27 May 2008

The Garbage Man Can

The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I went to Italy for the weekend for a friend's wedding in San Marco di Castellabate, south of Naples. We stayed at a nice hotel right on the beach, the weather was fantastic and hovered around 28 degrees for the four days that we were there. The wedding was really nice, a simple ceremony in an amazing location and a good time was had by all.

For two days.

Then the Very Understanding Girlfriend got sick, very very sick, and couldn't leave the hotel room for 24 hours.

Naples has a problem with its bins. Basically no rubbish has been collected in the city or surrounding Campania area since last year. The local government contends that all regional dumps are full, and local incinerators have no additional capacity. Residents in areas near proposed new incinerators are objecting with violent protests to any attempts to green-light these incinerators. Lurking in the background is the spectre of organised crime, with various Mafia families having lucrative waste-collection and incineration contracts. All the while the rubbish piles up on the streets, the only reduction coming from the occasional fires the residents light in protest.

As each local authority takes a 'not in my back yard' approach to the location of new facilities, the newly re-elected Berlusconi government has created a number of new government dumps under military control to try and solve the problem, all of which is very reminiscent of a Simpson's episode. Berlusconi has become involved under intense pressure from the EU, as the mounting piles of untreated waste on the streets of Naples are becoming a health hazard for all of Europe. The first sign of this was the poisoning of recent batches of Mozzarella, which lead to a EU-wide recall. Basically the water table in the Campania region was polluted by the waste rotting in the streets, the buffalo drank contaminated water and their milk and all subsequent by-products were unfit for human consumption. This thought was foremost in our mind as the Very Understanding Girlfriend and I sat down to eat meal after meal whose main (and sometimes only) ingredient seemed to be mozzarella. It didn't help that she was reading 'The Omnivore's Dilemma', and my choice for a light read this holiday was 'The Culture of Fear', both of which contain lengthy sections on food scares.

The EU are also concerned about the effect this waste will have on the Mediterranean in general, and the whole water cycle across all of Europe. The beach at Castellabate was very proud of it's Blue Flag, the EU's award for beach cleanliness and water quality. Ireland recently lost 13 flags, in popular areas such as Greystones, Portmarnock, Skerries and Clifden. Castallabete's flag was notably awarded before the recent waste problems. This was unfortunately not in our minds as we swam and snorkelled in its clear blue waters.

Whether it was the cheese or the water, the Very Understanding Girlfriend suffered, and suffered a lot. I subsequently sent spent most of Sunday reading in the hotel room, and thought it interesting that with all the debate on how to remove the rubbish in Naples, there hasn't been much focus on reducing the rubbish through recycling, avoiding plastics and other non-degradable material, or just consuming less. While some protests have been over proposed new dump sites, the most controversial proposals involve the construction of incinerators, and are thus long-term solutions rather than an immediate fix. With any discussion of long term solutions, an ecological approach to reduce waste should be an active component of these proposed solutions; However with less waste, those who stand to gain financially from its removal have no incentive to act, and in Berlusconi's Italy, as in most countries, if you can't make money from doing something, very few in power are interested in it.

Barry Glassner's 'Culture of Fear' argues that many of the media's scare stories are misdirected anxiety about issues that we as a society find taboo; the focus on "Gulf War Syndrome" in the late 90's was a way to discuss the horror of war without being critical of the actual war itself; stories about violence in the workplace and enraged employees "going postal" cover up our anxiety about the true violence of corporate downsizing and mass-layoffs at a time when CEOs get record bonuses. Perhaps the focus in the media about resentment to incinerators and dumps is actually society's way of dealing with an over-consumerised culture of greed and the disposable nature of modern human existence, much like George A Romero attempted with his allegorical zombie tale 'Dawn of the Dead'.

Perhaps not.

The Very Understanding Girlfriend was, unsurprisingly, less interested in my insights. Following some complicated hand gestures and the use of Google Translate on a pharmacy computer, we managed to re-hydrate her enough yesterday to begin the epic journey home, via Rome. Sensibly we decided to fly in via Naples, and fly home via Rome. Our original plan was to either stay overnight in Rome, or spend a day in Pompeii and catch a late flight home from Rome. Instead we spent over 5 hours on a train (on a journey that's supposed to take less than 4 hours) to Rome, before waiting close to an hour for our delayed flight to arrive, finally getting home after 11pm and thoroughly exhausted. How T.V.U.G managed it is a testament to her inner strength. She's feeling a bit better today, but not much.

And while I have faired better I have been cured, perhaps permanently, of any desire for mozzarella, snorkelling, trains and Italy.

Nice wedding though.

More on the Naples Rubbish crises
The Omnivore's Dilemma
The Culture of Fear


At 11:54 am, Blogger Kate said...

"Following some complicated hand gestures and the use of Google Translate on a pharmacy computer, we managed to re-hydrate her enough yesterday to begin the epic journey home"

I shudder to think how you communicated food poisoning through the noble art of charades... *grin*


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