Saturday, March 29

Centro Isterico

I just came back from a quick jaunt to Puglia. Having traveled the entire swathe of the boot these 20-odd years, I can honestly affirm (and at the risk of causing great controversy amongst my readers), that Puglia boasts the best cuisine in all of Italy.

Certainly, it’s a hard choice: I am the proud owner of a Piedmontese cookbook, I can’t wait for forays into Florence, I love those sweet red onions of Tropea, Ligurian pesto, and truffles on even old shoes will taste terrific. My favorite foods on earth come from Sicily.
But, if the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach, Puglia wins my affection hands down.
This could also be due to the ‘comfort food’ factor of Pugliese cooking. Although my relatives did not hail from this part of the country, their food always tastes like ‘granma used to make’. The baked ziti, the fava beans, the ham in the ragù, the unbelievable bread.

But, I think the food tasted better too, due to the fact that you were finally settling in to be treated with unlimited hospitality and a fantastic bottle of Primitivo, in order to calm, no, numb those nerves from the drive in and around the City Center (the Centro Storico) trying to find the darn ristorante.

There were one way routing systems that went up only (we had to go downhill). Most streets, even major thoroughfares, were without names, cars darted into traffic, blatantly ignoring the stop signs, 420 cars vied for 12 spots. My British friend and rattled driver (whom, I might add, was also driving on the wrong side – at least from his point of view -- adding to our collective angst), kept muttering that he felt like he was in India. I tried pointing out that there were far fewer people and no bony cows roaming down the middle of the streets, but, couldn’t get that out, as at that moment he’d be swerving to miss our 19th stray dog walking down the middle of the street.

Our GPS navigator whom my nephews had christened Lizzy, threw an absolute tizzy-and just gave out. It was the modern day equivalent of “If you don’t slow down/stop and ask directions/find the right turn I’m getting out and walking!!”
My father always quipped that 'Hunger was the Best Sauce'. After a trip to Puglia, I think it’s Road Rage that makes for excellent three course meals, wine included.

Thursday, March 20

La Campagna d'(Al)Italia - The AlItalian Campaign

And so it was, or, so it seemed to be*, that Air France has finally won approval to take over Alitalia (for whatever reason, it behooves me).

Charging right over those Alps and through the muck, just like Napoleon before them, here come the French to save the day. Sure, Air France is the only other company on the entire earth that knows what it’s getting into: both companies, after all, are suffocated by angry unions, pulled down by seriously over-bloated ranks, marked by surly service and destroyed by rampant strikes. Unsurprisingly, their’s was the only offer on the table.

And just like those early battles alongside the Savoys so long ago, the first decisive battle is once again taking place on Novara soil, while they're busy fortifying the ramparts further down in Rome:

They’re building a multi-million euro addition to the poorly named Fiumicino or Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (take your pick); and sacrificing the best thing that ever happened to Italy - the even more incredibly ill-named, Malpensa (literally: Ill-thought) Airport. Despite its outrageous moniker, it is the engine that drives the entire economy, it is the saving grace of travelers far and wide. After all, it was not so long ago, that to come in & out of Italy, one had to take a puddle jumper over to Rome. This is their attack plan.

Capitulating to their new overlords, the Italians wasted no time in shutting down a third of the flights, just before tourist season. In a sick game of sour grapes, reminiscent of the way they ousted the Austrians in the 1800s, Italy refuses to let the Irish low-cost airline, RyanAir, gain a foothold on Italian soil.

With Milan’s fashion industry trying to maintain its competitive edge, while Fiat is making a comeback, while they’re building bigger and better trade show grounds, while foreign companies are still setting up their headquarters, the French – Roman alliance wants to put an end to it all by squeezing out its only northern gateway to business.

Perhaps the French should take note that, despite his numerous conquests, Napoleon in the end abdicated and was exiled to the Italian Isle of Elba.

