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from the October 2009 issue

From “Sandokan”

during the summer months I help my father I work in the orchard and during these two or three months of summer I spend fifteen or twenty days at the fruit dump I drive my father's tractor to the collection centers the so called fruit dumps that the AIMA the Azienda di Stato per gli Interventi nel Mercato Agricolo the national farm support agency sets up in farming districts where there is an excess of production that might drive down prices in that case they have to destroy part of the harvest to keep prices from dropping the fruit dump is a foul smelling place baking in the July and August sun it's a parcel of land where they excavate a huge pit and next to it they install a truck scale so that vehicles can drive over it and be weighed there's a little office next to it and there's a chain link fence around the dump outside the fence there's a long line of tractors pulling trailers loaded with fruit waiting their turn to drive in be weighed and dump their loads then they're given a receipt showing the weight of the load which they submit to the AIMA which will in turn reimburse the farmers the fruit is tipped into the pit in the middle of the parcel of land until the pit is full then they dig another pit next to it until they have dumped the maximum volume of material that each fruit dump can accept because a maximum quantity is assigned to each fruit pit

the responsibility for running these fruit dumps these collection centers belongs to the growers' cooperatives because the AIMA just provides the funding after that the government turns over the work to the growers' cooperatives and oversight is ensured by the fact that in these collection centers there are always a great number of policemen and treasury agents the clan realizes that it can make a lot of money from this operation and so they infiltrate the cooperatives and even create some new ones of their own by recruiting three or four farmers who might have only the tiniest patches of land so they put together this cooperative with a general manager and a secretary and everything according to regulation and then these cooperatives submit a request to the AIMA for permission to set up a collection center where the members of the cooperative can go as well as other farmers who can be passed off as members of the cooperative or else who might dump fruit in the name of cooperative members and then the members will collect reimbursements from the AIMA with their receipts showing the amount of fruit that they dumped and which was weighed it's good money it's European money because it's underwritten by the European community it's a sure thing it's safe money

this is how the clan defrauds the fruit dump at first it uses the tractors of its member growers to dump real fruit but when the time comes to weigh the trailer filled with fruit they weigh the tractor that pulls it as well and maybe ten or twenty other people who happen to be hanging around they all climb onto the truck scale and they're usually very fat and all of this takes place without interference under the eyes of policemen and treasury agents that's how it goes at the beginning then after that's been going on for a while the clan gets tired of dumping regulation fruit or maybe they've run through all the real fruit they were able to put together with their fake cooperatives and so they start sending trailers to the fruit dump piled high with garbage of all sorts and even lumber steel iron stones all that matters is that it's something heavy and it's unloaded without a problem into these enormous pits again under the eyes of everyone policemen and treasury agents

so there you are you're fourteen or fifteen years old and you're hoping to do something nice to help out your family you go to work with your father you're working in the countryside in the summertime you watch fruit ripen peaches pears you take care of the trees and the fruit you water them you spray them you prune them you work until you're ready to drop but then it turns out you have to dump it all you have load up the trailer and take all the fruit to the dump because it can't be sold the price is too low or else because the requirements of the companies that purchase fruit in volume to can it or bottle it are too strict they want perfect apples or peaches they want fruit that looks like it was hand carved and hand painted so that it turns into an incredible chore to have to select and discard the rejects so the best thing to do is just gather up all the fruit and throw it all away in that period I was a practicing fundamentalist Catholic one hundred percent unwavering I was opposed to waste and I still am but I had different reasons for it back then I used to think it was a sin because there were people dying of hunger in the Third World and instead of transforming this stuff into fruit juices or canned fruit and giving it to the hungry we were plowing it into the ground it seemed like an atrocity

