Sunday, December 18

Shopping in Italy...What are they thinking?!

I've said it once. I'll say it again. The entire country is in dire need of Marketing 101. While Customer Service has greatly improved in this internet world (tho' you can still read replies to complaints if you want to get a big kick out of things in the world wide web), I still can't for the life of me understand why people continue to trust GoogleTranslate - rather than a mother tongue individual, or just winging it on their elementary English (Elementary, because they were 8 years old when they stopped learning it). But then, the everlovin' Rebecca Winke over at Brigolante Guest Apartments in Assisi posted this. 

A new line of upscale, all-organic dog food hits the Italian shelves.
This will forever go down in the annals of consumer product marketing - right there, next to the place of honor - still holding strong decades long - and still the undefeated champ, SOFFASS TOILET PAPER*, the ultimate in 'straight-talking consumers'. My favorite comment on her thread following, each one better than the next was, So good, your dog will want to eat it - twice. My morning espresso shot straight out of my nose.

I'm convinced they had wanted to say B.A.R.K. I am also convinced, as with Soffass, that there is one highly disgruntled marketing manager, who definitely knows more than his boss (& Company owner), and most certainly knows English. Well. And this person...well, put out the Barf Bags, so to speak. On purpose.

It cannot be any other way. Just can't. Or, to think of another conspiracy theory, one commenter posted that perhaps they really just want to sell more paper towels...! I leave you with the Last Word posted by someone else: It seems dog groomers are to be found throughout the Bel Paese by the name of "Doggy Style". Maybe they know marketing better than I think.

*OMG-No longer undefeated...! It appears they have admitted humble defeat - And the Company has now demoted the best brand name in the marketing firmament and is now going with Sofidel, the Company name.

Wednesday, November 16

America Votes...and the World Trembles | #TheTrumpEffect on Italy

I watched, stunned, from my balcony window as the streets started teeming with protesters, heading over to the American Consulate nearby. I was nervous my car - bearing  Michigan license plates - would be vandalized in a day that left “Fuck America” writ on the Consulate walls. In seemingly a matter of minutes, the compassion that the rest of the world had had for the United States was far less durable than those graffiti marks. Down went the American flags that had been displayed in store windows and homes across Europe. Gone were passers-by spontaneously hugging my dog donning his American flag bandana…Heck, gone was the bandana itself. Just eighteen months after September 11th, 2001 America, under its simpleton of a swaggering president, would stumble into Iraq and moor us in the deepest quagmire of our existence. Capturing hearts and minds of the Iraqis? If we had, they’d been traded in from those of the entire population of the rest of the world.

Elections have consequences.

This usurper, who narrowly lost the popular vote, had become President of these United States. A mediocre student and “businessman president” (who was never successful in business) asked daddy to help him live out his boyhood dream of being town sheriff. What could go wrong?

Americans abroad know all too well the effects of America’s own decisions. So much so, each time there’s an election, headlines ponder the results if the entire world could vote right along with us. The Economist did as much during the Obama election (he won by a landslide). When Obama finally reached office, Italian kids in Obama buttons, t-shirts, and dog lore shared their love with the first family. A trip to Italy by Michelle and the girls with photo opps of them wandering out of the Pantheon and later bringing home a doggie bag from a top restaurant added to the panache -- and crushed yet another barrier for Italians; if FLOTUS could take her food back to the hotel, heck so could all the rest of us. Doggie bag shaming would end up in the Italian trash heap of history. But most incredibly, little girls across the continent would quip that when they grew up, they wanted to be President of the United States. Kids of all ages were engaged fully in the U.S. political process.

After Bush & Co.’s policies had not only tanked the U.S. economy, but along with it, Europe’s and most of the world’s…we breathed a collective sigh of relief - so cathartic that Barack Hussein Obama received an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize - his take home trophy just for showing up onto the world stage.

