It’s the Season…

It was nothing really. It started around seven I guess, and at sundown there was a whole lot of smoke drifting northwestwards. After dark, at around nine, I made a picture. My first forest fire, on the hills to the east of our house.

In the composite picture I made, you can see how far away it really was – that was taken from my balcony last night (and again today). We were never in any sort of danger and it doesn’t look like we’ll ever be forced to flee the area. Still… those things are scary for a Dutchman. I was born in a country below sea level an I went to school in the very lowest area of Europe, but we don’t have huge forest fires because we don’t have huge forests. We rarely have earthquakes and we don’t have volcanoes. And so the sea doesn’t scare me much at all, but these unknown phenomena do. I guess unknown is the key word here.


Our Street

In the past six months people have been digging up and repairing our street at least four times. Granted, there’s a lot of building going on along it and that taxes this former country road quite heavily. And all those buildings have to be connected to water and gas and all kinds of cables running under the street. And so the back road which has been promoted to city street because of all the new appartment blocks rising up along it, has never been much more than a bumpy, pot-holed and muddy affair.

Until last Monday, that is. The town sent over a truck, three guys and one of those vibrating machines. And a sign saying Stiamo lavorando per voi – we are working for you. One guy sprinkled tar in ruts and holes, his two colleagues shovelled crushed tarmac from the truck bed over it, and the tar guy then got his vibrating machine out to compact the mixture into a new patch of tarmac. Excellent, top job, splendid.  Until…

Yesterday morning we woke up to the familiar sound of the cold planer – a machine which cuts away the top surface of a tarmac road. Two whole days after the city fixed our street, the gas utilities company Metangas is ripping it open again. As I write this, they have scratched their way through about a kilometer of road – most of it newly repaired patches.

Yeah, that’s efficiency for you… I was going to write “Italian” efficiency, but when I called my brother and told him the story, he said it sounded just like our native city of Rotterdam.

The lost generation of Naples

A couple of weeks ago it became clear that the children of Naples thought that the camorra, the network of strong local mafia clans, were something like the police – a protection force. Indications enough already that a new generation of Neapolitans are growing up with a completely warped vision of the world. But it gets worse still.

After an inhabitant of one of the local Roma (“Gypsy”) encampments in and around Ponticelli (a suburb of Naples) was arrested for the attempted kidnapping of an infant, a full blown revolt broke out and camps were burned to the ground. Let me be clear about this: there is no proof at all that the burglar wanted to kidnap the baby – but it’s an old story about Roma. When you or I break in, we’re burglars. When a Rom does so, it is assumed he wants to steal a kid. And this time the mob had their way before any judge could even begin an inquest. Thankfully, noone was hurt – physically.

Drawing by a kid in NaplesAnd today, drawings the kids of Ponticelli made in school came to the surface. They show the fathers and mothers of these 9 to 11 year olds, holding Molotov cocktails and throwing them at the Roma settlements. “Us Neapolitans have done well to hunt them off”, they said, “and to do that we had to burn down their camps.” Among the people applauding the subsequent exodus of the nomads, their meagre posessions packed in little three-wheeler trucks, were the children of those responsible for this action which smacked heavily of a pogrom.

There is, at least to these kids, no law in Naples. The police, if present at all, is looked at with hostile suspicion and the local camorra, responsible for so many of their beautiful city’s ills, is their friend and protector. And when there’s a problem, mob justice is the right answer.

One of the election promises of Berlusconi was that he would resolve the camorra-induced trash crisis in the city – with trash sometimes reaching up to three meters high in the streets. He might pull it off, although I doubt that he will find more than a temporary solution. The next generation of camorristi is watching and learning and aspiring to be just like mom or dad. Like we were when we were that age.

Eurofission Song Contest?

