Friday, April 11

Berlusconi does community service

We're on a roll!

A judge stated that convict Silvio could do his time serving in a geriatric home or disabled center.  
I think the septuagenerian Berlusconi will provide a public service by paying for face lifts - boob jobs - and penile implants for all.  But, on my blog, Irreverent Italy, I've compiled some of the best to date of how Berlusconi will be biding his time... Click on Title Below

Sunday, April 6

Naples, North Dakota

A few years back, I penned a few posts on why I thought Tennessee was a lot like Italy.  And that was before the church goin', God-fearin' rich lawyer who owned Linguality Inc., decided not to pay me $22,000 -- something that most freelancers in Italy experience on a daily basis.  Call it job (in)security.  But, the longer I live in Italy, the more I realize that the USA is playing a nice game of catchup-after all, the USA is an even older democracy than Italy's united states.  And I don't mean just on the soccer field.
After an Italian TV show uncovered the truth behind Italy's Terra dei Fuochi - the Land of Fires surrounding Italy's most populated city, Naples, it seems our new Prime Minister is sending troops to the Triangle of Death to try and do away with the illegal toxic waste dumps that were burning in broad daylight for decades.  
Meanwhile, half way 'round the world, in North Dakota, another TV Report - this time revealed on The Rachel Maddow Show - has uncovered illegal radioactive waste dumps - fortunately, in very remote areas, but nonetheless on Indian reservations and in an abandoned gas station no less -- But this time, we even know who the culprit is.  The gas & oil companies.  
AP Photo from N Dakota Health Dept
showing the abandoned gas station
now stuffed with radioactive filters from fracking & drilling for oil
Naples, Italy should be so lucky that their plight comes from the plucky side of oil drilling. But still, North Dakota's ridiculous policy of charging $1000 / bag for disposal, has brought this on themselves.  So, who knows where the next glow-in-the dark dump will be uncovered? And, will we be sending in the troops to do away with it?

For more on the toxic waste dump, here's an article on the illegal oil waste field in the Washington Times.  

Other links above in color are all live

Friday, March 28

Rome's new Colosseum

As anyone who follows my blog or anyone else's for that matter, you will know that the Colosseum is currently under restoration.  Wrapped with scaffolding, but looking nothing like Christo's Gift-Wrapping the Reichstag* - to this day, one of my favorite art installations - ever.  Rome's Colosseum - at least from the inside - is still magnificent; it just looks like it has braces. [And for you's not like you get to at least see, say, the Arch of Constantine or view the Forum streetside - alas, the Romans have decided that if you can't see the main attraction you won't see any of the sideshows, either.  So, the Arch is covered with scaffolding and the via dei Fori Imperiali is now a construction zone for the Metro (Subway) line still trying to make headway along a path filled with ancient relics most likely from Nero's Golden Home - the Domus Aurea.]  
So, the news we got the other day of - my team - AS ROMA - releasing the plans for their very own stadium was something to look forward to.  Or, as the following fab football fan & blogger put it, very forward considering the Romans have been waiting for their own stadium for the better part of half a century.  Why all the fuss? They share a stadium with their arch-rival, the lily-colored Lazio team.  But more than that, the new stadium is outright gorgeous.  And, it is inspired (as well it should be) by our very own antiquated Anfiteatro Flavio, replete with rooftop and all [although I haven't looked in to see if it can be rolled back on less sunny days].
And since Enzo, "a footballaholic in New Zealand" put things right in a Burnt sort of perspective, he's graciously allowed me to reprint his post about the hullaboo right here [and for that, he will be forgiven for using the colors of Lazio for his title].  Check it out.

