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Italy: Time to Take Out the Trash
As Napoli faces a crisis that has garbage piling in the streets, this writer calls for change
JANUARY 20, 2008 - I've written about my fascination with Napoli, and its contradictory ways - its distinct ability to be beautiful and ugly, paradise and hell. My beautiful Naples, the bosom of family and Italian southern charm, is taking a major hit. In the last few weeks, the country is seeing only Napoli's dark side.
The city's landfills and garbage dumps are all full, and trash has been piling up. Reportedly, the garbage stands six feet tall in some places. News photos show mothers pushing bags of trash out of the way to make way for carriages carrying their children. Worst of all, the protestors demanding the government do something about this smelly, disgusting, tragic problem are burning the garbage.
The deck seems to be stacked against my fair Napoli. Politicians in Italy are notorious for ignoring problems of the poorer south or just being paralyzed by bureaucracy and the Camorra, the powerful mafia that is headquartered in Napoli. The Camorra actually likes these kinds of garbage crises, which started happening years ago, because they turn profits on illegal dumps that are used more frequently when the regulated dumps are full and closed. According to a recent article in the The New York Times, the illegal grounds are dangerous to people and the environment.
For now, some of the legal dumps and incinerators have been reopened temporarily, and some trash has been shipped to other countries, including (reportedly) Germany. These quick fixes will do for now, but Napoli will need long-term solutions to insure that the garbage does not pile up again soon.
Mounds of trash in and around Napoli speak of bigger problems. They are showing the world - once and for all - that there is still a huge divide between the north and the south in Italy. How often do we hear about Milan being overloaded by garbage? It tells potential tourists that Napoli itself is a garbage dump. It proves that the city is still largely ignored by national politicians and abused by criminals. Its people - the good people who are not in the Camorra and are working hard to live a decent life - are all but forgotten. Now, everyone, even those as far away as America, knows the truth. Not many people outside of the city care about Napoli.
Still, it is the birthplace of pizza and home to the true, authentic pizza. The city's artisans are best known for their colorful, hand-carved presepio (or nativity) figurines. Neapolitan songs have become the songs of Italy in the rest of the world - from "O' Sole Mio" to "O' Saracino". Probably Italy's greatest export, Sophia Loren hails from nearby Pozzuoli. The everyday folk there are among the world's best. They will welcome you into their hearts and homes with a smile and a glass of vino. They will help you when you're in need. They'll make something of nothing.
In fact, the Italy that has won the hearts of Americans, who learned about the country and culture from their Italian American friends, is the one created in the minds of ex-patriots who left Napoli, Avellino, Calabria, and Sicilia. The Italy that Americans know is mostly southern because southerners are the ones who came to the United States looking for a better life. We Italian Americans from the south have put on a good face. We've encouraged our friends to visit Napoli and its islands.
We've remembered the good and not the bad. That's what we shared with our American friends. Now, the Italian government, Neapolitans, and Napoli itself better not let us down. Together, they have the power to take out the trash metaphorically and literally. It's time they do just that, so we can appreciate bella, calda Napoli for its beauty and talents and not its derelict behaviors. And we can go visit our favorite city without the pungent odor of garbage drowning out that of the original margherita.
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