Sunday, December 29

Italy: The Best of 2013

Habitual readers of my blog will know that for years, I have posted a Tante Belle Cose monthly roundup of some of the terrific things that happened in and around Italy.  My readers are so cynical, that people barely glanced at the listings. And while there are millions of articles, blog posts, videos, files postings on all that is great with Italy, those who know me, see that I take a rather - errrr - 'different' approach. 
But, in the spirit of the festive season, and in the hopes that you, dear readers will actually for once read 'til the end, here is my year-end review of some terrific or zany things that happened in 2013 Bell'Italia:
  • Jan/The Gemelli Hospital - A young boy's heart valve operation was entrusted to the head of the cardiac unit at this Vatican-run hospital; famous for working on Popes but even more famous for the miracles performed on children. I panicked when the Chief Cardiologist was under 40.  I mean, this is a country in which many kids are still (supposedly) hitting the books in their 30s. Instead, he is one of many of the renowned medical professionals operating in this country.  And while many more skilled and highly trained researchers, scientists, physicians have left for greener pastures, he (and his wife) remain the face of what Italy could be if the younger generation was given half the chance.
    from the UK's Telegraph
  • Feb/Pope Francis - Anyone who reads my blog or my twitter feed knows I am no fan of religious institutions of any cloth. The abject hold over the hypocrite politicians by the Vatican State - a theocratic society where women are not allowed in any real power - is outrageous. But I love this Pope.  Since his election, taking real action against the corruption in his own house, the plague of pedophiles in his midst and with discourses that could be translated easily to much of Italian society, well, I hope someone is listening.  Heck-he even told his own clergy that their homilies were boring.  Add to that an American woman at the helm of his finance committee, and his selfie, let's hope we can all surf this tsunami of change.
  • Mar/Berlusconi Convicted - Finally, justice was served, albeit lukewarm (he's still not served a day) after the courts have been trying to try him for years. He was found guilty of wiretapping a political rival. Incredibly, in Italy, the statute of limitations does not stop once court proceedings have been initiated. So Silvio's crack legal team just practices delaying tactics until the clock runs out.  For a pretty thorough FAQs of Silvio's trials, just click here. And, don't forget to drop in on my dedicated Silvio Show Page above!  As most commenters would remark, in any other country he'd have been long gone from politics.
  • Apr/New Government Elected - While not much would change with a left-leaning government, at least we no longer had to live down the peccadilloes of our previous Prime Minister. It was liberating. Even more liberating was the party of defiance, under the helm of comedian & general disruptive force, Beppe Grillo, came to the fore in huge numbers. The media (wholly controlled by politicians) continues to dismiss him and his members, but let's face it.  In a country of self-professed sheep - I call them lemmings - it's heartening to see at least one person call out the politicians for the ongoing rape of their country.
  • May/Life & Death in Pompeii - While the actual walls of places in Pompeii have been crumbling before our eyes, while Vesuvius still boils under the previously scorched earth, and while city officials decide - despite all indications to the contrary - that it's okay for people to dwell on its slopes, the world got treated to another mega-exhibition on this fabled place; the way exhibitions were intended - by the British Museum.  The show brought much of the story and traditions to life through the unique objects, including a magnificent table, never seen in public.  You can still pick through the timelines, the stories, the cult of Bacchus, you name it on their slick website.  Carpe Diem!  Here's the Eruption Timeline
  • June/The Supermoon - It's hard to pick the most amazing shots of the Supermoon with Italy as it's front drop.  Just 'Google It' and stargaze for yourself.  
  • July/Italy's first astronaut in space - My head still in the stars, with the arrival of the 203rd astronaut into outer space continues to astound us with his shots of the world at large (very large) and his twitter feed (@astro_luca) Thankfully, we did not lose him in late July when his helmet filled with water during his spacewalk.  More here.
