Naples

I am delighted to have received my first royalty check for Ciao, Napoli.  Thank you, my friends, for all your support and encouragement.  I am sharing some more photos of Naples in hopes that you will enjoy them.

vesuvius-from-corso-vittorio-emnnuel
Vesuvius seen from Corso Vittorio Emanuele

This was the view from the street where we lived during our latest sojourn. Corso Vittorio Emanuele.  Since the Corso is at the summit of a hill, we unfortunately did not have this vista from our apartment.  Our apartment was six flights down from the street, an arrangement I have found only in Naples.  We actually descended and if we wanted to descend further rather than climb six flights to the street, we could emerge in the heart of the Spanish Quarter on a street where our friend Antonio who was born in the Spanish Quarter had never been to before he visited us.    The Spanish Quarter had in the past a reputation for being unsafe.  We were fine, though.  It’s like living on the Lower East Side.  It’s an interesting and upcoming neighborhood.

 

Via dei Tribunali

Via dei Tribunali is one of the old Roman Roads and is still in use.  For me it is the gateway to the historic center and is the essence of Naples — new built upon but never fully concealing the old.  Cars wriggle in and out of narrow Roman alleyways which lead to high-end trendy shops in buildings that are centuries old.  I love to shop here and usually buy from street vendors.

 

Fountain in Via Forcella 2Fountain in Via Forcella

Via Forcella is the street we usually walked to get to the train station if we were making an excursion outside the city.   This was a scary street full of motorcycles and fruit vendors.  It was interesting to discover who was important on the street by watching who ceded passage to whom, whether on a motorcycle or expensive car.  The first time I was in Naples, I wandered into this street by mistake.  I noticed people staring at me, wondering what I was doing there since I was obviously not from the neighborhood.  I found my way out as soon as I could.  It seemed all right though when Jim and I would walk the the train station.  The fountains seem to have disappeared the last time we visited.  It’s still a rough neighborhood, but we passed through without incident.  I did get the sense of being watched, but because we took this route regularly, we seem to have been regarded as gli americani who pass by from time to time.

IMG_0699 Body of Naples StatueBody of Naples

The name of this statue is the Body of Naples.  It is also a personification of the Nile.  We passed it frequently in the historic center, also on our way to the train station or on our way to one of our favorite restaurants.  It is said to have been there from Roman times and is considered a very important landmark.

Bay of NaplesBay of Naples

The rocky formation is the distance is Capri.  A friend told us that Capri forms the image of a sleeping woman.  Here you can see her bosom and her hair floating on the water.  Naples is replete with alluring images.  City of beauty and risk.

 

 

 

 

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Le zitelle e i genitori

Miei nonni provennero dal Vecchio Paese – come lo chiamavano — e per forza tennero ai modi di tempi passati. Dei loro sei figli nati tutti in America, le tre prime erano feminile, arrivate in un tratto di meno di cinque anni. La sorella piú grande, zia Giovanna, fu bellissima, la piú bella della famiglia. La seconda, mia madre Sara, fu molto intelligente, mentre la terze, zia Anna, mostrò un carattere dolce e simpatico. Quest’ultima fu anche sorda, non completamente ma tuttavia in grado di renderla timida. A le piacava stare a casa, vicina alla famiglia.

I genitori si accoresero delle nature diverse di queste loro figlie e quando le ragazze ebbero compiuto circa quindici anni, la mamma ed il babbo scelesero il posto che considerano giusto per ciascuna. Zia Giovanna, a causa della sua bellezza, si sarebbe sposata con un uomo ricco e d’alto bordo. Sara, mia mamma, con la sua mente acuta andrebbe a l’universitá da farsi professoressa. Quanto a Zia Anna, così timerosa e gentile, lei rimanerebbe sempre a casa, la sorella zitella che baderebbe ai vecchiarelli.

Uno propone e i fati ridono. zia Giovanna fu molto religiosa. Voleva entrare un convento e non si sarebbe sposata per niente. Siccome i genitori non la permisero a diventare monaca, Zia Giovanna trovò un lavoro in una fabbrica e poi frequentòuna scuola commerciale, pagandola se stessa. Rimaneva una donna d’affaro per tutta la vita e non si fu mai sposata.

Mia mamma era felice di avere l’opportunitá di studiare, però voleva essere infermiera. Suo padre credeva che le infermiere fossero tutte malafemine e le minacciava di non pagare l’universitá se lei averebbe insistito su quest’idea pazza di farsi infermiera. Sara la rinunciò e diventò insegnante, ma con gran rimpianto.

