Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


Naples Miscellany 57 (start mid-Nov.  2015)

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(Nov 9) -
Poet and neighbor, Giacomo Garzya, has published a new book of poems entitled Pettirosso (pub. 2015 M. D'Auria, Naples). The title means "Redbreast" and the cover painting is by Paolo Sandulli. This collection has 56 poems, 17 of which have English translations done by yours truly. Here are translations of two poems from Pettirosso.


The waters whirl
at Santa Lucia
and block the boats,
the trees tremble
you, tenacious and faithful
woman, hold the
world of winds
the sails go mad
like the hearts of lovers.

I seek thee 'mid tangled memory,
the young girl, sculpting
kisses on the lips of the sea,
smiling at shadows
of cedar and pine
for the sweet caress of sun
for the sweet whisper of wave,
watching me now
with loving eyes,
at the twilight of life,
in this most magic moment
of our lives,
of our deep love.
Other entries on G. Garzya are under his name in the index.

(Nov 10) -
Confessions of a sloppy translator


   On more than one occasion I have been sloppy with Giacomo's poems. I am not even counting the time I was in such a hurry to get to the poetry that I sailed through the preface to a volume, calling it the Translator's Forward instead of Translator's Foreword. (I didn't catch that until the day after the book was out; my dream-brain awakened me in the middle of the night and said "Are you kidding?") I mentioned the error to the best translator I have ever known, Mark. He smiled and said, "I guess that's why we all need proofreaders." Touché.

There was a commemorative mass for Mark at the Naples cathedral the evening before last. There were a few hundred friends and colleagues in attendance. While such events are not joyful, they can offer—as did this one—moments of reflection and spiritual togetherness for people to remember a friend. There were two fine choirs; at the end they combined for Mozart's Ave Verum, at which I wept. I left, however, strangely calm and feeling that Mark was still smiling
at my latest language gaffe on behalf of Giacomo's poetry.

In his most recent collection of poetry (noted at the top this page) Pettirosso (Redbreast), Garzya has a poem, Tutto, that starts (as noted on the right) Everything, you are all to me...and ends with the two dreadful lines (because of my dreadful translation) the rich, red caecubum/ dissolved in the heart.

The last three lines in Italian are: immerso nel mio,/come il cecubo quando si scioglie/nel sangue. I remember, at the time, that I had no idea what cecubo meant.
Everything, you are all to me.
I'll watch the sea
and my eyes shall seek yours
in the spindrift
that holds you forever,
Love is in the cusp of the wave
and all is in you,
modern nymph of the heart
immersed in mine
like the rich, red caecubum
dissolved in the heart.

I looked it up and, indeed, got confirmation from the poet that cecubo was an ancient Roman red wine and that everybody knew what it was
—nothing hermetic here, just your good old solid metaphor (although here it's a simile!). So I left it in the original Latin even though I usually go out of my way to put in crisp Anglo-Saxon words to make it all sound "more English" and even though this particular word reminded me of "cucumber".

So last evening, I was sitting with poet Giacomo and my friend Bill H. at a sidewalk bistro. The former was crowing his Redbreast, the latter (a fine singer) was hawking his new CD, and I was staring morosely at the poem in question. I let Bill read it; he started to giggle and asked "Why is there a cucumber in this woman's heart?" Thus, in the spirit of getting something more poetic than dissolving cucumbers, and mainly to get that smile off of Mark's face, I offer a better version of the final two lines. This, in memory of a friend:

like the ancient red wine
that flows in your heart.

(Nov 30) - Luca De Filippo passed away a few days ago in Rome. He was an actor, producer, director, comic and founder of a Neapolitan theatrical company that carried on the tradition of the company founded by his father, Eduardo De Filippo. To say that Luca De Filippo was born into the life of the theater is an understatement. He was of the third generation of the most famous theater family in Italian history; his father was the best-known Italian playwright (along with Pirandello) of the 20th century and himself the son of Eduardo Scarpetta, the founder of modern Neapolitan theatrical comedy. Luca was born in 1948, started his career in 1955 and was on tour when he suddenly became ill. That's 60 years of life on stage. During that time he produced, directed and performed his father's works both on stage and for television. After he founded his own company he started staging the works of playwrights such as Molière, Pinter, Beckett and Pirandello. He also appeared as an actor in the theatrical works of others and in a number of films. He was astoundingly productive. He was also well-liked and respected. At the news of his death, theater companies throughout Italy observed moments of silence in his memory.

