Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Miscellany page 90
started late November 2022
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                                                     How to Cure the Munchies -or- Sheep Will Eat Grass till the Cows Come Home
1. Sheep are now trimming the grass at the ruins of Pompeii. It's part of a plan that, beyond sheep-mown grass, even foresees reviving ancient vineyards. The man responsible for the munching is German-born archaeologist Gabriel Zuchtriegel: born in Weingarten, Germany in 1981. He has a Ph.D from the Universty of Bonn (2010), taught Greek and Roman archaeology at the Uni. of Basilicata in 2014-15, then was director of the archaeological park of Paestum in 2015 and director of the site at Pompeii in 2021. People agree he is most qualified. Even his wife and two kids. He also plays the piano and has been a naturalized Italian citizen since 2020.

So 150 sheep got to Pompeii last Thursday and went to work in a section of Regio V, where all the work is going on that winds up in the news. There is still a lot. It remains mysterious, indeed "the undiscover'd country from whose bourn no traveller returns"
(Hamlet, act III, scene 1). Zuchriegel says he is planning a monument, a Tomb of the Unknown Tourist. (OK, I made that part up.)

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                                                            Attacks on works of art in museums across Europe

Supposedly in the name of shocking government into doing something about climate change,
activists are attacking works of arts in museum across Europe. This link will to take you to
a bullet-point summary of a longer article (which is also linked).

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                                            Deadly Mudslide on Ischia
                                                                  reported on 26 November ,2022

A number of people are feared to have been killed after a mudslide triggered by heavy rains swept away homes in Casamicciola on the island of Ischia. The torrent of mud and debris dislodged trees, engulfed buildings and dragged cars into the sea as it reached the coast early on Saturday. The body of a woman was reported to have been found under the mud, and several other people are still missing. Dozens of homes are cut off and some people are reportedly stuck in a hotel. Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told reporters the situation was "very complicated" and that the people missing were believed to be trapped under the mud. Up to 155mm (6.1in) of rain fell over the course of six hours. Heavy rains have been battering Campania, the region around Naples and Ischia, for several days. A weather warning for rainfall and strong winds is in place until Sunday. Earlier on Thursday, two people were killed in the region. An Argentine tourist drowned after being swept into the sea during a coastal storm, while a man was struck by lightning on a beach. Local authorities are urging residents to stay home to avoid hindering emergency services.

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                                                                    A Meeting of the Minds - all three of him

This is hard to explain, See this link.

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ohn Milton in Naples

Visitors from elsewhere in Italy associate the Villa Balsorano
(image, right) with Torquato Tasso and his Gerusalemme liberata [Jerusalem Delivered] (1574), that brick they had to read in high school. Tasso lived here. Besides, the building is next to a train station and easy to get to. English tourists, on the other hand, who mistake Tasso for tazza, something you put coffee in when you can't get tea, come for a similar reason - their own brick of a different author. This is where John Milton stayed when he was in Naples. The only link between Tasso and Milton is they both were hosted in the Villa Balsorano by Giovanni Battista Manso.

John Milton (1608–1674) finished his epic poem, Paradise Lost, in
1667.  It's one of the greatest works of literature  ever written and the author is among history's staunchest defenders of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of thought. The opening of Paradise Lost is known to everyone who speaks English:

Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste /
Brought Death into the World,  and all our woe,/  With loss of Eden, till one greater Man /
Restore us and regain the blissful Seat,...
    Milton left to tour Europe in May 1638. This "Grand Tour" of France, Italy and Switzerland lasted until the summer of 1639. He travelled a standard route used by other Englishmen touring Europe at the time. He went south to Nice, Genoa, then on to Livorno and Pisa. Had to see the Leaning Tower. He was in Florence from July - September 1638. He attended social and artistic events, and went the Florentine academies. His candor and erudite neo-Latin poetry made him many friends among Florentine intellectuals and he met some famous and influential people, including  Galileo.
    With those connections, he had easy access to Rome's intellectual circles. Despite his dislike for the Society of Jesus ("Jesuits"), he went to the English College in Rome to meet English Catholics who were guests. He left for Naples near the end of November 1638 and stayed only for a month, finding that Spanish control stifled the intellectual and artistic community. Milton openly flaunted his Protestantism,
spouting off against Roman Catholicism. He was outspoken about everything. He was for "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties." (He'll have problems with the Spanish Inquisition!) He met Giovanni Battista Manso, patron to Torquato Tasso. Manso guided Milton around Naples and Milton said he was grateful for Manso's generosity and good will. He had wanted to go to Sicily and Greece, but had to return to England during the summer of 1639 because of "sad tidings of civil war in England." 

