Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


Naples Miscellany #56 (start late-Sept.  2015)

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(Sept 20) - Not a very nice way to spend the last days of summer out on the bay of Naples. The 32-meter wooden yacht, the Angra, belonging to Aurelio De Laurentiis, president of the Napoli football club, caught fire at 6 p.m. just off the Posillipo coast near the Mergellina harbor. He, his wife and children, and all crew members —12 persons in all— all sprang into the sea where they were rescued by other pleasure craft. There were no injuries. This kind of spooked me because I saw it clearly from a street-side cafè about 100 meters up the hillside. I think this will be the last entry of my Boats of the Bay series, at least for the year. 

(Sept 22) - Pre-Roman era tomb discovered at Pompeii. In spite of the difficulties of doing archaeology at Pompeii (noted here and here in two recent entries), this second most visited archaeological site in Italy (after the Colosseum, in Rome) continues to reward researchers. With most attention going deservedly to preserving Roman Pompeii, we forget the layers that lie beneath, from the days before mighty Rome existed. The Jean Berard Center in Naples has now announced the discovery of a well-preserved Samnite tomb at Pompeii. It contains a woman's skeleton and many amphorae. The Samnites were ferocious enemies of the Romans; they fought each other for centuries for control of central Italy, with the Samnites eventually succumbing in 100 BC. At one time, Samnite influence extended from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenean and included the area where Roman Pompeii would later stand. This particular tomb is from the fourth century BC. The Jean Berard Center in Naples has served since 1966 as a "Documentation Center of historical research on Southern Italy", "a research platform for French and Italian teams working in Southern Italy and Sicily with a focus on Magna Grecia,the Greek colonization in the West. The center's current facilities in Naples include equipment depots, specialized laboratories, a library and as reception space for visiting researchers.  
[Thanks to Jeff Miller for calling my attention to this.]

(Oct 4) -
Mark William Weir  (1955-2015) R.I.P.

Word comes that Mark Weir passed away the day before yesterday at his home in England from complications due to leukemia. Mark was a lecturer in English at the University of Naples L'Orientale from 1983 to 2014. Besides teaching, he was active in the political struggles of academia to better the lot of foreign instructors at Italian universities. He was also one of the best Italian-English translators in Italy, providing first-rate translations not just for large publishers such as the University of Chicago press and Electa in Naples, but also in presenting local culture to visitors. That is, in the old days there were either no translations in many museums, or worse, there were bad ones. Mark took care of that; he was a fine natural writer, unerringly accurate in finding a correct phrase and deft in giving readers the pleasant sensation that they were reading the original. I am remiss if I do not mention that Mark was a musician. He played the viola and sang in local choirs in Naples. His life was not just about quality, but beauty —in teaching, in language, in music. When that person is torn away, it leaves a hole in the community. If he was your friend, it leaves a hole in your heart. There is no consolation here no "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"rhetoric to sooth us at Mark's passing, except to say, for what it's worth (and I think it is worth a great deal), that Mark faced what he had to face with those values of the spirit that are the best of what it means to be a fine human beinggrace, equanimity and courage.

Mark stayed in Naples for treatment until late in 2014 and then returned home for further treatment. He was not pessimistic about the future. He wrote in December, "...Writing with a complete change of scene: band of woodland in front of my mother's cottage, back garden with enough space to grow things and a good expanse of sky, bathed in sunlight on my arrival... I feel here that I really can recoup all the strength I have." He certainly had much left to give, but that was not to be. His colleagues liked and respected him. He liked his students, and they intuited perhaps that they were getting the best that English-language pedagogy has to offer. They were right. To use a phrase that often seems trite until you find someone who fits the bill, Mark was a gentleman and a scholar. Rest in peace.

(Oct 8) - In progress as of today on the island of Ischia - a workshop of the Urban Sketchers, an organization self-described as "...dedicated to fostering a global community of artists who practice on-location raise the artistic, storytelling and educational value of on-location drawing, promoting its practice and connecting people around the world who draw on location where they live and travel." They held their first symposium in Portland in 2012 and have run a steady stream of workshops in various places around the world ever since. Their yearly International Urban Sketchers Symposium is held in a different city every year and includes lectures, activities and workshops taught by professional educators, architects, illustrators and artists. The event in Ischia will be on the premises of the Aragonese Castle, and the results of the sketchers' labors will be displayed on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 6.30 pm. On Sunday, there will be a collective "Negombo Sketchcrawl" dedicated to the local artist, Gabriele Mattera and starting at the Negombo thermal gardens. Open to all. The motto of the organization is "See the world one drawing at a time." I think "Sketchcrawl" is a pun on "pubcrawl." Keep upright and drawing. Sounds like fun.

