The high peak smouldering above the town of Portici, is sometimes referred to as Somma-Vesuvio or more commonly as Mount Vesuvius; the very same monster that laid waste the ancient city of Pompeii in 79AD. The volcano soaks its feet in the polluted Sarno stream and from there, via some deep and malodorous trench in the tormented earth, it trickles into the Bay of Naples. A volatile river of subterranean magma, also traces the Campanian volcanic arc to the bay. This hermetic and treacherous rift sweeps around to Mount Epomeo on the Island of Ishcia, and beyond into the oceanic mountains of Palinuro, Vavilev, Magnaghi and the gigantic underwater peak of Marsilli; thought to be 3,000 metres high and 500 metres from its peak to the surface of the ocean. Portici and the City of Naples, not 12 kilometres to the north, is the location of the following tale.
One day, a young woman was observed weeping whilst holding an infant swaddled in a thin blanket. She was outside the orphanage and convent of Santa Annunzia. To the east, the grey light of dawn broke on the town and the grief-stricken woman. The shadow of Vesuvius began its long withdrawal from the impoverished streets and drear lanes of Portici. Taking advantage of a delivery system unique to the orphanage, the desperate lady gently deposited the child, a little girl, in a revolving basket. With one last sorrowful gaze she swivelled the device towards the interior for collection by the benevolent ladies of the cloth within.
The woman, whose name is lost to time, slid to the sidewalk, her back against the heavy wooden door and released such a sorrowful lament, that those residing in the nearby crumbling tenements were woken before the day needed them. These simple and poor people believed they were at the mercy of a vengeful God and lay afraid that dark dreams may visit them, if they lapsed back into sleep. Instead, they pulled their blankets close and listened with horrified wonder, that such a penance could be visited on one of their own.
Santa Annunzia was ostensibly a boys’ home but it was known locally, they took a few girls for the novitiate. An object was also placed in the basket before it was turned away from the street. A little rag doll nestled beside the still sleeping child, a note pinned to its chest declared the child’s name, date of birth and the writer’s alleged belief in God and his mercy. Little did she know that mercy as interpreted by the good sisters may not have been what God had in mind?
Providentially, the first nun to lay eyes on little Lunetta within the revolving basket, was Fortunata. She was the eldest there, but carried no particular authority as a result of her age. A small and gentle person, Fortunata was not a one for initiative or ambition and was relegated to menial tasks such as sweeping the flagstones of the courtyard. The recently inverted basket attached to the great wooden door showed no sign of life, so placidly was Lunetta sleeping. As Fortunata neared the basket with her broom she noticed the strange little head of the doll,with its two shell buttons, seeming to peek at her fearfully above the rim of the basket. So delighted by her discovery of the peacefully sleeping infant, this simple old woman, took it upon herself from that day forward, to be the child’s guardian angel.
Lunetta was born with an extraordinary shock of fiery red hair. Lunetta means ‘little moon’ and she was so named due to a rare occurrence of both her hair and a Blood Moon appearing on the night of her birth two days prior to her introduction to the Santa Annunzia. As an aside, it may be of some interest to note that the event of the Lunar Tetrad or Blood Moon, according to the Book of Joel, was thought to signal the return of Christ. Since the long-awaited event did not come to pass, one might deduce the saviour thought better of it. This may be somewhat impertinent of me, but if he’d had some foreknowledge of the events I am about to describe, I suggest Jesus may have turned around and returned to his bed to await a more auspicious time.
If you had the opportunity to meet our heroine, the first thing you’d notice would be her hair. It sat atop her scalp like a fiery explosion, luxurious and rich, sprouting in all directions and subsequently found to be completely unmanageable until it disappeared under the novice’s cap at the age of seventeen. Even then, the Mother Superior, a stern and unforgiving creature by the name of Agnese, had many an occasion to remonstrate with Lunetta in regard to delinquent flames that poked from her veil. The vision of this fiery peak – if one was to possess a particularly virulent form of superstition – and I have to relate that the Neapolitan’s do possess it in spades – may be seen by some, as a harbinger of things to come. It may also be of some interest, for reasons lost to the Italian dark ages – redheads are associated with Israelite’s, who if discovered, were often beheaded. Fortunately for Lunetta, beheading’s were frowned upon in 1970’s Italy. Nevertheless, the sooner the nuns could throw a veil over the follicular riot, the better.
