The salt air, the sea, the valleys and mountains, old town walls, cobblestone paths, wrought-iron balcony railings adorned with cascades of red geraniums, the scent of wood, moss and slow bubbling tomato sauce tickling your nostrils on a Sunday morning. What more could a young woman ask for? A dream come true! I was going to finish university, raise a family and live happily ever after, in paradise.
Deceived by childhood memories I moved to Italy from Canada when I was 18. I soon began to ask myself if I had made the right decision. The cultural and moral decay of the Berlusconi "era" had already taken its' toll. In 26 years the number of times my spouse and I considered leaving is countless.
The summer of 2001
My eldest son was three years old. At the time we lived in the region of Abruzzo, along the coast of the Adriatic sea. Most of our summer days were spent at the beach, in the water, trying to escape the heat brought in by the Azores high.
After hours of sun and play, it wasn't unusual for Alessandro to fall asleep while I was cooking dinner. When the fresh breeze lifted from the sea at the end of the day it became much easier to rest. On one particular evening he woke up crying. He had a high fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Fearing dehydration my husband and I rushed him to the hospital. He was admitted immediately. We sat beside the steel rod crib, holding his little hand and stroking his head, trying our best to help and comfort him through febrile seizures.
As hours passed the entire ward filled with children, most of them had the same symptoms. Doctors told us they seemed to be affected by a severe form of the stomach flu. Antibiotics, rest and plenty of fluids were prescribed. After nine days and one last check up it was finally time to go home. As we were leaving the pediatrician made one last recommendation: " Mrs. Pacella, if you don't want this to happen again keep your son away from the beach, the water and the sand. Whatever you do, don't let that stuff reach his mouth." Though I didn't have the proof to be able to do anything about it I knew that our children had been victims of pollution. In 2013, 12 years later, the truth finally emerged. This news report was shot about 20 km from where we lived at the time. It shows toxic materials and garbage illegally buried and abandoned along the banks of one of the region's largest rivers: the Saline. A dramatic situation, well known to politicians who have been promising to "clean up" since 2003.
For at least 30 years poisons have been flowing into the sea. Despite public outrage, the problem not only remains unsolved, it has spread through the entire country. From north to south these situations have become frightfully common. One week ago suspect cases of Escherichia coli likely due to the ingestion of sea water were signaled in the Marche region, where we live today.
How is it possible to live in a country where things like this happen? How is it possible to live in a country where the State is absent and untrustworthy?
Over the past few years there has been much talk in Italy about a phenomenon called " fuga di cervelli " rather "brain drain." It indicates the high percentage of youth fleeing the country. They migrate to Germany, Australia, Canada, the USA in search of employment, of a future they no longer see in Italy. Rightfully they want to live in a nation where social justice still has meaning. But how does it feel to be forced to ask oneself: should I stay or should I escape my homeland?
In a recent interview with The Financial Times prime minister Matteo Renzi promises to do " revolutionary things." Andrea and Marco Nasuto, two very young brothers, from Manfredonia ( Puglia ) are not holding their breath. They have been traveling through Italy to raise awareness, to talk and bring people together. Their documentary, " Made of Limestone - Run Away or Stay In The Place Where We Were Born " was produced with a 26 euro budget and is scheduled for screening at the Italian American Museum in Little Italy, New York, between October and November 2014.
The event is part of a larger cultural initiative promoted by Italytheater. The hour long video left me with a certainty; there is no easy way out, there are no magic formulas capable of pulling Italy from the quicksand it is sinking into. Given the will to change, it is going to take decades to reestablish a society founded on civil rights and responsibilities. Nonetheless we must find a starting point. I often hear people lamenting: "There are not enough of us to be able to make a change " that " We are too few to make a real impact."
How untrue. We have an army of young men and women everywhere in Italy working hard to change their country. The problem is that we don't listen to them, we are not connected to their dreams, to their ideas, to their projects. We need to stop, turn down the volume on undeserving politicians and raise it as high as we can for our youth. Their voices are the only hope countries like Italy have of rising from the ashes. Whatever our walk of life may be, our responsibility, is to make sure they are heard.