 from Chapter 10 of The Serpent Coiled in Naples by Marius Kociejowski - 2022 Haus Publishing ©
   Most thrillingly for English literature, it is difficult to resist the notion that John Milton, when he went to Naples [Solfatara]   at the end of November 1638, visited the place. He might have done so in the company of the elderly Marquis of Villa, Giovanni Battista Manso who was not only a patron to poets, Torquato Tasso in particular, but also, as one of the governors, commissioned Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy which hangs in the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia
in Naples.
   Milton had been just a shade on the preachy side and in one of his letters admits that he had been ‘unwilling to be more circumspect in relation to religion’ Because of this, Manso was somewhat reluctant to show him about Naples for fear of the young prig giving too much vent to his religious prejudices. It might be supposed that Manso, wanting to spare
himself embarrassment, thought an empty space would be a better place for his guest to dump his Protestant sympathies.  There was, on the other hand, considerable respect between the two men.
   Manso presented Milton with a clever Latin distich which extends Pope Gregory the Great’s pun on ‘Angle’: ‘Ut mens, forma, decor, mos, si pietas sic, / Non Anglus, verum herculè Angelus ipse fortes.’ [‘If your piety were equal to your mind, beauty, fame, face, and manners, you would be, by Hercules, in truth not an Angle, but an angel’] and Milton wrote a poem in Latin to Manso, which, among other things, thanks him for his hospitality.
   At the beginning of Paradise Lost Milton speaks of a ‘dreary Plain, forlorn and wilde, the seat of desolation’, a ‘land that burn’d with solid, as the Lake with liquid fire’, ‘a singed bottom all involv’d with stench and smoak’, ‘uneasie steps over the burning Marle’, ‘a fiery Deluge, fed with ever-burning Sulphur.’ This, surely, is Solfatara. Vesuvius, which he also visited, cannot be described in these terms. Milton at Solfatara? This is as far as I am prepared to speculate, which is to say I don’t know, but such a possibility cannot be dismissed.
(below: all entries from The Serpent Coiled in Naples

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Jolly Old St. Nick ...already?

Yes, but it depends on which Christian denomination you belong to. (If none, go read something else.) There is a St. Nicholas church in Naples, although the saint, himself, is not particularly associated with the city. Elsewhere in Itay —Bari, in particular, where he is the patron saint of the city— and in many other places throughout the Christian world, Nicholas of Myra (270-347 AD) is venerated as the protector of sailors and children and, indeed, was the prototype for the gift-bearing "Father Christmas," "St. Nick" or "Santa Claus'; in those places, his name day, December 6, is the day of gifts for children. That date is, however, Dec. 19th on the old Julian calendar, still used by Orthodox churches for liturgical purposes. (If Julian calendar and Gregorian calendar confuse you, wait...sorry, Galileo is dead. Take my word for it. It's confusing.) A few Dec. 6th's ago I wandered into the church of Santa Maria la Nova to admire the spectacular ceiling. I ran into a small celebration of the "The Arrival of Saint Nicholas" going on in the adjacent courtyard. The saint came out and  walked around the courtyard once, followed by children dressed as angels. St. Nick then handed out small gifts to the children. A handful of parents were there and the hosts of the event, "Bohemia, the Czech-Italian Cultural Association," handed out Bohemian pastries and hot wine, yea, even unto strangers like me. I held out my hand to wave off the wine, and a lady put a mug of hot wine in it and said in ancient Bohemian, "Here. Have a snort." She was so gracious, I couldn't offend her.

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This is not your typical Christmas nativity scene. The Manger was nothing like this, but this is typical of a part of Naples in the few days before Christmas. The street is via San Gregorio Armeno, the street of the "figurari", those who model the small ceramic figures you place in your presepe (crèche, manger scene) at home, the most typical of all Neapolitan Christmas customs. Most of the people you see here are crazy.The street is so crowded that only one-way pedestrian traffic is allowed - downhill, N to S, towards you, the viewer in this image. The only potential lawbreaker I see is the young woman with the fiery red wig (or possibly her real hair). She is facing up-hill. If she moves in that direction, she could be fined. She and the guy at dead center are planning something, but that is none of your business. See this link for an almost identical view in December (20 years ago!) but during the day. On this map (north is at the top), the street runs N - S and is not marked by name but is at numbers 27, 28, and 29.