*Incredibly, the guy whose stature, chutzpah & sheer arrogance is reminiscent of the Emperor Napoleon, Berlusconi, has just thrown a wrench in the deal stating he wishes now to take over Alitalia. To tell you the truth, it may be an improvement -- since he’s a Milanese – at least he’ll keep the airport running, if only for his own private jets (the modern day equivalent of the Bonaparte stables).

But, the Air France officials can supply a rebuff of their very own Napoleon who claimed, as he won the Italian crown: "Dio me l’ha data, guai a chi la tocca! "

[God has given this to me, and for whomever so may touch it, there will be serious trouble.”]

Tuesday, March 18

A word of the wise

Thirty years ago, on March 16th, 1978, Aldo Moro, twice Prime Minister was killed by the Red Brigades--partly for making his 'Historic Compromise' with the Communist Party, although the exacting truth behind his death remains a mystery even today. In honour of this Statesman and intellectual, I offer a quote that they've plastered on posters around Rome:

«Questo Paese non si salverà, la stagione dei diritti e delle libertà si rivelerà effimera, se in Italia non nascerà un nuovo senso del dovere». ...

«This Country will not be saved, the season of rights and freedoms will reveal itself to be ephemeral, unless a new sense of duty is born in Italy». ...

Looking at where we stand 30 years on, the only sense of duty that politicians seem to have is in assuring themselves more rights and freedoms.

Monday, March 17

United States of Denial

Many people have been asking me what were the comments over in Europe about the Governor of New York’s dalliances on the dark side. I must say that in Italy, the entire incident received quite scant attention. The blurb was pretty much relegated to that of turning to the comics pages and checking out ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not!”. [Although the bathing suit shot of Spitzer’s hooker did garner a few extra choice placements….]

Once again, the Italians were flummoxed by the complete contradiction of America, with its ‘Sex & the City’ tales and then, its utter contempt when someone goes out into that very city to have sex.

In Italy, it’s not the whores who bring the guy down out of Government: not so long ago, it was the strippers who, after parading topless in the streets, actually formed the ‘Party of Love’ and went on to find a few places in Parliament! Perhaps Spitzer could follow in their platform shoe steps. This year, a porno queen decided to part with the standard posters of stiffs in suits (no pun intended), and decided to show her stuff in a different light, so to speak.

Typically, as the ‘man on the street’ comments go, it amounts to: “If he were an Italian politician, he’d be outed from office for NOT having done it!!” They said the same thing about Gary Hart after he was caught on the ‘Monkey Business’. After all, in Italy, even the real white collar crimes of payoffs, mafia connections, graft & corruption go unpunished, judging by the 50-odd convicted criminal politicians still sitting in Parliament, to keep up their own Monkey Business.

I believe the only reason the hanky-panky doesn’t make headlines here is that most journalists, whistle blowers and the opposition in this Catholic country are pretty much Bible Fearin' types: “He who has no sin cast the first stone”.

And, just like during the cold war, it keeps everyone in a state of détente and, a state of denial.

Friday, March 14

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

GARBAGE - The Spillover
A guy in Naples (and he’s not the only one) just got his Garbage Tax bill. 257 euro ($400) for the year. Considering they haven’t picked up the garbage in over 8 months…But of course, if he doesn’t pay up, he'll be charged late fees and compounded interest.

So when will the residents get to levy late fees on the City Govt.??

And, to add insult to injury, this week the Garbage Collectors went on strike across the country.
I’m sure they’re not paid enough, so, I’ll let them have their way…but,talk about playing dirty...

The Riddle of the Mail Delivery
Like a bad Nancy Drew mystery, I could not figure out why all my mail would come on some days, and the box would remain empty on others. Turns out, they’ve reduced mail delivery! In Italy, the Postman only rings every other day.

When you stop and think how once the Sick Man of Europe, England, now delivers sometimes twice in a day, and a letter sent that morning will arrive in your box that afternoon…far from sick, the British Post Office is on Viagra.


