Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews 

Naples Miscellany p. 74   (started July 2019)  

link to all Miscellany pages
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started July 2019  

1. -
July 9
Mens lassa in corpore lasso. A tired mind in a tired body. (Thank you Latin Lady, Suzanne Toll!) The admirable 30th Summer Olimpiade (the Student Summer Olympic Games) are progressing nicely with college-age kids running, jumping and swimming at venues throughout the city (including the athletic track and field at the former NATO base in Bagnoli). In the meantime, everyday heroes on their way to work and back on the narrow-gauge iron horse called the Circumvesuviana are giving as good as they get. Their events play out along the stretch of track from Naples to Vesuvius and south to Sorrento. At one point a few days ago they were stuck for 40 minutes in a tunnel and whiled away their time inventing their own Olympics, called the Vesuvianiadi (accent on the ni), to honor themselves, "participants in the Vesuvian Games") They dummied up their poster, a 5-color pennant alongside the train (image). The train ride itself is their main event: The Napoli-Sorrento Marathon. Other events include the elderly or disabled being carried from one train to another by train personnel (I'm not sure who gets the medals on that one); the triple-jump from a stalled passenger escalator; the 100-meter dash from the station at Nola to the one at Piazza Garibaldi; Stone Throwing at Passing Trains (by punks along the track); and the ever popular Greco-Roman Wrestling with the thief who has just grabbed your bag. Acquatic events include Diving into Sweat. One little English tourist lass was heard to exclaim, "Mummy dear, this is the worst train in the whole world, isn't it?" Mummy barked, "WHAT?! Shut UP! Go ask your father! Here, have a cigarette."        

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2. -
July 10 - Boats of the Bay '19
She's back. You may recall this from the original boat page. Ocean Victory, still a beauty. Not been here in a few years. Sigh.

Just a yacht at twilight, when the lights are low
/ And the flickering shadows softly come and go,
Though the heart be weary, sad the day and long / Still to us at twilight comes love's old song,
My yacht, Ocean Victory, 249 feet long

My overventilated enthusiasm for big boats and parody of a grand old song, Just a Song at Twilight (or Love's Old Sweet Song, 1884, music, J.L. Molloy, lyrics, G.C. Bingham) caused friend Larry Ray (whose many comments on Naples you may read here) to grow equally breathless:
Imagine everyone in evening wear, black tie with champagne glasses eternally filled, mingling and taking the night air on the aft second deck as lights from the panorama that is Naples begin to twinkle on. The entrance to the formal salon for dining just behind them is an arc of deck-to-overhead glass through which may be seen serving staff in white livery placing crystal flutes of varying sizes and heights at each place setting. Beef Wellington with puff pastry embracing a fine Parisian paté is just the beginning of the three hour meal, and each seat at the table has a wonderful view of the glittering Bay of Napoli and its coastlines.
  Larry, himself no stranger to immortal sea chanties, had cited the opening of one of the greatest of all buccaneer ballads, which I repeat here:  "Livery placing crystal flutes (doo-dah, doo-dah)"

Other information about Ocean Victory:  the yacht is owned by Viktor Rashnikov, Russian billionaire and majority owner of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works, one of the world's leading steel producers. Ocean Victory is ranked as the tenth largest private yacht in the world, ordered in 2010, delivered in 2014. The builder, the Ficantieri yards, are in Trieste. The vessel is not for charter.
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3. - July 11 - Boats of the Bay '19. Together at last.

I was just trying to get these two together with favorable lighting conditions. And I bade the setting sun stand still in the heavens for a second and, yea, it worked. The big boat (75.75m/249 ft) is Ocean Victory, described above, and the smaller (50.50m/166 ft) shimmering blue sailing vessel (that usually looks black unless the light is right) on the left is Better Place, described in detail on the  Miscellany page 73  at this link.
The other two boats on the right asked me if they could stay and I said 'yes'.

(more Boats at Aug. 15, below)

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4. - July 12  - (This box also appears in an earlier separate item about the island of Delos.)

Mystery of the Cyclades

Greece and the Cyclades                

Everyone knows at least a little bit about ancient Egypt, right? They came before the ancient Greeks and had pyramids and mummified pharaohs. That's all you need. The ancient Greeks? They had Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, A2+B2=C2, Zeus and a few other divine hangers-on. Congratulations. You have passed Ancient History 101 and will get your "bare-bones participation certificate" if I don't forget to mail it.