But this brief moment in history would prove to be as ephemeral as gelato under a scorching sun. It would not be long before women were being rated by their looks, added to political gatherings for eye candy, and fish-lipped hotties with bulging breasts and ultra-thin resumes were cropping up in European parliaments and city councils across the country. With their 6-figure incomes, expense spending and jet setting, they shined in the media spotlight - an Italian Miss Universe Barbie goes to Brussels. Parents were thrusting their daughters into the poltical lair, and girls not quite 18 were in line for boob lifts and nose jobs by the hour. It was an epidemic.
A media mogul, and the man who gave us desperate housewives stripping off their clothes on prime time became Prime Minister. There are plenty of posts comparing Silvio Berlusconi to Donald Trump but suffice to say, it appears that Silvio has bequeathed his personal How To List to The Donald directly. Berlus - errr — Trump even announced he would not take a stipend for his civil service. Silvio had done that. Kept his Milan Villa, check. Kept his beach hide-away. Check. Spoke highly of Putin. Check. Paid bribes (in the U.S. they’re legal) to make his troubles go away. Check. All Donald needs now is to adopt a little dog and we’d check that, too.
And just as beauty is more than Melania’s shiny complexion deep, the damage visited upon a generation of children being raised in this testosterone-laden brave new world, will be keeping historians busy for millenia to come.

While Donald and all his brashness and lousy sense of humour makes Silvio look like Gandhi (Beppe Severgnini says Churchill), this tag team built on media might and white blight are (almost) one in the same. Although divorced playboy Silvio did not even pretend to be on the religious side of things…he did take pains to line up a girlfriend to take out on public appearances, often dressed in white for the visual effect on voters.

Aside from the cosmetic similarities, hair-plugged Silvio hated being harassed by the media, comedians and random bloggers. He tried and succeeded on passing Gag Laws for bloggers and attempted a fire wall on journalists who might cross his path. He was embroiled in all kinds of lawsuits and claims (some his own) of ill repute. Berlusconi’s brother heads a newspaper that would smear anyone who opposed him, reaching right up to the very thin line of defamation but never crossing it (a right defended much more vigorously in Italy). Silvio flew in his own plane back and forth from Rome. Silvio never did make a blind trust (allowing his kids to run his businesses, as if, over a plate of pasta “How’s business?” might never come up in conversation.) But while calls for his daughter to run in his stead were made, even his kids had the good sense to stay out of politics.


In what may serve as a horrendous premonition (who says things in Italy occur well after America?) Silvio and his rubber-stamp parliament started passing laws that benefited his businesses or media interests, or more blatantly, kept him out of jail. In something that I am sure would not be below The Donald, he attempted at every turn to achieve immunity from all prosecution.

The demeaning of women rose to such a crescendo that the usually passive women of Italy came out in the millions to protest him - just for being Berlusconi.
He would flippantly tell students, at the height of Italy’s brain drain, that to get ahead, they’d need to “marry one of my sons.” (only PYTs need apply). His bunga-bunga parties, underage harems, taped recordings, misogynistic comments and idiotic jokes…thankfully, finally garnered him his walking papers. He is far less a public figure - while Bush dumped his Texas ranch stage set, Silvio dumped his “fiancèe”. 
 
But Italians have never truly had the racial tensions that other European countries have. Italy has historically been quite a welcoming place, very Christian (and not in the American hypocritical sense of the word). They now complain they’re being overrun with immigrants (they are), but in a country with 46% youth unemployment, there are no jobs for immigrants to take away. So Silvio never quite turned up the anti-immigrant sentiment to full throttle Donald.
 

Berlusconi may have been a pit bull with his adversaries, or maybe not (he is rumored to have paid many of them off) - but he was not a bully. He was personable. He enjoyed a good joke (albeit usually on women). But by the time he was heading out the door, we were disheartened to discover that little girls were now saying they wanted to either “go into politics or become a showgirl.” In Italy, post-Silvio, they were one in the same.

People always inquire, when they find out I’m American, ‘Why do you stay here?’ But now, I think they know why. The country that to all and sundry seems like a giant movie set, with its bad guys firing automatic rifles, its music superstars, its 'can do' attitude that would make Ferris Bueller proud…has descended into Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Italians, who have kept the American Dream alive for well over a century, have finally been shaken awake. From the lore of the "Uncle in America” posting dollar bills to relatives in war time, to the success stories of Grom gelato and Luxottica eyewear…This most recent election has snuffed out the pipe dreams of each and every Italian, no matter where they are and how many generations they've been there.

Elections have consequences.

