Red Wedding in the New Castle, Naples

Barons Hall

In the heart of the dark, hulking Castel Nuovo, known locally as the Maschio Angioino (Angevin Keep), is the Hall of the Barons.  Some 28 meter high, the impressive medieval ribbed vaulted roof ‘fuses ancient Roman and Spanish late-Gothic influences‘.  The walls, bare today, were originally frescoed by Giotto in around 1330 with images of ancient heros: Samson, Hercules, Solomon, Achilles, Caesar etc.  It’s still a striking space, designed to shock and awe visitors to this Royal Palace.

But the Hall was also the site of a bloody wedding massacre 500 years ago, a real medieval counterpart to the fictional slaughter of Game of Thrones. Peter Robb picks up the story.  The protagonists were:

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Giving a new face to the Sanità, Naples

Mimmo Jodice is a well-known Italian photographer who was professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli from 1970 to 1996.  He is also Honorary President of the recently launched San Gennaro Foundation NGO.  This organisation hopes to ‘give a new face‘ to Rione Sanità, one of the toughest, poorest and most deprived of the inner Naples neighbourhoods, through development projects, social initiatives and promoting a culture of responsibility and solidarity.

Jodice’s striking 1992 photograph Demetra Opera 1 is being used as a symbol of the Foundation.  It shows a broken marble bust of Demetra, Greek goddess of the harvest, agriculture and fertility.  The left side of her cheek and jaw is gone and instead her face, with its off centre, dispassionate gaze, is completed by a unblemished plaster cast. The two halves are held together by a hand, perhaps the photographer’s own.

There is a tenderness about the image and the way the face is cradled.  As this blog explains:

It is a sweet gesture – an effort to repair the damage and then bring the sculpture alive. But there is something not quite right: the cast the artist made to fit the face, doesn’t quite match, so the lips don’t meet and the face as an awkward skew to it.  Perhaps it was meant for a different repair job.  Or perhaps it is simply impossible to go back.  We try to repair, to bring back the past, to make the past whole again, but like the photograph of the repair, it doesn’t quite fit.

The Foundation hopes to raise 2.5 million Euros for the Sanità over the next 10 years, which under the system of grant matching will be doubled to 5 million Euros.  Donations can be made via the website. More about the Sanità in a subsequent post.

A Summer poem: on the Banks of a Canal, near Naples, 1872

10 days before before he died, Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet and recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, completed his final poem.

It was inspired by the ‘quiet beauty‘ of a picture of a Naples canal painted in 1872 by the French artist Gustave Caillebotte which hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland.  In the picture the artist ‘depicts a canal and pathway extending into the distant horizon of a flat Italian landscape.  By allowing the edges of his canvas to slice through the water and path, Caillebotte gives the scene a sense of randomness that marked a particularly modern way of seeing‘.  Heaney wrote:

Say ‘canal’ and there’s that final vowel

Towing silence with it, slowing time

To a walking pace, a path, a whitewashed gleam

Of dwellings at the skyline. World stands still.

The stunted concrete mocks the classical.

Water says, ‘My place here is in dream,

In quiet good standing. Like a sleeping stream,

Come rain or sullen shine I’m peaceable.’

Stretched to the horizon, placid ploughland,

The sky not truly bright or overcast:

I know that clay, the damp and dirt of it,

The coolth along the bank, the grassy zest

Of verges, the path not narrow but still straight

Where soul could mind itself or stray beyond.

Poem c/o Seamus Heaney, 2014.  More detail on the picture at National Gallery of Ireland.

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The wildflowers of the Sicilian Spring

‘Where are you going on holiday?’ asked an Italian friend. ‘Sicily at the end of April and the beginning of May’.  ‘Ah, just the right time for the wild flowers’.

He was right.  Before the arrival of the suffocating, ‘tyrannous‘ summer heat, Spring in Sicily is when ‘the climate’s delicate; the air most sweet‘. The local ancient Greeks believed that Persephone, queen of the underworld, emerged in Spring from her Sicilian captivity at the hands of Hades, bringing new life and the renewal of nature.

