Posts Tagged ‘italy’

With a Little Help from the Dogs

In Italy, March to Athens on 13 March 2012 at 13:03

March to Athens

Day 126-LII, Bari

Day 127-LIII, Bari

Bari, March 13

Dear people,

We have reached the sea, but we still haven’t decided which Greek port we want to sail to. It was the first point on yesterday’s internal assembly. Patras or Igoumenitsa.

One thing that we did decide upon was that we don’t want to split up the march. After that we took a vote to get a general idea of people’s preferences.

It was deadlocked ten to ten. And the interesting thing was that our group was rigourously divided along national lines. All the French but one voted for Igoumenitsa. And except for three abstentions, all the Spanish but one voted for Patras. The Italians were divided, and one of them honoured local custom by switching sides.

As you all know, I myself am very much in favour of Igoumenitsa.

Here in Bari we have also been joined by an American blogger from Occupy San Diego. He abstained, but in the end he made a very simple observation.

“I think the solution is already in the name. March to Athens. If there weren’t a sea to cross, we would have kept on marching. The boat trip should serve to cross the sea, not to shortcut the march.”

To unblock the situation, the moderator asked people if anyone had radical objections against one of the two ports. Three of us were ready to block Patras, but in order to avoid conflict no-one did.

If the assembly would have decided to go to Patras, I wouldn’t have blocked it either. I would probably have left the march instead.

The assembly decided to send a large transversal delegation to the navigation companies.

 At the port terminal, neither of the two companies made any trouble with regard to our shopping carts, but if we went to Patras, the dogs would need to have some kind of passport.

The dogs are with us since we crossed the Apeninnes. They are shepherd dogs decided, and they probably considered us to be a herd that needed to be guided. For some, this implied a form of ‘verticality’, and they denounced it. But one of the few principles of our movement is that we are inclusive, so everyone can come along.

The Greek company serving Igoumenitsa would close an eye on it. And apart from that, Patras is twice as expensive.

So that more or less sealed it. The dogs broke the deadlock, but at the moment the assembly still has to confirm the final decision.

Latest news, this right in. It’s just passed one o’clock. The assembly has confirmed. We are going to Igoumenitsa. We will depart tomorrow evening at seven. We will arrive thursday morning March 15 in Greece at seven o’clock in the morning.

Scenes from Acampada Bari


Coast to Coast

In Italy, March to Athens on 11 March 2012 at 23:07
March to Athens

Day 125-LI, from Palo del Colle to Bari, 17 km.

‘And so it came to pass, on the eleventh day of March in the year of our Lord 2012 that the brave marchers to Athens finally reached the most venerable city of Bari…’

Bari, March 11

Dear people,

The wind comes from sea. It batters the plains and brings along the sweet odour of salt and spices. The first faint hints of the East are in the air.

It’s not just the air, or the odours. Also the colours are changing. Since we descended down the mountains into Apulia everything started to get brighter. The green of the hills, the white marble stones of the old town centres. I’m sure I could say the same about the blue sky, if we had been lucky enough to see it.

Irsina, Gravina, Altamura, Toritto, Palo. Each of them is a maze of bright alleyways and snow white houses with iron balconies. When you arrive there during the hour of the siesta, like we do, you will not find a living soul there, except for an occasional cat.

Acampada Palo del Colle

Thanks to the people of Palo del Colle

Then you come closer to the sea, and the wind gets stronger. You hop from one suburb to the other, and then you finally find yourself in front of Bari, one of the places which bears the name of ‘gateway to the East’.

I’m walking together with comrade Milton from Naples, and just before Bari we get lost. We don’t want to take the national road, but every other road we take seems to lead us away from the metropolis, or ends up being blocked.

We walk for hours and hours through the desert of an industrial park, through olive groves, past abandoned villas and old outskirts in ruins. All the while we can see the city in the distance on all sides, like a fata morgana, but we don’t seem to reach it. It’s as though Bari were protected by some kind of magnetic shield, and only the faithful can enter.

As a last resort I direct a prayer to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of the city, asking him to let us through. And lo! a small road opens up in front us. Our hearts are beating full of expectation while we start following the path that takes us straight into Bari at sunset.

