Wednesday, May 28

Italy: what goes up must go down

Readers of the blog will know that I have a few obsessions (while people who know me know that the number is somewhere in the hundreds)...So, I thought I'd provide, from time to time, the lowdown on whassup with the hottest issues of the day (and, to that anonymous reader...I apologize, Mara Carfagna is not one of them).

Alitalia -- It's fallen so far off the radar that I thought that maybe it just died a silent death, akin to the $60M website (Berlusconi-Stanca's folly) after the last govt pulled the plug. Even the opposition in Parliament brought it up the other day -- on one of the local talk shows -- called Chi l'ha visto? (Who's seen it??). It's still flying, right?

But, never fear, AirOne (my fave airline) is picking up the slack with its awesome new made-in-Italy ad campaign. Taking you to new heights as they show us a few guys -- walking, no less -- to an oil platform...Obviously, they're talking about the price of fuel...
Monnezzopoli (Garbage City) -- While the local officials scratch their collective heads wondering why the tourists aren't flocking to their proud city, it looks like the garbage is overflowing again. The Germans, who took all the excess and recycled 99.9% of it without burning a single celery stick have had their proverbial fill. The government is sticking its foot down and opening the 10 designated sites to riots and protests. But, not only are they arresting protestors, they've arrested 25 people from the last government on a series of charges from favoring the camorra to damaging the State.

And this govt wants to build four nuclear reactors? They can't get rid of our Coke cans & coffee grounds let alone find places to bury nuclear waste...
What comes up must come down -- First, they're taking down the (invisible) elevators of the Vittoriano -- they're an eyesore...Now, they want to dismantle the Ara Pacis (see photo in left column). The Mayor wants to issue a referendum on the matter...

Seeing that the new City Govt. inherited record deficits, they obviously can't think of things to do with all the cash in the city coffers.

Friday, May 23

A Day at the Roman Baths

I just got back from the gym, or palestra as the ancient Romans called it. Even though it’s a relatively recent phenomenon, you can see that the palestra is seen by all Italians as a modern update to those days spent at the baths as in olden times. Modern, because men and women now mix and thus they wear clothing -- albeit just enough to cover up their obvious disdain for such a barbaric practice.

As an American, I use the gym like I always have: as a place to work out, get sweaty and go home to take my shower; sweats and all. All I know is that the difference between me in my 20yr old Stanford sweatpants and oversized t-shirt and the hotties posing on the treadmills is like the difference between Charlize Theron in Monster and Charlize Theron – if she were infinitely more tiny.

But, it’s in the locker room where they really show their stuff. These women (at any age) work out in underclothes (and I use the term loosely) that, if the Bush Administration got a hold of them, would be used for torture at Abu Ghraib. How they can work out with strings and things riding up you-know-where is beyond me.

Call me traditional, but I’m from the Midwest where cotton was considered a good thing to wear to the gym. These women look like they were just passing through on their way to the lap dancing club just out the back door.

But, maybe I’m just not traditional enough; in Hadrian’s time, men & women alike had piercings from top to bottom, shaved everywhere and everything, and always left the baths beautifully coiffed.
No better way to show off all those tattoos.

Tuesday, May 20

Driving in Italy III: Park at Your Own Risk

The other night I was racing (as usual) to the movies with a friend. And, as usual, we were trying to find a parking spot --a near-impossible feat--on a Sunday evening in Rome’s City Center.
We tore down one street, where you could make a convenient illegal left turn into oncoming traffic and grab a spot in a quarter truly unreachable by car.
They’ve since put up a little curb and a median to restrict us more wily drivers.

We debated double-parking -- it’s only 2 hrs -- Yeah, but what if someone needs to get out? I could get towed.

I thought about putting the car in nose first and pulling it up onto the sidewalk but, we were in a zone with little parking people ticketing by the hour.

So I then made an illegal left turn, went into the bus-only lane to go into the no-traffic Villa Borghese park to my favorite hidden parking place. Besides having my license plate probably photographed 3 times (tickets efficiently arrive by mail), we discovered they’d turned my hideaway into Resident Only parking! Again, a risk of ticket, or even worse, The Boot.

