Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Naples Miscellany 46 (start July 2, 2014)

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  • (July 2, 2014) The Green Schooner is back! (photo, right) Besides concern for air quality, industrial and domestic waste, the Ecomafia, overbuilding (the infamous "ecomonster" hotels), etc. the Italian Legambiente (Environmental League) has conducted Green Schooner voyages for 29 consecutive summers. They are now in the midst of the Campania leg of their 2014 edition and moored at Castellammare. Along the way (the entire Italian coast!) they make 32 stops, take hundreds of water samples and hold press conferences where they report on the general quality of the waters at beaches, at densely populated areas such as Naples, at the waste effluents and mouths of rivers, etc.a national report card, as it were. At Castellammare they will give their findings on the state of the Sarno river, just a few miles from Castellammare and right next to the new Marina of Stabia, the future of which may very well depend on the general water quality in the area. The Green Schooner (goletta verde) will make two more stops in the Campania region before continuing south. Besides the science of water quality control, the Green Schooner holds educational voyages for the general public, where you are informed of problems and invited to inform on problems you know about. The Legambiente is a welcome thorn in the side of those who don't care about the environment. The league has been responsible for getting at least some of the overbuilt eye-sores on the Italian coasts removed.  (Scroll down to item for July 15 on this page for an update.) (photo: Legambiente)

  • (July 2)The Environmental League is, indeed, a very busy bunch of good people. Their website reports at least two other items of interest to the area around Naples. One is an appeal to save the hard-pressed Trianon Theater, opened in 2003, attached by creditors in 2010, and constantly struggling not to be sold at auction, becoming, in the words of the Legambiente “Another defeat! ...a traditional Neapolitan theater turned into a megastore, a bank or a fast-food place.” Item two is another edition of a festival at Paestum (photo, right) sponsored by the Legambiente with the clever name of Paestumanità. There will be bike rides, discussion groups, archaeology (of course!), art shows and a fascinating thing called a “silent disco” on the beach. I have no idea what that is, but I like it. The goal of all this is to propel a movement to acquire the private properties that are within the boundaries of the archaeological areas and integrate them into the whole site.

  • (July 5) Napoli Underground (NUg), an organization of urban spelunkers and would-be troglodytes is responsible for much of the extensive and fine work done in exploring the nature and long history of the caves, tunnels and holes in the ground beneath Naples. Their website covers much more than that and has a worldwide audience. The site maintains a large collection of on-line photography. NUg has now started a photo page devoted to the bunkers and similar defensive military structures such as blockhouses and pillboxes that dot the local landscape. The start-up statement (in English) on their web site is here. There is also a link to the initial photography (including the photo on the right, identified as "via Veneto, Marano di Napoli",  a town a few miles to the NW of the downtown area). The photo collection is small but will get a lot bigger in a short time. There are many hundreds of these things in the area of Naples. Most of them were built by the Germans in WWII to defend the invasion route used by the Allies, a route that stretched from the Salerno beachhead (Sept. 1943), up through Naples and then on to Mt. Cassino. Some of them are of the small "pill box" variety, such as the one in this photo; others can be quite large--artificial caves, as NUg calls them. I have seen at least a few dozen of them in random driving between Naples and Salerno. The NUg statement remarks that they are decaying; "In a few years, no one will remember that they ever existed." Well, they are eye sores and I am not totally unhappy that they are doomed to disappear. On the other hand, maybe it's not such a bad idea to remember that they existed. (If you are interested in caves, caverns and tunnels, see our portal for Underground Naples.)
   [update from Sept. 2019: the Website for Napoli Underground (NUg) is suspended. (Further information when available.)

  • (July 6) Yacht Watch Redux. I don't know how we wound up with two of the world's most beautiful sailing vessels here at the same time, but we did. The other day it was the Eos (previous Miscellany page, here) She is still docked at Mergellina this morning (on the right in the top panorama photo). Last night, however, the Athena moored in the bay off of via Caracciolo about 500 meters to the east of Mergellina harbor (pan shot, on left). The Athena (photo, right) is a clipper-bowed three-masted gaff-rigged schooner built in 2004 by Royal Huisman (The Netherlands). (I don't know what that means, but I cannot imagine that having one's rig gaffed is a pleasant experience.) The last time we had a yacht dynamic duo out in front was in August 2011 when The Maltese Falcon and the A (sic, that's the whole name!) squared off and hurled witty barbs and epithets at one another. (Details here. Also, details on another large sailing vessel, Phocea, here.) The Athena was built to order by the current owner, James H. Clark, American Internet entrepreneur (remember Netscape?). In July 2012 the Athena was listed for sale with an asking price of $95 million USD, but there is a much cheaper 204-page coffee table book called Athena – A Classic Schooner For Modern Times. Other stats: launched in 2004; Overall length, 90 meters (295+ feet); Beam: 12.20 m. (40+feet); Gross Tonnage, 1103; IMO: 1007237; MMSI: 319012000; Call Sign: ZCNP; Flag: Cayman Is (KY). Oops, now there are three beautiful sailing vessels here at the same time! The Palinuro just drove up (as real sailors say). She is on the left (below) (also seen here in this large photo); launched in 1934, an iron-hulled barquentine, three masts, 15 sails, 69 meters overall length. She is one of the two square-rigged "tall ship" training vessels in the Italian Navy. (Also see this photo & information).