Comrade Milton and the sunset

"The whole world is our fatherland"

When we reach the old centre we find the others have already been camped for hours in one of the most beautiful squares. It’s close to the boulevard. At night, when all the other sounds die down, we can hear the sound of the waves in the distance.

We have made it. We crossed Italy coast to coast. Some of us have even descended the entire peninsula. Together we sit down around the fire. We toast, and while the luscious odour of hashish rises up from the circle, we reminisce about the various episodes of the march.

Then a police car stops by. The driver addresses us with a smile and with curiosity. He asks where we are from, where we’re going and why. We explain it briefly, we give him a flyer. He reads it, he nods, and he says: “Very well. Keep up the good work.” Then he drives off.

"Only when the power of love will be bigger than the love of power, the world will know peace."

Acampada Bari in the early morning light

Smurf Land

In Italy, March to Athens on 10 March 2012 at 17:58
March to Athens

Day 123-XLIX, from Altamura to Toritto, 23 km.

Day 124-L, from Toritto to Palo del Colle, 8 km.


Palo del Colle, March 10

Dear people,

The walk from Altamura into the plains was the worst. Twenty kilometres straight along a busy national road in the rain. There is nothing we can do but push on at an elevated pace to get it over with.

Finally the last few kilometres we have the road all for ourselves. It’s not yet in use, so we’re able to inaugurate it with our shopping carts. The rain has stopped, and in the olives fields along the road our efforts are rewarded by the view of the trulli.

A trullo is a typical Apulian peasant house. It looks a bit like the homes of the Smurfs. I adore them. When I was only a couple of years old, I wanted to travel to find the village of the Smurfs. Unfortunately, back then I didn’t find it, but I knew that some day I would. And indeed, I did.

At about fifty kilometres further south from here there is a village which is almost exclusively made up of trulli. It’s called Alberobello. You should see it. It’s even better than Disneyland.

It’s already dark when everyone has reached Toritto, the first suburb in the gravity zone of Bari. Tonight we would prefer a place with a roof, but there is none to be found, so we take the square. The sole officer on duty makes a worried phone call and then leaves us in peace.

News from Athens is coming in. Our people on the spot have grudgingly accepted May 5 as the day on which ‘Agora Athens’ will begin. They would have preferred to start a week earlier, but in the absence of convincing reasons there was no way that our assembly would agree to change the date of arrival. With that, the hot issue of the date is finally closed.

Other more interesting news concerns the rumours of a German march which will start in Patras on May 2 and which will arrive in Athens on May 15. Then there is even talk of a bicycle march which will start in Holland to cross all of Europe and arrive in Greece through the Balcans. It sounds great, and I hope it won’t turn out to be just rumours.

Comrade Bobò

Comrade José Miguel cleaning the square

Later on in the evening, people from the association Libera, which manages the real estate confiscated from the mafia, open the entrance of their building on the square, so that we can find shelter in case of rain.

Now, for me electricity is a daily necessity, and I’m lucky enough to find a place in the entrance where I can plug in my laptop. Today I won’t write any updates. From all the various fronts of the revolution, messages are coming in. From Jesus Christ, who is participating in one of the marches going to Paris for the French elections, from Spain, from Greece, from Holland. I want to answer them all.

But every now and then, people notice me and they gather around. They want to know everything about the march. How many people we are, where we are from, when the march has started, when we will arrive, what we hope to accomplish, etc.

I must have answered all these question at least a thousand times, and every time I put away my computer and I answer them again, with the same enthusiasm. Because I’m well aware that if ever I would say ‘Not now, I have other things to do’, I would have ceased to be a revolutionary.

So I talk to people all evening. I see the admiration in their eyes whenever I speak about our march. And when all the others have already gone to sleep, the locals bring their things to me. Late at night, when I finally finish my letters, there’s a pile of pizzas next to me, bags full of pastries for breakfast, softdrinks, cigarettes etc. I get up, and while I carry everything to the camp, a car stops in front of me, a window rolls down. It’s one of the people I met earlier this evening. “Hey Oscar, will you come grab a beer?”

“Thanks man, but not tonight. It’s really time for me to get some sleep.”

Arriving in Palo del Colle

Bringing the vessel safely to port



In Italy, March to Athens on 8 March 2012 at 23:19

March to Athens
Day 122-XLVIII, Altamura.