(Oct 9) - On the Trail of the Lady Lawyer - I'm an idiot.
This is based on a longer, detailed item found on the website of Napoli Underground (Nug). The photo (below, right) is also from NUg, and appears here by kind concession; there is additional photography available at that link. [Note from Nov. 2020 -- the Nug website is no longer operative.]

First, about the title (above). Truly, I mean absolutely no disrespect. I just enjoy laughing at my own ignorance and I hereby give you permission to laugh at me (as long as you don't roll your eyes). I'm not Roman Catholic and did not know that among the many devotional titles of Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the term Avvocata in the sense of "protectress"; indeed, the term "Advocate," while rare, also appears in English in the same religious context. The complete name of the structure in the photo is Il Santuario di Maria Santissima dell'Avvocata [Most Holy Mary, the Advocate]. Unfortunately for me, the word avvocato (with the o on the end to show male gender) is the common Italian word for "lawyer". A woman lawyer may be called avvocato or, possibly, avvocatessa, but never avvocata [with the femine -a endingfor obvious reasons. I mean, she may have a law degree, but she's not that good!] But, you see, I didn't know any of that when I started to do a recent translation about the structure shown in the above image; I just wondered why a lady lawyer would have her own church! (Selene reminds me, too, that there is an entire quarter of Naples named Avvocata, named for Mary, Mother of Christ. That section includes the large square, Piazza Dante and part of the long street that starts there, via Salvator Rosa.)

With that out of the way, the trail to that sanctuary is one of the most scenic along the entire western coast of the bay of Salerno. My friends described it as a "nice hike". It's 13 km out and back if you return to your starting point. That's more than nice; that's 8 miles. BUT, they say -
...the trail goes from Cava de' Tirreni... to the Sanctuary... The first part of the trail... is beneath a ridge of the Lattari mountains... the trail opens onto a splendid view of the sea at the towns of Cetara, Vietri and Salerno with the Picentine mountains in the background...we made the top of a crest where the view ranges to Amalfi and the cobalt blue of the coast so named. Amalfi dominates the panorama...
Facing the sanctuary from the trail (as shown in the photo) you are facing SxSW over the Amalfi Coast. If that appeals to you, and you are up for a beautiful, strenuous walk in the hills, by all means, this is for you, or, as my friends put it, "This hike is a must!"

(Oct 11) - The Waterfalls & Mills of Conca della Campania

My friends from Napoli Underground (NUg) took another hike recently, but at quite the opposite end of Campania from the one cited directly above. This one was into the Roccamonfina Regional Park in the hills above the north-western end of the Campanian plain in the rugged coastal mountains between the Volturno and Gargano rivers. (See the above link for details of the park and mountains. It's one of the most interesting areas in Italy. Really!) They went to the small town of Conca della Campania ('Conca' in the upper-left corner of the image) to have a look at a series of waterfalls and watermills. Most of the smaller sites around here have such treasures that you can find and explore relatively easily, and Conca is no exception. The trail is marked. Fulvio (of NUg) writes in detail of the hike:

"Right from the beginning of the trail, in these limestone rocks of the ancient extinct Roccamonfina volcano, there are many crevices as well as artificial caves ripe for exploration...the trail is well marked by a wooden guide railing. You'll finally be down at the upper part of the river...there is a small stone bridge with barely legible trail markings that indicate that this is the entrance to a ring-trail to everything there is to see on this excursion: the falls, the water-mills and various underground spaces...along that stretch the fragrance of the water will increase as you get closer to the falls, and you are soon at a water drop. ...The small waterfall (about 10 meters in height) drops into a pool, splashing over on the way down a number of outcroppings that are apparently part of an ancient lava block."

