The borderlands


It’s an organic raspberry farm in Massongy, close to Geneva on the French side of the boarder and it’s beautiful. The snow-capped Mountains rise in all directions, their lower slopes thick with forest, blooming in the spring. Hawks glide above the fields and swallows flit among the trees. A cold mountain wind blows across the land rippling the daisies, dandelions and forget-me-nots. The wind cuts through my shirt, reminding me that we will leave soon, across the Alps to the East.

These borderlands may appear idyllic but they are defined by a smouldering political tension. The Swiss call them les frontaliers – a derogative term for the French workers that flock to Geneva attracted by the high Swiss franc, and whom the Swiss blame for their own rising unemployment. It’s no jocular rivalry. Elsa has lived here all her life but when she is in Geneva her French number plate elicits a stream of verbal abuse, while aggressive tagging along the motorway welcomes her and other French visitors with hate. Pier and Audrey are typical “les frontaliers,” an electrician and caregiver, they live in a house truck and have been lured here by Swiss wages. “We could never earn this much in France,” they tell me. Now they have a chance to live their dreams. Yet the Swiss are struggling. Genc, an electrician who lives with his girlfriend and two-year-old son, pays 2000 francs a month for their small apartment in Geneva – a sum unthinkable in France. He earns barely enough to get by and has no chance of competing with Frenchmen who will work on the black market for less than his rent. The frustration is tangible and right wing nationalism rises on both sides of the border.


I watch as a hawk hovers above the field, then swoops, catching a mouse in its talons. It’s beautiful here. Wasps, bumble bees and St Mark’s flies hover between the flowers. Firebugs, with backs like African masks, cluster on the trunk of an apple tree covered in white blossom. Yes, it’s beautiful here, but I remember the words of the wine sodden Frenchman, his flushed face illuminated by the candle light. “I am French, I like wine and sex. I am a typical French man, and you do not belong here.” He’s right. It’s beautiful but I do not belong here. The fights are not my fights. The cold wind bites my face, and I feel its pull. Tomorrow I will go, across the Alps to spend a sleepless night among the clacking shoes in Munich Central Station on my way to the East, to another place where I do not belong.


Portugal: Antipodean Explorations – part one


During the colonial era New Zealand was sold to prospective colonists as an antipodean UK, which in the words of the colonial propagandist, Charles Hursthouse, was a “veritable Britain of the south.” If, however, you start in Wellington and drill a hole through the exact centre of the earth, then keep on going, you will eventually come out close to the city of Valladolid in the dry, north-western Spanish province of Castile and León. If you begin drilling from Auckland you end up in Malága, a thriving city on the coast of Andalucía, Spain’s southern most province. Whangarie comes out in Morocco while much of the south island sticks out into the Atlantic coast. The Chatham Islands are the antipode of southern France, while the Cooks emerge in the Sahara. If you calculate the exact centre of New Zealand, a place nestled in the Southern Alps close to Nelson, and follow it to its antipode you arrive in Northern Portugal, and perhaps this small seafaring nation with its wild, windswept west-coast is the true antipode of God’s Own Country.




 One thing that I discovered while living in Portugal is that, despite New Zealand’s claim to the title, Portugal is the true country of fish ‘n chips. It has the highest fish consumption per capita in Europe and one of the highest in the world; the fish is inevitably served with chips. But you should expect something different from battered tarakihi, wrapped in paper and accompanied by a cold Montieth’s. You are far more likely to be served a whole fish, head and all, usually cod, with a mountain of chips and a fried egg on top, accompanied by ketchup and mayonnaise. This is washed down with a “mini,” a two hundred ml bottle of beer. Despite the availability of fish I was drawn to the typical, Carne de Porco à Alentejana, fried pork, clams and potatoes, cooked with chopped coriander. According to legend the dish was designed to test converted Jews’ adherence to Christianity – pork and shell fish being non-kosher.

