Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 45 (start April 6, 2014)
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  • (April 6) - Pompei is the second most visited archaeological site in Italy after the Colosseum in Rome. As such, it takes a pounding, all in addition to the natural ravages of time. The site is, quite naturally, on the UNESCO World Heritage List and last year received 50 million euros from the European Union to help finance a conservation project. None of that has helped in recent weeks as there has been an almost daily rash of crumbling of various bits and pieces, large and small. Now, the Italian aerospace firm, Finmeccanica, which provides advanced electronics to the military, has said it will donate technology for a project called "Pompeii: Give it a Future." The technology includes upgrades to security systems and satellite monitoring in order to assess "risks of hydrogeological instability" at the 44-hectare site (108 acres); the project is expected to last three years.

  • (April 6) - The Davis Cup matches are still going on today in Naples between Italy and Great Britain (or as Mussolini said, "Perfidious Albion"). They started on Friday, a dark and stormy afternoon if ever there was one, but the weather has changed for the better. They built a splendid tennis court down at the seaside along via Caracciolo, and I have run into British tourists who have come all this way to see the matches. I don't know who is winning/has already won/will win, but according to the local papers, Italy is doing very well and has a few episodes of robust tennis hooliganism to support that. I haven't checked the British papers; their mileage may differ. I don't know too much about tennis except that they use a ball larger than the one used in ping-pong. (Those of you accustomed to reading scripts that run right to left may choose to think of it as pong-ping.) Also, points are awarded to players who grunt a lot. (If you listen to only the sound-track of a tennis match, it's like eavesdropping on a Klingon honeymoon.) The Davis Cup is named for Dwight Filley Davis (1879-1945, image, above!) a Harvard lawn-tennis player who endowed his fortune to a sport (in his words) "that will have a more complicated scoring system than Aztec hand-ball." Imagine, you win the first two points of a tennis match and you are suddenly ahead 30-love (very hip players are encouraged to write "luv!") A typical tennis line score runs 6-1, 6-4, 312-310, d4 Nf6-E=MC2. Oh, recall that the half-time shows at Aztec hand-ball matches consisted of decapitating those players found not to have grunted enough in the first half.

  • (April 9) - Forget crocuses on the wing and robins coming back to Cappuccino -- the goats have finally shown up on Capri, which means it's spring. They generally hang out on the rocks on the Anacapri side of the island, beneath Monte Solaro or above the sea near the string of forts along the western end of the island. They love to lick the salt sprayed up onto the rocks. Some sources may say that the animals are "wild" and indigenous to the island. That is not quite accurate. These animals are not Capra aegagrus, the true wild goat; they are the domesticated goat subspecies, Capra aegagrus hircus, serving as the source of our parchment and wine jugs (whichever came first, as if you didn't know!) for 10,000 years. So to say that they are "wild goats" is misleading if you mean they are part of the indigenous fauna in the same sense as the various bird or lizard species. The goats have been husbanded on Capri for a very long time (and, believe me, that has midwifed a lot of terrible puns). The goats that seem wild, like the rotten kids hanging out on the rocks (photo) are feral animals, great-grandkids of those who just walked off the reservation some years ago. (Goats are like cats in that respect; they revert to the wild very rapidly. My source in Anacapri, a good kid, says, "They all belong to somebody, or at least used to.") At one time, centuries ago, the raising of goats on Capri was in the hands of those old-goat Carthusian monks (the monastery may still be visited) who produced valued cheeses from the milk. The island, itself, may have been named 'Capri' in honor of the goats -- caprae in Latin (alternatives: from the ancient Greek, kapros-'wild boar, or from the Etruscan word for 'rocky.' They are generally viewed as benevolent little creatures because besides providing milk, cheese and, alas and sniff, even meat, they munch away the undergrowth that is fuel for brush fires. (That is called "conservation grazing," although the goats just call it "food.") There is actually a painting called Herding goats, Capri, by Teodoro Duclere (1816-1867) that Christie's sold for £20,000. (Rip-off. You can barely see the goats).

