Monday, August 2, 2010

Dirty waters

Heard a couple speaking in French last night on the terrace so went over to see if I could help, but it turned out they were from here but lived in Switzerland and spoke in French for the benefit of their two young children. (they picked up one of our cards in a bar at the port -yeah! our publicity efforts work!) They said there was no way they could come back and live here. ‘In Switzerland things work,’ said the man. ‘When you ask for something, you get it straight away.’ Not like here, of course. We have the wonderful Norman/Spanish/Arabic castle on our doorstep here in the borgo antico, but since its opening (after two years of closure for reconstruction work), nothing has been made of its fabulous atmospheric spaces. Mio marito proposed, at a recent meeting with a town council member, that concerts and plays be put on in its amphitheatre space. The meeting was about what ‘rules’ would apply this summer for the running of locali in the borgo; opening hours, hours when music could be played outdoors etc … But mio marito and a few of the others added that proper maintenance of Milazzo’s greatest heritage be assured; proper street cleaning with hoses and daily rubbish collection. Several restaurateurs complained about the presence of cockroaches and insects coming from the fact that the streets are not cleaned properly. Mio marito asked for (the umpteenth time) recycling facilities to be set up, since we are all such consumers of glass and plastic bottles etc, not to mention the organic waste. The councillor agreed he would do it best, but it's all a foreign concept for these shores. You can only live in hope for so long, in Sicily. After a certain time you just get frustrated and resigned like the locals.

Rubbish is a big problem along the beach, too. Most of the population not being civic-minded, bottles and coke cans and crisp packets get left behind, along with the rubbish the sea dredges up coming across the sea from the islands. Yesterday’s paper had pictures of some ‘exasperated citizens kitted out with rubber gloves and huge bin bags, collecting some of the rubbish strewn along the beach in front of their houses. Defining themselves ‘the Green Brigade’, they were watched by ‘incredulous’ and ‘curious’ passersby. Incredulous, I can imagine, at someone being civic-minded enough to take charge of something that the town council doesn’t bother about. It is rare to see such displays of citizenship. For all their pride in being Sicilian, Sicilians tend to disown, or shrug off responsibility about the state of their town/region, probably due to a sense of helplessness. The Green Brigade were also keen to water the Oleander plants (rose-laurels), highly poisonous but beautiful bushy trees with magnificent white or pink flowers. They are all over Mediterranean countries and often used as traffic separators in towns, or to separate lanes in the motorway (especially along mafia-financed stretches of the Messina-Catania motorway) because of their resistance to drought and hostile environment. But the palm trees planted last year along the beach were a lost cause, they said, already diseased when planted, now they are a playground for rats. So these locals had some disinfesting work on their hands too.

The council hasn’t even managed to sort out the sewage treatment plant's malfunctioning. Almost all of last summer there were warnings about polluted water, and last week signs went up again banning swimming from a few kilometres of the coast. The part of the beach we frequent is apparently safe; but I wonder what quantities of bacteria they use to distinguish safe from polluted … not encouraging. A marine biologist friend has seen many cases in hospital of people presenting with skin inflammations and stomach upsets after bathing; he won’t even consider swimming on the ponente side of the sea and prefers the levante, Eastern shores where the beaches are rocky and uncomfortable but, at least, clean. But there you have views of the oil refinery …

Great. The one good thing about this place in summer is the sea …

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