Sunday, March 20, 2011

Back from Naples

I am back from a restful weekend in Naples. I have lots to share with you, but since I have not blogged in a couple of days, I am putting this up for now to let you know that after I get back from dinner, I will post a more substantial blog. There a great pictures. So stay tuned.

I hade every intention of doing this before dinner. I had planned to arrive at the Casa O'Toole by 3:30pm. But the thousands of marathoners in Rome had other plans. After only two stops from the main train station in Rome, the driver just stopped the bus and ordered everyone off. "E Chuiso!" he screamed. It's closed. So everyone had to get off the bus and walk the next 4 stops to take the same bus again. I'm understanding Italians less every day.

Anyway, it was somewhat serendipitious. I got to visit two church along the way that I have not been able to see. And they are on the end of the blog later.

So for now, se buon mangiare.

I am back from dinner with Fr. Eric Pannike of the Diocese of Sault St. Marie, Toronto Canada. We went to a very popular place called "Anticha Taverna" or "The Old Tavern". One of the few places where you can get a €5.00 plate of pasta. Father Eric arrived in Rome with a knee that had recently been operated on. He has been going through some therapy here, but its been tough on him. My knee has been screaming at me a bit too. So as we were watching President Obama's speech to the Brazilians, we decided to both limp to dinner. It was a slow walk and an even slower dinner which is par for the course in Italy.

So let me tell you about Naples. I arrived mid afternoon on Friday and went exploring. A small piazza called Piazza Bellini caught my attention because of ancient Greek excavations going on in the center of it. But it is full of trees and has small restaurants and osteria all around the edge of it. I managed to get there after a long walk and experimenting with the subway. That is always a challenge when visiting a city for the first time. But I got the hang of it. I found my way to Piazza Bellini and sat in the open air and enjoyed a pint of beer and snacks and read my Naples travel guide. Sitting beside me were a couple from England. So we chatted for  while. That meant another round. After a couple of hours, they were off to meet friends at a restaraunt on the waterfront. I took myself to the Cafe Bellini for a nice dinner. By the time dinner was through it was nearly 11pm. I decided to walk back to the hotel at the Piazza Garibaldi.

The walk took me down the Via di Tribunali. I chose it because it was a straight shot through the streets. What I did not know and the map did not show was that this street is a main hangout on Friday night. It is one pizzeria and night spot after another. The streets (we would call it an alley in the USA)were full of young people enjoying what was the first reasonably warm night of the season. What should have taken me 30 minutes took an hour and a half. Just working through the crowds made it slow walking. But I love people watching and I was in "people-watching" heaven.

Saturday morning was a fairly early start. I headed back in the direction I walked the night before. I had walked past a number of old churches (which were locked up of course). It is difficult to know what is on any street after the shops have closed because they all have these heavy metal roll doors covering the entrance. There are usually not any signs either. Those are covered up by the security door as well.

The first church I visited was Santa Annuziata.

Santa Annunziata, or the Holy Annuciation. It was a bright airy church with the baroque style which characterizes many of the churches, although this one is very understated with its off whites and greys. The original church was built in the 14th century. But after a fire in 1757, this church was built to replace the early gothic style church that once stood here. This church was built by a wealthy Neapolitam family along with a hospital for orphan children which still operates today.  
A few blocks away is the "duomo" or the cathedral. This mother church of the archdiocese of Naples is dedicated to St. Januarius and named as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. The church was enlarged and richly decorated after the earthquake of 1349 weakened the walls and caused the collapse of the entire facade.