(Dec 5) - Eleven-year-old Israeli piano prodigy, Yoav Levanon, appeared last night at the San Carlo theater in Naples. If you have never heard him, type his name into YouTube and you'll get recitals going back five years when they had to help him up onto the piano bench (he won first prize anyway). Last night he played Chopin's Piano Concerto n. 1 in E minor. My poet friend, Giacomo (item 1, above), came home in shock and wrote a poem that contained the striking phrase,

God-like sound to turn our hearts to stars.

(Dec 6) - I'm not sure what to call these things (if there is more than one and I certainly hope not). A Sleep-through (or other verb of your choice)—on the model of Drive-in? (Yes, let your imaginations run wild!) It's opening tonight near my house: 110 three-place beds or two-place divans, with side tables and small lamps. Plans are for films, live entertainment, and really live entertainment. What can possibly go wrong?

(Dec 9) - Underwater Nativity displays. There are a number of items in these pages about the Neapolitan tradition of the Nativity manger scene, called  presepe or presepio in Italian and variously in EnglishChristmas Crib or the French creche. (See this link.) There is an enormous variety of such displays including the unusual but relatively common "living presepe," in which real actors (usually townspeople) and real farm animals enact the beginning of Christianity. Something even more unusual, in my view, is the underwater display. There is already a reference to one such display at this link. It is in the so-called Emerald Grotto on the Amalfi Drive, 3 km from the town of Amalfi, itself. The grotto has a ceramic Christmas manger display underwater on the floor of the grotto, placed there in the 1950s. The photo (above) for this item is of the underwater presepe in the waters of the gulf of Naples off of Cape Miseono just before the western end of the gulf. There are others: there is a submerged manger display off of Cala Incina on the Adriatic sea near Bari; another at Mondello near Palermo in Sicily; one at Scylla in Calabria (on the coast across from Messina, thus making it the peninsular half of the Dynamic Duo of mythology, Scylla and Charybdis!); and another off the west coast in the waters of Porto Santo Stefano on the Monte Argentario peninsula in Tuscany, 150 km NW of Rome; and many more. Nor are these displays confined to seacoasts; there is a well-known presepe in Lake Bolsena in central Italy in the region of Lazio  and there are two in the waters of Lake Maggiore at the towns of Suna and Arona. As is the case with landlubber presepi you don't just set them up and leave them all year to wait for next Christmas. Regular presepi in homes and churches may use many of the same figurines year after year, but they are set up anew each year in early December, with the Christ Child the last piece to be put in place. They are removed on Jan 6. The underwater displays may leave support structures in place, but figurines are placed and removed for every event. It involves considerable support of boats, rafts, and scuba divers.

(Dec 11) - This may be connected to the item above, but I'm not sure. It's not exactly underwater, but kind of...maybe... It's in a grotto partially full of water. (There is a geological description here.) The Stiffe grottoes are in the town of San Demetrio ne' Vestini in the province of L'Aquila (Italian region of Abruzzo), 90 km/55 miles east-northeast of Rome. A tourist organization called, simply, “Grotte di Stiffe” (grottoes of Stiffe) was formed in 1991. As a result, the first installation of this presepe —this Nativity manger scene, the most characteristic of all Italian Christmas symbols— came about in 1994. The presepe stays in place from December 8 through January G; that is, from the feast days of Corpus domini through Epiphany. Typically, the area leading up to the grotto entrance is adorned with traditional presepe figures such a shepherds and even Roman soldiers carrying out the census (“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their own town to register.” - Luke:2-3) The figures for the presepe are made by local artisans.

(Dec 12) - I suppose many may not feel this way, but I like museums that are in buildings that look like museums—old and musty (well, if you clean up the must a bit). In this case, the Center for Museums of the Natural Sciences in Naples is an interdepartmental institution of the Frederick II University of Naples. It combines what were separate museums of minerology, zoology, anthropology, paleontology and physics into a centrally administered Museum Center. Except for the physics museum (a separate entrance, nearby) the others are all entered from via Mezzocanone 8, in back of the main university building on Corso Umberto in downtown Naples, near the University metro stop. Four of the museums are on the premises of what used to be the Collegio Massimo of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and earlier the residence in the 1400s of Gian Tommaso Carafa, with Jesuit construction starting in the 1550s. The combined museums have a total surface area of 5000 sq. meters (almost 54,000 sq feet) and host more than 160,000 items from around the world. The museums are open to the public, Mon-Fri and, on special occasion, on weekends. The center is actively involved in science outreach education in the community through seminars, guided tours, special exhibits and field trips for schools, taking advantage of modern multimedia equipment, as well. The Center, itself, came together as a single unit in 1992.

