Tuesday, February 26

Apocalypto, Italian Style

As Mario Monti started embarking on his reform program and austerity measures last year, everyone from the left and from the right in Parliament were turning apoplectic, as was the general populace, I might add.  He said it meant that he must be doing something right.  And I for one agreed.  
Italy's elections may have left it a country divided (this time, in three equal parts, Left / Right / and the 'NO' Party), but they proved they could unite all of Italy -- It seems everyone is totally upset over their horse barely stumbling over the finish line. And commentators the world over are making dire pronouncements over the 'grande apocalypse' toward which this election outcome seems to be careening recklessly.
In my humble opinion (and with my self-confessed low knowledge of Italian parliamentary procedure), I think overall, this election result is a good thing.  "Italy is ungovernable" - "Italy in gridlock"...and so on.  Really?  The U.S. system practically counts on having one party in one place, with another in charge of Congress and the Senate.  And we know what happens when one party runs all three branches of government [...two wars, torture, the Patriot act...are on my radar.]  Back in Italy, do analysts really believe that a Berlusconi win heralding in a(nother) rubber-stamp Parliament alà Mussolini is better for the country?  Here are a few more of my thoughts on the subject:
  • Italy has been moving ever so closely to a two-party system.  They are now down to three.  If only the USA could be so fortunate.
  • Maybe if they know their party might not have enough influence, politicians may actually now be forced to show up for the votes.  And, instead of horse trading along party lines, what if...politicians actually represented their constituents and now voted with their brains (It would be a stretch to ask them to vote with their hearts) - Naturally, their pocketbooks (like the U.S. system of legalized bribery, lobbying) will never be out of the picture.
  • Since the two predominant parties failed in their majority, maybe they should try picking up a few pointers from the party of NO and start employing real reforms: Halving their salaries, removing  perks, halving the number of parliamentarians, taking the criminals out of parliament (which is why Beppe Grillo did not run himself-he has a manslaughter indictment against him) and the removal of pensions for all government reps until they actually reach retirement age (starting with those in arrears, say to 1979).
  • If Berlusconi had a clear win, he'd get his 'Get out of Jail Card' as his first act in office.  He wants to pay back the IMU Tax and employ other reckless measures including another building amnesty - which would wreak havoc on the economy, just as the rest of his ad personam laws do.  Do people really think Italy's in a better place when one party takes all? (and, in the case of media magnate Berlusconi and his cronies...there's more truth to that phrase than ever before).
  • If Bersani had won, although being somewhat of a reformer, we'd see no reforms and people getting jobs right, left and center even in places where there is no work.  Is that going to breathe life into Italy's economy?  (Although one could make the case for government spending to lift the economy out of recession...)
  • If Grillo's M5S Party gets the Big Win, of course, then his party is going by the seat-of-the-pants -- with no agenda to speak of [Here's a thoughtful review of his 20 main points].  I disagree, however, that a Grillo win is the "downfall of democracy" as Bersani put it.  Really?  People making their voices heard is the very definition of democracy.
  • And thankfully, we still have 77 yr old Silvio in our house to laugh at, now with his hottie 'fiancè' extra brought in for photo opps - 50 years his junior - on his arm (when he's not holding Bunga Bunga parties, I presume).  Because if I had to spend the next few years looking at his miserable protégé, Alfano, my eyes would start to bleed.
I am not the first one to say this, and certainly not the last:  But Italy has always worked DESPITE it's governments, not because of them.  You may recall 60 governments in as almost as many years.  This is due to the hard work, dedication, enterprising mentality, and of course, tax paying by the majority of honest Italians.  Too bad they are not the ones running the country.
- Keep Calm AND Pack Your Bags -

