Quote

Sunrise in Naples

Naples Sunrise

C’è un momento in ciascuna alba in cui la luce è come sospesa, un istante magico dove tutto può succedere. La creazione trattiene il suo respiro.

‘There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath’.

Douglas Adams.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)


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‘The sea raised its great wings, coal black smoke arose from Vesuvius into the blue sky…’, Naples, 1834

The future fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, then aged 29, visited Naples in February 1834 and was at hand to witness one of Vesuvius’ regular eruptions of the period.  With a group of fellow Danes, he rather rashly set off by donkey to climb the volcano as the eruption reached its climax.

As he neared the top, he later described in his diary that:

We caught a sudden glimpse of the moon right over the crater. Coal-black smoke swirled upward; then a ball of fire and gigantic, glowing boulders rolled down onto the plain that we had to cross to get to the lava flow… There was no path at all; we had to walk and crawl between huge pieces of lava… With every eruption the moon was entirely hidden by the pitch-black smoke…

After a while we could feel the heat coming up from underneath us. In order to see the new lava flow we had to cross one that had been flowing the night before; only the outermost crust was black and hard, and red fire was burning in the cracks. We stepped out onto it; it burned our feet through the soles of our shoes. If the crust had broken, we would have sunk into a sea of fire.

Then we saw the monstrous stream of fire pouring slowly, thick and red like porridge, down the mountains. The sulphur fumes were so strong; the fire was burning our feet, so that after two minutes we had to go back. All around we saw fissures of fire. There was a whooshing sound coming from the crater, like when all at once a flock of birds starts up from a forest.

As this fascinating article says, the whole episode was ‘perhaps a manifestation of youthful vanity for a band of twenty-something men — an exercise to conquer danger for no good reason, except the vainglory of living to tell about it‘.  Or was the hazardous undertaking rather ‘for the sake of beauty, driven by a longing to get as close as humanly possible to nature’s source, to that fiery frontier of life and death, of beauty and suffering, from which true awe springs‘.

Andersen certainly loved the beauty, the light, the warmth and the sensuality of Naples, illuminated by blazing Vesuvius, describing it as a ‘Paradise’ where everyone lived in ‘intoxicated obliviousness of self’.  He called the city ‘the great pulse of the world’ and returned later in his life.

Sketch of Vesuvius in 1834 by Hans Christian Andersen.

Sunday Short Story: Mischievous Gnomes in the Mezzogiorno, Italy, 1935

In a ‘shadowy land, that knows neither sin or redemption from sin’:

At Grassano there was a young workman, about twenty years old, Carmelo Coiro, a husky fellow with a square sun-burned face, who came often in the evening to drink a glass of wine at Frisco’s inn.  He was a day labourer in the fields or on the roads, but his dream was to be a bicycle racer…at this time Carmelo was one of a group of road-menders who were repairing the road to Irsina along the Bilioso, a malaria-ridden stream that flows past Grottole into the Basento River. During the hottest hours of the day, when work was impossible, the road-menders used to go to sleep in a natural cave, one of many dotting the whole of the valley, and formerly a brigand hideout.

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The Short Read: Sicily – a Ball, November 1862

Noto, interior of Palazzo Nicolaci di Villadorata, Noto, Sicily, Italy, Europe

The ballroom was all golden; smoothed on cornices, stippled on door-frames, damascened pale, almost silvery, over darker gold on door panels and on the shutters which covered and annulled the windows, conferring on the room the look of some superb jewel-case shut off from an unworthy world.

It was not the flashy gilding which decorators slap on nowadays, but a faded gold, pale as the hair of certain Nordic children, determinedly hiding its value under a muted use of precious material intended to let beauty be seen and cost forgotten. Here and there on the panels were knots of rococo flowers in a colour so faint as to seem just an ephemeral pink reflected from the chandeliers.

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A short Naples story for Sunday

‘It was an unforgettable moment. We went towards Via Caracciolo, as the wind grew stronger, the sun brighter. Vesuvius was a delicate pastel-coloured shape, at whose base the whitish stones of the city were piled up, with the earth-coloured slice of the Castel dell’Ovo, and the sea. But what a sea. It was very rough, and loud; the wind took your breath away, pasted your clothes to your body and blew the hair off your forehead. We stayed on the other side of the street in a small crowd, watching the spectacle. The waves rolled in like blue metal tubes carrying an egg white foam on their peaks, then broke into a thousand glittering splinters and came up to the street with an oh of wonder and fear from those watching.’

From My Brilliant Friend by the cult Italian writer Elena Ferrante who writes on Naples.  As this article, Italy’s Great, Mysterious Storyteller, explains:

That Ferrante is a pseudonym, has no public presence, has never been seen, gives her a strange place in Italy, a country obsessed with image, where if you aren’t on television, you barely exist’.

Image:  Storm on Naples seafront during the America’s Cup 2013.

The Longer Read: Naples ’44

‘Neapolitans take their sex lives very seriously indeed.

A woman called Lola, whom I met at the dinner-party given by Signora Gentile, arrived at HQ with some denunciation which went into the waste-paper basket as soon as her back was turned. She then asked if I could help her.  It turned out she had taken a lover who is a captain in the RASC, but as he speaks no single word of Italian, communication can only be carried on by signs, and this gives rise to misunderstanding. Would I agree to interpret for them and settle certain basic matters?

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A Short Naples story for Sunday

When Kepler was mathematician to the Emperor Rudolph II of Germany, his primary task was to deliver good horoscopes.

J. D. Bernal
History of Physics

When I was six years old, there was the earthquake. I was an only child, and fled barefoot to a doorframe to stand between my parents.

“This is the load-bearing beam,” my father said with the air of an architect. “It’s safe here.”

We were in the dark. The next day we discovered that the only truly deep crack in the house was in that beam.

Three months later a famous psychic from the neighborhood announced to the residents the day and hour of the next tremor. People began sleeping with a suitcase under their beds—the psychic not being one to make mistakes—and when the appointed day arrived everyone headed down to the street. They lit bonfires.

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