Let me be upfront – I didn’t watch the Eurovision Song Contest this year. Italy had the good sense to quit this parade of mediocrity ten years ago, and so I couldn’t even watch it. Not that I would have, mind you. Seen one, seen ’em all. Anyway, we have the Festival di Sanremo here, and that just about fills my quotum for mediocrity for a year.

Apparently, Russia has won and veteran British TV presenter Terry Wogan thinks the bloc voting of Eastern European countries has turned the contest into a political one. In fact, British newspaper The Guardian is asking the Brits whether they should quit Europe over this. And in the newspapers in Germany and France the mood is much the same. These Eastern Europeans stole our contest. German paper Die Welt even invokes the old spectre of the Kremlin – Cold War parlance for that invisible and sinister force guiding all of the Warsaw Pact towards Western Europe’s doom.

Interesting stuff, that. For years we’ve seen Scandinavian bloc voting, Benelux bloc voting, UK-Ireland bloc voting, Germanic and Francophone bloc voting, and nobody thought that that was a problem at all. But when it’s Serbs, Russians, Ukrainians and Estonians doing the bloc voting, we’re rushing to condemn it. Perhaps because we no longer stand a chance, being that there are just about a million former Soviet client states. You can bloc vote from Oslo down to Madrid and from Dublin eastward to Berlin and you would still not beat them. That’s sad, perhaps, if you think your country is helped by such fantastic moments in the history of world music as created by Bucks Fizz (UK, winner in 1981) or Sandra Kim (Belgium, winner in 1986). But why give a damn?

Because it’s them, that’s why. They are recovering from years of hardship with the help of Western European outplacement – in other words, ‘our’ jobs. Russian and Serbian mafia are doing their worst all over Europe. They fight their tribal wars and they live their backward lives. And when there’s no work for them there, they come here as parasites of our perfect welfare states.

We forget to mention the hords of Western investors swarming all over the former Warsaw Pact to get their grubby hands on anything of value, back in 1990 (Skoda, proud saboteurs of the Wehrmacht back in World War Two, is now part of the Volkswagen Audi Group). We forget to mention that the word ‘mafia’, and the typical modus operandi, is very Western European indeed. As for tribal wars – ask the Basques about that, or the good people of Northern Ireland. And what exactly is a backward life? I dare say that sitting in your flat in Poplar watching Sky all night while guzzling down can after can of cheap beer is pretty damn backward. Not to mention what kind of parasite that makes you.

The Eurovision Song Contest reveals, beneath the campy glitter and the toothpaste smiles, an ugly truth about Europe in the early 21st century: we’re not happy neighbours. We don’t really like each other, or trust each other, and we don’t want the other side to win. When it comes to West vs. East, we’re no longer good sports. Churchill’s Iron Curtain has never really been lifted. And in true keeping with the spirit of our times, it takes the most superficial of all TV shows to bring that to the surface.


Welcome, my friends and my enemies, and accidental passers-by, on my new blog, The Edge of Europe. For a long time I have been blogging in Dutch on the blog of the newspaper De Volkskrant. Because I have so many international friends now, from Second Life and from the international plastic modelling community, and also because there are so many things I want to write about which are not (or not exclusively) of interest to a Dutch speaking audience, I decided to switch to English. After all, blogging in this language which is not my native tongue has gone rather well since I opened a Second Life blog, well over a year ago. Of course, other factors have played a part in my leaving the Volkskrant behind me, but there’s no need to go over all that again.

What’s more, since I have moved to Italy I have noticed that the many issues playing in Holland are much the same as those playing in this country. The world is becoming a smaller place and what is important here now, will be an issue tomorrow where you live, and vice versa. And if we keep to ourselves and keep discussing things exclusively in our own languages, it is impossible to learn about and from each other.

Please, leave comments. Comments tell the blogger that someone is reading him. And for the sake of other visitors, leave them in English – it doesn’t have to be perfect English. Mine probably isn’t perfect either.

For now, thanks for stopping by and having a look, and soon we’ll get down to business in here!

Rob van Kan