Sunday, August 10

10 things that have changed Life in Italy

It all started when Italy Mag published a few terrific photos taken in the 1980s by photographer Charles H. Traub for his new book (try to get past the godawful name), La Dolce Via (click name for link).
I first came to Italy as an adult in 1982, and again for a year in 1985. So I started thinking about all things that have changed since those early days of wonderment, hot summer nights and pasta binges. But one thing that hasn't changed: those Speedo-style bathing suits you see in the pictures.
From Charles H Traub's book, La Dolce Via
photos from 1980s Italy

§ 10 things that have changed the essence of Life in Italy §
  • Shaken, not Stirred - I remember asking - no, begging - for some ice - even a single, solitary cube of it when ordering a drink of any kind.  I was clearly playing Italian roulette, what with ice and being stricken on the spot, right up there on the charts of health superstitions.  Time and again, I would be served a gin&tonic or screwdriver - warm (after walking the barrista through the ingredients and preparation).  Nowadays kids earn 'mixology' degrees, make mean mojitos, and, taking a cue from my fellow countrymen, serve up a huge glass of Coke - with almost nothing in it but ice.
  • Tourist 'Attractions'? Really?! - Who doesn't recall those heady days of seeing thousands of tourists scratching their collective heads for something to do after lunch? It was Walter Veltroni around 1997 who finally freed museums from the clutches of govt unions who did not want their employees to work more than half a day, and we're all better for it (except maybe the scores of lovers who were now left languorously waiting prostrate by the nightstand half-cocked, so to speak).
  • What do you feel like for dinner? - Granted, anyone coming to visit Italy only wants the Real Maccheroni...but for the rest of us, we used to dream of a decent plate of Pad Thai, or a genuine American burger.  Chinese eateries started the trend but then sushi came in the roaring 90s with the Japanese tourists.  Now, you can feast your eyes and please your palate on anything and everything from Argentinian beef to Tex-Mex to Moroccan, without having to hang out at the ubiquitous Kebab joints.  Not to mention something I may have had a hand in...muffins, cookies and cheese cakes served in Autogrills and bakeries and supermarkets across the country.  As a former New Yorker, I'm still waiting to 'Order In', however.
  • Mad Max Parking - It used to amuse me to come across any number of cars pulled right up to the coffee shop or newsstand or phone booth-solo un minuto. Once cities finally figured out they could make loads on paid parking spots (and in Rome, it was the brain child - or at least the pocketbook of - none other than the wife of the Mayor Rutelli - cough - choke) the gig was up - and enforced. But then came SUVs. So now we're just double-parked in by big egos who insist you need to wait for them to finish their cup of espresso or conversation before you're allowed to go on your way. Ahhh...the good old days...when you could at least pull off the sidewalk and out of your own parking spot.
  • (Un)Happy Hours - and...what is now known as Apericena [Aperitivo + Dinner (Cena) where you can pig out at the bar with a drink and bar food for about 8 euro a head]  Only the Venetians had (and still have) their unique form of Happy Hour - served with Spritz, but what started with the fashionistas in Milan, finally spread across the Boot.  So mixed drinks are now served (with ice!) but as for collateral damage: Watching Italy go from wine-only, conversational soirees to drinks, drugs, pole dancers to open air Bunga Bunga frat parties is something that I never thought I'd live to see.
  • Sayonara Siestas - I long fought for the opportunity to actually make purchases when I had time to do so: lunch hours and weekends. But now that shopping malls and continuous hours are the norm, with the advent of chain stores replacing the mom&pop shops, well...it makes me a bit nostalgic for the times when demand was as pent up as a pressure cooker with Arborio rice inside.  I used to think that Italy's economy would be on a roll with longer hours; but with our triple dip recession in play, well...clearly this hasn't helped.
  • How a DJ Changed My Life - It used to amaze me that in Italy, djs would talk right through the songs they played On Air.  In a country with more conspiracy theorists than types of pasta, I was told that this was so people couldn't record the songs straight off the radio; something, we all did, of course. I guess youtube and iTunes put the kabosh on pirated songs over the radio but hey, we can still buy pirated movies on any street corner.
  • Money lenders in the temples - It wasn't so long ago that churches charged money to visitors who wanted the lights shined on an artwork or two.  But in the late 1990s, they wisened up, and many took the bold step of charging to get closer to God...or at least to the gilded altarpieces with Venice - Verona - and Pisa leading the way. And while sometimes you still need to drop a coin in the coffers to see where you're going, you'll find churches - like the Bocca della Verità - charging for photo opps, or putting up scaffolding for inordinate amounts of time to make an honest buck [a plan that sometimes can backfire...when Benetton's priest & nun kissing or some very heavy cleavage was put up on an important Roman parish...] As funny as that was, churches are laughing all the way to the Banca di Santo Spirito - which leaves me wondering, 'What would Jesus think'?
  • Mad Men & Movie Ads - There was a time when I knew all the RAI jingles and could settle in knowing I could enjoy a film - all the way through and without interruption. Then came Silvio Berlusconi, who imported that American-style of TV ads and everything changed (starting with burlesque starlets - maintaining a perpetual loop of 1970s Love, American Style crossed with Hee-Haw). And even though we all pay the loathed TV Tax (promising 'no ads'), well, even on the State-owned channels there they are.  On the flip side, movie theaters have mostly done away with the (hated-by-foreigners-only) INTERVALLI - breaks - during screenings [you can read my own heartfelt recollection of the horrific experience here or in my book].
  • A Breath of Fresh Air - Last, but certainly not least, especially during the sweltering summer months, it was the Summer of 2003 that did the entire country in.  A place so fixated on the ills of a/c that they didn't even have it as an option in vehicles.  Today, although I may find myself covering up with newspapers in trains on occasion, I enjoy entering a bus that is refreshingly cool (unless there are older people on board who have opened the windows).  You can read here about that fateful heatwave of 100+ degrees that changed a nation - from my book, Burnt by the Tuscan Sun.