Thursday, February 21

Berlusconi: Buying Votes with Public Money

Prof. Mario Monti, our current Technocrat Prime Minister (he’s an Economist of sorts with a background at Goldman Sachs) and candidate for high office recently said of Berlusconi’s litany of promises to all and sundry, “Berlusconi is buying votes with Italians’ money.”  Famous last words.
This election season, Berlusconi, giving a(nother) nod to those who practice corruption as a way of life and in consideration of his mafia friends in the cement industry, said if re-elected, that he would allow yet another amnesty for illegal building.  Every time he does this, thousands - thousands - of buildings pop up in every part of Italy virtually overnight, terraces are built atop of buildings, houses expanded, all illegally in wait for an eventual amnesty and forgiveness.  Once you’ve built the quick & dirty building, people forget that they must have plumbing, roads to get there, garbage pickup and a host of city services not always provided so readily, and that includes street signs and post office delivery.  Not to mention the long fights with neighbors whose view to the sea or to the castle in the distance you've just blocked. 
Not enough for our convicted briber and public propagator of prostitution (including his govt hacks) and underage sex, he then took the brazen measure of telling Italians that he would revoke the unpopular (but totally necessary) IMU-Property Tax, which Berlusconi had done away with -- thus depriving the State and Cities of much-needed income.   
Our slippery Silvio then slipped millions of families a facsimile check out to all homes in districts where he was not a shoe-in, and duping the millions of households who don’t follow politics or read newspapers into seeing that he’s already set in motion the downfall of the nasty IMU.  
Click here for full letter from Panorama magazine
It was one thing to promise to take away future taxes on housing.  It’s wholly another story to return monies from 2012 that helped keep Italy - and the Italians, they often forget - out of the muck that has engulfed Greece. The opposition is incensed by this latest tactic.  But I haven't seen many discuss the defamation laws governing comparative adverts.  In Italy, you're pretty much not allowed to say bad things about the competition, and his letter goes all out against the rest of the crowd.  Once again, All Hail Silvio, who, in three terms and 20 yrs in politics, only bettered the lives of his henchmen, whores and personal lawyers, and perhaps his ex-wife Veronica, by leaving.
You can say what you will about our crafty politician, but he certainly knows - as the Italians say, ‘his chickens’.  Too bad, if his countrymen vote with their (illegally begot) pocketbooks, it is their goose that will be cooked.

Sunday, February 17

Italy's Automobile Museums

Maybe it's because I'm a Detroiter, well, okay, most likely because I'm a Detroiter, I love cars. I love looking at them, eyeballing the interiors while driving down the road, wondering who's made what, comparing designs, checking out the glow they give off when parked under a streetlamp, you name it.  And so, coming to Italy where they know a thing or two about fast cars, well, you know Italians love cars too (as well as their motorcycles).  In fact, in the old days, the faster your car could go, the faster you were allowed to go on the roads.  Now, those nasty cameras have spoiled all the fun, but it seems there's a whole culture of I-Spy going on, where people know where the cameras are and which cameras are working, so they can put the pedal to the metal between photo opps.
In Italy, you'll find a number of wonderful collections of old cars and carriages, items left behind from one collector or another, and they're always nice to look at.  Just down the via Ardeatina in Rome is a whimsical collection of carriages of all sorts, making for a fun outing here, too.  Most of these collections are by appointment only, but once you're in the doors, you're in for a real treat.  But lately, people are starting to take their car museums a bit more seriously.  Heck - even Volkswagon's Skoda over in the Czech Republic just got such a gorgeous makeover, it definitely means a return visit is in store quite soon.
So, here's my short list of fine automobile museums:

Torino (Turin)  Speaking of makeovers, this museum just got one and it's in the heart of car-making country - in fact, it's accessible right near the city center.  They rotate exhibits of about 170 cars and are trying now to make it worth your while. And, true to keeping with Italian form of double naming everything, it's called Museo dell'Automobile - Carlo Biscaretti di Ruffia Turin, but I think you're safe to look for automobile museum.  Torino also hosts a Central Archives to FIAT and I believe some cars are displayed there, but I am not sure if they've been moved to the refurbished museum.  Centro Storico Fiat - Via Chiabrera 20, Torino

Just outside Torino in Cambiano is the home of slick designer of all things automotive, Pininfarina.  They, too, have an impressive museum highlighting a rotating number of their 40 designer hits.  While I think they lack a quality control person when it comes to train design, we're good to go because they don't sport a Eurostar train there as well.  But, I wish they would.  Then, the designers can sort of try them out before forcing the rest of us to sit for hours in their seats.  But I digress.  I've yet to see the museum, but it's definitely on my list.

