Monday, January 24, 2011

Tummy Trouble-induced Trash Talk

I can assure you, gentle reader, that my lack of timely updates to this blog does not mean I’m not thinking of you on a daily basis (and I do mean the three of you in Saudia Arabia as well as all you loyal Latvians out there making up my fourth largest fan base). I admit I’ve been distracted and blame the many demands associated with ensuring a steady stream of family merriment during the holidays, several small trips (one to Umbria and another to Abruzzo), two separate bouts battling what seemed to be an eternal stomach bug that sapped my will to go on living (despite each lasting only 36 hours), and some new books obtained via Amazon Italy, including the fascinating new Cleopatra biography by Stacy Schiff which includes interesting anecdotes about the young queen living for at least three months right here on the Janiculum Hill (where I like to think she enjoyed the same view as we do and worshipped the ancestors of the Academy's feral cat population between intrigues).

The good news is that I won both rounds with said bug and as a result have lost some pasta-induced kilos (or at least enough that new acquaintances have stopped unabashedly congratulating me on what once appeared to be my incipient pregnancy whenever I wore a tight-fitting top). Through no conscious design of my own, I’m off to a “leaner and meaner” New Year. And meaner insofar as I found it much more difficult to wisecrack while harboring lit matches inside my innards. That and the fact that we've had to cancel family outings over the last two weekends and miss several days of school because each of us has taken multiple turns convalescing with a mal di pancia.

In addition to being buffeted by our first noteworthy waves of seasonal illness, lately the spotty sanitation practices and utter disregard of public space have also played no small part in contributing to my change of spirit. Leaving out the government vs. Mafia standoff contributing to the intractable Neapolitan garbage crisis and the fact that the largest illegal dump in Europe is right here outside Rome in the aptly named locale of Malagrotta, it’s hard to square Italians’ much vaunted love of all things beautiful with their insouciance when it comes to tossing trash everywhere and walking away after their dogs relieve themselves in the middle of the sidewalk.

Six months ago the detritus was somehow more peripheral and easier to overlook and avoid, but now that it's winter it seems to have gotten worse and I'm feeling worn down. For as much as i Italiani are reputed to love children, the majority of dog owners in our neighborhood of Monteverde Vecchio have clearly disavowed the cliché and agreed that the marciapiedi in front of our kids’ school is an especially good location to walk away from nonchalantly after Fido empties his bowels. Apparently the only place deemed inappropriate for creating Rome's next layer are door thresholds and the curb. So much for the social contract.

Discarica, rifiuti, monezza, spazzatura, immondizia, ciarpame, robaccia, porcheria, schifezza, sciocchezza, pezzente... Italians may have as many words for trash as Eskimos have for snow, I really don’t know. While they seem to all but ignore it piling up in the cities, on the beaches and along roadsides, the profusion of terms suggests that garbage is nonetheless very much a part of the collective consciousness.

Assisi proved a salient exception to the glut of refuse in that we saw absolutely no litter of any kind, not even a cigarette butt, and this undeniably contributed to the ancient redoubt’s otherworldly effect (as much as the gorgeous stone edifices, luminous cathedral frescoes, imposing castello and evocative hilltop mist). Nonetheless, I passed on using the public restrooms when I encountered this sign in the Piazza del Commune. Like most wine-loving tourists, I’m happy to pee outside in a pinch (far from public rights of way of course), but when it comes to Medieval facilities I won’t settle for anything less than 5 stars.

Part of the rural/urban contrast in cleanliness is most assuredly one of small towns where inhabitants take more pride in place (and where all women of retirement age are apparently required to stare disapprovingly at passersby out their 2nd story windows for at least some part of every day in order to continue receiving their state pension) vs. the relative anonymity of cities where such concerns are more easily relegated as “someone else’s problem” (and anyone issuing disapproving looks from high-rises is more easily ignored).

Part of my problem is that I that haven’t lived here long enough to turn a blind eye to the preponderance of trash. I also admit I still harbor a certain amount of “can-do American spirit” when confronted by seemingly overwhelming challenges. I can’t help thinking of potential strategies for deterring the most brazen malefactors over the course of my many trips negotiating fecal landmines with kids in tow -- or plotting my revenge while scraping malodorous shoes before dawn. A live webcam trained on the street in front of our school might do the trick or at least some posted handbills shaming these antisocial, passive-aggressive, poopy practitioners via humor.

When some other expat moms began complaining about the increasing number of dog-bombs outside school last week, I remarked that were we in the U.S. a parent committee would have already formed and distributed multicolored fliers to address the issue. I’m sure if I actually do decide to engage with the system in an attempt to affect positive change, I’ll be humbled soon enough – most likely after the fifth set of forms to be completed in triplicate (what I imagine to be the Rome Sanitation Department equivalent of being kicked to the curb).


  1. Is residency a requirement for elected office in the Latvian fan club? I'd like to throw my hat in the ring for President of that branch of the Club.

    Your most humble and obedient servant,


  2. Marie, you keep working to reform Italian trash habits and I'll keep trying for world peace, and let's see who gets there first. I predict a tie for second place.