Posts Tagged ‘naples’

The Conquest of the South

In Italy, March to Athens on 23 February 2012 at 18:57

March to Athens

Day 108-XXXIV, from Bivio Palomonte to Buccino, 12 km.

Putting up camp in Buccino

Buccino, February 23

Dear people,

We doubled our altitude today. And most of it was left for the last few kilometres up to Buccino. People were exhausted when they arrived, but satisfied. The walk was marvellous. The olive groves are gradually making way for the bare forests of winter. In twelve kilometres we encountered only a single car, twice. Carabinieri. They informally interrogate us. As a last word they say ‘occhio’, which means look out. So I wonder if there are still briganti active in this territory…

I’ll get to that another time. But first, the historical context.

A break along the way


Relaxing in between the olives

After the execution of Murat, the Bourbon family returned to the throne. All over Europe it was ‘restoration’ time. The reigning families wanted to pretend that the revolution had never happened. They thought that after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo they could simply return to business as usual.

They couldn’t of course. History flows on, and you can’t row against the current.

Revolutionary fervour returned to Europe more than once in the 19th century, and in Italy the masonic lodges prepared for the country to be united.

I won’t go into it. There was a big component of obscure diplomatic plots, there were wars, there was the help or tacit support of Prussia/Germany and Great Britain, and there was more.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was the great hero of the unification. He was a born condottiero, an icon of his days, like Che Guevara a century later.

Garibaldi had fought for the independence of Uruguay from the empire of Brasil, he had fought all over Italy, and finally in France against the Germans in 1870.

His most famous enterprise was the ‘Expedition of the Thousand’, which sailed from near Genova to Sicily, and which would become the start of the conquest of the South by the North.

This time, the peasants had a real hope that something would change. They supported Garibaldi and the unification because they thought the estates of the nobles would be redistributed, so that they could finally own the land they worked.

It never happened. In fact, things got worse after the unification.

The kingdom of Naples might have been a medieval society, but it was a lot richer than many nationalist Italian historians will give it credit for. The south was literally conquered by the north, and treated as a colony. The new king of Italy, who held his court in Turin, implemented his own laws, but left the local nobles in place. And to stimulate the emerging industry, he levied taxes on agricultural products.

Agriculture was the main source of income for the south. When it was taxed, the exports fell, and misery was a result. The peasants had been betrayed. Many of them emigrated to America. And many others picked up their arms and took to the hills to fight a guerilla war against the new kingdom.

These rebels were known as briganti. And this region was the land where they lived, and died.

The 'Platano Valley


Comrade Mami in Buccino

We are sitting of on the steps of the local archeological museum of Volscei, the ancient name of Buccino. Like every evening when we arrive, we start to build camp. The barrels are placed, people go looking for wood, the fire is lit, the pans are filled, and food is cooked. People gather around.

Others among us have been visiting the museum. And they witnessed another familiar story.

We race through the centuries from one showcase to another, and it all makes sense. First there were tools and recipients. Then came art for decoration. Then came jewels, for art’s own sake, a first sign of social distinction. With social distinction came weapons and armours and warfare, and yet more riches…

Then came the Greeks. They did penetrate as far as here after all. Local art started to fade and disappear. Then came the Romans, and once again, culture changed. Etc. etc.

Modern consumerism is just another culture that we have adapted to. It will pass with the current of history. And maybe one day, people will marvel at an archaeological exposition of Coca Cola cans and all the other trash that you find along the roads today.

Above, an ancient clip



“Hail to the King of Naples!”

In Italy, March to Athens on 22 February 2012 at 20:11
March to Athens

Day 107-XXXIII, from Contursi Terme to Bivio Palomonte, 8 km.

Christmas stable

Palomonte, February 22

Dear people,

The road is winding, the sky is dark. It has been storming all night. Ever since Naples the locals told us that this weather is abnormal. They say it’s the coldest winter in thirty years over here. In these circumstances, people are intimidated by the mountains. They fear the snow.

Today, once again the agreed schedule was changed. The slowest among us command the rhythm. Instead fifteen kilometres – and four hundred meters of ascent – we only did eight kilometres to the nearest inhabited village.