Sola zia Anna fu contenta di fare la strada decisa dai genitori, benché aveva un compagno che voleva sposarla. Miei nonni si servirono di zia Anna come casalinga. Al suo lato, zia Anna godé di occuparsi del fratello e le due sorelle piú giovani e, alcuni anni dopo, dei nipoti che rimpiazzarono i figli che non ebbe. Lei figura tanto nei miei bei primi ricordi ed anche nei quelli di miei cuggini.

Nonna Rosalia

Anna was born in Naples toward the end of World War II. Her family, however, had come from the countryside in the Cilento region about fifty miles southeast. Anna’s grandmother Rosalia had lived and died in a small village on the peak of a mountain in the region known as the Cilento, which to this day remains untouched by modernity.                                      Mountains of the CilentoMountains of the Cilento

During the World War II, the village never felt the boots of Nazi soldiers climbing its narrow and winding pathways, nor did its inhabitants taste the chocolate offered by American GI’s after the Allies’ liberation of Italy in 1943. Life continued as it had for centuries past. At sunrise the contadini descended the mountain peak to the flatter valley where they worked their fields. They made their own wine and pressed their own olive oil. Families raised sheep, goats, and chickens, so they had plenty of eggs, milk, and cheese. They even had meat for feast days. People lived much as they had since the days of the Romans. Indeed, the contadini claimed that their village existed even before the Romans came down to the Cilento to make war with the local tribes. This village was one of the independent mountaintop communities of the region and maintained what we would now call folk ways.

Nonna Rosalia's goats

The church was, of course, the center of village life, stand in the plaza at the top of the mountain. The populace faithfully attended mass on Sundays and feast days, but the priests had never quite succeeded in replacing folk traditions with church doctrine. In fact, many priests had no wish to do so, as they themselves came from these traditions.

There was one villager, however, who attended church for appearance’s sake only. She was a practitioner of the religion of the first inhabitants of the village, those who had preceded the Romans. The secrets of the ancient belief rested within the family and were passed from mother to oldest daughter since time out of mind. No one would remember, in the twentieth century, when the family became ostensibly Catholic, but, from the eleventh century at least, it had been wise for members to appear at Sunday mass.

Nonna Rosalia was the village Strega whose understanding of the properties of herbs and their power to heal or to poison brought the villagers to her door. Nonna Rosalia would pour them a glass of wine, listen and propose a solution. Villagers noticed that no rosary was involved in Nonna Rosalia’s incantations, nor was there displayed in her home the requisite votive candle and icon of St. Anthony. The villagers did not mind, for Nonna Rosalia’s spells were effective.  Her most important function, however, was her ability to predict the future.

When Nonna Rosalia’s daughter, Anna’s mother Marialena, was twenty years old, she fell in love with a boy from the village. This was to be expected, of course, since to reach the closest town one had to make one’s serpentine way down the mountain, cross the valley and ascent the next mountain. Families married within the village.

           Mountaintop Village in Cilento                                        Cilento Village on Opposite Peak

                   Nonna Rosalia’s Village                                                                   Village on the Opposite Peak

And so, Giuseppe came courting. Every Sunday he joined the family for the lunch that Nonna Rosalia and Marialena had prepared, almost as a member of the family. Thus, he learned that Marialena was a good cook and knew how to keep house. And, more important to Rosalia, she could see if he conducted himself as he should – that he made the bella figura.

Giuseppe was very well behaved. He always shook hands all around when he came for Sunday lunch and again when he left for the evening. One day, when he shook Nonna Rosalia’s hand she felt a cold wave that moved from her fingertips to her shoulder blades. The next morning Nonna Rosalia began to prepare Marialena for sorrow.

“Giuseppe is a nice boy,” she said.

Marialena too had felt the cold when Giuseppe had shaken hands good-by with her. “And so?” she asked.

“He will not be with us long,” Nonna Rosalia replied. “You will marry, but later. When the war is over.”

It was 1938. “I do not understand,” said Marialena, although she did. “There is no war now”

In 1939 Giuseppe was drafted into the Italian army. In 1940 he was sent to the Russian front. Marialena, when she learned of this, went to her grandmother’s closed, took out one of her black dresses and put it on. Nonna Rosalia insisted that she not wear black because, “It would take hope away from Giuseppe’s parents.” Marialena understood and complied, but she made herself a handkerchief from a piece of black cloth which from then on she carried concealed in her pocket.

A year later, Giuseppe’s mother came to visit Nonna Rosalia. After Nonna Rosalia had poured the wine and sat down to listen, Giuseppe’s mother asked she could tell her where he was or if he were even still living. Nonna Rosalia was compassionate. She said that he was dead, killed instantly from a gunshot. He had not suffered. Rosalia could not find it in her spirit to tell about the terrible cold she had felt when she and Giuseppe shook hands, nor did she mention what she sensed of the cold of the Russian winter, nor the slow decomposition of the living body that begins with frostbitten toes.

Engagement Photo. Shortly after the end of World War II