Monthly Archives: December 2008

Castel Nuovo

[The following posting is a journal item developed while on a Mediterranean cruise some years back. Though I’m not much of a  journal-keeper, from time to time something satisfying emerges from the occasional effort.]


This morning, while most of my fellow passengers are on excursions that take them from the ship to sites beyond the heat, exhaust fumes, and pickpockets of Naples, I stroll through the nearly empty Castel Nuovo, which now holds the Civic Museum of the city. Even though construction began in 1279, the Maschio Angioino castle was called “new” to distinguish it from even older castles in the vicinity. It is an immense structure, at once fortification and royal residence, filled with reminders of incarceration and artistic excellence. In one room, a glass floor allows visitors a glimpse of a dungeon, a glimpse that includes the remains of many whose last breaths were drawn on the very sport where their bones now lie. Almost all of the artworks on display are of religious subjects commissioned by the church or by royal personages. During the reign of Robert of Anjou, Castel Nuovo became a cultural center, temporary residence to such visitors as Giotto, Petrarch, and Boccaccio. Now a lesser American poet, from an American town that has planted the ancient “new” city’s name along the Gulf of Mexico, is kicking the stones, his admission ticket in hand.

The area is heavily guarded, though far less so than it was in centuries past, and, since it is barely opening time, women are swabbing down the stone stairs and walkways. In such a huge place, just across from the port, I find it strange to see so few tourists. Only a handful of Neapolitans stroll through their city’s museum, a major treasure in which no signs except “emergency exit” carry English translations. However, an English pamphlet is available for a self-guided tour, and I enjoy my isolation from the cruise crowds who have left for a few hours in fashionable Capri or Sorrento or to explore the excavations of majestic Pompeii.

Alphonse I of Aragon rebuilt the original castle along more modern lines, and his reconstruction represents a transition from the medieval castle/palace to a fortress suitable for newer military needs of the early renaissance. The Hall of Barons, a renovation project of the mid-15th century, is so named for the barons who plotted against Ferrante I of Aragon and were initially imprisoned in this glorious room during the celebration of a royal marriage. The sculptures it once held were destroyed by fire in 1919. Cycles of ambition and collapse, vanity and humiliation, are written in the volcanic stone, the glazed majolica, the gilt stucco, and finally in the guidebook. All such places – and Europe is filled with them – are lessons in human greatness and human frailty.napoli_castelnuovo

Like many of the lesser European museums, or even a major one such as the impoverished Hermitage in St. Petersburg, these galleries have no climate control to aid in the preservation of the paintings and the comfort of the visitors. The oppressive heat is an unintended bow to authenticity.

The main courtyard is populated not only by police, museum attendants, and custodial workers, but also by dozens of half-starved cats and a smaller number of stray dogs, looking lean and wolfish in the shadowed stone. These forlorn animals seem most at home here, as if they are the inheritors of Europe’s abysmal centuries of bravado and bloodshed, pomp and punishment. The swill from the washerwomen’s mops intrudes, and a few of the courtyard’s denizens patiently relocate. 

 Along the walkways that ring the castle below street level, where a moat once circled the structure, one can see clusters of potted shrubs set out for watering, no doubt to be distributed through the display rooms and in the many halls and entranceways. The fresh, vibrant greenery smiles in sharp contrast to the solemn stone walls that protect and confine.

Below the art-filled Palatine Chapel (Chapel of Saint Barbara) are two rooms, one of which is called alternately the millet pit and the crocodile pit. The other is the prison of the Barons’ plot. The millet pit, a corn warehouse of the Aragonese court, served also as a prison, and it is rumored that many of its inmates vanished mysteriously from this place. Investigation discovered that a crocodile regularly entered the prison through a hole and dragged prisoners into the sea. After this discovery, jailors fed prisoners directly to the croc, who had traveled from Egypt (so goes the legend) in a ship’s wake. The beast was eventually killed after being baited with a huge horse leg. Stuffed with straw, the crocodile hung for many years at the entrance to the castle. If you believe that tale, you believe all such stories of devouring monsters. These stories are the currency of all places with turrets and towers, guardhouses and murky moats.