What will be the lasting legacy of a cast of white supremacists and bullies making policy for an entire nation? And what will be the ripple effect (or tsunami, rather) on those of us abroad? Finally, after these less-than-perfect Obama years and the regeneration of our economy, people were optimistic. Today, as I'm stopped in the streets by my African, Middle Eastern and Bangladeshi acquaintances, even Italy’s own immigrants feel the struggle ahead is palpable. And once again, I am overcome with shame.
The writing’s on the wall.



*Coming soon: what America can learn from running elections the Italian way

Friday, November 4

Italian Fashion: Dress for Success

A woman recently posited over on Facebook:
Why do I dress 'nicely' for a quick trip to the market just to go out for some bread? I mean, I love dressing up, but really? When you just need to step out for a second? Does anyone know what I'm talking about?
Bella Figura. That's what she's talking about. 
As I state in my book, if *only* Americans took the time to get out of their pjs to go to Walmart, KFC or - heck - on a plane...Italians look good even when they're wearing faux-ripped jeans and a pair of Vans. So, they've let their guard down when it comes to honoring their dead...but, I still enjoy the whimsical scarf-wrapping which 25 years later I am still unable to replicate. A friend now living in Malta says that she used to ask an Italian neighbor to "do that thing you do" every time she went out of the house and wanted to wrap a scarf round her neck.
I saw an elder woman leaving her low income housing unit the other day. There she was, with her green loden wool skirt and matching jacket. Perfect hair and shoes to match. I stopped just to admire her as she got into a waiting car. It's the last vestiges of an age where unemployed men would don hats and berets in fine silk suits just to queue up for the unemployment line. I was watching history turn a page.


Photograph by Alexander Beyer of an Italian lady 'vestita di tutto punto" - dressed to the nines - as featured in the street fashion blog Advanced Style.
The rant continues:
I was completely casual and comfortable and about to run out of the house but then stopped myself. I knew I would get "the look" from everyone had I done so. I turned right round to put on some make up, change my shirt, slap on a blazer and cute shoes...Only because this is the norm where I live. Honestly, in LA you could wear your pajamas out and no one gives a crap. But, here... I had on jeans, a t-shirt, sweater, and ugg boots and still had to do a double take and just say No.
The outdoors of any neighborhood all look like it's gangland territory. But the people behind those graffiti-splayed walls....well, I pray they never let that go..even when just stepping out to pick up a loaf of bread. But speaking of bread, just don't get me started on the French and how they look with a golden baguette tucked ever so neatly under arm...

Wednesday, October 5

Italian Weddings: Three Weddings & a Funeral

In Italy the film went by La Sposa Cadevere
I always like to see what's in Italy's "basket of goods" pegged to track inflation in the country...the basket changes almost yearly, to make good on items going in and others out of fashion. Like say, adding SmartPhones and removing land line-type telephones. Or adding little robot vacuum cleaners instead of the famed Folletto (little elf) sold door-to- door [a necessity for sure, so Italian housewives can keep dust from gathering even under the usual 24 hours on their floors.] Announcements of the new and improved basket of goods generally makes headlines. 
And so it was, a few years back, when women woke up to the fact that not even Armani's shoulder-padded power suits of the 1980s was bringing them any closer to power...that we collectively ditched our tailleur - or fabulous-fitting work suits.
Year in / year out, I usher them from closet to closet when I change over for the seasons, another tried and true Italian tradition; Hoping beyond hope that they make a comeback lest my treasured Chanel herring bone ends up in the trash heap outside my door.
But the other day, I heard of the most uncanny of traditions - it was so amazing on so many levels, that I couldn't believe it:  
Up until not so long ago, on her wedding day, the mother-in-law to be would gift a beautiful tailleur - by Ferragamo - to the bride. Understood by all as something quite wonderful, so that she may have a one perfect outfit to wear at said mother's-in-law funeral.
My Italian friends stated emphatically that it had always been a wonderful thing to receive; after all, couples starting out would not have that kind of disposable income. So for formal events (like funerals) the young bride would always look impeccable. More recently, I have been stunned to see that this particular practice in the land of Bella Figura has more or less gone the way of Americans wearing pajamas on airplanes.
Friends were asking if it was true that Americans still wore black to funerals. I don't think so, but I do think they still don their Sunday bests. In Italy, I have seen ripped jeans and tennis shoes galore...and that was the family of the deceased.
But moving back to dear old mother-in-law, I couldn't help but think up a Saturday Night Live skit for the practice: I mean, here it is, the happiest day of your life, and La Mamma hands a giftbox to you. Marking her death. It sure gives new meaning to the You haven't lost a son you've gained a daughter platitude. The hidden message being, I want you to look good now that you've driven a spike straight through my heart. But don't worry about me...
So now that the tailleurs are no longer in fashion...and marriage is no longer as well, what's a designer - or a mother-in-law to do?  Please share your gift ideas for a mother-in-law to give to the bride...in our very own update of a basket of ungodly goods!
Sophia Loren visits the Chanel tailleur show (okay, so they're not Ferragamo)
but thanks to the blog, Come Eravamo