            Portuguese cakes are typically dense, moist, sweet and pretty good. My partner and I loved the cinnamon flavoured ones from the local shop. The central ingredient of these cakes is egg yolk, and Portuguese cakes are known to have twice the ratio off eggs to cakes elsewhere. There are different historical theories to explain this. The first is that medieval nuns used large amounts of egg whites to stiffen their habits creating a glut in egg yolks. The second theory is that during hard times in the eighteenth century the nunneries continued to produce large quantities of eggs, and people compensated for a lack of other food by using more eggs for everything. The third theory is that during the nineteenth century Portugal exported egg white as a wine purifier – resulting in a glut of egg yolks. Whatever the reason one thing is certain, Portuguese cakes are named due to their godly connection – nuns belly or angel’s chests.

So what are the gastronomic, antipodean differences/similarities? In terms of similarities fish, chips, mayonnaise, tomato sauce, beer and coriander are readily consumed. In terms of differences Portuguese food is half the price, the beers are half the size, the cakes have twice the eggs, and if you feel like beef you may as well give up and buy pork. But the thing that really stands out for me is that Portuguese food is above all an expression of their devotion to baby Jesus.



When out walking on the streets Pria Grande, the coastal area where we lived, I had the troubling feeling I was back in New Zealand. The month was February, the equivalent of New Zealand’s August, the temperature was mild and it was frequently raining. Lone Norfolk pines jutted out of the landscape. Cabbage trees rustled in the breeze, fleshy fingers of a succulent, looking suspiciously like New Zealand ice plant, covered the sandy ground, while bushes of toetoe (actually more likely to be South American pampas) formed clumps on the roadside and stands of eucalyptus trees were planted on empty sections between suburban houses. I even observed birds, oddly reminiscent of New Zealand dotterels scampering along the beach. I had to concentrate on the pink, terracotta roofed villas, the white cobblestone streets and the frequent shrines to Mother Mary to remind myself that I was in an exotic land.

„If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.“ – Emma Goldman


The French have a great and proud culture of protesting, demonstrating and striking, so after having spent a couple weeks on wwoofing farms in France we were pleased to be invited by two veteran activists to one of these fine cultural happenings – a must for any visitor to the land of revolution. We began our experience with a four-hour car journey from Bordeaux to Nantes, driving through the flat sodden land. We arrived in Nantes early, and made our way to the square from which the march would begin. There we had a picnic and watched as people arrived.


The demonstration itself was part of an ongoing campaign since the seventies to stop the creation of a large second airport close to Nantes. The construction of the airport, approved by the country’s new “socialist” prime minister, would see the destruction of important mature forest, as well as homes and farms. Opponents of the airport also claim that it is a waste of public money during a time of economic crisis (the airport is projected to cost 556 million euros, and is scheduled to be completed by 2017.). The government took the boring, overused and frankly inaccurate line that the construction of the airport was good for the economy. Activists responded with an ongoing occupation of the site, building tree-sits, gardens and roadblocks.  And the location was the site of running battles with police in late 2012.


Many of the demonstrators turned up in carnival stile costumes, with face paint, flags, masks, clown outfits, lizard costumes, and pink wigs, while some dressed in classic anarchist black-bloc, while still others came in their everyday garb. It was an eclectic coalition of farmers, ecologists and anarchist, attracting demonstrators from across the country. The protest was attended by 550 tractors, pulling colourful floats, some with bars, some with music, some covered in foliage. People kept arriving in droves, beating drums, dancing, waving flags and blowing whistles. Some even arrived by water, paddling their way across a small lake, placing floating flags in the water. The protest began to swell to fifty thousand people. Black clad riot police blocked the streets and at about 2 pm the march kicked off.


At first the march seemed peaceful, but then we began to notice signs of anarchy: paint bombed and tagged shop fronts, while the lines of riot police that blocked the side streets were covered in paint.


We then passed the front of a building. It was broken and smashed in with black smoke billowing from the inside; it was the office of Vinci, the company contracted to build the new airport.


The demonstrators marched on. We came to a construction site and saw dark red flames engulfing a crane, sending a column of black smoke into the now blue sky.