A Big Mafioso weighing over 210 kilos (that’s over 460 lbs.), was sent home for house arrest because he was deemed ‘unfit’ for prison life. FAT CAT
So, instead of being forced to do jumping jacks out in the yard, he gets sent home for more delicious pasta alla norma?
Meanwhile, they neglected to notice that errr…he already did a pretty good job conducting his business from home while being immobile…
Coming right out of Central Casting for the Sopranos, no one caught the irony in the fact that he is the head of the ‘Lo Piccolo’ Clan.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Wednesday, March 12

A Tale of Two Cities

Roma may have beaten Madrid last week in soccer, but it certainly can't hold a candle to Barcelona…The City That Absolutely Doesn’t Take Siestas!

Barcelona gets more tourists than Rome, but, that doesn’t show. In fact, you were treated, from the free (and frequent) train ride into the city, to the yellow-vested multilingual walking Tourist Info people on every train and nearly on every street, as if they had discovered tourism just the other day.

Sure, things were just as expensive as elsewhere, but, the impeccable service, great food, clean beaches and efficiency made me surely think I wasn't in Catania anymore. Of course, you were constantly warned about pickpockets and so you were a bit more careful with your purse and bags-unlike in Rome, where pickpockets seem to be seen as a smart way to simply spread the wealth.

No waiting on telephone switchboards to find out ticket prices, only to have the line disconnect after 6 minutes (average wait: about 20 mins).
I felt confident-for the first time since being in the Mediterranean – that I could actually count on what I was told. No misinformation, no closed offices, or ‘sold out’ (without the sorry) over here. Even the impeccable underground system beat out snazzy Washington D.C.’s, in all categories.

Of course, in Barcelona the taxi drivers (a breed unto themselves) still lied or refused service, you had to pay to visit popular churches, and restaurants and hotels were (alas!) decidedly anti-pero, with ‘no dogs allowed’ stickers on nearly every doorway. And smoking is still (hack!) a national pasttime.
I thanked my lucky stars (or my dog star, rather) for being in Italy after all, (even though they charge for churches in Verona, Venice and the godawful Pisa). Even the Roman taxi drivers will take Trevor the dog wherever he wants to go.

But after this short trip thru the Twilight Zone, reality hit once again: Back in Rome, the (airport) train was canceled, I had to wait 40 mins. in the place where it would appear they drain the toilets when the trains pull in. Foreigners milled about wondering how to decipher where they needed to go and none of them knew about 'punching' their tickets.

The airport train, aside from not being free, is not designed to hold luggage nor passengers. You have a choice to hoist your bag up or down sets of steps and then fit it in a tight corridor where no one else can pass by.
At the station, you lug your bag down the same flight of steps you had lugged it up on departure, since there are no elevators to the airport train. Once outside, taxis were replaced with illegals, drunks and drug pushers. The bus took 20 minutes to arrive. My friend called to say her wallet had been stolen – actually sliced – out of her bag that same morning.

Clearly, its not the Spaniards who have been taking a siesta on the tourism front.

But, just for the record, Trevor won’t be invited along next time.

Friday, March 7


Ad appearing in IHT

Group of Italian citizens is desperately seeking fairly/marginally honest politicians to run in the next political elections for the Italian Parliament.

The salary is extremely competitive (among the highest in the world) and "countless beyond the imagination" benefits are included. Immunity from prosecution is also guaranteed.

Once elected, the candidate may bring along friends and relatives who will be offered positions as top level state administrators or directors of a national TV network.

Job location is in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the heart of Rome (walking distance from Piazza Navona).

No particular skills are required (in fact, having no skills at all is perfectly OK). No actual work is requested, except appearing on TV talk shows, where politicians are not supposed to answer questions, but are invited to join well known soubrettes and sing along popular themes.