But what about the Cyclades, that group of Greek islands (image), totally wrapped in mystery but one of the great movers of early European culture even before the Bronze Age (c. 3,000 BC)? What? They had pyramids! What? Great art, too (image), and links to the south (Crete) and likely to the west (Sicily). These islands are the center of active archaeological research to uncover the real beginnings of ancient Greek civilization. The investigations are called the Keros project and reveal "the largest prehistoric marine transport operation that has ever come to light anywhere in the world," says Dr Julian Whitewright, a leading maritime archaeologist at the University of Southampton. The ancient transport undertaking meant hauling 10,000 tons of white marble from Naxos, an island some 6.5 miles (11 km) away. Archaeologists say it would have taken over 3,500 trips with 24 sailors rowing solidly for five hours in open water, all to reshape a tiny island into a sacred pyramid. It was part of a worldwide explosion of monument building. The ruined pyramid of Keros (known today as Dhaskalio) is roughly the same age as Stonehenge, the lost city of Eridu in Iraq, and the earliest pyramids in Egypt. Why Delos? That has yet to be determined. So maybe you've been to Greece and even the Cyclades -- that is, you've been to that tourist trap Mykonos. Golly. You tourist.

These references are useful:

  • Barber, R. L. N. (1987). The Cyclades in the Bronze Age. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
  • Renfrew, A.C., (1987). Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5

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5. - July 19  - Too many Charleses?
Statue of Charles III in Piazza del Plebiscito.     
I have mentioned Marius Kociejowski [MK] before. He has an upcoming book (soon I hope), The Serpent Coiled in Naples. The wait is driving me crazy, but maybe that is the goal of a writer who says that Naples appeals to his "inner spiritual anarchy". This is the first in a series of excerpts from that book. For purposes of listing the chapters by short titles in the excerpts table (below), I have used convenient reference subtitles. Here I simply listed Ch. 1-Intro. The author's own original title was the name of his book. Thus: from

The Serpent Coiled in Naples

On  Via Tribunali one can step into the Pontano Chapel built in 1492 by the humanist Giovanni Pontano in memory of his wife Adriana Sassone. In 1759, the kingdom of Naples was Carlo di Borbone (otherwise known as Carlo III, King Charles III of Spain, Charles V, Charles VII, and simply Charles. Such intricacies are better left to the historian to disentangle...
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These are the chapters in Marius Kociejowski's The Serpent Coiled in Naples that currently have small excerpts in Naples, Life, Death & Miracles. There is also an extra item from the same author.

Ch.1 - introduction (above) -  Ch.2 - An Octopus in Forcella Ch.3 - Listening to Naples  - Ch.4 - Lake Averno -
Ch. 5- Street music - Ch.6 - Leopardi - Ch.7 - R.di Sangro  - Ch.8 - Old Bones - Ch.9 - The Devil  - Ch.10- Signor Volcano -  
Ch.10 (2) (3) -    Ch.11- Pulcinella  -    Ch.12 - Boom -   Ch.13 - Two Women   -  Ch.14- The Ghost Palace
Ch.15- An Infintesimal Particle - (extra) Riccardo Carbone, photographer.

Indeed, the many names of Charles III. Thus it is not that there are too many Charleses, but too many names titles, really for the same Charles, and Kociejowski deftly and wisely leaves it to historians to figure them all out. That is probably the second biggest problem in European historiography from the year 1700. The biggest one has to do with another Charles, Charles II (November 1661 – 1 November 1700), also known as El Hechizado (Bewitched) because of his physical deformities) in Spain, where he was born and where he lived and died. He never set foot in Naples, but was known there simply and affectionately as il Reuccio, the Little King. There is an entry on him here. You will see at that link how the difficulties involving his inheritance touched off the Wars of the Spanish Succession. It is not as dry as it sounds. It was the WWI of its day, far-reaching and bloody. I have written this just to assure you -- the next time you read that Charles III was really Charles the Someteenth Else-- in Naples he was originally called Charles III of Spain and then Charles III,  OR, more interestingly, he was also known simply as Charles of Bourbon, with no ordinal number (termed a "regnal number). Then you have arrived. No number needed. This showed the importance of the fact that he was the only Spanish king ever to reside in Naples. He was just Charles.
[This item also appears in a separate box near the beginning of the first entry on The Bourbons.]