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Neapolitan Stories and Legends
by Benedetto Croce

Croce dedicated this work to Bartolommeo Capasso (1815-1900), the Neapolitan historian. It was published initially in 1919 and has been through numerous reprints by Laterza publishers, including Croce's revisions in 1923, 1941, and 1948. The most recent edition is from 1976. It is included in the Bibliopolis Collected Works of Benedetto Croce. It has never been out of print and is readily available. Simply put, the book is an entertaining collection of stories and legends, and most people like to be entertained. Before the first edition came out in 1919, the young and erudite Croce had already written down some of these stories in the pages of his own journal Napoli Napolissima and elsewhere.These stories and legends are those that have been "around" in Naples since the 1500s. Readers should note that a legend is not the same as a fairy tale. These are not "Once upon a time..." tales, but rather more like "You know what they say happened right on that corner over there?"

Contents of Neapolitan Stories and Legends

A Corner of Naples — The Story of Andreuccio da Perugia — Lucrezia d'Alagno — Listening to an old Neapolitan from the 1400s — Tirinella Capece — King Ferrandino — Isabella Del Balzo, Queen of Naples — The Chapel of Iacopo Sannazaro — Giulia Gonzaga and the Valdés Christian alphabet — Past and Present (the beach and Villa of Chiaia) — The house of the poetess; Nisida — Legends and Places of Buildings of Naples (Introduction-The Legend of Niccolò Pesce-The Legend of Queen Giovanna-The Legend of exemplary justice-The Well of Santa Sofia-The Crocodile of Castelnuovo-The Houses of the Spirits-Mysterious Inscriptions and Popular Figures).

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The Legend of Cola Pesce

This folktale is about a merman, a creature half-human and half-fish. MerMAN is a slight misnomer since Cola (short for Nicolò) Pesce is a merBOY. The tale is widespread in the Mediterranean and mentioned as early as the 12th century with many variants from Spain, the Provence (coastal France), Sicily, and Naples. Some sources say he is a half-&-half chimera (much like the more familiar mermaids) and some say he appears like a normal human. All versions speak of his living in and under the sea for long periods of time. What he does down there depends on who is telling the tale. He is benevolent. He warns ships of storms and brings up jewels he finds. Most tales have him at the beck and call of a king who wants to know what's down there. In most versions he makes a final dive and never returns. The most prominent Italian versions are from Sicily and Naples. Indeed, Cola Pesce travels from one to the other efficiently, letting himself be swallowed and carried along by a large fish and then, when it's time to get off, using his handy knife to slice open the belly of the fish and swim out, up, up and awaaaay!

Cola Pesce holding up Sicily and the      
  Italian postal service at the same time     
The Neapolitan version, precisely annotated by Benedetto Croce in his Neapolitan Stories and Legends (entry above), tells of a boy who spends so much time in the sea that his mother curses him with, "I hope you just turn into a fish!" And he does. Does this legend have anything to do with the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon? Or perhaps with the special powers attributed to divers in general? That's what folklore specialists try to figure out. Specifically in Naples, what is that panel in the Museum of San Martino (image, above right). It's a large bas-relief of a bearded man said to represent the constellation Orion, mythical hunter and, indeed, symbol of the old port, yet local lore says it is Cola Pesce. It was found on a building at the old port in the 1700s, where the ancient Greco-Roman origins are now covered by centuries of rebuilding and overbuilding. It is displayed with a commentary that asks, Is this Orion or is this Cola Pesce. Croce did say this legend attracted him especially. He concludes simply that everyone has a story and there is no sure way to know where the legend started.
My Lady of Information, Selene Salvi, tells me that this splendid tile display of Cola Pesce is in Sicily, in the town of Santa Teresa di Riva in the province of, and just south of, Messina, at Piazza V Reggimento Aosta (street address - via Lungo Mare 133). The painted surface (i.e.,inside the white ceramic border and blue frame is 80x120 centimeters (31x47 inches). She also says she was at the Palazzo Filomarino in Naples a while ago, where philosopher-historian, Benedetto Croce, lived. He had a replica of the Orion/Cola Pesce bas-relief (third image up, right) mounted at the entrance to his library.

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10.                     Getting Messi in the Manger

Obviously the man of the hour, Leo Messi, Argentine soccer star and captain of Argentina's national team. He led his team to the World Cup and has wound up as the most sought-after addition to the vast array of figurines you can put in your Presepe  nativity display (as near  as  possible to Baby Jesus as you feel is appropriate!) Holding the figurine is Genny Di Virgilio, the sculptor. His family has been making such figurines since 1830. He has a good website here. If you can't read Italian, look at all the pictures! For enough money, he'll make a figurine of you, you vile heathen narcissist! For a personal look at the shop, it's at #18 Via San Gregorio Armeno.

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                                            The Living Presepe

The Living Presepe is the most intimate of all Christmas traditions in Italy. Unlike the table-top tableaux that Italians have in their homes and unlike the larger displays that all churches have, the living Presepe is... well, alive. It moves with actors playing the roles of the Holy Family. It is a recreation of the manger with much of the "stable stuff" moving around the way they must have done in the Little Town of Bethlehem. Many small villages and towns have one every year, and depending on the effort they put into it, if you see one, it's unforgettable. The church of San Costanzo at the Marina Grande on Capri put in a lot time and work and it shows. They returned this year with their traditional Living Presepe after a "pandemical pause" of two years. They put on a wonderful display. Beyond the frame of this image, there are a lot of other people. Even animals. Some Christmas activities over the years become annoyingly old-hat, even perfunctory, but this one is not. You might even get a flash of... "So that's what this all about!"

        If you need a general introduction to the topic of presepe, crèche, manger scene --
                                                                see this link.

photo credit: AG/Promediacom dir. by Louis Molino

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                                        A Foggy Day in Naples Town

Yes, that useless and irritating aerosol of water droplets that Carl Sandburg says "comes on little cat feet [and] sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on" came over Naples last night,  and today, New Year's morning, has still not moved on. That put a damper on the official fireworks display on the Chiaia seafront and unofficial shoddily built finger blower-offers. I shall have to sew mine back on. I had them all prepared to scatter into the normal confusion of body parts that drift by my window, like falling leaves of red and red, making New Year's Day such a warm and nostalgic time of year. Happy 2023 to everyone!


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Women's Little Christmas  -   Nollaig na mBan

was pleasantly surprised some weeks ago to get a kind letter from Colleen in Cork, Ireland, comparing
Irish and Italian Christmas traditions. We are coming up on the Twelfth Day of Christmas, known in the Christian world as Epiphany, changed in Italian to Befana, on Jan. 6. It is the end of the Christmas season. (If you want to brush up on Befana, read this page. It's very short, with seven Befana entries since 2002.) Though the birth of Christ is obviously central, Epiphany is, in a way, just as important (perhaps "intimate" is better) in that it celebrates the revealing of Jesus as the Messiah. That's what the Magi were doing following the star of Bethlehem, to find (in the words of James Elroy Flecker) the "Prince of souls and Lord of Love, Thou King of Kings."

My theology spiel is over. Colleen now tells me something delightful, happy, and crazy about an Irish tradition:                                                                 image: estimated date, 1900, photographer unknown
"I wondered about a related tradition that is just beginning to die out here in Ireland. Until very recently, January 6 was always known as ‘Women’s Little Christmas’, a night when mothers and big sisters and so on would at last have a bit of festive relaxation for themselves, and swarm into the city’s bars and hotels for a night of enjoyment for themselves, free of the family’s demands. “Nollaig na mBan" or “Little Women’s Christmas" is an old custom that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It goes back to when large families were the norm. Men never lifted a finger in the house to help, and were never expected to. If a man washed the dishes, he would be called an 'auld woman' by other men. No full blooded Irish man would risk that! But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one day, at least. On January 6th, men would take care of the housework, offering women a chance to  go out to relax with each other.
   "Never one to break with tradition, I returned to my hometown of Cork this year (from Dublin) to join my sisters and women friends to celebrate. As we sat overlooking the River Lee from Cork’s Metropole Hotel dining room, I thought,
“We keep the tradition alive but not in the same way our mothers did."

image: The Three Kings as Women, digital paper collage by Bard Judith

"In my childhood, I remember excited, shawled women hurrying to local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame.  For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood."