Friday, September 23

Italy's Fertility Day Gives Birth to Brilliance

After years of proffering their unique brand of slap-stick humor (reaching its zenith with Johnny Stecchino, Alberto Sordi and I'd say, La Messa è Finita) it took an inane piece of legislative propaganda to make an entire nation find its sarcastic funny bone. Italy's Fertility Day may not have created the bump it was aiming for, but it certainly made for a nice bump in Twitter stocks. 
Here's the best of the bunch - delineating the best uses for a woman out there -- after which I'll break down the whole insipid debacle bit by bit:


Basically, Italy's Minister of Health (headed by a woman whose closest brush with laws and healthcare was in reading the Patient Bill of Rights once in a doctor's waiting room), decided that - instead of working with her buddy over at the Ministry for the Economy to improve work conditions and markets -- they would just give women a job to do: make and raise children. 
So, Fertility Day was planned. Italians scratched their heads on the terminology used for this piece of fascist propaganda, wondering if this meant that Brexit hadn't pulled out fast enough. For everyone else who figured fertility was close to fertilità, they either went out and watered their plants, or tuned into Pope Francis to see why he issued the statement- in English.
Women soon took umbrage at the idea that they were being asked to basically, lie back and think of Italia. Infertile women, single women who would like to adopt but can't, couples wishing to use surrogates (and can't) and all the other categories of ladies-in-waiting were irate...and not only because of the hormone imbalances as they shot themselves up hoping this time they'd fall pregnant.
Italy has cut 15% in education spending. There aren't enough day cares to meet even a fraction of the demand. And wage stagnation (steady since 1992) has eaten into incomes, with many couples struggling to make ends meet; and those are the ones with two jobs. Women's work is extremely low-paid, and the only fringe benefits are for the boss.
Women who strive to get through college (over 60% of the degrees, though our Minister isn't one of them) find themselves shut out of the job market due to plain and simple discrimination, or baseless fears that in the country with the lowest birthrate on earth, they'll be putting buns in the oven one right after the other. Like China, the single child home is a feature of the Italian landscape.
Men were not considered part of the solution, although my book illustrator, Gianfalco, offered up a pretty good one himself.

click on photo for full post redirect

The commentary was endless...and most of it was sheer brilliance. Except for the (men) naysayers who chose to rant on women who spoke truth to the power of the ill-informed.


So, after backtracking on their misconceived missive, they next double downed to issue  a pamphlet on the topic of substance abuse. 

Again, the Twitterverse was on fire: Showing sparkling white good families having fun in the sun, compared with the bad things that might happen if you surround yourself with dark people of course doing dark drugs.
It appears our Minister has let go of her communications specialist at this point.
And with that newfound Italian wit of days of yore, Italians offer a terrific turn of phrase which admirably sums up the entire fiasco:  

The mamma of imbeciles is always pregnant.

