All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Environmental crimes in a car-free city

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 ’Are you going to tell me the real reason why you don’t want to go?’ ‘We shouldn’t be doing things like that’, Vianello finally said. ‘Like what?’ ‘Look at those distances’, Vianello said. ‘Just to go and lie in the sand and look at the sea, I mean.  If you’re a neurosurgeon and you have to go somewhere to save a life, then get on a plane and fly.  But not to lie on a beach.  It’s not right.’  ‘Right in an ecological sense?’ asked Brunetti, unable to resist the impulse to take a poke at Vianello’s growing enthusiasm.  Eventually Vianello said, ‘Yes.’

An everday street in Venice, if there is such a thing...

An everyday street in Venice, if there is such a thing…

Inspector Vianello is torn between a possible holiday in the Seychelles, which his wife wants, and his wish for a simpler vacation.  Especially now that he is a member of Greenpeace, policeman or not.

This is a sample of the simple pleasures in Donna Leon’s series of police procedurals with Inspector Brunetti (from The Golden Egg, 2013, in this case).  The stories are fun, well crafted, and Brunetti defies some stereotypes of the genre: he is happily married with children, never had affairs, and enjoys his Prosecco and Grappa without turning into a cynical alcoholic.

I point out this series because it is intelligent, and often includes a few environmental asides.  Brunetti is genuinely  puzzled by all this environmental fuss, and is a good foil for his colleague Vianello or his daughter Chiara, so that the comments are never overly didactic (but remain effective). 

For instance, his colleague Vianello now refuses to eat vongole pasta, since the clams that come from the Venitian lagoon are toxic, and food inspectors corrupt, adding in way of explanation that this is why he joined Greenpeace (A Sea of Troubles, 2001).  His daughter Chiara disapproves of his buying flowers, because of the environmental footprint of shipping them from Africa (Blood From A Stone, 2005).  Brunetti second-guesses what he should do at times: “As he went down the stairs, Brunetti was conscious of the dim view Chiara would take of his crossing the entire city in a police boat when he could just as easily used public transportation” (The Golden Egg, 2013).

These are everyday foibles that everyone who is environmentally conscious in the least recognizes with a smile.  But some of the plots focus directly on environmental crimes: in Death in a Strange Country(1993), two American doctors working at the Vicence US base are killed because of their discovery of illegal dumping of toxic waste. The waste, from another US base in Germany, had nowhere to go since the German government had tightened environmental controls, opening a lucrative opportunity for organised crime in Italy. About Face (2009) also revolves around illegal hazardous waste dumping (a problem all too real in Italy).

So the books are a joy to read if you’re environmentalist: environmental concerns are depicted intelligently, and (in some cases) polluters are apprehended.

But the main pleaseure comes from the setting: Brunetti works in car-free Venice. The reader is treated to descriptions of the beauty and art of the city, sure – but also to the day-to-day reality of what is for most of us an alternate universe, a true car-free environment.  Brunetti is actually comical is his failure to understand car culture – colleagues from Rome who brag about their new cars might as well be speaking Greek to him – and the Brunetti family is truly puzzled by how people can enjoy themselves in the polluted, noisy, dangerous environment of traffic-dominated mainland Italy.

It’s sheer pleasure to follow Brunetti as he walks through the streets and lanes, over canals, stops for an espresso or a glass of prosecco with antipasti, chats with the locals. But it leaves you wishing for a car-free city.    


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