Move your cursor thru post for live links to more fun stuff...





Friday, August 1

Summer in Italy - Jumping for Joy


This video has had nearly 31 million views
showing a dog's sheer joy after being reunited with his owner

I post it here, at the start of the summer exodus. When people from all over Europe, travel to places far and wide, leaving behind their furry ex-friends. In Italy alone, it's estimated that over 300,000 dogs are abandoned each summer on the streets and highways, usually to end up as roadkill. Others are mercilessly tied to lampposts in the hopes that a good samaritan will pick them up - they usually die of thirst. While puppies are routinely tossed into garbage bags and into rivers or garbage bins.
Seeing that dog above reminded me of my old dog, Trevor, who I found zig-zagging down a highway near Trevi in Umbria (hence the name). I managed to coerce him into the car with hot dogs, but most dogs run away from fear. For 2 -3 years after I picked him up off the roadside, every time he saw a woman approaching with a baby stroller or heard baby sounds, he would have the reaction above. It was heart wrenching. Because, while we can amuse ourselves on the internet with zillions upon zillions of dog & baby videos, unfortunately, in Italy - and I think elsewhere - a new baby is reason enough to abandon your four-legged family member. Actually, pregnancy is reason enough.
And while I know most of my readers probably wouldn't think of abandoning their pet and that we are not the ones we should be watching out for...I post this message every August 1st - just because.

Here's a link to my dog park in Rome - the best thing ever - and a bunch of newly abandoned dogs we're trying to find homes for.  PARCO SCOTT


And here, a few more past posts - feel free to share the photos!


Sunday, July 27

The Costa Concordia Pulls an All Nighter

What, me worry?!
Captain Schettino pulls an all-nighter
to show his solidarity with the victims who
senselessly died the night he was - literally - at the helm

As the Concordia was pulled into the Genovese harbour, its former Captain was caught living it up an a White Party on the island of Ischia.  Obviously, his supposed tethers for In House arrest can cross bodies of water, just like the ones that hoisted the Concordia up the coast.
For my satirical view of the events...please check out my post on Irreverent Italy.

The boat is docked right at the edge of - repeat after me:  Genova.  NOT Genoa where it will be broken down at the very place it was first made.  And, while you're at it...Torino not Turin and Firenze not Florence and Venezia not Venice...!