At this time of year, Sicily is carpeted from end to end with beautiful swathes of wild flowers that line the roads and country lanes, cling to the walls of Greek ruins or deserted farm houses, spread across untended fields or sit underneath groves of olive, almond and orange trees.  When driving you glimpse the blue of borage and echium, the pink of valerian, the blood red of roadside poppies, the yellow of broom, corn marigold, mimosa and wild fennel, the lilac of wisteria, the creamy white of snapdragons and other flashes of orange, purple, scarlet and magenta. Everywhere the air is heady with the ‘erotic waft‘ of citrus blossom, referred to as zagara, an word passed from Arabic into Sicilian and then Italian.

The Sicilians say ‘Aprili fa li ciuri e le biddizzi, l’onuri l’havi lu misi di maju‘ — April makes the flowers and the beauty, but May gets all the credit — making this a perfect time to visit this enchanting island as shown below.

Carefree Style: Jackie Kennedy in Ravello, 1962

In August 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy holidayed in the beautiful Amalfi coast town of Ravello with her son John John, her daughter Caroline and her sister and brother.  The location had been recommended to her by the writer and distant relative Gore Vidal, a Ravello resident.

Despite White House instructions that the stay should be low key, the holiday inevitably attracted huge interest.  On arrival Jackie was met by the mayor of Ravello, a band and a decorated town.  For three weeks, the stylish and photogenic First Lady was snapped by the paparazzi sailing, dining, swimming, water skiing, barefoot dancing the twist and cha cha, experiencing the sites of the area and generally epitomising La Dolce Vita.  

During the stay, he was hosted by L’Avvocato, the equally stylish, famously wealthy and wildly promiscuous Gianni Agnelli.  Tongues wagged about a possible liaison.  When she left, she said she would return with her husband; a promise never fulfilled due to his murder a year later.

More pictures of cool 1960s Jackie-ness in Ravello below:

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Finding Peace in Naples

The magnificent Charterhouse and National Museum of San Martino is perched precariously on a hill high above Naples, just below the commanding fortress of Castel Sant’Elmo.

Once home of Carthusian monks, expelled at the unification of Italy, the monastery complex is deceptively large with breathtaking views of the city and bay below.  Here, for over 500 years, the devout, white robed inhabitants worshipped their awesome God in the hermitic and cenobitic style: maintaining silence, livings in cells, praying together whilst contemplating alone – remaining ‘steady [to the Cross] while the world is turning’.

It is also home to a spectacular collection of art.  The central church, assembled at vast cost, is a virtual who’s-who of Neapolitan artists from the 17th and 18th century – Di Ribera, Caracciolo, Fanzago et al.  It’s a baroque vision of beautiful side chapels, exquisite marble floors, hand carved stalls and devotional works of Christ and the Saints.

Surrounded by this splendour and in their religious isolation, the monks who lived here must have had an very odd relationship with the city above which they sat: living in Naples but separate from it; in reach of the city but unable to touch it.

Even today, the place remains quiet, peaceful, holy and sacred  – very different from the frenetic, crowded, raucous, very human, and profane Naples  below.

Some pictures below the jump:

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Maradona, the King of Naples

Diego Maradona’s time with SSC Napoli, from 1984 to 1992, was relatively short and ended in mob- and drug-related disgrace.  But this was the most successful period of the club’s history, which saw it win two Italian championships or Scudetti in 1987 & 1990, the Coppa Italia in 1987, the UEFA Cup in 1989 and the Supercoppa Italiana in 1990.  The period also coincided with Maradona’s professional peak, captaining Argentina to World Cup victory in Mexico in 1986 and leading them to the final in 1990.  Maradona score 81 goals in 188 appearances for the club.

When Napoli won Serie A for the first time in their history in 1987:

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