Going to Milan, the Museum of Science  (second name: Leonard Da Vinci) has an eclectic mix of trains, planes and automobiles, I think even a submarine.  No rhyme, no reason, but they're fun to look at.  And, speaking of fast cars, it's just outside Milan where the Formula1 racetrack is in Monza.  Just at the door to Milan in Arese is the overlooked but totally worthwhile factory of Alfa Romeo (who knew?!).  Again, double-named Automobilismo Storico Alfa Romeo - Museo Centro Direzionale it boasts the entire historic panoply of Alfas.  If you go there, someone's bound to know about it.  The City now wants to make sure people are aware of such a historic place right in their midst.  

Traveling further east to Verona, a businessman left a fabulous collection of all kinds of things which the family has turned into a tidy little museum.  At the Museo Nicolis you'll find cars, motorcycles, bicycles, buses, commercial vehicles, aircraft, heck, even tanks!  http://www.museonicolis.com  Not far from there in nearby Vicenza is a collection of oldies but goodies at the Museo dell'automobile Luigi Bonfanti.

If you still haven't gotten your fill of cars in the industrial (and industrialist) north, head toward Trieste. Just outside of Gorizia, you'll find a collection of a very brand loyal Ford Dealer. He even rebuilt the facade of the factor that made Fords in Trieste. And in his pantheon, you'll find a 1908 Model T along with cars and motorcycles.  Museo Ford Gratton, Farra d 'lsonzo (Gorizia).

But now it's time to set our sights south: to Formula1 territory.  

from San Marino's Maranello Rosso Collection
Ferrari likes to say they're located in Modena, but they're located wayyyyy outside Modena, in Maranello. It's a long drive, but worth it.  You can even see them testing cars on their track there.  http://museo@ferrari.com
Head towards Bologna and you'll come across a spanking assortment of Lamborghinis.  It's actually located inside their factor, but once inside, you'll be treated to some rare cars.  Here, instead of naming the museum twice, it's hard to tell, but it looks like there are actually two of them:  Lamborghini Museum in Sant'Agata Bolognese (BO) http://www.museolamborghini.com and the Ferruccio Lamborghini Museum in Dosso (Ferrara) which shows off his personal collection of vehicles, from famous sportscars to even a tractor http://www.lamborghinicalor.it    
Not to be left out, over in Modena is the collection of Maserati Museo d'Auto e Moto d'epoca Umberto Panini, and at the Museo Stanguellini, many race cars that carried their name.
And finally, another cool collection of Ferraris over in San Marino again, by a dealership.  Called, humbly, the Maranello Rosso Collection it has a lot to meet the eye with its Ferrari collection, Abarth collection and Congress Center.

You can usually find the antiques cars in many a town throughout the country, so, no matter what your speed, there's always something for everyone!

most names and places in color above are live links

Wednesday, February 13

Berlusconi's Indecent Proposal

Ill-matched Lovers by Quentin Massys

Back in the 16th century, it was a fairly common theme in art to portray the lascivious old man trying to cop a feel off a young, fair maiden.  And, I think it's probably fair to say it was a case of art most certainly imitating life.  So it should come to no surprise that even in our day, it's still a familiar tale, told in movies, on the streets, in offices round the globe.  But what has happened over the centuries is, the revolting act can not only take place, but become fully expected and even promoted in modern "civil" society [I'm thinking Woody Allen, Morgan Freeman, Luciano Pavarotti, Jack Nicholson, Pippo Baudo, Flavio Briatore...].  In fact, over in Hollywood, if you were clocking it, the age gap (or the expanse) between the (un)sexy stars with guts and their hottie maidens is growing by generations, movie by movie [just compare The Great Gatsby or Summer of '42 with As Good as it Gets or Hannibal].  Women may be blinded by the sparkle of stacks of coins, but 9 times out of 10, unless you're a call girl (and even then), there's a significant Ewwwww factor in place.
So when Berlusconi, our Prime Lecher, ogled the young woman up on stage this campaign season, people just smiled, giving him the right to be as vulgar as possible; the next day, he'd just say he was 'kidding around'.  Unfortunately, for me and most of Italy, it was no laughing matter.

