Friday, August 7, 2015

We See Dead People!

So you've been warned.

Amanda saved me from an attack of senility.  I *knew* I had gotten a picture of the first bonding moment of Bob and Zeke.  Zeke, at two years old, is not one of those toddlers who wants to be hugged by everybody.  You approach him, he backs off.  You push it, he cries.  But at Pompeii, Bob wanted to take a break, sit, and sketch for a bit.  Zeke thought that looked pretty cool, so Bob gave him a piece of paper and a pencil and they both sketched together.

But I couldn't find this picture anywhere.  Turns out that Amanda had taken it with her phone, and she sent it to me, and I feel I'm in possession of my brain cells for a little while longer.

Wednesday we went in search of the dead.  Amanda knew there was an Underground Naples she hadn't seen (assumed to be catacombs) and there was a cemetery in town that she had heard was interesting but hadn't seen yet.  So off we went, Amanda and Bob and myself.  Dane was off scuba diving, and Robert isn't into dead things and opted to stay home in the air conditioning with Zeke.

It's amazing how much Naples resembles Oaxaca, Mexico.  Pale stucco buildings, iron balconies, laundry hanging out,  small altars set into niches in the walls. very narrow roads, crazy traffic.

Very. Narrow. Roads.   And the traffic rules in Naples are really just sort of suggestions, mostly ignored.  Amanda would just head down narrow roads that wouldn't fit a donkey cart, steering wheel in one hand, GPS in the other.  You don't wait for a gap in traffic--you just nose into it, and if you cut off the other lane while you're doing it, well, that's just what happens.  She said there is no road rage there, no sense of "wait your turn" or "get out of my way."  Bob found it very interesting.  I just sat in the back seat and tried not to whimper too loudly.  Especially when two cars were going past each other in a street not quite wide enough for one.  Both drivers pop down their side-view mirrors.  Amanda asks Bob how much clearance she has on his side.  "Uh--about two inches."  Great!  She narrows that down to one inch, and the two cars jiggle past each other.  We did not experience the "Naples kiss" where the two cars gently scrape each other--my whimpering may have gotten a little louder.

(This street is actually wider, less busy, and much straighter than most, but I was too busy burrowing under the seat cushions to take more pictures.)

It turns out that addresses in Italy are mostly useless--you try to get GPS coordinates.  Even then the GPS often says "you have arrived at your destination" and it's nothing like you were searching for.  And there are rarely signs for anything.  So we went up narrower and more winding streets until we came to a quartz quarry.  Hmm.  A couple of blocks earlier I had briefly opened my eyes and had seen a small sign that read "Cimetiro della Fontanella" so we went back to see if it had any directions.  No directions--this was it.  Though it didn't really look like the entrance to a cemetery, we went in anyway.  Here's where we parked, with cars going both ways.  You can see it doesn't look much like a cemetery would be there.

We walked in, and there were a couple of men who said we could come in, and at first all we saw was a large cave cut into the hillside (remember, we were next to a quartz quarry--and thought we were in another one.)  It looked rather empty, until we looked down and behind the low white fences that ran along the walls.

We had found an ossuary.  When you think of ossuaries, you imagine going to a church or at least a museum, and going down below the buildings.  You don't expect to step off a busy street, and there they are, in the sunlight.

We think the wimple and the rosary on the second skull shows that she was a nun.

We walked deeper into the cave.  The walls were lined with reliquaries holding skulls, with thousands of other skulls and bones piled behind them.

It was eerie walking deeper into the cave, with the sound of dripping water and the incongruous singing of birds outside.

The rather rough looking blocks on the side of this arch are actually the ends of thousands of leg bones laid crosswise.

Many of them had altars and offerings.  And this is where we got confused.  You think of ossuaries being old, old, old.  And yet on the altars were color photographs, tickets, plastic dolls.

Later, we looked up the history.  Back in the 1500's when cemeteries were getting full, older bones were removed and dumped in the cave.  It later became a dumping ground for plague victims, and those too poor to afford burial space.  It was used like this up to 1836.  In 1876 a priest began the undertaking of cleaning up and cataloging the remains.  Around this time the remains were also "adopted" by the cult of abandoned souls, who gave them the respect they did not have in their lives.  Apparently this adoption also included making up lives for them, hence the modern offerings.

I am not certain of the significance of this statue of a headless angel.
I did feel a little uncomfortable, trying to decide if I was the sort of person who would go around taking pictures of dead people (after all, just the day before I had realized that I could not take pictures of the plaster body casts).  But obviously I did.  Perhaps it was because of the sense that these remains were long past any bodily cares, and they were arranged and treated with respect.

It was strange, and eerie, and oddly peaceful and very disturbing.  I'll carry this with me for a long time.

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