Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Don’t look down!

Our life in Naples, Italy

                When Italian friends heard we were going to Naples to live, they’d say, “Oh, Naples in beautiful (Napoli è bella!) … but don’t look down!!”

I had just graduated from the Naval War College in Newport, RI and my next assignment was to serve on a navy staff ensconced near a race track in Naples, Italy.
            I had served on a ballistic missile submarine operating in the Mediterranean, and on a destroyer, from the Black Sea to Gibraltar, but now I was going to be stationed in Naples, looking after Navy patrol aircraft flying all over this part of the world, keeping an eye on the Soviet Navy, and especially Soviet submarines. It was 1975.
            We had been living in Virginia Beach, VA, and now the kids were uprooted, as we had been three years before in Iran, to live overseas.  John was now 17, Mark 14, and Susan 11.
            Most Americans in the service overseas want to cluster together with their own kind, and as near as possible to an American commissary, where they can buy Wonder Bread and real American lettuce. 
            We had enjoyed living surrounded by Iranians in Tehran, and we looked forward to experiencing the real Italy now in Naples.  We arrived in the summer, and found ourselves in the San Germano Hotel, in a nice part of northwestern Naples, with Roman ruins and sulfur baths all around, on the road to Pozzuoli
            And as for Wonder Bread, who would choose that over wonderful, fresh-baked Italian pane?
            Right across the road from our hotel was a permanent station for Neapolitan prostitutes.  They usually sat on a stone wall, and so the most notable of these ladies was one named “Humpty Dumpty”.  Humpty was a generously proportioned lady of about 60. 
Neapolitan prostitutes were famous all over Italy. At night, Humpty and her associates illuminated their presence, and kept warm, by a burning truck tire.  They might also use the fire to cook pots of pasta and sauce. A spaghetti dish, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, was named after them. 

Neapolitan business transaction
            We began our search for a place to live just before the month of August.  We soon found out that nothing—absolutely nothing—happens in August, except every Italian goes on vacation, and those who own a car pile their family and all the food they will eat for two weeks in and go somewhere else, usually the seashore. 
            Half of Italy starts on vacation on the first of August, and the autostradas are clogged with long streams of Cinquecentos, as they all start at the same time.  Then, on the 15th of August, these all return home, and the other half start on their Ferroagosto vacanze. 

Ferragosto—no one gets there fast

            For Americans looking for a place to live, apartment hunting in August is impossible, because Neapolitans are either on vacation or thinking about vacation.
So, for a whole month we lived in Camping Averno, a resort place with little cabins.  We stacked our 14 suitcases and three kids in this little hut, and I went off to work, and Marty, against all odds, went looking for a place for us to live.
            There was a nice swimming pool at the Camping, so our kids enjoyed a whole month of hanging around the pool with vacationing Italian kids.  They all learned a lot of Italian, and the Italian kids learned some English.
            In the meantime, I was learning about my job, which was running an operations control center, sending maritime patrol aircraft (P3Vs) and electronic surveillance aircraft on daily patrols all over the Mediterranean.  We also interacted with staffs aboard the two aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, as they flew their missions, and I often flew on missions to track Soviet submarines or visit aboard a carrier for a few days during antisubmarine operations.

Our son John on our balcony, with Vesuvius and Bay of Naples in background
We finally found a nice, modest apartment on the top of a five-story palazzo, or apartment building, on Via Manzoni in Posillippo, which is an old, elegant part of Naples, with many fine old homes over 200 years old.  Our apartment had balconies on three sides, and a large roof garden behind.  From our various balconies and garden we could look out over all Naples, including the huge soccer stadium at Fuorigrotta, at Mt. Vesuvius, the whole Bay of Naples, on around to Pompeii, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia, Procida and the Gulf of Pozzuoli.
Our neighbors were all 100% Italian, and most spoke little English. Across the street was a building that had once been the home of Enrico Caruso, and there were good stores for bread, sausages and vegetables nearby.  

Daughter Susan with Caruso’s Castle in background
Beyond that is Fuorigrotta, and in distance, Gulf of Pozzuoli

            When you move into an apartment in Naples, there is no kitchen sink, stove or refrigerator, and in the bathroom you step back in time, with a tiny water heater, and a small bathtub and lavatory. We also found that, upon moving in, we inherited Vincenzo, a master carpenter, or so he said.  We thought we were hiring him to install a large set of shelves in our kitchen, because there were no closets or other places to store dishes or food, or anything else.  However, Vincenzo felt that he had joined our family for full employment, so he kept thinking up things we needed to have built.  Vincenzo was very nice, he could tell stories all day long in fairly good English, he knew everything about Naples, but after a while he got to be awfully expensive.
We experienced a leak in our bathroom, so we called the local Idraulico, or plumber. He arrived in a nice suit with no tools, and asked if we had a wrench, and then a hammer, and so forth, until he had assembled enough tools to work with.  Before we knew it, he had cut a foot wide hole in the bathroom floor, and we found ourselves looking down at our landlady, Signora Guarino, sitting on her toilet.
It was Christmastime, we had planned a family trip to Florence, so we left our ventilated bathroom for a few days to take the train north for three days of viewing one church or museum after another, with wonderful Florentine food in between.  When we returned, our bathroom was fixed.

Son Mark from our roof terrace with Island of Nisida in distance.

Naples was – and is – bella, or beautiful, but when we lived there, street cleaning was a bit casual, or a strike was underway, and Neapolitans didn’t seem to mind trash all over the streets, because the 360 degree view was so spectacular.  That was why everyone warned us, “Don’t look down!”