Here, Silvio asks the presenter from Green Power if she comes. Not good enough, he asks her how often she comes. And then asks what the temporal distance is from one to another, finally asking her to turn around again so he can check her out.  In his defense, naturally, it's because he "appreciates women and shows them respect".  But a journalist from La Repubblica got it right when he put black on white what all the rest of us want to see, instead of applause, smiles and laughter:
"It's going around the web, hence round the world, the nth video trash of the King of Trash, Silvio Berlusconi. This time, he delivers a flurry of indecent barbs to one unlucky employee; only to be met with enthusiastic applause and gaffaws.  Of course, it's nothing new nor heretofore unseen. But each time, we're left speechless by the seeming acquiescence of the victim; this time in the form of a young woman who, questioned about her orgasms, smiles happily as if the dirty old man who's put her on the spot was instead a gentlemen presenting her a bouquet of roses.
Just once, publicly, I'd like to see someone (feminine, to be exact) say, "How dare you - you pig!" A typical line that one uses with strangers on the street. The spell would finally be broken, the indecent remarks would return to be considered improper, the grunts left as grunts.  
I must confess that I don't understand why no one (esp no woman) can seem to find the time, the flair, the dignity to remove herself from this miserable status of being a decorative, even unpaid, part of this spectacle."   
As for the 'victim' in all of this, she is reported to have said later that she was not in the least embarrassed, and was "honored" and actually enjoyed the playful repartee'. So much for a morality tale.

Sunday, February 10

A Night at the Opera: Digital Age

I went to hear Atom in Rome - a full night of lyrics, images, light shows and sounds of Pink Floyd Legend.  Held at the Vatican's concert hall, Auditorium Conciliazione, it was a spectacular spettacolo, a night to remember.  The concert hall offers an eclectic mix of events, from symphony orchestras, to blues and more, all in all, it is a wonderful place.  That is, until the lights go down and then it proves to be anything but conciliatory.  For more than a few people, with an obvious disregard for copyright law, this signals that it's time to hold up their phones and iPads and start filming away.  You can find the results (and enjoy the bits) on a youtube nearest you.  [here's one clip, but believe me, there are many].  Luckily for other patrons, the camera is usually held up in front of the bootlegger's face, and they're usually the ones that miss out on the show itself, intent to view it through a miniscule lens.
Alas, not so for cellphone users.  I can't count how many performances, movies, lectures, and special events I have attended (worldwide) in which the lights go down and the phones come out.  Unless you're 'live tweeting' - and then should occupy another spot, I've got news for you:  There's a reason the lights go out.  It creates atmosphere, allows viewers to focus on what's on stage or up on the screen, lets you immerse yourself in the experience.  And when it comes to Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb (and I'm not even a real rocker), trust me, it can be wholly immersive.  It's what producers, directors, film editors and countless others spend millions on trying to get you to do.
So, you settle into your seat and little beams of white light shine right in your face.  I remember the old days when those lights would be emanating from the long flashlights of smartly dressed ushers.  Even in movie theaters back in the day, they'd show you to your seat; helping you get there without tripping in the dark, shining a grateful ray of light on the spot where you were to sit your bum straight down.  All done discreetly and preferably during pauses, so as to not  disturb the other onlookers any further for your already inopportune casualness when it comes to showtime.  The last time I went to the movies, a guy standing next to my seat decided he needed to check his text messages on average every three minutes throughout the entire length of the film (you do the math).  I didn't pipe up though repeatedly shocked out of my 'suspension of critical judgment' via a bright light did nothing for my suspension.  It was akin to watching a movie and every so often being hit with the loud and garish music of commercials.  It's why we fork over 10 bucks to see a movie in the first place - uninterrupted, save for the evil intervallo-intermission still upheld in some of the less hospitable movie houses around town.  I didn't stop and ask the patron if he was a Doctor on call, but I vowed never to sit tight-lipped about this invasion of my personal viewing experience again.
So there I was, happily enjoying this amazing concert in all its guitar glory, when the woman in front of me, who had been nervously gripping an eerily lit device through most of the concert as if it were a drip keeping her alive, decided she would put it to good use and start texting to the tunes emanating off the stage.  I let her text.  But one song, now two later, it was turning into a conversation and she and her husband were corroborating on the story to tap out letter by letter.  A tap on the shoulder, asking if she could please turn off her phone.  Her response? Ignore shoulder tap and keep on tapping the keys.  A few minutes more, I tried again.  Emphatically, I said Turn it off or go outside.  Only after completing her message did she deign to close the phone, its blue light faintly lighting up her palm reminiscent of ET trying to phone home.
Come intermission, it was time - not for the apology, but for the counter-insurgency.  Pointing to others who now wielded their phones with a fervor (Look at me, look at me, I am utterly reachable!! Even at the theatre!), she told me she was in her right to do as she so pleased.  Yes, I agreed.  It's intermission.  That's what it's for. Text to your delight!  Not satisfied, she then regaled me with the fact that she had two children.  Seeing me non-plussed, she then went on to say that She was texting people to tell them not to disturb her since she was at the theater.  I pondered for what reason that was, exactly, she didn't want to be disturbed.  I offered that in order to let people know I am unavailable, I just switch off my phone.  I'm not disturbed nor is anyone sitting within a 6 foot radius of me.  Finally, said husband butt in with his own take on the situation: Why don't you just concentrate on the stage instead of people's cellphones?!  My sentiments exactly.
I read recently about a start-up that has invented a sort of Phonekerchief.  To be handed to patrons when they enter a restaurant.  Once wrapped around your device, it renders it impervious to calls -- allowing you to focus on - oh, I don't know, having a real time conversation with the person you're with?  But then again, it will only work if it's being employed.  And most people can't break their addiction of being accessible 24/7 long enough for a seafood appetizer let alone a steak dinner and dessert.
All I can say is, bring back the little old ladies with flashlights.  And usher the cellphone users out of the theater.

