Based in Taranto, southern Italy, as freelance and independent photographer. I'm interested in exploring the human behavior, relationship between groups and individuals, focused on social, humanitarian and geopolitical issues. Available for...
– Father Nicola Preziuso (71). Father Nicola Preziuso is a pastor in the Tamburi district and has also been spiritually following for 40 years the workers of the former Ilva company, inside the factory. “I am not a chaplain, anyway. It is a service that I give for free together with my congregation: that of the Josephites of Murialdo, whose mission is precisely about the vocation to work”. About how the district lived the contagion, he says: “I had to fight to overcome clericalism because many said that it was God who sent the Coronavirus. I constantly remembered that the Lord gave us two lungs: one is faith; the other is the reason. People must use both”. For two months, in the house next to the parsonage, the Josephites hosted in self-isolation three nurses who worked in the COVID hub of Taranto and were afraid of going back home and infect their families.
– Adriano Di Giorgio (46) In 2005 he took over the Orfeo Theatre, the oldest in the city; it opened in 1915 and never closed, not even during the two world wars. He has just finished investing 850 thousand euros, partly subsidized by the Region, to refurbish the stalls area and the galleries. Altogether 750 seats. Since the closure on March, three permanent employees and hundreds of people who revolve around the sector have remained at home: from the external service to grips, electricians, porters, seamstresses, hostesses, companies that do the cleaning, security.
– Erika Grillo (31); Walter Pulpito (46). Erika is a contemporary theatre actress. She had to suspend the theatre workshops where she taught students from 6 to 80 years old, say goodbye to the replicas of a show and also to the operational phase of some calls for application that she won. The 600 euros she received in March, allowance for show business workers, have arrived. The moment is challenging especially for the human interaction that in theatre has a central role and which, in her opinion, cannot be ignored. Since 1998, Walter has worked for 17 years with an Ilva contractor company. Taking advantage of the cultural turmoil that started in 2013, with the Primo Maggio Maggio Taranto and the cinematographic and theatrical productions that became aware of the city potential, he chose to live on art. Now he works as a musician – playing bass and double bass, loved since childhood – and in cinema and theatre – being the property master or
– Francesco Buzzerio (34); Luca D’andria (29); Aldo Borracino (40). Mimmo Gemmano (47). In 2019 they inaugurated a concert hall in an old shed, a deposit for rubble and abandonment. Today in those three hundred square meters, in the Porta Napoli area of the old city of Taranto, there is Mercato Nuovo. Or maybe there was: the Covid19 emergency is straining the ambitions and desires of Mimmo, Aldo, Francesco and Luca. The economic induction generated by the concerts also involved other activities and professionals in the city: restaurants, pizzerias and the B&Bs where the artists and their entourage would stay.
– Ilaria Manigrasso (31). Ilaria is an aerial dance artist who works in a circus and is stuck in Taranto since March. She works in a circus. She does not have a fixed contract, and her work is week paid. She earns the rest by teaching her discipline in private, which at the moment she had to stop. To train, she mounted her tripod in the garden of her parent’s seaside villa, at the moment uninhabited, where she found temporary hospitality. She still doesn’t know if and when she will be able to start working again.
– Fabio Chiochia (32). Fabio has been a barber since he was 12 years old. At 24 he opened a small salon of his own, in which two receptionists and a colleague coiffeur work. Among them, there is also his partner, currently on maternity leave. The INPS (National Institute for Social Security) pays her the contributions, but paradoxically Chiochia cannot pay her the salary he owes her. To bear the additional costs of reopening safely, he made a 30% charge on rates to customers, whose daily number is halved.
– Giovanni Cianciaruso (48). In 2017 he launched a start-up with the Apecar Calessino, the characteristic Italian three wheels’ vehicle. He drives tourists around the old city of Taranto. In 2019 he managed to promote more than one thousand tours. Now he is forced to keep his three little vehicles in his garage. Before Covid19 stopped every activity, his association had turned into a company, and Cianciaruso was about to hire the first three part-time drivers, people who are now home without work.