so one day you climb onto your fine powerful tractor and set off the collection centers are all at least fifteen miles from your land now fifteen miles by car takes just a few minutes but with a tractor that goes maybe ten miles an hour on a straightaway it takes a good two hours it's summer you're driving your tractor on the way you pass people heading for the beach laughing shouting with girls and brightly colored T shirts and music pounding loud and there you sit patiently driving your mud caked tractor with all the fruit in the trailer behind you it's already starting to ferment and stink and finally you arrive at the collection center in front of you is a line of tractors pulling trailers waiting their turn you take your place in line behind the last tractor you usually arrive there late in the afternoon because you've already been up working all day in the countryside work starts at four in the morning and you work until eleven thirty or noon because in the summer in an orchard you can't stand the heat any later than that so you start working at four that is you get out into the fields before the sun comes up we would go out to the fields with my mother who'd bring pizza di scarola agrodolce a sweet and sour escarole pizza the way she makes it and with a sister or two and a lot of times when we got to the orchard we'd have to wait for the sky to lighten it was still pitch dark and we'd have to sit waiting in the car for half an hour

so then when you're done working you load up the day's harvest that has to be discarded onto your tractor and you start off toward the collection center and before you've driven five miles you start to smell the horrible stench but often when you get there the fruit dump is already closed you get there you park because it's not like you go there you pull up and then you turn around and go back home no you spend the night there on your tractor amidst the stench and the next morning you're in line behind the other tractors the fruit dump opens at eight thirty let's say you're tenth in line but you can't understand why when they open the gates instead of taking the first then the second then the third in line you notice that tractors are arriving from who knows where pulling enormous trailers they roar past they jump the line without a second glance at anyone else under the eyes of the policemen and the treasury agents they pull in they dump their loads and they leave the hours pass the whole day goes by luckily the first two tractors in line have managed to get in you figure the next day you'll be able to dump the fruit but the next day fifteen more tractors come and skip the line and you wonder where the hell does all this fruit come from and two tractors then two more waiting in line manage to get in so just to get rid of your load you might have to wait three or even four or five days

the truth is that when you finally get in to unload your fruit a ton of fruit has evaporated and withered away to less than six hundred pounds because in the hot sunlight it loses all its liquid and it stews down into a disgusting mash that when you dump makes you feel ill every time I vomit ten or fifteen times so I usually skip my meal before going to that place then when you finally get a chance to unload and you've watched all these people do exactly what they want it might even happen that by accident you rest the tractor's rear wheels on the truck scale and all these people start yelling at you saying move up move up you're only supposed to weigh the trailer what the fuck are you trying to do defraud the government con the cooperative so after you've waited for five days after you've watched all those tractors pass ahead of you after watching them dump stones wood iron after watching them abuse and defraud to their hearts' content they even insult you and humiliate you and you don't even have the courage to say what the fuck are you saying and so you pull up you dump the horrible mess from your trailer and you head back to your orchard where in the meantime lots of fruit has fallen onto the ground so you have to pile up another load and take it back to the fruit dump

the worst thing is when these people who make millions with this ongoing fraud finally wind up without a single peach to take to the fruit dump since when they drive to the dump they need to have at least an outer row of fruit crates to present at least an appearance of legitimacy you know what a farm trailer looks like it's a rectangle and along the sides you need at least a row here another one here one here and one row here along the outer edge of the trailer you have to line up fruit crates that can be seen from the exterior while they go to the fruit dump even though on the inside of the trailer you might put stones iron and all the rest and so these people who have run through even those few peaches that they had come to you to buy crates of your fruit to construct this exterior row on the trailer so they can jump ahead of you in line to go to the fruit dump passing by you without a second thought while you're still sitting there in line and of course they pay a ridiculously low price for your crates of fruit

another time it even happened that after you filled up the last load of summer at the end of harvest after spending a week there in line sitting on your tractor outside of the fruit dump while waiting for them to let you dump your fruit in the hot sun surrounded by that increasingly disgusting stench and as you're waiting you watch the attendants letting in who else but the tractors that came earlier to buy crates of fruit from you to create the fake front surrounding the trailer and when finally on the eighth day they let you in with your trailer full of rotten fruit and you drive up onto the scale to weigh your load the gentlemen standing around tell you that if you want to dump the fruit you're welcome to do so but they aren't going to weigh it because the fruit dump's maximum quantity has already been reached so you won't be paid for your load because the collection centers have assigned quantities and once they've taken in three hundred and thirty tons you're free to unload as much fruit as you want but the AIMA won't pay you for it anymore

