Colpa Nostra

Divieto di Scarico (No Dumping) Garbage accumulates next to the newly restored convent of San Domenico.

Divieto di Scarico (No Dumping) Garbage accumulates next to the
newly restored convent of San Domenico.

Siamo noi a non valorizzare quello che abbiamo. (We are the ones who do not turn what we have to advantage.)

That’s a sentiment I’ve heard repeated often enough here that it has become a commonplace for me, and I was reminded of it when I came upon the trash heap pictured above while out on one of my walks around town.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that Sessa Aurunca has a Romanesque cathedral and the ruins of a Roman theater, quite a few beautiful churches, some very interesting architecture, and lots of spolia. I still haven’t written about the castle, or even mentioned the Ponte Ronaco or the Cryptoportico, two structures dating from the Roman period. Outside the town, in the frazione of Rongolise, there is a small chapel with twelfth-century frescoes. There are several big restoration projects in progress, including the cathedral and the castle, with its civic museum.

I sometimes imagine a town like Sessa Aurunca in northern or central Italy, with good transportation links and some similar towns like it nearby. There would be fewer buildings crumbling from centuries of neglect, more shops and restaurants, a few hotels, and even tourists. I don’t mean to suggest that tourism ought to be the the aim of every place of historical importance, and I admit that it changes the character of a place, but in a town without industry or enough commerce to provide jobs to a significant portion of its inhabitants, it could provide much needed opportunities for employment and revenue. All of this is an oversimplification, but it serves to make a point, albeit a rather cliched one, about the future prospects of broad swaths of the Mezzogiorno.

The truth is that castles and churches and evocative, narrow alleys with diaphragm arches overhead do not cancel out piles of trash and other similar signs of neglect. I understand the political and cultural circumstances that have historically determined the condition that so much of the south finds itself in. But I find it ever more difficult to accept that sort of explanation for the continued absence of a enough of a sense of civic responsibility (and pride) not to spoil what beauty is left. And I believe that if places like Sessa Aurunca never improve themselves, that absence will be the fault of it.

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11 responses to “Colpa Nostra

  1. Oh Karen, I so feel your frustration. Just over from you in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, where we were for only 2 years I would go crazy when I saw this. Our Parco was litter free. They actually hired people to sweep the street daily- but right out the gate? What a different story! One time I watched my landlord stop at the mailboxes outside the parco gate, open the box, and dump the mail on the street before walking into our 'paradiso'– the neighbors name for where we lived. I just could not wrap my head around this type of mentality! I also recall a lady from our Culture Class show photos of a castle down in Naples, she then said, what do you see when you look at this photo. Someone said, trash. She was soooo mad! She screamed at us, why do you Americans only see the trash and not this beautiful castle behind it? For us, we wondered how can you see anything beyond the trash.Sorry for the long comment!!

  2. When I was growing up, once a year, the schools would close for a day and the students dispersed to different parts of the town and picked up garbage.Not only we managed to clean our enviroment substunally that day, but we also learned the value of keeping the town clean.

  3. It could be said some of the cleanest houses are in Italy- at least the insides of them- from what I have seen. How strange this sense of pride in maintaining one's home often doesn't reach to the outside, and especially to public places. I once sat on a public beach in Italy that without the sea would have looked like a public dump back in the U.S. I wonder if growing up in such a rich historical and architectural environment that is everywhere in Italy, can actually make you immune to it, and essentially not "see" the absurdity of piles of trash leaned up against beautiful churches.

  4. It's a terrible shame that the beauty of old buildings, streets…are not appreciated and garbage is dumped everywhere. Perhaps the problem is more severe in the south of Italy, I'm not sure about that, but in central Italy where I lived, the graffiti on old beautiful buildings which made them look trashy disappointed me too

  5. In Bella Napoli the garbage heaps are stunningly disgusting and also in points further south in Campania. Italians are proud of their culture,their history, their beautiful architecture, so why do they tolerate this? I do remember once an Italian apologizing for the garbage heap near where we were, feeling obviously embarrassed by it. But collectively. they must find it an impossible task to deal with it. Well maybe it is. :(

  6. Agreed on all counts.It's part of the reason I couldn't stomach living in Catania, despite being Sicilian American and feeling drawn emotionally to the island.I hated walking down the street and seeing the trash and hearing the famous "siamo noi a non valorizzare quello che abbiamo. In Italia, una cosa per il 'pubblico' è una cosa di nessuno.' Meaning: public things like parks, monuments belong to 'no one specific' and therefore are left neglected. In the U.S., and even in Northern Italy to some extent, it's the opposite.It's a big bone of contention I have with Italy in general, especially the south. People were so content to just sit there and watch the beautiful things they have rot and sometimes went out of their way, it seemed, to add to the filth. Example: walking down Via Plebiscito one day in Catania I see curtains open on a balcony overlooking the sidewalk, and then this unassuming old woman comes out, garbage can in hand, and then proceeds to turn the can over and dump her filth onto the street.I could literally not believe my eyes. I knew I had to get out right then and there. It didn't help that also that day while looking for a place to get a sandwich or something else to snack on, I passed by the store I usually went to and saw it was closed by anti-Mafia prosecutors.The south is a big mess. I'm the first one to say I love it though, but I don't think I could ever live there again. Visit family, sure. Vacation, sure. But I would never live there again.

  7. You are so right. Our town doesn't have piles of trash laying around – thank goodness – but more could be done to take advantage of its assets. The thing that bothers me the most is how the population is dropping in these small towns as all of the young people move to the larger cities (mostly in the north) for their career opportunities. No one seems to want to be bothered doing anything about it either.

  8. There are similar problems in Istanbul, outside the major tourist spots. I frequently see people nonchalantly tossing trash out car windows, leaving piles of sunflower seed shells next to benches, setting out bags of trash that are inevitably torn apart and scattered by street dogs and cats… Most of them, I imagine, could eat off of their living room floors. I recently gave my 6th graders a talking to about how they used the floor as a trash bin while we were working on a project. I asked them to think about the extra work they gave the housekeeping crew. One of them piped up with "but we pay them to do it," a clear reminder that a) many of my students are spoiled, and b)not everyone wants to take responsibility for their actions. At least I have now trained them to clean up after themselves in my lessons or they lose their break. Maybe this self-awareness will move beyond the English classroom. Maybe.

  9. This is all very peculiar.. I've never actually witnessed this, people dumping their garbage in the streets.. but perhaps it's because of what 'that girl in Italy' said? Whenever I visit, I'm usually towards the Northern part of Italy, in Urbino actually, and everything's pristine.. So pristine that it actually looks like a movie set, and I constantly feel like I'm in a dream. It's actually weird. I have also been to to the northern part of Puglia, but the town I stayed in was clean. Another nearby town, though was kind of littered with garden, but only in the areas where there were dilapidated houses.

  10. Mary, I agree, that is a huge problem. Down here I think the lack of investment in the economies of small towns is just another symptom of the same malaise that allows the neglect of public spaces to exist.

    Reb, I hope that your students will internalize what you teach them. Though if they don't get any reinforcement at home, it's a lost cause. But don't give up.

    Catherine, Campania and Sicily seem to be the two regions where this is most an issue. I'm not sure about Calabria; I've only been to Tropea, which was very well kept, but it's a big tourist destination. In Basilicata, I've only been to Potenza and it too was very clean. I've never been to Puglia. There are places in Campania and Sicily that aren't neglected, but they're all places that depend heavily on tourism.

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