Friday, August 19

Italy Road Trip - Travel Warnings

Italians have consistently thought up *everything* from oh, I don't know, the discovery of the New World, to the fax, the telephone, right up to the Google search engine, but then lost it when some clever marketeer took it up a level, declared native Americans, Indians, and just went with it. Ask Galileo. Heck even the popes were in France for a time.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times...Italy is seriously marketing challenged. After all, these are the folks who gave us Malpensa (ill thought) Airport and Soffass toilet paper, the likes of which always puts a smile on my face. So lately, traveling a whole lot up and down the gorgeous Italian highways criss-crossing the boot like lovely laces (which, I might add, would put any roads to shame the world over), I can't help but be perplexed by the road signs on every digital board brought to you by the Road Guys responsible for our smooth rides.
This one reads Drive Safely. But sometimes they invite you to go online (whilst commandeering your vehicle at 90mph?) to check out road conditions - which would be seriously messesd up if you took them at their word, started searching the web, and ended up rear-ending the truck ahead of you. Inevitably, you are gifted with a Fasten Your Seatbelts sign when in fact, 5km up the road there's an accident and you just blew by the only exit that would have mercifully allowed you to avoid it. But I digress.
During my umpteen years of driving around the peninsula, nearly every time I see the ANAS logo up above, I get a mini panic attack. That logo (again, at 130 km/hr) looks to me like a car on fire every time I whiz by it. In fact, it tells me there's an entire line of cars on fire in a mass brush fire, just as I plunge headlong into the upcoming tunnel.
Coming face to face with this dot matrix logo is always a good way to get the adrenaline going on long drives. But, taking a closer look (when you're home and online...not calling it up on Siri while careening a curve) and the logo isn't so bad after all.
I'm guessing that it represents Mercury's helmet speeding down the highway, but not so fast -- that block above is basically our Mercurio stumbling to a complete stop in order to pay the extortionate tolls. Or, it symbolizes the long rest he'll take at the rest stop after miscalculating on gas and a glass of water at 1pm, feeding time for the entire country. My personal favorite is that it's Mercury looking for toilet paper. 
I play this guessing game in my head just like back in the days before devices were a common feature on car trips...You had to spot the first cow / farmhouse / diner there from the back seat. 
For everyone who will be sitting in traffic on their return from the August exodus, well, count this as a marketing freebie. So, thank you ANAS for the graphics. But I'm just wondering how I'll ever come to know when a car is up in flames just around the bend.

Tuesday, August 2

Summertime...the Season to Abandon your Best Friend

A Dog Falls in Vulcano Buono There's been so much 'bad news' out there these days that I have been putting off my annual Dog Days of Summer post time and again. But August is upon us. And the streets of Italy (and many a European country) are emptied. Before long we will hear the mourning of dogs - abandoned - in the night. Or worse. We'll see them chained to lamp posts dying of starvation or lying - stiff - at roadsides. 
But this sad story does have a (sort of) happy ending - and that's the undying love and fatigue and endless hours logged by the thousands of volunteers, veterinarians and good hearted souls who, summer after summer, take these poor creatures into their hospitals, their houses, their hearts. 
And while it feels to me that this utter contempt for pets' lives has improved over the years, I am quite certain that dogs are still abandoned to their fate with - well, reckless abandon. Here's what it looks like: 

This little guy was hit by a car and despite his crushed bones
and probably internal bleeding, he kept his head held high
for hours upon hours, waiting beyond hope - for rescue.
His heart finally gave out and he died on route to the vet.

It is estimated that upwards of 100.000 dogs meet their end at the wheel or bumper of a car. Abandoned on roadways, they zig-zag in and out of traffic, trying to find any familiar scent that would carry them back to the very people they loved and trusted. 
I know about this guy's story thanks to the Facebook Page of Gianna Senatore - She dedicates her life to saving these animals and finding them homes across Italy. Some don't make it through the operation, others are returned to her post-adoption. For every miserable story she posts, you can find many successes and smiling faces in the before & after shots of these traumatized pets.
While they are closing down these sorts of centers, while keeping others open that are nothing short of lagers for animals found starving in cages, the Associazione Zoofila di Nocera Inferiore is a beacon of hope.



So what can we mere mortals do?  

Repost her photos. Help find forever homes. Donate to these centers. Offer to bring dogs with you to their new homes when you travel. Volunteer your time. And, above all, stop your car if you should see a dog lying - still with some life in him - at the side of the road.

Monday, July 4

When Will Italy get the Picture?

In this group of pictures, can you spot the mistake(s)?*



Growing up, I would spend countless hours tuning my laser eyes on those brain riddles, mazes, word searches and drawings. So I admit, I may have a sort of pronounced proclivity for this sort of thing; or in the very least, an acute attention to detail. Whenever these ubiquitous thumbnails come across my screen, I tend to think they are stock photos sadly selected by an unpaid intern in some random social media room. Purposefully employed to promote every iteration of event, conference, meeting and launch. The selection above comes from a pit-stop on the site of the purported Wall Street Journal of Italy, il Sole 24ore. Touting themselves as warriors raising the battle cries of our age -- they purport to shed light on economic growth, education, culture, and more for my fellow paesani in the land of Sole. Except, time and again, it's only half the story; or 49% rather. Amazon warriors need not apply. 