Acampada Contursi


Lifting camp in Contursi


Pushing on

It’s a good walk. After all the days we spent crossing the metropolitan area of Naples and Salerno, we are finally out in the open. On all sides there’s the sloping river valley appearing out of the haze. We are slowly leaving the bright lowlands of the coast behind us.

This is where the hinterland of Naples begins. But it’s not a complete wilderness, I have to admit. People have past here over the years.

Hannibal roamed the south of the peninsula for ten years after he had defeated every Roman army that was sent against him. For whatever reason he never dealt the final blow to the eternal city. He waited. And while he was here, the luxury and the laziness degenerated his army. The jealous lords of Carthage never sent him reinforcements. But in the meantime, Rome itself was reorganising, and when the time came, she pointed straight at the heart of her rival.

Hannibal was recalled to Africa. And for the very first time, he was defeated.


But the story that I want to tell you is that of a peasant’s son who one day became the king of Naples.

Joachim Murat joined the French army under the ancien régime. He knew he would always be a soldier, because you had to be a noble to enter the officers’ corps. But then came the revolution, and suddenly you could make a career also as a common soldier.

From the very start, Murat has been by Napoleon’s side. He was the one who brought the cannons with which Napoleon fired on the citizens of Paris to quell a royalist uprising and save the French Republic.

In battle, Murat was brave beyond the point of wrecklessness. In almost every major campaign he commanded Napoleon’s cavalry. His charges have been decisive more than once. And in great part, they were theater.

Murat was extremely vain. He liked to dress up in the most extravagant outfits, to intimidate his opponents and to encourage his troops when he led them into battle, shouting.

In 1808 Napoleon was emperor of France, and lord and master of Europe. He had made all his brothers kings, except for the reluctant one. It was the year that he promoted his older brother Joseph from king of Naples to king of Spain. And he granted the Neapolitan throne to his faithful cavalry commander Murat.

As king, Murat came along with Napoleon almost until the very end. He was with the emperor in the advance to Moscow, and he was there when the remainders of the Grand Armée retreated over the Berezina.

Aside from the extreme cold, the cossacks represented a lethal danger for the French. They were the jackals of the Russian plains and they preyed on isolated soldiers. But they had a sacred respect for Murat. They loved him because of his bravery.

Whenever the cossacks sighted the colourful outfit of Murat, they would ride up to him as close as possible, they would stand up, salute, and shout at the top of their voices: “Hail to the king of Naples!”

Then they would gallop away, and the next of them would come up to do the same. Whoever dared to come closest to Murat, would have proved himself to be the bravest of cossacks.

Like most of the other marshalls, Murat betrayed Napoleon after the Russian disaster. He made a deal with the Austrians. But he knew well that they wouldn’t leave the son of a peasant on the throne of Naples.

To defend his reign and expand it, Murat tried to head a first attempt to unify the Italian peninsula. He issued a nationalist proclamation and rallied his troops to battle against the Habsburgs. But however brave he was, he was no great general. He was defeated and sent into exile.

During the Hundred Days, when Napoleon fled from Elba and reconquered France without firing a shot, Murat thought he could do something similar in Naples. But evidently, he never really got to know his subjects. When he landed in Calabria, he was immediately captured. For the locals, one king or another didn’t make any difference.

King Murat of Naples was executed on the beach at Pizzo Calabro. He was vain until the very last. He refused to be blind folded, and he commanded the firing squat himself. “Aim straight at the heart! Spare the face! Fire!”

Camping in the sanctuary

Under the White Crown of Vesuvius

In Italy, March to Athens, Naples on 13 February 2012 at 23:14

March to Athens

Day 97-XXIII, Naples.

Day 98-XXIV, from Naples to Santa Maria la Bruna, 18 km.

Torre del Greco, February 13

Dear people,

Naples – Neapolis – means ‘new town’, even though it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of Europe. The old town, Partenopea was named after the mythical siren Partenope.

The song of the siren was famously irresistible. It enchanted sailormen, leading them astray until their vessels would crash on the rocks and sink.

