Friday, January 4, 2008

Is Naples burning?

Is Naples burning? Yes, it is. Literally. The garbage "emergency" (an emergency lasting over ten years) has reached crisis status, with heaps of garbage in the streets of Naples and the surrounding areas of Campania. Exasperated citizens have taken to setting fire to the heaps, thus releasing the poison dioxin (associated with the infamous Agent Orange of the Vietnam war) into the air. Quite apart from these health risks, an area in the Campania has been found to have high levels of cancer because of the inappropriate disposal of waste, much of which is in the hands of (you guessed it) organized crime, in this case, the Camorra. The European Union is making ineffectual noises about this and slapping Italy's wrist. Of course, if you had to mess with one of the Camorra's biggest cash cows, you might be ineffectual, too.

Being the literary/historical Eggplant that I am, I was struck by the juxtaposition of this headline news with the current exhibition which is on in Rome, called "Pompeii Red." It features a number of frescoes from Pompeii which were detached from its walls long ago. Pompeii, of course, is near Naples. This occasions all sorts of reflections on the reality of progress and brings to mind Giacomo Leopardi's great poem, also set near Naples, called "La Ginestra" (in English, "The Broom"). From the very long work, a ferociously ironic phrase has become known to all Italians: "le magnifiche sorti e progressive." The magnificent and progressive destiny.

Above, a detail from the house of the Vettii.