– Marco Tomasicchio (43); Cataldo Ranieri (50) Cataldo – also know as Aldo – and Marco are two former employees of the iron and steel industry of Taranto and two of the founders of the “Comitato Cittadini e Lavoratori Liberi e Pensanti” (Free and Thinking Citizens and Workers Committee). When, among friends and colleagues, they supported the idea of the industrial reconversion of the territory and the closure of the factory and the pollution sources, they were often asked the question “where are we going to eat, then? At your house?” The two friends, now also partners, have therefore decided to “reconvert” their lives by taking advantage of the voluntary exodus incentive set up by Ilva and investing part of that money in the restaurant business. “A casa vostra” (at your place) is their response to those who believed in no other option than to prefer work (in the factory) over health.
– Ernesto Voccoli (34). After years of renovation, in 2019 he inaugurated a B&B in the Old Town. A crossroads of stories that were beginning to yield fruit. If it were to reopen, until June 3 it could host only Apulians, and other tourists only after that date. He fears that they will not be enough to cover the costs of sanitation and adaptation to the rules implemented to contain the virus. “Better to remain closed until it’s all over”, he says.
– Marco (36) e Annalisa (36) Marco, after many years travelling around Italy as a chef, has saved enough money to realize the dream of starting a business on his own and open a sandwich shop, inaugurated in July 2011 with his girlfriend, Annalisa. “Boe”, their small Simpson-inspired venue, soon became a landmark among the teenagers of San Giorgio Jonico, a town 13 km from Taranto. “We put our lives on standby”, Annalisa confesses, “we postponed trips and our wedding for years, to give precedence to our small business. And what protections do we have now?”. Guidelines to ensure social distancing halve the seating and Annalisa and Marco wonder if it is worth reopening.
– Tecla Caforio (36). Tecla used to work as a saleswoman for a multinational clothing company, had an excellent part-time contract and hoped for a permanent one. Because of Covid19, Since May 1, which ironically is the Labour Day, she no longer has the job. The company put all six hired workers into layoffs, not confirming all expiring contracts. Tecla began working in the shop shortly after giving birth, leaving her two sons at home, four months old and three years old. A sacrifice that has not been repaid.
– Federica Cardellicchio (33). For ten years she has been a restorer in Italy and abroad and then she followed the passion she has cultivated since her childhood: the preparation of desserts in pastry shops. Federica recounts the difficulties, amplified by the pandemic, due to part-time contracts that in reality are something else: “you work even 14 hours a day, and they pay you with advance payments, never the full amount.” At the moment she is in layoffs without having received a euro; her contract is about to expire and will certainly not be renewed. “I’ll have to look for something else, but in my opinion, I won’t find anything before the end of the year. Who dares to hire anyone right now?”.
– Cataldo Solfrizzi Cataldo has 17 brothers. Since childhood, he and them like have known only work at sea, a resource on which now Taranto has returned to focus. “In these months, with the fish market and restaurants closed, even having the authorization to go out two times a week with our boats, to whom would we sell 70-80 kg of fish a day? Then the layoff took over, which however has not yet arrived and we will not even be able to pay the bills. I had vouchers only for a month – small stuff. If we do not recover, I will have to go and ask for money on loan and hope they will give it to me”.
– San Cataldo The patronal celebrations at the time of Covid19 changed, too. On May 10 Taranto remembered his saint, San Cataldo. The archbishop of the Ionian diocese, Msgr. Filippo Santoro, held short celebrations behind closed doors, with local authorities and a symbolic procession at sea. The images were aired in streaming, to allow the participation of the faithful.
TARANTO, BEYOND ITALIAN STEEL.