(Dec. 13) - This evening  Zubin Mehta will conduct the San Carlo orchestra, choirs, ballet and opera companies in Bizet's Carmen to open the 2015-16 opera and ballet season. The Indian-born (1936) Mehta has been vigorously active in conducting since 1958 when he made his debut in Vienna. It is a career that has led him through posts in major capitals of Europe, North America and Israel. Besides musical awards and recognition, he is recognized as a tireless advocate for understanding among nations. (For example, In 1999, he was presented the "Lifetime Achievement Peace and Tolerance Award" of the United Nations and in 2009, he established a music education program for Israeli Arabs.) He is currently the chief conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival in Florence but is said to be leaving that post shortly. Naples is now angling for him to be the musical director of San Carlo. He was last in Naples in September, when he donated his fee to a fund to buy new instruments for members of the orchestra. He loves the city and it seems they love him right back. He explains the relationship (in fine Italian, by the way) by explaining that when he left India in 1954 to come to Europe to study music, the ship's first port of call was Naples. He wandered away from the port to see some sights. “I feel at home in Naples. Maybe it's the sun, maybe the warmth of the people, maybe it's the unique atmosphere that involves you. Like what you breathe in San Carlo.” That's when he recalls the posters on the street advertising a concert by pianist Arthur Rubinstein in a theater—San Carlo. “I never even knew there was a theater named San Carlo!” He impishly recalls how there were no tickets, so he waited for intermission to sneak in while everyone was milling around. “I had never seen anything like it in my life, an unforgettable sight, an impression that has followed me all through my career...oh, I never got to hear any music,” he laughs. “They booted me out.” Things will be different this time.

Hey, my bamboo shoots were in there!
(Dec. 16) - The bane of urban Naples, building collapse, has struck again, this time at the University of Naples Department of Veterinary Medicine, adjacent to the Botanical Gardens. It happened a few days ago at 4 o'clock in the morning. There were no casualties to man or beast. It struck the buildings that house the labs for avian diseases; presumably the little guysif there were any in there at the time just flew out the holes when the walls opened. This time it's not the result of slipshod underground train station construction. The vet clinic is housed in the ex-monastery of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci built by Cosimo Fanzago in 1581. It's old. (Maybe you can fault the building inspectors for not paying enough attention to structures that are 400 years old!) Damage to equipment is moderate but not catastrophic. The real problem is that the entire structure will have to be recertified and that takes time. If animals have to be moved, I hope they don't put the doggies in with the python. (Say, anyone seen that python?)

(Dec. 18) - The Frederick II University Polyphonic Choir of Naples is a non-profit cultural association founded by choirmaster, Joseph Grima, in 1992. Antonio Spagnolo has been the artistic director since November 1999. This mixed choir consists of about fifty voices, mainly students, but also teachers, professors and staff from other Neapolitan universities. The choir has a vast repertoire drawn from sacred and secular sources and has performed throughout Italy as well as abroad and has recorded. This year, the Christmas concert will be held on the evening of Dec. 22 on the premises of the Basilica of S. Domenico Maggiore within the framework of the Jubileum for the 799th anniversary of the founding of the Dominican order. The program will also include various presentations on the art and architecture of the basilica.

(Dec. 19) - This striking photo©was taken from within the Maschio Angioino (Angevin fortress) at the port of Naples. The port is directly behind the photographer. The dome visible at left center is the Galleria Umberto. The Royal Palace is out of view on the left. The photographer is Fulvio De Marinis, Neapolitan artist and photographer.  (See that link for further information about him on this website.) (He also has a Facebook page here.)

(Dec. 20) - The Villa Pignatelli has reopened after a six-month complete restoration, including sections that have been closed for a number of years. The results are impressive.

The building is from the 19th century and is easily the most noticeable attraction on the Riviera di Chiaia, set back in its own garden across from the public park, the Villa Comunale, near the seafront. (See the link at the top of this item for details on the history and construction of the building. The two photos, below, are of the restored villa.)

(Dec. 20) - (image right)This presepe (Nativity scene)  has caused a stir on the island of Ischia. Instead of the traditional stable and manger, the scene is of the Christ Child on a small sand dune; nearby is a cardboard suitcase come open with the spilled contents nearby. The Savior as refugee. The mind links immediately to the heart-rending photo of 3-year-old Aylan, the Syrian-Kurdish boy lying face down on the beach at Bodrum, Turkey in early September. He drowned with his mother and 5-year-old brother trying to get ashore. The display is set up at the entrance to an antique shop, such that the sand presepe faces inwards and is reflected back to those who glance at it from outside the shop. The artist, Salvatore Ronga, wants the mirror to make people stop and enter the shop to be part of the scene, to be involved and reawaken their sense of compassion. Aylan was one of almost 200 children who have died trying to come ashore in the Aegean either in Turkey or Greece. In the Mediterranean at large, the number is about 700. 

