While I write, but also while I eat, hanging on the wall right in front of my table, I absently observe one of the few concrete things (along with some books that the factory gave to the workers as a present for Christmas) that once belonged to my grandfather and that now are mine. Soberly framed, it is just a piece of paper embellished with a tiny bronze medal. With a beautiful design, showered with the emblems of the ten Italian municipalities that in the last century have paid their toll to the civilization of the steel, the piece of paper says:

F.R. worked for 30 years for this company
ITALSIDER of the IRI-Finsider group
In gratitude for his loyalty to the job and the company
he has been awarded with this

The CEO, signature. The President, signature. January, 1981

Of course we are talking of the factory of Bagnoli, but even if this is only a fleeting link at least it partially explains why the hell I have arrived in Taranto. A coincidence, you may say. This word refers to a random and fortuitous event but it also indicates, in the railway field, a favorable correspondence between two or more trains. So, one of the other reasons that led me for a year to make some inroads in the Old Town of Taranto is the fact that to go back to Naples from Grottaglie (a place where until a few years ago there was the only public art festival that made sense, because of the way it took place and the results and for the improvements that it made on the context of the town), I had to change train in Taranto. I usually had to wait an hour before leaving again, and so I used to spend this hour getting lost around its roads. It was always early in the morning and a sciroccoesque inertia crossed the bridge. Besides me you could just see few stray dogs, a rare street sweeper, some fishermen. Walking again and again, I got seduced by the stones, the cracks, the rust. I watched all those scaffoldings and I imagined an earthquake that never took place.

Probably, in a few decades, the Old City of Taranto will not exist anymore. It will be submerged by two overheated seas, or it will simply collapse on itself (after centuries of domination, finally arrives the domino), as it is happening in the last decades building after building. This is an apocalyptic way of thinking, but for a moment let’s try to look at things from an integrated point of view. Here: European funds, private funds, university, tourism, organic mussels and happy hour. Any way you see it, there is no escape for the old inhabitants. There actually could be a “third way”, probably a Way of the Cross, because it’s harder, maybe even painful, but – who knows? – maybe at the end there will be a miracle.

Let’s imagine if those people who still stubbornly inhabit the unsafe buildings of the Old Town decided, together, to repair stone after stone and corner after corner, streets and alleys that have been abandoned long time ago, (many people already do so). Let’s imagine if the younger ones decided to look for the fuel for their fiery spirits in themselves, instead of waiting for institutional aids that seem to rain randomly every now and then. Have we already forgotten that the Cassa del Mezzogiorno (public funds that the Italian government tried to use to stimulate the growth of the underdeveloped southern part of Italy) was nothing but a coffin designed to hold the body of a suicide victim? Now let’s imagine, why not, to look beyond all those optimistic slogans of a region that thinks just about the mass tourism (Let’s wait for this Night of Taranta to pass!) and that the principles are truly active. Upon closer inspection, the reason for these efforts (that I ask first of all to myself) is not to fix a small square, or (in my case) to paint on forgotten walls, but to ignite and burn ourselves. To forge ourselves, as and in spite of that undaunted steel that poisons the whole city.

There must be an activation, but also observation: this is the first step, the one you do with happiness, as well as awareness of the stumble that’s hidden behind the corner. Now, you can investigate a thing in various ways: writing a book, taking pictures, filming a movie. Of course, I approach things in a pictorial way (here you will also find some oral history, and elsewhere some filmic notes), but at the same it is also physical, it is an approach of proximity. Many times some kids led me to discover new places to paint. Many stories have been poured on me, while I was busy changing the skin of a dark alley. All of this evokes (a very antique verb, I must admit) the exchange, the mutual and postdated giving of certain archaic societies, don’t you think? And here, a perfect verse from Mayakovsky (a ghost, again), bursts into this short text: To change jacket is not enough, comrades! Revolt yourselves, from within!

I wrote “activation”, but actually – to better clarify this thing – I should have said self-organization, and I have to repeat it another time: now that the involvement (they call participation the things they photograph just to have a refund) is used as a crowbar to pry open the safe of various EU/national funds, one must take position with increasing strength against this farce. You have to stop to show symbolical muscles and start using the nerves of persuasion.

The Old Town is an island, but it is not isolated from its surroundings, indeed, everything is the obvious consequence of another thing. Didn’t it start to empty right after the arrival of the steelworks? Has it been abandoned because of the cumbersome absence of a general plan and of any kind of overview? And who tells us about its inhabitants without using caricatures, abused adjectives, obsolete formulas? Isn’t it time to face reality with – not necessarily new means – but at least unusual means?

Get out. I told myself this, before starting. Get out of myself (and my brain) using this as a pole for a jump, a wide jump, to embrace the entire island without prejudice, walking through it from north to south, from east to west, entering the houses, the abandoned courtyards, peeking beyond the cemented alleys, crossing physical barriers, that are often mental barriers. Many times some people have discouraged me saying: there, are you crazy? Bad people, it’s useless (without wanting to see that poverty and violence walk hand in hand). But my work is useless too, isn’t it? A necessary uselessness, I think.

Everybody knows that painting in the streets is a work destined to go up in smoke, right, but just think for a moment how pervasive could be the fine dust that come out of this fire: the stories and the smiles, the lunches and the dinners and the beers, the friendships, the shouts and the moods of a city that is old just in the way it is governed; let’s breathe what remains in the air with a wide open mouth, I said, as that Pugliese saint who, maybe just to escape the lackeys of an invading and enemy power, learned, little by little, to fly in a deadpan sky. (cyop&kaf) translation by Lucio Carbonelli

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