Candidates should contact Lucrezia Marfiorio

Wednesday, March 5

Tante Belle Cose - February 08

Italy is definitely on the move. Consumer unions are on the attack, 24 hr. services are going strong, and satirical shows are exposing all kinds of graft, corruption and waste…and still remain on the air. You can feel that change is happening, and, for the first time in years, Italians seem to be fighting the system. Maybe because there is none right now. I’m all for leaving us with no government. Think of the savings! And, all those pesky government motorcades – the roads have never been clearer of traffic!

They may not care where they drop their litter, but, give us a Tsunami in Thailand, or abused children or horrific crimes, the Italians will show their solidarity first and foremost. And so it is with events – large and small – this month:

- The EU has determined that in all countries singles can adopt children. This is absolutely terrific news, except that in Italy, couples wait an average of 7 years to get a child, and even then, ‘the system’ prefers to leave the Italian babies in foster care in much the same way they prefer to leave dogs in shelters—the system rewards the numbers.

- And, speaking of babies, a pedophile was released after raping 3 little sisters (and why he only got a sentence as if he had raped 1 is beyond me), he then brutally attacked another 4 yr. old. Italy is now debating their own ‘Megan’s Law’, whereby people will be forewarned if a pedophile is moving into the neighborhood. The outcry was so strong that they are debating changing the law for pedophiles to life in prison; about the only place they should be allowed to live, at least to this correspondent.

- A Jewish University opened its doors in Rome. Considering it once held the oldest Jewish population in Europe, I for one am delighted. Even moreso since the rector insists that all religions will be taught and tolerated. Now if we could just get the same treatment from our friends in the Middle East.

- One small step for man…the Italians imposed a €100 euro fine for anyone caught ‘touching themselves’, even fully clothed on the outside of their pants.
I’m wondering if we can just make ‘citizen’s arrests’ and just pocket the money. I know I could make quite a killing on this one. Especially when in Italy, they don't knock on wood...but rather, touch their woody to ward off any bad luck.

To hear one reader's experience in Florence, click here.

Sunday, March 2

Sanremo Snore Festival

This past week marked the incredible SANREMO Music Festival, The music competition which tries to create an ‘American Idol’ of the Italian music scene. Unfortunately, unlike American Idol, it’s viewership was down to levels unseen since the 1970s.

That’s because they seem to have forgotten that first MTV, and then YouTube do a much better job in bringing out fantastic new artists and actually allowing them to be presented by young, hip people who have a clue about music and listeners today. Despite their multi-million euro budgets, even no-cost SecondLife avatars do a better job strutting their stuff.
In Italy’s Sanremo, its EighthLife that seems to be the operative word.

Year after year, they roll out their 3-piece suit-clad octogenarians (this year, in the form of a multi-dentured Pippo Baudo and 60-something comedian Chiambretti), side by side with sexy sidekicks (this year, exceptional show girl, Michelle Hunziker – who just so happens to be Swiss, but, who’s counting?). But even wonderful Michelle couldn’t save the show.
She probably wasn’t wearing enough skimpy outfits to satisfy the eye-candy viewers who seem to identify in some weird way with the presenters, who think, “Hey, maybe I can get a hottie if I tuck my tummy inside a 3-piece suit and toss on a brown hairpiece!!’

Unfortunately, this is not quite what the X-geners (or even the Baby Boomers) seem to be interested in these days.
I swear that if it weren’t for these TV presenters, the 3-piece suit would be a centerpiece in Archeological Museums by now. Ditto for the hairpieces. They’re so ubiquitous on prime time, I’m surprised that the RAI isn’t actually fully sponsored by a Como Silk Factory – or, Six Feet Under.

As for me? As much as I love Italian music (and especially Italian rap), until they pull off the octogenarians and put actually talented dancers in clothes, I’ll save my viewing time for watching the snooker championships instead.

I would, of course, make an exception to my personal boycott:
If they started offering deals like, “No TV Tax for anyone who puts up with watching octogenarians ogle nearly-naked dancers while popping Viagra” – I would suffer through 8 days of Sanremo.
Or, maybe if they offered Homer Simpson the presenter’s job…After all, he might even look good in a 3-piece suit.