  • (April 21) - Today is Easter Monday, known endearingly in Italian as "Pasquetta"- Little Easter. Interestingly, it is one of the most chaotic holidays in Italy, in a secular sort of way, although it celebrates a passage in the New Testament. I have checked, and almost no one knows the story. It is here, plus an update.

  • (May 6) - Today is the anniversary of the Hindenburg airship disaster. On May 6, 1937, the German passenger airship LZ 129, Hindenburg, caught fire and was destroyed during an attempt to dock with its mooring mast at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), there were 35 fatalities. Remarkably, in spite of the spectacularly lethal-looking explosion seen in newsreels and photography of the day (photo, right), more than half of the crew and passengers survived the crash. The Hindenburg, the largest craft ever to fly (245 meters/800 feet long), was held aloft by hydrogen, notoriously flammable; whatever the cause -- static electricity, sabotage, etc., -- when a spark hit the hydrogen, the ship exploded. Airship enthusiasts may wish to remember that the most lethal crash of an airship was the USS Akron (ZRS-4), filled with non-flammable helium(!). It went down in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey on the morning of 4 April 1933, killing 73 of her 76 crewmen and passengers. This accident was the largest loss of life for any airship crash. Hindenburg-type craft were "rigid" airships; that is, the shape conformed to a rigid internal air-frame, as opposed to simply the  shape of a filled airbag (like a balloon). They were commonly called Zeppelin after the German designer of the first models. In any event, the Hindenburg disaster ended the "age of airships," behemoths of the air that transported you in leisurely fashion on trans-Atlantic cruises (about 3 days, east-to-west). That age had started in 1900 and, in earnest, in WWI. There is a strange, almost unknown episode that connects these gigantic aircraft to the city of Naples. (You may read about that at this link.) (Also, a related item here.)

Full disclosure!
This guy is my next-door neighbor! He writes good poetry, some of which you may read here. Giacomo also takes great photos and has just published La mia Napoli (My Naples, ed. Arte tipografica, Naples, 2014), a collection of 74 photographs of his city. They are stunning, if I do say so for him! Actually, they are. Format: A4 soft glossy cover, all photos also full-page A4. In other words, they're big. Easily frameable if you want to rip the book apart, but maybe you shouldn't do that. Pleasantly, there are no photographic clichés in this thing! There are things you've seen before, yes, but it's the same thing with his poetry --it all looks new.

If you've never been here, it doesn't look like this yet.         

  • (May 26) SNAFUS & FUBARS & Dreams (oh, my!) -- Two most egregious examples of urban planning. Number one concerns the State Road 145 on the way out to Sorrento and the new 3-km tunnel that by-passes the coast road, a scenic stretch that has always been a pleasure to drive when there is no traffic (say, at 3.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning in February). It has overrun estimated cost and opening dates many times. It is now guaran-damn-teed to open this summer. Small caveat: only for cars. Due to structural considerations, there will be no TIR traffic (International Road Transports); that is, those large cab+trailer rigs that are always in front of you. Thus, that traffic will still plod along the coast. The good news: you can beat them by going through the tunnel. That bucolic beach stretch? It was a nice idea.) (See this later update and this one.) Number two: When the whole metro line is finished, there will be three main hubs: the main train station (now open); the airport (not started!), and Piazza Municipio (finally, a station in the middle of town, near the port, five years behind schedule). Problem: the over-hyped architects of that station overlooked an old Angevin wall running along the sea; the wall separated the old port from the castle (Angevin Fortress). They didn't know it was there, hiding underground right where the plans call for tracks to pass. Not to worry, say planners. Back to the drawing board and it will only cost lots of money and take a lot of time. The dreams?  On May 31 at the Royal Continental Hotel, The Fifth Edition of the "Urban Conviviality Prize," will display 20 proposed designs for a new Naples waterfront. They range from Aqualand parks to gardens, boat harbors and, my favorite, a beach (artists rendition, image above). That's right, turn the seaside of via Caracciolo into a large beautiful beach with lots of white, virgin sand like you see in National Geographic. All you need is sand and virgins. 

