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Showing posts from February, 2014

The Coffee Culture of Naples

By Publications Manager Dan Rubin

Leading up to World War II, drinking coffee was an important ritual, considered by most to be a basic human right. The city is home to the caffè sospeso, the suspended coffee, in which a customer anonymously pays for the coffee of someone in need. Neapolitan writer Luciano de Crescenzo says, “It was a beautiful custom. When a person who had a break of good luck entered a café and ordered a cup of coffee, he didn’t pay for just one, but for two cups, allowing someone less fortunate who entered later to have a cup of coffee for free. . . . It was a cup of coffee offered to the rest of humankind.” But Italy did not grow its own coffee beans, and as the wartime blockades made importation difficult, the staple became precious—and expensive. Instead of visiting cafés, customers had to visit the black market to get their caffeine fix.

Coffee came to Naples late compared to other major Italian cities. When it first arrived in the late eighteenth century, in f…

The Basso Setting of Napoli!

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By Publications Manager Dan Rubin

Napoli! takes place in a Neapolitan basso, which literally means the "lows." These windowless, street-level, studio apartments have historically been home to the city's underclass. They are cramped, and their occupants have no privacy from passersby, who can peer through the open door, the only point of both ventilation and light. In 1884, a British journalist described the dwellings as follows:

Imagine a doorway of a cave where on entering you must descend. Not a ray of light penetrates into it except by the one aperture you have passed through; and there, between four black battered walls and upon a layer of filth mixed with putrid straw, two, three, and four families vegetate together. The best side of the cave, namely that through which humidity filtrates the least, is occupied by a rack and manger to which animals of various kinds are tied; a horse it may be or an ass, a calf, or a pig. On the opposite, a heap of boards and rags rep…