Eruptions of Vesuvius":
It happened in full view of the Allied armies, which had taken the city of Naples a few months earlier. WWII was still raging farther north in Italy when Vesuvius went into what is called an effusive eruption (less violent than an explosive eruption, but nevertheless dangerous and potentially deadly). The eruption destroyed a number of nearby towns; the volcanic ash also rendered useless the planes of a U.S. B-25 bomber group parked at the Capodichino airport in Naples.)    

How strange that the papers should bring this up. It was almost a festive article, but I guess I see their point; seventy years is the longest period of inactivity by Vesuvius in almost 400 years...and I feel uncomfortable even mentioning that.

(Click on the photographer's name in the photo credit to read his account of the Italian campaign in WWII.)

End of Miscellany p. 44

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