The various architectural styles are seen from the different periods of construction and renovation. The pointed arches of the sides of the nave are gothic from the 14th century. The rounded arches at the altar are a baroque influence of the 17th century. This was not the first cathedral at this site. The next picture show the original basilica of San Gennario, or St. Januarius.
This is the original basilica, built in the 4th century and renovated many times. The original paleochristian building is mostly covered up by 17th century baroque decorations. This chapel now exists as a "side chapel" to the main cathedral. Most important though is the next photo of the St. John chapel, used as a baptistry.
This is believed to be the oldest remaining baptistry in all of christian churches anywhere in the world. The catechumens would step into the pool which was about 3 feet deep. They would be immersed in the water and when they came up out of the water, they would look up to the domed ceiling and see the mosaic with the cross, and the Greek letters, alpha and omega, and the corner mosaics depicting the 4 evangelists. Thus would they begin the life as baptised disciples of Christ.
The domed ceiling would be the first thing the new neophytes of the faith would see upon coming up out of the water. The other scenes that are partly destroyed include other stories in the gospel which feature water; Jesus' baptism, The wedding at Cana, the woman at the well, and the washing of the disciples' feet at the last supper. Although badly damaged, what remains is considered some of the finest mosaic work of the first decades of a decriminalized christianity.  
A short distance from the cathdral is the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. This is an interesting picture because it shows an example of how many of the churches have buildings that were later built up against them. The yellow stone facade is the entrance to a beautiful gothic structure. The gothic style doorway is the onoy remant of the 13th century front. Construction began in 1266 and completed in 1354.
The interior of San Lorenzo Maggiore. All the 17th century baroque decoration have been removed with the exception of the round arch in the nave. This was a later addition to stabilize the building after the earthquake of 1651. What remains is the clean line of the gothic style. Part of the floor in the sanctuary is modern plate glass which reveals the original mosaic floor of the 13th century. You'll notice that this picture is not centered in the church. That is because I had to sneak this picture when the docents weren't looking. The churches run by the Franciscans tend to be more stringent with their rules concerning photography and the maintenance of a holy respect for the place.
Diagonally across the street from the little piazza in front of San Lorenzo Maggiore is the baroque style church of San Paulo Maggiore. The picture of San Lorenzo was taken from the high front terrace of San Paulo.

San Paulo Maggiore. The graceful design of the facade is classic baroque.
But this is not the original facade. The main church was built in the 9th century on the ruins of a 1st century BC Roman temple. The excavations of the temple's remains can be seen only by appointment and for academic interest. They are not open to the public.
The interior of St. Paulo Maggiore. The original columns have been covered over with the sqaure pillars. The baroque decorations have a Spanish style because much of the resotration was done at a time when the Spaniards occupied the Neapolitan territory. The church originally had paintings by El Greco and Luis de Morales. These paintings have been moved to museums for their safety and preservation. They have been replaced in the church by copies.
In the picture of the facade of San Lorenzo, there is a small street that runs down the hill. It is the most colorful street in the area. The entire street is small shops of makers of "presepio" The famous Neapolitan style Christmas Creches. Take a look.

Via San Gregorio Armeno. Location of dozens of shops with handmade figures for the Christmas manger, including workman, tradesmen. Look back at the picture of the presepio in the lobby of the retreat center at La Sainte-Baume.
One of the many presepio shops. I was so tempted to buy some. But I will be returning to Naples before going to Ischia for the Music Festival. I think I will shop to purchase some then.
Each of these small baskets of fruit, vegetables and fish are only about 1 1/2 inches across. They are to be included in the setting of the presepio with the villagers surrounding the crech. They are all handmade of terrecotta. Most of the human figures are painted clay, but some are dressed in handmade faric clothes. I think this may be the one "pricey" item as a souvenir of the sabbatical.
Just down the street past the presepio shops is the Church of San Patrizia. The curch is also known as San Gregorio Armeno. This 14th century church ws completly rebuilt in the 17th century with its current baroque interior. It is the convent chapel of the Sister of Saint Basil who came here to flee the persecution of the Catholic Church in Armenia. They brought with them the relics of San Gregorio of Armenia. San Patrizia is the grandaughter of the Emperor Constantine.
By early afternoon it was time for a break. I stopped for some of the famous neapolitan pizza - delicious. Then I headed towards the waterfront to see the sights.

