Sunday, December 04, 2005

Italian Nativity Scenes

The first recorded mention of the nativity scenes is from the church records of Santa Maria del Presepe and date back to 1025. In the 15th century the first sacred representations are held in some of the local churches in Naples such as San Giovanni a Carbonara, San Domenico Maggiore, Sant’Eligio e Santa Chiara. The 17th century was the period of greatest development of the nativity scene supported by King Carlo III that had a tremendous passion. During his reign the nativity scene had its greatest development in Naples where most families would create their own nativity scene, creating pieces and themes over many years and even generations. Today some of these antique family heirlooms still exist and are guarded jealously.

Naples is considered the primary location for the major concentration of nativity scenes however, every city has a store or an area where local artisans will sell their artistic works. Many artisans have become famous for their creations dedicating their entire lives to the development of these beautiful works of Art.

Raffaella and I are no exception to the passion for nativity scenes and generally for all things Christmas. We love the anticipation, will speak for months about the upcoming holidays. Around Thanksgiving we surf through all of the radio stations looking for one that plays only Christmas music and after 40 or so days of the same songs we are saddened by the end of the season.

We have many friends in Naples and truly Naples is one of my favorite cities. While most people leave the big cities over the weekend and in the vacation period, I go to Naples. Naples is a beautiful city notwithstanding the high unemployment and crime rates. When in town for board meetings I would call about ½ hour before my arrival and ask the members of the board to meet me in the park in front of the civil port. Mild temperatures, a complete view of the sea, a gentile salty breeze flowing inland and the masts of the sailboats in the foreground made the park a great place to discuss business.

We had gone to Naples to check on the stores and meet with our local managers. Raffaella had completed her inspections and I was tied up with the salesmen so she decided it was time to check out one of the most famous streets in Naples, via San Gregorio Armeno, or the via of the nativity scenes. No vehicles are able to pass on this street. The small stores have expanded the exposition of their goods well into the street and what area was left is completed occupied by shoppers. It could be considered an advertisement for the United Nations. There are people from all over the world and all walks of life there, admiring these works of art.

Raffaella had informed Francesco where she was going, called a cab and took off on her own. When Luciano, another one of our associates, heard that she was out and about alone he started moving everyone he knew to find her. His brother in law works in the local police, so a quick call, the name of the cab company and before Raffaella arrived at destination he had the personal cell number of the cab driver.

About this time I walked into the office, he was insisting that the cab driver never allow her out of his site. Imagine this poor cab driver. He receives a call on his personal cell phone from the Naples police, then Luciano stays in constant contact until they arrive at destination, Raffaella finds what she is looking for and is back in the cab returning to the office.

Naples is not that bad. Luciano was probably too concerned. Raffaella never knew about our concern and the phone calls. She would not have been happy as she really does not like attention, except from me, of course. Raffaella returned to the office. The cab driver waits to meet us. To my amazement she is empty handed but has that gleam in her eye.

“I found some really neat things. We need to look at the Internet. This year I want to start our nativity scene. Something that represents us and is beautiful in its simplicity.” She stated very matter-of-factly.

It is wise to travel visit Naples in a group and always be aware of your surroundings but do miss the fantastic things to see in this marvelous city. You may even be able to negotiate with the hotel to find someone local that will take you to the places that are not easily accessible. Naples also has marvelous places to eat, do not be hesitant, allow your new friend to show you why this city is my favorite place for a weekend.


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