  "It struck me today that this really should have been an Italian tradition too, given the
great matriarchal households the two countries share (or used to). So much has changed in Ireland, and while most of our recent changes were wildly overdue, some of the old ways still have charm.  We also share the Neapolitan devotion to Padre Pio, for some reason. He too is fading away now, but time was you couldn’t move here for images of his beardy face everywhere!"

 I don't know if that would work here in Naples. Girls night out! Have fun! Guys stay home and mind the home. To use a common
Christmas expression, appropriate here "Ho-Ho-Ho!"

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                                                            Befana Redux

Today is Befana in Italy. Depending on where else you might live in the world, if you are a Christian the day may also be known as Little Christmas, Women's Christmas, Women's Little Christmas (directly above on this page) Old Christmas, Epiphany, Theophany, Twelfth Day and probably a  few others. The abundance of names has to with which calendar you use --the old Julian Calendar or the newer Gregorian calendar. (If you are use a lunar calendar, you may be excused. If you are Martian, with those two two moons, you have my sympathies.) I note the day is not marked on the Aztec calendar. It is the end of the Christmas season, which officially started 12 days ago on Dec. 25, the day that celebrates the birth of Christ. Today marks the recognition by the faithful of the manifestation or "appearance" of Jesus as the Messiah. In any event, down here it is Befana. I know of no Italian who uses any of those other terms for the day. It is also the last gift-giving day for children -- at least until the next one. If he or she wants a motor scooter or skateboard or new smart-phone, I come down squarely on the side of a new pair of socks. This is a link to a page of other Befana entries since 2002.

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House of the Vettii

The House of the Vettii is a domus (a Roman town house) in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. The city was preserved by volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Careful excavation has preserved almost all the wall frescoes. They were done after the earlier earthquake of 62 AD in the manner art historians term the Pompeiian Fourth Style. They depict scenes from Greek and Roman mythology (This image depicts the Punishment of Ixion). The House of Vetti is in region VI, near the Vesuvian Gate, bordered by the Vicolo di Mercurio and the Vicolo dei Vettii (map, right)) The house is one of the largest domus in Pompeii, spanning the entire southern section of block 15. There are wall frescoes depicting twelve such mythological scenes. They are well preserved.
[image and paragraph below added May 5, 2023]---------

                The house encompasses the history of Pompeii and of the Roman society of the time. "We're seeing here the
                last phase of the Pompeian wall painting with incredible details, so you can stand before these images for
                hours and still discover new details... So
you have this mixture: nature, architecture, art. But it is also a story
                about the social life of the Pompeiian
society and actually the Roman world in this phase of history."
                                     - Gabriel Zuchriegel, director of the archaeological park of Pompeii.

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                The Appian Way - UNESCO World Heritage

Italy awaits eventual inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List for the Appian Way, the "Queen of Roads", that connected Rome with Brindisi, thus passing from the capital to all points south.

This is abridged from the UNESCO description here.

Via Appia is the first and most important of the great roads built by the Ancient Romans. It is also known as "regina viarum", the Queen of Roads. It was finished in 312 BC. It was a direct passage from Rome to Capua. It was quite modern, avoiding intermediate towns and aimed straight at its goal. Outstanding feats of engineering with bridges, viaducts, and galleries gave a straight run over expanses of water, swamps and mountains. Many of these works are still practicable to this day. 

It was a revolution in road construction by the Romans. Till then, roads were little more than dirt track, impracticable for wheeled vehicles at every rainfall. The Romans built specific road beds, for stability and drainage, that were paved with close-fitting slabs of dressed basalt, thus ensuring viability in all weather conditions. This let them build a vast network that remained intact for centuries. The Appian Way was not reserved for kings or their armies; it was public, toll-free and served the rural and urban population.

This highly efficient road system was used by the Roman postal service, to deliver the mail throughout the Empire and, importantly, for messages between the provinces and the Empire's capital city. Via Appia was extended several times, as the Empire conquered the south of Italy.

(As the map shows, the road is kept  up with stations. You can actually bike it. Or walk, or skip...)
Here is a more recent (from April 2023) entry on the Appian Way. It is longer than this one and more ample with more images and detailed instructions if you really want to find it. Enjoy yourselves!
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