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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Ano Korakiana again

Our blood orange tree is heavy with fruit; our lemon trees too. I soak up the village, feel it through the soles of my feet, gathering strength – a feeling that began even as we disembarked from the ferry at shabby Igoumenitsa....
Igoumenitsa at dawn

...a port that takes no account of travellers on foot, and trailed our bags across two kilometres of concrete to where we could catch the smaller ferry to Corfu, name Doris – ΔΩΡΙΕΥΣ. Greece, far from wounding me, embraces and supports me. My chest swells and my eyes glisten with the joy of return. I feel brave.
Arriving at the Port of Corfu
I want Ano Korakiana – ‘our’ village - to be timeless; timeless for me; nothing must change without I know of it, yet as Lin drives down Democracy Street under an overcast sky, as you’d expect in January, I see the shop – Stamatis' small shop yards from us - is gutted, with builders inside. After unloading the car of our luggage and shopping on the way, I find our neighbour, Vasiliki, is putting up washing below a polythene sheet that crackles and slaps in the wind. I greet her over our garden fence.
“To pantopolei, to magassi, το μαγαζί? Pou agoraso psomi? Που αγοράζω ψωμί; where do I buy bread?
She said ‘supermarket - σούπερμάρκετ’.
I groan inwardly. Our nearest is miles away. I go down into the house, turning on the water and the power including the water heater. I stroll to the shop. Stamatis is there. It’s OK. The place is being refurbished - ανακαινίζουν το μαγαζί. Bread is across the road at Pepe’s where they sell cakes. Phew. But if I want vegetables I must walk three hundred metres to the other end of the street to the other shop, which only reopened two years ago. So now who’s receiving the mail I wonder?
But I’m relieved. It’ll sort itself out; a change that need not bring anxiety. Later the sky grows clearer, a strong almost warm south wind blows below ragged racing clouds.
[21/01/13 Stamatis explained his plan to me. He is not redoing the shop but making a small bar which will serve coffee and drinks and mezes. It will be called Piazza - Πιάτσα. He gets a temporary relief from tax as this is a starter business and he has installed toilets and wash basin. On reflection I think this is a very good project and I hope it prospers.]
But abruptly the sky darkens. Hail falls in a burst, lashing leaves from the trees, beating a staccato on the shutters and doors, heaping ice stones against the outer walls, making such a din I’m momentarily alarmed the weather’s made a breach, assaulting the cosy house where our stove burns old building wood I sawed late in summer, dry as a bone. The electrics flicker – come on again, go off, come on and then go off for several hours. We’ve candles ready with matches near and a small propane stove to boil water.
At dawn, a blue-grey mat stands across the island southward. Rain pours through the day. I collect it from the downpipes in big bowls for when the pumping fails and the village loses tap water; which for several hours it did. I spin the washing twice and hang it on the drier in front of the stove.
“That just makes condensation” grumbles Lin
“Well what do you suggest?”
“Wait until you can hang it outside”
“When would that be?”
In a short relent yesterday afternoon Lin and I got out our sticks and trudged up the village through Venetia to Ag. Isadoras on the ninth bend of the road to Sokraki above. The south wind moaned in the electric wires twirling the tops of trees and shrubs, spreading our coat tails and streaming Lin’s hair beneath her hat. We had the road all to ourselves, ample warning of rare approaching cars.

On the way up the hill I drop off two bags of litter I’ve collected from the path beside our garden. Vasiliki told me her husband Lefteris’ brother had died on Saturday - έπεσε νεκρός. He’d had a home in Athens. Lefteris has gone there; I think to bring him home. Vasiliki knew my mother had died - πεθαίνω πλήρης ημερών. We both gave the worn look, a shared sad shrug – our fate.
Around 7.00pm I sat in on a lecture about - so Dr Savannis told me - ‘The Poverty of the Greek Language’ or perhaps 'The bankruptcy of our language'. It was in the Philharmonia Room in the centre of the village. I understood little - a sort of self-imposed fasting from comprehension; to allow myself to feel uneducated and dense. The lecturer was on a panel – fascinated, amused – all engaged in a two hour debate.
