Wednesday, October 5

Italian Weddings: Three Weddings & a Funeral

In Italy the film went by La Sposa Cadevere
I always like to see what's in Italy's "basket of goods" pegged to track inflation in the country...the basket changes almost yearly, to make good on items going in and others out of fashion. Like say, adding SmartPhones and removing land line-type telephones. Or adding little robot vacuum cleaners instead of the famed Folletto (little elf) sold door-to- door [a necessity for sure, so Italian housewives can keep dust from gathering even under the usual 24 hours on their floors.] Announcements of the new and improved basket of goods generally makes headlines. 
And so it was, a few years back, when women woke up to the fact that not even Armani's shoulder-padded power suits of the 1980s was bringing them any closer to power...that we collectively ditched our tailleur - or fabulous-fitting work suits.
Year in / year out, I usher them from closet to closet when I change over for the seasons, another tried and true Italian tradition; Hoping beyond hope that they make a comeback lest my treasured Chanel herring bone ends up in the trash heap outside my door.
But the other day, I heard of the most uncanny of traditions - it was so amazing on so many levels, that I couldn't believe it:  
Up until not so long ago, on her wedding day, the mother-in-law to be would gift a beautiful tailleur - by Ferragamo - to the bride. Understood by all as something quite wonderful, so that she may have a one perfect outfit to wear at said mother's-in-law funeral.
My Italian friends stated emphatically that it had always been a wonderful thing to receive; after all, couples starting out would not have that kind of disposable income. So for formal events (like funerals) the young bride would always look impeccable. More recently, I have been stunned to see that this particular practice in the land of Bella Figura has more or less gone the way of Americans wearing pajamas on airplanes.
Friends were asking if it was true that Americans still wore black to funerals. I don't think so, but I do think they still don their Sunday bests. In Italy, I have seen ripped jeans and tennis shoes galore...and that was the family of the deceased.
But moving back to dear old mother-in-law, I couldn't help but think up a Saturday Night Live skit for the practice: I mean, here it is, the happiest day of your life, and La Mamma hands a giftbox to you. Marking her death. It sure gives new meaning to the You haven't lost a son you've gained a daughter platitude. The hidden message being, I want you to look good now that you've driven a spike straight through my heart. But don't worry about me...
So now that the tailleurs are no longer in fashion...and marriage is no longer as well, what's a designer - or a mother-in-law to do?  Please share your gift ideas for a mother-in-law to give to the our very own update of a basket of ungodly goods!
Sophia Loren visits the Chanel tailleur show (okay, so they're not Ferragamo)
but thanks to the blog, Come Eravamo

Friday, September 23

Italy's Fertility Day Gives Birth to Brilliance

After years of proffering their unique brand of slap-stick humor (reaching its zenith with Johnny Stecchino, Alberto Sordi and I'd say, La Messa è Finita) it took an inane piece of legislative propaganda to make an entire nation find its sarcastic funny bone. Italy's Fertility Day may not have created the bump it was aiming for, but it certainly made for a nice bump in Twitter stocks. 
Here's the best of the bunch - delineating the best uses for a woman out there -- after which I'll break down the whole insipid debacle bit by bit:

