Lets see… I last wrote to you in Florence…this is going to be a long letter.
After Florence we went to Orvieto, a tiny town perched on a mesa accessible only by the Funiculare, a combination trolley/ski lift (use your imagination). We settled into a hotel for 300K Lira for two nights, and later found a convent (nunnery) that was willing to take guests for two nights. Later on, when we got the bill, we realized that this place was a little bit more expensive, 350K. I thought it was pretty cool to find on their movie shelf “Sister Act” along with the assortment of religious films. In the market we found a woman selling pomegranates for 5000 Lira, but I was able to talk her down to 1000.
After Orvieto we slowly made our way south towards Portici. We never had the need to jump onto any moving trains, but we did get to jump off of one!
Oct. 30. A couple trains and cab and here we are in the Casa Materna Orphanage. Founded in 1905 by Ricardo Santi when he brought two children home who were selling matches and living on the street. It was a spur of the moment thing for him, little did he know what Casa Materna would eventually grow to become. At it’s height there were one-hundred children living here and around three-hundred bussed in for schooling. There are now around twenty living here, none of them official orphans, and 240 students are bussed in to school here. Most residents are placed here by the state from what we would call broken homes, but some are just from poor families. Most of the children that come to school here come from the poorest parts of Naples and Portici, and do not have to pay. However, the children’s parents that can pay gladly do because it is one of the best schools in the area. There is also a public language high school on campus, whose students have fun trying to communicate with me. I’ve already been invited to a party, and have no idea what to expect…
The resident children all have astonishing stories, I am sure that a book could be written on each one, but I have only scratched the surface of a few of the stories.
Breakfast, at 0800, consists of bread and orso or hot tea. Lunch, at 1400, has a first course of pasta or rice and a varied second. Supper, at 1900 is about the same as lunch. Lunch and supper are both always followed by an apple or pear. Every mid-day meal is an adventure. They file hundreds of children into the lunchroom, then silence is called for. Three or four minutes later, when it is finally quiet one selected child pipes out:
Padre Santo, Padre Buono
(PAH-dre SAHN-toh, PAH-dre BWOH-noh)
È il tuo dono
(EH eel TU-oh DOH-noh)
Danne andre ai poverelli
(DAH-nay AHN-dre eye PO-ver-EL-ee)
Perche siamo tutti fratelli
(PER-kay SEE-ah-mo TU-tee FRA-tel-ee)
Followed everyone saying AMEN, and then the chaos resumes. The prayer is the same one that has been said at the midday meal for the ninety-two years of Casa Materna’s existence. In Italian it rhymes, but here is the English translation:
Holy Father, Good Father
Is Your gift
Give it also to the poor ones
Because we are all brothers
The other night I went with a group of Casa Materna residents my age to the movies and saw “Secrets and Lies” dubbed in Italian. Every single second here is an Italian lesson, una lezione d’Italiano, and by now I figured out that Spanish with an Italian accent just wont do. I wonder if I’ll still be able to speak Spanish after all this is over, or if my brain can only hold two languages, if any unused ones will be pushed out. Throughout this trip I have seriously considered becoming a linguist as my life work, leaning all languages possible. I already know how to count to ten and say yes and no in five languages, and I will probably know more by the end of this trip.
Naples, along with most of southern Italy, is a sad situation. ‘Official’ estimates guess 27% unemployment, but local people say 40%. This, along with a measly 60% attendance rate of school aged children, does not point in the direction of a brighter future. Crime, petty and organized, does not exactly help things. I have heard plenty of stories of specific crimes, but I want to have something to talk about when I get back.
I was amazed to find that everybody in Naples speaks Neapolitan, while only the educated older people and most of the younger people know Italian. The difference is not like two dialects of the same language, they are almost two entirely different languages. Non parli napolitano per favore… Italiano!!!
PS Thanks for the personal E-mails… some day I’ll be able to reply… If I ever find some time…
PPS Snail mail takes minimum four days, maximum three weeks to get here, if it does at all.