No, this post is not about cooking. It is about slavery. It is about the book I just finished reading: “Uomini e caporali” (“men & foremen”) written by an Italian journalist and writer, Alessandro Leogrande.
We all love “Spaghetti al pomodoro”, noodles with tomatoes – don’t you, too? Made with tomatoes in cans, most of them coming from Southern Italy: Puglia or Campagna. (In the latter many of the tomatoes coming from Puglia are processed and put in cans or bottles). But who is harvesting those tomatoes and what are his or her work condition?
Every summer men and women from Africa and Eastern Europe pour into the “Tavoliere”, a region of Puglia to engage in harvesting tomatoes. They are the modern day-laborers of agriculture. They become victims of corporatists who in alignment with the landowners deploy them through the region. They live in insanitary dwellings and accept wages that are far below any legal standards which often are not paid at all. They are isolated. They suffer hunger and thirst. Their passports are taken away. They have to pay exaggerated prices for food and water and transport from their already misery wages. Sometimes they are even beaten. Some of those new slaves who try to rebel just “disappear” or die in “strange circumstances”. As of this list from an Polish association called “Italy” today there are still 115 people missing.
But in the summer of 2005, three Polish students managed to escape from their guards and reach the Polish consulate in Bari. Due to their denunciation it was possible to arrest dozens of formen or better said slave drivers. The author met the victims, studied the techniques of those new “Kapò” and interviewed magistrates, lawyers, doctors and syndicalists who tried to oppose this cruel exploitation. Three years later he returned and the situation seems to have improved: The landowners or farmers decided to engage machines because they are now more convenient. They hadn’t been in respect to the slaves. The situation for the Polish improved. But today, there are dozens of Romanians missing and a handful died in “strange circumstances”. Because as long as the companies behind this system will try to lower even more the labor costs to raise their own profit this system of modern slavery will continue.
In the next months I will escort two politicians on their trips to Africa and Asia – that is fantastic! My role will be the one of a photographer. Currently I am preparing all necessary: Visa, flights, booking hotels, vaccination, reading books and the news on the current political affairs and last but not least reviewing my wardrobe. This is all very exciting especially because it is more than 15 years ago that I will travel to exotic destinations without my husband and this makes me feel a bit insecure (although I would of course never ever admit that. :-))
I will publish detailed reporting from my trips to Africa and Asia in my mother tongue German here.
Having left Sardinia for Austria we went to see an ancient ritual in Austria: The consecration of ham, eggs and bread. Saturday before Eastern we walked through a beautiful landscape and were told that near a small Hotel, that would open only in summer, at half past three there will be a rally of people waiting for the local priest to consecrate their food. And in fact, at three fifteen there was still no one but us, but at three thirty there have been around 70 people with approximately 20 baskets.
It is an old tradition to prepare the “eastern ham” at home and to put it together with eggs, bred and salt into a basket, cover it with a nicely embroidered napkin and get the priests’ blessing before eating it the same or next day. We had the impression that this yearly ritual was also a nice occasion to meet neighbors that you might not have seen for a while, doing something exciting for the children and feeling to be part of a local and yet broader community.
The priest’s headdress and outfit seemed to be very traditional. In contrast was the priest’s equipment: he came in a rented car with Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and other celebrities printed on both sides and brought a microphone and loudspeaker which were quickly set up. The few words he spent where first traditional, praying, blessing the food and thanking the women for having cooked it and embroidered the napkins but then linked to daily politics in Austria and the discussion about crosses in public places. He called on his community to engage for the cross, the symbol that since 1800 years unifies and gives identification to Austria and his inhabitants, he said. The entire ceremony was not taking more than 15 minutes, then he rushed away to repeat it in the next small village.
We instead were invited to taste the consecrated ham and eggs and bred afterwards and it was delicious!
Women have always been powerful in Sardinia compared to other regions in Southern Italy. Sardinia is said to be the only Italian region with ancient matriarchy. The most famous women in Sardinia is Eleonora d’Arborea, who in the 14th century defeated Spanish invaders and composed the Carta de Logu, a body of laws which came into force in April 1395. They were considered to be far in advance of the laws of other countries,the penalty for most crimes being a fine, and the property rights of women being preserved. Another famous women is Nobel Price Winner Grazia Deledda, born in the late 19th century. Her most famous novel is “Canne al Vento”, about a young women and rebel to her father’s strict rules.
But why have women in Sardinian been traditionally more powerful ? The most reasonable explanation is that during winter all male members of the family left their houses for months to walk with their herds of sheep to warmer regions. (“Trasumanza”). This seasonal movement made it necessary for women to run the daily business alone, taking important decisions for the family and the income, producing and selling products from sheep like cheese or traditionally hand made carpets.
Nevertheless traditional society protected young women from being “dishonored” by strangers. So men were afraid to infringe unwritten laws. This is why the man in the picture above experienced difficulties when working for the first time with female colleagues in a Hotel in the early 70ties. “I tried to pass them without getting noticed”, he said. “I was afraid and also felt ashamed, the situation for me was uncomfortable. Until one day one of my female colleagues said to me: ‘Ziu Boicu, you can’t go on like this. Or you stop being afraid or you have to quit this job’. Then I made up my mind and the next season I came over it”.