Today began with a quest to do a favor for a friend of a friend, but evolved into a heartfelt journey into the past from 1881 to 1884, when James Kāneholo Booth was sent by King Kalākaua to become a cadet for the military academy in Napoli called Nunziatella.
Nunziatella was once the site of a Jesuit priest convent, but in 1773 became the military academy. This site was built upon an ancient graveyard, the bones of which were recovered, some stolen to become souvenirs of cadets (something they are not proud of and mention with some regret). There is a small glass case which holds a few bones of a nameless individual honored before an altar in one of the alcoves in a church where mass is held for cadets every Sunday. An excavation also revealed a wooden statue of Jesus Christ.
Hardy Spoehr, the executive director of Papa Ola Lōkahi where Kim Kuʻulei Birnie, my traveling companion is employed, had asked Kuʻulei to do this favor for him, which was to gain entry into the academy and ask if there were any additional records or photos of Booth. Hardy and Kuʻulei are also as peers on another board, “Protect Kahoʻolawe Fund.” Hardy asked Kuʻulei for her assitance in tying up four lose ends for his research on James Kāneholo Booth’s stay in Napoli. Booth died during the Cholera epidemic in 1884. Spoehr had already done extensive research on Booth and had even attempted entry into Nunziatella, but due to the language barrier was unable to gain entry into the academy.
Two days ago in Milan, a Libian suicide bomber had knocked on the door of an Italian military barracks and set off a bomb when a military personnel opened the door. The Libian died, but fortunately the military personnel in question as those near him survived. Therefore, today when we knocked on the huge wooden door, we were met with suspicion. However, after a long explanation the soldier who opened the door asked us to wait and went to speak with his superiors. Kuʻulei had shown them the Hawaiian flag that Spoehr had given her, along with a tome of the extensive research he had done that included photos of Booth with his fellow cadets. We were invited inside and ushered into a side room and then locked in. There we sat and waited, watching and being watched by the military personnel. To our right (in our alcove) was a museum which held the crib of the royal house of the Bourbons. Finally, Enzo (whose rank I am sorry to say I did not get) introduced us to the segretary of the Nunziatella alumni. Once again, in the excitement, I have forgotten the name of this kind gentlemen (but I do have his email since I shall serve as a contact since I speak Italian until further arrangements can be made). He called an ex-president and consigliere Dr. Giuseppe Catennacci who eventually arrived, but before I speak of our meeting with Dr. Catennacci, let me continue with what happened.
After they had spoken with their superiors we were invited to see the private church and museum. As they led us into the church they waxed poetic about its beauty. Indeed, the church is majestic. Throughout the years, cadets have carved their names here and there into the marble railing within the church. They remarked that although this was sacrilege, in some way, it was also a legacy of the cadets that had been schooled there.
After the church we were led through the museum, then we were taken to the meet with high-ranking officers, such as the colonel Filippo Troise. Here we were met with much respect and care. During this time I served as Kuʻulei’s translator. When Kuʻulei indicated her wish to gift them the Hawaiian flag and a the tome of research by Spoehr, the commander indicated to his subordinate to retrieve a lithograph of a painting of Nunziatella and a monograph on the history of the academy for Kuʻulei, Kalei, and I. This was quite an emotional moment. You have to understand that entry into such a place is not often granted, particularly not to foreigners, therefore the fact that we were met with such kindness and regard as representatives of Hawaiʻi had quite an effect on us. The thing was, was that they were happy that their academy was known beyond their country. As the segretary said, in Italian (here I paraphrase), every individual is important to the academy as it is built upon its members. The segretary and the consigliere Dr. Catennacci were already interested in Booth’s story. Apparently Booth had created an album of memorabilia of his stay as a cadet there and had asked his professor, officer Luigi Cordano to compose a poem. This poem was included in an anniversary pamphlet of which a copy was given to us. During the time we sat in Dr. Catennacci’s office, I overheard his telephone conversation with someone, I believe it was the superindendant of the municipal cemetaries, who is in the process of writing a book about Napoli’s cemetaries. Booth was buried in Napoli (see Kuʻulei’s post). Everyone was so excited about our visit, because Booth was well known to them.
Later Kalei, Kuʻulei and I spoke about how this “errand” touched us in ways that we could have never imagined. I can only speak for myself, and I am not ashamed to admit that this man, James, Kāneholo Booth was at first only a name, but by the end of the day I shed tears for him, this man who died far from home in service of King David Kalākaua and whose relationship to the King had perhaps been like that of a beloved son.
This is a rough draft and I will edit it tomorrow and add pictures (I have already seen how redundant I am and all else, forgive me). I am tired. Napoli was a NIGHTMARE to get out of. No, seriously. It was even more scary then when we left it for Capri. More about that tomorrow …
Me ke aloha,