Plastics make it possible.
My art. My camera, the plastic film reel, the chemical coated plastic film, the cancer creating chemicals I use in the darkroom, the CD I have my photos burned to for upload onto internet from a plastic computer, the notebook I write in with plastic pen on recycled paper with plastic coated cover, tape I have put over it to keep it from falling apart. The handle of my paintbrush. The container of my watercolors. My digitized documented art files. A premature baby’s heart monitor. My refrigerator. My grandmother’s heart. The heater for my home. My cell phone, my iPod, my toilet, my shower. The sticky back of my pantyliner. The wrapping on my tampon. The packaging of my medicine. The cap on the bottles of essential oil I occasionally use for deodorant.
The 1000 to one ratio of plastic pieces to plankton floating in the ocean. Women who cannot have a successful pregnancy, but continually miscarry. Countless diseases striking those in Honolulu. A plastic island floating in the Pacific twice the size of Texas, 8 times larger than Italy.
Last night I answered my phone in the middle of my meditation, my sea soaking my rain pouring singing crying sobbing into the sea. It started pouring even harder and I decided I had to leave, let alone get off the telephone which was getting soaked. I shook off my notebook with its tape-covered edges, put there to protect it from damage, and my favorite pen I’d clipped to it flew into the sea. I lit up the flashlight on my cell phone and tried to search for it in the pouring rain, on slime covered craters, to no avail. I littered in the sea without even trying. Simply because my materials are harmful and I am occasionally not all of mind.
Today for the first time I set out to clean up the sea, alone. In telling a friend about it I got teary eyed again… thinking of the night before and my plastic mascara covered tears falling into the sea. I only had one plastic bag as I have used the rest for garbage bags, and don’t go shopping often, but it was a very large grocery bag and I knew I would find more on the way.
I stopped at the closest place on my way back across the island, the beach, near the fountain with fresh spring water and ducks and rats floating in it. I thought I was going to have to hop a fence, as the seaside was busted up exposing pipelines running under the sand and sidewalk, but I found a hole cut into it by locals who want to swim in their own shit and trash and the oil of the boats in the bay. At first I thought wow it’s not so bad here, as I picked up countless cigarette packages and the Styrofoam containers fishermen use for bait. I was nearly blinded, had an eye only for the garbage until my gloved finger squished into something smelly. I noticed another creepy man watching me from the fence. I gave him a ‘What the hell are you looking at?’ look and continued my work. After a few minutes I noticed he was still casually leaning against the fence just staring at me. I yelled in Italian ‘Are you going to help me or watch?’ and he came to help. I handed him a glove, the plastic ones they offer customers at the grocery store for picking up their vegetables to place in plastic bags, tie up and then place in plastic grocery bags (ridiculous) and we talked a bit while I picked up trash and he stood there, occasionally picking up a plastic bottle and placing it in my bag. He said ‘You’re not Italian are you? Because the Italians would never do this.’ He was Tunisian and had come here for work. I told him in Italian about the plastic island. He couldn’t imagine it. I don’t blame him, as I can't really either. I can’t imagine something the size of Ortigia made of plastic, let alone Sicilia, let alone Italy… let alone eight times that big.
We finished at the beach, filling the plastic bag full in only ten minutes. I dumped the contents into a nearby dumpster and got ready to reuse the bag.
I told him I had to cleanup elsewhere, and he said he’d accompany me. I said it was a pity I didn’t have another bag for him but was sure we would find one. On the walk to the other side of the island, we did, stuck into a fence right above the sea by a fisherman who had used it for bread thrown to attract the fishes. We arrived at the scala, ladder, where I have climbed down the 40 foot wall of the island and swum until recent days, when the water is too disgusting, lined with garbage and a train of scum floating in and out with the waves. I dropped my bag on the sidewalk, half full again with trash found on the walk here, raised my skirt and climbed over the railing. Once on the other side, I told him to hand me my bag. He did, and then stood there incredulous, watching me hanging off a ladder meters above rocks and sea. He said I thought you were crazy when I first saw you picking up trash but now I know that you are. I said Certo, io sono pazza ed anche tu. E se non vuoi ad aiutarmi, dammi la busta. Ciao. Sure, I’m crazy and so are you. And if you don’t want to help me, give me your bag. Bye.
The night before on the rocks I had seen three crates, two I knew were made of Styrofoam, because I watched them floating on the waves. One stayed stuck in between the rock barrier and the wall of the island, and the other I watched float out onto the horizon. The last was sitting on the rocks, and I vowed to get it the next day, thinking it was another wooden crate from the market. It wasn’t. it was Styrofoam as well and thank god, still intact. Unfortunately there were many other Styrofoam crates here at one point and now they were millions of tiny Styrofoam bubbles floating around trapped in the crater rocks, little rivers flowing away back to the sea, waiting for a big wave to wash them back out again. They are left here by the fisherman who buy their bait in Styrofoam containers and leave the plastic wrapping and everything, right where it lay. Killing their own catch.
I stood incredulous this time, with my hands disgustingly dirty, my glove full of salt, seawater and sweat, my fingers encrusted with dirt and trash juice all over my arms, and tried to readjust my sunglasses and keep them from falling into the sea. I was holding a bag overflowing with Styrofoam pieces and they kept sticking to my fingers and falling out of the bag, and I wanted to cry. I felt helpless. I looked up to see a man watching me from the bridge. He waved and gave me a thumbs up sign while talking on his cell phone. Aiutami! I cried. Vieni! Help me! Come! And he waved that he couldn’t hear me, and he had to go eat. After a while he got off the phone and came to speak to me, and said ‘Il mare ha portato la spazzatura.’ The sea has brought all the trash here. And I said ‘No, siamo tu ed io che l’abbiamo portato. Non è del mare, è di noi.’ You and I have brought it. It does not come from the sea. It is from us. He said ‘Yes, and everyone else.’ I told him I would be here every day. He said he would return.
It took three trips up the ladder to carry everything and I had to be strategic about it because there was a tire from a vespa which was heavy and awkward and the Styrofoam crate was large and I had to put it on the rungs above me and then climb with my two hands free. The other side of the rocks had no garbage because the waves kept washing it back into the sea. This was worse. A rock wall empty of garbage, knowing it is all at the bottom of the sea and floating around in the bellies of the fish.
The waves rhythmically lashed against the tiny sidewalk there, a foot above sealevel, and threatened to carry me out with them, I was a little afraid every time, after the night I was here with Ciccio and we almost got washed out to sea when the wave came over our heads to crash against the wall of the island, and pulled my shoes off my feet.