March to Athens
Day 97-XXIII, Naples.
Day 98-XXIV, from Naples to Santa Maria la Bruna, 18 km.
Torre del Greco, February 13
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.
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.
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…
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.
March to Athens
Day 96-XXII, Naples
Naples, February 11
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.
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.’
Day 95-XXI, Naples.
Naples, February 10
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.
Day 94-XX, Naples.
Naples, February 9
As a march we have adhered to one of today’s most important battles against corporate and government oppression. The battle against ACTA.
ACTA is a global agreement to fight counterfeit products, generic medicine and internet piracy. It has been developed by first world countries (EU, America, Australia and Japan) and pharmaceutical and motion picture corporations over the course of five years, in complete secrecy.
It aims to criminalise the sharing of copyrighted information and the reproduction of any type of patented artwork, technology, medicine, DNA-string or whatever. To do so, a new worldwide organisation will be created to coordinate the repression.
Internet providers will be forced to control all the content that passes through their servers. Internet users will be effectively put under corporate surveillance. They risk monetary fines and even prison time for sharing copyrighted works.
Generic cheap medicine could be outlawed for the benefit of the patent holding pharmaceutical corporations, which would gain a monopoly and could ask whatever price they want for their products. The cost of health care would keep rising, with devastating effects on the third world, and with corporate profits reaching the sky.
I’m not an expert on all this, but I always thought that the concept of copyright was meant to protect the creator of a given artwork or technology, by conceding that person the monopoly over his or her creation for a limited period. This would stimulate innovation, because any inventor could be sure that no-one else would benefit financially from his creation in the short term. Then, once the limited period ends, the invention would become public domain, and could be used and reproduced by anyone for the benefit of further innovation.
“To promote the progress of science and useful arts”, was the official reason why a copyright clause was included in the United States Constitution. But since then, things have changed. Nowadays public universities are reluctant to sponsor research into certain medicines or gene sequences, because they might encounter in copyright infringements and lawsuits by large pharmaceutical corporations, just to give an example.
Instead of protecting crackpot inventors or brilliant musicians, copyright legislation has turned into a way for big corporations to squeeze as much profit out of successful products as possible. For this reason the ‘limited period’ of copyright protection has been lengthened over and over again to include the entire lifetime of the author, and far beyond.
Typically, copyright was lengthened in the United States when Mickey Mouse was about to become public domain, even though its creator, Walt Disney, could not personally benefit from it, because he was frozen dead for over thirty years.
One of the great problems with copyright, and with our judicial system as a whole, is the concept of corporate personhood. Not just real people can be held responsible in a court of law or entitled to copyright, but also enterprises are legally treated as a person, while the people governing that enterprise don’t bare any personal responsibility at all.
This can lead to very strange interpretations of copyright. A famous example of this is the city of Duckburg, and the characters of Uncle Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, the Beagle Boys, Gladstone Gander and many more.
This city and all of these characters were invented by the great storyteller Carl Barks. But because he did so while working on a license by Walt Disney, the copyright belonged to the Walt Disney Company. Barks spent twenty-five years writing and drawing the most brilliant comics that ever bore the name Walt Disney, his stories sold billions of copies worldwide, and he never saw a cent of royalties. He was paid per page, less than his colleagues, and he lived in a trailer.
After his retirement he started painting scenes taken from his own stories, many of them with the characters he had invented himself. They sold very well. His fans were happy to pay ever higher prices to have a ‘real Barks’ on the wall. At that point, the Disney corporation stepped in, and forbade their most prolific artist from painting his own characters, because of ‘copyright infringement’
The concept of copyright needs to be completely revolutionised to adapt it to modern times and make sure it really stimulates innovation. But this is not what ACTA is about. ACTA is not just another attempt to resusitate the dying record industry, it is a declaration of war on the internet user and on all the people who benefit from generic medicine. Not for the greater good of artists or inventors, but for the financial gain of the shareholders of major corporations.
In the end, all art and technology belongs to humanity. And internet is a fabulous means to share culture on the widest possible scale. I’m confident that ACTA will crash and burn, because nowadays people are no longer going to finance companies like Sony Music by paying twenty euros for a cd or a dvd. But they will still go to the cinema, or to a concert, or to a musical. If the bigwigs want to keep on making money, they should stimulate people to do so, instead of hunting down the ‘pirates’ who download their favourite music and films through the web.
March to Athens
Day 93-XIX, Naples.
Naples, February 8
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.
Day 92-XVIII, from Qualiano to Naples, 12 km.
Naples, February 7
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.
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…