A few sad stats about Schettino's horrible act of bravado to impress his on-board - and illegal - squeeze who escaped the tragedy by taxi (!) which is why our Captain Coward found himself abandoning his ship to begin with.
32 deaths
110 injured
damages affecting the 4197 passengers who survived

1.5 billion euro (over $2 billion) spent on salvage operation
 12 million euro in damage to the island of Giglio
not counting the loss of sea life
But on the bright side...The salvage operation created

921 days of 24/7 work for hundreds of engineers, divers, workers and sea men

Tuesday, July 15

Berlusconi - A report card on his trials & tribulations

School may be out for the summer, but I thought I'd give you a Report Card on the judiciary woes that have our favorite Prime Minister currently "working" (albeit only a few hours a week) at a Senior Citizen Home as retribution for one of his many prickly peccadillos.   
Just in case anyone wants to keep track:

1 - Found GUILTY for the Mediaset Tax Fraud case, in which he was sentenced to 4 years in prison, later reduced to 1 year for a law to reduce jail overcrowding, reduced to community service since he is now over 70 years old.  
He was also banned from public office for 5 years, but has managed to get that 'under review' as well.
1 - ABSOLVED due to his party changing the law so it would no longer be illegal
2 - Cases DROPPED due to a govt amnesty (surprise, surprise)
3 - Cases DROPPED - usually for statute of limitations.  To many, this is nothing short of incredible. In Italian trials, the clock keeps ticking even once you're on trial, so...your smooth lawyers can stall and stall and Whoa, really?! I'm off because we didn't try my case in time? Funny how that works. 
7 - Cases going to TRIAL

So, where does the "most persecuted man in history" stand on his many trials today?

  • RUBY RUBACUORE - the heart stealer who got him 7 years for sex with a minor - he is now getting it up in appeals.
  • RUBY TER - some of Berlusconi's illustrious Brat & Rat Pack got jail terms for basically running a prostitution ring at Silvio's playpen in Arcore (Sardinia), Berlusconi is going to be tried on corrupting witnesses, since he was paying his call girls - err... friends - nice stipends the whole time leading up to and during the trial [€5M to Ruby and 2500/month to others].
  • BARI ESCORT - more girl problems for Silvio from top to bottom of the Boot. Again, abetting prostitution and then lying about it.
  • BUYING VOTES - In Naples he's on trial for "convincing" a certain Senator (Sergio De Gregorio, who has confessed) to switch parties during a crucial vote; thereby impeding the govt
  • LODO MONDADORI - This coming October, Berlusconi is being asked to pay further damages to his biggest competitor, a certain De Benedetti to whom he was already forced to pay 494 Million euro. They're asking for about 90M more for the legal fees and interest payments.
  • DIVORCE - Ahhh yes, sometimes, when you're caught once too often with your pants down and with minors no less, your wife might say, Basta! Enough is Enough.  So now, the courts need to come up with a tidy alimony payment for her own public embarrassment and with the richest man in Italy.

* A terrific synopsis by the BBC on these cases here
You can find more on my favorite Italian, at The Silvio Show here

Sunday, July 6

Roma Termini Train Station - a place where living comes to life

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I have a few select memes regarding Life in Italy - one of them being, that the entire country needs a crash course in Marketing 101. Heck-they can even choose one of thousands online and free! And so it was, when I caught the new Rome Termini Train Station ad - website - and marketing program.  But, I'll be fair.  Their website is truly terrific.  Thought out nicely, excellent graphics, and even user-friendly.  So on that front, kudos to you web designers!  One trip over there, and you can see all that Rome's Central Train Station has to offer. 
But then there it was...front and center, their cool new moniker. I can't decide if it is tongue-in-cheek like the Brits would do, or if they are totally serious about this.  It reads, literally, "A place for living."  
Check out the Home Page - there's more to Rome's Train Station
than meets the eye!  
http://www.romatermini.com
I imagine that what they mean by this, is in reality, "A place to experience the joys of life" or something along those lines. But, really? Because, when I think...a place for living, the hundreds of people actually living there come to mind.
picture from Il Tempo newspaper
Here, thanks to a mix of outstanding volunteer associations, our guests at least are treated to breakfast in bed - even better service than most of us get at home.
Volunteers help to do what they can for the homeless
in Rome's Termini Station
Adra Assoc
The other association that runs Binario 95 - a place that helps the mentally ill or infirm and locates beds around Rome does incredible work.  But their name?  Europe Consulting. Perfect for a marketing consulting firm in Brussels. Marketing 101 anybody? 