  • (May 30) Speaking of dreams and those that come to naught, the Bagnolifutura corporation, founded ten years ago in a burst of enthusiasm for the future of one of the seediest bits of urban blight in Italy, was officially declared defunct, bankrupt, kaputt by the Neapolitan courts yesterday. It isn't clear, at least to me, what this means for the future disposition of the properties. I have written 10 or so separate items on Bagnoli in these pages, some optimistic, some skeptical. They are under "Bagnoli" and "Bagnoli, future of" in the B section of the main index. Click here.

This item is also included on the Consolidated Bagnoli page.

  • (June 6) The Naples Teatro Festival Italia 2014 starts its seventh edition tonight with an open-air performance of the Vertigo Dance Company from Israel performing on the premises of the National Railway Museum in Pietrarsa, near Naples (photo, right). The weather is expected to be splendid! The festival ends on June 22 and will bring to the city thirty shows, featuring works by Chechov, the Argentinian Marcelo Savignone and the Latvian Rimas Tuminas plus a tribute to Eduardo De Filippo thirty years after his death.  In addition to the site at Pietrarsa, the festival will stage two other shows in locations other than theaters, one of which will be Manlio Santanelli's Per Oggi non Si Cade [roughly: For today at least, nothing will fall] under the direction of Fabio Cocifoglia. The performance will be installation art, with the audience following as if on a museum tour. They will have audio guides that let them listen and will able to look at videos and installations. The story is intriguing: for one day God decides to remove gravity in Naples and the rubbish bags that normally litter the streets hang over the city. That's enough to make a theater-goer of me!

  • (June 6) This delightful little building is the Church of the Incoronata on via Medina near Piazza Municipio and the city hall. (You may read a brief history here.) The "sunken" appearance is due to the fact that the building is now well below the modern street level. The Incoronata was built in the 1300s and a century or so later they started raising the roads in that part of town. As you may read at that link, the church has had somewhat of a checkered history, at one point disappearing entirely beneath overlaid masonry of newer construction. Some years ago they decided to dig it out and restore it. One such episode of restoration led to use of the building as a small exhibit hall about seven or eight years ago, such as the one described here. It was closed again a number of months ago for further restoration; it has now been reopened and may be visited. It comes as a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the summer that this site is open again. It is right across the street from other ongoing work, the dismantling of the Neptune Fountain, one of the most famous of the "traveling waterworks" of Naples. Neptune is in the process of being moved just a few yards away, very close to where it was when it built. All of this in preparation for the opening of the new Piazza Municipio metropolitana station.

  • (June 11) The local fish-wrapper ran an article yesterday entitled “Count Dracula died in Naples.” They ran it with a photo (right) (though not identifying it as such) of the infamous Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1477), also known to those who knew and loved him (not the same persons) as Vlad the Impaler, member of the House of Draculesti, and known by his patronymic, Dracula. He was the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel of that name. Those making the claim that the Drakman died and was buried in Naples are not teenaged TV vampire groupies, no indeed (though they are bound to start showing up sooner or later). They are scholars from the University of Tallinn in Estonia, who claim to have documents although they have not produced any. They were last seen snooping around the church of Santa Maria la Nova, in the courtyard, near a tomb that has some very interesting markings on it (photo, above, left. Actually, it really does resemble a dragon—the source of the name Dracula.) According to traditional sources, Vlad was supposedly killed and entombed at a monastery in Romania in 1477, but they say that later inspection of the tomb found it empty! Heh-heh... Of course, it was empty, you fools! [But see below, item for June 13.)