(July 7) Morning photos at Mergellina. (Last ones. Promise. Maybe.) Took a walk down to the Mergellina harbor this morning at 6 a.m. while it was still cool. I actually went to check on the situation at the now lowly vaunted boat service between that harbor and anywhere. (More on that in the entry below this one.) These two photos presented themselves, so it was worth the effort.

First we have the two yachts mentioned above; the Athena (on the left) (described in the entry immediately above) and the Eos (described at previous Miscellany page here). Instead, however, of being some distance apart, petulantly pouting, as it were, they are now berthed, cuddled next to each other at the luxury breakwater in a display of restored harmony between the very wealthy and the very wealthy, something, alas, we see all too little of these days. On the other hand, I wonder if the owners really like each other, or do they lay awake trying to figure out how to scratch the other guy's hull? (Hard to do since these yachts have balloon fenders the size of the Hindenburg.) And look at the way they are dockedcheek by jowl or, in less metaphorical terms, bowsprit by bowsprit. Both these ships claim to be the longest private sailing yacht in the world (depending on what you count). This seems to me to be a clearly pubescent acting out of what the editors of Marine Psychology and Psycholinguistics (my Bible!) call "Bowsprit envy." But judge not that ye be not keelhauled. I merely note the presence of my own modest vessel off to the left in the foreground. We don't need no freakin' bowsprits, man!

Second, speaking of metaphors, I wasn't sure exactly what to call this photo. I was toying with Light & Dark, Good & Evil, or even The Manichean Dichotomy, but it occurred to me that I don't know much about Mani and, besides, I borrowed that phrase from my fruit vendor (which might explain why his nectarines have gone so tragically wrong recently). The good guy in this photo is the Italian naval sails training vessel, the Palinuro (details on the ship plus another photo may be viewed here.) That really is the good and rising sun reflecting off the vessel, bestowing strength on her as she girds sails and guns for the struggle with evil, in the far corner, born in 2004, 294 meters long and weighing in at 54,214 very gross tonnes, the Behemoth of Bad, the Liberia-flagged container ship, the Jennifer Rickmers. Boo-hiss!       (Also see Boats of the Bay)

Demonstrators protesting with mock funeral posters the
demise, or at least sorry condition, of the 200-year-old
Sannazzaro pier at Mergellina. photo:  il Mattino

(July 8) I mentioned (above) the Mergellina harbor (photo, left), the facility used in the past for tourist and even commuter traffic with the islands. It used to be possible to catch hourly hydrofoils from Mergellina to Capri, for example. That ceased a number of years ago as the main port of Naples gradually took over most of the maritime traffic. The city hall's point of view is that since the downtown area is where most tourists come in, it is easier for them just to walk over and catch a boat to anywhere. Fair point, but it ignores the fact that the port is already chaotic and overburdened.

There are three company names familiar to those who have occasion to use the Naples port facilities. Snav, Alilauro, and Caremar. (I am excluding the superjumbo cruisers, which all use the main port of Naples.)

-(1) Snav. It stands for Società Navigazione Alta Velocità—High Speed Navigation Company. It's a subsidiary of MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company). They run large ferries and hydrofoils to the islands in the bay of Naples, to the Aeolian islands (north of Sicily), and to Sardinia and Sicily, all from the downtown port, but, as far as I can tell, from Mergellina they run only limited hydrofoil service to Ventotene and Ponza, the two inhabited islands in the Pontine archipelago out past Ischia. For those, the boats use the Sannazzaro pier.

-(2) Alilauro. They run ferry, hydrofoil and catamaran service to Ischia, the Sorrentine peninsula and Amalfi coast, and the Aeolian islands. At Mergellina they have their own pier next to the original Sannazzaro pier.

-(3) Caremar. (Campania regionale marittima). This is the local company that used to have hourly runs from the Sannazzaro pier at Mergellina to Capri. According to very recent reports, the company is on the verge of bankruptcy; they have no service at all from Mergellina any more, although they still operate from the main port.

The fishermen's point of view. They work here
just like in the good old days (photo, right).