Boy!” I said with disgust, “What’s come of this place? Bus lanes, no illegal turns, no double-parking…I wish it were the old days when people could just park anywhere they wanted to!”

“Yeah,” my friend retorted, “But, remember when you were the one who couldn’t get the car off the sidewalk because you were triple-parked in? Or, you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk either because of all the cars?”

I don’t know, but with all these rules and regulations – being enforced no less – I may have to move to Somalia. Although it seems it's still the case in Naples.

Friday, May 16

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

What goes up must come down
And Rome’s Vittoriano is no exception! While Rome’s new Mayor hasn’t yet gotten around to taking down the Ara Pacis, it turns out they will be taking down the controversial elevators at the Victor Emanuel Monument in Piazza Venezia. They only cost over 1.5 M euro to put in (last fall) in the first place. Now, they want to build the elevator inside due to the eyesore factor (call me blind, but I still haven’t determined where they are…) You can read more about this practice here.

Better late than never

After 34 years and over 750,000 pages of legal docs, it terms out the 6 neonazis responsible for setting off a bomb in Brescia (killing 8 and injuring 108) will finally go to trial. This case has been frozen for so long, it should have run out as a statue of limitations…

Bamboccionis in the Media
After a 32 yr old high on whatever ploughed his car into 2 Irish tourists, killing them, the media kept referring to him as a ‘ragazzo’. The last time I checked my dictionary, that term meant ‘boy’, e.g., under 18 – heck, I’d even take 21. His own dad called him a typical bamboccione (the Italian man-boys who are stuck in a prolonged adolescence). I’m sure the apple of his eye. You can see him at the wheel filmed with his own phone in another episode and a 'Look Ma, No Hands!' bravado.

Blondes have (much) more fun
Mara Carfagna, neo-Minister for Equal Opportunity is, in fact, a lawyer (and that’s no small feat in Italy). So, you can have good looks and brains to boot! No wonder she proudly displays her brunette locks.

The Demise of the Family
In Italy, as in the US, there’s been much talk about divorce, gay marriage, cohabitation, and so on. Berlusconi must have taken one look at the low birth rate, and decided to do without a Ministry of Family Affairs altogether!

Wednesday, May 14

The Fountain of Youth

So, the pundits are in and so is Berlusconi's new cabinet. The average age seems to be a wonderfully low (and never before seen nor heard nor done) 52. This is nothing short of revolutionary in a country in which youth is seriously frowned upon (although one look at the 30-something bamboccionis playing video games in local bars...and, well, I too would practice reverse age discrimination).

But, perhaps that was simply pre-botox...or pre-Berlusconi (same thing). It would appear that he thinks that by surrounding himself with young Ministers, he'll trim a few years off his 70+ size. He may never need hair implants again...!

But, I will take a reader's advice and give you the real age breakdown:

MEN = 54
(still nothing short of miraculous)

WOMEN = 35 (still nothing short of miraculous, given that they're actually over 30 -- just look at the TV programs).

And, as a service to my readers, since no one is coughing it up, here is my full listing, happily gleaned from Wikipedia entries:


Berlusconi 71

Ministers with portfolio

Foreign Affairs: Franco Frattini; 51
Interior: Roberto Maroni; 53
Justice: Angelino Alfano; 37
Economy: Giulio Tremonti; 60
Defence: Ignazio La Russa; 61
Economic Development:Claudio Scajola; 60
Education: Mariastella Gelmini; 34
Agriculture: Luca Zaia; 40
Environment: Stefania Prestigiacomo; 42
Public Works: Altero Matteoli; 68
Welfare: Maurizio Sacconi; 58
Cultural Heritage: Sandro Bondi 49 (dubious entry, just look at his photo)

Ministers without portfolio
Reforms Umberto Bossi; 66
Simplification: Roberto Calderoli; 52
Implementation: Gianfranco Rotondi; 48
EC Policy: Andrea Ronchi; 53
Equal Opportunities: Mara Carfagna; 33
Regional Affairs: Raffaele Fitto; 39
Youth Policy: Giorgia Meloni; 31
Relations with Parliament: Elio Vito; 48
Innovation: Renato Brunetta. 58

Who knows? Maybe this practice will have an impact on the other institutions like Colleges & Corporations, where the average age is probably more like 79.