Portrait of an Italian city struggling to go beyond its industrial vocation
13 stories about the lockdown in a suburb symbol of the Italian contradictions
Taranto is the emblem of many Italian cities that are paying the high price of the lockdown restrictions. The industrial monoculture of this suburb, deriving from the presence of large industrial facilities such as the former Ilva (a steel factory), a military Navy Yard and a refinery, is slowly giving way to investments in the fields of maritime culture, art, tourism, food and wine, commerce and green economy. The abrupt slowdown, due to the forced quarantine we had to go through, has blocked this virtuous process of transformation. As of May 20th, according to the data provided by the latest reports of the Local Health Authority (ASL), the city of Taranto and its province account for 276 active cases of Covid19. The contagion and mortality rate are relatively low compared to both the Apulian and national average. The positivity rate reaches 4.8 per 10,000 people in Taranto, 10.9 in Apulia and 37.7 in Italy. The death rate reaches 0.5 per 10,000 inhabitants in Taranto, 1.2 in Apulia and 5.3 in Italy. Thus Taranto, like many other Italian cities, has only slightly been touched by the virus, but risks paying bitter economic consequences for years, although state and regional aid is on the way and the municipal budget for the next year will be almost exclusively dedicated to saving the city from the damages the virus caused.
Walter is the striking example of the change of pace the Apulian city is experiencing. Since 1998, he has worked for a company depending upon Ilva, Taranto's siderurgic giant, with a revenue of 1600 euros per month. "In there, social codes and rules are not the same. Once you go through the turnstile, you have to survive, you change, you get ugly", he says. Then, the jump into the dark. Taking advantage of the cultural ferment that started in 2013 with the celebrations of the 1st of May in Taranto and with artistic productions showing the potential of the city, Walter has chosen to live on music, playing bass guitar and double bass, as well as on cinema and theatre. "On the 11th March, I was supposed to start working as a toolmaker for the shooting of a film in Taranto. A thousand euros for a week's work. And then there were music tours organized by the groups I play with and various artistic projects I was planning alone. Everything blew up". The same goes for Erika, his partner, who works as a contemporary theatre actress. "Some colleagues are trying to adapt their work to the new circumstances, for example using streaming; others, like me, are waiting. We have already received a 600 euros remuneration, coming from the public assistance program the Italian governement has allocated for people working in the field of Arts and Entertainment. It is a tough moment, considering that theatre almost exclusively leans on human interaction. I'm trying to keep in contact via social platforms, via email or through long voice messages with some of the trainees attending the various workshops. I am confident about the solution of open-air theatres". "So far”, explains Adriano Di Giorgio, who took over the Fusco theatre, the oldest in the city, in 2005, “we have lost almost 150.000 euros, that we were supposed to cash with the scheduled shows. Then, we have to add to this amount the one coming from the rent of the theatre for musical and artistic initiatives, for matinees organized by schools, and for festivals, exhibitions and ballet recitals organized by dance academies. May and June are usually full of these events. A separate chapter has to be dedicated to the cinema. In order to survive, we need money, non-repayable cash to compensate the lack of income and assistance in the cinematographic sector for what we'll never broadcast, given that the majors cinematographic industries are now promoting their films on streaming and for a long time nothing new will be produced due to the norms of social distancing". The emergency is also defying the ambitions and desires of Mimmo, Aldo, Francesco and Luca, who invested their money in the first concert hall of the city: a 300m2 area that up to two years ago was completely abandoned, but which was about to open to craft shops, coworking and a movie port. "We thought this part of the city had a strong potential”, they explain, “and we worked very hard, helped by many friends, to redevelop it. On 30th November 2019 we inaugurated the project and the first concert was supposed to take place on the 7th of March 2020". But, in that precise moment, Mercato Nuovo closed its doors and left unemployed many people, such as the sound engineer, who earned about 1000 euros per month from his activity, and the bartender, a university student. And then, as we all know, "behind every concert there's the work of many other people: the drivers who accompany the artists, the b&b where they stay, the restaurants for their meals. For lunches and dinners we collaborated with restaurants and caterings in the the Tamburi neighbourhood, very close to the Mercato Nuovo and sadly known for hosting the industrial plants of former Ilva. For the overnight stay we turned to the receptive activities of the Old Town. This was our way of proposing a source of revenue different from the one related to the big steel factory". Ernesto, a b&b owner, shared his story, too. "At present, it's probable we won't reopen until all this is over; we don't even know which will be our responsibilities. I inaugurated 'Le finestre sul mare' on 31st March, 2019. It took me many years of makeover and now we have 14 beds, 6 rooms and a breakfast room. Since I started the business, the total profit has attained around 20.000 euros. We usually host many clients thanks to our strategic geographical position, between Salento (Southern Apulia) and Matera (Basilicata), and thanks to the events that have been taking place in Taranto for a few years. The concert celebrating the 1st of May and Medimex are among them, as well as national and international water sports competitions. I worked a lot in the off-season, too, from November to February. People from all over the world have stayed here". As for the city tours, The “Ape Calessino” (typical Italian three-wheeled cars) have been taking tourists around the Old Town for some years now. "We started the business in the spring of 2017 as a startup. At the beginning, we organized from 200 to 300 tours at most”, says Giovanni. “Last year, we got to 1000 tours, so I had to open a VAT number, I obtained the NCC licenses and I inaugurated my own private company. Before the Covid19 turmoil, I was about to hire the first three part-time drivers, people who are now at home, waiting to be called". The biggest fear for Giovanni is to lose all what he has built so far. "Our advertising is our presence in the territory. If tourists, considering that 60% of them are foreigners, see us around, they come to know the service and can then take advantage of it. If we remain closed, we'll have to start again from scratch".