Odysseus, on his wanderings, was one of the few who resisted the song of the siren. He put wax in his ears and had himself tied to the mast. He and his men sailed safely by.

When Partenope realised that her fatal song had had no effect, she jumped of her cliff and drowned. On the beach where her body washed up, the old city of Naples was founded.

The eras have past, and even though the siren is long gone, the call of Naples is tempting. Many people from the march lent their ear to it, and so when the scheduled hour to depart arrived, they didn’t move.

In this sense, the march is a bit like a donkey. When it doesn’t feel like going, it doesn’t go. This splits the group, because there are many people who want to keep moving according to schedule and fix a date of arrival for Athens.

Assembly in the Galleria Umberto

So yesterday, instead of going, an internal assembly was called for in the centre of the galleria Umberto, because it was raining. It turned into a kind of group therapy session where everybody tried to do some autocriticism, while carefully avoiding to talk directly about the main problem. The internal conflict between the people who want to march on schedule, and the people who just want to go with the flow was all but resolved by it. Soon it will return.

Lifting camp in Naples

Today we finally left Naples, and we did so with the blessing of the sun. While I stroll through the alleys of the old centre, I suddenly experience a déjà vu. I recognise one of the streets, not from having been there before, but from an Italian movie. I don’t remember the name, but I do remember the plot. Sophia Loren interpreted the lead role, a Neapolitan woman who sells bootleg cigarettes on the streets. Her husband is unemployed. She is the one who supports the family. They have eight children, not because they are obiding catholics, but because the law forbids a landlord to evict a pregnant or lactating woman. Getting pregnant has been a way to avoid paying the rent for ten years. Now the youngest child is growing up, and Sophia has to get pregnant again. Her husband has had it with children, so she starts to look elsewhere for someone who can do her the favour…

The Gulf

I walk my own rhythm, through the lively suburbs, along the oldest railroad connection of the Italian peninsula, Napoli-Portici. And further, through the town of Ercolano which was buried by mount Vesuvius just like Pompeii in 79 AD. Today Ercolano is just another town around the bay. Of the ancient city, a luxury beach resort in Roman times, only a few blocks have been excavated in the centre. It’s one of the most fascinating remainders of antiquity, but today I won’t stop there to reflect. This march is about the present. And yet every once in a while I look up at mount Vesuvius covered by the snow, and I remember the account of the eruption that was written by Pliny the Younger. His uncle, the great ‘phenomenologist’ Pliny the Elder went to the rescue, and he staid ridiculously calm while the world around him was falling apart. When all the others were leaving their crumbling houses, they did so ‘out of fear’, according to little Pliny. But old Pliny wasn’t afraid. He only fled “after a thorough analysis of the situation”. He died stoically, suffocated by the deadly vapours of the volcano.

The last eruption of mount Vesuvius was in 1944. At the time, the suburbs of Naples were still little villages, and the damage was relatively small. Nowadays the metropolis has spread all around the mountain and far up the slopes. Whenever it will erupt again – in five years, ten years, fifty years, or maybe tomorrow – the catastrophe could be considerably bigger than ever before.

I arrive in Santa Maria la Bruna, an outskirt of Torre del Greco, and I don’t find the group. So I walk and walk and walk until far after nightfall. Finally I go to the local police station. I walk straight into the surveillance room, to which all the public cameras are connected. The officers on guard were surprised. They hadn’t seen me coming. I ask if they have noticed a caravan of thirty people with shopping carts full of stuff passing through Torre del Greco.

They hadn’t noticed a thing.

On the one hand I’m relieved, because obviously big brother isn’t really paying attention over here. But on the other hand, I still don’t know where to go.

Finally, late in the evening, after asking around wherever I could, I find the camp on a parking lot. There’s excitement in the group as a result of the recent events in Athens. Some people would like to go straight there if the uprising continues. It’s an interesting idea, but for now I go to my tent, I take off my shoes, at last, and I sleep.

Lifting camp under Mt. Vesuvius


In Italy, March to Athens, Naples on 11 February 2012 at 22:39

March to Athens

Day 96-XXII, Naples

Naples, February 11

Dear people,

Over here, if people invite you to something, they don’t do so out of politeness. They do so because they mean it. That’s the reason why I am always happy to accept.

