L'orto in Milans' Periphery: Susan Campbell, Korean Gardener
For years I have gardened outside of Chicago and in Minnesota. The greatest place I’ve had the chance to grow flowers and vegetables was the Soo-Line Garden in Minneapolis, an organic community garden right in the heart of the city. When we first moved to Milan I wanted to see if I could replicate a bit of that experience. We spent the first 6 months in Italy renting a small apartment on the south-west edge of town from a friend. As luck would have it, behind our building there was a huge public park and some pirate vegetable gardens (public land pirated for private garden use – not exactly the community spirit I saw in Minneapolis!) that had been “legalized” some years ago. By the time we got there, this land was run by “Italia Nostra” which only allowed Italian retirees to garden there. Being neither Italian nor retired, I had to settle for the next best thing. The gardener who informed me of these rules said that if I came and watered once in a while and pulled any weeds I saw, I could have some of his harvest.
I had been in Italy for a very short time having just come from Paris. The beginning of the War in Iraq made Paris a rather hostile environment for Americans and I quickly learned that to avoid aggressive treatment from people, I’d tell them I was Canadian if they asked. You wouldn’t believe how much the French seem to LOVE Canadians! Must be how they refrain from invading other countries… Anyway, this gardener, Glauco (yes, that was his real name!) asked me where I was from and I quickly said, “Canada”. Evidently he went home and told his wife that there was a foreign woman who was going to help around the garden. She asked him what country I was from and he answered, Korea. I guess Korea SOUNDS kind of like Canada. So she asked if I was rather short and had the typical Asian facial features. He said no, that I was very tall and pale (which is true) so they ended up both very confused. The next time I saw him, he asked me where I was from again. Suddenly I panicked thinking that he somehow knew I had lied and some typically American trait had come out without my wanting it to. When he told me what he had told his wife, all my paranoia of Anti-Americanism melted. Glauco didn’t know too much about the world around him, bless his heart, but he had great talent for gardening.