Thursday, January 24

The Way we Were...Italian Style

As part of my occasional series on how far we've come in Italy (from telephones to cinema chairs -- click to read posts) just in the last few decades or so, this post takes on our 'Information Age'.  In our over-blogged, tumbled, stumbled and tweeted world, it's said that a person today gets more information per minute than the entire contents of the New York Times back in the day (which is not to say that the information they get is quite as valuable as it was back then.)  Today, we can 'Channel Surf' hundreds of channels, with programming bursting on the screen 24/7.
But in Italy, it wasn't so long ago when we were fairly contented with just taking our pick of one of three stations.  We'd have those delightful presenter-women telling us what to expect on the tube momentarily, and then, we'd simply wait for the program to begin.  Wait. And wait some more. [We were blessed back then not to have adverts filling the synapses with their rowdy blathering and vacuous housewives]. So we just watched the clock. Literally.
And here's how it looked like as far back as 1986 [try and see if you can kindly refrain from checking emails / text msgs / twitter / facebook pages for the duration of the video]:





Other live links to The Way We Were above.

Sunday, January 13

2012 Italy Year in Review

I love all those year end summaries you find across every category and across every type of media.  But, I'm too busy reading those, I confess I did not type up my own list.  Say what you will about next in line to be 'The Sick Man of Europe' (you might call it Greece's younger sister, la Bell'Italia), 2012 was the year that Italians woke out of their apathetic stupor and started taking on the problems that confront the country, while never giving up on what they do best: Arts - Culture - Events - Hospitality.  So, here it is, a short list of great things about Italy:

Colombus points the way toward a New World
- via Queen Isabella's court -
Great Art Discoveries/ One of the most charming towns (or Borghi) in Italy, Citerna got their Madonna back--a stunning work by Donatello, that had gone in for restoration. That's just one excuse to pay a visit to this wonderful Umbrian town (as if you really needed one).
While in Rome, the Carabinieri frequenting the market stalls of Porta Portese managed to return to an Art History professor 200+ works of inestimable value that were being pawned on the banks of the Tiber.  Now...to figure out how a simple professor amassed such a vast collection...
Then, news came from Palermo that a dozen works from the most valuable heist in the last 10 yrs were found in an abandoned farmhouse in Sicily. They had been pilfered from the church of San Nicola of Trapani.
In Madrid, the Prado showcased a 'new' Titian painting, that resurfaced after art historians decided they wanted a claim to fame it was his.
And finally, the Colosseum finally got the approval for a facelift after consumer's groups looked a major gift horse - donation by successful owner of Tod's - in the mouth -- although we lost the fun decidedly un-battle worthy Centurions in the battle in the taste wars.
I spent much of this year making my own discoveries, visiting new places far and wide, from the Tagliacozzo area in the Abruzzo to 'the city that's dying' in Tuscia, Bagnoregio, to the natural reserve high atop Arezzo, to a half dozen new Tuscan towns (well, new for me), serving up age-old delights.
Women in Italy find their voice / Post-Berlusconi, Italian women have finally decided to take matters into their own hands. They're sick of being mistreated by the media, by the politicians, by the church and by companies.  While Italy's (nearly all-male-run) enterprises still haven't woken up to smell the espresso--that women actually make household purchase decisions (and that includes autos) and still show us plenty of T&A in order to sell oh, say, most everything.  Rome's city govt decided to pass a law that ads that denigrate women would be censored.  As far as I can tell, it's been pretty well-enforced (unlike most laws - the streets of Rome are paid with good intentions).
In the Rome City Govt, women won the -stay with me here-Enforcement of the law already in place that would guarantee equal parts male/female representation.  The Mayor has done his best at playing 'dodge-'em' for three years, refusing to enlist women on his cabinet, citing the Romney line of defense: He's reviewed 'File folders filled with women' but no one willing or able to join his government. Italy's Prime Minister Monti happened to find more than a few tokens for positions in his cabinet, and a woman now heads up RAI Television.  Incredibly, Italians couldn't believe to see that their resumès are larger than their bust sizes.
Then, most recently, after woman after woman (1 every 3 days) is killed at the hands of a loved one or ex, even the EU joined the fray and reprimanded Italy to start figuring out a way to handle this pox on civil society. Which led the Church to chime in, with a Genovese pastor (you know, that city that loves to gush over native son Chris Colombus who discovered America with the help of noneother than the most influential woman of all time, Spanish Queen Isabella) and others stating that women are killed by 'domestic violence' because they dress too provocatively.  Women have come out to protest in the thousands.
And finally, an Italian researcher was lauded for heading up the CERN Particle Accelerator breakthrough - except she's a perfect example of Italy's advancing 'Brain Drain' in which the brilliant minds of Italy are turning their attentions where they can get ahead - and get paid.