Yesterday, after a mini assembly on ACTA, we were invited by an old communist for tea and a shower. Me and comrade Getafe, veteran of the March on Brussels, came along. Before we went, our host took us on a small tour of Naples. Over the grand Piazza del Plebiscito, past the royal palace and the famous theater of San Carlo, through the fin-de-siècle galleria Umberto back to Piazza del Gesù. In the meantime, as any proud Neapolitan would do, he tells us a bit about the story of Naples.

'No to ACTA'. Piazza del Plebiscito.

I have been wanting to dig into Naples’ revolutionary past. So when we are in the car, I ask him about the story of Masaniello. It was just the kind of thing for a communist to tell.

Masaniello was a fishmonger. He lived in the seventeenth century, when the kingdom of Naples was subject to the empire of Spain. At the time, Spain was continuously at war, mostly with the rebellious Dutch, and to finance those wars they levied taxes. Not on the nobles obviously, but on the common people.

One day, after yet another tax on fruit had been imposed, the people of Naples rose up, and humble Masaniello and his wife led the rebellion. The viceroy had to flee inside the castle. Masaniello became the de facto ruler of ‘Royal Republic of Naples’.

It didn’t take long. The viceroy, shrewd as he was, invited Masaniello to court and started to grant him riches and honours, and lots of promises. Taxes would be revoked, and Masaniello would be recognised as leader of the Neapolitan people, and treated as such.

Now, some say that this change in fortune was too much for him to handle, others say that he was poisoned. Fact is that Masaniello started to behave very strangely after that. He went nuts. And all the while the viceroy plotted with some of Masaniello’s followers to have him killed.

We are driving over the grand boulevard near the port quarter to the right. “Over there in one of the churches Masaniello spoke to the crowd from the pulpit one day. He said he would renounce to all the honours and riches that were bestowed on him. He said he would return humble and poor like he had been before. So he stripped, right there in church, to his bare ass.”

For most people it was the final proof that Masaniello had gone mad. Not long afterwards he was murdered, and his body thrown into a gutter. The assassins were rewarded by the viceroy and Spanish rule was restored.

As a first thing after the restoration, the price of bread was raised and taxes reinstated. At that point the people realised that they had been fooled. So they took Masaniello out of the sewer, they gave him a solemn funeral, and they remembered the last thing that he had said on the pulpit.

‘You cannot make revolution once. You have to keep making revolution every single day. The day you stop making revolution, you will be crushed.’

Shrine dedicated to Diego Maradona

The Old and the Young

In Italy, March to Athens, Naples on 10 February 2012 at 22:47
March to Athens
Day 95-XXI, Naples.

Survivors of the internal assembly

Naples, February 10


Dear people,


The rains are coming down over Naples, and people stay inside. So despite the great stage, days are wet and sad. The assembly on the ecomafia that we planned was cancelled because of the weather. We are definitely not as pious as the average hitman of the camorra, and today we payed the price for it.

Instead of a public assembly we held one of our ridiculous internal assemblies. Four hours it took us to reach a consensus on the first point of the agenda, the route up to Potenza. There were six points left after that, but only a handful of people had resisted up to that point.

Our major internal problem at the moment is that the group is being held hostage by the Old Man.

The reason for the Old Man to come along with the march was because he had nothing better to do this winter. He doesn’t really participate. Only when we speak about the route, he never fails to block any leg that is longer than twenty kilometres.

It’s exasperating. In certain places there simply doesn’t exist an inhabited centre within twenty kilometres, but for the Old Man it doesn’t matter. As far he is concerned we camp in the woods and hold an assembly with the animals like Snow White.

Personally, I’m convinced that the consensus model is not the way to go, precisely because it allows for one single person to block an entire assembly. The Old Man is going to cause more trouble, without a doubt, and I wonder how long we are going to put up with it. Maybe we should learn from the prehistoric nomad tribes. They simply abbandoned the elderly to their fate when they weren’t able to come along anymore.