Basically, Italy's Minister of Health (headed by a woman whose closest brush with laws and healthcare was in reading the Patient Bill of Rights once in a doctor's waiting room), decided that - instead of working with her buddy over at the Ministry for the Economy to improve work conditions and markets -- they would just give women a job to do: make and raise children. 
So, Fertility Day was planned. Italians scratched their heads on the terminology used for this piece of fascist propaganda, wondering if this meant that Brexit hadn't pulled out fast enough. For everyone else who figured fertility was close to fertilità, they either went out and watered their plants, or tuned into Pope Francis to see why he issued the statement- in English.
Women soon took umbrage at the idea that they were being asked to basically, lie back and think of Italia. Infertile women, single women who would like to adopt but can't, couples wishing to use surrogates (and can't) and all the other categories of ladies-in-waiting were irate...and not only because of the hormone imbalances as they shot themselves up hoping this time they'd fall pregnant.
Italy has cut 15% in education spending. There aren't enough day cares to meet even a fraction of the demand. And wage stagnation (steady since 1992) has eaten into incomes, with many couples struggling to make ends meet; and those are the ones with two jobs. Women's work is extremely low-paid, and the only fringe benefits are for the boss.
Women who strive to get through college (over 60% of the degrees, though our Minister isn't one of them) find themselves shut out of the job market due to plain and simple discrimination, or baseless fears that in the country with the lowest birthrate on earth, they'll be putting buns in the oven one right after the other. Like China, the single child home is a feature of the Italian landscape.
Men were not considered part of the solution, although my book illustrator, Gianfalco, offered up a pretty good one himself.

click on photo for full post redirect

The commentary was endless...and most of it was sheer brilliance. Except for the (men) naysayers who chose to rant on women who spoke truth to the power of the ill-informed.

So, after backtracking on their misconceived missive, they next double downed to issue  a pamphlet on the topic of substance abuse. 

Again, the Twitterverse was on fire: Showing sparkling white good families having fun in the sun, compared with the bad things that might happen if you surround yourself with dark people of course doing dark drugs.
It appears our Minister has let go of her communications specialist at this point.
And with that newfound Italian wit of days of yore, Italians offer a terrific turn of phrase which admirably sums up the entire fiasco:  

The mamma of imbeciles is always pregnant.

Friday, August 19

Italy Road Trip - Travel Warnings

Italians have consistently thought up *everything* from oh, I don't know, the discovery of the New World, to the fax, the telephone, right up to the Google search engine, but then lost it when some clever marketeer took it up a level, declared native Americans, Indians, and just went with it. Ask Galileo. Heck even the popes were in France for a time.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...Italy is seriously marketing challenged. After all, these are the folks who gave us Malpensa (ill thought) Airport and Soffass toilet paper, the likes of which always puts a smile on my face. So lately, traveling a whole lot up and down the gorgeous Italian highways criss-crossing the boot like lovely laces (which, I might add, would put any roads to shame the world over), I can't help but be perplexed by the road signs on every digital board brought to you by the Road Guys responsible for our smooth rides.
This one reads Drive Safely. But sometimes they invite you to go online (whilst commandeering your vehicle at 90mph?) to check out road conditions - which would be seriously messesd up if you took them at their word, started searching the web, and ended up rear-ending the truck ahead of you. Inevitably, you are gifted with a Fasten Your Seatbelts sign when in fact, 5km up the road there's an accident and you just blew by the only exit that would have mercifully allowed you to avoid it. But I digress.
During my umpteen years of driving around the peninsula, nearly every time I see the ANAS logo up above, I get a mini panic attack. That logo (again, at 130 km/hr) looks to me like a car on fire every time I whiz by it. In fact, it tells me there's an entire line of cars on fire in a mass brush fire, just as I plunge headlong into the upcoming tunnel.
Coming face to face with this dot matrix logo is always a good way to get the adrenaline going on long drives. But, taking a closer look (when you're home and online...not calling it up on Siri while careening a curve) and the logo isn't so bad after all.
I'm guessing that it represents Mercury's helmet speeding down the highway, but not so fast -- that block above is basically our Mercurio stumbling to a complete stop in order to pay the extortionate tolls. Or, it symbolizes the long rest he'll take at the rest stop after miscalculating on gas and a glass of water at 1pm, feeding time for the entire country. My personal favorite is that it's Mercury looking for toilet paper. 
I play this guessing game in my head just like back in the days before devices were a common feature on car trips...You had to spot the first cow / farmhouse / diner there from the back seat. 
For everyone who will be sitting in traffic on their return from the August exodus, well, count this as a marketing freebie. So, thank you ANAS for the graphics. But I'm just wondering how I'll ever come to know when a car is up in flames just around the bend.