Aldo and Marco are two former employees of the Taranto steel industrial plant and two among the founders of the “Comitato Cittadini e Lavoratori Liberi e Pensanti” (a committee of citizens spreading awareness about the dangers of the Taranto steel industry as it doesn't respect the security and pollution measures imposed by national standards). They got to be known for supporting the closing of the factory and for their preference for a green conversion of the plant; however, people frequently asked them the following question: “Where are we going to eat if the factory closes? At your home?". Inspired by this assertion, that has now become very common in Taranto, they quit the factory using the voluntary exodus incentive coming from the transition of the industrial property from Ilva to Arcelor Mittal, and converted their activism in a gastronomic activity renaming it “A casa vostra”, precisely meaning “At your home”.
This is their answer to the question of those who believed in no other option but the industrial employment, that privileges work over health. However, they explain that "due to the stop of the activities in March, and due to the measures of social distancing, the inauguration of our business is suspended for the time being”. They live in the wait, like Marco and Annalisa, who had expanded their business just two months before the lockdown, building a steakhouse adjacent to their sandwich shop. Annalisa explains: "We foresaw that it would take 10 years to make up for the money we have invested. Now we don't even know if we're gonna amortize them at all. Social distancing further complicates things: in our new steakhouse, we had to reduce seats from 75 to 35, and in our sandwich shop from 80 to 20. How can we earn money to survive in these conditions? Our revenue will be cut, but the economic burden of our charges and fees will be the same. And then we'll have to buy gloves, masks and hand sanitizer to put them at our clients' disposal. Then, we'll have to continue paying our employees, too. And Marco adds: "I have calculated that during this 3-month lockdown, we have lost approximately 65.000 euros. Obviously that's not our net income. Of the 2018 turnover, only 10% accounts for our revenue. The rest is used to pay taxes and for the purchase of raw materials. Then, as we had to close without notice, we threw away more or less 1500 euros-worth raw material".