In a certain sense, this is the same problem of Italy as a whole. Like I said in an earlier post, the elderly are keeping society hostage, because they don’t confer any responsability to the young. For youngsters it’s almost impossible to start a carreer in Italy. With one exception. The mafia.

The mafia is an umbrella term for various criminal syndicats in Southern Italy – Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria, the Sacra Corona Unita in Apulia and the Camorra in Naples. Together they form the most successful corporation of Italy. The mafia is bigger than Fiat.

The mafia doesn’t abide by the rules of Italian  bureaucracy, which makes it a lot more agile. And the mafia appreciates youthful talent. If you dedicate your life to the Organisation, you can go a long way.

At ten or eleven years you start off as a palo. It means you keep an eye out in the neighbourhood. You report on unusual things, you spy on certain people. At fifteen or sixteen, you get your own motorino, and you can act as a courier or a drugs runner. At eighteen you can enter the inner circle of the clan. In your early twenties you can become a hitman, and if you’re really good you can rule your own neighbourhood as a boss at twenty-five, sometimes even younger.

At that point you have all you want. Money, fast cars, women, coke, and the power over life and death. In the meantime, your former classmates who followed the rules have just received their university degree, and are still living at home, unemployed, or working in a supermarket for 600 euros per month.

A real change in Italy can only happen if the younger generation rebels. But it’s not that easy. In the North-African countries the majority of people is under twenty-five. Over there the youth has critical mass. Over here, they are relatively few. And what’s worse, they are becoming less. The fertility rate in Italy is one of the lowest in the world. On average, parents only bare 1.4 children, which means that Italians are at risk of extinction. In the end, even though people continue to view them as a danger, it’s only the immigrants who can save this country.


The Great Stage

In Italy, March to Athens, Naples on 8 February 2012 at 23:10

March to Athens

Day 93-XIX, Naples.

Naples, February 8

Dear people,

I take a morning walk through the backstreets of Naples. I look through famous texts by ancient authors on the book stands in the university quarter. I sniff the smell of sweet sfogliatelle in the narrow alleys where the lines of laundry reach the sky. I take a coffee like they only make it here. And I’m completely happy.

This city is larger than life. This city is theater.

There’s the bay, there’s the volcano, there are the islands, and usually there’s the sun. Put it all together and you have the perfect stage for any story. Tragical, comical, or epical.

The people from Naples fill the stage. They have a character of their own. They are inventive, enterprising and highly superstitious. They know how to enjoy themselves, they know how to avoid the rules and play their own game. They have a big heart. And they showed it to us.

Ever since we arrived here, people came offering food, showers, places to sleep, moral support and a shift on the night watch. It went on all day, the supply was much bigger than the demand.

Together with a comrade of mine, I was accompanied through town to the eastern outskirts on the slopes of the Vesuvius to take tea, shower and dinner. When we left the square, a young bloke had just arrived with a huge dish and a big smile. “Ragazzi, this is a present from my mother… Pasta al forno!”

Angela, our host, has worked as a human rights specialist at the University ‘Federico II’ of Naples. She is proud to tell that it is the oldest institution for higher education in Europe which isn’t linked to the church. The founder and namesake, medieval emperor Frederick of Svevia, nicknamed stupor mundi, was an enlightened patron of the arts in the early thirteenth century. Among other dominions, he was king of Sicily, and he held court at Palermo where he invited artists and scientist from all over the christian and muslim world to exchange their knowledge and talents in an atmosphere of human brotherhood. Some Sicilians claim that Italian, as a successor of scholarly Latin, was elevated to the honour of a written language in Sicily at the court of Frederick II, and not by national poet Dante Alighieri, as the Florentines claim.

We drive along the busy Corso Umberto, the limit of the ancient Greek town, where once the sea arrived. To the left of us there is the old centre with its more or less regular city grid. “Naples is made up of various layers,” Angela explains. “The roads were laid out by the Greeks, around three central axes. On the Greek foundations the Romans built the next layer, and over the Roman remainders arose the buildings from the middle ages. On top of those, the Spanish kings of Naples continued to build new storeys over the course of the centuries.” In many places throughout the old city you can still notice the layers of time, like the traces of geological eras in the rocks.

