Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews


aples Miscellany 59 (start early Feb 2016)

links to all Miscellany pages
to bottom of this page

(Feb 2) - Supplying southern Italy with fresh water has led to a pleasant by-product: there are now a number of artificial lakes in the south, built by damming rivers. The lakes provide water to the local population for agriculture, recreation, and can be a source of hydroelectric energy. The one pictured here, Lake Pertusillo, does indeed feed some of its water into the great Apulian aqueduct to the east. The lake is in the middle of the area known in ancient times as Lucania (incorporating parts of today's regions of Campania and Basilicata) about 40 km/25 mi south of Potenza. It is part of the Apennine Lucanian National Park of the Val d'Agri. The Agri is the river that was damned in the 1960s to create this 5-mile-long artificial lake (with 155 million cubic meters of water). It is next to the town of Nova Grumento, itself a descendant of Roman Grumentum. That town was founded by the Romans in the 3rd BC and was later one of Hannibal's headquarters when he invaded the peninsula. It was eventually abandoned, but there are ruins of a Roman amphitheater and there is an archaeological museum in Nova Grumento. Lake Pertusillo also serves recreational pastimes and has become a successful ecological niche of biodiversity, designated a Site of Community Interest (SCI) and Special Protection Area (SPA).

(Feb 3) - You call this crap art? Yes! From the entry on the Atellan farces (or fables) (see that link for the complete discussion):
Roman literature has many references to the Atellan farces in the Oscan language. In taking over the Atellan Fables, however, the Romans abandoned the original Oscan improvisational form and developed the form into a literary Latin one; even Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, had his hand at writing a few. Many of the Oscan stock characters were kept by the Romans (and survived into various national incarnations much later in the European Middle Ages, including Macchus, a hunch-backed "wise" fool with a big nose, the forerunner of the modern Neapolitan Pulcinella). Other characters included Bucco (the fat man), Manducus (the glutton), and Pappus (an old man). Many of the common character types found in today's television fare—the nagging wife, the meddling mother-in-law, the effeminate man, the simpleton, the braggart, the quack doctor, etc. etc.—show up in the Atellan Fables.
These ancient folk characters are still very much a part of local tradition. The Geofilos Enviromental League of Succivo (near Atella) is sponsoring a contest/display of Atellan character masks made by students from six different "art high schools" (students of 15-17 years of age) in the area. The masks are quite ingenious and all are made from recycled materials! Indeed the contest is called “Le Eco-Belle”, itself an ingenious pun on ecoballe, those large cubes of compressed solid waste stacked up and waiting to be incinerated. The contest bills itself as the "first interscholastic competition in artistic recycling." (The image is of a mask of Macchus, mentioned in the above text. He might have found all this funny.) 

(Feb 3) - After what seems to be Apple Inc's announcement (at this link) to open an App Developing Center in Naples, probably at the ex-NATO base in Bagnoli. I say “seems to be” because I still can't believe it. Now word comes that another U.S. Tech company, Cisco —they design, manufacture and sell networking equipment— will open a facility in the Scampia section of Naples, absolutely the scariest part of the city. Cisco is not be confused with COSCO, the Chinese shipping giant, which has turned much of the port of Naples into Chinatown, the second scariest part of Naples; nor confused with Cusco, the capital of the ancient Inca empire (not to worry it's a nice place); nor Costco, the third largest retailer in the United States; nor with the Cisco Kid, nor Crisco, the vegetable shortening. Furthermore, G.E. (no, not Gastroenteritis or Glucose Equivalent, but the General Electric corporation, its very own self!) plans to open a number of facilities in Italy, including one in the Pomigliano d'Arco section of Naples where they will build turbines or something else. The newspapers are enthusiastic. Everybody's happy. A musical is to be written entitled Everything's Coming Up Euros.

(Feb 3) - Speaking of Cusco, Peru, poet-neighbor Giacomo Garzya finally got around to writing a poem about his trip a couple of years ago:                   
(image of Manco Cápac, first Inca king)


Here in the shining lake of Titicaca, / where once I deeply saw to distant Taquile, /

begins the tale of Inca, /these children of the sun, / when Manco Cápac, / son of the father of all gods,/
the first Inca/ king of the golden scepter /stepped from icy waters,/ the highest on earth, /
the king who founded at the center of the world/ Cusco, the Inca stronghold.

Three-hundred years the empire lasted / grew great with Pachacutec / and Tùpac, his son, /

grew all-mighty, vast in the Americas/ until the death of Huayna Capac /
conqueror of lands, / then the children warred / grew weak and perished.

Three-hundred years the crown of Spain ruled / from the day when Atahualpa / king of the north and all lands/

burned at the stake, / his ashes brought dismay and ruin to the people.

