Postcard from Naples, Italy: A month there. No regrets.

When people asked where we were headed next and we answered Naples, their reactions reflected the city’s reputation. People tend to associate it with crime. Garbage. While there are people who travel there now specifically because of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet of novels, I must confess her descriptions of the gritty, rough neighborhoods of her childhood almost deterred me.

People also asked if we were mainly going to use Naples as a base for exploring the Amalfi coast. For visiting Pompeii. But, no, we were not. We were planning to spend a month primarily exploring the city itself.

I am asking you to stop now. Throw out all your preconceived ideas about the city for the upcoming blog posts.

Yes, there are some gritty, grimy areas, as there are in most big cities. Garbage does accumulate in narrow streets filled with bars where young people party late in an overwhelming volume that would prove challenging for most municipalities. But there are also miles of clean pathways skirting around the bay. There are enormous pedestrian-only pristine plazas. There are layers built upon layers of buildings climbing up its high hills. Some handsome; some not.

The city feels so real. So alive. A place operating not simply to appeal to tourists, but to function as a place where people live. A place with an engaging quirkiness and surprising discoveries around every corner.

And the Bay of Naples is drop-dead gorgeous. Mount Vesuvius and the islands of Capri and Ischia frame the shimmering water. No one told me that in advance, so I was unprepared for the beauty encountered everywhere.

Staying up in the Vomero neighborhood high above the city might seem like cheating in a way. An escape hatch from the hub-bub. How high is it? Not far as the seagull flies, but it amounted to a climb of about 60 stories. We only used the twisting-stairways once. But we descended into the city almost every single day via the inexpensive funiculars to explore her museums and churches. To admire the Baroque architecture. And to experience her restaurants. Pizza, pasta and fresh seafood everywhere.

Below is a random sampling showing some of Naples’ beauty and some of her warts.

 

Maybe Naples will grow on you as it did on us.

 

Postcard from Malaga, Spain: All the saints and those Limbo babies, too

Gothic altar in the Chapel of Santa Barbara in the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de le Encarnacion in Malaga

Layers upon layers of of saints climb the numerous gilded altars found in the Malaga Cathedral. Saints carved in wood by Pedro de Mena (1628-1688) grace the choir stalls. Today is all of their days. November 1. All Saints Day, and, for Catholics, a Holy Day of Obligation.

When I was young, the thrill of a night of trick-or-treating with its late night sugar high always was followed the next day by attendance at Mass. Unlike many holidays, it was particularly hard to comprehend why almost none of my friends had to go to church on November 1.

My godmother, Aunt Gen (Genevieve Louise Brennan Savage, 1907-2004), tried her best to explain things, but the nuns really never talked to us much about saints. Like Santa Barbara, whose own father carried out her martyrdom for her belief in the Holy Trinity. Although he was struck by lightening and consumed by fire on his way home after the act.

But the major impact for me was November 2, All Souls’ Day. You might not know this, but there are all of these bazillions of poor souls stuck in Purgatory – not so evil that they were condemned to hell but instead hanging around in an uncomfortable state trying to slip through the gates to heaven. Our prayers were supposed to free some of them and send them soaring above the clouds.

Even more concerning for me was Limbo. Limbo was where the little babies throughout the world who died unbaptized were supposed to go. Through no fault of their own, they were sentenced to remain suspended, constantly fluttering their wings in some mysterious twilight zone.

Those little poor souls were the ones for whom I would join my hands, palms sweating in those uncomfortable white gloves, squeeze my eyes tightly together and plead. God took a while to process my prayers from almost 60 years ago. In 2007, the Catholic Church finally liberated them all, burying the whole Limbo concept.

Sorry for the detour. Back to Malaga and its Cathedral. After all it’s a Holy Day of Obligation.

The foundation for the Cathedral of Nuestra Senora de le Encarnacion was laid in 1530 atop the Almohad Mosque. Taking more than a century to complete, the church is viewed as a chronicle of the transition of religious Gothic architecture into the Renaissance. The facades reflect extensive Baroque updating.

In addition to photos taken in the Cathedral, this post includes images from the Parroquia de los Santos Martires Ciriaco y Paula. The two were executed, with great difficulty requiring several attempts, for their Christian beliefs at the dawn of the 4th century. While their executioners set their remains ablaze, an unexpected torrential rain quenched the flames and faithful carted them off for more respectful last rites. It is believed the two somehow resurfaced to miraculously help expel the Moors about a millennium later, so they were proclaimed the patron saints of Malaga.

My prayers have lapsed, but I trust there are a multitude of people inclined to remember as many saints as possible today. Tomorrow, please pray doubly hard, just in case any little babies somehow remained stuck in Limbo.

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: A city filled with churches

When Ferdinand III (1199-1252), King of Castile, conquered Cordoba in 1236, he launched a flurry of construction projects to formalize the city’s conversion to Catholicism. The mosques destroyed in the process provided convenient foundations and served as quarries for building numerous of these. Through the centuries, the original medieval structures received Renaissance alterations topped by a Baroque overlay.

Shells left by pilgrims who have traveled the Camino de Santiago dangle from the statue of Santiago, or Saint James the Greater, in the temple built atop a mosque and dedicated to the saint. Following the death of Jesus, James proselytized throughout the Iberian peninsula before returning to preach in Samaria and Judea.

In the year 44, King Herod Agrippa I (11 BC-44 AD) ordered him beheaded, making James the first of the 12 apostles to be martyred. According to Acts 12:20-23, Herod himself perished later that same year because: “he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Legends associated with Santiago as the patron saint of Spain claim he, with neck intact, miraculously appeared armed atop a horse to lead outnumbered Christians to victory in a battle with the Moors – 800 years following his death.

And, continuing on a saintly topic, a large silver vessel enshrined in the Basilica of San Pedro contains a jumbled assortment of skulls and bones purported to belong to the Martyrs of Cordoba. According to accounts recorded by San Eulogio, these 48 Christians were beheaded by their Muslim rulers between 851-859 for their violations of Islamic law, mainly blasphemy and apostasy, or renunciation of the Islamic faith.

Eulogio’s writings, The Memorials of the Saints, ended abruptly upon the priest’s own execution in 859.