The playground is on fire

Today was John’s birthday so we did all the things that he loves doing. Top of the list was making sure that the rest of the Weasels had a great time.

There was an unexpected Caravaggio, a couple of trips underground, his favourite chapel and some unforeseen fireworks to finish these day with a bang.

Of course, our first job of the morning was to find coffee so Anthea and I set off on an early morning recce where we discovered that it’s not at all difficult to find coffee in Naples. We also had a bit of a wander, to get our bearings. Obviously I would normally be doing the first thing in the morning wander with John but, seeing as it was his birthday, he decided to sleep in. And who can blame him.

Anyway, back at base camp, we collected the rest of the Weasel company and set off for more coffee and, for some, breaky buns. While we sat on the side of the Via Carbonara, we were religiously assaulted by a bunch of, what I thought were Freemasons but who turned out to be church wardens with bottomless pouches. They blessed us for our generosity with particularly scary images of the virgin and her sprog.

Sanctus Spacemen

The unexpected Caravaggio was an altarpiece at the Pio Monte della Misericordia and is magnificent. It’s one of those masterpieces, too big to move somewhere else, that one can only see in place. I’d have been happy with this beautiful and haunting painting.

Anthea and Sarah and the Caravaggio

This is in direct contrast to the collection of other paintings on the top floor of the building. I did notice a number of paintings from artists of the Caravaggio and friends exhibition I went to at the National. I realised that the exhibition included the really good works by them…as opposed to the ones in this exhibition.

We then headed underground at San Lorenzo Maggiore where we descended through the various ages of Naples to the Romans and then, finally the Greeks who had a place here first. Well, when I say ‘first’ they are the first ones to leave a trace. There was probably a bunch of nomadic tents there first but even Gortex rots away eventually.

The visitor goes down, down, down then along a bit then down a bit more then…well, you get the picture. The Greek and Roman street levels were a lot lower than today and subsequent buildings have been added on top of the old ones.

Roman street of cafes

It was an amazing place. Having the freedom to just roam around and touch the walls…an excellent site. Not that that was the end of our Adventures Underground today. We also went to Subterranean Naples.

This was once a quarry where the Greeks cut out huge blocks of tuffa in order to take it to the surface and build buildings on the surface. I know it sounds absolutely insane but it worked because tuffa is a pretty tough, load bearing rock. When the Romans arrived they realised that they had a ridiculous amount of tunnels under the city (about 400 kilometres) so they turned them into an aquaduct to bring water to the city. As you do.

They were very effective as a massive water system. So much so that they lasted right up until 1884 when a cholera epidemic caused them to be closed off.

Then, in WWII they were used as bomb shelters (sort of like the Tube was used in London). The problem though was that the many wells on the surface were too easy to spot. The Neopolitan authorities thought it would be too easy for the Allies, using the Force to drop bombs down them so they concreted them all up…solid.

At the end of the tour the guide took us through the smallest of tunnels (500mm wide) with candles to huge cisterns full of water. These have been recreated to show what it would have looked like during the Roman period. The cisterns themselves aren’t recreated…just the flowing water. It is an incredible place and well worth the squeezing to get in there.


Before going into the water courses, we had beers at a small cafe/beer place. As we sat and watched the world go by (and there was quite a lot of world to watch) a dreadful wind blew up. It was of hurricane proportions and I thought we were headed for Oz. I looked around for a small black dog but was unsuccessful. Then the umbrella started to try and lift out of it’s concrete stand.

While distracted by the mad contortions of the umbrella, we were simultaneously attacked by one of those patio heaters. It was aiming for Jon’s head but, fortunately, struck the cobbles instead, severely denting the cover at the top.

Eventually the umbrella was brought under control and a relative peace returned. It was one of the wilder beers of which we’ve ever partaken.

There was another church and chapel and then we returned to the rooms to dress for dinner. Tonight we were going to Manfredo’s, a place of pilgrimage for some Weasels who came here previously and a new source of delight for others…me included.

The food was mostly fish and very nice it was too. The wine was freshly brewed (there was still grape skin in some of it) and the pizza lovely.

We were a bit loud and Jon managed to get quite tipsy, which annoyed another table behind us but generally we had a jolly good celebration of John’s special day.

Mmmm fish

On the way home we almost came a-cropper when the last train tried to leave the station before we could get there. I’ll rephrase that…it wasn’t going to wait for me to get there. Actually poor Bex fell over in the general rush though as I explained to her, she only had to go slightly faster than the slowest buffalo (me) and she’d have been fine.

As we entered the platform, brave, generous and selfless Sarah was bravely holding the door open, one leg firmly on the ground the other as stubborn, in the carriage. She kept yelling something reasonable at the driver. (Throughout it all the other passengers just sat and waited in a perfectly Italian way.) For her valiant action in the face of great adversity she was awarded The Order of the Weasel First Class, the first and probably last Weasel to ever receive such an award.

We clambered aboard and headed back to the apartment(s) via a late night cafe for the very important post-dinner espresso and liquor. Unfortunately, Bex fell down a hole and hurt herself yet again. When asked why she replied “Because it was there; when I see an empty hole, I can’t help but fill it.”

I should explain the title. On the way back from the Metro station, we were surprised at the sight (and smell) of a playground burning just out side the station. The smell of plastic was awful. The authorities seemed to have it under control but it amazed us all. I mean why burn a playground? What sort of political message does that send out? The slide is too steep? The see saw too high at one end? Seemed a bit weird…but it made a brilliant title.

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One Response to The playground is on fire

  1. Mum Cook says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOHN I wondered about that glad you told us. The idiots in the world to day will set light to anything don’t need a reason. I loved the caves very interesting . love mum xxxxxx

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