By the German artist Oswald Achenbach
Exactly 70 years ago, in March 1944, British photographer George Rodger captured the last great eruption of Italy’s legendary volcano.
A paraklausithyron is a ‘motif from Greek and especially Augustan love elergy’ which typically places a lover outside his (or her) mistress’s door, desiring entry. This one, in a woman’s voice, was found in Pompeii on the door of a modest private dwelling and is reportedly ‘the only female homoerotic love poem to survive from the ancient Roman world’.
Oh, if only I could hold your sweet arms around my neck
In an embrace and place kisses on your tender lips.
Go now, entrust your joys to the winds, my darling,
Believe me, fickle is the nature of men.
Often I have been wakeful in the middle of the wasted night
Thinking these things to myself:
many men whom Fortune has raised up on high,
Now suddenly rush headlong, and fall, overwhelmed by her.
In this way when Venus has suddenly joined together lover’s bodies
But daylight comes to divide them.
‘The fleeting nature of love, desire, and pain of separation, all at Venus’s behest’ are recurring themes of graffiti in Pompeii.
Featured image: Simeon Solomon. Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene. 1864.
You may have missed, as I did, that yesterday, March 20th, was International Day of Happiness, established in 2012 by the United Nations to recognise that the ‘pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’.
To mark the 3rd anniversary of the Day, Voices from the Blogs, an Italian project that studies online tastes, preferences and opinions, published its report (in Italian) of the state of Happiness in Italy, based on an analysis of millions of tweets during 2014. There was bad news for Naples: it languished in second from bottom spot in the list of happiest cities in the country and was the most unhappy place in Campagna. August 8th was identified as the unhappiest day last year. Overall, Italy grew slightly unhappier during 2014 in comparison with 2013.
How can this be? As Pope Francis stated today as part of his visit to the city during his open air Mass to the faithful in the benighted area of Scampia, Naples faces serious problems. High unemployment, exploitation, crime, drugs, discrimination, and especially corruption which he said ‘stinks’, using the Neapolitan slang term spuzza, all undoubtedly impact on happiness. But the Pope also said that Naples remains a place of hope; ‘although life in Naples was never easy, it was never sad’.
On a beautiful Spring day, in Piazza del Plebiscito and in front of 25,000 people, he urged Neapolitans to reject the quick, criminal path to happiness and work together for ‘redemption’:
Dear Neapolitans, be open to hope and do not allow hope to be stolen from you! Do not give in to the lure of easy money or dishonest income. This may be bread for today but hunger for tomorrow. It cannot bring you anything. React firmly to organizations that exploit and corrupt the young, the poor and the weak, with the cynical drug trade and other crimes. Do not allow hope to be stolen from you. Do not allow your youth to be exploited by these people. May corruption and delinquency not disfigure the face of this beautiful city! Moreover, may it not disfigure the joy of your Neapolitan hearts.
But, despite these challenges, perhaps Voices from the Blogs got it wrong in their study of tweets. Maybe there is another way of measuring happiness, as captured by the Naples wrier Erri De Luca who said, in response to a previous index placing the city low down in quality of life, that Naples was too exaggerated, too off the scale to be able to measure:
I consider quality of life to be the ability to eat simple exquisite things anywhere and at low prices, which elsewhere would be unreal. I consider quality of life to be the sea which wanders into the room of the gulf between Capri, Sorrento and Posillipo. I consider quality of life to be the wind that sweeps the gulf from the four cardinal points and makes the light air. I consider quality of life to be the excellence of Neapolitan coffee and pizza. I consider quality of life to be courtesy and a smile when entering a shop, the music on the street. I consider quality of life the history that emerges everywhere.
Certainly the young people in the video are Happy from Naples. I am. Are you?
In Italy, March 19th is the Festa di San Giuseppe, or Feast of St Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and a ‘fatherly symbol of love, compassion, kindness, generosity and acceptance’. So today is also Festa del Papa, Italian Fathers’ Day. Many southern Italians are named in his honour.
In Naples, to celebrate the day, the cafes are absolutely crammed with trays full of thousands of Zeppole, a delicious fried or baked doughnut topped with sweet cream and garnished with an amarena cherry. They are a very southern Italian thing; Don Pasquale Pintauro, a pastry chef from Naples, created Zeppole di San Giuseppe from his road side bakery in 1840.
Over the last week, I’ve tried both fried and baked Zeppole and prefer the latter; they are lighter than their fried cousins yet still pack a sugary punch and go perfectly with a morning coffee. A great authentic recipe is here.
Stretching for 3km, the straight road takes you gently uphill from the huge 1000-room Palace to the foot of the Grand Cascade, a series of increasingly ornate marble fountains, each with a different classical theme – Venus and Adonis; Aeolus; Ceres; Diana and Actaeon.
More pictures below: