Photo of the Day: Ciao Venezia!

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Campania: The land of smoke and fire

Garbage and Campania have a long sordid history together. With over 5.8 million people living in the region it shouldn’t be surprising that they have trouble disposing of their waste. Naples is the largest city in Campania but the smallest province. With a population of 3,175,010 people and a population density of 2,625.9 people/sq. km it probably has the most difficulty with ridding itself of trash but also manages to keep the streets relatively clean* considering. In 2007-2008 the problem reached its peak when municipal workers went on strike and refused to transport anymore trash. The garbage piles were higher than the roof of a car and several times as long. They could be found all over the city and surrounding countryside. Since that time the government has worked on solutions to attempt to rein in the overflow.

In Campania the mafia have traditionally been involved in trash management with their main contribution being the illegal dumping of waste into overfilled landfills as well as the dumping of toxic waste and chemicals alongside country roads. This toxic waste seeps into the ground water thus polluting the drinking water and irrigation water of many areas. In an area known as the “Triangle of Death” there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed with cancer which is thought to be caused by the illegal dumping of toxic waste. They also actively burn the trash which puts not just those living nearby in harms way but those that live within breathing distance of the smoke.

In the past few years there was an incinerator built in Acerra as an attempt to help reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. After being delayed for eight years there were protests against the facility up until (and maybe still) it opened. People argued that it would only create more environmental problems because, they claimed, the trash would not be sorted before being burnt. Incinerating the trash would produce electricity for 200,000 homes, what is more likely is that the mafia used their influence to get people to stand up against the facility.

The mafia are not the only ones burning stuff in the Campania region. In fact, many farmers burn the weeds and debris in order to clear their land for new crops. The obvious problem with this is that these are uncontrolled burns and more often than not what starts as a small fire turns into a raging wildfire that spreads rapidly. Several times this summer there have been fires in heavily popluated areas that started after a “controlled burn” got out of control. The area gets less than 4.5″ of rain on average over the summer months so the brush is very, very dry. Because of this burning there is usually a perpetual odor of smoke in the air and if you leave your doors and windows open, as most Italians do because they cannot afford air conditioning, that smoke and ash come into your house and leave a film over everything. If you drive into the farm areas around the city the smoke has a mix of organic burning and the acrid smell of burning plastic. It is most certainly an unpleasant smell to drive through, I cannot imagine what it must be like to live near it.

The latest attempt at cleaning up the area involves shipping the trash to Rotterdam where it is burned in their incinerators for electricity. The goal is to send one ship-load of trash a week to the Netherlands. Hopefully this new strategy works because the area cannot afford to have any more build up of waste, there’s just no where to put it.

In looking around for information about this problem I came across a website by a collective of Italian documentary photographers. It paints a pretty good visual picture (no pun intended) of what’s been going on in the area for the past two decades.

*If you’ve been to Naples you know that the streets are not “clean” by any western standard but compared to some areas they are immaculate.

A series of unfortunate events

In the past week we’ve had a few things happen that were less than ideal. Not life threatening, just annoying. First the kitchen sink clogged. Greg bought some drain cleaner (several bottles over a period of three days) and we had to track down a pipe snake at the Italian equivalent of Home Depot. This was not as easy as you’d think it would be because nothing over here is as easy as you’d think. We tried the drain cleaner, over and over again, but the clog went from slow moving to completely stopped. Greg attempted to plunge it quite a few times but with no luck. Then he opened the trap under the sink and found gobs of crystalized white stuff (I really should stop hiding my crack in the pipes) gumming up the works. He cleaned it out thinking that was the source of the problem. Ha! As if it would be that easy (see above). With the trap removed he worked on feeding the snake into the pipe to attempt to dislodge whatever was stuck. The snake would only go so far before it hit something. What that something is we had and still have no idea. After trying to move past that point we decided to go to bed and figure it out later.

Yesterday the cleaning lady came and instead of leaving her a note about the clog Greg left the plunger in the sink. We have no idea what occurred but when we returned home the apartment was clean and the clog seems to be gone. We may have the greatest cleaning lady ever or the snake and drain cleaner combo finally worked. I guess we’ll never know.

