Same shit, different day

I haven’t written about this sooner because it makes me so angry that I prefer not to think about it, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid, especially in the summer.

N and I have some agricultural land right outside the town walls. It’s part of a lot that N inherited together with his mother and his siblings when his father died. His father had inherited it from his parents; it had been part of a much larger estate that was divided among numerous heirs. N’s father’s lot didn’t have a suitable house on it, so he rented it and its small casa colonica (farmhouse) to a tenant. The tenant had a son, who growing up on the land, came to think of it as his own, and indeed, he began to act as though he were the owner, and it took an acrimonious and drawn-out court case (which N’s father nearly lost due to both perjury and bribery by the other side) to finally evict him. Sadly, N’s father didn’t live long enough to see that happen.

While the tenant’s son lived there, he allowed several things to happen that irreparably damaged the land. The worst of these things was allowing the builders of three nearby condominiums to avoid connecting the buildings to the town’s sewer line by simply letting the untreated waste flow out onto N’s father’s land. As soon as N’s family discovered this, they reported it to the authorities. There was a trial, the town fined the owners of the condominiums, and the police were charged with ensuring that the situation be remedied. N’s family gained hundreds of enemies, as the inhabitants of the condos were required to pay a share of the fine (they spent a decade shitting on someone else’s land, but they felt that they had been wronged), the town made some easy money, and then nothing happened. I think it helpful to add here that among the residents of the condominiums in question was the mayor of the town.

And so we have some agricultural land that cannot be farmed because there is a stream of untreated waste that flows through it, more or less uninterruptedly. It cuts off a portion of land that has perhaps twenty olive trees on it, making them hard to reach because of the wide swath of saturated terrain that must be traversed to do so. It flows by several fig and orange trees, providing a constant source of fertilizer for poison fruit that cannot be eaten. We have a walnut tree that produces every year but all it’s good for is a bit of shade. (If you like to sit downwind of a stinking canal of excrement, that is.)

When N’s father died, his family looked into developing part of the lot. I think that they wanted to find a way to keep it in their family yet forget the bad memories associated with it (including the sad truth that N’s father had spent decades trying to take possession of HIS OWN LAND and died before he succeeded.) But it’s zoned for agricultural use, and it doesn’t matter at all that it’s useless agriculturally. I think it helpful to add here that the town several years ago availed itself of some adjoining agricultural land, which happened to belong to the aunt, to build a pay parking lot. Apparently, what can be built on agricultural land depends on who is doing the building.

I remember how insistent I was to N about doing something, anything, about it when I first heard the story, and I couldn’t understand his or his family’s inaction, their seeming shrug in the face of injustice. It took years for me to grasp, finally, that they had already done all that they could and that they were tired of fighting and wary of letting that piece of land consume their lives that way it had done to N’s father.

We are torn between wanting to sell the land and wanting to take up the fight once again to resolve the problem. If we sell it, then all of N’s father’s efforts will have been in vain, (and we suspect that if we sell it to someone more well-connected than we are, it is likely that permission would be given for it to be developed.) If we decide to fight, we risk wasting years on something that, frankly, looks like a lost cause. And even if we were to win, how many years would we have to wait before we could be sure that the land was no longer polluted by all the nasty stuff that people flush down toilets (and here I’m not talking about human waste?)

View of the damaged casa colonica (on the day of his eviction, the tenant tried to destroy as much of the house as he could, at one point even climbing onto the roof and throwing the roof tiles down to the ground.) The modern buildings in the background of the photo are not the condominiums discussed in the post.

View of the damaged casa colonica (on the day of his eviction, the tenant tried to destroy as much of the house as he could, at one point even climbing onto the roof and throwing the roof tiles down to the ground.) The modern buildings in the background of the photo are not the condominiums discussed in the post.


22 responses to “Same shit, different day

  1. This is a shocking story KC, even for Italy. I didn't think much could shock me anymore. Wow. I hate to stir up any sh** but what about getting an independent environmental assessment done? That can't be sanitary or healthy for even the inhabitants of the condominiums to have a sewage canal like that running through the land near them. Since you have "won" the right to have the situation remedied and yet nothing has happened- maybe a prod from (environmental) authorities could finally prompt action.

  2. I'm confused: If the owners of the condos had to pay money to stop their waste from flowing ilegally onto your land then why is their still a stinky stream of waste there?Is there any way that the waste can be cleaned up and possibly new waste plugged up so it doesn't flow on your land? It would be a shame to let all that land go to waste

  3. KC, My idea is to have a community garden on that spot. Put a big sign up that says "future site of free community garden. Everyone invited". Post some pictures on the sign of good looking community gardens like what we have here in the states. You can find them online. Just tell them that you want this so that they can have better, or free fruits and vegetables. Because you love gardening and you love the community. Now, that could get local interest and if people can see that they can glean something and be part of something they will be more inclined to stop it.

  4. To be polite, this is totally disgusting! Reading how "N's" family has been treated after winning the case is even harder to swallow. Best of luck to your family in resolving this.

  5. Amber, that's how we've been thinking about addressing it. In the past, ASL was involved, and there the ones who said that the pipe needed to be closed, so we already have a statement that the situation is unsanitary. One thing in our favor is that the canal is visible from a main road. It won't be hard to draw people's attention to it.J.Doe, that's what I've always had trouble understanding. They were found to be at fault, but were never forced to stop. The fine was just punitive and the commune must have used the money for something else. The condo owners didn't want to pay for the sewer hook-up in the first place, so I guess they figured they weren't about to do it just because they lost a court case. It's outrageous, but this Campania. The culture of lawlessness here is sometimes truly amazing.Daniel that is a wonderful idea, and one I've actually contemplated for another tract of land in town! There is an abandoned lot filled with all sorts of garbage and debris right next to our house. (When it rains it pours, I guess.) I quickly realized that the town being what it is, I'd never have gotten permission (the abandoned lot belongs to the commune.) But no one could stop us from doing it on our own land. It'd be hard to sell the idea to my husband and his family, though. I don't think they'd be ready to open that piece of land to the community that allowed all of this to happen…it would take time to heal the wounds.Thanks, Gil. Your choice of words is right on. It is completely disgusting.

  6. Emmina, I think that part of what makes it so horrendous is that it's not surprising. That things like this happen and are pretty much just accepted because it's the way things are.

  7. Maybe 3 years ago I would have been shocked by this, but now at 6 and still going, nothing surprises me anymore. You are right, that's just the way things are. I am simply bothered by the fact that all of those olives, figs, oranges and walnuts are going to waste (quite literally). And the tenant that went nuts-o with the roof tiles…che vergogna!

  8. That's absolutely horrible! Would it help to call it too the attention of some newspapers?

  9. KC, don't know what happened but you didn't get my previous comment and I can't remember exactly what I said except that I would get some environmental media involved in the hope that it would shame the town into doing something.

  10. Rowena, I forgot to mention the raspberries! More food that can't be eaten. The waste of the fruit and nuts is very upsetting. We have other many, many other fig trees but that's our only walnut tree. Mary, I've always thought that would help, but N is not convinced.Karry, sad to say, this kind of bs happens all over!Gail, that's a good idea, but I fear that they have no shame…they've already allowed this to happen.

  11. A truly heart-wrenching story and so utterly disgusting from so many angles. How can things like this happen? Sicilian culture is oh too similar and it just makes me want to tear my hair out!

  12. to daniel of greenhouse glimpses: what kind of fairy tale world do you live in? thats right, give every jerk who hates you a chance to grow fruit on your land! KC, its hard to accept that the world today stinks. people feel they have the right to do anything they want. unfortunately, its up to you to continue doing the right thing, the moral thing, the decent thing. at the end of your days, when you look back, it will make you feel better having been the better person. meanwhile, i understand it sucks. i really feel for you.

  13. Lost in Sicily, it is so frustrating! Italians don't like that things like this happen, they recognize the injustice, even complain about it, but then accept it as the way it is. Arrgh!Anon, I sincerely hope we'll be able to look back and feel satisfied about doing the right thing, because sometimes it really doesn't seem worth it. In defense of Dan, I don't think his suggestion was that fantastical…the major problem in Campania (and I mean THE major problem) is menefreghismo, not giving a damn about anyone outside the small sphere of family and close friends an individual surrounds himself with. It leads to the apathy that allows all sorts of social evils to occur. A community garden might get some people to turn outwards from their tiny circles of influence. (Of course the cynicism in me makes me think that people would just steal the fruit.)

  14. I had to comment again because one of the things that drives me crazy about Italians is the fact that they complain and never do anything. They talk about how terrible things are, how they need to change, but won't stand up to do something about it. I get mad at O about this attitude and tell him that it's no wonder there are problems here because no one wants to do anything – from something as simple as poor customer service, to something as big as the crap that goes on in the government. If no one complains or tries to make a difference, nothing changes. But then, like in your case, people that complain are seen as trouble makers. It makes no sense.

  15. That's something that drives me crazy too. I think they must feel so powerless and disenfranchised, otherwise they might try to do something. But you're right that people who do stand up for themselves are considered troublemakers. A few times I've wanted to register complaints and file denuncie about other things that have happened, and N's attitude was, "Why? We already have enough enemies."

  16. This situation is infuriating, in the way that only Life in Italy can be infuriating. This is the country that wants to be a respected member of the EU? Can you imagine if something like this happened in, oh, say Germany?? Sometimes the South seems like a different planet entirely, or certainly a different country – and it's a pity, because it is beautiful. It's kind of hard to get the system to work for you, I imagine, when the mayor is part of the problem. I really hope you and N and your family find a way to resolve this. To just give up (and who could blame them after so long and so much trouble) means that 'they' have won. Oh my, I really feel for you – it's unjust, it's frustrating, and to feel so powerless is just… infuriating!

  17. Fern, I agree that the fact that the south is so beautiful makes certain aspects of its culture so heartbreaking. It has so much potential, but it will only be realized if its people start to take responsibility for the conditions they live in.

  18. This is a shocking and heartbreaking story about such a beautiful place. What a waste, and so unjust. the culture seems very different from the north, here in Tuscany they speak about the south as a different country.

    • It t is very different. When I moved here, I had much more experience of north and central Italy, and it came as a shock. I don’t think the whole south is like this, though. I think Campania may be the worst, but from what I’ve heard from friends, Sicily is may be just as bad.

      • My in-laws are originally from Puglia and Campania but have lived in Tuscany since childhood so they are culturally central Italians, although the surviving grandmother (from Campania) still speaks the dialect and is a formidable character – nothing like your aunt though! It makes me sad when Italians here dismiss the south as a lost cause (which they do constantly) – it’s still part of an EU country for god’s sake, and so incredibly beautiful, but these type of frustrations and the sense of fighting losing battles must just wear you down. Especially awful that your husband’s family were victimised for just protecting their rights.

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