One of the things that I like about Napoli is that here, death is a part of life. This is especially true on November 2, the Feast of All Souls, “La Commemorazione dei defunti” where the emphasis is on the next life, or “aldila’.”
In fact, I know everyone’s plans for the next phase of their lives—yes, I said lives because they don’t think of death as something dead, but a passage to another dimension with a new life. And so, people have all made arrangements—they tell me about them over caffe’ and pasta. “When I go, I’ll be with my dear husband.” “I can’t wait to see my wife again.” And best of all “I hope that we (me and them) can meet up, I want you to meet my family.” I am always happy to accept the invitation, but hope it won’t be too soon.
Man has always been fascinated with life after death and has dealt with the uncertainty and fear surrounding it by creating religion and ceremonies whose function was to take the trauma out of the unkown.
At the Fontanelle Cemetery, skeletons are adopted, shrines built and a comraderie established.
Here in Napoli, the people embrace the inevitable by making plans and fallback positions for making the passage to the next dimension as free of complications as possible. A while back, the Catholic Church forbade cremation, it was a mortal sin, so who would have risked a life in Paradise for a final act of folly. Now cremation is accepted, so a number of people are opting for this choice as an easy way out, mainly so as not to cause their families much bother. Another more insidious reason is: who is going to take care of one’s tomb? Many of my older friends have confided their concern that they do not think that their grandchildren would ever pay the electric bill to have the “eternal flame” lighting their tomb, glow into eternity. These issues weigh on them until they come to the conclusion that they really won’t care about the light once they are with their spouse in Paradise.
Notices are placed around the neighborhood so the departed can be honored. Here Sergio’s nickname is used. As in most cases, this is the only name by which he was known to his neighbors. He was “Re dei Night” or “King of the Nightclubs.” One day he wasn’t feeling that well. Passing our local pizzeria, he asked if he could rest. The pizzaiolo brought out a chair and quickly and quietly Sergio passed away in front of the pizzeria.
The main entrance to Poggioreale Cemetery where such luminaries as Benedetto Croce, Salvatore Di Giacomo, Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Gemito are at rest. Enrico Caruso is in Santa Maria del Pianto.
On November 2, the cemeteries “campo santi” are jam packed with relatives going to visit their loved ones. The roadsides are filled with flower vendors who have the most exotic flowers and elegant creations available for sale. Candles, holy water, rosaries and personal momentoes are carefully laid before the tomb and prayers are said, favors asked and memories of a lifetime recalled.
Someone once said to me “We are not dead as long as someone remembers us.” I think this saying must have originated in Napoli.