The Buddha Wall is a 7-foot high brick fence facing a quiet residential street in one of Naples' older subdivisions. Until a few weeks ago, the wall hardly drew a second glance. That was until Dan Andrews noticed a face forming on its surface.
?I jog past that wall every day,? said Andrews, a local building contractor. ?Then one morning I noticed it seemed to have an image of that Buddha guy on it.?
Andrews brought the apparition to the attention of Naples resident and self-described ?dharma bum? Tony Ronca, who posted pictures of the wall to his MySpace page on the internet.
?It's not actually the Buddha,? commented Ronca. ?It's Hotei, a friendly deity popular in China and Japan.?
Hotei is probably most familiar to Westerners as the smiling, obese statue common at the entrances of Asian food restaurants. It's considered good luck to run his belly. Whether Hotei was a historical figure is a matter of academic debate ? as is the nature of the marks on the Buddha Wall.
Ronca is a believer. ?I saw what Dan did right away,? said Ronca. ?The shape is really obvious, and it's getting darker and easier to see every day.?
Ronca says he's like to send samples of the brick to a laboratory in Massachusetts for analysis, but the owner of the Buddha Wall isn't cooperating. And he offers an explanation of his own for the image.
?I think it has something to do with Ave Maria,? he confided.
Ave Maria ? just 17 miles east of Naples ? is the planned Roman Catholic town and university being bankrolled by Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan. Groundbreaking began last month, about the time the image was first reported. The development is being viewed suspiciously by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, which is concerned about religious and social restrictions in the new community. Residents will begin to occupy Ave Maria sometime in 2007.
?If this is Hotei, I think he's here to tell us something,? speculated Ronca. ?It's like, hey, there's more to this part of Florida than Catholics. We have people of all faiths here.?
Apparently there are also apparitions of all faiths, too.