Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I love about living here. And there are many things that everyone hates with a passion, and rightly so. It isn’t so much that we are all reluctant to follow the rules, which, after all have been created with us in mind…it is that these rules are counter-productive, counter-intuitive, and run contrary to every logical desire we might have to comply if given half a chance.
This is Italy, and being a country famous for its beautiful landscape, its citizens must be encouraged to behave in such a way that the countryside remains attractive and healthful. But times are hard, and revenue and personal incomes are in a tug-of-war with each other where everyone will lose. So what better way to aid the floundering economy then by creating more rules to follow, more reasons to evade them, and more impetus to misbehave out of sheer frustration? And maybe create some revenue in the process?
We are in the process of restructuring a small, centuries-old house in the old part of town. The view from the roof is marred by a large square cistern, made out of that wonderful material from the sixties and seventies, asbestos. As it sits, it is not a threat to anyone, but it must be removed to make way for the renovations. The mind of a conscientious citizen moves forward in an orderly fashion, and imagines that the object, not too heavy for a few men to lift, might be removed with the help of friends and carried to a corner of someone’s yard where it might be yet of use.
Ah, but there are new rules. Enter the Azienda Sanitaria Locale, or ASL.* They will have to be contacted about the removal. An appointment will have to be made with a transport company in the area, and this will cost money. It will require time, as they are not immediately available, of course. There will be the need of a specialized truck with a crane to lift the cistern off of the terrazzo, and before this there will be another call to make, with a firm which is responsible for shrink-wrapping the offending item before handling it. But before they can be called, we must locate an authorized area, call it a dump, where such items may be “disposed of.” One hopes that these areas are safe and correctly-utilized, but we can’t know for sure. At the end point of its removal, whenever that comes, it is out of our hands. Our ASL will protect us.
All of this for the bargain price of roughly 1800 Euros, or about 2300 dollars.
The end result of such regulations is understandable: no one uses the official procedure for disposing of dangerous items, and the woods and gulleys of the surrounding areas slowly fill up with toxic and unsightly rubble. Near our house there are two piles of broken asbestos roofing, and I try to avoid them on my walks. What else can I do, call the ASL and pay for endless toxic removals? It could get quite expensive.
Yes, and what to do with tires that are worn out? The government requires stiff fees for disposing of used tires, and it is practically impossible for a customer who buys new ones to get the gommista* to dispose of the old ones, utilizing the proper channels. It is much too expensive and time-consuming. The result is that every rest area is festooned with tires, every low spot along the road has its compliment of rubber, picnic spots are delineated by piles of black doughnuts. It is almost as if it were a requirement for them to be there. Ditto for car batteries. When these piles are set on fire in order to “reduce” their mass, everyone enjoys the effects. For years.
Do you need to repair the roof of a shed? The old tar paper will need to come off, but what to do with it? It would be incorrect and dangerous for the public health to dispose of it in a dumpster somewhere, so the government agency which deals with such things will have to be called. The cost of getting rid of eighty pounds of old roofing material? Only 500 Euros. Needless to say, the roofing material ends up in the dumpster anyway, deposited in small quantities around town. True story.
Another true story: An old friend ran a gas station with a partner, which naturally needed to dispose of its collected used motor oil. There is a government agency for that! The owner of a station is responsible for compiling a scrupulous and almost indecipherable notebook accounting for every drop of oil, its date of arrival and source, and so forth. A moment of distraction and their notebook contained an incorrect entry, discovered when the authorities from this specialized government agency arrived to enforce their rules. The fine for the incorrect entry? Sixty million lire for each partner, or a total fine for the business of about 200 thousand dollars. Paid with no possibility of recourse.
And again, a friend’s experience only a couple of years ago: While doing some remodeling at home, he parked his almost-full wheelbarrow full of old bits of plaster and cement by the driveway while he went in for some water. In that brief period of time the NAS officers (nucleo antisofisticazione, or a kind of “agency for the conservation of purity”) drove past and spotted the wheelbarrow. Not allowed! This was not deemed to be a permissible method of storing or moving such materials, and a fine was applied. Sixty-five thousand Euros. Almost 100 thousand dollars, give or take a few thousand. I believe the case is still making its way through the permanently-constipated court system after fifteen years.
So we will be careful as our remodel proceeds, not to leave any wheelbarrows parked awkwardly around the site. And we will continue to live with the fruits of way too much government regulation, unfortunately, in the form of poisonous fumes and toxic waste, strewn about in our beautiful landscape. As people, in their desire to avoid stringent regulations and fees, dump anywhere but in the right place.
I believe our offending asbestos container will magically make its way to my garden after all.
*Local Health Authority
Saint Mary’s Loch, oil on canvas, 30 x 60 inches
(above) detail, “Damage Control” mixed media on paper