Day 63-64 – Napoli

Today I head out to the center of historic Naples. I’m not sure why these banners are flying, but it appears they might refer to San Gennaro and the liquifaction of his blood, which signifies that Naples will once again survive adversity. That’s just a good guess, because the device held by the Cardinal looks like the one holding San Gennaro’s blood that I later see in a video in the Duomo.

I do not know who this image represents either, but I later find out it is San Gennaro himself, painted by renowned mural artist Jorit Agoch. He calls it the “San Gennaro Operaio,” modeling it after a young Neapolitan factory worker. He installed it on one of the days San Gennaro’s blood is liquified.

I spy a young man patiently cleaning a store sign. If only others in Naples cared so much for cleanliness.

I visit the San Gennaro Chapel in the Duomo, where I am bombarded once again with the Baroque.

A video plays in the Cathedral, showing the ceremony in which the blood of third-century San Gennaro, patron of Naples, liquifies. The Cardinal carefully checks out the blood. This happens three times a year on specific dates. Next to the video is a plaque describing the scientific proof of this phenomenon. I don’t have the patience to read all the fine print formulas. Let’s just say it might be able to happen. It the blood liquifies, San Gennaro is continuing to protect Naples from adversity.

I visit the Cloister of Santa Chiara, a former monastery, home to daughters of wealthy aristocrats. The cloister is a peaceful haven from the chaos outside its walls.

The cloisters are part of a monastery complex that includes a Basilica and a library.

The complex was built in the early 1300s by Robert of Anjou, but the cloisters were designed in the 17th century with 72 pillars covered with hand-painted Majora tiles, along with benches and friezes around the halls and garden.

The scenes in hand-painted tile are not religious. They are said to have reminded the nuns of what was in the world outside the walls that kept them cloistered.

I notice one strange painting that shows a pair of eyes on a figure. It seems a restorer might have had some fun, but I ask a docent who tells me that this figure represents Silence and harkens back to a Greek myth. The figure was meant to instruct the nuns to keep their vow of silence. The friendly docent tells me that this silence meant not just talking by voice, but also by the body, as Neapolitans use their hands and entire body to communicate. It’s hard to imagine 17th century nuns speaking with their hands as do today’s Neapolitans, but the practice is as old as the city.

As the nuns were cloistered and could not talk or be seen, this circular box stood at the door of the convent and was used to pass messages back and forth from the nuns to the outside world.

Leaving Santa Chiara Cloister, I see a sign for a charity shop in a former church and climb up the stairs to explore. I find a colorful linen blouse for 7 Euro. It will add a little variety to the same few pieces I’ve been wearing for two months.

I head down Via San Gregorio Armeno, or Via dei Presepi, the street of the artisans who make Napoli’s nativity scenes.

The vast assortment of characters and objects are finely detailed.

The Capuano shop is proud of its four generations of artisans. Here it honors Vincenzo and Luciano, masters of the art.

The shops also sell tamourines painted with colorful local scenes.

Heading back toward home, I see that a soccer game this evening has everyone at this cafe glued to the screens.

The next day I take off for Torre Annunziata, a town just south of Naples, to meet Martina, one of my instructors at Agnone. I need to take a bus, which is a good thing, since a strike has been called for transport services. I have trouble understanding exactly what is on strike. One official tells me it’s the Metro, another the trains, but it’s not the buses.

And I need to take the bus. Easier said than done. There are absolutely NO SIGNS and NO LINES here at the bus station. It’s guesswork which bus to board. I’m glad I arrived about an hour early to the train station to figure out how to get to the buses and then determine which bus to take. Ask, ask, ask, and the answers are often different.

I make it to Torre Annunziata, and it turns out Martina’s family owns the concession in the station. She asks me to join her on the other side of the counter while she finishes her shift. She claims the chaos in Napoli makes for a people who are excellent problem solvers, flexible and resourceful.

Torre Annunziata is an industrial port.

It also has sandy beaches. This beach is public, while others have the usual rows of costly umbrellas and chaise lounges. Martina says she avoids these beaches as the water is not clean.

Back in Naples, everyone is out shopping in the stores on Via Toledo. The usual group of soldiers stand by the Metro station. Clearly there’s a reason for their presence, but all I’ve noticed are masses of shoppers and vendors and people enjoying food, drink and each other. Life in Napoli is out on the streets.

I find respite from the chaos in my little apartment on the periphery of the Spanish Quarter.

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