An Italian astronaut in space always makes me giggle. That's due to the old yarn about the Pan-World Space Mission looking for the next astronaut to send to Mars.  They interview the best candidates from every viable nation.  In the final round, the American says he'll do it for $1M -leaving behind his wife & family for 3 yrs.  The Russian cosmonaut says he'll do it for $2M. The Italian waltzes into the interview, and declares that he'll do it for $3M.
The interviewer is astounded.  "What do you mean, these other countries have the finest programs on earth!" he exclaims.  The Italian leans over and says, "Don't you understand? A million for-a you, a million for me -- and dee American goes to Mars!"
  • Aug/New places in Italy - I got to spend my August with my sister/niece & nephews on Italy's Adriatic coast.  And, the best part yet, was seeing places I've never been to before!  Of course, no trip is complete without paying a visit to my favorite town in all of Italy, Ascoli Piceno (not least for their olive ascolane, deep-fried stuffed olives washed down with cool white wine).  But I was pleasantly surprised by the towns above Pescara, the churches that were out of this world, and the markets actually included real Italian-made products.  Walks near the Gran Sasso made it all the more spectacular, and provided a welcome breath of fresh air from the August heat.
  • Sept/Raising the Concordia - While none of us can get over the 'Hands in the cookie jar' defense of the indefensible Captain Coward of the Concordia, I was glued to its raising.  It was a feat of engineering, and while it was a multinational endeavor, the Italians had much to be proud of.  Certainly, spending all that money on this derelict ship just to send it for demolition left some wondering where our priorities were.  After all, hospitals are being closed all around us, schools are crumbling, and all this money is washed away at sea [granted, the operation did save the fragile environment underneath the ship.]  But compared to the outrageous purchase of dozens of fighter planes for a country that can't afford toilet paper for its students,'s hard to understand.  Nonetheless, I was glued to the screen, if for no other reason than accident porn.  
This is gonna be a tough one to set straight
From the inimitable genius of Gianni Falcone 
More takes on the year of the Concordia conundrum:
  • Oct/Night at the Museum - Each October, we're treated to free admission & festivities throughout the country.  But in reality, these aren't the only times you can get into the most beautiful places on earth for a song.  There is a week each May as well, free nites on your birthday, and  bank collections and FAI heritage trust sites often open for free.  And all winter, there are free visits to the show in Rome of Augustus.
  • Nov/ASRoma Football/Soccer - Fans saw the Rome team came back from years of mediocrity (despite their 37 yr old Captain's finesse on the field) to have a fleeting chance at no. 01.  The games have all been exciting, and there's more to come in January!  With an updated website - in English, no less - I follow a lot of the English football commentary for my play by plays, even on twitter.  It's great to see.  In November, we also saw the relaunch of Naples' Città della Scienza after being burnt to the ground by someone - most likely interested in developing the area, and not kids' brains.  [Full disclosure: We opened with one of the shows I represent from the USA, Brain: The World inside your head].
  • Dec/Londinium - After leaving behind: the fab book event in which I introduced readers to many expat authors living in Italy (I'll be adding even more to the titles on my Book Page Tab above), the drab Christmas tree mounted in Rome's Piazza Venezia (and crucified on twitter), the mad grab of politicians for more money & perks as they force most of Italy into poverty and cripple companies, I saw that sometimes, things are the same all over.  Attending the terrific show of Fascinating Aida, we found that Brits are threatened by immigration, school teachers can't make a living wage, the bathrooms at London's Science Center, airports & other public places don't flush (but they do have toilet paper!), and the price of transportation is keeping people away - from everything and everyone else.  As they say in Italy, "Tutto il mondo è un paese - The whole world is just a village".
Buone Feste! To the habitual Readers of my blog, to all my peeps, and to my occasional voyeurs and (sadly, even fewer) occasional commenters!  See you in 2014.