Tuesday, August 2

Summertime...the Season to Abandon your Best Friend

A Dog Falls in Vulcano Buono There's been so much 'bad news' out there these days that I have been putting off my annual Dog Days of Summer post time and again. But August is upon us. And the streets of Italy (and many a European country) are emptied. Before long we will hear the mourning of dogs - abandoned - in the night. Or worse. We'll see them chained to lamp posts dying of starvation or lying - stiff - at roadsides. 
But this sad story does have a (sort of) happy ending - and that's the undying love and fatigue and endless hours logged by the thousands of volunteers, veterinarians and good hearted souls who, summer after summer, take these poor creatures into their hospitals, their houses, their hearts. 
And while it feels to me that this utter contempt for pets' lives has improved over the years, I am quite certain that dogs are still abandoned to their fate with - well, reckless abandon. Here's what it looks like: 

This little guy was hit by a car and despite his crushed bones
and probably internal bleeding, he kept his head held high
for hours upon hours, waiting beyond hope - for rescue.
His heart finally gave out and he died on route to the vet.

It is estimated that upwards of 100.000 dogs meet their end at the wheel or bumper of a car. Abandoned on roadways, they zig-zag in and out of traffic, trying to find any familiar scent that would carry them back to the very people they loved and trusted. 
I know about this guy's story thanks to the Facebook Page of Gianna Senatore - She dedicates her life to saving these animals and finding them homes across Italy. Some don't make it through the operation, others are returned to her post-adoption. For every miserable story she posts, you can find many successes and smiling faces in the before & after shots of these traumatized pets.
While they are closing down these sorts of centers, while keeping others open that are nothing short of lagers for animals found starving in cages, the Associazione Zoofila di Nocera Inferiore is a beacon of hope.

So what can we mere mortals do?  

Repost her photos. Help find forever homes. Donate to these centers. Offer to bring dogs with you to their new homes when you travel. Volunteer your time. And, above all, stop your car if you should see a dog lying - still with some life in him - at the side of the road.

Monday, July 4

When Will Italy get the Picture?

In this group of pictures, can you spot the mistake(s)?*

Growing up, I would spend countless hours tuning my laser eyes on those brain riddles, mazes, word searches and drawings. So I admit, I may have a sort of pronounced proclivity for this sort of thing; or in the very least, an acute attention to detail. Whenever these ubiquitous thumbnails come across my screen, I tend to think they are stock photos sadly selected by an unpaid intern in some random social media room. Purposefully employed to promote every iteration of event, conference, meeting and launch. The selection above comes from a pit-stop on the site of the purported Wall Street Journal of Italy, il Sole 24ore. Touting themselves as warriors raising the battle cries of our age -- they purport to shed light on economic growth, education, culture, and more for my fellow paesani in the land of Sole. Except, time and again, it's only half the story; or 49% rather. Amazon warriors need not apply. 

Italy is not the only country that runs a foul of mass misogyny (the Vatican, or Saudi Arabia come to mind). You don't need to look too far back when an all-male panel (a "Manel") convened in the US Congress to 'investigate' and weigh in on American women's reproductive rights (we how on earth could that have happened?). The scene was staight out of a Sharia Courthouse, except the women were spared stoning...But the geyser of misinformation-by-example spilling over and onto every little girl growing up in this culture, is crystal clear: only men can add to GNP / GDP / or be eligible for public office. Any gains we've ever had in this regard have been at the hands of indefatigable women plugging one by one, each and every wellspring of male privilege. 

While Italy is going through one of its worst periods of economic recession in modern history (sadly, since about the day I arrived in 1992), youth unemployment at 51% and a brain drain to match Syria's...You can meander on over to the foremost economic journal in the country only to find "experts" wringing their hands over what counter measures could possibly be employed to reverse course. Almost never do these measures involve the empowerment of women; unless they are taking measurements of the pole dancers for the after-party. 

