Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Naples: Local Wisdom (Part 1)

VesuviusA few minutes after leaving Naples Airport, my driver, a 40-ish local with no pretensions about his hometown, his country, or his government, began a 46-km exegesis on life in the south of Italy.

On Garbage:

When I think of Naples, I think of three things always: Mt. Vesuvio, the sea, and garbage. For 30 years, maybe more, it has been like this. Garbage everywhere. Why? The Mafia, they control the garbage. The new law this year says we recycle everything. In my house and everywhere there are plastic bags for garbages: organic in white bags; paper in blue; plastic, and aluminum in purple; and mixed, you don’t know what, in any bag, but it goes out only on Naples garbageone day in the week. (There were other colors, but I couldn’t keep track. He pointed to a roadside hillock of plastic bags as long as a school bus and almost as high.) Look at that garbage. Every color bag all together, and the rats, cats, and dogs, they eat holes. It falls out. It stinks. There is no recycle. Only garbage.

On Road Construction:

The Mafia, it started with Julius Caesar, they control the road construction. This road (we are heading south out of Naples), when I was a boy, was a beautiful two-lane highway. Now, for eight years, maybe more, it has been being built to four lanes, but you see, sopranosthere are only three even now with construction and delays everywhere because the company gets the contract to build from the government, and the Mafia controls and maybe owns that construction, so they take money first, they slow down, they increase the costs, take more money, and then they bankrupt. So the government—they are mostly Mafia, too—have to get bidding for another company. And that happens over again for my whole life.

On Parking:

napoli parkingThe school is finished. The people go to the beach. You see that man in the black shirt. His father, his grandfather, now he stands there, and he works for nobody. If you want to go to the beach and park your car, you must pay him two euros. The parking is free, but he stands there every day. You don’t pay, there is no room. You pay, he makes a space for your car. (I ask, “If you ignore him and park anyway, will he cut your tires?” My driver looks at me pityingly.) Tires are cheap. He will cut your car. The Mafia controls everything.

On Personal Safety:

violent naplesBefore this job, I work for Princess Cruises. Naples is like Puerto Vallarta or Acapulco. You go where the tourists go, that’s okay. You go someplace else, you don’t come back.

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