Another annoying thing is that Greg’s car has been having a bit of an issue with 5th gear. It started with a rattle in the shifter and now when he gets into 5th between 2900 and 3100 (though it can go higher) RPMs the whole engine begins to shutter. It’s quite a dramatic shaking that feels like a flat tire but there is no way it is since it doesn’t happen at any other time. When he lets off the gas the RPMs drop and the shaking goes away but as soon as he pushes it back up it returns. Some things he came across indicate that if you have the wrong oil in the car it could cause problems. He recently put in one that was thinner but after changing it again this past weekend the problem remains. Anyone know what could be causing the problem?

And finally after not hearing anything for over a month about a job application I had submitted I went over to HR to ask about it. The nice woman working there said I should have received notice either way and that they would have called to schedule an appointment. So it sounds like when I was in OBX and MD they probably tried to call my Italian phone but since it was off and I didn’t have voicemail set up that I may have missed out on an interview. That’s kind of a bummer but I currently have eight other applications in to the same place so the odds are a little better that I’ll hear something soon. Of course I’m heading back to MD for a week next Wednesday so if they happen to call then I may be in a pickle. The current plan is for me to leave my phone here and have Greg check the voicemail periodically that way if they call I can call them back from MD to set up an interview. Gotta love when things get complicated. Wouldn’t be fun otherwise. 🙂

Update:

I’ve been reminded *ahem* of two other things that have happened in the last week. One has happened before but Greg fixed it – the washing machine had the belt fall off. The first time the washer was filled with water when it happened so there was some drama trying to get the thing drained before Greg could open it up to look at it. Now that we know what sound it makes when it happens it’s easier to fix. The second thing has been ongoing, at least as far as my computer is concerned, but it finally cramped Greg’s style because the Roku stopped working. Without the Roku we have no Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. so while my plight was noted by him the lack of tv had a greater impact. The good news is that after many long nights and a new router the Roku is back up and running. I am now able to continue watching The West Wing which is awesome. In the time it was down we started watching The Wire on DVD and we are seriously hooked. It is probably one of the best shows I’ve ever watched.

Anyway, that’s the rest of it.

Update 2:

We had a good run but unfortunately the drain is clogged again. Not calling the landlord just yet, Greg’s determined to fix it himself. Fingers crossed.

Where to go from here?

I graduated from the University of Maryland a while ago with a BS in Biological Science (Zoology concentration) and a BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice. What was I going to do with those two wonderfully expensive degrees? In my fantasy life I was going to be a Criminalist and work in the FBI lab. In real life I’ve done jack shit with them though not for lack of trying. (Side note for UMD: You can stop calling me in an attempt to get money for scholarships or whatever because until your degrees start making me money you can’t get any from me. Sorry.) I was able to find internships that sort of allowed me to use what I’d learned but none of the jobs were permanent nor did they, with the exception of my time at REI, hold any promise of promotion. And they certainly didn’t provide any benefits.

On the last day of class at UMD I decided that I would never go back to school ever again because I DIDN’T HAVE TO. That was the greatest realization of my life. After being required to go to school for 13 years by the State of Maryland and then voluntarily enrolling in a top notch University and spending five years there I was (and still am) thrilled that I didn’t have to take another exam for the rest of my life if I didn’t want to. My vow was broken a short time later when I enrolled at Montgomery College to get a certificate in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems. I loved my time there; the teachers were excellent, my classmates were fun, and the material was by far the most interesting stuff I’d ever learned about. After graduating from UMD with slightly less than stellar grades I pulled a 4.0, Dean’s List, and National Honor Society trifecta out of my hat at MC. To this date it’s my proudest accomplishment.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is I’m realizing that to better myself careerwise I may have to go back to school and get a Master’s degree. The problem? I don’t know what I want to get a degree in. People who have gotten their’s highly recommend figuring that out before applying and commiting to any kind of degree program. I couldn’t agree more. My undergrad was spent taking classes in a degree field that I had convinced myself I was interested in. It wasn’t until I took a few classes in Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJS) my junior year that I realized how much I liked them and (surprise!) how easy it was to get good grades because the subjects were interesting. After adding the second degree in CCJS I spent half of my first senior year and all of the second enjoying myself in my courses. The other eye-opener was during the final semester of my second senior year (got it?) when I took an ecology course as a credit filler. I absolutely LOVED that class. It was at that sad moment that I realized the horrible mistake I had made. I didn’t like biology, I loved ecology and environmental science. I think I’d always known that but didn’t want to admit it, for whatever reason. Many of the same CORE courses are required for both degrees but I would have been able to avoid the upper level biology classes in which I struggled so much. Just check out these course titles, I want to take every single one of them.

