Day 113-XXXIX, from Picerno to Potenza, 19 km.
Potenza, February 28
Over a week after we left Eboli we have finally reached a place that looks more or less like a town.
Potenza, capital of Nowhere, situated right in the middle of it.
The walk over here was long, but rewarding. We keep climbing out of Picerno until we reach a kind of highland that leads us straight to this little mountain town.
It’s not inviting, nor beautiful, nor nothing. Going up the hill you reach the old centre, which seems suspiciously new. Later on, someone tells me why.
The vanguard has planted the first tents on the central square in front of the government palace. Soon after that, police arrive, in civilian outfit. It’s the hour of siesta, there is no-one out here but us.
They don’t want us to camp here. But neither do they want to make trouble. They ask for some ID, but when we refuse, they don’t insist. Soon the chief and the town councillors arrive. They try to convince us to move to a less visible square nearby. Officially because it’s better protected against the cold wind, but the real reason is that they don’t want us in front of the seat of government.
They are respectful enough, so we treat them likewise. But there’s is no way of moving us. I say that we chose this square, first because it’s symbolic, and second because our movement has a well-developed esthetical taste. We want to put our tents on the most beautiful squares.
They say we can leave one, or maybe two symbolical tents here during the night, but we can’t sleep there and we definitely can’t light a fire.
I say that we appreciate their proposals, but that we can’t decide by ourselves. We decide as a group. We have to wait for everyone to arrive before taking a decision. I like the irony of it. The state has its own bureaucracy, its own lengthy procedures that can drive you crazy as a citizen, and that finally make you give up, especially here in Italy. We use the same tactics if necessary.
“I’m very sorry, signor sindaco. You will have to wait. We have to respect procedures, I’m sure you understand. We will speak about your proposal in assembly. Only the assembly can decide. It can take some time.” And all the while they are there, with four police cars and a dozen officers, the commander, the mayor, waiting for a handful of vagabonds to arrive with their shopping carts full of stuff.
Then the siesta ends, the people come out. We start to talk them, they begin to bring us food and tea, and everything. And then it’s too late. Once the inhabitants of Potenza have embraced us, there is no way the authorities can force us to move. Not only do they give up, they offer their full collaboration. We can even light our fire without problems. We can sleep inside if we want, and tomorrow we can hold our popular assembly in the town hall.
We stay in the square, and while we’re there, pizza and pasta is brought to us from all sides. I speak to one of the locals. He explains to me the peculiarity of Potenza.
During the earthquake of 1980 the old centre was heavily damaged. The people who lived here, and whose ancestors had lived there for generations, got offered a small sum of money and an apartment in the new outskirts to move. Their homes got bought and beautifully rebuilt to house the rich and to create a fashionable shopping district.
This way Potenza became a ‘laboratory of gentrification’. Its example has been followed all over the peninsula. What remains is a sterile little centre speckled with brand names, an Apple store and luxury bars. Real life has migrated to the suburbs.
Even so, the people open their heart when they see our encampment. Not only because they know we’re marching for a good cause, but also because we’re doing so in winter time. Along some of the streets there are still heaps of snow melting away. The people admire us. And when they see us sitting around the fire at night, singing songs, we awaken some kind of nostalgic, primordial feeling in them. Something that is buried deep inside all of us human beings. The memory of the tribe.