Monday, May 12

The Joke's On Me

Over the weekend, I spent a couple wonderful days basically eating in and around the old Etruscan hill towns of Viterbo. In between meals, I was invited to enjoy various religious festivals and other events including taking a tour of the wonderful town of Castel Sant'Elia.

It’s a place overlooking an incredibly verdant gulch spotted now and again with grottoes which looked like they would be ideal real estate for a hermitage (and I don’t mean for the collection of artworks from Russia). Turns out they were.
Our group, including the Town Mayor, was taken around by a highly passionate architect and historian. At the stunning Basilica, with its ornate Mosaic pavement and lovely wall frescoes on the edge of the gulch, our guide mentioned Sant’Anastasio, probably depicted somewhere on one of the walls (I confess I was busy taking photos at this point).

Up walked an elderly woman who chirped, “I actually know a lot about Sant’Anastasio.” And, as she was filling us in with details on his life, she turned totally pale, began trembling from head to toe, and started channeling…none other than the Saint himself! This struck me as being so totally freaky (and I’m usually game for such things), that I left the church where I later caught her copping a smoke on the wall where I was sitting.
Afterwards, happily eating once again, I asked if the mystic had been some sort of tourist attraction plant…I mean, it certainly added to the 'experience’ of the place. The organizers quickly observed, “No, only in America would you find those sort of things!”

Friday, May 9

Alitalia's Turbulent Ride

Just in case you’ve been too absorbed by the Obama-Clinton rollercoaster ride, I thought I’d give a brief rundown on the ups and downs of the buyout of crippled and overbloated Alitalia. My faithful readers will know that Air France left the negotiating table. But then, instead of giving Alitalia a final coup de grace, the Italian government gave it a shot – of money -- in the form of a 300M euro dubious ‘bridge loan’ instead.

Suspicious, because, the amount of money the Italian government already gives to feed this carrier’s habit, the loan starts to reek an awful lot like ‘government subsidy’ – something fairly anathema to the EU. If we’re not careful, you’ll soon see pilots parking their planes on highway exit ramps in protest throughout the Ile de France.

So, in what was at first a miracle from John Paul II himself -- bringing into the country much-needed foreign investment in the form of an Air France deal – turned out to be a bad case of sibling rivalry—Sì, the country needs foreign investment, just not from the oo là là French…

Then, Berlusconi weighed in on the importance of having a ‘national airline’ (Why? One must ask, and, what about Air One? Is it Jamaican or something?). He then said he’d form an ‘Italian buyout’. Too bad all of the banks he said would do the deal, promptly said they wouldn’t.

He then suggested his own children would be part of a crack business team…Turns out, they were obviously too busy planning their marriages to members of the hoi polloi in an effort to lift the country out of economic decline, to actually take part.

And so, Berlusconi then announced a deal with that most Italian of carriers, Russia’s Aeroflot. Considering the number of prostitutes Italy gets from that country—perhaps they’d found new meaning for the Mile High Club. One look at the corruption surrounding both countries and hey, they could pass for blood brothers – it’d be an Italian job after all.

But even the Russians didn’t want this hot potato. So Berlusconi came ‘round to the idea that, voilà! A deal with Air France wasn’t such a bad idea…so he invited them back to the table, as if it was his in the first place.

Perhaps he’s promised a few more Carla Brunis to marry a few French ministers, perhaps even the Minister of Transport – And ecco! Fraternitè!

Sunday, May 4

Silvio Berlusconi: Prime Misogynist

While in America, the press is hot on the trail for the next big gaffe that naturally falls out of someone’s mouth, sooner or later, considering all the talking one does on the campaign trail, in Italy, slick Berlusconi makes quite a habit of saying what’s truly on his mind when it comes to women in Italy – and he doesn’t consider them gaffes at all.

Berlusconi’s consistent self-portrayal as a ladies’ man – one could say he is the Prime Minister of Latin Loverhood – time and again reveals what he, and I would venture, much of Italy, truly believes about women and their place.

To a young woman complaining about the precariousness of life in Italy for today’s generation, what with little or no income, and an even lesser possibility of obtaining a stable future, he quipped, Marry one of my sons!