We passed along a wide muddy avenue to the corner of another street, by the police station. Here a bin was lit on fire and next to it water gushed from a broken valve, and we heard large explosions from the surrounding streets. The police station was covered in graffiti and paint. Its front was smashed open and burning. We continued walking to the front of the march where several tractors faced police barricades and the demonstrators were pushing against the police line in an attempt to bring the barriers down.The police responded with a shower of tear gas canisters that filled the street with burning smoke. It saturated our eyes and lungs. We ran.



As the day continued the city began to resemble a warzone. Demonstrators lit new fires and set up their own barricades throwing anything that they could find at the police, who responded with more tear gas and water canon.The demonstrators set fire to a complex of small buildings in the main bus station, while in a bizarre juxtaposition just down the road people were calmly drinking coffees and eating cakes, taking a break from the revolution.




In another location one of the tractors was blasting dance music while a group of clowns danced in the middle of a roundabout. The police advanced, firing more tear gas.  Demonstrators hurled improvised missiles, and large explosions sounded from nearby.


As the evening wore on, we left the site of the destruction walking through the city back to the car. We passed streets filled with broken glass and burning barricades, smoking in that ancient beautiful city.



The violence of the protest made headlines in the press and the French interior minister denounced the protesters as violent radicals, waging an “urban guerrilla” war. At least six police and an unknown number of protestors were hospitalized.  The media and the government focused on the violent outburst only and ignored the fundamental issues that brought this about: a stubborn unwillingness to support the people and the environment and instead to pour over a half billion euros of public money into an unpopular, destructive and unnecessary project, a project that serves only to line the pockets of the country’s elite.

Protest in Nantes from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.

Veröffentlicht unter France

Bonn and the Garden

The small  German city of Bonn, astride the banks of the River Rhine, is the former capital of West Germany, and birth place of Beethhoven. It is located in Germany’s industrial heartland, and in one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, it is therefore an unlikely place to enjoy nature, however, the hills, fields and gardens around the city  gave us a different sense of Germany’s industrial heartland, and if you look in the right places you will find both wild places and wild food.garten-jazekLight shines through the ash trees in the garden, where we camped. Despite being october, it was unusually warm, a lingering indian summer. RIMG0169Plums that we gathered to make a plum crumble.RIMG0319Chestnuts: we collected a large quantity of these little nuggets, competing with the wild boar for the good ones. We cooked them in a soup and roasted them on the fire. Delicious.RIMG0246While exploring an old monestary in the hills we came across a heron which seemed to be struggling with something, flapping around and choking, suddenly a fish, still alive, dropped from its beak and fell on the ground in front of us. We took it home carrying it by tying a piece of willow around its body. Once at home we cut it up to cook it, and found that its belly was filled with orange caviar. RIMG0376The indian summer bought out many insects including swarms of ladybirds, bumblebees, and rather alarmingly giant hornets. RIMG0195A colourful, peculiar and poisonous looking caterpillar.käferBeetles live and die on the mountain path. There was many of them. RIMG0384A well camouflaged moth. feuerJacek and Maja roasting an apple on the fire in the garden. RIMG0324Not just any apple: an apple, taken from a fallen tree harvesting its last fruits. pferdA vist from the white horse living not far from the garden.

Back in the centre of the city Jacek’s plays his favourite sculpture, ‚Icarus‘ erected in 1993.

Icarus sculpture in Bonn from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.

„Berlin is rather a part of the world than a city.“

„Berlin ist mehr ein Weltteil als eine Stadt.“


In this post, I now backtrack to the start of our journey when I arrived in Berlin to meet Daniela. We would dissolve her flat and begin our journey across Europe. The above quote, attributed by Wikipedia to the Bavarian romantic writer Jean Paul in the year eighteen hundred, still felt true, when more than two hundred years later, I arrived on a hot, sunny September’s day. I was soon enchanted by the broad tree lined avenues of the city and its murky, swan-filled canals (Berlin is said to have more bridges than Venice). The city had a feeling of a thriving mixing pot, diverse and difficult to generalise about. But I have heard that people come to Berlin from all across the world, they came to visit and they forgot to leave.



