Wednesday, May 23, 2007

See Naples and Die (...of the stench)

Look, I'll be honest here. I make my living working with tourists, so it's really not in my best interest to highlight when things get shameful in this country. Not so good for business, you know? And my blog is about Rome, after all, not Naples. But...but...

Yesterday I was wasting time, ahem, thoughtfully browsing the blogosphere, and I ran across this little gem. I thought, what the heck, let's make it international and submitted the sign from this post that you might remember if you were with us on our day trip to Naples back in November. You know, a little ha-ha over a Neopolitan's passive-aggressive reaction to finding dog poo at her front door.

Well folks, quite apropos. Because there's a lot more than dog poo going on there right now.

But this is nothing to joke about. I find it so incomprehensible that poking fun is far from appropriate. Can anyone explain this to me?

It pains me to ask you to click on this link, some of the photos from which are above.

I had heard stories of Naples' periodic garbage epidemics, even so far as having heard that some years back there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused by the refuse in the streets. You kind of hear these stories and think, right, they must be exaggerating. I'm not naive enough to pretend that this is something new or even unusual, but I still can't bring myself to accept that it's anywhere near normal or acceptable, and what's more, how is it possible that no one is able to get the situation under control? And is this a problem that many citizens in Naples live with on a daily basis, or is it limited to small, outlying areas? Judging by the news over the last couple days, it appears to be a full-on crisis throughout the urban area.

I've never lived in Naples and I don't know anyone who lives there, and I haven't read enough articles about the current crisis to feel qualified to say anything more on this topic. A quick scan of some Naples bloggers didn't help much, although I did find an editorial and analysis by one here (in Italian), from two days ago. The news isn't good; here's an excerpt:
Un incendio di rifiuti ogni dieci minuti. Un appello del prefetto caduto nel vuoto. 7000 tonnellate rimaste in strada, destinate ad aumentare, 13 nuovi casi di epatite A (ma l'ASL si è affrettata a dare la colpa ad una partita di cozze venduta nei mercatini, e potrebbe anche avere ragione), un allarme meningite latente, e topi grandi quanto conigli. Ecco la provincia di Napoli come l'ho vista ieri.

A garbage fire every 10 minutes. An appeal from the prefect that fell on deaf ears. 7,000 tons of garbage left in the streets, destined to grow, 13 new cases of hepatitis A (but the health department was quick to point the finger at some mussels sold in the outdoor markets, and they could be right), a meningitis scare, and rats as big as rabbits. This is the province of Naples as I saw it yesterday.
This blogger went on to say how the institutions that should be helping citizens in a situation like this are all in denial that there is a real problem.

You know what everyone tells me when I ask them how something like this is possible?

They just shrug their shoulders and say it's the Naples mafia.

Could it possibly be that simple, and yet that complicated at the same time? Is it for fear that the problem doesn't get taken care of? Apathy? Incompetence?

I am open to hear any of your thoughts, reactions, personal experiences, or additional information.


Simon Griffee said...

I saw similar images in Rome a couple of years ago.
There were piles of garbage one storey-high in the streets directly off Piazza Navona.

I believe it was a two-week-long garbage collectors' 'sciopero' (strike). Happens once in a while!

The problem is made worse by people that insist on buying food and beverages in excessive packaging and then don't flatten or recycle the containers.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ciao Simon! I've lived through I think just one garbage strike here in Rome. It lasted a day or two. I never saw the garbage as bad as you did in Piazza Navona. And I am happy to say that I don't think in the history of Rome it has ever been as bad as what occurs on an all-too-regular basis down in Naples. Regardless, the whole idea of a garbage strike, or any of the 3,000,000 or so different types of strikes that take place here in Italy (Alitalia, anyone?) is novelty at first, then just plain annoying...

I agree with you on the packaging. In Stockholm I saw them selling a lot of refills in the grocery stores in very minimal packaging, for example jam in a plastic tube that you squeeze into the glass jar you already have at home.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Wait, before anyone wants to get very picky... I should never say anything "in the history of Rome" ;-)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

wow. that is just insane. someone told me that the mafia will compete for the waste disposal contracts (just like they do in certain parts of the Tri State area), then once they get the money ignore them.