Italy is not the only country that runs a foul of mass misogyny (the Vatican, or Saudi Arabia come to mind). You don't need to look too far back when an all-male panel (a "Manel") convened in the US Congress to 'investigate' and weigh in on American women's reproductive rights (we lost...now how on earth could that have happened?). The scene was staight out of a Sharia Courthouse, except the women were spared stoning...But the geyser of misinformation-by-example spilling over and onto every little girl growing up in this culture, is crystal clear: only men can add to GNP / GDP / or be eligible for public office. Any gains we've ever had in this regard have been at the hands of indefatigable women plugging one by one, each and every wellspring of male privilege. 

While Italy is going through one of its worst periods of economic recession in modern history (sadly, since about the day I arrived in 1992), youth unemployment at 51% and a brain drain to match Syria's...You can meander on over to the foremost economic journal in the country only to find "experts" wringing their hands over what counter measures could possibly be employed to reverse course. Almost never do these measures involve the empowerment of women; unless they are taking measurements of the pole dancers for the after-party. 

A top lingerie company in Southern Italy with worldwide exports boasts that out of 700 salesmen, they have - count - 700 salesmen

They blithely turn up their noses of the wealth of studies and information put under their very noses by real experts -- like their very own Abramvel (author of Meritocrazia and Regole), who, while heading up McKinsey & Co., demonstrated that companies with over three women in the boardroom outperformed the competition 9:1. Nine times. 

Men in power (and that's pretty much all of them) still haven't cottoned onto the fact that there exists in Italy a rather strong continuum that starts with keeping women out of public and economic life to women-as-(near naked) adverts to women as plastic surgeons' grostesque fantasy dolls, to women being massacred -- in their homes or on the streets where they live on a nearly daily basis. 

Italy is the country that has brought us lasting imagery as it excels in cinema, staging, sports culture, the arts, big businesses, and even aerospace. When will the daily newsfeeds catch up with the rest of us, and depict women as they truly are. And then, all of us, along with il Sole24ore can truly claim our enlightened country as the Land of the Sun.

