One of the first things that impressed me about Italy was the waste system. It is not just trash; it is not just trash and recycling. In Italy, they separate paper, plastic/glass, compost, and then whatever doesn’t fit in those classifications goes in the actual trash. Every day there is a pick-up of one of these classifications, which keeps the accumulation of filled bags to a bare minimum. I was so glad to see that compostable items were separated and collected.
I am not sure what is done with it after pick-up, but this is a very useful resource that we in America are not taking advantage of. It is left to the individual American citizen to purchase a compost receptacle, which starts at around $125, a significant investment for trash. In my experience, there are only two kinds of Americans who would purchase a composter, extreme environmentalists or extreme gardeners. It seems to me that it is just a lot of effort and cost to put in for something that doesn’t have a quick return; plus it attracts rodents and bugs. However, if we could include compost collection into the recycling infrastructure that already exists, it would significantly cut actual landfill contribution while turning it into something useful. Heck, the city could later use the compost for fertilizer or sell it to turn a profit.
While living in the palazzo, we were forced to think about what we were throwing away, and it has stuck with me even today. At home, I already fill my recycling twice as fast as I fill my trash bin. I am the crazy host who takes recyclables out of my trash after guests leave, yes I’m that woman. But after I discovered Italy’s waste system, I was both impressed and ashamed. We as Americans are groomed to believe that we have the best of everything. Well, the more I learn, the less that is true. I came to Italy expecting to find a land of rich history and many old stories to tell. I never expected to find they were doing some things much better than we do at home. This realization made me take a second look at America as a whole. I am becoming more and more aware of the nationalism that seems to be at the core of our entire culture. Is this yet another symptom of our misplaced priorities of being more concerned with our status in the world rather than being concerned about the actual state of our “more perfect Union”?
Another system that impressed me was the transportation system. No one really takes an airplane to get around Italy. I suppose it is not as big as America, so it is not necessary. However, I loved the idea of taking a train to other cities. I rode several busses to reach many trains. The busses were not fun on the windy roads, but I was still impressed by their impeccable condition and the professionalism of the bus drivers. Italian busy drivers look like they just got out of an office and seem to conduct themselves with a high level of professionalism, dignity, seemingly proud of their position. There are even ticket checkers, who are like the police of the bus system, making sure everyone has a ticket. He is similar to a train conductor, but much more stern and scary. He walks around with a pad of forms, ready to write a fine at any moment for those who try to scam the system. The Italian bus system is technically run on an honor code. You are supposed to purchase a ticket and stamp it when you get on. But there is only one ticket checker for all the buses in the area. Many people take their chances and get on the bus without a ticket, hoping that the ticket checker does not get on at the next stop. The checker gets on a bus at one bus stop, checking passengers until the next bus stop where he gets off and waits for the next bus to do it all over again. The downside to the honor system and the purchasing of tickets for every ride is that, from what I could tell, you have to purchase a single ticket for every bus ride, one way. There is no system available for those who use the bus every day to be able to make large purchases for multiple bus rides, aside from purchasing multiple one-way tickets. But if you are purchasing multiple one-way tickets, you have to know where you are going with those tickets. It is a different price for every destination. Otherwise, it takes a bit more planning to make time for purchasing tickets before you get on the bus. Whew! That’s a lot of work to ride a bus, but it is “old-school” and, to me, charming.
The train system is a bit more advanced than the bus system. There are different kinds of passes you can purchase to count for multiple rides. I purchased a Euro Rail Pass, which gave me ten days to ride a train as much as I wanted within a two month period. However, this, again, was on a type of honor system. There was never a conductor to check my ticket when I rode the regional trains, but I saw many people get on and off. I wondered if they had passes or not. It seemed quite easy to ride a regional train without a ticket or pass. I also wondered if they had a pass that covered unlimited passes for a month. In my Euro Pass, I had to hand-write in the date I was using my pass. I never saw anyone else writing dates on passes. The faster trains that went 100+mph always had conductors coming through stamping tickets. These trains were a bit more expensive, and were trains ridden by more travelers than commuters. Even those trains were ridden by people who would get on one stop and get off on the next stop without having a ticket checked. I began to compare this to American metro cities that had trains and subways. We don’t allow anyone to even step on the subway without verification of purchase. Is this because Americans are more apt to play the system? Or is a reflection of how our government treats its citizens?
Is the honor system in Italy a reflection of a lazy government, a coddling government, an apathetic government? It seems to me that some of it lies in the difference in cultures. America seems to be run more like a Northern European country, with rigid systems and expected behaviors of order for citizens. However, in Italy, the systems are not rigid. They ebb and flow or remain non-existent. For example, cars on the road in America stay in their lanes. Cars in Italy don’t pay attention to lanes, if there are any lanes painted. Another example, in America, if there is a wait for service, there is a distinct line which follows a chronological order of arrival. Not so in Italy. There is no line; there is no order. There is one rule: elderly people go first, otherwise you are left to out-maneuver your neighbor to get as close to the front as possible. This is much like the system of a music show at a local bar in America. You have the stage and the floor. The mob is left to find their own place, and everyone is trying to sneak to the front.
Living in Italy was truly an adventure. Learning to navigate the transportation systems was like a fun puzzle to solve, or perhaps more like a mathematical story problem…Here’s my story, here’s my problem. Figure it out…go! Picture the Amazing Race, meets summer school, meets vacation. You can have an amazing two days anywhere you want to go in Italy, all you have to do is find out how to get there and finish your homework (cue the mission impossible theme song). Riding on the Italian transportation system for me was just as thrilling as walking through the old stone town of Anghiari. I felt like I was in a movie. It felt like I was in every Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn movie, or even like I was in “The Darjeeling Limited.” Exhilarating is the word for it. Just exhilarating.