Then the condors of Colca canyon / that once I deeply saw in distant flight, / sought freedom in the Andes /

and the Spanish yoke ran red, / blood to overflow the Urubamba / all the way to Ollantaytambo /
and Machupicchu the city of the sun cult / where roundabout ruled the sacred peaks of Inca.

Then Virachocha/ father of all gods / father and mother of Mama Quilla, the moon, / of Inti, the splendid sun,/

wept in tight embrace / of rainbow and of lightning.

Then from the forces of the rivers / the lakes / the trees / the sacred heights / went forth a scream in the wind.

Then Misti / and all the mounts of fire vented rage and ash / and holy men gave children/

to ritual death at altars / on the peaks of this world of timeless ice.

Then from Juanita* / awakened from lifeless sleep / from high Ampato to curse Pizarro and the flags of Spain/

from her – given to die for gods/  from her – the virgin of the sun, / from her– Inca.                              

(Eng. transl. J. Matthews)

*(transl. note: 'Juanita' is a reference to the so-called Inca Ice Maiden and Lady of Ampato, the well-preserved frozen body of an Inca girl who was killed as an offering to the Inca gods sometime between 1450 and 1480 when she was approximately 11–15 years old. She was discovered on Mount Ampato in 1995.

(Feb 9) - Today is Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Carnevale or whatever else you may call that grand celebratory Roman Catholic blowout before the beginning of Lent, the 40-day period of penitence before Easter. As noted in the general entries on Carnevale, it is not that big of a deal in Naples (as penitence, itself, is not). To be sure, I'll wait until this evening to see if there are any masked celebrants (other than normal guys in ski-masks) out on the streets. But at least we got in one or two minor episodes. The other day, musicians from the San Carlo orchestra dressed up and invited local school children to do the same and come to the grand theater to be entertained for a few hours. They did a good job. A class act.

And having said that carnevale is not that important around here, I am happy to report that there is at least one town near Naples that has a relatively short but growing tradition of staging a yearly procession with floats, masks, and carousing celebrants. That is the town of Saviano, north of Mt. Vesuvius about 2 km SW of the town of Nola. They have been doing this since 1979 and it gets better known with each passing year. So we shall see. Their publicity poster for this year is shown on the left.

(Feb 20) - Shown here is the first telescope of the Naples astronomical observatory. The telescope was long thought to be lost but was recovered and restored. It has just been placed in the collection of historical astronomical instruments on display at the observatory and planetarium at Capodimonte. The instrument, a transit circle telescope, was built in Germany by Georg von Reichenbach (1771-1826), the inventor of the device. It was one of the first such instruments ever built and first went into service in Naples on 17 December 1819.

[General entries on the observatory are here.]

                        This view is of the old church before the restoration.
The view is to the southwest over the Corricella section
of Procida. The mountain in the extreme background is
Mount Epomeo on the island of Ischia. The old monastery
is out of sight, above and to the right.

(Feb 21) - The island town of Procida has announced its intention to acquire from state ownership the ruins of the monastery of Santa Margherita Nuova. That complex is located at the tip of the Terra Murata (walled city) in the midst of the Corricella section of the island. The old monastery will be restored and thus will complete the total restoration of the Benedictine monastery and church. The restoration of the church of Santa Margherita Nuova (image, right, before the restoration) was completed in September, 2012. The church now hosts conventions, exhibits and various such events. The history of the church/abby complex goes back to 1585 when the older abbey of S.Margherita Vecchia (old) alla Chiaolella across from the small satellite island of Vivara decided to move to escape frequent raids of Saracen pirates. They change the name to Santa Margherita Nuova (new). The subsequent history was not kind. There were numerous earth slides, and political turmoil during the Napoleonic wars led to the structure being expropriated, falling into ruin and never being restored.

(Feb 25)Great old photo. The US Library of Congress archives maintain a collection of old photos. They are amazing fun to browse through. I found a good example to remind us of how many of the old monasteries in the city were converted to secular use after the unification of Italy in 1861. The image (right) is from the Photochrom Print Collection and listed only as "courtyard 1890-1900." It is in fact the courtyard of the Spirito Santo monastery that today has been converted to the main building of the Architecture Depart. of the Fredrick II University of Naples. There is a detailed discussion of this sacred-to-secular process of converting such structures (throughout Italy, not just in Naples) at this entry.

(Feb 27)Great new photo. This is one of astronaut Scott Kelley's great shots from the International Space Station. It's an unusual perspective of southern Italy: the "heel of the boot" is almost dead center. Sicily is the triangular mass at the bottom. Rome is the first large bit of light at lower left. Naples is the next one over to the right. (I think I left my lights on!) The blob of light at lower right is the island of Malta (I think).

