Monday, January 11, 2010

The Presepe Maker

Its no secret that I have a fondness for Napoli and things Napolitani - even though the first visit there was a bit unsettling, the second time I came away from the city enchanted and wanting to go back. And another well documented fact is my love of presepe and there is nowhere in the world quite like Napoli for these incredible minature scenes. Divina, the restaurant we went to New Year's Eve in Madrid had the most wonderful presepe at one end of the dining room that was immediately identifiable as the work of Napolitani craftsmen.

As is this remarkable little tableau that was in the window of a small cafe on a side street off Piazza Fiume near our house. It is obviously meant to be only one element in a larger presepio. (Remember that a left click will open a larger version of the photos in a separate window)

Presepe were meant to position the Nativity in the world around the viewer and mirror events taking place in their quarter. And what would have been taking place in any home in Napoli as Christmas Day approached? Why a family presepio would be being created, of course.
The father - a Pulcinella, that most Napolitano of tricksters - puts the final touches on the family presepio. Mother sits with her knitting at her feet, waiting patiently - Pulcinella is known to be lazy so she perhaps expects this to take a while. Their son waits expectantly, a box with the figures for the three kings waiting to be put in their place. Pulcinella's lute has been left to one side, all thoughts of serenades gone until the last figure is in place.

Their dwelling is filled with the paraphernalia of any home of the time - cured meats hanging, dried herbs, knives, traps and even an old family candelabara that no doubt will be placed on the table come Christmas Eve.

One of the pleasures I find in searching out presepe is that they are filled with small details, often missed, that tell a story of a people, a time and a place. Yes the Nativity is taking place but as it does people go about their daily lives and if you look closely enough for a moment you can be part of it.

11 gennaio - Sant'Igino Papa

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