Okay while the waste disposal business is allegedly mob up in NY, NJ and CT, they pick that crap up. I guess they don't want to lose the contracts or draw too much attention to a very lucrative business.

What does the mayor of Naples have to say about all this?

p.s. I just received one of the traveling books in the mail.

KC said...

I live in the province of Caserta where we're also having trash problems. This has been going on for months, not weeks. It's just that it's finally reached the point of utter absurdity. Fortunately it's not a problem in the town where I live, but we often see piles of trash along the roads between towns. I don't like to think about what that means for the produce raised in the nearby fields.

Last November, we were driving through a seaside town and along the street fronting the shore there were mountains of trash like those in the pictures you posted. Right next to one of these mountains, there was a sanitation worker with a little broom and a dust pan sweeping up a tiny piece of paper. It was such a surreal moment. Campania is such a badly managed region, and organized crime doesn't help. There's also very little recycling, despite the fact that there is separation of materials here.

Things like this make me so sad, because I really love Campania and I think it has so much beauty and so much potential.

Sorry for the long comment!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ciao NYC... the way you explain it is exactly the way it's been explained to me here. Once the "appalto" or bid is granted, and the money changes hands, it seems there's no real reason to bother with the actual work the money was intended to pay for. Given the fact that there seems to be absolutely no efforts to really get in and do anything when the garbage piles up, other than fire fighters going around to put out the flames... well, I guess I can see why they don't bother. It's just so sad.

And, about the book! Great! (And all the way from Australia, no?) You'll have to trade notes with Sognatrice, she just got her copy the other day too.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

KC: Thanks so much for your comment and by all means, no worries about it being long... I was really hoping for some first-hand comments like yours, since I've only really seen these kinds of severe problems in the southern areas of Italy. I hate to generalize though because the south takes so much flack already and is such a scapegoat for so many things that are wrong in Italy... but unfortunately in some cases, like the ones you mention, the reputation springs from reality.

The street sweeper story is crazy. Surreal was a good choice of words.

KC said...

I forgot to add something else I've heard. There's an incentive for the corrupt contractors who get the appalti to let the trash pile up. They get paid more to haul away mountains of trash than to empty dumpsters.

chris & erin said...

wow! Someone told me about this yesterday but I hadn't seen the images. Weird. it kind of makes my heart hurt in a way...hope it gets cleaned up soon

Michellanea said...

I too was wondering what this trash crisis was all about. It's all over the news but they don't explain what's behind it. I figured it had something to do with corrupt trash dumps or whatever but didn't know the full story. Yes, they can clean it up again this time but I doubt it will resolve the problem. It seems to be about a whole mentality changing and about letting the mafia run things.

Alex said...

Good post, Shelley.
It's not a simple matter... Campania's waste and mafia (better is "eco-mafia") are the same thing.
If you have questions... I can answer...

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Chris & Erin: I know what you mean. It breaks my heart seeing those kids holding their noses and walking past all of that, or having to breathe the fumes from those fires, and the worst part is thinking that maybe they've grown up seeing that as normal.

Mich: I know it's so complex, and I often wonder if the residents feel helpless and powerless to change things, or if they just feel resigned, or if they are angry at the government for not helping them more... so often in Italy I see a general feeling of "things are never going to change, so just get used to it" and I guess the American in me thinks, "but why not?" This is where cultural attitudes really come to light.

Alex: Che onore! And your English is great. I have many, many questions but unfortunately it's probably best not discussing over a blog... un giorno se mai ti trovi a Roma ti offro un caffè volentieri...

Michellanea said...