A note on food: I’ll start by saying that the coffee is generally awful. I could explain why, but to avoid sounding like a coffee wanker, I won’t. Despite this Berlin is frankly the best place in the world I have ever been for food. It is astoundingly cheap and excellent, though perhaps not typically German. You can get a big kebab for two-euro-fifty; juicy, gourmet Italian pizza for three-euro; a full meal in an authentic Vietnamese restaurant for five-euro; and we mustn’t forget the handmade pasta. There is also “Sunday brunch,” where, at a range of cafes (we had good cluster by the canal in Kreuzberg), you can eat as much as you desire from a vast buffet of delicious sweet and savoury dishes – cakes, mousses, chocolates, crapes, fruit salads, yoghurts, bacon, sausages, chicken, tomato-and-mozzarella, cheeses, potatoes, toasts, beans, egg, fresh salads, etc. Sorry to go on about it, but it really was dazzling, and all for the price of eggs-on-toast in New Zealand.

Tischlein deck dich

Tischlein deck dich, Brüder Grimm

And if you felt like eating at home, then that was no problem, with the Kreuzberg Turkish market filled with fresh produce, the abundant and reasonably priced organic shops, and the supermarkets where wine and beer were ridiculously cheap, and you even got 20 cent for retuning the empty bottle. Having experienced the food scene in Berlin I am tempted to think that this may be a major factor in travellers visiting and not leaving. The poor artists of Berlin may indeed be poor, but they’d be a hell of a lot poorer if they lived in Auckland.


Zappelphilipp, Der Struwwelpeter

A note on the environment: Berlin, in contrast to the great cities of the west, is surrounded by a green ring of forests and lakes. These forests, covered with beach, oak, birch, willow and rowan are filled with foxes, wild boar, and naked athletes. I have even heard rumours of wolves returning from the east. Inside the city it is also green. The wide streets are lined with huge untrimmed trees. The large parks such as Tempelhof, Hasenheide and Tiergarten are filled with feral areas. Its flat topography and abundant bike lanes make it a city designed for bicycles, and they are a must for exploring the city.


dragonfly, Tiergarten


rowan berries, Tiergarten

A note on history: the history of Berlin is written into everything in that great city, and it is a history that is living, moving, and ever present. Of course there are the famous things: Check Point Charley, the famous crossing point between east and west Berlin frequently referenced in Cold War themed thrillers; the Berlin Wall itself, some parts covered in flowering murals, each one a different degree of political statement. There is the grand Brandenburg triumphal arch, comfortably distant in its historic significance. There is also the bust of Ernst Thälmann the great German communist, one of the eastern block colossi to survive reunification. There is much that I could write in this section but I will focus on two sites in Berlin, because for me they illustrate that sense of history in motion, the decaying old and the emerging new: Tempelhof and Teufelsberg.

Herr Fuchs, Frau Elster, Berliner Mauer

Herr Fuchs und Frau Elster at the Berlin Wall

Neue Wache, Berlin

Tempelhof is a vast abandoned airport right in the centre of the city. Its huge buildings are abandoned and the runways are now used by rollerbladers, cyclists and kiteboarders. Large organic gardens have sprung up on the flat grassy ground and it is a great open community space. Such a huge unused airport in the centre of a city like Berlin is something of an anomaly and has an interesting history.



Tempelhof receives its name from the knights Templar who owned the land in medieval times. It was then used as a parade ground for the Prussian armies and later the unified German armies. Tempelhof was first used as an airport in 1909 and officially designated as one in 1922 making it one of the oldest airports in the world. During the Nazi era Tempelhof was redesigned as the gateway to the great German Reich and the terminal building was constructed in the shape of a German eagle. The complex, remains one of largest buildings on earth and many believe that deep in its underground basements remain secrets of the Nazis. During the Cold War Tempelhof with its inner city location allowed the Americans to airlift supplies to West Berlin during the Berlin-blockade. It was also from Tempelhof that American planes took off to famously drop chocolate over the fields of East Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall Tempelhof continued to be used as an airport until 2007 in which it was finally closed. Now it is a community space, ringed by the largest example of fascist architecture and dotted with gardens. Berliners are attached to this community space and a battle over its future looks set to divide Berliners between those who want to keep it as community space and those who want to cover it in new developments. Tempelhof’s story is not yet over.



