No, please, “the grease tax” cannot be heard. Today I want to put together two news apparently unrelated to each other, which in these hours have passed – almost unnoticed – in the drumming roll of the news. Instead, these two notes of color concern us a lot, because they are fragments of an ideological design that is trying to become cultural hegemony. The first piece of news is precisely this so-called “tax on the grease” (or on the polluting “waste” of street food) proposed by the director of the Uffizi museums in Florence, who is an elegant German gentleman and his name is Eike Dieter Schmidt.
The second is news that comes from Paris, where the mayor Anne Hidalgo, in the name of eco-sustainable balance, has just launched the insurmountable limit of 30 km per hour throughout the city (excluding ring roads and boulevards). Both reports say things that apparently might seem common sense. Dieter Schmidt argues that the takeaway food sold in Florence, as in all cities of art – starting with stuffed sandwiches – produces environmental pollution, that of oils and condiments, which fly down from clumsy wrappers, drip on the pietra serena Florentine, and stain it irreversibly.
According to Dieter Schmidt, taxing those greasy and oily sandwiches would reduce a bad consumption habit, and would guarantee generous funds to finance the costly maintenance of the floors and monumental pavements. Hidalgo – on the other hand – argues that by forcing everyone to go slower, pollution is reduced, starting with the most invisible, the acoustic one, and thus improves the quality of life. I must say, with a certain brutality, that both of these two theses seem ridiculous to me, and even dangerous.
I have in mind a wonderful essay in the form of a fantastic tale that Primo Levi wrote as a scholar and chemist – even – on the butts of chewing gum (the most horrible and polluting of contemporary human food residues), explaining that with their resistance, and their ability to incorporate other finds, would have given valuable clues to the archaeologists of the fourth millennium. It was a brilliant paradox, but Levi used it precisely to explain that history makes fun of the most enlightened intentions, he explained that oil was a toxic and decomposed waste from a geological era ago, and that amber was a calcified sticky residue.
The pietra serena of Florence has been soiled by blood and invasions, it has been trampled on, violated, engraved millions of times, and this is exactly the meaning of history. Perhaps that monumental pavement in front of the Uffizi has never been cleaned: today’s cleaning is a pleasant, but unnatural state of that historical find. The stones of some nuraghe were dismantled, millennia ago, to build new houses.
And in Rome, Virginia Raggi, one day showed me a walkway of the Roman forums, built in the nineteenth century with archaeological remains and fragments of millenary capitals and shards, heads of decapitated statues, residues of mortar and period filling materials. Which, she reported amused, sparked a lively debate within the superintendency: was that pillar to be considered an abuse, and dismantled, or an artifact to be cleaned up to show its constructive genesis? Nice dilemma.
That’s why the idea of a new “grease tax” makes me laugh, the stupidest and most classy one I’ve ever heard of. Obviously, those who eat in a nice restaurant with silver cutlery pollute less. That’s why, among the many taxes that already exist, the one on the grease would be the most hateful and stupid: first of all because no one would give up dripping for having paid 50 cents more for his sandwich with porchetta. If anything, the opposite feeling would be triggered: since I paid more, I do what I want.
But if one stains on purpose, or out of blatant distraction, there is already a fine, which is a (but indirect) tax on bad civil customs. Charging those who eat a sandwich but not dirty, on the other hand, would be discrimination. Unless the ultimate goal of this idea by Dieter Schmidt is to criminalize the sandwich, the soda cans, the very idea of the bundle you carry around, perhaps because you are a family and want to save.
As for the virtuous slowness and the urban speed limit of the Hidalgo, the discourse is incredibly similar: a beautiful purpose, no doubt, but once again a splendid norm for the wealthy and the idle. Traffic jam in cities is the spice of life, we run to go to work and accompany our children to school, to shop, to go to school on time. Time is an infinite resource only for prisoners and for those who live on income.
The most dramatic image of the cities are the flashing traffic lights and the deserted streets, which have moved some intellectuals with very chic tendencies, such as Michela Murgia, but who in reality were the indicator of a terrible consequence of the pandemic, the lockdown. This is why the unfortunate decrease in traffic and the grease tax are his ideas born in different corners of Europe, but united by a common idea: that that deluding oneself into putting pants on to the world is a solution. Instead, for me, these findings are more of a problem than a solution.
Read also: The incredible story of Renzi’s 700 thousand euros (by Luca Telese)