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6. Aug. 15 - (Boats of the Bay) Lots of masts out there this morning. "Real" sailors probably like the two dead-tree rafts in front, the Trinakria  and the Zanziba. Peasants. I draw your eye to the wallet-stopping Maltese Falcon, a so-called "Dynaship", the automatic sailing ship of the future, with carbon-fiber masts and self-furling sails stored within the masts. The vessel is 88 m (289 ft.) long. The ship was launched in 2006 and sold in 2009 to Greek godzillionairess, Elena Ambrosiadou. She lives in London and is founder of the Cyprus-based hedge fund Ikos. She studied chemical  engineering in the UK, is beautiful and has brains like she has money lots of. The Maltese Falcon was built by Perini Navi yards in Viareggio, Italy, and Istanbul, Turkey. She is one of the largest private sailing yachts in the world at 88 m (289 ft). The dynaship concept is an invention of German hydraulics engineer Wilhelm Prölss and was meant to operate commercial freight sailing ships with as small a crew as possible. The ship has fifteen square sails (five per mast) stored inside the masts; they fully unfurl into tracks along the yards in six minutes. The three carbon fiber masts are free-standing and rotate.

The interior was designed by British architect Ken Freivokh. She (the boat, not Elena) fits up to 12 guests in five lower-deck staterooms and one upper-deck VIP cabin. She comes with various "toys and tenders,"  (I'm not sure what that is, but me timbers are already shivering) including two motorboats, four sailboats, and Jet Skis. She's fast: Maximum speed under sail is nearly 25 knots. Range of 4,000 nautical miles and cruising speed of 15 knots under motor power. Someone (not me) called The Maltese Falcon "a big boatload of ego". (And your point?)
Elena rents this thing out for $540,000 a week. There are a lot of takers. Elena is almost never aboard, because her hedge fund really keeps her trimming. But you can try:  IMO number 9384552;  MMSI 249555000. Call sign  9HUQ9. Port of  registry: Malta. Displacement, 1,240 t; Propulsion:  2 × Deutz TBD 620. Extra perk after you're all very drunk: in the evenings, dinner is followed by a movie projected onto one of the sails. If you mention my name I will track you down and get Elena to keelhaul you. Talk about an extra perk.     (to Boats of the Bay 2020 --only one entry!)

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7. Aug 16 - Just jewelry? Not really.
Section V at the archaeological site of Pompeii continues to show off. Some of the most recent points of interest may be reviewed at this consolidated Pompeii page (towards the bottom). The most recent find was "a treasure trove of jewelry", as reported in various sources. That is misleading. It sounds spectacular, but is, alas & ho-hum, just unbelievably interesting because it shows you something you've never seen before and probably never thought about: items used by everyday women (not fairy-tale princesses and such, just good  women, like our wives). Those working the site in the House of the Garden found a hinged wooden box lying where it fell when they all tried to flee The Eruption. Now they've looked in the box and found "jewellery, glass beads, phallic amulets, figurines, mirrors, pieces of bronze, bone, amber and good luck charms that "provide insight  into 'the female world' of ancient Rome." To be sure, if you take the time to examine the items piece by piece, you see what an eclectic, syncretistic culture ancient Rome was: here is something from Greece, and  there ...wait... that piece is not just any doo-dad, for example, it's a figurine of Harpocrates, the god of silence, adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian child god Horus, who represented the newborn sun, rising each day at dawn. And so forth. I don't know if the lady of the house thought much about any of that when she heard the sounds of Vesuvius waking up. Maybe she just hastily swept it all into that box, closed it and ran. At some point the collection will  be put on display at the Pompeii site.
photo: Cesare Abbate, ANSA. Thanks to Jeff Miller for calling my attention to this.

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8. Aug 28 -
The Beautiful Weird Danube

If all you know of the Blue Danube is that it is likely the most popular waltz ever composed (Johann Strauss, Jr. 1825-99) then pull your rocker closer to the hearth and harken. Take the word "Blue" the river winds from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, and if that coincidence isn't ominus, than I have lost my ability to spell. The Danube flows southeast for 2,850 km (1,770 mi) through 10 countries, more than any other river in the world.
Ok, start paying attention because your survival may depend on it. As the river flows through Serbia it passes through a gorge known as the Iron Gates, a passage of 134 km (83 mi) separating the southern Carpathian Mountains from the northwestern foothills of the Balkans (not far from Belgrade about halfway along). Of interest to us is the large archeological complex known as Lepenski Vir (Vir means "whirlpool" in Serbian), first discovered in the early 1960s. It is dated at 6300–6000 BC and called by some sources "the first city in Europe" due to its permanence and to the sophistication of its architecture. Lepenski Vir consists of one large settlement with around 10 satellite villages. Numerous piscine sculptures have been found at the site. That's right — fish. Sort of (image, below). Look again — it's a hybrid of a fish and a human. About 100 such sandstone blocks have been found engraved either with these fish-people — simple faces, wide round eyes and down-turned open mouths, or with totally abstract designs, plausibly held by some archeologists and linguists to be symbolic — that is, early writing. (See Marija Gimbutas.)
DNA analysis that trace patterns of human migration, chemical analyses of bones and pottery, and studies of burial practices place the site at the moment when farmers from the Near East began to migrate into southeastern Europe and met the hunters and gatherers who already lived there. The conclusion is that that the site marks the meeting and mixing of two cultures and peoples when they started to mix and intermarry. This mixed group is now called the Iron Gates culture or Lepenski Vir culture. The site has a museum that you can visit and the National Museum in Belgrade has a section dedicated to it.
All that is standard, fascinating archeology and history. Conspiracy theorists, however, have stopped eating fish and are watching the skies for the next wave of alien fish-human hybrids. And they're bringing hooks, lines, and sinkers. One of them has your name on it, you fools!

