Monday, June 5, 2017

Travel Blogging IV

Cruising the Ionian Sea, south of Italy:  We spent yesterday at a location that could be the sole of the boot, Riace (pronounced REE-ah-che) in the province of Calabria. This part of Italy is poor, it looks like coastal Southern California, has somewhat similar weather, grows oranges and olives, and attracts hordes of tourists to its beaches.

Year round residents are mostly agriculturists and the land is clay, not great for growing. The small villages have lost population for decades, Riace managed to reverse that trend, a classic case of taking lemons and making lemonade.

The mayor took in a shipload of hungry, sick, desperate Kurdish refugees who washed up on the beach, and tried to help them. Being entrepreneurial, he got others (Germans, I think) to fund the effort and created a new "industry" for his dying village - refugee rehabilitation.

He housed them in the abandoned houses, which he then paid them to fix up. The Kurds are mostly gone, having learned Italian, perhaps a trade, and something about being a "European." Now the current refugees in residence are a mix of Africans and Pakistanis.

Our tour group, mostly Trump-hating liberals, should have thought the whole enterprise wonderfully uplifting and holy. Actually, a fair number wondered what doing make-work jobs and living in an ancient village would teach third-world migrants, how they would fare after leaving Riace.

In a region of clay, a logical occupation is potter. The village teaches some to be potters but I have to wonder if there will be a market for so much tourist kitsch.

As is typical with help-the-poor schemes, the main beneficiaries are the villagers who created employment for themselves as professional refugee-enablers. In his own way the mayor is a self-invented hero not unlike the founder of the Grameen Bank which makes loans to the poor.

The mayor of Riace is somewhat famous and in-demand as a speaker, like that bank founder. Perhaps his motives were pure, perhaps self-serving, I cannot say.


On another topic, once you've seen Sicily and Calabria, you understand why so many Italian immigrants ended up in coastal California. Quite simply the California coast looked like home, had the same climate - wet winters and dry summers - and fishing was a realistic occupation. They looked at it and said to themselves, "I know how to deal with this environment."