In any event, the papers have carried reports of Mergellina locals bemoaning the decay of the old Snav pier, (called by locals the Sannazzaro Pier of Mergellina, named for the area's favorite son). There is a lot of tourism on the west side of Naples, running along the seaside through the Chiaia section of town all the way to Mergellina and up the coast. There are many major and minor hotels that cater to tourists, many of whom would like to take a leisurely trip on the bay from a nearby harbor and not have to fight to get to the main port.  I'm trying to find a reason why they should not be able to do that, and I can't. It might have to do with fact the both piers at Mergellina share the same narrow access to the harbor with large yachts docked behind yet a third facility that can only be described as a luxury breakwater. (See the large photo with the super-yachts in the entry above this one. They are docked at the entrance to the harbor.) That has changed the economics of the harbor.) Beyond that I do not know.

From December 2009. Scaffolding taken down
after a one-year restoration of the Gallery. It
may be time for another one.

  • (July 9) Speaking of decay and rot, I mention in the main entry on the Galleria Umberto that the structure is on a perpetual roller-coaster ride. It goes from splendor to decay, from the glories of Art Nouveau architecture to being what one local journalist has just called "a casbah of shame," where one is required to navigate the place by stepping over bits and pieces of the crumbling building (here the writer threw in a reference to Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher) and homeless bums. Desperate words, to be sure, but understandable given the circumstances. They are brief and unhappy: last Saturday afternoon, 14-year-old Salvatore Giordano from nearby Marano was in the city with some friends for a leisurely good time, wandering around and doing nothing, which is what 14-year-olds should be doing. They passed by the via Toledo entrance to the Gallery when a part of the facade crumbled off from the top stories. Salvatore saw what was happening, yelled at his friends, shoved them out of the way and, in doing so, took a piece of rock to the head. As of this writing, he is in critical condition in the hospital and at least one late report says that he shows no brain activity. These things can change, so the city just waits and hopes for the best. The rest of the article is a rant against the "cheap and inglorious daily death of a thousand cuts" as the building and city fall apart. Hard to disagree with sometimes.
  • (update from July 10) The morning papers carry the sad news that young Salvatore has died.

  This uncredited graphic appeared on the blog of
the  Joespeh S. Murphey Institute of CUNY
(July 10) After the 7-1 shellacking that Brazil took from Germany at the World Cup yesterday the other, a very wise Brazilian woman said, "The time for bread and circuses is past... We don't need new stadiums; we need schools and hospitals." I am always taken with the phrase "bread and circuses" and, indeed, I have used it once in these pages, at this link, about a book. To wit: Feste, Farina e Forca by Vittorio Gleijeses (1919-2009) a Neapolitan scholar and historian... Even the title is a treasure: feste=celebrations; farina=flour; forca=gallows. Those were the proverbial "Three F's," said to be the keys to keeping the masses in line under the autocratic rule of the Bourbon dynasty. It's a variation of the Latin of Juvenal, who complained that the once proud Romans, who “sold our vote to no man” now seemed to be interested in only two things: panem et circenses, that is, bread and games. (He might have added TuTubum, if he were alive today). After the real tragedy of  the Gallery (item above this one), I am once again reminded of panem et circenses when I read today that "Napoli have received the all-clear to play their Champions League preliminary round at the San Paolo [stadium in Naples]. There were real fears the team would have to relocate to the Stadio Barbera in Palermo for the August match, as the Stadio San Paolo is undergoing restructuring work." Real fears? Juvenal, thou shouldst be living at this hour.

  • (July 15) Repubblica Napoli of 14 July says in an article signed by Antonio Ferrara that the Sarno river, just given another failing grade in the recent “clean water report card” by the Green Schooner (see item at the top of this page), could do a lot better than it does. After all, the new water treatment facility (photo, right) really does work. It takes the water fouled by 200,000 inhabitants along the Sarno basin and really does clean it and dump it all as clean water into the sea. BUT, it was designed to process twice that amount. The reason it does not do so is that the network of sewers and drains that should get the waste water to the treatment facility are inadequate. That story is repeated “upstream” elsewhere in that section of the Campania region, as waste water from other communities wends its way sooner or later directly into the sea, having bypassed water treatment. It will be some years before the situation is corrected. Indeed, it is hard to envision a new marina and an adjacent resurrected urban beach front running over to the town of Castellamare ever really thriving next to a river that is still a sewer. (photo: Repubblica Napoli)