  • (June 12) Oplontis is the least-known archaeological site between Naples and Mt. Vesuvius. Compared to Pompei and Herculaneum, it is practically unknown. Yet, it is worth a visit (see this link to the main entry). The newspapers now lament the fact that a long-awaited archaeological museum for the site has yet to even get started in spite of all the declarations of good intention by those holding the purse strings. If there is no museum, then there is no place to exhibit the stuff, and it  sits in a warehouse and gathers dust. Even worse, an entire collection of marble statuary, amphora, mosaics, and gold jewelry is about to leave town as a traveling exhibit. It is part of the so-called “Oplontis Project,” brain-child of US professor, John Robert Clark, currently directing excavations in Villa B of the Oplontis site. The exhibit, entitled “Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero. The Villas of Oplontis” will be on display at four different universities in the US, at least through 2015. I said “Even worse,” but maybe it's not so bad. The indifference on the part of authorities to the site at Oplontis is unbelievable. Maybe if they see it all being carted away... 

  • (June 13) Dracula update! My one-woman research team, Selene Salvi (she is to information as Godzilla was to Tokyo) reports back with devastating news for my gullible little heart; to wit, the item from June 11 (two up from this entry) is baloney, dingo's kidneys, a load of cobblers, bilge, a crock. But there is hope! Yes, Dracula's Daughter! (And I don't mean the 1936 Universal Studios horror film (film poster, right). As far as I know, that was fiction. I'm talking about the real deal! (Selene calls my attention to a small volume, Il lupo e la cometa. Breve inquisizione su Maria Balsa (The Wolf and the Comet, a Brief Inquiry into Maria Balsa, by Mario Ciola, ed. Telemaco, Acerenza, 2012), and then by extension, to other and much older works and then to the mysterious cathedral of Acerenza (near Potenza in the Basilicata region of Italy), in which crypts are adorned with all manner of medieval demons, devils, and dragons! One such crypt (from 1524) contains the remains of the lord of Acerenza, Giacomo Alfonso Ferillo and his bride, Maria Balsa. Based on a 1666 (hmmm—suspicious number!) book entitled Of the Dragona Family speculation arose that Maria Balsa was from the Balkans and, indeed, none other than a princess and, even worse, the daughter of Vlad III, the Impaler—Dracula! Long story short, that, too, has been debunked for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that a Balkan princess whose father (Vlad) had been excommunicated(!) could hardly have traveled to Italy and been welcomed into a good Roman Catholic noble family. There are also a great number of genealogical inconsistencies, all grist for the mill of the author of The Wolf and the Comet. The book was promoted by the town of Acerenza. Apparently the good Aceruntini (yes, that's what they're called) got tired of people dropping by just to find the tomb of Dracula's Daughter. Some people just have nothing better to do than look for tombs with dragons on them, which probably means only that the encrypted was a member of the Societas Draconistarum, the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order founded in 1408. (Something like the Knights Templar. Tough customers, they say. Think nasty Masons.)

  • (June 13) The remodeled breakwater at the Diaz Circle on via Caracciolo is already known as "i baffi"—the mustache (see photo, right, if you have any questions!). The drooping bits on both sides of the original were added a couple of years ago for boats taking part in the America's Cup regatta. The extensions lengthened the rocks considerably —not a bad idea, since on the west (left) you have a mooring for small fishing boats, and on the right a public beach. There is now more space to go for your Sunday rock-stroll! (Besides, it's cute. Look at the green eyes (two fountains) across the street. The bridge of the nose is a giant statue of Armando Diaz.) Now they want to trim the mustache, remove the "droops." Well, city hall actually likes the new configuration. The problem is with Giorgio Cozzolino, the new superintendent of everything that has to do with architecture, archaeology, natural and historical monuments, art and ethnoanthropology. And breakwaters. It seems that the original deal called for the breakwater to be restored to the original configuration after the America's Cup was over. It's still there and Giorgio says he is seeking a court order to force the city to comply. I can see the mustache from where I live. From my view, it's more of a handlebar! (Sort of 1890-ish, which is when the original was built, by the way. So in my humble ethnoanthropological opinion...) I like it.