Acampada Altamura after the rain

Altamura, March 8

Dear people,

Where the police didn’t succeed, the weather did. At least in part. Last night the rains came down, and when it started again this afternoon we were a lot less bold than when we took the square the day before. Those of us whose tents hadn’t resisted started to seek shelter under a roof.

It was a real shame. Not only because the rain brings down the morale, but also because it impeded us once again to hold a popular assembly. The last serious popular assemblies we held were in Potenza and in Vietri.

Today we hide under the arches of the old cathedral for an assembly among ourselves. The tensions between us and our people in Athens haven’t yet faded away, and apart from that we have to decide to go to Igoumenitsa or Patras.

Even though I always try to keep my distance, I obviously have my opinions, and I have shifted my position a bit since I joined the march in Rome. By now, I have made a tacit alliance with the Old Man. We have come to appreciate each other, and we share the same long term goals. So whenever the assembly is about to decide on something important we meet up for a petit conseil de guerre, ‘a small war council’.

Instead of exasperating the assembly by simply blocking proposals, we try to prepare the terrain by measuring the spirits and trying to convince people before the assembly starts.

At the moment the important thing is to make sure we go to Igoumenitsa instead of Patras. Most of the French are in favour of Igoumenitsa. They did more than 1500 kilometres of march already, so 500 more won’t be a problem. Many of the Spanish are in favour of Patras. They want to walk less with the excuse that ‘we can do more propaganda in the villages we pass.’

Now, those of you who have been following my adventures, know very well that I don’t take myself – or life as a whole – completely serious. I like to play. And today I played the role of orator to defend the cause of Igoumenitsa. The original was in Italian…

“Dear comrades,

First of all, I would like to remind you that if we didn’t have the fortune of possessing a well filled treasury, then Patras wouldn’t have been an option at all, and we wouldn’t be here discussing about it.

If we decide to go to Patras, we will empty our treasury. And with all the unknown factors of Greece ahead there might come a day that we will bitterly regret it.

Having said this, there are a lot of more or less valid reasons to go to Patras.

We will be able to do more propaganda. We will be under less pressure. We will be able to choose between many possible routes, etc. But most of all we will have more time. Indeed, we will have so much time that we could easily take an entire month of holiday before continuing our march and still be in Athens before the fifth of May.

But I sense that the real reason why people would want to go to Patras is because it would mean we wouldn’t have to walk so much.

To me, Patras smells very much like the ‘easy way out’. I would interpret it as a sign of weakness, almost of defeat. And not just me.

My proposed route from Igoumenitsa

Surely I would understand us taking this option into consideration if we really didn’t have enough time. But I can assure you, with all the data at hand, that we can easily cross all of Greece and reach Athens before May 5, respecting the consensus that we reached at Sermoneta. [15 to 20 km a day. Two days of rest per week]

For me, this would be reason enough to go to Igoumenitsa. But maybe not for you.

That is why I want you all to realise very well what we are doing, and what we have already achieved.

Tomorrow this march will be four months old. Some of us have done it all, right from the start in Nice. And many of us have walked the greater part of it.

Not me. I have only been with you since Rome. But all the same, it has been a pleasure and an honour to walk with you people.

In these past four months the march has crossed the mountains three times, in winter.

I can tell you that not even Hannibal, nor Caesar, have ever done something similar.

Our march has encountered the snow, it has resisted against the freezing cold, against persisent rains, hail storms and more.

So here we are. We have reached the other end of Italy, and with our efforts we have conquered the hearts of the people we encountered on the way.

And now that spring is finally upon us, I cannot conceive the possibility that these hardened veterans would choose to sacrifice our treasury to bypass most of Greece and take the easy way out, going to Patras.

I honestly think that everyone who is to be considered a real marcher of the March to Athens has the moral obligation, towards him- or herself, towards the people who support us, and towards history, to finish this march in grand style by crossing all of Greece, starting in Igoumenitsa.”

Even though it was a tongue-in-cheek speech, the French loved it. They nicknamed me Cicero. I hope it will be enough. For now we haven’t decided yet. Whenever we have, you will be the first to know.


Drying a sleeping bag on the victory monument

Same Old Story

In Italy, March to Athens on 7 March 2012 at 22:16

March to Athens

Day 121-XLVII, from Gravina in Puglia to Altamura, 12 km.