(Mar 2)Do I have to worry about this?!  
“Seafloor doming driven by degassing processes unveils sprouting volcanism in coastal areas.” [Of NAPLES!] That is the title of an article in Scientific Reports, 6, 22448; doi: 10.1038/srep22448 (2016), an open access journal from the publishers of Nature. Authors: Passaro, S. et al. The complete article is on-line at this link. This is the abstract:
We report evidence of active seabed doming and gas discharge a few kilometers offshore from the Naples harbor (Italy). Pockmarks, mounds, and craters characterize the seabed. These morphologies represent the top of shallow crustal structures including pagodas, faults and folds affecting the present-day seabed. They record upraise, pressurization, and release of He and CO2 from mantle melts and decarbonation reactions of crustal rocks. These gases are likely similar to those that feed the hydrothermal systems of the Ischia, Campi Flegrei and Somma-Vesuvius active volcanoes, suggesting the occurrence of a mantle source variously mixed to crustal fluids beneath the Gulf of Naples. The seafloor swelling and breaching by gas upraising and pressurization processes require overpressures in the order of 2–3 MPa. Seabed doming, faulting, and gas discharge are manifestations of non-volcanic unrests potentially preluding submarine eruptions and/or hydrothermal explosions.
I think the key phrases here are “non-volcanic” and “preluding [sic] submarine eruptions and/or hydrothermal explosions” although I'm not sure how they go together. I do like the phrase "sprouting volcanism," though. That would be a good name for an igneous rock band.

The Regional Nature Reserve of Foce Volturno (foce/mouth of the Volturno river),
the Licola Coast & the Variconi

(Mar 13) - Starting about 16 km/10 mi up the coast from Naples a strip of coastline starts from a point just below Lago (Lake) Patria and runs for another 16 km up to the mouth of the Volturno river and the town of Castel Volturno. That area (including Lago Patria) is now the regional Nature Reserve of Foce Volturno. The total area of the protected strip is about 1000 hectares/c.2500 acres. The area is heavily urbanized outside of the direct confines of the reserve; the general purpose of the reserve was to protect the stands of Mediteranean pine and maquis shrubland (macchia mediterranea) that still run up the Licola coast. However, the extreme northern tip of the reserve contains an important area of wetland; that is, land saturated with water (such as a swamp, marsh, etc.) and having a distinct ecosytem with characteristic anaerobic vegetation and a wide range of flora and fauna.
    Wetlands are extremely import as stopover and nesting points for migratory birds and have been the object of international concern and preservation efforts since the Ramsar (Iran) Convention was signed in 1971. The area of particular concern within the Foce Volturno reserve is called the Variconi; it is patch of almost 200 hectares/500 acres, consisting of two joined pools (fed by seawater from the coast as well as rainwater). It is the temporary home to about 250 species of birds as well as to a variety of aquatic vegetation; it is the most important Special Protection Zone for migratory birds in the Campania and Caserta regions and one of the most important in all of Italy. The Caserta region set up the Variconi in 1978 and it was joined to the Naples regional reserve in 1993. We note what a Herculean effort it has been by regional authorities and countless volunteers to keep up, shelter and preserve this area in the face of a constant barrage of encroaching overbuilding, general disregard for the environment and even vandalism.

(Mar 23) - New Itinerary at Pompeii - Myths and Nature: from Greece to Pompeii is the name of a new joint exhibit now open at the Naples Archaeological museum and the archaeological site at Pompeii, itself. The museum side will host 100 archaeological finds at the Sala della Meridiana (the Hall of the Sun-Dial) and focus on landscapes, gardens, and the semiotics of nature —that is, the signs and symbols in nature. The itinerary at Pompeii will present five newly restored Domus (that's both the plural anf singular). In ancient Rome, the domus was the type of house lived in by the upper classes. We might call it a villa, except a true villa was outside the city walls or limits and was much larger. The domus was a luxury home within the walls or city, itself. The emphasis is on the green spaces, the gardens that residents created for their domus as well as on the frescoes and objects that decorated the interiors.

(Mar 26) - OK, it's not New Orleans, but we do have parish bands. As noted elsewhere:
...parish bands are usually made up of not more than four or five members. They parade on the name-day of the local patron saint. They may have a trumpet, trombone, saxophone and bass drum, with someone holding the parish banner marching in front. They parade in the neighborhood around the church; usually there is someone in the ensemble whose job it is to “pass the plate” and solicit contributions for the parish.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, so the local parish band was out in force, which is even smaller than the above description. They marched right by me, one kid holding the banner and passing out little printed prayers that start, "O Maria, shelter me beneath Thy powerful arch and protect me...". Then there was one trumpet player, one tenor saxophonist and one bass drummer who looked suspiciously like Pope Pius XII. This little church is right around the corner and is small. Good kids, all of them. They usually play marching versions of hymns, if that makes any sense, and if that was what they had done, I would not comment on it at all. But no —they were playing...(wait for it!)...The Stars and Stripes Forever (!)...John Phillip Sousa's iconic national march of the U.S.A., first performed in 1897 and certainly one of the the best-known marches ever composed. Sousa's lyric at the last strain, the famous trio grandioso starts: Hurrah for the flag of the free/May it wave as our standard forever... Boy Scouts and other Philistines among you may remember it as Be kind to your web-footed friends/That duck may somebody's mother, a parody lyric attributed to American composer Charles Randolph Grean (1913 – 2003) whose relatives vigorously deny it. I don't know why the small parish band was playing it and I have been unable to fit any part of the prayer to the rhythm of the melody... such as O Maria, shelter me please...(I feel a lightning strike coming on. Time to stop.) It does remind me, however, of Jean-Paul Sartre's comment that Chance reigns supreme in Naples. The land of unbelievable juxtapositions.

