Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Miscellany page #85
started early November 2021
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1.  Nov. 4
The Italian Cultural Institute (IIC) in Washington is an office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Italian government, dedicated to the promotion of Italian culture in the United States through the organization of cultural services and events. Under the guidance of its trustees at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, its advisory board, and its staff, the IIC conforms to this commitment by fostering the cultural exchange between Italy and the US in a variety of areas, from the arts to the humanities to science. Italian taxpayers are getting some good bang for their bucks! So, in case you're in town,

Instrumental Music in Late Eighteenth-Century Naples
Politics, Patronage, and Artistic Culture
Book Presentation and Concert

                                    WHEN: November 11, 2021 at 7PM           WHERE: Georgetown University - 1501 Tondorf Rd, Washington, DC

Giovanni Battista Lusieri, A View of the Bay of Naples, Looking Southwest from the Pizzofalcone Toward Capo di Posilippo

2. Nov. 5
Massive Sea-Rescue Saves 1,000

Reported on Nov.4. Ships of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) averted a disaster by taking, collectively,1000 refugees from dangerously overloaded boats that were trying to make it to Lampedusa. Three ships were involved: Sea-Eye 4, Mission Lifeline, and Ocean Viking. The spotting and rescue efforts were coordinated by the air-ship and air-air communications network "Alarm Phone". Ships not directly involved continue to search for more "boat people." The Sea Eye-4 picked up 800 persons from 7 different small boats, the largest of which had two decks loaded with 400 persons. Finger-pointing continues at Tunisia and Malta as to whose territorial waters these boats were in. "You didn't do your job." "No, you didn't do your job." Thankfully, the NGOs did theirs. The Sea-Eye 4 reports refugees in critical condition, including pregnant women, hundreds of children younger than four and unaccompanied minors.

3. Nov. 6

       First Attack from an Aircraft Carrier — The Battle of Taranto (1940)
The initial air strikes against Naples in WWII were effective against Italian war machinery in the south. [The strikes against southern Italy included the bold —and unprecedented— strike on November 11, 1940, against the large Italian naval base in Taranto by 21 British Fleet Air Arm "Swordfish" torpedo bombers (image, left) off the aircraft carrier Illustrious, 270 km (170 miles) out in the Ionian Sea. The  attack devastated the Italian fleet. It was the first major victory for naval air power in the history of warfare and has been called "the blueprint for Pearl Harbor." The air-raids assisted the British desert war against Italian forces in North Africa, an offensive that would begin in December, 1940. British air raids on Naples were night-time raids that lasted until November of the following year. These raids were crucial to the British effort to interrupt Axis movements of men and material to the war in North Africa.

4. Nov. 7
The Tragedy of Taranto

We were the "other" steel mill. (Everything about Bagnoli is here.) Our Italsider steel mill in Bagnoli in Naples (image, left) was the only one I had ever lived near. (I used to know a guy from Pittsburgh. Maybe that counts. The Pittsbutgh football team is called The Steelers! His old man worked in the mills.) I never knew that our Bagnoli mill was a pipsqueak compared to the one in Taranto (down at the inside top of the heel of the Italian boot). At one time it was the largest steel mill in Europe. The steel industry in Italy came into being because of underground iron ore and coal noted in 1880 and the cost of importing pig iron from abroad. The use of iron in railways and industry saw the renewal of those old ironworks, largely in the north. In 1884 the Italian state built a large modern steel mill in Terni (in Umbria, central Italy). In 1905 the Elba corporation built coke furnaces in various places, Bagnoli for one, to produce cast iron. That company was founded in Genoa in 1905 and became ILVA, the Latin name for the Isle of Elba, loaded with iron ore to fuel the blast furnaces. The Bagnoli plant was big, not gigantic, but big for us. It was state-owned, but eventually privatized, and went through a century of two World Wars, the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Fascism, and so on. ILVA became "Italsider". They built our mill, born in 1900 in the glowing enthusiasm of the Industrial Revolution and died in 1992 when the mill closed and the world started to glow "green". Bagnoli is still a mess. Thirty years later you can still kick through the bits, pieces, and girders of the ruins.

The Taranto iron and steel complex opened in 1965. It gave jobs to 5,000 workers. But by the early 1970s steel production in the EEC suffered from overcapacity and foreign competition. Italsider was no exception. It took heavy losses during the steel crises in Europe in the late 1970s and especially 1980s. In 1992 Italsider, in a last gasp to cut overcapacity and losses, closed the Bagnoli plant. ILVA kept its plant in Taranto going. It was massive and could produce 10 million tons of steel a year. That steel company is now called Acciaierie d’Italia (Italian Steel Works) (most people still call it 'Ilva'). There was never any optimism about riding a "wave of the future." The handwriting was on the wall years earlier. I grew up in Los Angeles where we joked "We like "to see the air we breathe." Even then we had smog alerts. Now, we pay lip service to moving from fossil fuels to a green future. (That would be nice, but it's not a given that we'll make it.) The image shows protestors in Taranto holding a sign that says "All the steel in the world is not worth the life of a single child." But the steel foundries provide jobs, right? Yes, now 14,000, but read the sign again. Taranto has 220,000 residents. It has been a factory town for decades and people have been getting sick —and dying— for years because of air-pollution. Lung cancer death rates are a third higher than in surrounding areas, and deaths from respiratory illnesses as much as 50% above average. The political pressures NOT to close the plant are very strong. But consider that in 1991 Taranto was declared at high risk by the Ministry of Environment because of pollutants put into the air by the factories, mostly the steel plant. Only 7% of Taranto's pollution comes from people; 93% is from factories! In 2014, the Italian National Institute of Emissions said that Taranto is third behind Linfen (China), and Copşa Mică (Romania) as the most polluted cities IN THE WORLD(!) due to factory emissions. Read the sign again.

