In the notorious district of Scampia, in northern Naples, drugs and arms wars rage wildly and clan bosses reign supreme. A forgotten, barren wasteland of crumbling state-built tower blocks in the heart of Western Europe, the region is essentially run by the Camorra, one of Italy's oldest crime organisations.
In Scampia, the death toll mounts steadily and gun shots ring through the residents' ears daily. Except on Carnival weekend: A colourful and lavish Christian celebration that comes just before the 40 restrained days of Lent. For a couple of days each year, Scampia's children take centre stage, frollicking in confetti and Mario and Princess costumes in the grey spaces usually reserved for heroin addicts.
Gridas is an occupied council block, run by a group of conscientious middle-aged and middle class Neapolitans. These guys have been using the space to run creative workshops for children, take part in the never-ending fight against the Camorra and provide healthcare to children in the slums on the outskirts of Scampia, which are run by the Romanian mafia.
On Carnival day, children parade through the streets. Clowns on stilts, dancers and drumming ensembles walk straight into the heart of no-go council blocks. The whole thing culminates in the burning of all the floats, in the wasteland beneath an overpass that doubles as a roof to the slum.
The place houses about 5,000 Romanians who are more or less led by Camp Rom, an alternative mafia run by the Romanian clan chiefs. For young Romanian boys, the dream is to work their way up the system so that they can return to Romania, to live in luxurious palaces and be treated as celebrities.
The chiefs live in well-to-do slum houses, surrounded by pristine mowed green grass and with BMW 4x4s parked outside. The houses of those who haven’t made it far enough up the ladder yet are made of recycled fridge doors and corrugated iron. These are built on a landfill that also serves as a playground for barefoot children.
The children come out cautiously and approach the burning floats, keen to take part in the fun, the warring mafia clans' coming together for one day a year to dance round the fire.
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