These stories are the other side of the saints’ legends traced in the frescoes of castle chapels, here and elsewhere. There are all kinds of deaths.

Leaving the castle and retracing my steps to the ship, I wander through what is now a busier port with snack bars and souvenir stands inviting passers-by while ferries and hydrofoils await business and pleasure travelers headed for Palermo and other destinations. Traffic is nonstop as I scurry across a few intersections and approach the port terminal and then the splendid, almost deserted ship. As the air conditioning restores me, its steady whoosh slowly closes over the imagined gasps of suffocating prisoners, the jubilant greetings of royalty at play, the explosions of cannon, the prayers of saints and sinners, the smacking sounds of a well-fed crocodile.

I will not return to this place. I have learned its lessons.

July 14, 2001 (and occasionally revised thereafter)


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The World of Hollis Alpert

by Philip K. Jason

[Hollis Alpert was one of the most distinguished literary figures ever to live in Naples. When he passed away in November of 2007, it seemed as if an important era in American letters passed with him. What follows is my profile of Alpert that appeared in the March 2000 issue of N Magazine.]

I was so pleasantly surprised, upon arriving at a luncheon meeting of the Naples Press Club last summer, to sit at the same table with a man whose name I immediately recognized as that of a major voice in American letters. This tall, casually elegant figure was Hollis Alpert, whose Saturday Review film criticism I had read as a young student of film and literature. After we chatted for a while, I realized that he had shaped my reading (as well as that of millions of others) through his various editorial roles on major magazines.

In December, we sat down in the living room of his comfortably decorated home in The Vineyards. Like the man himself, it expresses a casual elegance. On the bookshelves, as one would expect, are copies of many Alpert titles mixed in with other books of interest to a man so intellectually lively, a man whose life had intersected with the lives of so many other important figures – shapers of post-World War II American culture. During our conversation, I felt as if I were accompanying him on a multi-decade stroll through powerful editorial offices of major magazines and publishing houses, through sound studios and movie lots, through preview showings, through Broadway buzz and glitter, and through the dynamic struggles and victories of the celebrity artists whose lives and works he has chronicled and explored.

In preparing for our meeting, I discovered that Alpert’s accomplishments extend beyond the world of creative and critical nonfiction. He is also the author of nine novels (three under a pseudonym) and dozens of short stories. Although calls himself lazy, clearly he has set a high standard of industry. Alpert has a quiet, reserved pride in his achievements. Measured against the egomaniacs who have accomplished far less, he seems extremely modest.


HOLLIS ALPERT was born in Herkimer, New York into what he calls an unlikely family for a future writer. His father ran a grocery store and his mother manufactured and sold ladies’ undergarments. After Herkimer, the family lived in Philadelphia. Alpert finished high school there, following which he attended an adult education advanced composition course taught by a man named Bertram Lutton. Lutton was Alpert’s first mentor-challenging him, shaping his reading, and encouraging his writing. Alpert fondly remembers his mother’s business office as the site of one of a series of typewriters that he could use for his writing.

During and just after World War II, Alpert served in the army (1942-46). His first assignments had to do with chemical warfare testing. Although he had entered the service as an enlisted man, Alpert was soon commissioned as an officer. As such, he once again found that he could avail himself of a typewriter. During his army years, he began successfully placing short stories in national magazines. Soon, his abilities as writer helped him gain a sought-after assignment as a combat historian. This job required training in military intelligence, liaison service with General Patton’s Third Army, and eventual relocation to Paris. In his role as a combat historian, Alpert developed the research skills and the respect for fact that later made him a successful writer of nonfiction. His mentor in this assignment was the master combat historian S. L. A. Marshall, best-known for his Korean War narrative Pork Chop Hill. Hundreds of thousands of words by Hollis Alpert have become part of official army histories of World War II.