Stadio della Roma

‘Stadio della Roma’
Decades of anticipation were brought to an end in the early hours of this morning New Zealand time when Associazione Sportiva Roma unveiled plans for a new stadium. Think I’m exaggerating? I am - but not in the way you might think. The new ownership of Roma may have only started planning this thing three years ago, but Roma fans have been waiting for a stadium fit for purpose since our fabled original home ground, Campo Testaccio, was torn down in 1940. Nothing since has measured up. But while this latest design looks incredibly good for a multitude of reasons, you do have to forgive me for being slightly cynical. The fact is...we’ve been here before. I’ll believe it when I see people with hats digging holes. The anticipation, for me, isn’t quite over yet.
One of the things that keeps me from doing cartwheels down the hallway just yet is it just seems so damn good. My mother used to tell me, 'if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.' And I mean, look at it! It’s gorgeous. Modelled on the Coliseum, the players will rise from the ground like gladiators, the pitch is seven metres below the first row of spectators to stop the stray animals from pouncing into the crowd! Or maybe it’s to stop the crowd pouncing onto the pitch…Which brings me onto the Curva Sud, where the Ultras will stand, set out from the rest, brought forward, embossed.
The new Curva Sud
The new Curva Sud
This is I think my favourite feature.
The location, Tor di Valle, is inside the city boundary, which is huge for Rome. Close to public transport and the southern city heart of Roma’s support base. And the timeline. Completed in time for season 2016/17……… Wait, what?
Here’s the thing: If you’ve ever tried to build so much as a doghouse in Rome, you would surely look at that promise alone and cackle your head off. The Mayor says this is the New Rome. ‘This will all be streamlined!’ Trust me, politicians in Italy say a lot of things. And streamlined in Italy means we’ll scale back our daily quota of cigarette breaks from 186 to 180. Former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti famously quipped that “Madmen either claim to be Napoleon, or boast they can bring order to Italy’s rail service”. When asked about Italian bureaucracy, President of the club, James Pallotta, said “I grew up in Boston, Rome doesn’t scare me.” Oh, my dear fellow, either you have balls of steel or you have no idea what’s about to hit you…
There is no planning permission yet. There is no application for planning permission. There are no details on when they will apply, how they will apply, or, well… actually there are just no details. All there is, is a pretty model and some nice drawings. I know these American owners are different from our previous overlords, the Sensi Family, but the fact remains that as things stand right now, there’s still exactly the same amount of concrete and reliable information as there was a few years ago, when we first saw this:
'Stadio Franco Sensi'
‘Stadio Franco Sensi’
So, yeah. Gorgeous stadium. Very exciting. But like I said – people digging holes. With hats.
* I'm thinking...maybe I should start an Avaaz petition for Christo to do his thing on Rome's Colosseum...

Wednesday, March 19

Ikea, Killer Hot Dogs & an American Family Named Green

As readers know, every now and again, not only do I post things I just love about Italy, but I also report on some of the big issues of the day.  Which brings me to the tragedy - all too common in the USA - of the little bambino Francesco who choked on a hot dog here in Rome at Ikea, and sadly, died 4 days later.

So first, the statistics (and we have to go to the USA where hot dogs are a national treasure and because in Italy, they probably don't keep them, or maybe they keep them on grape deaths - or on the Grapes of Wrath as the case may be):  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics [and I got this info from an excellent writeup at the American Health & Safety Institute].

“From 1972 to 1992, 449 deaths from aspirated nonfood foreign bodies among children aged 14 years or younger were recorded by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Nearly two thirds (65%) of these fatalities were among children younger than 3 years. Latex balloons were associated with 29% of deaths overall. Choking on food causes the death of approximately 1 child every 5 days in the United States. Hot dogs accounted for 17% of food-related asphyxiations among children younger than 10 years of age in a 41-state study by Harris et al.”

Driving the point home, I particularly like the quote by one Dr. Gary Smith, who provides a clear monition for Italians everywhere who do, indeed, eat their fair share of würstel.
"If you were to design the perfect plug for a child’s airway, 
you couldn’t do much better than a hot dog"

Which brings me to little Francesco's brave parents and their decision to donate all of his wee organs.  This, in my humble opinion, is on account of an American boy, Nicholas Green who died in 1994 [and who, I've discovered, has his own wikipedia page in tribute to his short but important life and death to boot]. Back in 1994, little Nicholas was on his way to Sicily through Calabria with his family when a couple of 'Ndragheta thugs (the local mafia) mistook their car for a jeweler's they wanted to heist.  Nicholas was shot in the head.  His parents without flinching decided to donate his organs - which ended up going to seven people, including one adult; his eyes giving sight to two of them.

This generous (and at the time, audacious) donation caused a sea change in the Italian populace -- the scant organ donations skyrocketed.  It is difficult to convey the impact of the very public murder of this innocent child and how it has benefited untold thousands since.  Checking out Nicholas' page, you'll discover how his parents received an eloquent gold medal of honor for their rectitude, and how many parks and play areas scattered across the peninsula are named after him. Oh - and, you'll also find that the assassins got the book thrown at them: one for 20 years, the other, life in prison.