As if Lunetta’s agnostic hair wasn’t enough, she was also in receipt of two piercing blue eyes, eventually somewhat obscured by the necessity of reading glasses. The out sized and unfashionable spectacles were put to good use, because, whenever possible she had her head buried deep within one book or another. They could not, however, hide those alarming eyes entirely. This marvellous girl’s baby blues swam frankly and coolly on her pale face, lit the way through the sombre corridors of the orphanage.
Santa Annunzio was a harsh environment, having been managed for two centuries by a species of the cloth known as the Holy Order of Abnegation. The human relics of this dwindling order were said to be strict and cruel to the point of derangement. This was not entirely true for as you know, Fortunata dwelled there and there were others who were not unkind but were obscured by the tyranny with which Agnese reigned. The worst of them practised so aberrant a variety of sado-masochism, I fear the Marquis himself would have been scandalised. Mother Superior, Sister Agnese, sought to instil within her flock the holy delights of privations and purification’s, of prayer and renunciation, of restraint and sacrifice through the unrelentingly castigation of their charges. Some of the nun’s took to these expectations as though they were a covenant handed-delivered by God himself.
In the spirit of full disclosure I must admit to the affliction of atheism. You, dear reader, may conclude from this I am in need of a scourging. If that ever came to pass, one could find no person better qualified for the purpose than Sister Agnese. In the privacy of her cell, our Mother Superior regularly removed her habit and beat herself with an appalling implement called a sjambok, a kind of whip made from the hide of a hippopotamus. This charming implement, had hitherto been used for crowd control by the South African police, of which Agnese was a member until she joined the order thirty years prior.
You may be wondering, how on earth did any child survive the rigours of the Orphanage of Santa Annunzio. As Lunetta grew from a quiet little girl into an even quieter teen, she watched and learned and although Fortunata was somewhat feeble of mind, her natural tenderness and love for the child saved her from exposure to the worst excesses of convent life. When it was her duty to polish the chapel ornaments or sweep the old and pitted stone floors, she often came across ear-pulled, tear-stained boys loitering in the darkly wainscoted corridors outside Agnese’s office awaiting the brutal sting of their sweaty little fingertips and worse.
The few girls at the orphanage joined the boys in attending the school next door although none, at her time, shared her classes. Lunetta excelled in her studies but made few friends except those she found within the pages of books. There was a boy, Antonio, whom she found amusing even though he taunted her often – only in the way boys of a certain age do – to hide their unfledged romantic interest. He was not an orphan but resided in a nearby tenement, the child of a poor family and not entirely clean, but he had a swagger and self-assurance belying his youth and a natural gregariousness. Lunetta remained inscrutable and outwardly eluded his charms. He was popular with a cheeky sense of humour and the teachers avoided any classroom debate with the boy for fear of causing a riot.
Brother Raimondo was teaching a lesson one morning and asked his students where Jesus was. “Yes Susie.” whose hand was raised. “He’s in heaven!” She shouted with pride. The teacher called on Stephano who said “He is in my heart,” said Stephano solemnly clasping his chest. The only one left with his hand raised was Antonio and Raimondo reluctantly asked him for his response. He did not disappoint for he had the most unusual answer “He’s in our toilet!” Everyone had a puzzled look on their faces, “Yeah!” Antonio added. “My mother bangs on the door every morning saying ‘Jesus Christ, ya still in there?” The classroom erupted into laughter of an apocalyptic variety and even Brother Raimondo found it difficult to retain his composure. If you have become a little intrigued or even enamoured of Antonio, I can establish now he will re-appear later in the story in an unexpected way. He may appear to be an unruly and dirty person but he will not always be so. It’s true, this is an often sad story but occasionally a lantern appears, held by some kind person to show the way. Antonio is the bearer of one of one such light..
The good Brother Raimondo was indeed good. He was a kind and patient man who never laid a hand on any of his charges, except to comfort them if they had a schoolyard scrape or heedful when they were sad. He was also very intelligent and well read. Lunetta had turned her mind to more complex relationships; those pertaining to her place in the world. Her questions were numerous and Raimondo saw in Lunetta a luminescence that exceeded even her extraordinary appearance. A brilliant spark had miraculously alighted in her mind and her questions in the classroom were of a quality he had not encountered before. One day she stopped Raimondo in the corridor. She had a book in her hand and opened it to a page relating the significance of the radioactive isotopes C-12 and C-14.