Altamura, March 7

Dear people,

The amount of stories is endless. I have preferred to talk to you a bit about the briganti while we crossed the mountains of Lucania. Because even though we are peaceful, we share their indignation against the state. And we have adopted their battle cry which we have sung whenever we found ourselves confronted by police or carabinieri… “Hey! Ho! Hahahaha!”

I could also have told you about Padre Pio, the local saint which is venerated all over Italy, but particularly here. I could have told you about local specialties and customs, about the practice of witchcraft…

Camp in Gravina

None of it all. But there is one thing that I still want to touch upon before we march further into Apulia. It’s about the basis of our current economy. Petroleum.

The region of Basilicata – the official name of Lucania – is one of the few territories in continental Europe, maybe the only one, where there’s oil to be found.

I’ve seen the installations here, on one of my previous travels. I’ve seen the chimneys burning away the natural gas 24 hours a day.

It has only been a few decades since the drilling began, but since then things around here have started to change. Real estate values have dropped, the environment has been polluted, and the local underworld which hadn’t previously been active here, started to become attracted by this new ‘market’.

Arrival in Altamura

There’s a strong movement in Basilicata active against the oil industry. People are angry, mainly because they feel colonised. Big oil takes away their resources, but hardly any of the profits return to the local population. Fuel prices here are as high as anywhere else. So yes, times have changed, but one way or another the south has remained a territory of exploitation.

Comrade Max


On the Cathedral square in Altamura


We reach Altamura, the ‘city of bread’, and we take the central square.

Police arrive. They had been informed by their colleagues from Gravina for a change. They start off on the wrong tone.

‘You weren’t supposed to occupy this square. We had agreed you would put up your tents elsewhere.’

I know nothing of such an agreement, and neither do the people of the vanguard. I answer that we decide ourselves which square to occupy. In this case we put our tents right next to the cathedral.

“And who are you, the duke of Altamura?”

Not quite. I’m a modest person. But the officer doesn’t like me. On the phone with his commander he calls me sfacciato (insolent). At that point I change attitude. I have lived two years in Sicily, enough to take insults very personally.

When the commander and the rest of the local police force arrive, I make it clear that respect is the basis of a fruitful dialogue. “I will not talk to you,” I say to the officer in front of his superiors, “you have failed to show me respect.”

Honestly I don’t like to humiliate someone in public, and in this case it was mainly theatre, but it worked. Police were a lot more reasonable after that.

What followed was the same old story. They don’t want us to camp here. They want us to show documents. They forbid us to make a fire, etc.

The fire is lit under their noses. We refuse documents. They try to insist, they menace to use force. “We can still come to an agreement, but if our superiors in Bari give us the order, we will take you in.”

In the meantime a crowd has gathered around us. They like us. They talk to us. They bring us food and blankets.

“As you wish. But do tell your superiors that if they decide to use force against peaceful citizens, it will be broadcast live on the internet. It will go around all the social networks. The whole world will be able to watch it. So with all the bad publicity that would result from it, your superiors should think twice if it’s really worth the effort.”

It wasn’t, of course. Like many of their colleagues before them, the police very silently retreat, and leave the square to us.

Local public in Altamura



Internal Dynamics

In Italy, March to Athens on 29 February 2012 at 21:01
March to Athens
Day 114-XL, Potenza

Popular assembly in Potenza

Potenza, February 29


Dear people,


Our group is growing stronger. We have been joined by another Neapolitan, we have almost reached the mountain top, and we are seriously starting to focus on Greece.

Things got a lot more relaxed ever since comrade Marianne left. In the end there was complete incommunicability between her and many of the French.

The French, like I said, are the soul of the march. Two of them have been on the road all the way from Nice, and others have been with the march for most of the time.

Aside from them there are two persons who are true pillars of the march. Comrade Max, and comrade José Miguel.

Max is Sicilian. He is an indefatigable organiser of popular assemblies. He is also a translator with an admireable ammount of patience. He is our main link with the Italian population.

José Miguel is from Barcelona. He speaks perfect Italian and he is a charming communicator. Wherever we arrive, he goes to the bar, and he starts to chat with the locals. It’s the most effective way of doing diffusion. He is also the last to leave the square whenever we move on. He wants to make absolutely sure that we leave the place cleaner than how we found it.

