University of Southern California

A Neapolitan at McMurdo

Mario De Stefano, January 26, morning — Neapolitans are not just Italians; we are the most complex Italians. The strange fusion of Greek, Roman, Arabic, French and Spanish cultures makes us just that way: complex. Neapolitans everywhere in the world carry with them part of Naples — sometimes in their minds, sometimes in their luggage. Because Naples is not just our city. We have a saying, “Napulè na catena che sciogl’ o’sang’ int’ è vene” (“Naples links its bodies as a chain and melts its blood in the veins”).

When I arrived at McMurdo Station, planning to stay here for more than a month, I carried Neapolitan moka in my luggage to remind myself of the flavor of Neapolitan coffee. After a few days, my new American friends asked for everything else Italian: pasta, pizza and tomato sauce. Unfortunately, New Zealand Customs might have stopped me had I tried to bring those in.

Such a strange place is McMurdo Station in Antarctica. You leave home with the idea that you are going to the last inhabited continent in the world. But when you arrive here, you find a little village of about a thousand people that has nearly everything — more than some places in your own country. For example, the Internet connection here is satellite-based but works well 24 hours a day. So strange to send email to Italy and fail to connect because of server problems there!

mariopenguins2.JPGHowever, everything changes when the winds blow hard and the sun disappears into the clouds. You start to freeze, and suddenly remember you where you are: lost in the middle of the ice continent — Antarctica where penguins (see photos and video), seals and whales play host to us. To them, we must look funny as red spots waddling across the ice.

When I came to participate to the International Biology Training Course for Polar Scientists, I didn’t imagine that this experience would be so intense. Now I have 35 new colleagues from around the world. I have learned the Americans are sometimes more different from each other than from Canadians or Australians, that a Russian friend on my team enjoys her warm home in Hawaii more than I do my mild Neapolitan winter, that strong women exist who plan to remain here for the winter... and that a Neapolitan can have a dinner at 6:30 p.m., eating “linguini bolonaise” and “tortillini pesto” (not the correct words in Italian) and still be happy.

I am grateful for such an intense experience, thankful to Deneb, Donal, Mark, George, Allison, Sarah and all my new friends. I will return to Naples taking a piece of all of them in my heart.

Mario De Stefano is a research scientist at the Second University of Naples.