Lecture and debate in Ano Korakiana "Η πτώχευση της γλώσσα μας'
There were at least forty present – grey hairs and young, even a child of 10 or 12. She sat attentive as her mother took part in the discussion. These evening debates are regular in Ano Korakiana – covering music, poetry, novels and themes like tonight’s. In what other village would I encounter such a thing? I long to be involved as more than just an observer of such animation.
**** ****
Near Cavour in the city centre of Naples
We left Naples by train on Monday morning and travelled to Bari via Caserta.
Across Campania
Under the Volcano was a book about a talented man drinking himself into stupor; people who love him, powerless against his compulsion. With the help of murderous rogues he is destroyed. So Naples.
Chiesa S.Giuseppi di Ruffi

Imagine Venice invaded by Mestre and oil-drenched Marghera, drab Treviso and the outlying settlements kept away by the lagoon. Naples, without such protection, is infected by cement. Where once were walls and separation between town and country, the once great city of Bourbon, Austrian and imperial Spanish architecture with Roman-Greek infrastructure - famous wondrous Naples - is now an uninviting settlement of semi-derelict ticky tack strewn between fabled Sorrento and Mondragone, north of the Gulf of Naples, thirty miles up the Domitian coast and outward across a mess of temporary building and depopulated farmland reaching to Caserta.  
Placeless in Torre del Greco
Six lane succubus
We learned at school the eulogy ‘See Naples and die’. Old paintings, even old photos attest its sublime beauty. I'm not nostalgic.
Near Piazza Dante in the centre of Naples
I sailed here in 1962, enjoying ice cream as I'd never tasted it, but I doubt - but for intervals - the human condition was better or worse, yet the blighting of this once great city and its environs is worse than the ancient disasters that attract visitors to Herculaneum and Pompeii, but the pizza is excellent. Eloquent Roberto Saviano struggles to find the words to describe, ‘to construct…an image of the economy’. He falls back on picturing what ‘it leaves behind…as it marches onward’.
‘The most concrete emblem of every economic cycle is the dump (Ch.10 in Gomorrah: Land of Fires pp.282)…the true aftermath of consumption. The south of Italy is the end of the line for the dregs of production, useless leftovers, and toxic waste.’
Campania and its companion provinces, Sicily, Basilicata, Calabria and Puglia are centres of environmental crime. Worst are the outskirts of Naples.
‘On no other land in the Western world has a greater amount of toxic and non-toxic waste been illegally dumped.’ 
Saviano’s statistics drawn from Italian government reports and the office of the Naples public prosecutor are telling.
‘…the trash, accumulated over decades, has reconfigured the horizons, created previously non-existent hills, invented new odours, and suddenly restored lost mass to mountains devoured by quarries’.
He describes a new managerial class of post-graduates with degrees in environmental studies who know waste, acting as middlemen between those with waste to dispose and those with places to dump it. These ‘stakeholders’ become rich mediating between industrialists wanting to reduce the costs of legal disposal and the Camorrah clans’ trash disposers. ‘The stakeholder’s office is his car, and he moves hundreds of thousands of tons of waste with a phone and a portable computer’ undercutting the cost of legal disposal, handling enormous volumes, making exponential profits. Saviano describes one stakeholder who gave up his job to teach his profession in Hongkong, where the local stakeholders’ dream...
‘is to make the Port of Naples the hub for European refuse, a floating collection centre where the gold of trash can be crammed into containers for burial in China’ (p.291)
Listening to a stakeholder on the phone to customers he overhears advice on 
‘how and where to dump toxic waste…copper, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead, chrome, nickel, cobalt, and molybdenum…from tannery residues to hospital waste, from urban trash to tyres…’ 
The irony? The clans with their criminal waste disposal services...
‘relaunched and energized the Italian economy…Tuscany the most environmentally conscious region of Italy, plays a significant role in the geography of illicit traffic…the 2003 Midas investigation reported that waste disposal traffickers were already making contacts in Albania and Costa Rica…every channel is open now: to the east, to Romania…to Africa, to Mozambique, Somalia and Nigeria…the local agriculture, which used to export fruit and vegetables as far as Scandinavia, is collapsing. Plants sprout diseased, and the land grows infertile. But this disaster and the farmers’ rage are only the umpteenth advantage for the Camorrah: desperate landowners sell off their fields, and the clans acquire new landfill sites at low – very low – costs…In the land of the Camorrah knowing the clans’mechanisms for success, their modes of extraction, their investments, means understanding how everything works today everywhere, not merely here.’