Max is a biologist, José Miguel is an archeologist. Both of them left university to come along with the march.

There are many more people who make a fundamental contribution to the march in different ways. But me, I’m not one of them.

I don’t cook, I don’t do a lot of diffusion, I clean my own things but little more, I don’t push a cart with common stuff, I don’t translate. I walk, I observe, and I write. That’s all. So if the march becomes a success, it won’t be because of me.


Today, however, I increased my level of participation a bit. We held an internal assembly about the route to Bari, and about the great controversy… The date of arrival in Athens.

For once, I volunteered to moderate the assembly.

I can’t remember the last time we held an internal assembly that didn’t turn into a farce. So I prepared some things in advance. First of all I talked to the Old Man. He can be reasoned with, and I’m actually starting to appreciate him. The other day, when everyone – me included – loaded his or her stuff onto the van of the protezione civile, the Old Man refused. He pushed all of his stuff up the mountain for fifteen kilometres. I made a deep bow when he arrived.

We talked about the proposed route to Bari, he made a few corrections, and I presented it in the assembly.

We reached a consensus in eight minutes. I don’t know if it’s a record, but it was definitely better than the five hours it took to reach a consensus about the route to Potenza.


It was the first time I moderated an assembly. Normally, the moderator has to guide the proces of collective reasoning, without making use of his role to highlight his own opinions or try to impose them. This sounds very horizontal, but if the moderation is too weak, it leads to chaos.

So I did away with it. I started off with an appeal to the assembly to bear in mind our common objective: arrive in Athens as a group, to the greatest possible satisfaction of ourselves, of the people who are expecting us, and of all the people who are following our march or have contributed to it in any way.

I forced the assembly to focus and to be constructive. Maybe I was a bit too strict, but in the end my moderation was appreciated by almost everyone, and within two hours we finally reached a first consensus about an approximate date of arrival.

We aim to be in Athens somewhere between April 26 and May 5. In a future assembly we will try to narrow it down further.

One of the people from Potenza offered us a bottle of rum to celebrate the consensus. But we shouldn’t get carried away. There’s a new controversy looming. The port of arrival.

There are two options. Igoumenitsa in the north of Greece, at over 500 kilometres from Athens, and Patras at just over 200. Many people seem to be in favour of Patras. They fear that Igoumenitsa is not a reasonable option, given our current pace.

Others say that Patras is too close to Athens. After marching through Italy for almost four months, we can’t really take ourselves seriously if we only take a short stroll up to our final destination.

So, our troubles are to be continued. Finding a consensus will be hard, maybe impossible. But for now, we have a reason to rejoice. The popular assembly this evening was a success. Despite the strong wind, people resisted. And yet again, after Salerno and Vietri, the locals decided to start their own assembly.

The appointment is for March 8, at five clock, in the faculty of Letters and Philosophy.


The same popular assembly in Potenza

Popular Bureaucracy

In Italy, March to Athens on 28 February 2012 at 22:49
March to Athens
Day 113-XXXIX, from Picerno to Potenza, 19 km.

Acampada Potenza

Potenza, February 28

Dear people,

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.

Salute to the sun this morning in the social centre in Picerno

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.

Sowing a Seed

In Italy, March to Athens on 27 February 2012 at 22:27

March to Athens

Day 112-XXXVIII, from Vietri to Picerno, 16 km.

Candle light assembly in Vietri

Picerno, February 27

Dear people,

It could have a been a classic revolutionary painting. We were standing on the porch of the old town hall, inciting the citizens of Vietri to rise up. It was raining and windy, but there was a crowd under their umbrellas listening to us. Many people came straight from church. We had waited until the sunday service was over.

Slowly we convince people to gather in a circle. There was no light under the entrance of the empty building. So we lit candles. It was a marvellous sight, a perfect atmosphere, and it became a memorable assembly.

Like custom, we introduced the sign language of our assembly, we introduced ourselves and answered questions. After that we invited people to speak about the local situation.

The main problem, here like anywhere in the south is that there is no work. To address this problem the government in Rome stimulates enterprises to move to the south by subsiding them. But generally, they take the subsidies, and whenever they end, they close their factories and go back north. It doesn’t create lasting employment.