5. Nov. 8
                            How the Slave Half Lived
Archaeologists have found an intact room in Pompeii, a kind of dormitory for slaves. The room has three wooden beds, a chamber pot, a wooden chest and some tall Roman amphorae (jars). The room was in a villa in Civita Giuliana, a suburb north of the city. Officials say this discovery gives rare insight into the daily reality of slaves. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the site, says: "This find gives much needed context for how the city's rich depended on the labor of others to prosper...This is a window into the precarious reality of people who seldom appear in historical sources written by men belonging to the elite...[Slaves are] ... invisible in most accounts... "What is striking is the cramped and precarious nature of this room ... It is certainly one of the most exciting finds during my life as an archaeologist, even without great 'treasures' — the true treasure here is the human experience of the most vulnerable members of ancient society."

6. Nov. 10
The Ugo Niutta International Airport of Capodichino
by Luciano Mangiafico

Yes, the Capodichino Airport is actually named for a person: Ugo Niutta (1880-1916), a Neapolitan army pilot killed in WWI. Before they changed the name in 1921 to honor him, the name of the airport was simply the Military Airport of Campo di Marte (the field of Mars). It's at the very top of the Capodichino hill, leveled in 1812 to make it a training and parade ground for the army of King Joachim Murat. It stayed a training ground for the Italian army until 1918. Early aeronautics use include one in 1812 when French balloonist Sophie Blanchard lifted off. The king was in the audience. The balloon landed in a swamp. Also, in 1843, Antonio Comaschi took off in a balloon lifted by hydrogen prepared with machinery and techniques developed in Naples. It took off before a large crowd (hyped up by newspapers to 200,000) zigged and zagged for 200 miles, and was aloft for 1 hr and 17 min. It landed in Quaglietta, a town near Avellino only 103 km/62 miles  from Naples as the crow flies. This was a balloon. Flying enthusiasts used the field for early air shows and in 1910 formed the Circolo Aereo di Napoli (Naples Flying Club). In April 1913 one flyer was the first Italian female pilot: Rosina Ferrario (1888-1959).

World War I (1915-1918 in Italy) stopped all flights at Capodichino. It was not until early 1918 that the field became a military airport; the field was leveled to make smoother runways. The conversion to a real airport came in 1918, when a German Naval Zeppelin came in from Bulgaria, bombed the port, a factory, and an airship station in Bagnoli, killing sixteen persons and wounding dozens. The Italian Army then stationed three observer planes and 2 fighters on the field. After the war, the airport went unused, but for some use by the local flying club. That changed in 1923 when the Italian Air Force became an independent service of the armed forces, the Regia Aeronautica (Royal Air Force). The airport was enlarged and permanent structures began to appear, including housing for trainees in the Air Force Academy. Then the academy moved to the Royal Palace of Caserta and an NCO (non-commissioned officers) school took over the Capodichino quarters. The airport stayed an air force base throughout World War II. The Allies bombed it heavily. After September 1943 the Allies used it against German forces. In the early 1950s, civilian flights started and since then Capodichino has become the fifth largest airport in Italy in terms of passengers handled, with close to 11 million in 2019.

Selected References
1. Maisto, Guido. Ad Astra: Pionieri Napoletani del Volo. Napoli: pub. La via Azzurra, 1948.
2. Saggiorno, Carlo. Da Aerodromo ad Aeroporto (Storia dell’Aeroporto Militare di Capodichino Ugo Niutta.
3. Tripodi, Carlo A. G. Piccola Storia dell'Aeroporto di Capodichino.
4. Wikipedia. "Naples International Airport."

Another Christmas Carol
(the first one was here)

                        O Little Town of Lampedusa

My neighbor has just put up a Christmas tree. "It's that time of year," he says. Really? It's the middle of November. This image shows a presepe (also presepio), a crèche, a manger scene, depicting the birth of the Baby Jesus. (My neighbor will have both a tree and a presepe.) The presepe starts appearing in the homes of Italian Christians as the day approaches. You put it together slowly over many days, piece by piece, laying the Christ Child in as the last piece, the night before Christmas "...away in a manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head." The one here, however, has something special about it: it is made of bits of wood found at the bottom of the sea or washed up on the beaches of Lampedusa island, the southernmost piece of Italy, officially part of Sicily but just off the coast of Libya. They are pieces of boats that bore refugees, many of whom drowned at sea. The boats are made by prisoners doing "hard time" in a Sicilian prison. Normally
they make violins and work under the tutelage of a master lutanist and of a carpenter. Christmas is different. With that:
One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.   from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas

With the passage of time, I get more of those moments. So, there are only I don't know how many shopping days left
till Christmas. Remember: shop, drop, and roll.
[This entire page is about the presepe and Christmas.]