‘I don’t understand Brother Raimondo; if scientists have been able to carbon date objects as far back as 55,000 years how can the earth be only 6,000 years old?’
‘Ah Lunetta, you have hit upon something that has been most vexing for theologians. I for one, think it highly unlikely the earth is so young. One must not take all that one reads as the literal truth. Doubt is a necessary evil of the enquiring mind I fear, although I’d rather not be quoted on this assertion, my dear. Now hurry along, you’ll miss your lunch.’ This exchange with Raimondo, among others, initially surprised Lunetta. Her experience of the clerical fraternity was one of adherence to the scriptures to the point of self-mutilation. She feared, for instance, her knees may not continue to provide their anatomical function, if the occasions for prayer were not reduced at some point. She discovered there was some evidence that the ambulatory capabilities of ageing clergy was somewhat less than the the general population. To say she was grateful for Raimondo’s interest and kindness within her narrow world of the cloister, would be to underestimate her esteem for the man.
‘One can know ones trinity, my dear girl and one can serve the canonical orthodoxies and still take an interest in the world and its affairs. Never deny that which you have been given, in both body and intellect. You have a good and bright brain – use it well Lunetta.’
‘Here, take this and read it. Let me know what you think,’ Raimondo said one day after lessons. He handed her a slim, dog-eared volume entitled ‘Hamlet’ by William Shakespeare. From then on, it became a regular occurrence for Raimondo to provide Lunetta with a book. Upon her rapid consumption of ‘Great Expectations’, she would be furnished with ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and so on. In less than one week she read ‘Don Quixote’ and was shadowing her teacher in an effort to get her hands on ‘Exemplary Novels’.
She was fast coming to the opinion there seemed very few good questions to be asked of the nun’s, and any answers were generally found to be of an unsatisfactory nature. From the very first day of her entry to Annunzio, Lunetta had shared a cell with Fortunata. The room was cramped and spare, but they had each other. One day, when she was about twelve years old, she asked a question of Fortunata after evening prayers. The two of them had settled into their beds.
‘Why is there a God.’
Old sister Fortunata thought for so long Lunetta wondered if she had fallen asleep. Eventually the old lady provided an answer.
‘So we have something to believe.’
In some ineffable way his answer seemed to Lunetta, entirely reasonable, confirming a hypothesis she was already forming. There were occasions, however, she decided against approaching Fortunata for explanations. She felt lonely a great deal of the time and she populated her imagination with the characters from the Old Testament, regardless of her serious doubts as to their veracity. She found Noah to be a person of irreproachable ethics for his love of his fellow creatures, although she did try to ignore the preposterous assertion that he filled his boat with a mating pair of all the species of the entire planet. What of the consternation experienced by the anteater discovering only two ants on-board, and then finding even these tiny morsels were forbidden fruit? It occurred to her that if dinosaurs roamed the earth alongside mankind, as has been asserted by several venerable theologians, then why didn’t Noah carry them to safety in his boat.
Could there have been a more venal and ghastly creature than Cain? While Abel was offering fatted sheep to God, his brother Cain was plying him with dried plums. Clearly God was less than impressed with a basket of wrinkly fruit and a sack of assorted grains – as was Lunetta, to be frank – and showed favour to Abel. Cain’s answer to God’s quite legitimate largess was to stab his brother in the back, and not metaphorically, Lunetta was appalled to learn. She tried to keep in mind, if all this nonsense was to be believed, one could draw an uninterrupted hereditary line from Cain to the current population of the earth; a proposition some of us would prefer to take with a grain salt…or a pillar. I’ll come to Lot’s wife shortly.
The behaviour of Jehoram of Judah, however, was so alarming as to put the ferocity of Santa Annunzia in a good light. This fellow not only murdered his six brothers so that he could become king after his ailing father, Jehoshaphat, but chopped them up into small enough pieces so as to look convincingly perplexed when his father asked where his brothers had got to.
