Talking Trash, Italian Style

The Italian word spazzatura sounds so much nicer than the English word "trash," which is perhaps just due to the magic of the Italian language. But trash is serious business in Italy and, when renting an apartment here, it's important to understand the Sistema Ambiente (which regulates and collects trash). To complicate matters, the rules and practices vary from region to region and town to town - so the rules in Livorno are likely to be different from the rules in Lucca. It's important to look for an explanation of local requirements in any rental apartment. 

Keeping these narrow streets trash free is no small task. 

Keeping these narrow streets trash free is no small task. 

The instructions should include how to sort and bag the trash, where to place the trash for pickup, and the days of trash collection. Depending on location, there may be door-to-door pick-up (porta a porta) with specific items collected on assigned days (i.e., paper goods on Tuesdays, organics on Wednesdays) or there may be central pickup from an isola ecologica (loose translation - recycling area). These are found in some neighborhoods and have larger bins (cassonetti) for specific types of trash. In either case, the sorting is key!

Why all the sorting? Well, because Italy has a goal of "rifiuti zero" (no waste). That's a lofty goal; some cities are making huge strides in that direction (Cappanori is a leader, Lucca is on its way), while other cities are still working to adapt to the new strategies. The goal is to recycle everything possible (glass, plastic, paper, aluminum cans) and to compost organic waste. It takes some extra thought and effort to sort and recycle, but it's the right thing to do for the environment!

Here is how it works in Lucca's historic central district. The area inside the walls is divided into two zones, A and B, roughly along Via Fillungo, the main shopping street. The rules are the same in each, but the collection days for some types of trash (papers and boxes)  are different so it's important to know in which zone a particular apartment lies. My apartment this spring was in Zone B, the eastern half of the city and had porta a porta (door to door) collection.

On trash days, these bags line the streets. Luckily the trash trucks make frequent rounds so the streets are cleared relatively quickly. 

On trash days, these bags line the streets. Luckily the trash trucks make frequent rounds so the streets are cleared relatively quickly. 

The schedule for trash pickup, with specific types of trash collected on certain days. 

The schedule for trash pickup, with specific types of trash collected on certain days. 

All trash is sorted into four types - most apartments have separate bins for each.

Separate bins, one each for paper, mixed materials, and non-recyclables on the patio of my apartment.  The fourth bin, for organics or compostables, was in my kitchen.

Separate bins, one each for paper, mixed materials, and non-recyclables on the patio of my apartment.  The fourth bin, for organics or compostables, was in my kitchen.

Color coded bags for recycling. 

Color coded bags for recycling. 

Carta (paper) is the first of the four types of trash. It includes newspapers, boxes and paper packages (i.e., pasta boxes and paper shopping bags). However, not all paper goes in Carta - used napkins and paper towels go with compostables and plastic-coated papers in non-recyclables. If in doubt, most apartments have a booklet that lists how to sort every type of trash imaginable. Carta can be put out in paper shopping bags, boxes, or clear/white recyclable bags.

Next is multimateriale (mixed materials), which includes glass bottles, tin cans, plastic food containers (be sure to rinse first), aluminum foil, etc. Multimateriale goes in the green bag.

Third is organico. In-sink garbage disposals are uncommon in Italy, so food scraps are a large part of kitchen trash. Collecting these scraps (egg shells, fruit rinds, meat bones, teabags, coffee grounds, etc.) helps to reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste. Used paper towels, napkins, and garden clippings also go in organic waste - all will eventually become compost. Most kitchens have a small container for kitchen waste - be sure to empty this often as it can get smelly in a hurry!

Last is non-riciclabile (non-recyclable) and this is ideally the smallest of the four types of garbage. It includes anything that has no recycle value - toothpaste containers, baby diapers, plastic cutlery, sponges, etc. These go in a gray bag for pickup.

These small trucks make the rounds and quickly pick up those street side bags of trash. 

These small trucks make the rounds and quickly pick up those street side bags of trash. 

The next step is consulting the schedule of pickup. I'm writing this on a Wednesday, organico day for me. Thursday I can put out my carta and non-riciclabile. Each is left on the street outside my apartment, in its color-coded bag, between 6 and 9:30 am. Small garbage trucks collect the trash bags left along the street. Note that trash bags should never be put out the night before pickup as stray dogs and cats tend to find them and scatter the contents, making a huge mess of the streets. 

 

 

In the apartment I rented last fall, things were a bit different. First, I was in Zone A so the pickup days for paper trash were different. Also, I had a resident's card, which opened the neighborhood recycle center bins, so I could choose to deposit any type of sorted trash on any day. I found this to be the easiest way to take out the trash.

An isola ecologica, or centralized trash collection station, available to area residents with a key card, which opens the bins.

An isola ecologica, or centralized trash collection station, available to area residents with a key card, which opens the bins.

Trash - not the most picturesque Italian subject -  but important. Not following the rules can get you (or your landlord) a big fine. So be a good visitor and handle your trash like a local!      

-post by JMB

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I love red vespas.  Much prettier than trash!

For further information, including the most current schedule and instructions in English: www.sistemaambientelucca.it

Italy at Easter

Several years ago I learned an Italian saying, "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi." This roughly translates to “Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you like." I take this idea seriously. I wouldn't dream of missing Christmas with my children and grandchildren, but whenever possible I spend Easter in Italy, sharing the holiday with friends. 

This year marks my third Italian Easter; one of my favorite times to visit. I love marking the change of seasons in Italy, watching as Tuscany slowly moves from winter to spring. When I arrived at the beginning of March, Lucca had quiet streets, bare trees and vines, and brisk weather (including my first Italian snowfall).