Upon leaving the army, Alpert began his career as a book reviewer and film critic. He wrote for the Saturday Review, the New York Times, and other influential publications beginning in 1947. He also attended the New School for Social Research from 1947-49. During the 1950s, Alpert became one of the premier critics and magazine editors in the United States. He worked as a fiction editor for the New Yorker (his own successes in pleasing New Yorker editors helped him get this position), as contributing editor to Woman’s Day, as managing editor of World Magazine (the successor to Saturday Review), and as editor-in-chief of American Film, the flagship publication of the American Film Institute. All the while, Alpert continued to write free-lance articles and reviews for top publications. He co-authored, with Arthur Knight, Playboy magazine’s “Sex in Cinema” series.

During three decades of nonstop productivity both writing for and editing periodicals, Alpert also launched his career as a book writer, with many successes in both fiction and nonfiction. Best know, perhaps, for his film criticism and his biographies of giants in the film industry, Alpert “ghosted” the “autobiography” of Lana Turner published in 1982 as Lana: The Lady, The Legend, the Truth and edited Charlton Heston: The Actor’s Life, Journals 1956-1976 (1978). These two efforts gave him financial independence.

During the period of his peak success as a writer, the mid-1960s through the early 1990s, Alpert first vacationed and then lived full-time on Shelter Island, a short ferry trip from Sag Harbor, Long Island. However, when he was launching American Film, he lived in Washington, D. C. in the shadow of the Kennedy Center where the American Film Institute has its home.

Though he has no college degree, Hollis Alpert’s real-world credentials have enabled him to lecture and teach at Southern Methodist University, Yale University, and New York University. In the late 1960s, he founded, with Pauline Kael, the National Society of Film Critics. In part, this new group was born in reaction to the New York Film Critics Circle’s policy of only including newspaper reviewers. Soon after the new group was founded, Alpert and Kael were suddenly invited into the established circle. He chaired the National Society of Film Critics during1972-73. The meetings of these groups were inevitably small wars of opinion. Alpert remembers taking historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. to a meeting. Schlesinger, briefly a film critic for Vogue, commented on the ferocity of the exchanges. He hadn’t witnessed anything like it before, even though he had been-as a member of the Kennedy White House-instrumental in the tense negotiations that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis. For his achievements as a film critic, Alpert has been honored by the Screen Director’s Guild of America.

Since moving to Naples in December of 1994, Alpert has kept busy not only with his writing but also by teaching courses at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts and at Florida Gulf Coast University. His subjects have been film classics and fiction writing. He also writes entertainment articles for The Phil. Excited about resuming his career as a novelist, Alpert has three projects in mind. One will return to the Paris setting he explored in Some Other Time; another will be a suspense novel; and the third will concern the kinds of adjustments that people make in later life in a community like Naples.

This aspect of Naples is one of the things that Alpert values. Many Neapolitans are people who have had to let go of some part of their pasts, whether it be prominence in a career or a loved one whom they outlived. They are open to new adventures and new relationships. Sharing this desire to find new points of balance, they appreciate each other’s circumstances and make the process easier. Alpert also enjoys the increasing cosmopolitanism of this small but growing town. He only wishes that one could find places to view a wider range of films and that the literary arts were given as much attention and support as the performing and visual arts. For such opportunities, he misses the rich urban culture of New York, but he doesn’t miss the competitiveness or the insistence that youth must be served.

Besides doing the preliminary planning for these novels, Alpert is shaping a manuscript of about half of his more than forty published short stories in hopes of finding a book publisher for such a volume. I can’t imagine that he will be other than successful in this quest. It will be one more success for a writer who has been in print for the full second half of the twentieth century and is ready to keep things going in the twenty-first.
Aside from the titles mentioned in the article, Alpert has also published the following:


The Dreams and the Dreamers: Adventures of a Professional Movie Goer, 1962.
The Barrymores, 1964.
Film 68-69 (edited, with Andrew Sarris), 1969.
Burton, 1986
Fellini, A Life, 1986.


