excerpt | garbage collectors


a very large number of people, some middle-aged men, some boys, all very poorly dressed, are occupied in carrying the refuse out of the city on donkeys. the immediate area around naples is simply one huge kitchen garden, and it is a delight to see, first, what incredible quantities of vegetables are brought into the city every market day, and, second, how human industry immediately returns the useless parts which the cooks reject to the fields so as to speed up the crop cycle.
indeed, the neapolitans consume so many vegetables that the leaves of cauliflowers, broccoli, artichokes, cabbages, lettuce and garlic make up the greater part of the city refuse. two large, flexible panniers are slung over the back of a donkey: these are not only filled to the brim, but above them towers a huge mound of refuse, piled with peculiar cunning. no garden could exist without a donkey. a boy or a farm hand, sometimes even the farmer himself, hurry as often as possible during the day into the city, which for them is a real gold mine. you can imagine how intent these collectors are on the dropping of mules and horses. they are reluctant to leave the streets at nightfall, and the rich folk who leave the opera after midnight are probably unaware of the existence of the industrious men who, before daybreak, will have been carefully searching for the trail of their horses.
i have been assured that, not infrequently, such people have gone into partnership, leased a small piece of land, and, by working untiringly in this blessed climate, where the vegetation never stops growing, have been so successful that they were able to add considerably to their profits.

 

von goethe, j.w. (1970) italian journey: 1786-1788 trans. auden, w.h. and mayer, e.

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