Sunday, June 29

Rome Tourists find sights hiding in plain sight

Picture & slide show from Archive9news.com 
Satirical columnist Dave Barry once penned in one of his most memorable columns, when describing his trip to Italy with his family, that as far as he could tell, "Each summer in Italy, not only do all the Italians empty out of the cities to the beach or the mountainsides, but so do all the statues as well." This summer, almost on cue, it's not the statues but rather all the big monuments that tourists are wont to view. Considering the lack of money Roma Capitale govt claims not to have, it looks instead that we are building for the next Olympics.
So, for tourists, here's your quick guide on what you may or may not be seeing this summer:
• They may have closed all the roads leading to the nerve center of Rome, so tourists can have a leisurely stroll up the Fori Imperiali, but still the Colosseum looks like it's wearing braces while it gets the deep clean of a lifetime [with financing by footwear magnate of Tod's]
• Over near the Spanish Steps clean-ups are a double feature what with the Barcaccia - the little boat - fountain that spouts much-needed cool water in the summer by Pietro Bernini (dad, not son) under wraps so tall they nearly cover the Spanish Steps.
Photo & slide show by UrbanVision.it
• Peep around the corner of the wall there and look up.  At the top of the hill sits the convent and church of Trinità dei Monti but you won't see a thing. I believe it's part of the facelift of the entire Spanish Steps compliments of Bulgari but I can't be sure.  Let's just hope we don't end up with a rubbery-looking staircase that looks like it came from an Italianate Smurf Village, like the lips of fashion models who parade down them each spring. Supposedly it will all be back to its original splendor in two years.
• And finally, on everyone's wish list is to run the gauntlet between the hoardes of tourists, pickpockets, street mimes, counterfeit vendors and beggars toss a coin in the Trevi Fountain. Well, not so fast.  Although it is still a sensational masterpiece with its wild horses, it too is under wraps.  But this project gives us something for the money -- the City just completed a walkway that will allow tourists to get a nice view of the restoration works in progress.  That is, if someone is actually there working over the hot summer months.  Nonetheless, it might keep you out of the way of the pickpockets long enough to enjoy a unique vantage point on gorgeous art restoration.

All links live above for cool slideshows of the works



Sunday, June 22

e-Harmony Italian style - Davvero?

...Really?!  I received in my inbox an invitation to try out eHarmony online dating. I think it was in Italian, and I thought, I would check out the types of guys they thought might be my perfect online match. After all, stranger things have happened. 
Now, I don't know if it was because I selected to receive their barrage of questioning in English, but, certainly, my country choice was Italy. So, I went in to face their 1375 questions that might identify that perfect person to spend the rest of my life with, or, in the very least, once mamma had been laid to rest.
The questions clearly did not change algorithms to your demographic. Suddenly, I felt like maybe it was a site for tweens trying to find someone to join them at a One Direction concert.  Who do you prefer? Madonna or Lady Gaga (citing one of the questions in which there was a minimum of name recognition)...Incredibly, None of the Above was not an option. If you chose one or the other, you received a quick, cheery message that chirped, "Great! You want to meet someone who likes Madonna!" Well, actually, no. But let's move on.
The queries were far too American-centered for my taste - and for Italy. And while I'm the first to admit that...if I've got a problem with the dating website, one can only fear for the actual date itself...One question after another referenced U.S. TV stars or movies I'd never heard of. Or shopping malls or other bizarre American traits.
So, I don't know if there's an Italian version of questioning out there, or if eHarmony just translates from that original set.  Skimming thru the questionnaire, I realized I needed a Red-White-Green version that would help me suss out the opposite sex and, pronto. 

Heart Graphic

ScrapsYard.com | Heart Break | Forward this Picture
So, eHarmony, here's a teaser for you to help you get a jump start on the Italian dating market:
  • Do you still live at home?
  • How old were you when you left your home?
  • Do you think it's okay for your mamma to do your laundry?
  • Do you believe that socks and underwear must be ironed to the point that they can stand up straight in a drawer?
  • Ironing is only for women, true or false?
  • Do you agree that courses served for all meals must be planned well in advance? And, perhaps in consultation with your mother?
  • Your ideal living situation is in the same apartment building as your mamma?
  • Laughing out loud is not good for women, true or false?
  • Animals are part of the family, or filthy beasts?
  • A kitchen is not fully cleaned until all bacteria is removed from every visible surface
  • Pizza shall be eaten with a fork and knife always? Or just under duress?
  • Sundays are for watching football? Being with mamma? Or relaxing at home?
  • Just because you're married 'doesn't mean I'm dead' - true or false?
  • Plastic surgery? Or botox?
  • Berlusconi or Beppe Grillo?
  • An 'open marriage' is only disrespectful if your partner finds out, true or false?
  • Do you think bare feet in the house causes warts?
And, if you're going to give me musician choices, let's hear: Pino Daniele? Jovanotti? or Ligabue?

Anyone have any more to add?