Ever since she was born under the name of Parthenopia, Naples has been a special place, and the Neapolitans a special kind of people. You cannot give a proper fitting description of the Neapolitan character, but you can recognise it immediately. Both in real life, and in its stereotype characterisations. When the great storyteller Giovanni Boccaccio presents us a Neapolitan in one of his novellas from his 12th century Decamerone, it’s the same character you will encounter in the theatrical pieces by 20th century playwrite Eduardo de Filippo, or in the films with iconic actors like Totò or Massimo Troisi.

The theatre of Naples and her Gulf resists against the currents of the centuries, and her actors continue to recite their own stories. One way or another the struggle for survival is always a recurring motive. Because life is hard in Naples.

In the North, society is pretty well organised, and generally things work out well. But still, people find reasons to complain. Here, people have reasons to complain about everything, but they don’t. They look for the positive side, and they love and share and enjoy what they have. The sun, the gulf, and the greatest stage on earth.


In Italy, March to Athens, Naples on 7 February 2012 at 21:11
March to Athens
Day 92-XVIII, from Qualiano to Naples, 12 km.
Naples, February 7

Dear people,

This morning police escorted us in small groups to the local bar to take a cappuccino. It’s one of those things that I like about this march. Nothing is normal. For us, every day is extraordinary. Yesterday evening before we went to sleep, the police officer on duty asked us if there was something he could do for us. Jokingly, we requested sweet pastries and cappuccino for breakfast. It turned out he took us seriously.

After breakfast we walk in group and we sing. Today is more special than usual. Today we reach Naples.

All along the route through the colourful outskirts people look us on, they join their hands to make the typical Italian sign that means ‘what the hell?’. We tell them about the march, about Athens, and they smile. It’s a smile of appreciation, and one that says ‘you’re completely out of your mind.’

We arrive at Capodimonte where we enjoy a first view of the city. We see the Vesuvius. Very timidly and very briefly, it snows. Last time that happened here was in 1986. It must be a good sign.

In a world where all countries and all cities tend to resemble each other, Naples is in a league of its own. Nothing compares to this city, nothing compares to her character. She’s the best, and she’s the worst. Like women, you can never fully understand Naples. You can only adore her, e basta.

We descend over the central Via Toledo, we are received by local indignados who accompany us to the landmark Piazza del Gesù, where we had decided to camp.

Immediately upon arrival, the tents are deployed, for the first time since Sperlonga. There is an army jeep with three soldiers guarding the square. They are bewildered, but they like us right from the start.

Accampata Napoli @ Piazza del Gesù

Only when police arrive there is a bit of tension. Obviously they didn’t expect us. They say we can’t camp here, and they do so in an authoritative way. It’s against the rules.

The rules! If we played by the rules, we wouldn’t have started a revolution. We reply in an equally authoritative tone. ‘Do whatever you want to do, but we’re here and we’re staying.’ In the background, the soldiers giggle.

Police march off. There’s heavy telephone traffic going on with headquarters. An hour later they return. We can officially stay.

The first popular assembly we held in the square was a big success. There are lots of locals passing by, and almost all of them stop to see what’s going on. Many of them join the assembly.

We introduced ourselves, we spoke about our dreams, and we received invitations to a popular dinner and to a hold an assembly in the university. But when we invited people to speak about the problems of Naples, no-one dared to dig into it, like we expected.

Still, we launched a challenge. For ourselves and for the Neapolitans. In a few days we intend to organise a thematical assembly on what I called ‘the business of trash’, and the role of the camorra.

I’m curious to see what’ll happen. First thing, we decided to install a night watch…

Popular assembly in Naples

'Saviano is not alone. No to the Camorra'

“La Police Avec Nous”

In Italy, March to Athens on 6 February 2012 at 21:55
March to Athens

Day 91-XVII, from Castelvolturno to Qualiano, 24 km.

Qualiano, February 6

Dear people,

We’ve returned to the known world. Here there’s just the trash and the general absence of hope. We know now that things could be a lot worse.

This is a northern suburb of Naples, and we shouldn’t be here. We were supposed to go to a tiny place called Zaccaria. But it turned out none of the locals had ever heard of it. So we walked on, arriving after dark in the nearest inhabited place we could find.