‘Search me Dad,’ he was reported to have said and then Jehoshaphat rather conveniently died. Apparently Jehoram himself kicked the bucket a couple of years later from an extreme loosening of the bowels but not before forcing the inhabitants of both Jerusalem and Judah to commit a great deal of fornication. Lunetta had to look up that word and although, not much the wiser, failed to see the harm in it. Jehoram’s outrages were nothing compared to the psychopath, Abimelchk who in a fit of pique, slew his seventy brothers in one afternoon. This story’s was particularly puzzling for Lunetta – and for anybody else who happens to be perusing Judges 9:1-5, because immediately after this bloody fratricide a stand of talking trees enter the picture…
A Catholic convent was not an environment where an interpretative appraisal of the Holy Book might be considered. Nevertheless, Lunetta took all this as merely a means of scaring children out of any propensity for evil they might be harbouring. Of all the extraordinary derring-do within the Holy Book, Lot’s saga in Genesis, was a tour-de-force of sexual violence, murder and mayhem. As we know, God rained fire and brimstone down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Before this event, however, he magically transported Lot, his notoriously snoopy wife and two daughters outside the city walls and told them not look back. Lot’s wife’s curiosity knew no bounds and she was made into a pillar of salt. Who can forget the matter of the angel Gabriel who was house-sharing with Lot for a while. After being lusted after by a bunch of gay villagers, Gabriel chops his recently raped but still living concubine into twelve pieces to be parcelled off to the far borders of Israel….I mean really! This is Gabriel – God’s emissary! There is the no small matter of Lot’s incest but compared to Gabriel’s shenanigans, he’s as pure as the driven snow.
Despite the low expectations and insufficient nourishment provided by her carers, Lunetta grew into a tall, attractive young woman, albeit unconventionally so. It appeared that the austerity promoted at the orphanage suited her metabolism just fine. The few girls at the orphanage performed what duties the sisters deemed necessary to keep them busy and mostly out of sight of the testosterone dominated corridors. The girls were groomed for the cloth. It was the Habit or the street and it must be said a few recalcitrant girls ended their days in the embraces of lustful men and a dirty needle.
Lunetta reached adolescence without the usual disrespect commonly expected by adults. Her equanimity, her singular disinterest in the uncoordinated foolishness and callow disruption of girls her age placed her in a sphere beyond her peers. She cast an eye over the cloistered world as an entomologist might view a bug through a microscope and noted its characteristics with curiosity. She considered the usefulness or not of all this worlds’ permutations and, for want of a better offer, abandoned her postulate status for the novitiate.
In late November 1976 she turned seventeen without so much as a halleluiah and was kitted out in the white veil of a novitiate. She was not one to deliberately draw attention to herself and the Habit assisted in this, as her red locks could be quite alarming, even to herself. She was assigned her own room, a development neither Fortunata or Lunetta had foreseen. The move was a sad day for both of them, but needs must and like good nuns, they endured their serried privations with as much stoicism as they could muster.
Unlike Fortunata’s room, Lunetta found hers was furnished with a small mirror. It hung opposite the brutal figurine of the crucified Christ, doubtless so ranged to remind one of the Lords suffering, even in the act of self-admiration. She promptly hung her wimple over the tortured figurine and turned to try out a smile in the mirror, but it looked awkward and unconvincing. She speculated that, perhaps it would be better if her behaviour was less remote, that her smiles a little warmer but decided sensibly, she cannot be what she is not.
At evening prayers she spied upon her sister nuns in the dimness of the old chapel; an acrid haze from the few candles and a small slither of the moon above Vesuvius could be glimpsed from the single window. This mean light was all but absorbed by the serried black Habits and dreary corners of the room. According to legend the ancient bones of Saint Annunzia lay beneath the stone altar in front of a painted wooden statue of Mary Magdalene. Sister Fortunata, due to her great age took the opportunity to sleep while Sister Violetta beside her nudges her awake when she begins to snore only for her to slip back into her slumber.
Maria, Pazienza and Claudia, the three ugly Sisters, who go everywhere together as if conjoined triplets, all have their heads raised to the ceiling, no doubt imploring God to show them the righteous path. Their progress through the orphanage instils fear and a deserved loathing amongst the inmates but here they moderate their pernicious zeal in the presence of their maker. So miserable were they, Lunetta suspected these endless entreaties to God had long become redundant, as all evidence suggested they had gone entirely unheeded. In the last pew Lunetta can hear the two young novices, Adele and Seraphia, fidgeting and breathing heavily behind her. She had observed they found disgraceful solace in the exploration of each other’s bodies. She secretly wished them well.