Yep, Shelley, I too grew up with all that hokey "There's I CAN in AmerICAN" and really bristle at the world "impossibile" I seem to hear all the time here. But it's also not as easy as saying "Well just stand up to the Camorra" or whatever either. I've heard various Napoletani who say that many people just turn the other cheek or pretend it's not going on because it's just easier that way. Not to say that it's all about the Camorra, but I remember watching one of those news programs about that on TV here and seeing people say that many normal Neapolitan citizens (old ladies, etc.) will throw things at the police when they show up in their neighborhoods because they just don't want "trouble" of any kind, even in the form of police officers investigating crimes. Being a "snitch" often times is not seen as the noble thing and that person becomes a target. How do you deal in a system like that? I don't know what I would do.

Bryan and Autumn said...

Wow seeing the garbage piled up in Naples like that really puts into perspective my whining about the garbage pick up and bottle crashing at 5am in the morning on my street in Milan.
I will gladly suffer through the noise if it means avoiding a mountain of garbage at my front door!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

How awful!
It's so sad. My first reaction was horror and then the environmentalist and 'fiercly independent' side of me took over and thought, well DO something to correct it so that it doesn't happen again. I'm sorry to see though, that it's much easier said than done. many expats in Naples? Could they start an eco-friendly revolution? riiiiiiiiiiight.
Also wondering, I'm sure they aren't careful about only burning certain parts of the garbage, are they? Do they just burn the whole heap? I am thinking of the toxins and chemicals that are changed in many ways - even at an atomic level when they are set on fire. Besides the fact that smoke can kill when breathed in, the chemicals released in these fires can do long lasting and severe damage to organs and tissue within the human body.
Had no idea this was even happening. Thanks for writing about it.
Maybe widespread knowledge will lead to change.


kim said...

How gross is that?! And such a beautiful (normally) city. Sad.

FinnyKnits said...

Suprisingly, in all that crapola - not a single toilet in view! But, I suppose, the fact that it's on fire should be cause enough for alarm. Good friggen lord.

I suppose that it would take something as dramatic as mafia trouble to cause mayhem like this.

You should have seen the look on my Italian teacher's face when I told her I'd been through Naples (she's from Milan). Terror.

hey, I'm nameless! said...

There was an article in the Guardian Weekly last week. 18.05.
Not just Naples is affected, but the countryside b/n Caserta and Salerno is contaminated with illegal rubbish tips to the extent that rates of cancer are inflated, borewater toxic, soil unfit for crops. There was a good and brave book written last year by young man on the Camorra.
At last a blogger scratching the surface of the poxy political landscape of Italy!

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Nameless (great name, BTW ;-)) I started the book, Gomorra, and I was very impressed by it because instead of the typical glamorization alla "The Sopranos" or "The Godfather" here was a book that read like a novel yet examined serious and complex issues from a more sociological point of view. I am still working on getting through it, actually, because I read pretty slow in Italian. ;-)

american girl in italy said...

All I ever get in reponse to my *how the hell does that happen* questions are as you said, *it's the naples mafia*. DRIVES ME CRAZY! First they need to recycle, so the trash piles are cut drastically. They also need to quit throwing refrigerators, tv's, etc. on the street. If the mafia does *win* the contracts, and the dumps aren't being built, then the government higher ups need to step in and GET THEM built! They need to stop giving the mafia the contracts. Sure, sounds easier said then done, maybe, but they only have power if they are given power. God, I don't know, call in the national guard and get rid of them. They know who they are.

I have heard, as well, that when police respond to calls in neighborhoods, they are attacked by the citizens. If I was a police man, and I was doing my lawabiding job, and I was attacked, I would shoot. When is it ok to attack a policeman? (Can you tell this topic gets my ire?) ahha Although, I also do not think it is acceptable that since they refuse to obey the traffic laws, and helmet laws, that they don't have to...but that is another topic.

The article you linked said that the people of Naples always protest when new facilities are going to be built. I don't get it. Why? They need to build a facility like the one in Brescia. It burns the trash cleanly and converts it into energy that fuels the city.

All I know, is it is gross and sad, and a HUGE health risk. You can't leave rotting trash on the streets. I am worried that one day there will be a huge outbreak of something nasty. They said hepatitus in on the rise.