Preparing to go, observed by the blacks of the immigrant centre

Marching through the trash.

We were received by the police. Not with clubs and guns, but with pizza, pastries and wine. It caused a bit of embarassment among some of us, and hilarity among others. We were offered to stay in the aula for official events, and in the end we accepted.

For us as revolutionaries it’s a bit difficult to explain that we are guests of the police without there being bars between them and us. But we don’t worry too much about it. The pizza is good and outside it’s cold, menacing snow, and in such a situation we are easily corruptible as well.

And this.

In any case, it’s true that the police in Italy have a lot to complain about. Budget cuts mostly. When things are going bad economically, it’s natural for governments to cut spending on education and health care. But when spending on police is cut, things are going really bad. Part of the police officers have short term contacts. Part of the vehicles can’t be used because there is no money for fuel.

In the beginning of the march, so I heard, police were pretty invasive. They stopped the group almost every day to control identity papers. Then one day, the walkers decided they wouldn’t show them.

Camping in the police aula

“Take us all away if necessary, or do whatever you need to do, but we won’t comply.” In the face of this collective refusal, the active officer called his superiors. Shortly after, the march could continue.

Police didn’t ask papers after that anymore. They are always helpful, but never before have they received us this way.

After we had installed our shopping carts, our sleeping bags and our field kitchen in the police aula, we also received a visit from the town council. They congratulated us briefly, and after witnessing a piece of our turbulent internal assembly, they left, wishing us good luck.

Internal assembly


In Italy, March to Athens on 5 February 2012 at 08:34

March to Athens

Day 90-XVI, from Mondragone to Castelvolturno, 13 km.

Castelvolturno, February 5


Dear people,


I knew it was bad, really bad. But still I was shocked when I saw it with my own eyes.

After walking a handful of kilometres along the Domitiana, the national road to Naples, I take a tourist detour through the village of Pescopagano, pagan peach tree. It was a first class culture shock.

This is the heart of clanland. The carabinieri don’t dare to go here, only under protection of the army. It’s a zone that doesn’t bare resemblance with Italy or any other part of Europe. This is Noweto, the North West Township of Naples.

There’s a street full of potholes running between ruins, sheds and unfinished buildings. The side streets are closed with gates, they are private property. Wild dogs, wild cats and wild children roam between the trash. Almost all of the people I encounter are black.

Do excuse me, I mean ‘Afro-Americans’. Or no, that isn’t true either. ‘Afro-Europeans’ maybe. Call them whatever you want, it makes me sick how we, ‘progressive’ people of the West, try to wash away the intrinsic racism of our society with words. These people are negroes, and they work like slaves.

Some people from the extreme right accuse the immigrants of taking away the jobs from the Italians. They are right. For centuries, the peasants of Italy were selected by the henchmen of the nobles at five in the morning to work the land until late in the evening for little more than a plate of pasta. Those who didn’t get selected didn’t eat.



Then came the economic boom. Italians are generally better off. So now it’s the negroes who get selected every morning at five to pick oranges or tomatoes or whatever for ten euros a day, if they’re lucky. This way the natives, and all of us, can buy our vegetables and fruits at fifty cents a kilo. Truly, at the bottom of society, nothing ever changed here.

In between the ruins and the garbage here at Castelvolturno you can find numerous christian flavoured churches which offer spiritual comfort to the blacks. Lacking hope for a better life here on earth, there’s a big market for hope on a better life in heaven.


"Christ Kingdom Outreach" church

I can’t help but think how sadistic we are in the end. It isn’t enough for western companies to own the riches of Africa, it wasn’t enough for western countries to reduce the local populations to slavery. No, nowadays, the slaves come to us to work, they risk their life for it, we tacitly accept and encourage it, and in the end we even complain about their presence.


This evening we are appropriately housed in a centre for immigrants, run by the church. At the dinner table we mix up with about a hundred blacks. Many of them have been here long enough to speak Italian discretely well. They tell me their stories.