He’s consistently against quotas in government, but more than that, he’s consistently against women in government at all:

- there just aren’t that many women who wish to leave the comfort of their home to enter politics

- he actually cited “the right to self-defense” against accepting more women parliamentarians

- to Spain's Zapatero (with 9 cabinet women) he observed, Zapatero has made too pink of a government … we can’t do that in Italy, because men are too prevalent.

- but then, he said women could join Parliament, provided they were molto belle
"a noi le signore, soprattutto belle, in Parlamento ci piacciono molto".

- then again, he seems proud of the right wing women who’ve entered politics citing, Le donne del centrodestra, sono "certamente più belle di quelle del centrosinistra".(Rightwing women are certainly more attractive than the leftwing ones).

- when stumping for a woman in Brescia, he urged "Viviana Beccalossi è più brava che bella. Il contrario di Rosi Bindi" (Beccalossi is more capable than pretty. The opposite of [leftwing] Rosy Bindi [an elderly woman at the forefront of Italian politics, but who is quite unattractive].
He then screamed, "Forza Viviana, show ‘em your stuff!".

But it is to Alessandra Mussolini, obviously a bit too far to the right, that he lets one slip: “Buttala via” or Throw her away.

But Berlusconi, Prime Misogynist doesn’t leave his utterances just to local politics. Internationally, he’s offered quite a few doozies:

- At a meeting of the Food & Agricultural Organization, he extended a particular greeting to the belle delegates.

- In France he declared, “I love France and I continue to love her – just look at all the girlfriends I've had…”

- On Spain’s “pink” cabinet, "Zapatero has put in 9 women? Boy, is he in for trouble…he really asked for it. It’ll really cost him to try and dominate them."

When he won for Italy the Administration of the Parma Ham Authority from Finland, he boasted, that he had to wipe off the dust from his old playboy moves to convince the Finnish President, Tarja Halonen, continuing, “I truly had to court her in order to convince her."

- And, on State visit to Hungary, he advised some journalists to be sure they asked the Prime Minister for “a couple of good addresses”. – and I don’t think he meant restaurants.

Finally, in a political convention for Women in Italy (like an Emily’s List)…he really struggled to make his point: “The meaning of the word 'donna' (woman) derives from the Latin, ‘dominate’." He goes on to flatter, "You’re the masters of your home, we’re the slaves…" and then adding for good measure, “but some of you need to rise to the occasion and start cooking for some of our candidates on the campaign trail wherever the catering companies are lacking”.
And in case you missed it the first time around, he later clarified: “You’re the masters in the home…out of the home…we’ll have to see.”

But, what does one expect from the guy who keeps scantily-clad women on his TV channels 24/7? It’s like having Hugh Hefner in the White House.

Friday, May 2

Tante Belle Cose - April08

April has brought more than just a new government to Italy & Rome – and, depending on which side of the fence you’re on, you either consider the outcome una bella cosa or no. And although the news has covered almost nothing but, I did manage to pick up on some amazing happenings across the country.

- First and foremost, Milano won the bid to host the Expo 2015. This, for all of us here in Italy, and even for this ex-Milanese was actually a great source of pride and I’m sure stimulation as they set out to transform Milan into an even more international city.

- I discovered, while sharing a table with a group of policemen, and carefully hiding little Trevor underneath and out of sight, that Rome City passed a law in which dogs are allowed in all bars, restaurants and stores!!!!

Considering that just the night before poor Trev had to sit idly outside in the cold watching us eat…turns out that the restaurateurs actually have to put themselves on a list of establishments that does not accept our furry friends….Trevor rejoiced over a succulent steak bone.

Now, if this doesn’t prove that civilization evolves I don’t know what does.

- Emma Marciagalla was named the first woman to head up Italy’s important Association of Industry, Confindustria. Head of her family’s steel concern, it’s no surprise she is called Black&Decker…

- Infertile Italians got to collectively thumb their nose at the Vatican and start artificial insemination. One giant step for mankind…thousands of baby steps to follow.

- In April, Rome turned 2761. Although I’m not sure when the clock started ticking there…with the arrival of the she-wolf and Romulus & Remus?