A top lingerie company in Southern Italy with worldwide exports boasts that out of 700 salesmen, they have - count - 700 salesmen

They blithely turn up their noses of the wealth of studies and information put under their very noses by real experts -- like their very own Abramvel (author of Meritocrazia and Regole), who, while heading up McKinsey & Co., demonstrated that companies with over three women in the boardroom outperformed the competition 9:1. Nine times. 

Men in power (and that's pretty much all of them) still haven't cottoned onto the fact that there exists in Italy a rather strong continuum that starts with keeping women out of public and economic life to women-as-(near naked) adverts to women as plastic surgeons' grostesque fantasy dolls, to women being massacred -- in their homes or on the streets where they live on a nearly daily basis. 

Italy is the country that has brought us lasting imagery as it excels in cinema, staging, sports culture, the arts, big businesses, and even aerospace. When will the daily newsfeeds catch up with the rest of us, and depict women as they truly are. And then, all of us, along with il Sole24ore can truly claim our enlightened country as the Land of the Sun.

Thursday, June 16

Life in Italy - #LifeHacking the Post Office

Anyone who comes to Italy for even about 36 hours finds out sooner, rather than later, about the notorious Post Office. Their misdeeds are the stuff of legend. Day in, day out when coming across Facebook posts of new arrivals unloading about the umpteenth miscarriage of mail justice that has befallen them, I sort of smirk to myself, smug in my knowledge that while it's cathartic to vent, they ain't seen nuthin' yet.
The Italian Post Office is a singular institution hellbent on making lives miserable. So much so, that I dedicate an entire chapter in my book to it: The Postman Never Rings Even Once. But I truly believe that desperation breeds innovation and it's why we now have email. 
And this is 2016. The Poste Italiane has been growing by leaps and bounds in efficiency, branding, banking, heck even free wifi - better to allow you to bide your time while dozens of octogenarians cash their pensions and then stand in front of the clerk for those 98 additional seconds to tuck away in a safe place their cash, or while people fill out the form - three of them - whilst standing at the counter, because to put them out would incite inmates, errr, clients to take and waste untold stacks of them. Things have changed so much that they're even charging us about 6 times other countries just for the luxury (and it is a luxury brand in my book) of mailing your letter.
But recently, like many of my compatriots, I had to submit my declaration that I do not, indeed, own a television. I went to the post office for the express purpose of mailing the registered letter. Let me just say that the clerk was super nice [another humongous improvement on the days in which she would have instead refused a letter because the address was written in green pen, or you stapled rather than slathered mucky goo all over the envelope to close it, or that your stamps were crooked, or that you wrote too many lines on a postcard, or you wrote below the line clearly demarcated on the postcard, or you requested far too many stamps, or the box was too big, or too small, or there was a slight bulge in the envelope, or that you wrote a note on the envelope, or you wrote England instead of Gran Bretagna...] I could go on. And on. And on. This is no exaggeration.
videoAnd so I was quite taken aback when she told me that I couldn't send my letter that way - meaning, in an envelope. I was quite used to the practice that if you sent a letter in an unsealed envelope, it cost less. So we all used to do that. envelope? This was not in my personal annals of inane postal practices. And then...she did this: Risking her electric blue manicure, she set out to carefully craft an envelope out of my letter, employing scotch tape, stamps & staples. It was an engineering marvel. Standing there, it was as if witnessing a surgeon put one final stitch into a dying patient, or Betsy Ross sewing that last star on the flag...It was pure poetry in motion (and I'm sorry, but my surreptitious video does not do it justice...Did I mention it? No cellphones allowed at the counter? You can imagine where they draw the line on actually videotaping employees.)
Italy often has a lot of wild workarounds for what in other places would be straightforward, standard practice. Like the traffic lights all flashing yellow at midnight (click here for Midnight Run post), to keep people from running red ones. Or, side streets  alongside major thoroughfares which I am quite convinced are so guys can pick up prostitutes with ease - without causing traffic jams (anyone riding up the Via Salaria will know what I mean). Recently, our Prime Minister decided that since so many people pat ignored the heinous TV Tax, he would simply tack it onto our electric bills. I don't own a TV and if you want to get my taxation without representation vibe going, this is a fairly good place to start. Thus my registered letter. 
Flummoxed, I had to ask the clerk, just what this was all about. And with a straight face she stated that otherwise, people would pay for and send the registered envelope, empty. Basically, it was nipping a he said / she said accusation assault in the bud. They'd have proof of having delivered a declaration, when in reality, nothing was truly signed and sealed. By forcing you to provide the contents via a document-cum-envelope, well, then it had to be legit. I thought it was so you wouldn't send anthrax or bullets to our friends at the tax office for this highway robbery of a TV Tax - I'm sure they get plenty.
As someone who once paid a car accident of $103 in pennies (which is also illegal, btw), I had to admit, this was one genius move on the part of government. Now, about those Panama Papers??!

