In 1973, the year of cholera, the sea surrounding the cities of Torre Annunziata and Torre del Greco, in the Gulf of Naples, was officially declared highly polluted, and therefore bathing was prohibited.
It remained prohibited for forty years, until a little bit more than a month ago when, on June 21st 2013, the mayor of Torre Annunziata has received a communication from the local Health Admistration Office, stating that it was now possible to bathe again in that sea. The communication arrived after the Arpac, the Campania Regional Agency for Environmental Protection, had run a series of tests in the waters of that sea, and found out that the levels of pollution were fairly below any risk.
Therefore “tutti al mare!”, “let’s all go to the beach”, as an old Roman song sung by Gabriella Ferri in 1973 (coincidently enough) would say.
Growing up I learned that going to the beach in Torre (whether it was Torre Annunziata or Torre del Greco) was synonymous of going to a very trashy place, both because of the environment and because of the people who would usually go there. And it could be used in a conversation either to make fun of somebody (“What a face! Where did you go to the beach? To Torre?!?!”) or to say something fun (if you are with a group of people and you suddenly say: “Let’s go to Torre tomorrow!”, everybody would laugh).
It’s in this cultural scenario that me and two friends decided to go to Torre Annunziata last Sunday, in order to spend the day at the beach.
In the 1960s, Torre Annunziata was a very popular beach. People would come from all over the region to get access to its dark volcanic sand and take advantage of the healthy properties of its mud baths. My grandparents used to go there, and always had good memories.
But with the cholera and the pollution, this golden age quickly faded, and what remained was just a bad name. I don’t know exactly where this bad reputation came from, but it definitely had to do with the organized crime that spread in the area during the 1980s. It is, in reality, a city with a rich history, one of the most important port areas of Italy and Europe.
We decide to go to the Lido Azzurro, one of the most important “lidi” on the shore, but once there we opt for the Lido Nettuno, beside the Lido Azzurro.
A Lido is a section of a beach that is privately managed by a company that provides various facilities (mainly beach umbrellas and chairs) to those who want to stay in that part of the beach.
We could quickly notice that the Lido Nettuno is very old and probably it never was renovated. Our beach umbrella has holes in it (maybe for the wind?) and the beach is not really well maintained.
But most of all, as soon as we get there, we understand that we have been in some way trapped in a situation from which it will be hard to escape, as we had already paid our entrance fee: we discover that the main service offered at the Lido Nettuno is entertainment, with dance music played non stop throughout the day.
The Nettuno occupies a very narrow section of the shore and we are all very close to one another, with this incredibly loud speakers accompanying our stay.
Yet, one could not be but touched by the spectacle of humanity offered at this beach. Mainly working class people from Torre who seemed to find a lot of enjoyment in the music played. And it is thanks to them that I could look at all the experience from a different perspective and appreciate the place more.
The water was not really clean. As soon as we got there I couldn’t but notice a little child peeing in it. He was holding his father by the hand and they both seemed to think that they were doing the most normal of things. No, the water was not really clean. But it was fascinating. The black sand makes it darker of course, and there are bubbles rising from the ground, because of the volcanic activity. I was not so excited to get into it, though.
I would have never imagined to go to Torre Annunziata. Even though I was curious about it, I had always seen it as something improbable to do. There are so many beautiful places in Campania, why bother going there? Still it was a choice. An improvised choice, and maybe because of its improvisation it made a lot more sense. The debate in my group of friends is now whether we should go back or not. I don’t think I want to. It was not really fun, but still it was very different and demanding. It demanded the audacity of confronting something you would always avoid. And from that point of view it was very healthy. It’s possible that, in the next years, if the water situation keeps improving, Torre Annunziata will be again a beautiful beach.
For the moment it remains a good way to discover a reality in the South of Italy, that it’s usually hidden from mainstream culture.
Or maybe it’s the contrary: another way of looking at how mainstream culture impacts this country.