Ali fled from Niger about a year ago. He was with a criminal gang, and he risked being shot if he got caught. He fled leaving wife and child behind. Forty-five days it took to cross the desert into Libya. Four days he was at sea with dozens of others and nothing to eat or drink. Then they were caught by the Italian coast guard. He spent months in a closed internation camp in Sicily before he got his provisional papers. Now he’s here, hoping to find work.

The dogs of Castelvolturno


Lunch break

The exploitation of extracomunitarians isn’t technically slavery, it’s much better. As an employer you don’t have to worry about feeding, housing and whipping your employees. You just give them a handful euros at the end of the day, and let them handle it themselves.

I hear another story. Louis from Ghana has been here for over two and a half years. I can’t stand to see the sadness in his eyes. “It’s difficult, it’s very difficult.” He has worked for half a year as a construction worker, and a couple of months in a garage. But now there’s no work. He only wants to get out of here. It doesn’t matter where.

And Ghana?

“Ghana is even more difficult. Some days you don’t eat. Here at least you have a plate of pasta every day.”

The state, the church, the camorra, and thousands of negroes living in a limbo. I don’t get the whole picture of course, but I do know that we owe these people more than a plate of pasta and a politically correct term to describe their blackness. We owe them respect. If only because the negroes were the only ones who have had the courage to protest openly against the camorra.


The Business of Trash

In Italy, March to Athens on 4 February 2012 at 18:30

March to Athens

Day 89-XV, Mondragone, rest.

Mondragone, February 4


Dear people,


We’re in a kindergarten. There is light, there’s heating, there are toilets and there’s a kitchen. Before we came here, we found shelter in a run-down space out of town without electricity. But then the people from town hall called to the villages where we stayed before. They were told we left everything cleaner than we found it, so they entrusted us with this delecate spaces.

For the evening assembly we received a visit from an association of small farmers. They showed interest in our movement, but one of them had the impression that we are still demanding something from someone else. He says we don’t need nothing from no-one, as long as we have the land.

The association is part of a web, la Ragnatela, which spans all of southern Italy. It connects different rural realities where people work their own land and aim to be as self sufficient as possible. Seven people were present, among whom two couples and a baby. They brought excellent wine and bread.

The association is very much dedicated to the recovery of ancient varieties of grains, vegetables and fruit, to protect them from the modified seeds of agricultural corporations like Monsanto, and to help them survive for the benefit of future generations.

One us asked them the big question. “With seven billion people to feed, isn’t it necessary to resort to agriculture on an industrial scale?”

They dismissed it unanimously, saying that this is precisely the argument that the multinationals use. For an old style farmer it’s perfectly possible to work the land without chemical fertilizers, without pesticides, without genetically modified seeds, and still offer humanity an incredibly wide variety of food.

Another important thing for our visitors is the concept of rifiuti zero. No waste.

Now this is revolutionary, in the south of Italy.

The troubles with trash in Naples and surroundings are sadly known. Walking along the roads here is all but beautiful. You repeatedly encounter dead animals, small memorials with photos and plastic flowers for the people who died in traffic, and trash. Tons and tons and tons of it. Chairs, matrasses, plastic bottles, cans, televion sets, auto parts, refrigerators etc. etc. In these once wonderful places, civilization seems to be drowning in its own excrement.

This is normality. About once every year it’s trash season, and then it gets really bad. Then the flood of garbage rises, and in the towns it can easily reach the balconies of the first floors.

The root of the problem is that trash is a business. The state entrusts the collection and the disposal of trash to private enterprises. These enterprises are controlled by the camorra. They control the dumps, the means, and the workers. Once a year, they organise a strike. Then it’s trash emergency in Naples. The dumpsters flood, the streets are invaded. After days in the rotten stench, people set fire to the piles out of fear for cholera and other diseases, so big chemical clouds rise up from the neighbourhoods with equally disastrous results for public health.

It’s all on the news every day, and finally the government in Rome takes drastic measures. A so-called ‘Trash Czar’ is nominated, and sent down to Naples with special authorities and a bag full of money to solve the emergency. Then the situation calms down a bit. A year later however, to no-one’s surprise, the problem returns, and the money is gone.

I walk around, I see all the garbage, and I wonder if the natives still see it all.