There remains a city core in Naples, the old paved and cobbled streets, narrow and inviting, but here the streets are ravaged by motorized traffic – an object lesson in the 20th century plague of private wealth and public squalor. Public transport struggles; is notoriously sporadic, frequently delayed. Over most of our stay we were content to walk, but in doing so experienced the rank accorded pedestrians. Cycling was non-existent. Unsurprising given the cobbles and hills, but most of all because of the dominance of motorized traffic, only now and then kept at bay by bollards, but colonizing much of the city whether parked across a walkway, cutting through alleyways or charging along roads designed for their privileged circulation and the subordination of people who walk. You must drive or be driven in a car or on a scooter to gain the freedom of the city. We made it to what we thought was the seafront by Castella...
...,to find ourselves barred from the sea by a ribbon of fences, walls, private roads and a dual carriageway four lanes wide of speeding vehicles.
It was different once...
Strolling along straight - once magnificent - Via Cristoforo Columbus, the civic statues that watched our passage had become bathetic, too grand for the scabbed uneven pavements; the cement and asphalt patchwork superimposed over 19th century patterned cobbles; empty shops selling heavily discounted fashionwear announcing sales covered in crossed out price labels; stuffed wheelie bins and windblown garbage...
...beneath grandiose six and seven floored mansions with tall windows and ornate balconies, distinctly under occupied, their antique high-ceilinged rooms converted to temporary offices and store rooms. The road was divided by a crude concrete barrier heavily grafitt’d. Car and trucks ruled our surroundings, taking their possession of city space for granted. We scuttled warily, skirting what might once have been a promenade, once a shared public space. I fumed. I learned and knew it was different once.
Highlighting the fate of yet another city running out of civic space, are its public treasures. The National Archeological Museum seen the afternoon of our arrival. All our time here was worth the things we enjoyed there, even as our limbs ached with walking on stone and climbing steps.

 Never was marble more caressable; mosaic more touchable...
It made me think Hokusai's Octopus and Shell Diver 蛸と海女
...This wistful face -  no deity or ideal form - hardly 10 inches high, crafted in small pieces of stone perfectfully placed. Someone adored her. Did she die under the volcano? Was she already a memorial enjoyed by her descendants in a Greek town that stood on the shore for centuries before the Romans, before the great eruption. The picture with many others lay unknown beneath hardened mud and ash for 18 centuries; now emerged into light to delight me. Alone these were worth my tiny transit. In Herculaneum I saw no signs to the Villa of the Papyri – the house I’d learned of in The Swerve, where a treasure of scrolled books was found illegibly charred. Archaeological invention is gradually deciphering them. In the garden, now in the museum, was a marble statue – not large – of Pan and a nannygoat making languorous love, smiling into each other’s eyes
“Aren’t we enjoying ourselves?”
Why have I never come across this sweet piece, antonym to porn’s bilious exaggeration, a most explicit recognition of Donne’s Ecstasy ‘to our bodies turn we then…else a great prince in prison lies’? (When I was sixteen and my mother told me of her love of this poem. I was embarrassed)
...That subtle knot which makes us man,
So must pure lovers' souls descend
T' affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.
To'our bodies turn we then...
There’s no power play here, no sentimental innocence. The mutual connection – above and below – even on a stand displayed in a museum, radiates happy and solicitous pleasure.
On Sunday we took the Metro to Cavour again and walked, where Jamie and Maria had marked our map, to Via Duomo off which a narrow street led to an entrance into Napoli Sotteranea, where seven of us descended, with a guide, down “a hundred and nineteen steps” into one small part of a great system of man-made caverns, shafts and corridors spread beneath the city.
Prehistoric settlers mined a layer of volcanic tufa for stones to build Naples, creating spaces into which in classical times rivers were diverted, so that anyone wanting water sank a well into the workings, which expanded over thousands of years - a network of connected cisterns, with aqueducts over a 100 kilometres, long bringing water to outlying towns. Only near the end of the 19th century did cholera put an end to drawing water from this vast underground.
