Approaching Ancient BordersPosted: January 31, 2012
Day 85-XI, from Sperlonga to Gaeta, 14 km.
Gaeta, January 31
The deserted town of Sperlonga is a fairytale. I conceded myself a long walk through the winding alleys down to the fort before going to sleep on the grand seaside balcony. But tonight the dreamy atmosphere was interrupted by a very unpleasant surprise. I slept through it, but I heard all the details this morning.
At around four, fire crackers were set off in our camp, and one of the tents was cut by an unidentified sharp object. We discussed it this morning in our internal assembly. It could well be another warning. And I was amazed with the reaction. Fear for the fascists spread fast, even though there wasn’t any reason for it. But this time, when there is a real motive for concern, people are pretty relaxed. We decided to install a night watch, but apart from that, we continue as usual.
The march today wasn’t as nice as it was yesterday, when I could follow the beach. Because of the rocky coast we have to follow the road, and the road had four tunnels to be crossed. We received an escort by the carabinieri, and under a hazy sky we arrived in Gaeta.
Gaeta has been a strategic port for centuries. It still is. Nato maintains a naval base here, and a giant grey war vessel was one of the first things whe noticed when we descended the boulevard of the town. On the steps of the town hall we had installed our field kitchen, and we chose this day and place to make polenta, a typical North-Italian dish made of maise flower. It makes for excellent nutrition, but after tasting it I was pretty sure that any person from the southern slopes of the Alps would have reported us to the authorities for offending their culinary heritage.
We are about to enter the former kingdom of Naples. Now, to put modern Italian differences into perspective I will give you a very brief overview of their historical dimension.
More or less since the year thousand up to the unification of Italy in the 1860s, the country has been divided into three.
The North was a collection of city states and regions, dedicated to trade, industry and banking.
The centre was what we would call a ‘third world nation’, under direct domain of the pope.
The south was a feudal state dominated by the nobility from Naples.
And all together, Italy has long been a battle ground where various European powers have exercised their influence. Mainly France, Austria and Spain.
Whereas the North was divided into warring cities and villages, whose rivalries have survived until the present day, the South has been a single state ever since it was united by the Vikings in the middle ages. When the Spanish from Aragón inherited the kingdom, they divided the country into giant estates, just like the Castilians were doing in Spain and Latin America. Local paesants were exploited for the greater glory of the nobles, and they continued to be exploited until about half a century ago. But road connections were bad and the estates were isolated one from another. It made no sense for the nobles to accumulate wealth without being able to show off among their peers. So most of the time the nobles didn’t live on their lands. They left the exploitation to their henchmen, and they built their family palaces in Naples.
These henchmen who represented the law in the absence of the official rulers are generally regarded to be at the root of the contemporary criminal sindicats which are popularly known as ‘the mafia’.