The mother superior, Sister Agnese, knelt alone in the front pew of the chapel directly above the old bones of Annunzio. Her thin lips moved in silent prayer. Her rosary was draped over her prayer book and her substantial jaw resided on its spine. Occasionally she looked up to the effigy of Mary who remains unmoved – Agnese’s facial expression is one of disdain, not of reverence. Lunetta suspected this expression defined for Agnese, a singular bitter musing, that God had failed her. Now in her sixties, she cannot walk away and must take what pleasure she can from the excoriation of these ignorant women and the forsaken children in her care.
Fortunata was now too old to be expected to be active in the maintenance of the convent. Between naps, she made herself useful darning orphan socks and patching orphan trousers. Indeed some of the socks were orphans themselves, having found themselves without their twin. Now in her nineties, the dear old lady cared little for such details, content to have some small purpose to occupy her. Lunetta made her comfortable in the dim refectory after prayers and a meagre breakfast, and took it upon herself to do the chores her cherished guardian could no longer perform.
One such morning while she was sweeping the flagstones, a shrill scream rent the air and the revolving basket, laden with a distraught infant swung on its creaking hinge into the courtyard. Lunetta picked up the tiny creature and opened the pedestrian access door cut within the old oak carriage gate. As we know, she was a curious sort of person, and wanted to see if she could make out the depositor. The street was vacant, but for a mangy old dog and a sleeping vagrant of indeterminate gender. The child’s only protection from the elements was a dirty rag, wrapped loosely around his body. He possessed a blue pallor and looked at deaths door as she took him, held close to her breast, to the small and inadequate clinic within the convent.
This little fellow was indeed little. His early constitution prevailed to create somewhat of a stunted development. He wasn’t suffering dwarfism but he was shorter and thinner than most his age. Many of the nun’s were so appalled by his continuous caterwauling at all hours of night and day, they held little hope for his survival past his first year. They assumed he’d either die of the various maladies assailing him or one of the urchins in their care would smother him to put him out of his misery. He failed to acquire a name on the basis of this surly pessimism. Raimondo had given Lunetta ‘The Collected Plays of Jean-Baptiste Racine’. On his 1st birthday, she wrote simply Racine and the date of his arrival in the orphanage registry. Thus Racine was named from that day, after the famous atheist playwright of the 17th century – a subversive act of such subtlety, it brought no interest from anybody whatsoever.
Notwithstanding the chronic and interminable opportunities to behave otherwise, Lunetta did not believe in God. The very idea of ‘belief’ was anathema to her. As she saw it, an intelligent person faced with the wilful distortion of religious dogma, must inevitably defer to logic. It wasn’t entirely the case that Lunetta did not embrace faith because it did not make sense, but rather because for one to find the truth one had to embrace doubt; which is by definition, irreconcilable with belief. If Brother Raimondo expected another interpretation, it is neither known or ultimately, of interest to us here. I suspect he would have been secretly pleased with Lunetta’s conclusions.
You may think Lunetta’s atheism strange, considering she wandered around in a nun’s Habit a good deal of the time. The phenomenon of disbelief amongst the clergy is more common than one might think. There is an obscure group of Catholic priests, for instance, called the ‘Sea of Faith’ who eschew the idea of ‘God’. The all seeing, all knowing deity is an out-dated construct, they expostulate. The soul, they say, is moribund and the concept of the virgin birth is fundamentally flawed for obvious reasons. They allege all this whilst carrying out their various religious duties. Outrageous I know, but there you have it. Further to this argument, protestant parsons during the age of enlightenment took up the call of the cloth, not because they were particularly devout, but because there were not often opportunities for impoverished but educated young men. These men provided their lacklustre sermons on Sundays and presided over the inevitable deaths, marriages and births of their parish and then retire to their studios or their laboratories in an effort to add to the sum of secular human endeavour.
So, Lunetta had outrageous red hair, appallingly radiant blue eyes and a divergent impiety. Be that as it may, we are now aware she also possessed an enquiring intellect and was not about to deflect its progress for a dogmatic adherence to series of extremely unlikely events. She concluded with her characteristic equanimity, the cloistered life allowed her occasion to pursue knowledge and knowledge was synonymous with truth and truth begat freedom.. It was now her sole ambition to live a life filled to the brim with all manner of fascinations and endeavour.
