Dwight Peck's personal website

Naples and the Amalfi coast in autumn 2010

Awaiting US midterm election results in a grimly upbeat mood

Kristin used to hang out on Capri and the Costiera Amalfitana, in the old days, but we've never been, and it's time. So here we go for a couple of weeks in fall 2010 for the off-season prices.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Scenes of Naples

We're here for a week and we're not going to miss anything!

Hotel Il Convento, built in about 1600, resides in the Via Speranzella adjacent to the shrine of "Ste Maria Francesca with the Five Sores", whom we gave a wide berth. We're just two streets up from the Via Toledo, the major shopping axis of Naples, a mostly-pedestrian boulevard running down to the port between the historic old town and the crowded alleys up the hill.

Nice room in a lovely old ex-convent -- a room with its own tiny rooftop terrace.

Oh, very suitable.

Kristin has tested the ceilings and pronounced them safe enough for a week here.

The breakfast room, and the Intermittent WiFi room, as it turned out. Oh well, the breakfast was fine.

The neighborhood, in the Spanish Quarter, was originally the barracks area just outside the old town built for the Spanish garrison troops and their horses in the 16th century. Guidebooks and friends tell us that the Quartieri Spagnoli is too dangerous to stay in, but we found it unthreatening and congenial. One major problem, though: the Via Toledo is pedestrian, so the ubiquitous motor-scooters -- young men, young ladies, old ladies, whole families -- blast through the Via Speranzella at all hours, beeping their little buzzers like an act of religious faith as they zoop through each intersection, and pedestrian tourists need to stay alert.

The Via Toledo early in the day, with the African and Subcontinental street salesmen already setting up. Their wares are on sheets so that, when a policeman appears, they can scoop it all up and dash up the alleys. The police don't seem to be terribly serious about stopping them; they're back to spread out again as soon as the police have passed. But some of the locals aren't very happy about the loss of sidewalk space, especially during the evening passeggiata stroll, and indeed the hawkers never seem to be offering anything anyone would ever want to buy.

A jazz band setting up on the Via Toledo, crowded round with listeners moments afterward.

The Galleria Umberto I, inaugurated in 1890, a beautiful arcade mall off Via Toledo just near the port area. (Umberto I was the king of Italy at that time, killed by an American anarchist in 1900. Pedro de Toledo was the King of Spain's viceroy in Naples in the early 16th century, the city's first serious urban planner.)

It's the first of November, and we're making a reconnaissance to the museum in the 18th century Royal Palace of Capodimonte overlooking the city -- far more than we could take in at one go, so we made notes of highlights and came back another day on a follow-up mission.

Catching up on the news.

In the church of Sant'Anna dei Lombardi (begun in 1411), called the Monteoliveto, there's this amazing terra cotta sculpture of the Pièta by Guido Mazzoni, 1492.

And in the same church, Vasari frescoes in the sacristy, all along the walls.

A very tall thing in the Piazza Gesù Nuovo, the 18th-century Guglia della Immacolata; local residents told us that it was 'built to the local tastes' -- a guidebook describes it as "a kind of Rococo obelisk, dripping with frills, saints, and putti". We're viewing it from in front of the church and monastery of Santa Chiara.

Santa Chiara, built in the early 14th century by the Angevin rulers, 45m-high walls on it. It caught a huge number of American incendiary bombs in August 1943 and burnt for six days, but has been well restored to its pre-baroque, Gothic austerity.

The cloisters of the Poor Clares in the convent of Santa Chiara, called the 'Majolica Cloister' for the lovely tin-glazed classical/pastoral scenes laid on in the 1740s all round the periphery and up and down the alleys within.

It would be great to have a complete collection of these scenes -- there are probably a hundred of these arcadian pastoral landscapes.

And wonderful frescoes on the walls. It must have been so great to have been a Poor Clare nun back then.

The strange allegorical and idealized pastoral scenes date from the 18th century but have a late 16th century appeal, a Spenser's Faerie Queene or Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia kind of other world.

You could spend a day and a half scrutinizing these things.

San Domenico Maggiore, like a fortress, in the Piazza San Domenico on the Decumanus Inferior, one of the two Roman trunk roads that anchored the grid of the original city, called the Spaccanapoli, 'split Naples', because it bisects the old town. The Decumanus Superior (the Via dei Tribunali) is just a block up the hill.

The obelisk of the Guglia di San Domenico, looming over the newspaper kiosk, was planted here in 1658 to commemorate the passing of another attack of the plague.

Further along the Decumanus, we're bobbing and weaving through the little streets, marveling at how people can move about here, let alone the goods trucks. Ambulances, cop cars, fire trucks, etc.

Let's see if we can find any streets without a church at the end of it.

Via Francesco del Guidice; we're circling around near the archaeological museum and heading back downtown soon.

The famous Napolitan garbage crisis continues, Camorra-created probably, government-ignored for many years as southern Italy suffered under national neglect over many centuries. The national government has vowed to solve the problem of completely filled trash dumps and illegal dumping and tried to open a new landfill -- in the middle of the Mount Vesuvius National Park. Protesters in various places are still throwing petrol bombs to protest the environmental threats of the proposed new dump as well as the garbage pile-up on the city streets.

Sometimes citizens even just try to burn their own garbage. (Perhaps this really is a "paradise inhabited by devils", as Mary Shelley said.)

Pope Benedict has sent word to the protesters to tell them that he is "spiritually close to them", and the EU is threatening massive fines but not offering to take the garbage. But there's this -- though there are unsightly piles of garbage all about, the city is otherwise extremely clean.

Domenico Martuscelli with pigeons on

Part of the charming Piazza Dante

Dante with pigeons on, in the Piazza Dante where the Via Toledo becomes pedestrian down to the port

Street scene

Naples port by night, from the Castel Nuovo

The Castel Nuovo, built by the Angevin lords in 1279 when the Castel dell'Ovo became too small

A nighttime view of the Galleria Umberto I

The Via Toledo by night

The Trattoria Nennella, performance art in the street, with rambunctiously jovial waiters, traditional dishes, and the lowest prices in Europe. When you wish to leave a tip for the waiter, the maitre d' brings the whole place to a halt, staff drop a basket down from the ceiling, the tip is ceremoniously dropped into the basket, and everyone applauds.

The Piazza Pignasecca, famous for its outdoor market

The markets in the Piazza Pignasecca

The seafood market near the Piazza Pignasecca on another day

Probably you're supposed to cook them really well. Perhaps spray them with hand-sanitizer. I don't know, I grew up on A+P and Grand Union supermarkets and shrink-wrapped packets.

The Not-Walmart

Brisk trade

The Piazza Pignasecca

Kristin's infatuation with the God of the Nile. This is a Hellenistic statue from Alexandria, Egypt, discovered headless in 1476 and brought here because somebody thought it was meant to represent Naples. Thus it's in the Largo Corpo di Napoli ('body of Naples') and the head was added in the 1700s to make up the set.

But today we're walking through the old town to catch the Circumvesuviana train (it's got its own terminal, not far from the huge Stazione Centrale in the Piazza Garibaldi). We're going to Pompeii for the day.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 6-9 December 2010.

Naples and environs, 2010