Teufelsberg or Devil’s hill, surrounded by Grunewald Forest, is the highest point in Berlin, but the hill itself is not natural and is constructed from an astonishing seventy-five million cubic metres of rubble, piled by the women of West Berlin at the end of the Second World War. Adjacent to the hill is a once top secret American spy base used by the NSA to collect intelligence from the Soviets. After the collapse of the Eastern Block the spy base was abandoned and the forest grew up through it and around it. It attracted, besides others, the interest of sound and visual artists because of the peculiar structure and acoustics. The spy station has now been taken over by punk tour operators who have the audacity to charge curious visitors upward of seven euros to enter, and only with groups at specified tour times, evidence of Berlin’s infamous and pernicious gentrification.


view of Berlin fromTeufelsberg


Teufelsberg, spystation

A tentative note on Berliners: Here I must be careful what I write for my love is a Berliner. Berliners come in all different types there are those who have always been there from the East and West who live their lives and to whom the city holds no more special appeal than simply the place they know as home. There are the minorities: the Turks, the Chinese, the Poles, and, increasingly, rich Italians. But the type of Berliner I am interested in is kind of a Berlin archetype the traveller that never left. Perhaps they came to Berlin and they found their scene, their social niche, their creative outlet. They had dreams and projects. Some made their fortune and met their lovers, but others did not. They contributed to giving Berlin its modern and alternative spirit. But Berlin, I have heard, can also be a lonely place, and in winter the skies are dark, the streets are cold and the expats dream of home.

Neptune und Meerjungfrau-Berlin2

neptune and marmaid, Kreuzberg

Neptune und Meerjungfrau-Berlin

neptune and marmaid, Kreuzberg

desire & satisfaction from Daniela Gast on Vimeo.


“See Naples and Die”


“See Naples and Die”

The above quote, usually credited to Goethe, may sound ominous but it really means: you must see the city of Naples before you die. This we can say we have achieved and we are still alive. The following are a few points about this truly great city of the south.

Up until the nineteenth century Naples was the third largest city in Europe rivalling Paris and London and its opulence and grandeur was legendary. As a result Naples’ old town is both vast and impressive: a maze of narrow streets castles, palaces, universities (Naples is home to the first university in Europe) and cathedrals pressed between the mountains and the sea. Castle Novou the stronghold of Naples medieval conquerors captivated me as the most impressive castle I’ve seen in Europe so far. The Galleria Umberto where a huge decorated glass ceiling high above the ground, covers streets, which run between the detailed facades of the stone buildings really took our breath away. I also loved the Villa Donn’Anna as its yellow crumbling half ruined stone archways and terraces rise from the edge of the sea and beautifully reflect the light of the setting sun (unfortunately we do not have photos of these sights because our Neapolitan friends insisted that we did not bring the camera on our night time walk for fear of Naples infamous thieves, a decision we regret.) There is also something undeniably enchanting about the narrow, yellow streets thronged with people, the balconies filled with hanging washing and goods for sale – Naples is a city to enjoy getting lost in, and its pizza and ice-cream are famous.


Naples also has a well preserved fascist quarter. Fascism remained popular in Naples up until the allied liberation of Italy (and according to our friends) many Neapolitans look back on the fascist period as a good time for Italy and recruits from southern Italy form much of the country’s police force. The most prominent of these fascist buildings, which were built after demolishing the previous neo classical architecture, is the post office, an imposing structure of black stone, adorned with a plaque commemorating Naples’ fascist legacy. The fist two metres of the building are covered thickly with multicoloured graffiti, creating the impression the council would be embarrassed to clean it away. The bleak stone buildings and large open spaces of the fascist quarter stand out among the tightly packed buildings of the old town and it is well worth a visit.