The Life and Times of Porgy and Bess: The Story of an American Classic, 1990.
Broadway! 125 Years of Musical Theatre, 1991.


The Summer Lovers, 1958.
Some Other Time, 1960.
For Immediate Release, 1963.
The Claimant, 1968.
The People Eaters, 1971.
Smash, 1973.
(As Robert Carroll)
Champagne at Dawn, 1961.
Cruise to the Sun, 1962.
A Disappearance, 1975.


How to Play Double Bogey Golf: The Art of Being Bad at a Great Game, 1975.

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Naples Developer’s Book Attacks Property Rights Abuses

by Philip K. Jason

Don Corace is angry about governmental abuse of private property rights. Not only is he angry, he is leading a crusade to make the public aware of the many ways in which a constitutional right is often compromised – and sometimes obliterated – by excessive government interference or abusive implementation of laws. In his new book, Government Pirates (published by HarperCollins), Naples developer Corace outlines the basic ways in which legislative and judicial decisions have infringed upon private property rights, and he offers suggestions for correcting these infringements.


The major culprit, misuse of the “eminent domain” principal, is the one Corace treats first and at great length. He explains its genesis in the 5th Amendment to our constitution and the distortion of the “public use” part of the equation. The government can force the owner of private property to sell it if that property is needed for a public use. Though the traditional cases of eminent domain forced sales have been for appropriate purposes – parks, public utilities, improving highway routes – too often the benefit has ended up in the profits of private corporations and individuals. And the forced sales have too often ended up being robbery, as unfairly low prices have been offered, accompanied by intimidation tactics.

Furthermore, “public use” has been translated into nebulous notions of supposed “public benefit.” For example, a non-profit development agency convinces a municipality to employ eminent domain to allow for the building of a new upscale urban mall or residential area on the rubble of an older, less desirable neighborhood – lining the pockets of developers and squeezing out the private property owners. Argument: the increased tax base will enhance the public good, or the new development will enhance the image of the town. Outcome: my private property becomes someone else’s private property, without me wishing to sell it or obtaining a fair price. The government pirate is the intermediary.

Corace reviews several other forms of piracy. “Regulatory takings” include zoning restrictions that ruin property values and force sales, building moratoria, and outright condemnation of private property. Whatever the strategy that victimizes the private property owner, lawsuits to protect property rights too often do not succeed, as the legal resources of the city, county, or state are far greater than those of the suffering property owner. Milder “takings” involve “pay-to-play” arrangements in which property owners are forced to make expensive deals with government agencies in order to get plans and permitting approved. Owners are forced “to donate land or build public improvements in return for development approvals. These requirements,” Corace argues, are knows as exactions – a politically correct term for extortion.”

Often, regulatory agencies, especially those with overlapping jurisdictions, have conflicting requirements so that if the property owner satisfies one bureaucratic entity, he or she runs afoul of another.

Major sources of frustration for owners of private property are government regulations regarding wetlands and wildlife. Corace recognizes that there are legitimate concerns lurking behind the tomes of legislation that aim at protecting the natural environment, but he insists that matters have gone way too far. The accumulated case law from suits files and counterfiled over the years deny owners of private property a reasonable chance of exercising their constitutional rights. Misrepresentations and factual errors regarding so-called endangered species have had the end result of endangering landowners and their enterprises. Overzealous lawyers and prosecutors, and politically correct judges, have brought us to a dangerous imbalance in our priorities.

The strength of Corace’s Government Pirates is not so much in the articulation of principals, but rather in the amassing of copious examples that illustrate his points. He is never at a loss for colorful cases that expose the steady impoverishment of private property rights. Though some of the cases he reviews actually – and eventually – are resolved in favor of the property owner, the great majority are not. And decisions characterized as judicious compromises are more often outright confiscations that put property owners in the poorhouse: criminalized, penalized, and buried by debts for legal services.