Wednesday, March 12

Can you say Yummy in Italian?

Italians are so serious about food, I never in my wildest dreams thought they would debase themselves to critiquing cuisine as 'yummy'.  But this word is so cool that I can’t believe I never knew nor used it prior:  gnam-as in gnam-gnam meaning yum-yum.  
Perhaps this is for kids, and, not having any Italian tots handy, maybe it just never crossed my radar.

Which brought me to think about food (doesn't everything?)  I've been doing a lot of that lately -- most likely due to hanging out with all the right people -- those Slow Food folks who I admire down to the very pit of my stomach.  So, as I chomp on an almost delirious piece of aged cacio (as in cacio cavallo cheese) - so yellow, it seems a bar of gold is occupying my fridge - I’ll share a few of my most recent palatable adventures.

I purchased the cacio cheese along with organic wines & olive oil from TusciaGnam - I know, an impossible name to type let alone remember, so just bookmark their site and never regret it.  Tuscia, is the Etruscan-ish area around Viterbo, just outside Rome.  Thankfully (for us tourists, not for the tourism providers), it's oft neglected by the crowds to their detriment; Tuscia is brimming with gorgeous foods, remarkable sights, and serious farmers who want to ply you with only the best.  It has, indeed, captured my heart straight from my stomach.  The area boasts plenty of food festivals or sagre, and Viterbo is home to an amazing annual foodie extravaganza, a two-week event called Caffeina.

A recent trip to Civita Castellana, a proud land of porcelain has a gorgeous Duomo and a wonderful relais, Falisco, where we were treated to more TusciaGnam tasties, including pasta from farro (an ancient grain I believe someone once named spelt - but thankfully, according to google, it's farro from now on), made with that scrumptious cacio cheese; my favorite right up there with Sardinian aged pecorino.  
At their ceramics museum, we were also enthralled by the skill of molto simpatico Mastro Cencio who showed us in minutes the technique behind Etruscan pottery and their decorations [Click on his site here & Cue in: music from Ghost].  His terra-colored paints when heated, turn black on the pots.  Gorgeous.  From here, the Etruscans would be pleased to know that the area gave us our toilets (or, bathroom fixtures, if you prefer).
Back in Rome, I happened upon a fab new Gelateria Romana (a funny misnomer, as it was founded in Rimini in 1947 so now coming to Rome!)  They’ve done it up nicely, with an all-white atmosphere, gorgeous windows, gelato-filled crepes and sauces flowing non-stop from faucets; the stuff ones usually dreams about (or, that I always do...).

Just around the corner, I was treated to an all-day outrageous buffet at Porto Fluviale, one of the many hip bars & restaurants opening in this funky area (viale ostiense) that used to house flour mills along the Tiber, along with the gasometro and the Electric Company, now my favorite museum in Italy.

With all our balmy weather, the Gelateria was packed with the dopo-pranzo crowd, so, it’s a bit stressful to actually eat there, but worth the pushing & shoving; an experience not unlike the one across the way at Eataly.  The area also boasts about 5 sushi restaurants - I’m not sure in what state of sushidom…but one day, I’ll set out to try them on for size.

And, not to disappoint my readers without offering “the flipside of the frittata," I’ll mention that we have heard about the fake Italian virgin olive oil confiscated at the swanky Herrod’s Dept Store in London; looks like the Tuscan "import" comes from the fair green hills of Gran Bretagna - a sore subject taken up in the fine tome, Extra Virgin.  [And which also provokes the query...they have olive trees in the UK?]

And while on the subject of imposters, I had my personal bizarre moment, when my package of Pettinicchio ricotta turned out to be fucsia; not a color you want to see in nature's whitest product.

So, I’m going to check out if I can get Tusciagnam to deliver ricotta fresh from the sheep (even better than from the cow) but until then, I'll happily enjoy my golden brick of cacio cheese.