(Dec. 20) - Christmas Eve. In Italian it is called Vigilia di Natale. That first word, Vigilia, is Latin and has obviously given us English words such as vigil (a purposeful or watchful staying awake). It is used in the same way as eve is used in English, both in religious contexts and other slightly poetic (but not antiquated) usages such as "on the eve of..." to mean "the evening (or day) before." Germans call it Heiliger Abend; the Spanish say Nochebuena, and in Basque it is Gabon Eguna (you can look up the rest, yourselves). Since Christian tradition holds that Christ was born at night, tonight is actually more important in a religious sense than Christmas day, itself. In Naples, the churches and duomo (cathedral) will be packed for midnight mass.

     On the secular side, it's the day of the grand family cenone (cena/dinner + -one/augmentative suffix), the Big Dinner. In the evening everyone drives to a relative's home to eat. The relatives are usually the same ones every year. They don't drive anywhere. In Naples, the cenone della vigilia typically features seafood: first spaghetti with vongole (clams); then fish, probably baccalà (cod) and anguilla anguilla (pictured), which sounds a lot better than eel, a snake-like, catadromous fish. (Catadromous, for Pete's sake!) Relax, they seldom get more than a meter long. There is also an insalata di rinforzo (roughly, a pick-me-up salad); that is, cabbage salad packed with olives, capers, anchovies, vinegar, and enough spices to pick you up right through the roof. The only things that don't come from the sea at the cenone are the spaghetti and the dessert
—12 different kinds of sweet and gooey stuff. If you don't like fish, well, you're in good company; St. Augustine, himself, said "It's like eating a box of tooth-picks!" And if you have high blood sugar—look, stay home. For you, indeed, (sing it...!) "It's the most loneliest tiiiime of the year." (Gimme a break on the double superlative; Shakespeare really did write "...the most unkindest cut of all.") Wait for tomorrow for Christmas Day specialties, meat and vegetables.

(Dec. 27) -L'Altro Ottocento [The Other 19th Century] is the name of a very significant art show that has opened on the premises of the monastery of San Domenico Maggiore (#12 on this map). It is a presentation of 60 "new" works of Neapolitan art painted from the unification of Italy (1861) into the first decade of the 1900s. The works are "new" in the sense that very few of them have been widely displayed but have been displayed at smaller venues or even at no venue, meaning held "in some building somewhere where no one can see them." (That is a technical art term!) Importantly, they are works of lesser known artists from an extremely important period in the history of art in Naples. The city and kingdom of Naples had just become part of a united Italy, the Academy of Fine Arts was going strong, new artistic currents such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau were emerging, and here you have works that, essentially, no one has seen before. The exhibit runs through February 28.

(Dec. 27) - There has been a significant cave-in (low center in image—look closely; that is not a pot-hole!) on via Nicolardi, a major street in the Vomero section of Naples known as Colli Aminei, not far from the Cardarelli hospital. The large adjacent residential complex was evacuated38 families (150 Persons). Also, other buildings have shown cracks in the outer walls. This is nothing new. (The Underground portal on this website has a number of entries on the problem - this one in particular.) The problem was well described in a 1967 publication, The Subsoil of Naples. This is a short extract from my English-language translation of that book:
We know today...that a great overload, both static and hydraulic, has been brought to bear on the ancient (or inadequate) infrastructure of our city by irrational and chaotic urban expansion over the last twenty years. We now know with certainty that the tipping point, at least in some determined areas that have been in balance, is not far off. Earth slides, cave-ins and sink-holes are, unfortunately, not new in the history of Naples, but the alarming frequency of these episodes over the last few years as well as the nature of these episodes, especially in the hill areas, is the result of a systematic and progressive deterioration of the supporting subsoil of the city...
The key words are "chaotic urban expansion." When the nearby hospital was built in 1934, it was surrounded by trees. That all changed after WWII. The immediate cause of almost all of these mini-disasters is underground water seepage into the soil that then starts to siphon away the soil and supports for the water lines, which then break, increasing the problem. The solution is almost always: turn off the water, fix the water lines, pump tons of cement into the hole, pave it over, wait for the next one. 

END of Misc. p.57
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