  • (July 16) The French word clochard means a vagrant, a beggar, etc., stemming from Old French and then Latin meaning to limp or be lame. I have seldom heard it used in English, but in Italian it is common. The Italian equivalents are senzatetto ("without a roof") and barbone ("big beard")in other words, "homeless." I have a feeling that the French word works somewhat as a euphemism in Italian, meaning that maybe it doesn't sound so harsh to refer to a clochard; maybe it's "better" than senzatetto or barbone in the way that "vagrant" sounds better than "bum." In any event, the papers report the appearance of "anti-clochard benches" (of the kind seen in this photo) in some quarters of the city; that is, benches that have been altered by the insertion of an armrest halfway along the length, thus making it impossible for someone to stretch out and sleep. The benches are quite commonly occupied at night by people who have nothing and nowhere else. Citizens of the areas where the benches have appeared are upset at the callous and anti-social nature of the move by city hall. You can get all sociological about it, too; that is, "another symbol of division between the haves and the have-nots." This has happened elsewhere in Italy, as well, but not here, claim residents. "Where is our compassion?" No one seems to know who gave the go-ahead and whether or not these things are now here to stay.

  • (July 17) It's years late, and I'm still not convinced that it has happened, but the papers report the opening of the logjam-breaking tunnel between Pozzano and Seiano on the Sorrentine Penisula, letting motorists effectively by-pass most of the old State Road 145. According to this snap of a YouTube upload by Fancesco Calenda (image, right), the deed is done! This new tunnel, the fourth and final one in a chain going back to the 1980s, effectively links everything together and gives drivers one very long tunnel around Castellammare, by-passing the old SS145 for a considerable distance, exiting past the town of Seiano. There is a map of the whole affair at this link. As far as I know, there remains the caveat of heavyweight TIR traffic still having to use the old coast road, as noted here.    (update from a few days later)

  • (July 18) The crumbling city. The incident (above, July 9) of a young local boy being struck and killed by falling masonry from the facade of the Galleria Umberto has produced an uneasy situation. In rapid succession, bits and pieces of other monuments and buildings have been crumbling. Some of them are well known, such as the San Martino museum or the buildings that bound the vast central square, Piazza Plebiscito, only one block from the Galleria Umberto; others are less known but nevertheless integral parts of the social and civic affairs of the city, such as the entrance to the cable-car at Mergellina. Some older private residences have had similar episodes, and barricades festooned with red-and-white, keep-back tape are popping up all over. The papers are quick to say that the city is "crumbling." I don't know that that is happening, but maybe it's better to err on the side of the overly dramatic once in a while. We're all looking for someone to blame. Partially, at least, it's the fault of the architecture. I like Art Nouveau, but buildings from that period (1880s and 90s) such as the Galleria or the Mergellina cable car have tons of ornamentation hanging off of them --ledges sticking out, moldings, capstones, drip edges, all of which require constant monitoring and upkeep. There are people who are supposed to do that.
        [related update here]

  • (July 18) AISA stands for Associazione nazionale sulla sicurezza ambientale [National Association for Environmental Safety]. It is a relatively new organization that started in the Campania region of Italy (of which Naples is the capital) and now has affiliates in other parts of the nation. It is not a governmental organization but is staffed entirely by volunteers, those with particular interest and skills in areas that concern the protection of the environment; i.e. the natural flora and fauna as well as the urban environment, public health, waste removal and the offshore marine areas. The group has just conducted a public demonstration (photo, right) of new drone technology at the large square, Piazza Dante. The square is large enough to make such a demonstration of the monitoring potential of drones practical for a large audience—which there was. The square also is often victim to mindless acts of petty and not so petty vandalism. The message here is that it is possible to keep tabs on entire sections of the city and surrounding areas, even those that are out of the way, and see who is dumping, breaking, spray painting, stealing, etc. I used to be in favor of roaming squads of vicious police Komodo dragons, but drones sound pretty good, as long as they're armed. 
(foto riccardo siano)  [related item here]

  • (July 20) I noted some time ago (2011!) that the upcoming Forum of the Cultures was supposed to come up in 2013 in Naples. It finally came up yesterday evening at the Rotonda Diaz, the large venue at the midway point along the seaside road, via Caracciolo. Billing itself as the Fourth edition of the Universal Forum of Cultures– and the first in Italy – and presented by the The World Heritage Sites of Campania," the Forum was inaugurated by a speech from the mayor and a concert by Neapolitan singer-songwriter and composer, Enzo Gragnaniello. It is the beginning of an ambitious series of events that will cover theater presentations, music recitals, cinema, art shows, archaeology, round table discussions, athletic competition, etc. presented at 120 different sites in Naples and the Campania region over the course of the entire summer, indeed, almost until the end of the year. Well-known venues include the San Carlo theater, the church of San Domenico Maggiore, the Mostra d'Oltremare, Pompei, Paestum, Herculaneum, and the Caserta palace; lesser known, but equally fascinating, venues include the ancient city of Elia (Velia) where presentations will focus on the civilization of Magna Grecia in Italy.

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