Clean­li­ness is next to god­li­ness

Country Life Every Week - - Spectator - Leslie Ged­des-brown

IRE­CENTLY spent a week in a Floren­tine palazzo: you know, painted ceil­ings, mar­ble chim­ney­p­ieces, wide stone stairs. How­ever, luck­ily, my palazzo was on the wrong side of the Arno, the part of Florence where there are no high-fash­ion shops and no badtem­pered croc­o­diles of tourists led by bossy women with grubby flags. In fact, my cho­sen, his­toric and beau­ti­ful pi­azza is where the real peo­ple of the city live.

Around our square, the me­dieval build­ings had wash­ing hang­ing out of the win­dows and bril­liant­green roof gar­dens that were wa­tered daily. The Ital­ians took their dogs—chi­huahuas, spaniels, mixed mon­grels and a cou­ple of stately Dal­ma­tians—for walks on the paved square as of rou­tine. An old lady sat on a stone bench each morn­ing to have her cof­fee and lo­cal stu­dents perched on the wide da­does of the old build­ings.

The square had no fewer than four open-air restau­rants and, on our first evening, as we ate our pasta and drank our Ver­mentino, the stu­dents danced tan­gos to ac­cor­dion mu­sic played by a group of mu­si­cians, a full moon shone down and the ci­cadas un­sea­son­ably tuned up as the sky dark­ened.

It was a de­light­ful square, with, at one end, the un­fin­ished church ded­i­cated to Santo Spir­ito de­signed by the fa­mous ar­chi­tect Brunelleschi, who died in 1446 be­fore it was com­pleted.

But enough of the glo­ries of this city. I want to praise its hy­giene. As well as the open-air restau­rants, a daily mar­ket ar­rived at about 8am and con­tin­ued selling veg­eta­bles, cheese and salami un­til two, when ev­ery­one packed up and van­ished. On Sun­day, the mar­ket was ex­tended to 6pm and had stalls of, as well as food, bricà-brac, olive-wood bowls and lo­cal honey: chest­nut, sun­flower, lime blos­som and mille­fiori.

De­spite the huge lit­ter­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of the square, it was never dirty. Each mar­ket-stall owner care­fully packed up his used car­tons and rot­ting veg­eta­bles as did the open-air restau­rants. All the rub­bish was put in what seemed, at street level, to be small metal lit­ter bins. I won­dered how they coped.

The an­swer, as we dis­cov­ered, was that un­der each bin was a huge, sub­merged metal box the size of a large chest freezer. At street level, there was no clue to its ex­is­tence. Each morn­ing, a spe­cial ma­chine grabbed the lit­ter bin, pulled out the hid­den gi­ant and emp­tied its con­tents into the lorry’s back. There were six in the square and three were emp­tied ev­ery morn­ing.

In the late af­ter­noon, a sweep­ing ma­chine came, with two stylish work­men who brushed any neat piles of rub­bish into its re­volv­ing broom and these, along with dead leaves, were swept into its back.

It was re­mark­able that, de­spite the in­tense ac­tiv­ity ev­ery day in the square, it was never dirty or messy. It looked like it was: a me­dieval street scene with ev­ery­day folk shop­ping, eat­ing and watch­ing the world go by.

I write all this be­cause I know that Coun­try Life has been hav­ing a cam­paign to re­duce the shame­ful lit­ter that spoils our an­cient cities, our rolling coun­try­side and busy mo­tor­ways. Why can’t we be tidy-minded like the Floren­tines? Per­haps be­cause we don’t value what we have. Per­haps, as ev­ery­one else just drops their de­bris, we don’t see the point of tak­ing ours home.

On the way back from Florence, ar­riv­ing at Gatwick, we fol­lowed a small boy who was sys­tem­at­i­cally tear­ing up the wrap­pings of a bar of choco­late and drop­ping the pieces be­hind him. There must have been more than a dozen scraps in his wake.

Greatly dar­ing, Hew ac­costed his mother. ‘Can you get him to pick up his lit­ter?’ he asked.

I thought he’d get a rude an­swer, but no. The mother pointed out the rub­bish to the boy, who picked up ev­ery piece. There must be a moral there some­where.

De­spite the in­tense ac­tiv­ity in the square, it was never dirty

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