Here are some books and papers that The Personal Navigator would like to offer you:

Napoli --Forty Views of Naples, Italy [Photo album] [Captions in Italian] ca. 1890 Naples, Italy: Casa Editrice Libraria Napoli, Dottor Gennaro Giannini, Pza. Dante 62-64 Excellent, delightful collection of photos of Naples, Italy includes panoramas from Villa Patrizi, Tomba di Virgilio, San Martino, Views of the Port, Mergellina, Posillipo, Corso Umberto I, Piazza della Borso, Piazza Municipio, Palazzo Reale, Via Caracciolo, Piazza Plebiscito, photos of fishermen at work, men making maccheroni. people in Galleria Umberto I, man delivering milk with the cow, man selling vegetables from his donkey, scugnizzi eating maccheroni, more. 40 pp. 18 x 13.3 cm. Paper booklet bound with cord, very good. (8029) $60.00. Travel

Care and Feeding of Children, The; A Catechism for the Use of Mothers and Children's Nurses by L. Emmett Holt, M.D., LL.D., Professor of Diseases of Children at Columbia University, Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged. 1905 New York, NY: D. Appleton & Co. After eight years of constant use, Author's aim is to give much fuller treatment to infant feeding. Section on infant feeding has been entirely rewritten for the Third Edition (1903).  Care of children: bathing, eyes, mouth; skin, clothing, napkins, nursery, airing, weight and growth development, dentition. Feeding, including nursing, weaning, artificial feeding, selection and care of milk used, refrigerators, modification of cow's milk, food for early, middle, later months.  Preparation of cow's milk at home, sterilized milk, pasteurized milk, food formulas. When to take a baby out for an airing.  Infant feeding. Mothers who have had tuberculosis should not nurse their babies. Weaning children from the breast; from the bottle. Modification of cow's milk.  Common mistakes in milk modification. Kissing infants  -- tuberculosis, diphtheria,  and many other grave diseases may be communicated in this way.  Colic, Earache. Croup. Convulsions. Rubella. Scarlet fever. Chicken-pox. Scurvy. Constipation. Diarrhœa. Bad habits include sucking, nail-biting, dirt-eating, bed-wetting and masturbation. 149 pp. + adv. 12 x 17 cm. Olive green cloth on board with gilt lettering, minor rubbing, edge wear, good. (5248) $18.00. Women's/Child care     

Zeppelin-Weltfahrten Vom ersten Luftschiff 1899 bis zu den Fahrten des L Z 127 "Graf Zeppelin" 1932. Cigarette-picture album with 264 silver-bromide photos and one metallic Weltflug-Gedenkmünze seal. [In German]  1933 Dresden, Germany: Bilderstelle-Lohse. Marvelous book tells the story of German Zeppelins, including their history, construction and operation. Small (6 x 4 cm.) photos from cigarette packages are pasted on heavy album-style pages toe help tell the story.  Includes maps of Zeppelin trips all over the world.  Some photos show happy passengers using restaurant, wash room and staterooms aboard  zeppelin, also aerial photos of cities and locations around the world, including U.S. Capitol, London Bridge, Kremlin.  [Interesting that only seven years later, German bombers were dropping bombs on some of these sites!]  Frontispiece photo of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin with tissue guard. Vorwort: Zeppelin-Weltfahrten-Bilder  liegen  nur den Packungen der Zigaretten-Marken: Club und Liga.  Photos and information on 25 Luftschiffen. . 54 sheets          34 x 24 cm. Paperback book with photo of Graf Zeppelin airship on cover, minor edgewear to cover, text and photos clean and complete. Album pages printed on heavy card stock. Very good.  (7971) $224.00. Travel/History

 Rome, Italy: Ricordo di Roma, 30 Vedute (in Italian, English, German and French) ca. 1900 Rome, Italy: Edf. Ris. A, Scrocchi. Photos mounted accordion style, include Colloseo Restaurato; Circo Massimo, Ultima Preghiera; Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II; Piazza Esedra o Termini; Piazza e Basilica di S. Pietro; Ingresso del Palazzo Vaticano; La Pieta; Museo Vaticano; Biblioteca Vaticano; Colosseo con L'Arco di Tito; Panorama del Foro Romano; Foro Traiano; Tomba di Cecilia Metella in Via Appia; Ponte e Castel S. Angelo; Tempio di Vesta; Monumento a Giuseppe Garibaldi; ecc. Cover shows color image of Ponte e Castel S. Angelo.  On back cover is map showing Palazzi Principali. 30 views. 16 x 21 cm. Decorated cloth on board, edges worn, very good. (7320) $30.00. Travel/Italy

Prague, Czechoslovakia: Circular Tours around Prague by Cedok Motor Car ca. 1925 Prague, Cz.: The Czechoslovak Tourist and Transport Office Ltd. Leaflet advertises sightseeing tours by Cedok Motor Car of Prague. Daily twice circular tours (Sunday excepted). Starts from main entrance of the Obecni Dum Na Prikopech. Sightseeing lasting three hours. Authentic and complete explanations in all world-languages given to sightseers by expert local guides. Price Kc 35.00. Tour includes Vaclavske namesti, Rytirska ulice, Uhelny trh, Havelska ulice, Krizovnicke namesti, Hradcanske namesti, Karlovo namesti, Kralovske Vinohrady, Prasna brana, more. 2 pp. 16 x 30 cm. Paper leaflet, printed on both sides, good. (6859) $17.00. Travel


  1. That beautiful island behind Mark is where I worked 1980-1984 Nisida. HQ COMNAVSOUTH. Everything has moved today and is all so sad. We also had a gorgeous apartment in a 3 story building up in Posillipo looking out at Pompeii. Wonderful days!I am going back later this year for the FIRST time. I am soooo excited. Thanks for the article.

  2. Nice blog, I too arrived in Naples at the age of 14 and graduated from Forrest Sherman in 1978. It was magical.