At the age of twenty one Lunetta realised she had read every book her friend and teacher Raimondo could provide. Within the convent alone, she had read every payer-book, gospel, liturgy, cereal box, jam jar label, recipe book. She even a found a deftly hidden copy of The Tyndale Bible and an illegally purloined a copy of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, both of which could have seen her defrocked. She looked into hundreds of hymns and the rather scandalous, confiscated magazines and a hoard of extreme periodicals found behind a rotting cabinet in the mouldy basement. The self-ravishing discovery of her clitoris was as a result of reading the tawdry scraps she found there. She discovered old volumes of Plato’s Dialogues with Socrates. In her mind she reasoned, cajoled, argued and expostulated herself out of dogma and into uncertainty and felt much better for it. She as exposed to the wonders of art and music. She learnt that it was not enough to replicate what we perceive but to understand the essence of things.
She devised a plan to escape the confines of the orphanage to pursue the needs of her prodigious intellect. Under the guise of seeking out her long lost mother she frequented the Municipal Library of Benedetto Croce, one of the great collections of Europe. It was in the Vomero district, a bus ride from the orphanage. Truth be known, she had no interest in finding her mother after so long an absence but she did experience many hours of pleasure reading tracts on philosophy, history, science, geography, medicine, anatomy and much more.
She read from Lawrence to Lewis and then discovered the rest of Shakespeare, until now only the sublime Hamlet had assailed her hungry mind. She was astonished by the Bards depth and understanding of the human condition. How deprived she felt that she was only now exposed to such a marvel as King Lear. To Lunetta, so remarkable was the drama within The Prince of Denmark, Lear and Macbeth they became the criterion by which she conducted her own inner life.
From her rereading of Hamlet she learnt what she was not capable of, when she was thirteen. She now saw truth was hard won, but protracted deference to the finding of it was fraught with dangers to the delicate mind. Better to be decisive, to grasp life to her bosom and shake herself free of phantasms. Was Shakespeare saying the ghost of Hamlet’s father was an unreliable witness, especially considering the final outcome in that most beautiful of plays.
She consumed these precious volumes of literature as one might fine wines; savouring the various and many notes of scholarship, sensed the appellations and derivations and picked the abundant fruit from all the branches of learning. She had became indispensable in the infirmary as a result of her investigations into medicine. Within months, no one at the orphanage had as much medical knowledge as she. To be honest, by the time she was thirty years old she was more knowledgeable and experienced than half the physicians of Naples. She made copious notes and filled exercise books with her own quite acute observations and illustrations.
She roamed the streets of Naples, looked into intriguing alleyways, window shopped and awed at the plethora of goods for sale and saw how poor a life the cloisters of the orphanage offered. The city sprawled along the Mediterranean. Ferries tipped hordes of tourists into the islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia or they click thousands of useless photos of old Pompeii.She observed much about the nature of things by observing the visitors. She also found that Naples had a reputation for being the home of the Camorra crime syndicate but the city was clearly more than the sum of its shady rackets, salacious politics, rampant prostitution and drug cartels.
Naples was encrusted with mysteries. There is a sculpture in the Piazzetta Nilo which represents a lactating male suckling an infant. She embraced the often aberrant nature of art. The National Archaeological Museum contains a secret cabinet full of the filthiest ancient pornography you are likely to see and, as such, should not be missed. It appeared that only a member of the clergy could get unchaperoned access to these wondrous artefacts. On the other hand it is advisable that you avoid an extremely creepy doll hospital on the Via Duomo.
The Sansevero Chapel has a sculpture of the veiled Christ within its gorgeous interior. It is as alarming as it is beautiful. You can’t decide if what you are seeing is actually a perfectly preserved human being so marvellously is it made to look so beneath the most diaphanous of fabric, and all of it made of stone. Down a marble staircase and beneath the statue are “anatomical machines”, two skeletons, a woman and a man consisting of a detailed network of veins and arteries that were, according to the legend, part of experiments and chemical inventions by Raimondo de Sangro, soldier, alchemist and inventor.
Lunetta tried to reconcile the sublime image of the dead Christ made as if marble has been transmuted into actual flesh with the flayed flesh the bodies beneath in order to reveal in the most extraordinary detail, the very vessels which kept them alive. Blood flowed through those veins, allowing sugars to mix with corpuscles and carry life to their entirety. It seemed to Lunetta to refute the very idea of godhead. It was clear the eye that sees all was not that of god but of man. A man had sculpted the body laid out in its sinuous vitality and a man, in an effort to reveal the true nature of humanity had revealed the secret network of life. It is not known to this day how Raimondo was able to void the flesh so that only the veins remain but Lunetta knew intrinsically, it was no more than the uninhibited extent of human ingenuity.
