Still, the Neapolitans, mostly struggling without much money or any earth, manage to garden. For the less lucky, it’s a couple of potted plants that have to share a balcony with the drying sheets. For the slightly luckier, the balcony might begin to resemble a terrace.
Riot on the balcony
And for the luckier still, a rooftop on which to grow some colorful stuff in pots.
Rooftop high above the vespas
As far as I’ve observed, nobody wastes a speck of sunshine in Naples. It’s a dark city, with streets that are provably too narrow to support the two-way traffic plus parking plus pedestrians that they support. But if you have any light at all, you grow something. And this will to grow was profoundly moving, mainly because life in those breezeless alleys strikes me as rather tough. Hot, noisy, dirty, and poor.
Still, opera wafts up out of the alley apartments, and every balcony has a collection of plants. It’s this proud insistence on beauty in the midst of many unbeautiful things that gives Naples its romance.
Naples made me recognize something about my own impulse to garden: a pot of bougainvillea on a balcony or 50 lilies in a flower-bed, they’re both about exerting some control in an anarchic world. Garden in any way at all, you’ve given yourself at least one view that forces the world to come up to your standards.
So much is out of our control: disappearing species, the overtaxing of water resources, incessant truck noise, sprawling development based on the insane assumption of limitless cheap energy that threatens to mar every beautiful landscape all over the planet. Global warming, a problem that required really serious political leadership in Washington some 20 years ago–and is still lacking it. We can all buy Priuses, but that is a drop in the bucket when our craven political leaders still allow the smutty burning of coal for half our electricity. So what can the ordinary, powerless person do?
Raise a ruckus where possible. And otherwise garden. He or she can make a stand, can say to everybody who rapes the earth for profit and to the political powers that allow it to happen, "You can screw up the universe, but in my backyard, or on my balcony, or on my rooftop, there will be nature and there will be beauty."
Gardening may only give us the illusion of control, but such are the threads that human happiness hangs by.