Saturday, February 15

John Elkann - Grandson of Gianni Agnelli - Got "There" all on his own

This cartoon - by the inimitable GianFalco (illustrator of my book, Burnt by the Tuscan Sun) - perfectly encapsulates how John Elkann, like most entitled people around who cannot fathom how the 99% actually live, really put his foot in it.  Like Berlusconi before him, who so infamously stated that young women graduates, looking for a future, need to "find a rich husband - like one of my sons" in order to make it, career advice is unwanted from this lightweight and "nipote" of Gianni Agnelli [it's where we get the term nepotism from], the man who's father put him in the automotive business.
Prior to joining the very top echelon of the FIAT Corporation, a company which professes to be a capitalist institution, this 'champagnone' (as my colleagues & I liked to call them) came to the Company with an impressive resume' -- that of being able to uncork champagne bottles on the pistes of Davos, Switzerland.  His mother probably made his travel arrangements & changed his money back then and probably still chooses his business attire today.
He stated that, in a country where 48% of the youth are unemployed, septuagenarians occupy most company / public / university / and political posts, and where graduates are leaving by the throngs, that jobs are plentiful and youth today just need to try harder and not be so comfy at home.  While, indeed, there is a certain malaise with these 'bamboccioni', the idea that Italy is a free-wheeling, free market when it comes to labor, getting hired and all the rest, is risible, at best. Most jobs are found through personal contacts, not recruiters.  But still, hearing this advice from a guy who 'worked his way to the top' by playing with his toy Alfa Romeos better than the rest is insulting.
So, hats off to Gianfalco for perfectly capturing the zeitgeist and poking fun at our little nipote:
Yeah, right. Elkann really 'came to it' all on his own
Yeah-good thing he didn't say some one gave him a helping hand...
that way he would've climaxed even easier

click on links above
for more Gianfalco cartoons, check out the tab "cartoon of the week" or visit his (Italian) website or Open Salon page in English.

Sunday, February 9

Blood Red Oranges: As good as it gets

Picture and all the nutritional info
you would ever want from 
One of my long held stances on Life in Italy is that much of the country is marketing-challenged.  You can imagine my dismay when I first heard about blood red oranges.  But in reality, the name fits.  By my calculations, the only reason vampires don't exist is that they went vegan and started going for this sweet nectar instead.
But, trolling the internet, you find plenty of nay-sayers. most likely turned off by the name.  Or the looks.  Somewhere on twitter I turned up a whole community of no blood-red orange people. I was shocked.
But this caused me to recall my very first interaction with this strangest of fruits [after all, I came from the Orange-Juice-from-a-can USA DNA strain].  Heck, it was a miracle for me to know that oranges grew on trees.

So there I was in Parma, at 19 years old, sweating it out in one of the hottest summers ever experienced by homo sapiens.  I was holding down the challenges of a summer internship in a place where everyone heads for the cooler hills for the summer, leaving the sad sacks behind to shut the windows so the heat wouldn't come into the building. My workload was so challenging that I actually experienced carpal tunnel from the mass of papers they had me staple - as my only job requirement - for three straight sweltering months.
After one particularly staple-stress-filled day at the office, I headed out to a nearby bar (well, that's not entirely the only bar open in a 60 km radius from my office) and, eyeing a small hill of gorgeous oranges, I asked for some fresh-squeezed juice.  I was so desperate, I was willing to spend an entire week's pay stub to satisfy my need to be both cooled & vitamined up before rickets kicked in altogether.  
The bar tender placed a purplish glass filled with some concoction in front of me.  It looked as if they had taken three rotten oranges, clearly covered over from the heat with a purplish mould, and put it in my glass.  I refused to drink it.  
The bartender started to laugh.  Thinking it was some gag he was playing on me - I looked around for Candid Camera.  I finally said, politely, that I couldn't drink this.  And...what was it anyway?  By way of an answer he produced equally purple oranges - split in two - which only confirmed my suspicions. The fruit was rotten, after all.
By this time, the only other person in the entire town told me to try it.  Not recalling those monitions of 'never accepting strange food from strangers', I tried a tentative sip.
And to this day, I have never, ever, in my life tasted something so wondrous, so stupendous, so over-the-top sweet & sour & sensational.  To top it off, they even served it with a bag of sugar and a tall spoon to stir it all around with.  Since that fateful day, I have never been able to drink what most countries call "orange juice" again.  
But in trying to beat that unbearable Parma heat, I never did get my o.j. with a cube of ice inside.  It didn't matter.  And still doesn't.