Don Corace’s biography in press releases for Government Pirates is somewhat skeletal. Most Neapolitans know him best as one of the driving forces of Signature Communities, developer of luxury hi-rise communities in the Vanderbilt Beach area: The Regatta, The Dunes, and most recently Moraya Bay (on the site of the former Vanderbilt Inn). Signature’s thwarted attempts to build a marina adjacent to The Dunes, as well as its struggles with litigation involving an eagle’s nest, have no doubt colored Corace’s perception of the issues he explores. Still, his array of facts makes his position compelling.

Others know Corace as the novelist who wrote Offshore (2005), a corporate thriller set in and around Houston. This is a fast-paced examination of corruption and greed in the offshore drilling and exploration business – a business that the author knew at first hand.

Don Corace’s new book is instructive, convincing, and timely. Not just for high rollers in the land development business, it’s for anyone who owns private property and anyone who is concerned about how government regulations and operations threaten the citizenry.

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When Miriam Died

When Miriam died,
her timbrel quieted,
her well left dry –
there was no fanfare.

When her brother Aaron died,
the people mourned for 30 days.

Eleazar put on his father’s priestly robes,
but no one took on Miriam’s garments
or sang her songs.

Yes, the water dried up at her death,
and the people complained again
about the folly of leaving Egypt,
but when the Lord commanded
that the words of Moses bring forth
water from the rock, he used the rod
instead and seemed to claim
the miracle as one of his own making.

Moses was left to watch Aaron
die before him, as Miriam had done, —
left alone to lead the people
through further misadventures,
and to end his quest with the generation
that had fled slavery and yet kept
gagging on the bitter gift of freedom.

Moses was left to quench his longing
in a drought – dreaming, perhaps,
of the watery place of his rescue,
when young Miriam had waited by the Nile
watching over little brother in his ark of reeds.

(Originally published in Midstream, March-April 2008)

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The Asian


Philip K. Jason

There is an Asian streak in our Bookbinder family, a mix of foreign blood, perhaps, and Down’s syndrome for certain. Grandma Ida’s sister, Aunt Lena, looked like a Chinawoman. Grandpa Jake Bookbinder sometimes looked mildly Asiatic, as did Aunt Frieda, one of Jake’s five children, who had other problems as well. My brother Martin was what they then called a “Mongoloid” child. When he died at the age of three from respiratory deficiencies, Grandpa Jake, whom he was said to resemble, took it especially hard. I think Martin was more Bookbinder than Jason.

I was six when Martin died. This was in 1948. Soon after, Mother, in her grief, decided that she owed me a brother. She always put it that way. She had Warren for me, so I wouldn’t be an only child. But since he and I were (and are) seven and a half years apart, her motive was not fulfilled, at least not in her lifetime. Eight school grades separated us, and after I skipped the fifth grade, nine. When I was in high school, watching Warren in the afternoon until Mother came home from work was not something I did joyfully, or even did at all if I could find a way out. When I married, at twenty, Warren was just entering his teens. So I did grow up as an only child, as did he. (As did Father and his much older brother, Uncle Sam.) Never playmates, our relationship gained richness only after Mother’s death in 1985. Somehow, she had kept us apart.

In a peculiar way, as well, Martin’s death stood between us more than it made a connection. Is it that Martin had to die before Warren was, in all ways, conceived? I don’t know.

When I was a little kid with baby Martin, I played the role of older brother quite naturally. He’d follow me around, or I’d drag him, and it was fun to be a leader and protector. I felt so grown up, taking him by the hand or helping him up when he fell down. Of course, I knew that there was something wrong with him; he picked up on things more slowly than other toddlers, he hardly spoke, and he looked peculiar, but we were bonded emotionally. Martin came along before I had the critical mind that makes a big deal out of differences. He was mine.

Nonetheless, I was making a healthy recovery from this loss, and I think that I resented the “replacement” idea from the beginning. Out of her sense of guilt, mother was building the seeds of resentment, pressuring me with a gift and a sacrifice that I didn’t know how to accept. I think if the idea of having a third child had come to Mother before she was losing Martin, things would have been different. Not only would Warren (I assume the next kid would still have been Warren!) and I be closer in age, but–more importantly–he would have been simply and cleanly another brother.