That, my friends, is why I haven’t seriously persued getting a Master’s degree. I’m terribly afraid of making another, potentially more expensive, mistake. My undergrad turned out all right in the end; I received two degrees, and with the help of my good grades in the CCJS classes and a long list of Literature classes (which also got me close to getting a third degree), my GPA was/is just a few tenths below a 3.0. It’s not that I regret my undergrad I just wish I’d been more aware of my options. That’s mostly my fault but I also hold my academic advisers partly responsible for not questioning my intentions. I just wish someone had asked me what I was really interested in. Anyway, it’s too late for shoulda coulda woulda now.

So my questions for you, you who have gone back to get your Master’s or you who are still deciding what to do: how did you decide what to study? Did you pick a school and see what they offered? Or did you pick a degree field and find a school that offered it? Did you go into a field that was completely different from your undergrad or continue along the same path? I want to know all of it. Anything you can tell me would be a great help because I truly don’t know what I want to do.

Sweatin’ to the Oldies

Several weeks ago we made a half-hearted attempt at starting a workout program, the kick your ass program known as Insanity. In theory it’s designed to help you lose weight quickly by doing reverse interval training every day. In theory. In reality it was more than we bargained for and for a variety of reasons we have put it aside for the moment. In order to get some much needed physical activity we started (this past Monday) going to the gym on base. Personally I love going to the gym and more importantly I LOVE using the weight machines. Using my muscles and feeling them work against the resistance is just amazing to me. And I know there are people who don’t believe in isolating muscle groups and swear by full body workouts, or Zumba, or whatever, but I much prefer spending my time making my way from machine to machine and seeing how many reps I can do. (In case you’re wondering my favorite machine is the leg press.)

My second favorite thing to do is ride the stationary bike. It gets my heart pumping and works my legs, which I consider to be my trouble area. And, again, I know there are people who would say “why don’t you just go ride your bike outside?” to which I respond, “I’d love to if I didn’t have to worry about getting run over my some idiot in a POS hooptie.” Sadly Naples is lacking the nice wide roads and paved bike trails of the US.

My least favorite thing to do is run. I don’t like to run, running is not fun. That’s not true. I do like to run but only when it’s a part of something else like softball, or kickball, or tag, or indoor soccer, or touch football, or some other team sport. Running just to run is the most boringest thing in the world to me. I admire the hell out of people who do like to run as long as they don’t ask me to join them. Sorry runners. That being said I think I’d like to try the Warrior Dash one day simply because it’s not just about running, they do some crazy shit during that 5k and I wanna be a part of it.

Unfortunately for Greg he likes to run. He has tried on numerous occasions to get me to run with him and a couple times I did. We even ran an 8k together once which brings me to the real reason I won’t run with Greg anymore – I beat him. It wasn’t like I was trying to beat him, it just kind of happened. I do feel bad about it. Actually I don’t feel bad about it at all but I like him to think I do.

Anyway, today was day two of our new gym routine. Unlike on Monday when I was already on base today I had to get myself there late this afternoon. Since it’s located near the airport I was able to take the Alibus, which runs between the airport, the ship terminal, and the train station but to actually take the bus I had to get to the bus stop. This requires taking the funicolare down the hill and then walking all the way to the port. It’s not that far but it does take some time and it’s been pretty hot here lately so it takes a lot out of you. The total travel time was roughly an hour and a half which isn’t bad. Unfortunately it will only get longer once everyone arrives back in town and the traffic gets back to it’s usual horribleness.

I sincerely hope we can keep this up because it gives me something to look forward to. Ideally I’ll get a job on base and then it’ll be even easier to go. Fingers crossed that that happens!