Storm damage to the Botanical Gardens in  
Portici is 'incalculable.'  (photo, il Mattino)
  • (June 17) The Bay of Naples is not exactly "tornado alley," but every few years we get a twister that would just be a fierce water spout if it stayed at sea. Yesterday, one moved inland and caused severe damage but, fortunately, no loss of life. I actually saw this thing forming, a funnel trailing down out of a great cloud mass over the eastern part of the bay about halfway between Naples and Vesuvius. By the time I had run home to get a camera, it had moved inland and then west towards the city, where it brought massive flooding, heavy hail, uprooted trees, and downed traffic signals and tram power lines. It struck hard up on the Vomero hill above where I live. It had touched down first at Portici, site of the former Bourbon Palace, currently the Agriculture department of the University of Naples and devastated (some sources say "destroyed") one of the most important botanical gardens in Italy. The garden opened in 1872 and even survived the ravages of WWII as Allied and Axis armies moved right through the area. The Botanical Garden built up an important repository over the years of botanical species from all over the word. The director says the losses are incalculable. Heavily wooded parks at the higher elevations of the city, such as the Floridiana and the Capodimonte Wood have been closed until further notice while the damage is assessed.
          (photo credit, left: Fulvio Salvi)

photo by Piedi per la Terra        
(June 25)  This is remarkable—a summer camp for children in one of loveliest and greenest imaginable places, and it is in Naples! Specifically, this place here. The camp and many other activities for children are promoted by Piedi per la Terra (Feet for the Earth), a non-profit social organization. Paraphrased from their literature:

Since 1998 we have promoted environmental education and activities for children. They play with nature and science in true hands-on surroundings, experimenting with their sense of creativity, getting valuable experience and learning how to cooperate with one another.

The camp is
for ages 3 to 12 and is run "day camp"; that is, from 8.30 am to 4.30 p.m with activity themes changing weekly. This year there are 10 sessions, from mid-June through mid-September. You sign your kid up on a weekly basis, for one or for all ten, from How a Farm Works, to Our Tree Planet  to The Chicken is My Friend, and one that I might sign up for (!) that will teach me how to make toys from recycled products.

update from the 2016 activities here


(June 25)  OK, I'm impressed. Yacht-watching season swings into high gear. That thing in the middle is the Eos (the Greek Goddess of dawn and large boats). Eos is a three-masted Bermuda-rigged schooner. She is one of the largest private sailing yachts in the world, and some say the largest if you count the bowsprit. Built by the Lürssen yard in Bremen, Germany, the ship was launched in 2006. As of 2009 the Eos is the property of movie and media billionaire Barry Diller, husband of fashion designer Diane von Fürstenberg. Overall length (of the ship, not Diane von Fürstenberg) measures approximately 305 feet (92.92m). Naval architecture by Langan Design; Interior design: François Catroux. If you are in the mood to quibble over bowsprits (and who isn't?), other contenders for longest private tubs are here. Other stats: beam (i.e. the ship's breadth at its widest point) 44.29 ft (13.50 m); Propulsion: Twin screw with 2 × 2,333 hp (1,740 kW) MTU diesel engines (HEY! They have sails AND engines?! and I'm not counting the 56 galley slaves --ok, I made that one up!); Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h) maximum; Complement: 16 guests, approx. 21 crew. Aluminum hull and superstructure. Barry and Dianne were here overnight and left early this morning. A shame. I wanted to swim out for a pizza. (Oops, they came back a few days later and docked at Mergellina. Here's a better view--)
And more important stats:
-IMO : 9377456   -MMSI: 319087000
-Call Sign: ZCPM3    -Gross Tonnage: 1517 t
Summer DWT: 242 t
Flag: CAYMAN ISLANDS (KY) (or maybe Kentucky)
Home port: GEORGE TOWN (Two words! Cayman islands.)

Oh, gross tonnage (GT) relates to a ship's overall internal volume. It is based on the moulded volume of all enclosed spaces of the ship. Do NOT(!) confuse this with gross register tonnage, deadweight tonnage, compensated gross tonnage, displacement, or summer deadweight tonnage (DWT), which is the sum of the crew, passengers, stores, fuel, lubricant and cargo when the ship floats at the summer load line, which is at the middle of the Plimsoll mark.

(Also see Boats of the Bay)

End of Miscellany page 45         

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