I took the visit on trust; felt none of the sensible apprehension that would have made me more than fearful of walking on the rim of a volcano or descending many metres underground. The idea of this great area beneath Naples was fascinating; the experience less so. I’d become more intrigued with what was above ground – the teeming mess of contemporary Campagna. We had talked of dystopia with Jamie and Maria. He referred me to the 'anti-state'...I found and read this on a US site:
Known as the “anti-state” or simply the “system,” the “Camorra” dominates the city of Naples, Italy. The Neapolitan equivalent of Sicily’s Mafia operates a multibillion dollar a year enterprise ranging from international smuggling to street level crime to providing material support to terrorists. The epicenter of the system is the neighborhoods of Scampia and Secondigliano, called the Red Zone due to the amount of power that Camorra exerts over the area...The Camorra came on the international stage in the early 1990s. The Sicilian Mafia had traditionally been the most powerful of the organized crime groups in Italy, but following the assassination of two prominent anti-mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borselino, in 1992, it faced an unprecedented level of crackdowns by law enforcement*...This created the opportunity for the Camorra to fill the void for international drug trafficking, and subsequently the bulk of drug trafficking shifted from Sicily to Naples. The conditions in Naples itself, particularly Scampia and Secondigliano, have allowed the Camorra to continue to operate on the international level. Following the earthquake of 1980, thousands migrated to the public housing complexes known as the Vele di Scampia (Sails of Scampia). This influx exacerbated already existing problems of poverty, drugs, and street crime, in which an estimated 60,000 residents were now living in the complexes seriously lacking public services, not even a single police station initially. The lack of commercial development coupled with extremely high unemployment made this a perfect area for criminal enterprise....(The Case of Scampia and Secondigliano, Italy. Egon Donnarumma Summer 2011,Vol 20 (3)
Naples and its suburbs from Vesuvius

But Egon Donnarumma’s essay for the US National Strategy is for a ‘homeland’ audience warning that Naples is a portal for terrorism against the US and infiltration of American business in Italy.
 … If left unobstructed, terrorist groups can continue to use Naples as a point to safely enter Europe, which may eventually result in a major terrorist attack…A partnership of Italian and American intelligence operations to track terrorist activity in Naples would also be in both countries’ interest….for American businesses. The implications of facing organized crime elements must be considered…While this does not apply to every industry, those involved with shipping and especially waste disposal should be aware of the likelihood of crossing paths with elements of the Camorra…so embedded in society that they are unlikely to go away anytime soon. 
Donnarumma writes pragmatically as a US foreign policy expert, as though describing risks attached to the aims and activities of another nation. Within his essay are warnings of how the Camorra get their grip, which is indeed to be not so much anti-state, in the sense promoted by anarchists who recognize that any moral calculation shows states as lethal and as murderous as the criminal agencies Donnarumma describes, but to show how, in Naples, the criminals are recreating government, ruling a local state with embassies and consulates spreading across the world. I recall being struck by an opinion of Judge Giovanni Falcone, scourge of the Mafia, murdered by them in Sicily in 1992, that the Mafia ‘understood the responsibilities of government better than Rome’, the seat of a national government that failed to protect him and his legal work to eliminate the Mafia. The Camorra protect their own. Donnarumma points out that, especially in Scampia and Secondigliano in Naples, they provide a substitute for the services of local government...
... illicit sale of cigarettes and other goods is tolerated by authorities under an “air of casual illegality”. With little in the way of commercial infrastructure and social services, it functions as the only viable economic organization in these neighborhoods. It also serves as a welfare agency, in essence, by providing care for families of any member who ends up in prison. This tightens its grasp on the neighbourhoods by making the population dependent on its services, which pushes out state services, thus further integrating Camorra into society. Following the global economic crisis, organized crime in Italy is one of the few businesses with liquidity and is lending lots of money (although with extremely high interest rate) to businesses. (The Case of Scampia and Secondigliano, Italy. Egon Donnarumma Summer 2011,Vol 20 (3) 
Father Don Peppino Diana
The most famous man to come from Casal di Principe, a town embedded in Naples’ unwholesome sprawl nine miles north west of Scampia and Secondigliano, is not a gang chief, but the priest Father Don Peppino Diana (or Don Giuseppe Diana). In an especially powerful chapter Roberto Saviano reports how the Camorra have infiltrated the church, adopting and adapting Christian theology (as, of course, have states) to their ends ‘Killing is a sin that Christ will understand and forgive in the name of necessity’. Thus Israel circumvents Yawa’s commandment in Gaza, thus Islamists can kill for the religion of peace they ever proclaim, thus the Christian nation of America and its allies…(no need to labour the point).