Another more global problem is the advancing individualism, even here in a small village. People talk less and less about the common good. Every one has his or her own troubles and tries to solve them alone. One woman thanked us for being here, for holding this assembly, because it made people realise that everyone’s troubles are connected. She thanked us for encouraging the community spirit.

In the end we achieved the best we could hope for. The locals decided to organise another assembly themselves. In a month’s time, right after church.

The breakfast table

Goodbye to Vietri

Today is fifteen kilometres, but given the steep climb, it’s pretty far. The comrades of the protezione civile lend us a hand by transporting much of our luggage to the next village.

Up until a week ago there was a meter of snow here. Now we see the last remainders melting away on the side of the road. There’s still an icy wind howling around the tops.

We arrive in Picerno. From here it’s only two more legs up to the mountain pass. After that, we will descend into the plain, it will be spring, and all the seeds that our movement has sown will start to germinate.

Hello to Picerno

Comrade José Miguel occupying the bar

“Mi Casa es tu Casa”

In Italy, March to Athens on 26 February 2012 at 17:05
March to Athens

Day 110-XXXVI, from Romagnano to Vietri di Potenza, 12 km.

Day 111-XXXVII, Vietri.

Vietri di Potenza

Vietri di Potenza, February 26

Dear people,

We have received some precious reinforcements lately, from Naples, from France, from Belgium and from Barcelona. Our numbers our growing again, from about fifteen up to twenty. Also the weather is changing in our favour. The dark clouds have disappeared, the sun comes out every now and then. We can see the snow melting on the tops.

Leaving Romagnano





These days we have been following a quiet road high up the right bank slope of the river valley. Today we descended down to the water. There was no other way to reach our next stop.

While we march, the voice of our arrival is carried up the valleys by the wind. We are famous even before we set foot in the little villages on the route. The natives are expecting us.

This is the wilderness. It’s true that people have been crossing this region in modern times, they take the train or the motorway from Naples to Bari, but they don’t stop here. They have no reason to.


I don’t have a shopping cart. I walk with full gear. When I finish the final ascent up to Vietri di Potenza, I’m alone. In the first bar, I ask for a glass of water, and to my surprise I see a manifest on the window which announces the arrival of us, los marchantes.


Immediately the locals gather around me. Then the protezione civile arrive, they have been organising our arrival. Then there’s the local police, and the first of the shopping carts entering town. Within minutes of my arrival in the village, we have turned into a procession, and all the curious accompany us up to the tiny village square.


Before I started this march I knew we would be well received by the local population in the south. But almost every day they leave me flabbergasted.

All the village is in the square and on the street. The elderly are sitting on their bench, commenting. The boys and the girls of the protezione civile take us around the village on a tourist trip. They are proud of their history, their religion, their hospitality.

We have to see the monastery, they say. A real thorn from Jesus’ crown is guarded there. And we have to see the cave of Caesar. They say the great man stopped there to drink from a fountain once, on his way to Greece. But most of all, we have to tell the world. Come to Vietri! People will treat you well.

Just like the other towns here, Vietri was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake. It took more than twenty years to rebuild. Not because it was such an enormous effort, but because a lot of the funds for the earthquake disappeared. Many people lived in containers for years, and a handful of people got very very rich. Welcome to the south.

The mayor of Vietri in our camp.

The chimes are sounding in the morning, it’s sunday. When I get out of my tent, I encounter the mayor. “Good morning, Oscar,” he says. “Did you sleep well?”

I slept great.

He has brought pastries for all. He invites people to take a coffee. We have a good chat about sustainability, small scale farming, etc. And I’m convinced that the future starts here in places like this, on a human scale.

In the end, it’s too much, really. Yesterday and today, the protezione civile has cooked for us. This afternoon after lunch we were digesting in the square. All the bars were closed because of the siesta.

“Coffee!” one of us says, “my kingdom for a cup of coffee!”

A window opens, an old lady leans out. “Do you want sugar with that?”

“Yes please!”

Five minutes later her daughter comes down with a can full of coffee…


Ghost Town

In Italy, March to Athens on 24 February 2012 at 22:56

March to Athens

Day 109-XXXV, from Buccino to Romagnano al Monte, 7 km.

