Abundance and Abandonment in Ventimiglia
by André Gayot
Ventimiglia, a dismal Italy-France border little town, rarely makes it to the front page of the newspapers. Still, this Italian destination attracts huge crowds each Friday to its colorful seaside market, crumbling under a mont of charcuterie on top of which reigns the tasty San Daniele ham, above salamis, cheeses, pastas of all description, fruits, vegetables, garments, hand bags and shoes.
Between the stalls, scores of African peddlers wave fake merchandise — such as Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton bags, Gucci accessories and other counterfeit luxury apparel — for browsers to scrutinize closely. All products, formerly from the underground contraband industry of Naples, are now more likely smuggled from China because Mafia-run manpower is probably too expensive. Although the police do not seem too preoccupied by this subterranean activity, the ”mbana-banas” (peddlers in Wolof, a Senegalese dialect) keep their eyes open and their legs ready to make a quick escape with their precious cargo of cheap goods. The strollers, clients, merchants and merchants-to-be share the stage in a mercantile but peaceful exchange that offers some sort of satisfaction to the players, even if it does not meet all their expectations. Could we say that’s just life as usual?
A couple streets into the city, a totally different scene is exposed: that of a contemporary tragedy. Life here is on standby, at a full stop. Migrants from Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan and other troubled countries came here to escape wars, misery, violence, hatred, barbarity and massacres, survived an horrible odyssey in the claws of ferocious smugglers who are making a very profitable extortion business with no remorse to let them drown in the Mediterranean Sea. The survivors, who made it to Ventimiglia, are stuck at the border, fed by the Red Cross, humanitarian organizations, local social services or compassionate do-gooders. They sleep on the pavement of the streets, the railway station’s floor or the rocks of the beaches.
France and the rest of the European Union do not want them. Italy cannot keep them, and they can not return back to where they belong. They are unwanted. They have nowhere to go. They have no home, little money if any, and no job or prospects on the horizon. Still, many of them think, in their distress, that their current situation is preferable to the previous one they experienced when death loomed over their heads and suffering was their daily lot. Hope keeps them alive. Millions of human beings share this dream.
What about us? Are we indifferent? Armored in our egoism? Or just stating our total impotency when confronted with an impending, uncontrollable planet-wide crisis?
The images of Ventimiglia remain in my head as I return to the riches of the Côte d’Azur and beyond. I also brought some pictures too for your meditation. They are more eloquent than words.