Sunday, February 3

Itching to cook Italian?

It may be our mild winter, or, seeing that the plant grows in areas of 'rich soil' (read: compost heaps), suddenly almost every tree in Rome is sprouting beneath it, luscious green patches of Italian poison ivy: The Stinging Nettle plant - or, Roman Nettle as it was commonly known in Britain back in the day [the Brits like it so much, they've even installed a Be Nice to Nettles Week.  Why the rich soil? I'm fairly certain it's due to dog poop, if you really want the scoop (or the non-scooped version).  But, leave it to the wily Romans to make lemonade out of green lemons.  There are entire recipe and diet categories featuring the nasty plant; not one of them telling you how to go about picking your nettles without breaking out in hives.
Not one to be outwitted by this Zero carbon footprint plant, I just need to don a thick pair of gloves and even thicker-soled boots to wade into the dog poop in order to (perhaps) get my nettles.  But why bother?  It is a wonderful food.
I was first introduced to a nettle risotto (risotto all'ortica) by amazing culinary expert and owner of Rome's Beehive Hotel.  I have been intrigued ever since.  And if I can just figure out how to get the plants that are above the average dog wiener height, I figure I'm good to go.

So, pick your nettles and feast on risotto, gnocchi or an even better omelette - it'll make your day.  Here's a terrific simple recipe (just 20 mins to make!) for risotto, compliments of Cooking Mama at Vivere&Mangiare a Km '0' 

step-by-step pics on their website

Recipe in Italian:  50gr di riso carnaroli a testa, 1 spicchio di aglio, due belle manciate di foglie d'ortica, burro, vino bianco, brodo vegetale, grana padano grattugiato, trito di pepe nero.
Procedo così: davvero veloce, in meno di 20 minuti si fa tutto! Staccate le foglie dai gambi e lavatele accuratamente. Asciugate le foglie e tritatele con la mezzaluna, unitamente ad uno spicchio di aglio. In una padella antiaderente, faccio sciogliere una noce di burro, quindi unisco il trito di ortica e aglio. Cuocio per qualche minuto, poi sfumo con il vino bianco. Aggiungo il riso, faccio tostare, mescolo bene, quindi sfumo nuovamente con il vino bianco. A questo punto aggiungo abbondante brodo vegetale e lascio cuocere (per i tempi, tenete conto della tipologia di riso che state usando). Al termine della cottura, cospargo con abbondante grana padano grattugiato ed un giro di pepe nero macinato al momento.
RICE CARNAROLI 50g / person - 1 garlic clove - 2 hearty handfuls of nettle leaves - butter - white wine - veggie broth - grana padano cheese & black pepper.  
Wash leaves & dry / dice up well w/garlic clove / fry up quickly with pad of butter / Add white wine / Add rice & toast it in pan, mixing well and adding more white wine as you go.  Add broth & cook til rice is done (depending on type you use) / Add pepper & grana padano cheese to serve.
Note: When it comes to the above recipe, I like the part of making sure they're very clean prior to use.  Any suggestions?

For more on nettles try LiveStrong: http://www.livestrong.com/article/355248-nutrition-in-nettle/