(Mar 30) - The island of Capri maintains the premises of a non-Catholic cemetery. The entrance is at the last bend of via Marina Grande, 200 hundred meters from the top, where that road intersects via Roma, the road between the towns of Capri and Anacapri. The cemetery was established in 1878. The premises are relatively small, containing 204 tombs placed close together. As the name indicates, the cemetery is the final resting place for those who professed other than the Roman-Catholic faith, generally Protestant, but also Anglican, Orthodox or Jewish (or possibly no faith at all). The grounds contain the tombs of some well-known and long-time residents of the island such as Jacques d'Adelsward-Fersen, Norman Douglas, and Gracie Fields, but also many anonymous souls who had come to Capri for reasons of health, hoping for the best in the Mediterranean climate. After WWII the cemetery saw a period of neglect, but in 1986 the town of Capri guaranteed its preservation and restoration. I am not one who tours cemeteries (although once I let a friend drag me to Stravinsky's tomb in Venice!) but if you are, Italy is known for monument cemeteries, and this is one of them. The interred are from 21 different nations.
(The best-known non-Catholic cemetery in Naples is at this link.)

(Apr 3) - Things seem to be looking up for the Naples zoo. As you may read at this link, the place has had a lot of downs, as well. The most recent addition is Lubango, a male giraffe, weighing in at 600 lean and cuddly kg/1300 pounds, but not nearly full-grown. His weight can expect to double and he'll reach a height of 5 meters. That's what eating 30 kg a day of leaves will do for you. Lubango comes from the Vienna Zoo, where he was born in captivity. In Naples he'll roam around an enclosure with three elephants, gnus, ostriches and some baby llamas. Recently the zoo has also added a crocodile, a hippo and inaugurated a new tiger enclosure. (Presumably the sweet widdle wwamas and Lubango, the new giwaffie, are not in the same enclosure as the croc or tigers. Who knows? I've seen them do worse!) Though the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) does not count the giraffe as an endangered species, the population is declining in Africa due to the destruction of habitat. The entire Naples Zoo now is on 80,000 sq. meters of land/c. 20 acres. Their promo literature goes to great ends to tell us that they're doing their very best to expand and maintain. I've heard that before, but I'm hopeful.

(Apr 3) - Bagnoli. It's that time of the year again. Or decade. That is, time to mention the future of Bagnoli, that infamous bit of urban blight in the bay of Pozzuoli. There are in these pages more than a dozen mentions of Bagnoli and its agonies. They run from Jan. 2003 to the present and are here in the main index. The situation has been going on since the early 1990s and may be coming to a head, although I know I keep saying that. Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy was in town the other day to announce that the federal government (yes, there is one!) is stepping in, saying "Bagnoli is a disgrace. We are going ahead with this, with or without City Hall." He then announced the federal plan to sink 272 million euros into Bagnoli such that the town will be "reborn" in 36 months. (Presumably he meant "sink" metaphorically; after all, they really have been just dropping money into the bay, itself, for the last 25 years.) Whatever the case, he and the mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, traded barbs. The mayor took offense at being condescended to by the PM and being invited into the "control room" (studio di regia, a term used in TV jargon, here meaning "where the action is"). There was a violent anti-fed protest along the seafront in Naples with injured cops and demonstrators, and passers-by scampering into coffee-shops to escape the tear-gas and more barbs (of wire). Federal interest in Bagnoli is certainly connected to intentions announced by various US companies (including Apple) to open up shop in Bagnoli (third item, above-Feb 3). Now even Amazon and Google are talking about it. The PM made a pitch up at the juvenile detention center on Nisida (the isle separating the bays of Pozzuoli and Naples). Looks good: new beaches, a new harbor for pleasure craft, a glass pier (a glass pier?), a new Science City (to replace the one the mob burned down a couple of years ago). Wait, they left out an office building for the mob. That may be a problem.

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

END of miscellany page 59

previous Misc.  page, #58
               next Misc. page, #60            to top of this page   
© 2002 - 2023