no one could object because the cooperative that had set up the fruit dump belonged to them and everyone knew who was behind them and then the treasury agents on duty didn't say anything and the policemen didn't say anything to them everything seemed to be normal because many of them in fact all of them were paid by the clan in the evenings the clan would take policemen and treasury agents out to dinner at a restaurant and then there was the panel of experts I was forgetting this detail every collection center that a cooperative set up was examined by a panel of experts from the AIMA they were inspectors who checked to make sure that everything was being done in accordance with regulations and those gentlemen were likewise taken out to dinner every evening and they wanted to be paid immediately they wanted their cut of the day's take so if that day for example thirty-five tons of material had been weighed and twenty-eight tons of that was fraudulent then the AIMA inspectors were due twenty percent of the reimbursement due for the twenty-eight tons and they would be paid this money that same evening not later when the money was finally paid out

the same thing was true for the treasury agents and the policemen among them some were more corrupt than others because they not only took kickbacks from the clan and all the other benefits but they would even come and find you at night when you had left your tractor and trailer parked outside the fruit dump and they would come and ask for a little contribution for them as well a hundred bucks maybe so that you would have no reason to worry one of them once said to my father I'll never forget it he said the following words I have a right to make a living too in this fruit dump all the offerings are for Saint Joseph and nothing for the Virgin Mary which meant that he was complaining that everyone was getting a piece of the pie but him that is the bribes were all going to the inspectors from the commission but all they got were crumbs so they were demanding money for themselves from the farmers like us and everyone else who just wanted to unload the fruit they were required to dump that they had to dump somewhere anyway

since the fruit dump was the repository for all the different kinds of fruit and vegetables that the government paid you to discard as a way of supporting prices you ran the risk during a single summer of spending as much as two months parked outside the collection center because for example you would start with peaches which just ten days after you started harvesting them already had dropped sharply in price so you already had to start dumping peaches just twenty days after that another variety of peach started ripening and those peaches met with the same fate then there were the vegetables of various kinds like cauliflower eggplant and you had to take those to the fruit dump too and then by the time you got to October when the apples started coming in not the regular apples but a different type of apple tiny and roundish which we call a nurca it's a variety of apple found only in our region and the same thing would happen after the nurca harvest began so you'd spend the whole summer vomiting around those stinking dumps it turned your stomach

they made money and lots and lots of it that time when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded that time it was early in the year and in that period there were various crops that were pretty profitable asparagus and strawberries which have reasonably high prices and the clan understood that this was the moment to make a killing because in Italy all those products were being discarded everybody was carting all their asparagus and strawberries to the fruit dump because they had been found to be radioactive while in France for example they didn't throw them away so down here in our region that year the clan reported that tons and tons of strawberries asparagus and other vegetables had been dumped at the collection centers that later when the AIMA realized that something didn't add up the agency launched an investigation and found that to grow as much produce as had been recorded at the fruit dump would have taken a land area three times the size of the entire region of Campania so you can just guess how many millions and millions they pocketed in that operation

the frauds that the clan ran at the fruit dump were only a small portion of the clan's many activities after the massacre the clan made alliances with the other local clans that decided to break with Cutolo who was widely seen as as a loser meanwhile the fight to the finish the war of extermination continued against the Cutolo clan a war that could only end when the last of the made men and the last sympathizer with that now clearly defeated clan were eliminated it could end only with their deaths which might be inflicted in any of a number of ways they were hunted down and murdered everywhere with rifles pistols all sorts of weapons but it wasn't uncommon for them to be caught and strangled dissolved in acid and tossed into a dump or maybe even a fruit dump also as the clans took advantage of the contracts for public works that they were beginning to win by corrupting anyone who seemed approachable and throwing a scare into anyone who could be intimidated so taking advantage of these contracts and the river of cement that started to pour like water they used the cement as a convenient burial ground their enemies wound up in giant blocks of cement and there's a joke that someday a major earthquake will come like the one that hit Perugia and Assisi and the superhighway that runs through our region will collapse and the cement will give up more dead than the day of the last judgment

From Sandokan, forthcoming in November from Melville House Publishing. Copyright 2009 by Melville House Publishing. By arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

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