‘Religion is a constant point of reference for the Camorra, not merely a propitiary gesture or cultural relic but a spiritual force that determines the most intimate decisions. Camorra families, especially the most charismatic bosses, often consider their own actions as a Calvary, their own consciences bearing the pain and weight of sin for the well being of the group and the men they rule.’ (Gomorrah p.226-227) 
I realize something I’d not grasped; that in challenging a system that has taken on the moral and physical methods of a state, it is not enough to side with it against another state; to side with local and national government against an upstart criminal state. The state and anti-state are not exactly in collaboration any more than are warring Camorra clans but they are mutually infiltrated via a host of quotidian interactions – the issuing of a trading licence, the collection of a tax, the willingness of a priest to celebrate a clan wedding or baptism and hear confessions. Into this fuzzy space between state and anti-state come exceptional individuals seldom popular with either. Roberto Saviano decribes the brief life, cut short by his murder, of the priest Don Peppino Diana, a man who for a short time strove to make black and white, what most people would prefer left as shades of grey.
‘Don Peppino wanted to bring some clarity to words, meanings and values’ ‘We must’ he said ‘divide the people so as to throw them into crisis’. ‘… (p.229) his priority was to fight political power as an expression of criminal business power’
“… the candidates favoured by the Camorrah have neither policy nor party, but merely a role as player or a post to fill.” 
Words, meanings, values…. “The Camorrah gives the name family to a clan organised for criminal purposes, in which absolute loyalty is the law, and expression of autonomy is denied, and not only defection but the conversion to honesty is considered a betrayal worthy of death; the Camorrah uses every means to extend and consolidate this type of family, even exploitation of the sacraments. For the Christian, shaped to the school of the Word of God, family means only a group of people united by shared love, in which love means means disinterested and attentive service, in which service exalts him who offers it and him who receives it… 
Weapons in hand, the Camorristi violently impose unacceptable rules: extortions that have turned our region into subsidized areas with no potential on their own for development; bribes of 20% or more on construction projects, which would discourage the most reckless businessmen; illicit traffic in narcotics, whose use creates gangs of marginalized youngsters and unskilled workers at the beck and call of criminal organisations; clashes among factions that descend like a ruinous plague on the families of our region; negative examples for the entire teenage population, veritable laboratories of violence and organised crime.” 
'Don Peppino didn’t want to believe the clan was an evil choice a person makes, but rather the result of clear conditions, fixed mechanisms, identifiable and gangrenous causes. No church or individual in the region had ever been so determined to clarify things.'
'…His killers did not pick a date by chance. March 19, 1994, was the feast of San Giuseppe, his name day…Early morning, Don Peppino was in the church meeting room near his study. “Who is Don Peppino?” “I am”  Two bullets hit him in the face, others pierced his head, neck and hand, and one hit the bunch of keys on his belt…He was thirty six years old.’ 
One of the more ingeniously unpleasant aftermaths of this crime, which the naïve might think unwise, raising the power of the priest's words through martyrdom, was the posthumous campaign aided by some local journalists to sully Peppino's name; to take away not only his life but his character, hinting that the was in fact a Camorrista caught up in a clan feud; had evaded his priestly duties – in refusing to give the sacrament to criminals – had consorted with prostitutes; that his reason for going up against the clans was not a stance against all for which they stood but a personal vendetta, that Peppino ‘wallows in the same filth’. He was isolated, made alone.

*My ignorance of history, tho' vaguely remembered. Norman Lewis in his autobiography- I came, I saw (1985) - records in Chap 22, how after the allied carpet bombing of Naples while held by the Germans, the area was under the rule of AMGOT - the Allied Military Government of Occupation -
'largely officered by Americans of Italian origin. AMGOT 'stood between us and justice and truth'....'They had made a start by replacing all fascist-appointed Mayors with the nominees of the Mafia freshly released from gaol. Vito Genovese, ex-head of the American Mafia, now their principal adviser, was ready with his list of names, and soon these sinister ruffians became the real rulers of Southern Italy'

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Simon Baddeley