The Galleria Umberto I gives new definition to the idea of the mall. The intersection of two city streets where the 18th century buildings were built identically in every direction was covered over with a barrel vault of glass. The ground floor is all very high end shops, Gucci, Ferragamo, Versace, Spada and very fine restaurants. Upper floors are offices.
The Castel Nuovo, or The New Castle. Construction began in 1250. Its been called the new castle because there are older catles which are high up on the ridge over the city. (not enough time to get up there). This castle houses the City Museum, and large public meting hall in the original great hall of the castle. There are also concerts, exhbitions, and theater held in the great central courtyard.
View from the high walls of the Castel Nuovo. The mountain is the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, which destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum on the 24th of August, 79AD.
Another view from the castle ramparts looking due south to the north side o the Amalfi peninsula with the Island of Capri visible at the right.
The Basilica of San Francesco di Paulo. The semicircular arcade encloses one side of the Piazza di Plebiscito. The other sides are bounded by the Palazzo Reale, home of the kings that ruled the Neapolitan territories, Palazzo Salerno which houses government offices and the Teatro San Carlo, one of the most famous opera houses in the world. Luciano Pavarotti got his start here.
It was back to the hotel that night. But before, I attended Mass at San Teresa de Chiaia. Mass was about to begin and I was standing in front of it. After Mass, went back to the Piazza Bellini for a bit of pre-dinner aperitivi. Again met some interesting people, this time from France. Finally someone who had heard of La Sainte-Baume. They were visiting from Marseille. I had no planns for dinner, so I started to walk back toward the hotel. I figured that I would come across some little trattoria or osteria. I walked down the very narrow Via San Biagio Di Librai. Every time I came to an intersection, (Most of us would call the cross streets alleys) I stopped to look down to see if there was anything interesting. When I came to Via Paladino. There was a little awning and a bright light coming from a doorway onto an otherwise very dark street. I went to check it out. In the window next to the door was a small display case with all kinds of seafood piled up on a bed of ice. Menu looked good. In I went.

Apetizer - Marinated Anchovies.
(Not the preserved in a can full of oil with gritty salt. Anchovies are real fish and look like real fish when they come out of the ocean. These are lightly sauted, then marinated in oil and vinegar and spices. They are a skinny version of the smelts my grandmother used to make.)

Primi piatto - Linguine and shell-fish.
(Fresh home-made pasta - I can tell because its much more yellow than the packaged stuff - covered with a dozen different kinds of clams and shellfish which had been sauted in butter and olive oil and fresh parsley. Amazingly simple preparation but as good as it gets. This recipe is a keeper.)

Secundo Piatto - Whole sea bass sauteed in butter and oil with capers and green olives. (The waiter brought the whole fish to filet it table-side.)

This was accompanied by the half-bottle of Falanghina dei Feudi di San Gregorio. Amazing wine. I was introduced to it by Jonathan Farley, waiter at the former ROCCA Restaurant in Boston. Here it was in its original setting.

A bit of limoncello on the house completed an incredible meal at this restaurant that has a total of 30 place settings. (not tables; place settings).

I was on a 1:30pm train back to Rome this afternoon after a nice late sleep this morning.

I arrived in Rome on time at 3:13pm. I hopped on to the now famous bus # 64. This brings us back to the episode of the short ride and the bus that became "e chuiso!"

The serendipitous part came when I had to walk about half a mile around the marathon festivities at the Piazza Venezia. Here are a few more pictures.

The Monument to Victor Emmanuel, the man who unified all of Italy 150 years ago. This monument is jokingly called "the wedding cake" by the Italians who find it somewhat over the top and overly grandiose. It is in the center of the city and the Piazza Venezia is the large open space in front of it. This monument also houses the tomb of the Italy's Unknown Soldier. 
Church of St. Mary of Loretto Near the Piazza Venezia
The Church of the Gesu. This is the Jesuit Church in Rome and the burial place of St Ignatius of Loyola.
Well it's another week ahead of morning classes. Next Thursday is departure for the Holy Land.

Good night