In the evening of our first day in Naples we walked to the top of the Hill of Posillipo, a high headland jutting into the ocean just north of the city centre, the aptly named Park of Remembrance. From here you can look south and see the city stretching before you to the edge of mount Vesuvius. You can look east into the glittering Mediterranean and the rocky islands of the coast, but if you look north you will see a vast industrial wasteland, huge factories, warehouses and cooling ponds.


The industrial area was decommissioned in the seventies and the clean up jobs were contracted to the Camorra (the infamous Neapolitan mafia) who embezzled the money from the government contracts and never cleaned up the sight, which remains a bleak toxic wasteland. The issue is still very much alive as there is a museum of science close to the industrial sight. A suspicious fire destroyed half of the museum last year, and the incident is widely believed to be arson perpetrated by the Camorra who were unhappy with the investigation of students working there. Naples is a city of layers, contradictions and beauty. We saw Naples and lived.

Veröffentlicht unter Italy

A note on Italian food


garlic bread

garlic bread italian style


Italy is famous for food, and indeed many English words referring to food come from Italian. Pizza and pasta of course, but there are also others you may not be aware of, such as broccoli, zucchini, biscuit and sultana. From my experience of Neapolitan culture Italians are extremely proud of their cuisine. The following are a few points that stood out for me about Italian food.

Breakfast: Italians do not, generally speaking, have breakfast, an espresso and a biscuit being the standard morning fare. Because we were doing pretty hard farm work in the morning and lunch was not served until at least midday, this was a major problem for us, and one morning Daniela nearly collapsed from the need of morning sustenance. I revived her with a mushy persimmon from a nearby tree. In the end we had toasted bread with freshly squeezed olive oil every morning, and the attitude of our hosts toward our “Anglo/German” breakfast boarded on hostility.

Pasta: The notion that Italians like pasta is certainly true. With a few notable exceptions we ate carb-heavy pasta dishes for both lunch and dinner (wild boar and tomato was my favourite). The specific shape of the pasta went with specific sauces and it was important to our hosts that you did not put the wrong shape of pasta with the wrong sauce. On a visit to the village shop we were amazed to discover that the tiny village grocer supplied roughly thirty or so different shapes of packaged pasta, ranging from rice shaped ones to two-foot long hollow logs. The shop stocked very little else.

Coriander: Italians appear to have an unconditional hatred of coriander. I would like to emphasise that this is not an isolated case but applied to all the Italians I surveyed on the issue, including a few northerners. They all expressed their disgust at the idea of eating the lush herb in the strongest terms, frequently likening its flavour to vomit. On the other hand they didn’t mind the taste of illegal worm filled cheese. When I innocently suggested sneaking some coriander into the pasta our hosts reacted as if I had suggested lacing it with arsenic. Given that coriander has a mild and delectable flavour, I can only conclude that the Italian reaction to the herb is linked to a kind of food patriotism in which Italian cuisine is flavoured with parsley and basil, and coriander represents a threat to their culinary identity.

Mozzarella Cheese: To me, being from New Zealand, Mozzarella was a yellow cheese you bought pre-grated and put on pizzas; in fact true Mozzarella is unsuitable for cooking. True Mozzarella is a very mild rubbery white cheese made from the milk of a water buffalo and squeezed by hand into huge balls. It is bought fresh and consumed immediately and raw, eaten like a steak or a large hunk of chewy tofu. If cooked it becomes almost too rubbery to eat. It is without doubt extremely good and I hope one day to try it seasoned with a bit of chopped coriander.

Garlic Bread: When we were in Rome Daniela ordered garlic bread at an authentic restaurant. When the appetiser arrived we were surprised to observe that it consisted of a piece of bread accompanied by a clove of garlic on a toothpick.

Pizza: Naples claims the title of the city from which Pizza originated, and the Pizzas there are, to be sure, very good and very juicy. According to the Neapolitans, with which we dined, the true and original pizza is the marinara, consisting simply of the crust, tomato, garlic and oregano (no cheese). It is also acceptable to order the famous margarita, which is more or less the same as the marinara except that it has mozzarella cheese (although its not real mozzarella cheese because it’s made from a cow not a buffalo to allow it to be cookable). Apparently all pizzas in the old time were marinara but when the queen, Margarita, wanted a pizza with her favourite cheese she thus created the pizza that bears her name. As mouth watering as these classics are, and we waited a long time for them, I like my Pizzas with something a little bit more. Discouraged by the horror of my Neapolitan friends we decided not to get the “Fantasia.” We did, however, get a pizza with mushrooms and this was perceived by the Neapolitans to be a gross extravagance, almost as bad as having breakfast.