Fabio, to meet the costs of reopening his small barbershop, had to raise the prices of the services offered. "I have calculated about 5 euros more per customer. This means that a haircut now costs 7 euros more". Reopening came with a lot of expenditures: sanitizing the shop, purchasing individual protection devices such as surgical masks for customers, visors for employees, plexiglas panels to split the workstations, disposable capes, sanitizing wipes and gel". And these expenses will continue to grow "if the price of a pack of gloves, considering that gloves are mandatory for workers in hair salons, rises from 4 to 12 euros". And then there is the issue of insecure employments. “There are many people in Southern Italy who don't have permanent job contracts. I have worked as a restorer for ten years, both in Italy and abroad, but then I gave it up to follow my passion for baking" Federica tells us. "I have been working as a full-time baker since October 2018. The pastry field already suffered from many problems, like exploitation and low-paid wages, before this moment of crisis; Covid19 simply boosted this trend”. Then, she continues: “I'm talking about my personal experience and the one of some friends of mine. They hire you on the basis of a part-time contract, but then you work 14 hours a day without rest. They never pay you in time and they never give you the full amount of money. At the moment, my employers are making use of a temporary lay-off scheme to pay their staff, but my contract is about to expire; so, it's me or my colleagues; they can't keep us all. I'll have to look for another job, but I don't think I'm gonna find it before the end of this year. Who dares to hire you right now?". The very same fate awaits Tecla, who was working in a fashion store inside a shopping mall. "I'll be honest, with my back broken and my breasts swollen with milk, watching a customer demolishing a bunch of newly-folded shirts has very often pissed me off. When they offered me that job as a saleswoman, I had just delivered but I accepted immediately. I worked as hard as I could; it was exhausting, but it was a multinational company, and they offered me an excellent contract. I was hoping this could become a permanent job". Instead, the coronavirus arrived. And the company had to lay off six of its employees. “They couldn't have renewed my contract even if they had wanted to, because it would have meant giving up state support for the other colleagues, whose contract was not expiring like mine". In the meantime, his partner Gabriele, a door-to-door nurse, decided to go back to work in the hospital, and was ironically sent to the ICU of the Covid hub in Taranto. He did it out of passion and, perhaps, to compensate for the fact that his family had lost one of its income sources. "He's happy, it's the job he loves”, Tecla says, “and he's very careful; he knows he works in an unsafe environment and it's for this reason that he takes his shower at work and then sanitizes everything he touches before leaving the hospital; however, it's useless to say there's always a risk when he comes back home to me and the children”.
Will state aid, provided under the form of direct subsidies, guarantees and subsidised interest rates on loans, as the last decree states, help Taranto? Will it help this town, emblem of many Italian cities where the economic collapse risks being more lethal than the virus? It is too early to give an answer. The fear is that only big industrial groups will end up taking advantage of the subsidies, leaving behind those who, rather than spending vouchers or emergency incomes, need to return to believe in their projects and invest in the future of the city.
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Following the stop of production and social activities to prevent contagion from Covid19, the planet lives the same circumstances that a city in southern Italy, Taranto, has been experiencing for years. The paradox lies in the choice between health and work, between life and the need to produce. The inhabitants of Taranto understood it in 2012 when Judge Patrizia Todisco spoke for the first time of “environmental disaster” referring to the former Ilva. The iron and steel company once and a half the size of the city has never stopped producing despite the legal blockings. Taranto is trying to emancipate itself from the industrial economy that has conditioned it in the last century. The city is now focusing on tourism, culture, food, wine production and trade. Thus, the Covid19 emergency amplifies the critical issues of a labour market that in Italy lives on the precariousness of fixed-term contracts and generates new poverty. These are the stories of a concert hall owners in the neighbourhood of Porta Napoli, an area of the city that once was the centre of fishing-related activities. The Adriano’s eyes, owner of the oldest theatre in town; those of Father Nicola, parish priest for 40 years in the Tamburi district, the neighbourhood closest to the iron and steel factory and the most compromised by industrial poisons. The voice of those who bet on the old city, marked by abandonment: Cataldo and his fishermen colleagues; Ernesto, owner of a B&B; Fabio, who runs a barbershop; Giovanni, with his touristic tours in Apecar Calessino, the characteristic Italian three wheels’ vehicle. Then there is Tecla, a shop assistant in a clothing store who has recently been fired; her partner works in the city’s COVID hospital. The life of Erika, an actress, and Walter, a film property master and a musician. They had been working for many years in the steel industry. There is also the story of Federica: she was a restorer who is now a baker and was sent home because of Covid19. That of Ilaria, a circus performer, now without money or either government assistance. Finally, the eyes of Annalisa and Marco, owners of a barbecue restaurant that they just opened and it is now at risk of closure. There is then the take-away restaurant of two ex-Ilva workers, their redemption from the factory life, that has not been inaugurated yet. Even San Cataldo, the patron saint of Taranto, was unable to bless his community neither with the traditional religious consolation nor with the vital tourist and commercial appeal that the historic procession at sea used to determine.