Biutiful cauntri: terra dei fuochi

February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

I feel like any discussion about contemporary Italy somehow ends up talking about the South.  Il Sud Italia.

It has been described as backwards, primitive, dirty, and corrupt.  Today, people are trying to change its image:  the yellow rays of sunshine, the pale scent of limoncello, the taste of authentic Italian pizza, the beautiful villas and secluded islands, the beaches, the treats for art historians at Pompeii, Basilicata paths unspoiled by tourists.  The heart-warming welcomes and laid-back mentalities of southerners, the diversity of cultures that immigrants bring to the land.

And, I agree.  Southern Italy is beautiful.

And I would like to explore that aspect of Italy; all of the wonderful people and all of the hidden little coves that give this region the golden glow that it deserves.  But, before I savour all of its little treasures, I believe that it is important to understand where all of the negativity about the South is coming from.

Where better to start than the problem of rifiuti?

Here is a very powerful movie (in Italian, with English subtitles) about the waste mafia located in the south of Italy.  Fields of rubbish, toxic waste seeping into the ground, livestock bathing in acid lakes and eating poisoned grass (and who eats the mozzarella di bufala, drinks the milk, picks the eggs, eats the meat?), barefooted children living on mountains of trash amidst dead animals, “dead livestock collectors” instead of “trash collectors”, corrupted phone calls, and statistics that will make your toes curl.

And if you think that this is South Italy’s problem, you’re wrong.  Every night, thousands of tons of trash are transported from all over Italy to this region and dumped into caves, into streams, into fields, into incinerators.  And not just from Italy; 10 European countries (among them the UK, Germany, and Norway), 5 Asian countries, and 7 African countries are in on this political secret whose smell can’t really be covered up.*  It’s a global issue, and it’s unfortunate that fingers are being pointed only at Italy (though I’m not defending it in this case).

What makes people accept this?  The death rate from cancer in areas of waste in Campania has gone up 21 percent in the past couple of years**, 14-year-olds are driving trucks filled with the most poisonous of the waste materials because no adult dares get near enough, parents are dying in beds a few feet from the mountains of waste bordering the backyard.  I’m not trying to be idealistic or pretend that I don’t understand the hardships that these people are going through, but I can’t help but wonder what makes people stay in those regions.  There is always the attachment to the land, the hope for the future, the lack of money and opportunity to move, but… you’re living to die.  Where is the sense in that?

And if you can’t change it, at least understand it.  Understand the corruption, the politics, and the people responsible for it.  As Saviano concludes in Terra dei fuochi, the last chapter of his book, Gomorra**:

“Porsi contro i clan diviene una guerra per la sopravvivenza, come se l’esistenza stessa, il cibo che mangi, le labbra che baci, le musica che ascolti, le pagine che leggi non riuscissero a concederti il senso della vita, ma solo quello della sopravvivenza.  E così conoscere non e’ piu una traccia di impegno morale.  Sapere, capire diviene una necessita. L’unica possibile per considerarsi ancora uomini degni di respirare.”



* Legambiente. Rifiuti Spa. Roma: , 2012. Print.
** Saviano, Roberto. Gomorra. Mondadori, 2010. 330-331. Print.


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