sirisa clark

the things I do and the words I choose


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Blog Action Day: The Cultural Environment

Today is Blog Action Day – a day for bloggers across the world to write on a common theme, and share their thoughts and their readers. I was introduced to the concept by my friend and fellow writer Yen.

As this year’s theme is the Power of We, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a post I’ve been meaning to write since I was in Italy, in the hope that I can harness the Power of Blog Action Day to promote a worthwhile cause.

In a quiet corner of southern Italy, 8,000 olive trees are marked for destruction.

Why? Well, somebody thought it would be a good idea to expand the existing highway from two lanes to four. The words ‘hyperspace bypass’ spring to mind, but may not mean much to people who aren’t nuts about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anyway, I’ve been up and down this highway several times, and the last thing it needs is an additional two lanes.

Leila and her friends are engaged in a grass roots campaign to save the olive trees and halt expansion of the highway (or should I say, tree roots campaign! No, no I shouldn’t. Shut up, silly pun Siri). They’ve been working locally to raise awareness of the campaign, and to gather a thousand signatures on their petition. They have also launched the petition online with Avaaz to reach a wider audience, check it out (if you don’t read Italian, try opening it in Chrome and it will offer you a translation).

You all know that I think trees are kind of a big deal, so I won’t go off on one again about how no trees = asphyxiation and death.

But a funny thing struck me as I was reading through the petition. The petition makes reference to ancient Greco-Roman and Christian relics that will be destroyed in the process, such as the crypt of San Basilio. Google Translate makes a bit of a hash of this – or perhaps it’s a poetic interpretation?

“the dissipation and destruction of priceless and countless stories of the greek-Roman and Christian civilization and the work of our age-old civilization”

I was immediately reminded of an article I read recently on George Monbiot’s blog: Ash tree threat reminds us that when we lose wildlife, we lose stories.

The Ash tree has an incredibly important role in Norse mythology, but the Olive tree plays a major role in Mediterranean life and consequently, in Greek and Roman myths. It is said that Athena brought the olive to Greece, by casting her spear into the ground, which sprang to life as an olive tree.

The olive tree also crops up in the Bible and the Quran, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Obviously this is a very different situation from the possibility of the Ash tree dying out completely. But my point is that this kind of destruction wears away at more than just the environment – it also erodes our cultural heritage.

Local officials in Salento say that the new 4-lane highway will bring tourists to the region. But what do they think tourists are coming to see?