March remained mostly cold and rainy, but slowly, over the past week, spring has started to tiptoe in. On one of the first warmer days outdoor seating suddenly spilled into the squares from cafes. 

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Overnight, the atmosphere in town changed. People filled the streets and cafes, beautifully decorated Easter window displays appeared, outdoor vendors set up stands to sell sweets and balloons, the walls surrounding Lucca began to buzz with activity, and the first tentative spring blossoms surfaced. It seems Lucca has awakened from its winter rest.  

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The last week of March was Holy Week - the week leading up to Easter. It began with Palm Sunday events, including the blessing of palms and olive branches and services in many of the local churches. Venerdì Santo (Good Friday) saw the traditional procession in Lucca in which a heavy wooden crucifix is carried through the streets by black-robed and barefoot members of the Misericordia. This is a solemn event made even more dramatic by the backdrop of Lucca’s Medieval streetscapes. I always find the procession moving, meaningful, and uniquely Italian.

Good Friday was also celebrated with an evening concert at the Cattedrale di San Michele in which a small symphony played the Stabat Mater, with lyrics (in Latin) from the 13th century and music composed by Boccherini (who was born in Lucca in 1743). The church was full, the soprano sang beautifully, and the music was (no pun intended) divine. 

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Today is Easter. I’ll walk through town this morning to a favorite pasticceria to pick up a desert for today’s lunch (perhaps a pretty cake like the one pictured here) and then I’ll get busy cooking for the friends who are coming for lunch this afternoon. We'll be enjoying “Pasqua con chi vuoi."

Buona Pasqua.  Happy Easter to all who celebrate it - and happy Passover and Happy Spring too! 

-post by JMB

The Easter flower market in Lucca

The Easter flower market in Lucca

Beneath the Walls of Lucca

When describing Lucca to people who have not yet had the good fortune to visit the city, le mura (the walls) are the first feature I mention. But underneath the walls is a whole other world.

Underneath the walls of Lucca.

Underneath the walls of Lucca.

The walls hold important historical significance, having originally been built as a defensive structure during the Renaissance (replacing the earlier Roman and Medieval walls). Today, they serve as a park and gathering spot for city dwellers and visitors and as a symbol of the city. They are also strikingly beautiful. Embracing the centro storico (historic old center), the walls were built with three portas or large entryways into the city (today there are six) and with 11 baluardi (baluardo in the singular, meaning a rampart or bastion). Each baluardo juts out from the narrower section of the wall and provides a direct line of sight from one to the next - a tactical advantage when defending against invaders. Today, the baluardi provide extended green spaces, filled with playgrounds, benches, and statues. At least, that's how it appears from the top of the walls. Underneath, however, is a  much more mysterious place.

Beneath Baluardo Santa Croce, an exit through the walls.

Beneath Baluardo Santa Croce, an exit through the walls.

In Renaissance times, the portions of the bastions lying under the walls, cavernous spaces with vaulted ceilings, would have held soldiers, horses, and the materials needed to wage battle against an invading army. The soldiers needed a way into these spaces from the city as well as a way out on the far side of the wall - such a passageway through a bastion is called a sortita ( like the French word "sortie" or exit).  To prevent the invaders from using the sortita as a route into the city, they were designed as narrow, twisting passageways that could be easily defended. The passages were at one time mostly abandoned, but one by one, each sortita has been restored, and the result is breathtaking. 

The gate at this sortita leads to the  spalti  (green spaces) outside the walls.

The gate at this sortita leads to the spalti (green spaces) outside the walls.

In contrast to bright Tuscan vistas, fellow walkers, trees, statues and bicyclists - the typical sights when atop the walls - I am often alone when in a sortita or with only a few other people around. In the sortita it is quiet, cool, and dimly lit. The views are of intricate brick and stonework, arched passageways, massive wooden doors and iron gates and - sometimes - art. Yes, art. 

While these underground rooms and passageways are beautiful in their own right, the restored areas are now also used as spaces for exhibitions and events. On my most recent visit, tucked inside several of the sortite, I found paper sculptures from the Cartasia Biennale d’Arte 2016 exhibit. A pair of giant apes, multicolored spheres, head-in-the-sand ostriches, and the hoodie-covered head of a young man were among the paper art on display.

Yes, these colorful spheres are made of paper. According to one guide, they represent the cannon balls that were once stored here.

Yes, these colorful spheres are made of paper. According to one guide, they represent the cannon balls that were once stored here.

Cartasia Biennale d’Arte is a biennial exhibit of paper as an art form (paper production is a leading industry in the area around Lucca). The artists represent countries from around the world and their work is beautiful and infused with social and political meaning. During the exhibition, the paper pieces are displayed above ground throughout Lucca for two months. Afterward, the artwork is moved to the spaces under the walls, in part to protect the fragile paper construction from the elements. This unique “museum” is free and always open. The next exhibition will be held from July to September 2018, at which time the theme will be “Chaos and Silence.”  

The curves and stonework, shadows and light, all add to the beauty of the underground passageways.

The curves and stonework, shadows and light, all add to the beauty of the underground passageways.

Silence is the music of the sortita. The restoration work included adding lighting, which shows off the beauty of the inner walls, illuminates the way through the passages and casts shadows that add to the atmosphere of the underground space. Aside from viewing the artwork and coming across an occasional other visitor, I spent my time simply wandering the halls. Of course, just like the aboveground walls, a sortita has a utilitarian function: It provides another way for pedestrians to enter and exit the historical center of Lucca.

For me, the wall above and the sortita below are examples of something I appreciate about Italy: preservation of the past in a way that enhances the present.

-post by JG (with an assist from JB)

At the end of a passageway is a beautiful wooden door.

At the end of a passageway is a beautiful wooden door.