glide your cursor on colored parts above for more!

Sunday, June 5

Fact Checking Michael Moore's Movie: Where to invade next? ITALY.

A friend living and working in Italy put it best to his Facebook followers: Michael Moore is, after all, a propagandist, not a journalist…He deals in hyperbole, which is why he’s a terrific social commentator and I am a fan. [Albeit by today’s standards in journalism, one could argue that the media's only currency is hyperbole]. And while his focus on Italy filled the collective with a shot of momentary pride, once the effect wore off, it was time to ask…Veritas?

As someone who has visited dozens upon dozens of companies, large and small, across the calf, heel, foot and toe of this boot, I feel the need to fully examine some of the holes that permeate Moore’s footholds. At first blanch, the piece felt a bit too canned, the people a bit too trite for ‘off-the-cuff’, and the supposed candid conversation so circumspect that it reminded me of a Barilla pasta spot, with Bella Figura just oozing out of every pore. Michael Moore is legend here. Knowing your footage might be seen by millions worldwide? Italians rarely show their pock marks and warts––you’d think with that kind of positive spin that Italians would be the happiest people on earth. So much for The Secret.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks:

We are a family — While I’m sure there are many family-owned businesses that treat their workers like a family (
so much so that they even share the same bed with a few of the office hotties during those fabulous lunch breaks), the “I love it when they punch out and take 6 weeks vacation - it’s good for business” is a pile of porchetta droppings. I had but one other person in my tiny office and when she’d bolt to the door every day at 18.01 like Barney & Fred, even in the middle of a huge deadline, I would have a mini-meltdown. No matter, I was the only one at the office who would see it. How do you say Yabba dabba doo in Italian?

The man who stated that these incredible workers’ rights were fought for with blood, sweat and tears speaks the truth. In the 1970s, anarchists were cutting down company heads and just a few years back a leading economist was struck down for merely suggesting labour reform. The consequences of business’s antipathy toward workers has lead to Italy’s amazing automation of factories, from Torino to Detroit. My (Italian) boss would quip that America, with its millions of workers, was effectively pre-industrial, while Italy had brought robots in to do the job of dozens of people - post-industrial. Stop to take a look at garbage collection, with 1 guy in 1 truck pushing a button versus Americans pitching bags into the back of a truck and you'll see there is a lot of truth to that.

Photo credit: Daniele Leone / LaPresse
Factory upon factory, owners would proudly claim how technology had allowed them to replace 70 people with just a single robotic line - and with this technology, came a 50% jobless rates besides. All in the quest to avoid the cost of hiring employees who later can't be fired - even if they end up in prison.
Lunch Breaks
- While it’s true that companies still break for lunch and provide veggie-laden cafeterias, go to Milano, where it’s far more commonplace to wolf down a sandwich with an espresso chaser. Street food has taken off here for a reason, and not just because it’s all people can afford now that unbridled tourism has heralded in $18 pasta plates. Notwithstanding, it still beats the herd of employees across the USA waddling to their cars to drive across the 5 lane highway to McDonalds & KFC drive-thrus on a daily basis.