Many live links throughout the post.

Monday, December 23

A Guide to Life in Italy - Now Available!

What to get the Italophile in your life? 
A User's Manual to Life in Italy!

Francesca Maggi takes off her rose-colored glasses and takes on Italy's world-renowned Quality of Life.  Starting with her X Commandments of Life in Italy [Thou shalt not covet thy customer, Thou shall hold La Mamma as your one true omnipresent and omniscient lord of the household], she tackles Italian bureaucracy, drivers, superstitions, traditions, La Mamma and more.  Readers will get a hilarious insider's guide from an outsider's perspective, taking us through the trials and tribulations of life in Bell'Italia.

About the author...Francesca Maggi first came to Italy at the tender age of 4 months.  A return visit at age 6 sealed her fate as she endured the agony and enjoyed the ecstasy of this country of contradictions.  She has been working with Italy for nearly 30 years, 20 of them as a resident while traveling the entire swathe of the Boot and taking in the sights, sounds & society's peccadillos from Trapani to Trieste, from Trento to Taranto.

Illustrations by...Each chapter is introduced by the inimitable witty vignettes of Gianni Falcone, or which are part & parcel of the humor of the book...(including the cover image).  You can see more by Gianni by clicking the main tab on the blog page, Cartoon of the Week...or visiting his blogs on OpenSalon (Just a few Pixels) or Diario Acido.

What they're saying...Francesca Maggi is brilliant -- a modern day critic following in the footsteps of Luigi Barzini's The Italians.  Her stories are at once funny, irreverent and poignant.

OMG - i just read the first few paragraphs of the ''Baby on Board' part of your book! that was hilarious.....       i'm still laughing  ROFL!
Been reading your book and LOVE it!! Great insight and funny, FAMILIAR anecdotes!

Get a signed copy if you purchase the book off the Official Home Page 
Burnt by the Tuscan Sun

Friday, December 13

Italian Politics: The Party's Over

As we get ready to ring in a New Year, I can't help but think how much I have to be grateful for as the year in Italy, at least, has been winding to an end (though it feels a bit more like it's been sliding into home base after a hit with bases loaded).  The last few weeks have been rough and tumble at best, but there's been great - no, grandissima - cause for celebration.
Berlusconi getting ready to (try) & get some tail --
now, don't forget the little blue pills!
First, the Senate voted to remove Silvio Berlusconi from their cozy citadel of comfy perks including the most significant one, immunity from prosecution. I've been relishing his  blustering ever since which, at first reminded me of the Wizard of Oz at the moment Toto pulled away the curtain. Nowadays, he's starting to remind me of Elmer Fudd (fittingly, in this episode, he shouts, "The long arm of the law is weaching out & closing in on you!"  So much so, I wish media outlets would put the gag order in effect.  If they'd just stop reporting his bullshit, maybe, he'd finally go away.  Pay no attention to that man hiding behind the mask of makeup &amp hair plugs!

Next, Prime Minister Letta announced that govt financing of (the hundreds) of political parties would finally be put to an end.  It is one of the largest and most efficient 'industries' in Italy -- that of plainly milking funds.  Hang your shingle out under the guise of 'political party' and you're open for business.  Whoever said that government didn't work?  I rejoice in silence while waiting to see the fifteen hundred new avenues the parties will come up with to get their money back [My guess?  Submitting sandwich & espresso receipts in the millions].  I mean, these are the same people who were discovered printing zillions of bus tickets and selling them (Not that I would can't find a bus ticket within a 1 mile radius of my house).
For the record, the last time these parties got their financing pulled (for urgent expenditures going toward villas - parties - vacations - you name it), by virtue of a wild public referendum, the politicians simply renamed the expense ledger.  For years, this act of sheer chutzpah has been festering like a boil -- and was one of the main reasons by my guess that put Mr. Grillo into power.  It is a symbol of all govt waste, like Imelda Marcos and her infamous shoe collection.  Mr. Letta & Co., realize they have got to cut it loose.  Let's see if it really happens this time.

But then, the best news of all.  Youthful Matteo Renzi, the dynamic Mayor of Florence, was finally elected by a virtual landslide to head up the Democratic Party (of the left).  In many circles (on the left) he is vilified.  I don't know why, exactly, perhaps seen as yet another political hack, or not red enough.  And I don't care.  He is half the mean age of these joker power brokers and, he hand-picked 7 women on his 'cabinet' out of 12 spots.  Talk about a sea change.  This staff has an average age of 35.  At that age, they still haven't been in politics long enough to figure out how to stash away fistfuls of bribes in suitcases. Yet.  I was hopeful about the woman at the helm of the Latium Region - But then she was caught handing out high-paid positions as if she were the head of Goldman Sachs on coke.  If this dream team can figure out how to win: Without pocketing the 45 Million euro in their coffers for party financing (gifted by the hard-working proletariat) / Keep it all clean / And actually do something to improve this country, it will be a New Year after all.  

*some live links above

Sunday, December 8

Chk out my new post on Irreverent Italy!

As I make this year-end transition to cover current events in Italy that most amuse or shock me, I invite you to check out my latest post on my blog-in-progress, Irreverent Italy.

Where I imagine the Amazon Drone Delivery in Italy:
Amazon Drone Delivery would put
this guy outta business and into
a bricks & mortar enterprise