Family Genealogy Trip to Italy.
Day 8: Friday, 26 Ottobre 2018, morning.
Napoli, Campania: Il Sindaco al Palazzo Municipio.
I heard the mayor (sindaco) of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, speak in New York in 2015, when he made a round of visits to Italian American institutions to promote tourism to Naples. He was forthcoming, interesting, and charming.
A former prosecutor, he has a very interesting resume (Google him), and he’s a reformer with big plans for improving Naples. Indeed, only three years later, I experienced results of his work: garbage piles in the streets are gone, all of the subway stations are finished and open, and petty/preying street crime is down—thanks to military-style police with assault rifles who patrol in pairs in tourist areas (see blue circle in photo.)
Since I heard de Magistris speak, I’ve had it in mind to bait his office when I visited Naples, because why not?
So I wrote to the man in New York who organized the talk I attended with my pitch: My family is visiting Naples as a result of de Magistris’s visit to New York. (Never mind that I’ve been researching my Neapolitan genealogy for 10 years, I was prepared to give de Magistris full credit for the trip.) After leaving in 1907, we are the first to return, and wouldn’t he like to have a film crew follow us around to make a tourist promotion? We will be very entertaining, and we will only say good things about the city. Plus I have this fascinating project about a family member who was an artist who left in 1892.…
The man wrote me back a very polite note saying not sure about your proposal, but here’s the name of de Magistris’s assistant with whom I made the New York arrangements.
I wrote to the assistant: “My family is visiting Naples, and….”
She wrote back “We don’t have a film crew, but would you like a tour of city hall?”
So Julie and I went to the Palazzo Municipio on Friday morning to check out the tour and see if it was worth doing again with family members the following week. We decided “no” for the family (not germane, limited time), but we had a blast.
Here’s the outside of the building.
We walked up to that gaggle of police officers around the green door, and I announced, “We have an appointment with Il Sindaco.”
Not this door. Go around to the side.
So we go to the side and talk to the municipal officers who are smoking cigarettes. “We have an appointment with Il Sindaco.”
They make some phone calls and yell to other people who are further inside and go back to smoking.
We wait. We wait. We look at each other: not sure we are going to get in here.
Then these two youngsters appear: Alessia and Dario. They are our guides.
We walk in. No bag check. No pat down for weapons. No passports, no IDs. No security whatsoever. Interesting.
The palazzo is one of the many royal houses, or offices, or something, that were left over when Naples became a not-royal city upon the unification of the country. It’s a fancy building, with fancy rooms, and fancy decorations all over the walls and ceilings. Paintings, sculptures, and geegaws everywhere.
There’s even a Precepio. Apparently Christmas lasts year-round at City Hall.
At one point, we stood outside a room full of people and looked at their heads from the hallway. Signor de Magistris is in there, but he’s doing a press conference, so you can’t meet him. Now we’re in an Altman movie: cue soundtrack of action in one room, talk from other room washing over us, people near the door turning around to “Shhhhh” us.
Would we like to see his office instead?
We enter the corner room, filled with ornate furniture, and, on every surface, including every square inch of Signor de Magistris’s desk, are mementoes and tchotchkas with his name on them. Gifts from all quarters, apparently. Julie whispers to me, “He must have another office, too. Doesn’t look like much work gets done in this one.”
Look at that 19th-century painting. Could it be a Buongiorno, pleeeeease? (Not.)
Would we like a photograph of his desk. “Umm, okay.” We take one. No, would we like to SIT AT his desk. (So we can slip the plastic explosive under it more easily?) Surrrre. So I played potentate, and Julie stood behind me, and our guide shot a photo.
Who do they think we actually are, we wondered? (We didn’t notice anyone following us the rest of the day.)
Go to Naples, people! You can tour the mayor’s for-show office!
While I was chatting with the minders to distract them, Julie snagged a great shot of the newly re-opened Piazza Municipio from the mayor’s fourth floor window. Note the 1930s port building (behind the yellow crane) on the cruise ship docks beyond, and cloud-covered Mount Vesuvius 5 miles away.
De Magistris gets full, well-deserved, credit for the reconstruction of the piazza and for construction of the Metro station underneath it (note red M sign on pole and discreet entrance to station–stairs down surrounded by cement retaining wall–in front of the building on the right).
Here’s the obligatory selfie. A million thanks to my cousin Julie Holm who shot all these photos.