8. Nov. 16
Mt. Etna on Sicily - Dangerous, Destructive, Beautiful

The visual effect in the image is a "volcanic light column," caused by sunlight shining down at sunrise or sunset plus the red of magma from an erupting volcano. It is spectacular. The photographer's name is Giancarlo Tinè, from Ragusa in Sicily. He is a photo and Etna enthusiast and, I imagine, has the world's finest collection of Etna shots!

9. Dec. 1
                              Closed for Adoption
This is nicest sign I've ever seen in Naples —maybe anywhere. Very unusual and good-newsworty. The owner of the shop on via Chiaia and his wife have a delicatessen. Yesterday it was closed, the shutters drawn down and the sign you see here was taped to the front. It reads: CLOSED FOR ADOPTION. "WE'RE FINALLY PARENTS". The reaction of passers-by, Neapolitans and tourists alike, was immediate: the sign is marked up with "best wishes", "good luck" and magically marked up with hearts.

10. Dec. 2

A Film Festival is Born!
The famous Venice Film Festival started with nothing, not even a city. It took them about 1500 years to get the festival up and running. We already have the city so it shouldn't be that hard, right? I see (image below, right) they know in addition to directors, producers, etc. etc. you need chairs. That gentleman in the image is from Opus Continuum, the artists' collective, one of the groups dedicated to making Villa Cerillo (red pin-drop, image lower left) on lake Fusaro a good venue for art, artists and film festivals by putting on one event after another.

Thus, the Phlegraean Film Festival, the first film festival in the Campi Flegrei, the "fiery fields". It will host the talents of national and international short cinema with a two-fold goal: offer filmmakers a new space for expression, and showcase the area's many architectural treasures to Italy. The latest edition ended a few weeks ago. It's a solid film reality; the awards are typical: Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Editing, Actor, Actress, etc. The jury is made up of members of the cultural association "Drazil Production", for years specialized in the film industry, as well as external jury "sector technicians" chosen for each competence.​ That includes setting up the chairs.

11. Dec. 6

                Look Right, Look Left. Oh, Look Up

On most days, this a great ride. It's on the one road, the Strada Statale (Province Road) that leads from the town of Capri over to Anacapri, the other town on the island. Maybe two miles. It has a spectacular view over the whole Bay of Naples. It's a very winding road, maybe a bit of a "white knuckle" drive if you're on the outside
—you know, the side that...drops off.... But that doesn't happen. Much. On most days, it's fine. Clearly, as the image indicates, this was not most days. It happened the day before yesterday. No one was killed or hurt, but it sort of looks with the door flung wide open—as if someone just ran for it (last words: "Bye, dear.") This spot is just before you go around a bend and head up and into Anacapri. Now they have to knock that boulder to pieces and dispose of those bits. I don't see why you just can't drop the whole thing over the side. That's where it was going, anyway. What could happen?
[A few hours later, from a friend who was there it was a very close call. The passengers (a woman driving with her
kids in the back) saw rocks flying down and just got out and ran.]
"We were over there when that boulder fell. It's a miracle that the mother and her children got out unharmed. The entire left side of the car is ruined. In a few hours they are closing the road for a number of days. Fixing the road and making it safe again is complicated."

12. Dec. 9
                                            R.I.P. Lina Wertmüller

Lina Wertmüller passed away on 9 December 2021. She was one of Italy's great film directors. Everything I know about that is here. She was the first female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, in 1977. I read now that she is the second woman ever to be honored with an Academy Honorary Award as a director. Honorary Awards are for "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy."*
* The other is AGNÈS VARDA (1928 – 2019). "...central to French New Wave films of the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on documentary realism, women's issues, and other social commentary..."
Wertmüller depicted her childhood as a time of adventure, during which she was expelled from 15 different Catholic high schools! Wertmüller had an early fascination with the creative arts, especially films. She said the best advice she ever had about making movies was from Federico Fellini, who told her, "Tell a good story. You can have all the technique in the world, but that won't save you if you're not a story-teller. Tell the story." And that she did, with the best of them. Rest in Peace.

13. Dec. 13
            Investigative journalism vs the bad guys

W.B.Yeats wrote in The Second Coming of a terrible time when "...the ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."
I've just read The Outlaw Ocean (2019, by Ian Urbina). It tells of crimes offshore — the murder of stowaways, sea slavery, rape, and torture —the wholesale, literal "drowning of innocence" in the ongoing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. This link will take you to my complete entry.

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