Fortunately, it's not hard to find.    
 (photo, above: Napoli Underground)

(Oct 12) - The Calore river -unspoiled,  because no one can find it! (It is NOT one of the red lines on this map!) This short entry is based on an item on the NUg website here, entitled The Canyons of the Calore River. I quote:

...the Calore has gouged a series of deep canyons, known in Italian as the Gorges of the Calore. Due to the difficulty of accessing this part of the river, these canyons are still rough and unspoiled—all the better for you if like to hike and go rafting...

Go ahead, you'll love it (image, left). That's a guarantee. Please remember, however, that there are not one, not two, but three (!) rivers named Calore in the Campania region of Italy, alone. One of them is on this map as #4. It is technically called the Calore Beneventano and is the longest and most commonly known Calore river, but it is NOT the one you want unless you want to kayak to Benevento. (You don't.) Another Calore flows into the scheme at #3, which marks the beginning of the Tanagro river. The Tanagro then flows NW into the Sele river (#1). You want what is called the Calore Lucano (because it is in ancient Lucania); it runs below the #3 river starting in the mountains below the Alburni massif, and then winds into the Sele river, which takes all that water down to the Tyrrhenean Sea at Paestum. If you can see yourself Tom-&-Hucking through the photo (above), this may be for you. If it is, go to the link at the top of this item and read about what you can expect. There are more photos. Follow directions. You can't miss it. It's a river, for Pete's sake.
     photo above from Napoli Underground

(Oct 13) - This little fellow and his brother or sister, or maybe just friend (I can't tell. If you can, you must be Charles Darwin) play prominently in a tale spun to me by Fulvio Salvi called The Bay of Ieranto and the Unexpected Gift. Fulvio and friends went hiking and swimming at that very beautiful bay recently and...

...All of a sudden a large powerboat accompanied by an equally outlandish rubber dinghy hove into view in the bay. We were surprised at that and even more so to see a Coast Guard vessel right behind them. We imagined that some “Sunday sailors” were about to get a very loud talking to by the authorities. That didn't happen,
but something else did. Two turtles were released onto the beach from the coastguard vessel.  The turtles were then christened "Tarta" and "Ruga"...

(Get it? C'mon, think! OK, tartaruga is Italian for "turtle"). Complete details on the beautiful Bay of Jeranto are here.  More info on turtles and efforts to save them are at this link.

(Oct 21) - This is pathetic. Heavy rains over the last few weeks have resulted in further episodes of Naples' worst nightmarecave-ins, earth slides, anything too much water can do to a hill, tunnel, street or building. Part of the via Krupp on Capri caved in, a large piece of masonry fell from a building onto via Duomo near the Naples cathedral, and part of the major port-side tunnel leading in and out of the downtown area collapsed, closing traffic on one side. All this was bad enough, but then I get to the end of the article and see this:


It says, "After reading this article, I feel..." and you click on the icon that best represents your feelings. Strange, because this is clearly directed at people who probably can't read! What is this pathetic, infantile, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing nonsense!? (Did I say I didn't like it?) Didn't we spend many centuries convincing ourselves that there was real writing beyond cuneiform? Maybe alphabets with which we could express ourselves? Now we are back in the caves, except that they were better artists.  Actually, there is an emoticon I could direct at the publishers of this cyber-rag, but it doesn't display the proper finger.

(Oct 28) - The National Archaeological Museum of Naples is cramped, as is evident to anyone who has visited it; yet, what has traditionally been on display is less than one-half of what could be on display with adequate space and, as usual, money. So they store the rest. I still don't know where the fabled warehouses of the museum are (nor does anyone I have ever asked including cops!). Whatever the case, at least the storage units have come out of hiding a bit with a new exhibit at the museum called Beni culturali invisibili [Invisible Cultural Heritage]. Ninety (!) statues, busts and inscriptions from ancient Herculaneum, Pompeii, Cuma, Pozzuoli and Baia have been dusted off and put into a new glass, plexiglass and steel wing of the museum. (It's only partially finished but should be done in 2016 and will include a library and a theater.)                     photo: Paolo de Luca, la Repubblica

(Oct 29) - Larry Ray of Gulfport, Mississippi, was a longtime resident of Naples and maintains a presence on Naples: Life, Death & Miracles at this link lots of good stuff (c'mon, he met Lucky Luciano!) He has just sent me one of the most charming photos I have even seen (pictured, Larry is the one in the blue shirt). He included this note:

I find joy in the little delights, like rearing (for the past two weeks) Monarch caterpillars on my lovely Milkweed plants then giving then a nice safe place to do their metamorphic magic, and yesterday Monarch butterfly #1 popped out of its chrysalis, hung around on my finger and on my shirt for about fifteen minutes, then off it went. It is completing a four-stage life cycle by leaving my finger, finding some food and then flying nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to that grove of trees in the highlands where it and several million other Monarchs will overwinter, then make new Monarchs who will fly back eventually to Canada to carry on and repeat the amazing routine. This is the second year I have done this.