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9.  Sept 6 -

IMMAGINARIA 2020 - In Search of the Golden Bough

Artists of the Opus Continuum collective have presented an ambitious two-part program for their upcoming edition. (Earlier editions are here, here, and here.) Next month they are going to lead you around sites in the Campi Flegrei (Flegrean Fields) in Pozzuoli and Cuma associated with the mythical entrance to Hell. (If they find it, you can probably forget part two, a mammoth art show next year documenting part one.) I know this is difficult to follow, but if you still know how to look stuff up, you will see that a golden bough is a tree branch made of a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79. If this is already too hard for you, stay home. The term is taken from an incident in the Aeneid* by Roman poet Virgil (70–19 BC), which narrates the adventures of the Trojan hero, Aeneas, after the Trojan War in which Aeneas and the Sibyl present the golden bough to the gatekeeper of Hades to gain admission. Why do they want to get into Hell? Heh-heh, wouldn't you like to know!?
[painting above, left: Aeneas defeats Turnus by
Neapolitan painter, Luca Giordano (1634-1705)]

*[ed.note: SPOILER ALERTS! If you already know all this, goodie for you. The Aeneid tells of Aeneas, one of the few Trojans not killed or enslaved when Troy fell. Fleeing fallen Troy, he gathers a group (called the Aeneads) who travel west to Italy and become progenitors of the Romans. Aeneas is cast as an ancestor of Romulus and Remus. Aeneas was the first true hero of ancient Rome. Question: what was Augustus Caesar's favorite verse in the AeneidProbably Book 6, verse CV (below, in The Aeneid of Virgil, transl. by E. Fairfax Taylor (1907).
(No, Augustus read it in Latin. The translation is for your benefit. Please, pay attention.)

See now thy Romans; thither bend thine eyes,/
And Caesar and Iulus' race behold,/

Waiting their destined advent to the skies./ This, this is he long promised, oft foretold/
Augustus Caesar. He the Age of Gold,/God-born himself, in Latium shall restore,/
And rule the land, that Saturn ruled of old,/ And spread afar his empire and his power/
To Garamantian tribes, and India's distant shore.

                                    [related item: Virgil in Naples]

Selene Salvi, of Opus Continuum, writes:

Just like our Trojan hero, will have to face a terrifying and fascinating journey of self-discovery. We shall each search for our own personal bough among the dense trees near Cuma for the key that unlocks the entrance to Hell. Let us not forget that the ancient gods, forcibly torn from their natural homes, found refuge in our very souls and, as modern psychoanalysis tells us, are at the root of our problems. We shall thus move along two tracks, one strictly linked to myth and to the history of this landscape, while the other sees us descend to find our own personal Underworld.

If you are not scared by any of this, you clearly need help. Part 1, the outings around Cuma and Pozzuoli to look for Hell, is in October. If you survive you can go to the art show, theatrical performances, and discussions that, with any luck, will be in May in the Archaeological Museum of the Campi Flegrei in the Baia Castle way out to hell and gone at the western end of the bay. As far as your fears and neuroses go, you may (or may not) find the protocatarcical cause as to why you are afraid of going to hell!