I think Mother, a most calculating person, made a miscalcu­lation; in hindsight she grew to know it. She was almost thirty-seven when Warren was born, and as she neared fifty she was of no mind, literally, to be patient with an adolescent. She had lost the marginal equipment she was given for that task. Though he was the most carefully planned for child, at some point Warren came to be treated like the classic “mistake,” the unwanted surprise. Mother had burdened her middle age, and after a while she grew resentful, especially as I had never been properly appreciative and was by this time out on my own. Mother lived for gestures of appreciation.

Warren’s problems in that frosty household, especially after I left, are his own story; mine is with the memory of Martin. Not the memory so much, but the possibilities. The “what ifs.” When I remember his wide, round face and his small, flat nose, I think of the Reverend Moon and his church. I wonder if Martin could have become a leader like that, an inspiration to people. Or, perhaps more likely, if he could have dealt with his handicaps bravely and become a winner in some Special Olympics competition. Who can say? Even when I was five and six, I knew that Martin was especially sweet. His smile held nothing back. He was never guarded like the rest of us. Too dumb, perhaps? Or just too young.

When someone dies at three, do you really ever know him? Am I making all this up, more than sixty years years after he left us?

His kind was still a scandal in the 1940s – “Mongolian Idiot” the operative term. More recently, there is an acceptance of the damaged child. One fellow with Down’s syndrome even had a regular part in a television series. (Could Martin have grown into a man like that?) Still, difference is always a barrier.

Mother was both accepting and outraged at the same time. She was always looking for God’s fair play, and she couldn’t find it here. Always, she wanted me to treat Martin as if he were normal, but she just said it too often and too loud. I felt for him and cared for him so naturally, and yet she pushed me toward an unhappy self-consciousness. She was high-minded in the worst of ways, making a show of how we dealt with this misfortune as if it weren’t a misfortune at all. I guess her behavior wasn’t so unusual in this regard, but she was so transparently a bad ac­tress. Long before I knew about Brecht’s concept of the aliena­tion effect, Mother had it down pat.

I don’t see Father in the picture at all. I have no idea how he dealt with this. And, speaking of pictures, I find very few pictures of either of them with Martin. In several, he is alone. There is one of him with Grandma Ida and another with Aunt Frie­da. In dozens of others, he and I are together, usually bundled in snowsuits or otherwise overdressed. In one or two, we are scampering around at a Long Island beach. I’m either trying to lift him up or steer him toward the camera. Martin is almost like my doll, my puppet. It’s as if his only real life is with me or through me. And, since Father died fourteen years ago, this is the case. What little there was, I am writing down.

(Of course, Father was there. He took all the pictures. That’s another story.)

It was chromosomal abnormality, that odd fold of skin from the eyelid. Martin wasn’t really Asian, but was he at least Oriental? Something to do with the east, the rising sun? Is there anything in his life, in this memory, that touches hope? We were two little boys. Remember Martin, I whisper, to no one. When I am gone, so is he.

 (revised Dec 2008)

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Publish Locally, Think Globally

Cape Coral Publisher Serves New Voices

by Philip K. Jason

FOUNDED IN 2003 as a project of Gelinas and Wolf, Inc., a Las Vegas marketing services company, ArcheBooks Publishing was spun off as a separate company a year later. While its corporate headquarters remains in Nevada, the editorial office – Bob Gelinas’s prime responsibility – moved with Gelinas to Cape Coral. In its relatively short life, this innovative trade publishing house has had steady productivity in a difficult marketplace. From seven titles in 2003 to twenty-three in 2004 to twenty in 2005 to eighteen in 2006 to thirteen in 2007 to about the same number published or forthcoming in 2008. That early pace was probably unsustainable, but it helped to get ArcheBooks the early recognition that a start-up company must have. It won’t be long until ArcheBooks reaches its 100th title.

To see this article in its entirety, as published in the November-December 2008 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine, click here:  Ft.Myers magazine – ArcheBooks

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