Friday, January 6, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Sitting here in my home office in Italy, I'm looking out at the Good.

The Good is the expanse of aqua blue Mediterranean stretched out in the distance. I can see miles of it from my desk. This is why we chose this villa. It was selfish on my part - one look at the two upstairs rooms facing the sun setting on an expanse of ocean and I knew this would be the perfect place to write. 

My husband leaves early every morning and returns after dark. Often he doesn't even see what I'm using as inspiration all day. Water has a way of inspiring most people. Living in Seattle and San Diego, quality of  life was always about the water. Even if you didn't get in it - you knew it was there. Seeing it was a bonus if you could afford a view. Fortunately, here in Italy, the amazing view is not expensive. Which is Good.

The Bad is the driving. Italians are friendly, warm, engaging people who embrace you immediately. They ply you with homemade wine, shove dishes of pasta at you and kiss you on both cheeks. They become an enthusiastic and instant family. Until they drive. Then they become evil. The kind old man who offers you an extra handful of olives for free at the market will scare the hell out of you in his Fiat Punta. Your helpful neighbor who offers you bottles of his homemade wine will try to squeeze in-between you and the car in the next lane like a moped. 

Italian drivers don't drive. They go to war. The only way I will keep my weight in check eating all the bread and pasta we ingest in Italy is from the cardio exercise on the Autostrade. Yesterday I stayed as far away from trouble as possible. Cruising calmly in the far right lane, my heart started pounding wildly when the distinctive Audi LED lights behind me grew brighter by the second. Unwilling to wait for the fast moving traffic in the left lane to pass us cruise-controllers in the right lane, the Audi was splitting lanes at a high speed, pushing cars to the side like a parting of the Red Sea. My heart was beating double time as he swerved back and forth on my left bumper looking for an opening in-between my car and the left lanes. 
He couldn't have been more than 10 inches off my left taillight, so close I was frozen with indecision. 

Not easily rattled on any road in any town, in any country - I've driven test vehicles all over the world - I was incredulous and for the first time, scared. Unless someone was bleeding to death in his car, this just made no sense. I moved over onto the shoulder into the crunchy bits of garbage that make it a precarious place to drive and let him fly by me. Other drivers were also swerving aside ahead of me, cursing and making hand gestures I didn't comprehend. I was just glad to have survived the pass. It was Bad. 

Most baffling and embarrassing is the Ugly. People who live here don't talk about it, but the Americans who live here do. We talk about it every day. It bothers some of us more than others. It bothers me so much, I'm going to break all the rules of expats and write about it. Naples is filthy. Filthy in a way that makes you wonder what the hell is wrong here. I don't mean it is dirty. I mean it is filthy. Strangely, it's not all of Naples, just the highways and byways that connect communities. Yes, you read correctly. Piles and piles of garbage decorate the turnouts of major roads and shoulders of streets in and about Naples. 

Between my desk and the beautiful ocean view in the distance is a road lined with piles of garbage as high as six feet. On that same road are two luxury hotels. Further down that road are oceanfront resorts. Soon after moving here we rode our motorcycle to the beach along that road. The smell was nauseating. Passing the gated property of a high end hotel, we wondered how guests from outside Italy felt when their taxicabs from the airport drove past this enormous display of trash. Not just garbage bags of trash, but the kind of filth you see in the most decrepit parts of the world. Rusty appliances, dirty mattresses, rat infested furniture and mounds of old food. Every kind of waste you could imagine, piled in stinky heaps alongside a road to paradise. It's too much to comprehend sometimes, and it's Ugly.

One of the many beautiful views in Italy, this one from my office.