Veröffentlicht unter Italy

Naples‘ Necropolis


Cimitero delle Fontanelle

The cemetery of Delle Fontanelle is one of the spookiest yet fantastic places we visited so far. In a cave under a hill in the district of Rione Sanita in Naples are the preserved bones of fourty thousand souls – a true city of the dead. As we drew near to the sight we walked down some old stone steps and onto a road leading through a steep rocky gully, “the valley of the dead”. The houses here seemed old and decayed, grasses and climbing vines protruded from the crumbling walls and the houses that were occupied had gardens and animals almost as if we had stepped into the ancient villages like those where we lived in Cilento. We followed the road up, past an ornate church, and toward an overgrown hill until we came to a huge natural cave that opened up into the cliff face to our left. There was a security guard at the gate but it was free to enter.


Cimitero delle Fontanelle



Cimitero delle Fontanelle

Inside it was cool, quiet and gloomy, arranged in rows columns and piles were the bones and sculls. The cave was a large complex lit with the faint natural light coming from holes in the rock, and the bones of the dead seemed to go on forever.


Cimitero delle Fontanelle

There was something disconcerting about the casualness with which the bones were stacked scull upon scull. But some were adorned with flowers or kept in glass boxes, while others were mummified.


Cimitero delle Fontanelle

Sculls were piled around statues of saints, crucifixes and headless angles. The place was macabre, beautiful, and oddly calming.


Cimitero delle Fontanelle

The cave had for centuries been a kind of open cemetery for the poor, “the indignant dead.” The cemetery acquired its first mass of bodies during the black plague in the seventeenth century, and its last during the cholera epidemics of 1837. Later in the nineteenth century, after Father Gaetano Barbati had the necropolis catalogued and organized, a cult devotion to the “indignant dead” sprang up in Naples. People cleaned the bones, presented them with flowers, beads, ornaments and candles, honouring those who had had no honour in life. The Catholic Church, which viewed it as a fetishistic cult, banned the practice, and in 1969 the cemetery was closed. It has only recently been reopened to visitors after large public protests.


Cimitero delle Fontanelle


Cimitero delle Fontanelle


Veröffentlicht unter Italy

The Setting

The area around Cilento National Park, where we lived during the month of November, is a rocky, mountainous and forested region just south of Naples. Stunted lichen covered pines, slender birches, and bushy silver-leaved evergreen oaks cling to the rocky outcrops while Chestnut and olive groves patchwork the gentler slopes. Little black scorpions and iridescent green lizards run over rocks and drip off the walls. Black kites circle in the sky, looking for carrion, while flocks of goats and herds of mountain cattle graze on dry tussocky grasses, the sound of their bells are clear in this sleepy land. At night the forests and fields belong to the wild boars that tear up the ground with their tusks in search of food, while silent foxes seek out sleeping chickens.

Half collapsing roads, filled with potholes, connect the ancient half abandoned villages that dot the land. Built with the same rock as the mountains, and with faded terracotta roofs, they seem to merge organically with the hillsides and mountaintops on which they’re perched. Many of the villages are fortified with crumbling walls adorned with arrow slits and rifle holes, a reminder of the invading armies that passed through: the Normans, the Spanish, the French, the Italians. Now the walls are overgrown and the wars, forgotten. The village streets are narrow, and one I observed in Gioi was only wide enough for one person to pass. Each village has a fountain and the water gushes from the head’s of gargoyles, lions or cherubs into stone basins. At the top of the steepest mountains are caves going deep into the hillside. In the old time mystics and bandits inhabited these caves, then chapels were eventually built around them, now tourists visit them occasionally and plastic flowers adorn their shrines.

Veröffentlicht unter Italy