The best thing in my year was
finding Arcibaldo
More in Culture / Eataly came to Rome, sprucing up the abandoned Stazione Ostiense and bringing new life to a so-so area, that hadn't seen much action since bombs fell on it in WWII.  With it, came the launch of my new heartthrob, ItaloTreno and their lawsuit win to open up the fence so people could board the train without having to run the Seal Team 6 gamut of escalators and stairs - all of which are out of service to passengers-and have been 'work in progress' for years now.  Let's just say, it took a shorter amount of time to lay the track throughout the Peninsula than to fix the escalator.  
In my world, instead, I launched my book (!) with book readings at Rome's Hotel 47, a monologue show at the Teatro Arciliuto, and invites to even our Camp Darby army base near Pisa - and now, tweeting! (@IrreverentItaly)   Rome's luxe hostel, The Beehive, launched new initiatives from a vegan dining experience, to film nights on planetary issues of our day, to wonderful films offering a great 'how-to Italy' featuring their kids.  They also hosted an Expat Writer Book fair, showcasing authors & publishers and their works around the Boot.  While this winter, we were overjoyed at the annual opening of the ice rink at Castel Sant'Angelo, in summer we loved the summer nights at the castle, with the long walk along the passetto, the wall connecting the Vatican and the Castle.
Italy gained a new holiday, after the extraordinary 1 yr celebration of a united Italy (150 years ago).  Each 17th of March (move over Saint Patrick, we're into Garibaldi nowadays) we'll pay our tribute to what the Lega Party (Northern League) is trying to dismantle, with wild claims of 'corruption in Rome' while their own party heads are caught with the hands in the till time and again.
http://www.gianfalco.it
Retake Rome gained more momentum as schools and citizens take on the travesty of graffiti that is ruining the 'most beautiful city on Earth'. And speaking of retaking Rome, Berlusconi finally got sentenced in one way or another, so is busy running for high office in another attempt to keep him out of jail (his 4 yr sentence in fact already being reduced to 1 yr for no apparent reason). Italy's cowardly parliament decided that jailbirds couldn't serve in government -- unless of course, they 'only' served a couple of years.
I finally got to put a human face and warm hand on my book illustrator and incomparable political satirical cartoonist extraordinaireGianni Falcone when we met on U.S. Election Night in Rome.  And, ACRoma, not only imported U.S. soccer player Bradley, they started touring the U.S. to play 'friendly' matches and draw the American crowds, to great success.  Not only did they tour, so did Jovanotti, Italian rapper - who liked it so much, he's moved to New York.  Another Italian talent lost but another American gain.
You can see more of the week in / week out amazing things to see and do in Rome and that fill my world in my column Dove Sono? (in the right hand side of the official blog page).

*check out the dozens of live links throughout this post!

Saturday, January 5

Italy has an Epiphany

January 6th marks the day we all get to have extra holidays in Italy.  That's because no one truly considers working between Christmas and New Years and not even between New Years (the Feast Day of Stephen-Santo Stefano) & the Epiphany, or La Befana - marked by the arrival of that old gift bearing kitchen witch floating by on a broomstick.  Once she turns up, expect the huge post-Epiphany sales, which cause tourists and residents alike to have their own sort of Epiphany.  The streets of Rome are so mobbed, even the counterfeit vendors don't have room to display their wares curbside.
In Venice, they hold the annual Regata of the Befana - From the looks of things, men can run the race dressed up as women, but still, a woman gondolier is as hard to find as a female priest.  Maybe this will bring the 'ol boys club just one step closer.
And, as a little curiousity, I just read in my charming This is Venice book (by M. Sasek) - a gift from the Befana herself - that in its heyday, Venice had over 10000 gondolas roaming its canals.  Now, fewer than 500 are in existence.  No wonder prices are so high for a ride. Talk about diminishing returns...

Pic from Venice.nu search engine site: 
  http://www.venice.nu/photos/regatta-della-befana/
And click here for a fun slideshow of the Venetian event.


And, for all those who don't know what we're celebrating exactly, here's my favorite video on youtube depicting the arrival of those three kings on this day:


Buona Befana a tutti!