Romagnano al Monte, February 24

Dear people,

In Buccino we had our ups and downs, as usual. The ups were the hospitality of the locals and the assembly we held with a hundred school kids at eight o’ clock in the morning.

The downs were the wine and the social problems.

Yesterday evening a local wine producer brought us ten litres of home made wine. After that, it was party time. Until very early in the morning a small group of people gathered around the fire, making noise and drinking. One of us at a certain point was fed up with it. He took the five litre bottle and threw what was left of the red wine into the fire.

When I heard about it the next morning I got angry like I never had before on the march. I wanted the perpetrator brought to justice. I wanted to see him hang. Because there is no excuse – with the possible exception of a small ritual offering to the gods – to throw wine into the fire, especially when it’s local wine offered by the producer.

On the other hand it’s not right that a few people drink the common stack of wine and keep people awake. But that’s personal responsibility. You can’t blame the wine, ever.


senza titolo

We move on, slowly, to the next village on the road. Romagnano al Monte. When I get there, I’m told that there are three Romagnanos. There’s the old village, there’s the new village, and there’s the provisional village in between.

The old village was heavily damaged by the earthquake of 1980. People were evacuated and housed in prefab containers, the old town was abandoned and rebuilt three kilometres up the road. The containers are still there. For decades the locals have been living in them. Now they are rented as holiday homes.

The prefab homes, from the central square of new Romagnano

The new village is nothing special. Large parallel roads, modern houses and lots of space for cars. But when I hear about a ghost town three kilometres away, I get excited. I drop my bags and I walk.

During the March on Brussels we encountered lots of phantom villages in the south of France. But none of those were completely abandoned.

This one is.

They say that there are certain things you have to experience in life, at least once. And as for me, walking through a real ghost town is one of them.

I arrive just before dusk. The quiet provincial road winds around the slope, and suddenly I see it, the remainders of the village, the stone bones of an extinguished society. I’m completely happy when I start the descent.

The moloch

At the entrance to the village there is an anonymous apartment complex like you find them anywhere in Italian outskirts. It must have been brand new when the earthquake struck, symbol of modernity that didn’t survive into adulthood. Now it’s empty, like all the other homes down in the village. A concrete moloch standing guard on the roadside.

The path into the village is almost completely overgrown by bushes. All the houses around are open, all of them are damaged, many roofs have collapsed, many walls as well. Inside the houses it’s a mess. They are full of debris. No-one ever bothered to clean them out.

Romagnano vecchio. Photos from morning after.

I descend to the beginning of the corso, the central road of the village. Adding to the surreal craziness of this place, there is a new town hall here, recently built, ready to be used, but closed and empty.

I walk on through the main street. I take a look inside the old houses. In some of them you can still see pieces of brown/orange 1970s wall paper. But that was just a fashion. What really strikes is the way of life through the centuries, right up until yesterday.

The houses are extremely small. They generally consist of a tiny room with a sink and a wood oven and sometimes a bathroom angle. This is where people lived. Families of up to ten people. Upstairs there was a single sleeping place for all.

Some of the houses have three rooms. It must have been the homes of the rich. Then there’s the school, in the middle of the corso. Three little classrooms and an office. Next to it, there’s the heart of the local economy. Il frantoio. The old olive press with its two giant stone wheels is still standing amidst the rubble.

At the end of the corso there’s the village square with the church and the mayor’s house. The church is only accessible through a hole in the wall. Inside it looks as if it were yesterday that the earthquake struck. Decorations came crumbling down. The stairs to the pulpit are no more. The roof is on the floor. All of it makes for an atmosphere that is out of this world.

When I leave the church, the sun has gone down. But there’s still enough light to venture through the alleys near the side of the ravine. Not all of them are accessible. Sometimes you have to climb over mountains of old stones, sometimes you have to find your way passed thirty year old trees. A number of houses have been split in the middle by the quake, and parts of them have tumbled down into the canyon.

It’s growing dark now. Carefully I walk back to the central artery of the village. I sit down on the doorstep of one of the houses, and I feel great. I’m in a ghost town, and I can’t see a thing. Only when I look up, between the silhouets of the ruins I can see the stars. The first moon is about to set. Everything and everyone who cannot stand the light of day comes out at this hour. I keep quiet, I just sit, and I listen to the sounds…

Old Romagnano

New Romagnano