(continued here below at Sept.24)

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  Sept 13 - 
Today is Friday the 13th! SO WHAT! That's right, bring it on! The number 13 is lucky (!) in Italy (and in a number of cultures in the world). In Naples and the Campania region, full of superstitious nut-bags (except me knock on wood), if you think your luck has changed for the worse you might say "tredici" (13)  to exhort your good luck to return. The day to worry about here is Friday the 17th! It is so unlucky that disaster will strike you if you even attempt to look it up and see when the next Friday the 17th occurs, and I have not done so. And that goes for those idiot savants, too, who can tell you what day of the week any date in history was, will be or never was, all in a split second. If they even think of telling you when the next Friday the 17th is, they die just like that. The Friday part? Christ was crucified on a Friday. In ancient Rome, it was the day for executions and also the day when Romans paid their taxes (pretty much the same thing). The number 17 is unlucky because if you write 17 with Roman numerals as XVII, you can juggle that into Latin letters to read VIXI; in Latin that means "I have lived" and is the past perfect tense/aspect (i.e. it describes a finished action); thus, "I have lived and am done living. My life is over." So, put Friday and 17 together and you have a very unlucky day! In the smorfia, the Neapolitan tradition of interpreting dreams as numbers to bet on in the lottery, the number 17 is associated with disgrazia, that is, an accident or disaster. Thus in Naples if you dream of a disaster, bet on 17 as one of your numbers, but know that if you place a bet on 17, that is itself bad luck. (Look, this was never meant to be easy!) I'm not sure if the word for "fear of Friday the 17th" is friggaheptakaidekaphobia or friggadekaheptaphobia. Frigga was the Norse goddess  "Friday" is named for. I should stop now. It would be just my Frigga-luck if my computer started to... x^ci*%tzk! ...

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Sept. 19 — Today is the Roman Catholic Feast Day of San Gennaro (St. Januarius), the patron saint of the city of Naples and the day on which believers await the "Miracle of San Gennaro" (the "miracle" refers to the liquefaction of the clotted blood of the saint. See the above link for more than you want to know). Thanks to the mundane miracles of TV, satellites and the internet, everyone in the world at all interested in whether or not the "miracle" happens knew within seconds that, indeed, Gennaro had once again conferred his divine favor on the city of Naples for yet another year. It happened shortly after 11 a.m. and yea, I witnessed this with mine own eyes it was accompanied by rain, thunder claps, and bolts of lightning!  This does not mean I am a believer, now or ever,  but skeptics typically have their own version of Pascal's Wager, something like "OK, I don't necessarily believe this stuff, but you never can tell, huh? Besides, it doesn't hurt, right?" So I feel better. 

The event was carried live on local TV starting at about 6 a.m. People waited for hours in and in front of the Cathedral of Naples. One reporter chattered breathlessly at the camera, as if he were awaiting the great Zeppelin airship, Hindenburg, at Lakehurst NJ in 1937. (OK...bad example...) They waited for hours. The vial of blood was finally held aloft by cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, for all to see. He didn't just say that the city was safe for another year; he thanked the TV crews for being there so that shut-ins in hospitals and prisons, to whom this meant so much, might watch. That was moving the right thing to say and he said it.

There is however an unfortunate media-circus atmosphere these days, not just because of the TV and reporters, but the great number of smartphone cameras being held up to capture the moment (which is different from being in the moment). I can't think of an ugly opposite of W.B. Yeats'  " drops of frozen rainbow light"  but it was that. Maybe alien tentacles waving about, a quivering
sea of appendages powered by lithium ion batteries just a prayer away from catching fire. You see hundreds of these things waving about. (And a Voice spake, saying, "For Me's sake, people, will you please put those damned things down!)  Doctors who have seen "miracles" but are required by science to use the term "spontaneous remission" more or less say what Pope Francis said when asked who could get into Heaven: "How do I know?" So, take it or leave it, but there it is.

image: Silver bust of San Gennaro donated by Charles II of Anjou in 1305, in the Naples cathedral

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For those in Peril on the Sea

Sept. 20 The Pimentel Fonseca Prize is a humanitarian award given yearly for the last five years by the Naples City Council and the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies to women who have upheld, often at great risk to themselves, human rights in the exercise of their professions, typically journalism. The first year, it went to Oksana Chelysheva, a Russian journalist. This year, the fifth edition, it was co-awarded to Helena Maleno, a Spanish journalist, and to the German sea-captain, 31-year-old Carola Rackete (image, right). In June of 2019 as captain of the Sea-Watch 3 she and her crew rescued 53 Libyan refugees from their sinking boat in the Mediterranean. She spent weeks looking for a European port that would accept them and then finally, on June 29, landed them at the Italian island of Lampedusa, flouting Italian authorities who had forbidden her from docking. Generally, the press praised her, but the Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, (a member of the anti-refugee Northern League) had her arrested. An Italian court overturned that and she was released after three days. The award is named for Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca, one of the founders of the Neapolitan Republic of 1799. The Republic was short-lived and she was executed on August 20, 1799. There is a complete history of Pimentel Fonseca and the Republic of 1799 at this link.)