I like the idea of "...that grove of trees in the highlands." We should all have one.

(Nov 3) - Sabrina, thou shouldst be living at this hour! The last time I wrote about the Naples Zoo, it was here, on the death of Sabrina, the only elephant (the solitude alone is probably what killed her). My other entries on the zoo: Zoo, Naples(1)  (2)  (3) (4). They redepress me when I read them. Perhaps this time around, things are looking up, and it's about time.The Zoo website announces "Great Expectations lead to Grand Surpises" in the form of mother and daughter, Wini and Julia (48 and 23 years old, respectively), newly arrived from Copenhagen (at least it's warmer in Naples!). Their Danish keeper arrived with them, so as not to make the change too abrupt. They have a new elephant house, green grass, a huge water pool, trees to scratch on and about one acre to roam around in. It doesn't seem like much, but it is, after all, a zoo. This addition to the zoo comes through an organization known as EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, founded in 1992), headquartered in Amsterdam. They say in their promo literature that ". ..zoos and aquaria have a strong role to play in protecting nature and wildlife both at our institutions and out...". That is shorthand for the plausible and unfortunate scenario that in a world intent on making wild animals extinct,* maybe the only way to shelter and protect them is in captivity. The organization is an umbrella for specialist groups such as the European Endangered Species Programs and various other breeding programs. The Naples Zoo, in its literature, says that some of the facilities are not yet fully open because they are being restructured. Also, the former co-management scheme with the adjacent funfair/amusement park "Edenlandia" is still uncertain since that facility is still closed (it has announced that it will reopen in six months). What can I say? If they don't give these two beautiful creatures (whom John Donne called, "Nature's great masterpiece...the only harmless great thing") a fair deal, I am going to go down and release the kraken! (Actually, that thing, probably Architeuthis dux, lives at the Dohrn Aquarium in Naples, a facility in good standing of the EAZA! So be warned...)

* (If you think that is an exaggeration, perhaps this external link will convince you.)

(Nov 8) - Yesterday Neapolitan artist, Selene Salvi, a good friend to me and this website, gave me this lovely painting you see on the right (a gallery of some of her other works is here). I had a few questions: Who is it? and, of course (as with all art!), What does it mean? Number 1 - I am more than a bit prosopagnostic (I could start a church, but I am content just asking the stranger in the mirror every morning what he is doing in my bathroom), so I wasn't sure if it was a self-portrait. I asked, but she is being coy and has not replied. It looked vaguely religious (sad upturned eyes) - maybe Mary, the mother of Christ? I turned the canvas over and read the name: Cassandra. To refresh your memory (because you know that I didn't have to look any of this up!), in Greek mythology Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, king of Troy. She was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo, the god of everything that was refined, serene and disciplined. He wooed her. She rejected him, and he did something very unrefined, unserene and undisciplined —downright vindictive, you might say: he saw to it that no one would ever believe her prophecies. Today a "Cassandra" is anyone with the wisdom of prophecy, but who is ignored by those who might most need her counsel. That brings me to number 2: What does the painting mean in the sense of Why did she give it to me? Have I been ignoring portentous warning signs? Am I doomed? Is some psycho-social equivalent of climate change about to swamp me? Probably yes, yes and yes, but I'll ask her. But she might side-step the question. Maybe I could ask that guy in the mirror.
(next day) - Whew! Relieved. Selene tells me she has no bad news for me. She says that...

...In his poem Alexandra, the Greek poet, Lycophron, imagines the prophetess imprisoned in a dark but uncovered cell from which she recounts her own life and the lives of those who have been and who are to come. Her immense knowledge is equaled only by her infinite loneliness. It is a figure that has always appealed to me.

[The poem Alexandra is also called Cassandra.]
  [Selene Salvi, has a page of her paintings here.]

This is the end of Miscellany page #56

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