Also, I think they should start a huge drive to get Naples mothers to use washable diapers, instead of throwing disposable diapers on the street. Icky I know, but not near as icky as having rotting dirty diapers sitting in the summer sun.

I just definitely don't get the way people in naples live. I am way too much of a buy the book person. I would never, could never stand for a life like that. Filth rotting in the streets.

Why don't they try to fix it - at least to the point of 1. recycle (regardless of whether the city recycles, but at least they can store the paper/plastic/cans/glass until the trash issue is resolved - less trash to deal with.) 2. Give the wet food trash to dogs/pigs? 3. Find people with gardens and give them things for the composte. 4. Use washable diapers.

Sorry. It just really bugs.

jessica said...

this is very dangerous. what a health risk. looks like the citizens have to take care of their health so that disease does not take over. what a crazy thing this is.

jennifer said...

Hi Shelley-
I found your Blog through bleeding espresso- my compliments.
I was in Naples in March for a trip to the US Embassy there, and I literally was floored by what I saw. I live in northern Italy, and of course I wasn't expecting Naples to be like it is where I live. What I didn't expect was for it to be worse than any other city I've ever seen in the world! I haven't seen them all, but I've seen quite a few, including the poorest cities in India. But Naples takes the cake. The decay and disregard for a city that is as full of artistic and architectural treasures was beyond belief. The garbage in the streets is only the most evident tip of the iceberg. And as I follow this story on the news every night, which comes only after they've reported on Milan's win in Athens, Prodi's latest mutter, blah blah blah, I'm outraged and ashamed. I've been in Italy for 15 years, and a large part of me feels Italian. Loves Italy. But this makes me feel totally foreign. There's a bizarre sense that Naples isn't really Italy in the minds of people here in the north. Unfortunately Naples is just another piece, albeit large piece, of the myriad of "italianatas" that have convinced me and my family to search for greener pastures...

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Jennifer: When I read your comment I figured maybe your trip to Naples had to do with an Italian hubby and plans to move back to the States... then I read your blog and figured perhaps I am right? That's the only real reason expats ever wander to the consolate there, as far as I know!

And yes, shameful is the right way to put it because Naples has one of the most incredible archeological museums probably in the entire world, along with other gorgeous historical and cultural treasures, not to mention the incredible food and local people.

Anonymous said...

NYTIMES has just posted an article that talks about the real reason behind the trash situation in Naples and its surrounding towns,,,its a horrid situtation. I'm an ex-NYer and I live in the Naples and I have to travel through these towns casoria, afragola, arzano and its incredible to see what's happening.

I just hope this gets resolved quickly...its unbearable and toxic...the WHO should get involved,

Anonymous said...

atwitsend in Naples

We are Americans living in the outskirts of Naples. We have been here for about 8 months now. I am reading all of your posts and want to add that it is worse than you can imagine. We are fortunate because we only have to drive through one "trash alley" to get home. The trash is piled higher than my car and completely covers one lane making the two way road a narrow one lane road. But I count my blessing that I don't have to travel through several "trash alleys" to get home like some of my friends.

Recycle? Tried it. It piled by my waste bin for weeks going un collected. I still continue to seperate "stinky" trash from "non stinky" trash. This way "stinky" trash doesn't attract the many packs of wild dogs when it overflows my garbage container.

I feel helpless, like I am not doing enough with my own trash, but my efforts are futile. Holding on to my recylcables until the problem is resolved would be fruitless because we have been informed that the problem has been going on for YEARS not months. We will probably be gone before the problem is fixed.

Rats??? Yes, I see many of them. Bigger than rabbits coming out of the trash piles. I see all of the wild dogs, cats, and rats coming in and out of that trash and then carrying it into the nearby produce farms - it disturbs me.

Also the burning is daily...and continous. Your home fills with smoke but the heat is too much to bear with the windows closed!

I find all of this really sad because the people are friendly and their landscape is goregous, what a shame it has such a terrible scar!