In a YouTube video addressed to Italian authorities, Rackete was straightforward. "My crew and I were not rescuing refugees, we were saving human lives. That is the law of the sea. You save people who are in peril. It is immoral and even illegal not to render aid. It is not my job to solve problems of relocation. That's your job. We saved lives. You don't just let human beings drown."
   added Sept.21
[ed. note, jm ] - If you are interested in "The Duty to Rescue at Sea," this is the abstract of an article from the International Red Cross (the whole .pdf file is available here) - by Irini Papanicolopulu, Associate Prof. of International Law at the Uni of Milano-Bicocca:

   The duty to rescue persons in distress at sea is a fundamental rule of international law. It has been incorporated in international treaties and forms the content of a norm of customary international law. It applies both during peacetime and wartime, with adjustments for different circumstances. States are also under the duty to provide search and rescue services.This article discusses the content and limitations of these provisions and assesses their potential to ensure the protection of human lives at sea. The article also suggests that reference to the right to life, as protected in international human rights law, may be useful in further safeguarding human life and ensuring compliance by States with their duties.
added Sept. 22
The title at the top of this entry is the last line of the first verse of "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", a British hymn associated with seafarers, particularly in the maritime armed services. It was written in 1860 by William Whiting. Music by John Bacchus Dykes, 1861. It is now typically used by naval armed services in the English-speaking world. The complete first verse is:
Eternal Father, strong to save, / Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, / Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep /
Its own appointed limits keep; / Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, / For those in peril on the sea!
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Sept. 24 — The search for the Golden Bough continues! The Opus Continuum art collective is finally able and happy to announce that the IMMAGINARIA 2020 program (see Sept. 6, above) will kick off on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 10.30 a.m. in the Conference Room of the Archaeological Museum of the Campi Flegrei on the premises of the Baia Castle. This initial part of their search for the entrance to Hell is called "Jean-Noël Schifano and the Golden Bough" and includes a discussion with Schifano, author of “Dizionario appassionato di Napoli" and other books about Naples as well as the former director of Grenoble, the French Institute in Naples. The discussion will be followed by a guided tour of the museum. Entrance is free.

(continues two entries below)

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Sep. 28 - Quality of Life "Livability" report card for 2018. Every year, the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore issues just such a report, ranking the capital cities of all 107 provinces in Italy. They use social and financial parameters to judge how livable life is in the province capitals (always the largest city in the province. Naples is the capital of the province of Naples, Rome of Lazio, etc.) They ask about rates of unemployment, public transportation, health and sanitation services, crime rate, price of groceries, access to leisure time facilities, financial and social upward mobility and so on. Then they roll up all their parameters into one "livability" ranking of all 107 cities. I ran  the results of that survey from five years ago here. Last  year's (2018) results are very similar. OK, will you open the envelope please... No real surprises. The most "livable" cities in Italy are in the north or middle, and the least "livable" ones are in the south. There are a few atypical, quirky results, such as that Rome is at the very bottom in terms of "Justice and safety!" ("We're 107! We're 107! We're 107!  Go, team!") The 6 most "livable" province capitals, in order from 1-6, are Milan, Bolzano,  Aosta, Belluno, Trento and Trieste. Naples is 94. (It has been worse.) In the specific category of "justice and safety", it was marginally better than Rome. We were at #105. (But I think we can do better!) Catania on Sicily was #106. Naples is relatively better in "culture and free time" (#80). I didn't see the mayor's (same mayor as 5 years ago) reaction to any of this, but on that occasion he said: "OK, our services don't do too well, but for excitement we can't be beat."

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                                                       Go to Hell! - or

Oct.1 (cont. from Sept. 24, above) - The Search for the Golden Bough - "It is difficult to imagine another place in Europe that has as many items of archaeological, historical, mythological and even geological interest packed into such a compact area as the western end of the Gulf of Naples." That is from my general entry on the "Baia Castle and Museum" at this link

Here, look at it, l. & r.

 It is here, marked Baia Castle:

Got all that? Good. Selene Salvi of Opus Continuum tells me that Sunday's discussion of the Golden Bough with Jean-Noël Schifano was a success! A good crowd turned up. Sunday traffic, esoteric discussion, etc. etc. always unpredictable, but these good people (image, left) made the trek and from all accounts enjoyed themselves and are ready for next year's grand finale on these same premises (as Selene tells me is now arranged). They studied the Campi Flegrei, saw the videos, toured the museum. They talked the talk. They are now ready to walk the walk. They will descend together!  Go to Hell and God speed!

