Recently, Memorial Day caused me to reflect on my father’s service in the Army in WWII. He was a captain in the Signal Corps, went to North Africa, where he met my future mother (who was 9!), crossed over to Sicily, then the Italian peninsula. He was injured by a sniper. In junior high, as a project, I obtained his Purple Heart and Distinguished Service Cross for him, which he had never received.
He apparently developed an extreme prejudice against all things Italian during his service. When I was little, pizza was absolutely forbidden in our house, not that you could even get decent pizza in northeastern Ohio then.
He slept on the freezing marble floors of the Capodimonte, high on a hill overlooking Naples, and had little patience with the turncoat Italians, who suddenly appeared so cooperative once Mussolini was out of the way. He could never hear “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls” again the same way.
Which led me to think of American composer Douglas Allanbrook’s (1921-2003) memoir “See Naples.” It is a charming account of his time as an infantryman at the same period as my father. He studied composition with Nadia Boulanger in Boston. Later, he returned to Naples often, to study harpsichord, and also to marry his first wife, an Italian actress.
I went to Naples in 2005. On the train from Rome, one immediately saw, as if painted on the ground, the “line” between the south of Italy and the rest of it. Not that Naples is even that shabby, compared to the “heel” of the “boot.” Clothes hung on lines out every window of the relentless prefabricated apartment blocks, perhaps an unintentionally improvised window shade. Naples itself, the “birthplace” of pizza, was chaotic with traffic and crowds that seemed to gather at a moment’s notice for no clear purpose.
I had a slice where Bill Clinton did, supposedly, and visited the conservatory and the opera house. I even saw the Capodimonte, (formerly a royal palace, now a museum) but wasn’t allowed to lie down on its floor. Herculaneum was interesting, though no clear sense of antiquity jumped out under the shadow of Vesuvius. Sophia Loren’s birthplace, Pozzuoli, is a rebuilt suburb, who knows over what . . .In the 80s, there was a series of earthquakes that also devastated the town.
We’re all dancing on the edge!
© 2013 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs