We are tourists for just a couple of weeks in Puglia, Italy.
I cannot pretend that I fully understand the complicated nature of Italian politics anymore than an Italian understands politics in the United States. I get a puzzled look, especially if I try to explain Trump or politics in Chicago.
Puglia is a revelation to me.
So much understated beauty – that is except for when it comes to the Adriatic coastline. It can hardly be described as understated.
It is high drama.
We were talking to Vito, the hotel manager where we are staying through this week. I was reminded of our first trip to Italy in the early 90s.
Back then we were traveling through the north. Italy was in the middle of a battle with the Mafia.
It was actual armed warfare.
We would drive through a small Tuscan town and in the town center would be a make-shift memorial to the local officials and everyday citizens that had just been recently murdered by the Mob.
There would be multiple, maybe dozens, of crosses in the piazza.
Vito tells us that is no longer the state of affairs. “The Mob and the state are now one,” he says. The ‘Ndrangheta (the current name for the Mafia) has gone straight, with tentacles into the parties of the right that recently won national elections: The Five Star Movement, the Northern League and the party of former prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia.
These political parties are known as euroskeptics, combining a little of Brexit, anti-immigrant hyper-nationalism along with ties to the oligarchs in Putin’s Russia.
Berlusconi and Putin have been buddies for years.
Like Trump and Putin.
There was a protest in Otronto when we were there. Local environmentalists gathered to oppose the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
The TAP would bring natural gas across the Adriatic Sea from Greece and Azerbaijan.
The TAP, supported by the EU, is not welcome in Puglia.
In Italy the TAP will require construction of a gas terminal in the countryside near the Apulian town of Melendugno.
The terminal site boasts some century-old olive trees which are to be removed and transferred to an alternative location.
The ancient olive trees may not survive the move.
I can tell you that Puglians are rightfully proud of their local olives and local extra virgin olive oil. It tastes like olive oil from nowhere else.
Local officials including the governor of the region of Apulia support the environmentalists’ opinion that the pipeline might cause more harm than good and could be an opportunity for local ‘Ndrangheta who would control the construction work on the Italian side of the pipeline.
When I hear about the TAP I am reminded of the fight against the Keystone pipeline and Standing Rock.
When I hear about the merger of the mob and the government, I think about Trump.
It seems familiar.
But I am just a tourist here for a couple of weeks. I make no claims that I understand all this.