Just below the castle is the Fortino Tenaglia (little "pliers" fort), a lighthouse so named because the small island where the lighthouse stands and the adjacent beach (a sandbar built to join the island to the mainland) "grip" the castle above. It was an important light along the western coast and was built in 1856, in the last years of the Kingdom of Naples. The red concrete tower is 13 meters high (43 feet) and 8 m in girth (26 ft). It's substantial. Inside you find the beacon and the 'gallery', which was space for everything else, such as living space for the lonely lighthouse keeper. Today it's all automatic, and that leaves you room for trap-doors and secret stairs. There's a rumor that there is no truth to the rumor that this is one of the places where you can descend to "a certain place"-- I mean if that's where you happen to be going.

This was the third of 4 items on IMMAGINARIA 2020. The first two are on this page, above, for Sept. 6 (here) and Sept. 24 (here)
The fourth one is below, for Oct. 14, here.  
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Oct. 4-
A Good Sign

Actually, it's a great one. It went up a few weeks ago on the protective wire fence along the Corso Vitt. Emanuele in the Chiaia section of Naples, just west of where that road intersects Parco Margherita coming up from Piazza Amedeo. The fence is good, too. It keeps you from going over the side because you're depressed or in too big of a hurry to get down to that Piazza. This great photo was taken by Danilo Volpe, proprietor of my favorite drinky-winkeria (across the street from the sign), who says, simply, "No, I don't know who put it up. A group of kids. One morning it was just there." Whoever it was, they love their city. Their message is gloriously self-serving: "IT'S MARVELLOUS TO BE NEAPOLITAN!" In the red triangle on the right that I enlarged and pasted over the beautiful tree (sorry!) they encourage their fellow Neapolitans to "Be a tourist in your city." Nice one. If you are a student of Italian and are puzzled by the second-person imperative/subjunctive, that's tough.

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Oct 7
Pino Daniele is one of three prominent Italian singer-songwriters (cantautori) commemorated in a new series
of postage stamps. Besides Daniele from Naples, Lucio Dalla and Gorgio Gaber (from Bologne  and Milan, respectively) were likewise remembered. The series was to be more ambitious and to have included Farizio De Andrè and Lucio Battista, but you know how it goes that "didn't work out" (quote unquote, that's what the newspaper really said was the reason. Really.)

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Oct. 11-
Agnano's Last Stand
Psst! Hey, pal, wanna buy a thermal bath? a race track? the Naples city hall?

BEFORE (left) and AFTER (right). I was at the Agnano Baths a few years ago. It looked pretty nice. The hotel was clean, the grounds neat, the pools safe, and the sulfur inhalation room smelled like rotten eggs, but that's the way it's supposed to smell! So, it bothers me to see this happen. It has happened to a lesser degree before; that is, when Naples decides to sell off real estate just to stay afloat. But this time around is grim.

The Neapolitan daily, Il Mattino (for Oct. 10), had a devastating summing
up of what the city is trying to unload. It includes the entire Agnano Thermal Baths (main article here). Everything looks like what you see in the image  on the right -- the rooms in the hotel, the restaurant, the solarium, etc. Everything in ruins. The article was written by Paolo Barbuto, who reports in his lead that the city has approached Inail as a potential buyer. That is the Istituto Nazionale per l'Assicurazione contro gli Infortuni sul lavoro (National Institute for Insurance against Work-Related Accidents). The city doesn't really care who buys it just give us some money! Please! So this jewel of "Liberty" architecture (Art Nouveau) is for sale. While you're waiting with your checkbook in hand, the nearby race-track (not including the nags) is going for 21 million euros. It's on a list of 23 "lots" up for sale (One lot might be "two hotels" or "three schools", so it's substantial. One property is the Naples city hall! One reader's comment on the article said simply, "Why don't they sell the mayor?" Take the city hall. Please.                                            (photo, right, Alessando Garafolo)   

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Oct. 14-  Not Bound for Glory, but Doing Good on the Way to Hell!

Here are the first photos on location at Lago d'Averno as the Opus Continuum art collective shoots its short film on the local sites that have to do with the history and mythology of the Under- world spoken of by Homer and Vergil. The film will be part of
IMMAGINARIA 2020 - In Search of the Golden Bough, at the group's exhibit next year at the Baia Castle. They used an old map and book ("Aeneas' Journey to Hades and the Elysian Fields") from 1825 to follow the places mentioned as entrances to the Underworld. That's not all. The Hell-Seekers took the time to help a wounded sea-gull! Selene says, "Its legs were entangled in fishing line and had fish hooks sticking in them. One foot was completely gone and the other was in bad shape. It was also starving. It followed us as we walked along, like it was asking for help. We took it over to the Dept. of Veterinary Medicine at the university. They have a clinic that specializes in avian wildlife. Stay tuned."