Below the city an ancient marketplace had been opened to the public. There was the Catacombes di San Gennaro few visitors to Naples visited. Many strange and disturbing legends are associated with the site. Perfectly horrifying and claustrophobic for the young, swooning and extreme distress have been noted and particularly gullible people have complained of haunting’s. Lunetta discovered at the Cathedral of Naples, the blood of the beheaded San Januarius is said to liquefy in an ampoule three times a year. She noted this nonsense was known as the ‘Blood Miracle’.
At various bookshops and libraries she discovered fiction which enveloped her completely for months on end. She ate James and Austen for breakfast, lunched with Steinbeck, Orwell, Wells and Wilde and her evening repast included the likes of the libidinous Roth to the impenetrable Pynchon. She read ‘V’ in one sitting and ‘Ulysses’ in three, although Joyce made her slightly nauseous and she didn’t return to him. She attracted rather censorious attention one day at the library when she laughed out loud reading a piece by Garrison Keillor in the New Yorker. It can be assumed that the vast majority of Neapolitan’s would never have witnessed a laughing nun…..a flying nun perhaps, but not laughing.
One day Lunetta arrived at the Porto Nolano bus depot for the journey back to Portici and learned the bus would not be there for another fifteen minutes. The sun was very hot that afternoon so she stepped into the Polish delicatessen nearby to purchase a drink and enjoy a moment in the cool shop. She was in the midst of deciding which soda she would have when she overheard the shopkeeper talking to one of his customers…..’Hey Luigi, how come Jesus wasn’t born in Napoli?’ ‘I do not know Janek.’ Say’s Luigi. ‘Because he couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.’ Said Janek. Luigi seemed not in the least amused but Dimitri had to bring Lunetta a glass of water and a chair as she had become overcome by an excess of laughter. It appeared that she had never heard a joke before.
Although loneliness was a habitual state for her, she sometimes felt she had become all but invisible. She held the rather existential notion that no one person can truly know another: can a person know what you experience deep within. She concluded we are all islands, contrary to John Donne’s assertion. Her Habit set her apart but there was a consolation about the black cloth; a disguise, a warning and the cloak of a deep and universal fear. She often felt too easily dismissed but it did afford her unnoticed observation. She came to think of the insignificance of mankind. She read Carl Sagan “….we live on a mote of dust suspended in a moonbeam……think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.”
As the scales were falling away from her eyes, a particularly evil influence entered Lunetta’s life. A Sister Beatrice had recently been transferred to the orphanage. She was from the Convent of the Felicitous in Benevento
One Thursday after informing the mother superior that she had a new and promising lead on the whereabouts of her mother she walked out of the orphanage to the bus station, found a vacant cubicle in the toilets, emerged five minutes later in civilian clothes and continued on to the bookshop she had in mind for that day. From then on she changed out of her Habit en-route. It was a revelation for both her and her unrepentant hair which immediately, along with her candescent blue eyes became a beacon on the city streets. It was hard to ignore and she did not much like the attention but the liberty her actions afforded outweighed her social discomfort and eventually she became oblivious to the staring populace.
She habitually wrote onto a notebook she kept with her at all times in case something interesting occurred to her or an experience was too vivid not to commit to paper. One day a man in the library sauntered over to her and asked what she was reading. He shyly admitted he had been observing her and that he was intrigued as to the books that attracted such avid attention. He said his name was Dario and Lunetta went to his apartment in a tall modern tower that very afternoon and had sex for the first time. She told Dario that it was an unexpected pleasure and that she would like to do it again. Dario descended into sleep. Lunetta dressed, sat at his kitchen table, wrote in her notebook and left.
Dario did not expect her to go so soon. He wanted to ask her something before he nodded off. The time they had spent together now seemed a fantasy. He entered the kitchen but no trace remained. He could not detect a scent, a finger print on a glass nor even the faintest footprint on the parquetry near the door. He could always see a trace of his own foot if the light hit the floor as it did now. He feels sure he will see her again but now he stands naked in the kitchen looking at the door willing her to return. Perhaps she is yet another puzzle ebbing silently through this city filled with mysteries.