The other day I was writing about Dominic DiSaia, and his photo of Vin Scully, and I mentioned photographers I ran around with, back in the day.
One of them is John McDermott, who bonded with me on the soccer beat and also at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. Speaking Italian fluently, John charmed our way into the Italian hospitality tent up on an icy mountain plateau, by offering some of my NYT souvenir pins (“distintivi”) -- pure gold at the Olympics.
The food was great, as one might expect, and so was the scene when Alberto Tomba, three-time Olympic gold medal ski racer, slowly checked out every table, like an entitled don in one of the Coppola masterpieces.
(Oh, yes, that was Roberto Baggio's voice on John’s cellphone.)
John McDermott – originally from Philadelphia -- gets around; he loved San Francisco for decades, riding his bike and hanging around with locals like Dusty Baker, but six years ago he moved to Italy with his wife, Claudia Brose, originally from Cologne.
They live in Appiano, in the northeast corner of Italy, where German and Italian intermingle, but lately the couple has been making forays to Naples for the ambiance.
Claudia has a business conducting photography seminars, and John demonstrates the art of street photography in one of the most vital cities on earth.
In Naples – Napoli --- English or northern RAI broadcast Italian only go so far, but in Napule life is often conducted in Neapolitan, not so much a dialect of Italian as a Romance language, endangered, to be sure, descended from Latin.
John enclosed a link to a video he put together, using his photographs, backed up by the song by Pino Daniele raised in the Spaccanapoli district, who died in 2015.
What draws John and Claudia back to Naples?
"The warmth, energy and openness of the people, the chaos and the way everything just works out," John wrote the other day.
I get it. My first foray to Naples was in 1970 when my wife and I took our three young children around Italy, the most child-friendly country I know.
I went back in 1989 to work on a Times magazine feature on Diego Maradona, the Argentina soccer star who played for the Napoli club – a perfect spot for the flawed athlete. Maradona defied the club’s attempt to set up an interview, even when the club driver took my to Maradona’s villa at the top of the old Greek hill area, Posillipo.
I called the number I had for him and somebody messed with my mind, leaping from Spanish to Italian and back. And when I went to a club practice Maradona did not show up that day, leaving his coach sputtering and fuming.
Tough town. I realized this at the Napoli club match that Sunday. As I made my way to the press tribune, my guide nudged me under the overhang – just before a wadded cannonball of wet tissue splatted against the wall, like a baseball, where I had been standing. The “ultras” in the stands surely had good aim.
Next time I visited Naples was at the 1990 World Cup when Argentina was defending its 1986 title.
While I was working, my wife meandered down to the harbor, with life pulsing in the shops – at least until a couple of older ladies wagged index fingers and warned, “Signora, Signora,” and motioned for her to hide the bracelet on her wrist. The local lads were quite adept at snatching jewelry from tourists, they signalled.
The pre-teens of Naples are known as “scugnizzi” – urchins – a matter of civic pride. Sit at an outdoor café and a scugnizzo will try to sell a few loose cigarettes, as a way of getting closer. Oh, yes, tough town.
Maradona, local hero, played to the Napolitani by urging them to root for his Argentina team when it played Italy in the semifinal.
His words, as John McDermott recalls them, were, “364 days a year they call you “terroni” -- an Italian pejorative term for southerners. “Today they want you to be Italian. Don’t be fooled by them. We are your team! You belong with us!”
Maradona’s brazen appeal was rewarded with a victory over Italy, but Argentina lost the final to West Germany.
He’s gone, now, a victim of his excesses, but Diego Armando Maradona is the flawed patron saint of Naples. As John and Claudia wander through the tangled, pungent streets, they see his likeness everywhere -- the man who found his spiritual home.
“It’s dirty and chaotic and sometimes nerve-wracking,” McDermott wrote me. “But it is also a constant, vibrant, non-stop show of real life lived out in public.”
John expands on his love for Naples in this link:
As I work my way through John’s photos, I can hear, can smell, and surely can see the pulsing life in the alleyways of Naples.
Long live the photographers who take us to these places.
The NYT – the former gray lady – now lavishes color photos on its subscribers.
Did you see this recent masterpiece on Budapest?
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.