Later: I know that the two birds in the photo are not sea-gulls. They are
large white geese, Chen caerulescens. Thanks to the eagle-eyed ornithologists among you. Hey, that's funny. Eagle-eyed...get it? Oh, the vets patched up the gull and released it.

There is a broad selection of photos on the group's Facebook page here.
This is the fourth of 4 items on IMMAGINARIA 2020 on this page. The other three, above, are here, here, and here. Also, right below. There is an additional passage here on Lake Averno and the Underworld in "The Man who Watches the Waters" from the forthcoming book The Serpent Coiled in Naples by Marius Kociejowski.
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A week or so later,
Selene informed me they had finished shooting the short film at the Cuma archaeological park about The Search for the Golden Bough and are now looking around for a voice actor to narrate the film. The place is full of woods that are "lovely, dark and deep," the ruins of one of  the great civilizations of antiquity, long stretches of beach on the Ti... Tyrh...Tirennea... right at water's edge and some very spooky places.

I have no explanation for this photo on the right. He, she or it was apparently behind the group you see at the upper left, but no one saw him, her or it. He, she, or it Ouija boarded me later and apologized. "I wasn't trying to intrude or frighten anyone. It's strange. I can't even see my reflection in a mirror. None of this "through a glass darkly" stuff, either -- I get nothin'. I'm depressed. Hey, you got any drugs?

There is a fine selection of photos on their Facebook page here.

update on IMMAGINARIA 2020 here (March 26, 2020)

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If this is Deadly Nightshade, you won't have much time for dancing.

Oct. 24-  Dr. Gerard Cheshire of the University of Bristol has contributed to these pages before with an item on the mysterious "Voynich manuscript."  He is back with Plant Series #'s 1 and 2, available as a .pdf here. From the author's description:
The plants individually described in Manuscript MS408 have all been identified as species from the  environs of the Mediterranean Basin, in accordance with the location of origin for the manuscript. This series of papers presents each plant species separately with a translation of its accompanying text and any relevant cross-reference information. In addition to the linguistic value, there is plenty of historical, cultural and scientific knowledge to be gleaned from each of these manuscript pages, so they will be of interest to scholars from various disciplines.
To help you along, here, for your dining and dancing pleasure, from the author's paper, have some Mediterranean Nightshade (Atropa baetica)  (image shown).

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Oct. 26- 
Conserving the Paintings at Herculaneum. This link.

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Flo-Flo at Castellammare
Nov. 3-
"Flo/Flo" (From float-on/float off) vessels are specialized Heavy Lift Ships. They are submersible hull ships that load, transport, and off-load extremely heavy or out-sized cargo independent of port equipment cargo such as yachts, tug boats, barges, landing craft, floating cranes, etc. Flo-Flos are designed to take on ballast water in floodable  tanks and partially submerge the vessel. Cargo is then floated over the submerged portion of the vessel that then deballasts and surfaces under the cargo. After the vessel is full afloat, the cargo is secured for transport.

This type of operation is seen in these photos at the port of Castellammare, where, in the top image, the Chinese-built Flo-Flo is shown empty. She is the Hua Yang Long, built in 2015 at the Guangzhou Shipyard and is property of the Guangzhou Salvage Bureau. (Guangzhou is still commonly known in English as Canton and is one of China's three largest cities). The Hua Yang Long is 228 meters long and 43 meters wide. The image on the right shows the Chinese ship loaded with the Giulio Verne, a cable-laying vessel and bound for the Philippines where she will lay communication cables.

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Nov. 16 - CAVE-IN!  You are looking at a problem that continues to be serious and one that will not go away given the history of chaotic urban expansion in Naples since the end of WWII. This photo (shown) was taken two days ago on the small street of via Giotto in the Vomero section of Naples, high above the main part of the city, but these days just as densely populated as downtown. You have an idea of the size of the hole in the street by looking at the emergency response team called in to keep people away. There were no casualties, but it could have swallowed a passing car.
    This used to be all farmland. This was where people went to get away from it all. If you are interested in this topic
— why it happens and the history of trying to deal with it, I urge you to read this chapter from The Subsoil of Naples. You don't have to be a geologist to get the picture.
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