Salaries — The young couple was correct. Their paltry salaries may allow them a modicum of quality of life, but let's face it: the average city councilman in a lovely hill town makes the same as Barack Obama, while the 600 strong bloated parliamentarians (in every way) take home two or three times as much, and that's before bribes, lifetime pensions (that carry to spouses and children too) lining offshore bank accounts well before retirement age. It's no wonder most youth aim to "enter politics" - it's the only money-making scheme in the country.
Just as in the USA, wages have been stagnant since 1992. Nonetheless, Italians manage to live better than your average American working three jobs. I believe it's due to their sharing of living quarters with mamma and papa’ up into their 30s. Salting away their pay, while someone else covers all your living expenses (even clothing and Thai resort vacations) and then coughing up the down payment on your house or buying it outright, definitely allows for handy disposable income with which to treat yourselves benissimo

As for the 13th paycheck? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes it’s even 14 (an extra one in August in order to enjoy your 4 week holidays all the more). But it’s a psychological tactic on the order of David Copperfield: Your annual labour-contracted salary is divided into 13 slices; allowing for gift giving and holiday meals all together as a family. I always liked the concept, but I still beg to differ when people quip how they get an “extra” month’s pay. No, you don’t. Pure and simple.

Labour laws providing for honeymoon time off is a wonderful family-friendly practice. You’d think that Italy would have transformed itself into a Mormon colony just to get those extra 2 weeks. [I mean, this is the place where the “legally blind” are regularly caught behind the wheel.] But pregnancy benefits have gone way too far. A new mother needs two months off before the baby is born? To what end? In Italy, it is oft-seen as bad luck to buy baby stuff prior to the birth, and baby showers are unheard of…All this time off means that young women are not welcomed with open arms into companies that is, unless it's into the open arms of the Company owner. 

The rub is, that while Italian women have given up on giving birth altogether (another sign of economic distress), they still don't get hired. Go figure.

Health Care - I haven’t seen enough of the movie to weigh in on whether or not Moore tackled Italy’s healthcare, but it was recently reported that it had one of the best in the world. Not sure about that (living in Italy, I'm healthier than the average American and don't have a general practitioner) but certainly, Italy’s physicians are top-notch and ply their trade worldwide, saving lives in both research and in the operating room. Not a day goes by that another Italian research team doesn’t come out with yet another amazing discovery. When an esteemed Italian doctor I know living in the USA needed a liver transplant for his son, he came to Italy. Imagine what they could do if they were actually funding R&D instead of lavish homes of politicians and government bureaucrats. Nonetheless, it makes it all the more risible when Berlusconi, waxing prolific on the wonderful health system we have, jettisoned straight to the USA the moment a cancer cell appeared on his sun-kissed skin (or maybe we just have better plastic surgeons in the USA? I mean, compare the stunning Sharon Stone to Donatella Versace...)

It is my experience that Italy does, indeed, take quite good care of its citizens, offering them regular checkups and so forth (it’s what the elderly do instead of playing bridge). On the downside, it is said people needing a mammogram may have to wait months, and beds are allotted to the highest bidder--an illegal practice which I hear goes on in the USA as well. But at least, people do not have to sell their house to undergo life saving treatment. Physical therapy - and even spa treatments - are considered part of recovery. In a country where a slight breeze or air conditioning unit can cause every sort of malady, people are allowed to stay home when they are sick, with no reprisals (other than the surprise doctor visits to make sure you're not in Capri instead). In the USA, you have to use up your ‘sick days’ and vacation time to bring a new life into the world. Sure, old people are lined up in hallways on stretchers, families need to bring in bottles of water, and waiting rooms are eerily reminiscent of an Iranian torture chamber, but I suppose you can say that on the whole, national health care in Italy is as humanitarian as can be.  Americans should only be so fortunate.

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