A couple of years ago Kapok and I discovered one of the most forgotten place in Italy: Borgo Ottomila. Last month we explored one of the most underrated region in Italy: Molise.
The following post is part of an article written by Kapok, if you wanna read the full article click here. All photos are mine.
Molise - Italy's no man's land
Molise has no borders. We enter a gallery and the radio trembles; the sky is clear outside, but inside it’s raining. There is no written sign that invites us, but we know where we are.
We find the first sign of life in the Venafro Cemetery, with its terrifying view of the Casertan border. The large cement factory of San Sesto Campano stands out on the horizon, sadly known, in recent years, for the exchange of waste belonging to companies run by organized crime.
This is where eco-mafias continue to bury nuclear waste from France and Germany, while burning huge amounts of illegal, toxic garbage. Within a 15 km radius, in the Venafro Valley, there is a cement plant and two incinerators, with a total of almost 450,000 tons of waste burned annually. Morning dew tries to hide evidence of the crime, but then we realize that what we thought was fog is simply smoke and pollution.
The retired traffic-light, its bulbs long stolen, confirms the time and place: we've entered no man's land.
Paradoxically, one of Italy's highest provincial capitals is called Campobasso (Low Field), a magnetic confluence of state roads and icy winds. We get lost as tourists in the endless one-way streets, tricky labyrinths bleached by the first seasonal snows.
We find more than one grocery store selling Specialties of Puglia or mozzarella from Campania or Fruit and Vegetables from Lazio.
"How many times have you been told that the Molise does not exist?", I ask Giuseppe, who has been promoting the region privately for years, God knows why.
"Too many," he replies, "invisibility is probably the only recognized fact about our region. We want to improve traditions, blah blah, culture, blah bla, nature, etc."
He often uses the concept of community and, from time to time, he feeds us some marketing term in English.
"Public institutions are slow and third-worldish, they do not respond to the rapid changes of today's world. Since the region promoted active residency funding to repopulate the region, we have had a boom of messages on our page. They wrote to us from Russia, Mexico and the United States because they couldn't find the application form on the region's website. This is unclear, slow and lacks transparency."
In fact, most of the international news about Molise that can be found on the network relates mainly to the active residence subsidy, a state aid to repopulate the "unpopulable".
The mandatory way out has many recipients but few senders. Most young people migrate to Naples, Rome, Milan or, who can, even further. Families suffer and at the same time they expect their children to leave the ghost region. "What makes you stay here?" they seem to suggest among the hidden tears of a constantly exiled South.
Lorena has lived abroad for seven years and every Christmas, without fail, she relives groundhog day. "Ah, where do you live now?" they ask her repetitively in the village, like a good morning, how are you doing?
There are no highways to connect the 130 km that go from west to east, nor does the wind of information blow between the two distant valleys. In Longano they are not even aware of the 2002 earthquake. "Which one? The ‘85 one, you mean?"
In the municipality of Casacalenda, the councillor speaks in public about non-existent trains on the stage of the prestigious Film Festival. It's been six years since Trenitalia last chugged along these rails, but these people all seem to suffer from mutismus tremens.
The historic town centres are almost completely abandoned and people often prefer to live in the prefabricated buildings of 2002 rather than return to their former houses renovated with European funds.
"So, shall we send some refugees to live in these empty houses?"
"No, thank you," the demonstrators replied.
Termoli, the region's second city, commemorates the day of Doomsday with its utter desolation. The cold wind, Christmas holidays and abandoned beaches might justify this post-apocalyptic stillness. The only survivor of the nuclear attack is a numb Neapolitan guy who sells homemade sfogliatelle.
"But... has something happened?" asks Jacopo. "Is there a match on? Did the pope die?"
"No, no", he replies, getting as close as possible to the oven. "This is normal around here!"
Even the wind turbines are on vacation: they can’t be bothered to spin.
At least Radio Maria, the vatican’s radio station, has crystal-clear reception.
In the luminaria of Larino we find our Virgilio, who redeems us from a neon hell made of Santa Claus and cotton candy. Donato has recognized us and feels a moral obligation to be our teacher. He aggressively invites us to his cellar, cutting cheeses and salami hung in sight. "We're fine for today," he says, opening a closet with .... Continue the reading here...
About Kapok: 'You'll be known as 'Big Head' from now on', an old man said a long time ago. 'Capoccia'/'Cabeza'/'Big Head' today is an Italian-born wanna-be writer, curing his travel sickness in the Barcelona nest. He'd like to have goats one day but for now, he just likes to draw society dilemmas throughout his reportages and opinions. He loves Latin words such as 'lungimirante' and 'companatico'.