Thursday, June 16

Life in Italy - #LifeHacking the Post Office

Anyone who comes to Italy for even about 36 hours finds out sooner, rather than later, about the notorious Post Office. Their misdeeds are the stuff of legend. Day in, day out when coming across Facebook posts of new arrivals unloading about the umpteenth miscarriage of mail justice that has befallen them, I sort of smirk to myself, smug in my knowledge that while it's cathartic to vent, they ain't seen nuthin' yet.
The Italian Post Office is a singular institution hellbent on making lives miserable. So much so, that I dedicate an entire chapter in my book to it: The Postman Never Rings Even Once. But I truly believe that desperation breeds innovation and it's why we now have email. 
And this is 2016. The Poste Italiane has been growing by leaps and bounds in efficiency, branding, banking, heck even free wifi - better to allow you to bide your time while dozens of octogenarians cash their pensions and then stand in front of the clerk for those 98 additional seconds to tuck away in a safe place their cash, or while people fill out the form - three of them - whilst standing at the counter, because to put them out would incite inmates, errr, clients to take and waste untold stacks of them. Things have changed so much that they're even charging us about 6 times other countries just for the luxury (and it is a luxury brand in my book) of mailing your letter.
But recently, like many of my compatriots, I had to submit my declaration that I do not, indeed, own a television. I went to the post office for the express purpose of mailing the registered letter. Let me just say that the clerk was super nice [another humongous improvement on the days in which she would have instead refused a letter because the address was written in green pen, or you stapled rather than slathered mucky goo all over the envelope to close it, or that your stamps were crooked, or that you wrote too many lines on a postcard, or you wrote below the line clearly demarcated on the postcard, or you requested far too many stamps, or the box was too big, or too small, or there was a slight bulge in the envelope, or that you wrote a note on the envelope, or you wrote England instead of Gran Bretagna...] I could go on. And on. And on. This is no exaggeration.
videoAnd so I was quite taken aback when she told me that I couldn't send my letter that way - meaning, in an envelope. I was quite used to the practice that if you sent a letter in an unsealed envelope, it cost less. So we all used to do that. But..no envelope? This was not in my personal annals of inane postal practices. And then...she did this: Risking her electric blue manicure, she set out to carefully craft an envelope out of my letter, employing scotch tape, stamps & staples. It was an engineering marvel. Standing there, it was as if witnessing a surgeon put one final stitch into a dying patient, or Betsy Ross sewing that last star on the flag...It was pure poetry in motion (and I'm sorry, but my surreptitious video does not do it justice...Did I mention it? No cellphones allowed at the counter? You can imagine where they draw the line on actually videotaping employees.)
Italy often has a lot of wild workarounds for what in other places would be straightforward, standard practice. Like the traffic lights all flashing yellow at midnight (click here for Midnight Run post), to keep people from running red ones. Or, side streets  alongside major thoroughfares which I am quite convinced are so guys can pick up prostitutes with ease - without causing traffic jams (anyone riding up the Via Salaria will know what I mean). Recently, our Prime Minister decided that since so many people pat ignored the heinous TV Tax, he would simply tack it onto our electric bills. I don't own a TV and if you want to get my taxation without representation vibe going, this is a fairly good place to start. Thus my registered letter. 
Flummoxed, I had to ask the clerk, just what this was all about. And with a straight face she stated that otherwise, people would pay for and send the registered envelope, empty. Basically, it was nipping a he said / she said accusation assault in the bud. They'd have proof of having delivered a declaration, when in reality, nothing was truly signed and sealed. By forcing you to provide the contents via a document-cum-envelope, well, then it had to be legit. I thought it was so you wouldn't send anthrax or bullets to our friends at the tax office for this highway robbery of a TV Tax - I'm sure they get plenty.
As someone who once paid a car accident of $103 in pennies (which is also illegal, btw), I had to admit, this was one genius move on the part of government. Now, about those Panama Papers??!

glide your cursor on colored parts above for more!

Sunday, June 5

Fact Checking Michael Moore's Movie: Where to invade next? ITALY.

A friend living and working in Italy put it best to his Facebook followers: Michael Moore is, after all, a propagandist, not a journalist…He deals in hyperbole, which is why he’s a terrific social commentator and I am a fan. [Albeit by today’s standards in journalism, one could argue that the media's only currency is hyperbole]. And while his focus on Italy filled the collective with a shot of momentary pride, once the effect wore off, it was time to ask…Veritas?

As someone who has visited dozens upon dozens of companies, large and small, across the calf, heel, foot and toe of this boot, I feel the need to fully examine some of the holes that permeate Moore’s footholds. At first blanch, the piece felt a bit too canned, the people a bit too trite for ‘off-the-cuff’, and the supposed candid conversation so circumspect that it reminded me of a Barilla pasta spot, with Bella Figura just oozing out of every pore. Michael Moore is legend here. Knowing your footage might be seen by millions worldwide? Italians rarely show their pock marks and warts––you’d think with that kind of positive spin that Italians would be the happiest people on earth. So much for The Secret.




So, let’s get down to brass tacks:

We are a family — While I’m sure there are many family-owned businesses that treat their workers like a family (
so much so that they even share the same bed with a few of the office hotties during those fabulous lunch breaks), the “I love it when they punch out and take 6 weeks vacation - it’s good for business” is a pile of porchetta droppings. I had but one other person in my tiny office and when she’d bolt to the door every day at 18.01 like Barney & Fred, even in the middle of a huge deadline, I would have a mini-meltdown. No matter, I was the only one at the office who would see it. How do you say Yabba dabba doo in Italian?

The man who stated that these incredible workers’ rights were fought for with blood, sweat and tears speaks the truth. In the 1970s, anarchists were cutting down company heads and just a few years back a leading economist was struck down for merely suggesting labour reform. The consequences of business’s antipathy toward workers has lead to Italy’s amazing automation of factories, from Torino to Detroit. My (Italian) boss would quip that America, with its millions of workers, was effectively pre-industrial, while Italy had brought robots in to do the job of dozens of people - post-industrial. Stop to take a look at garbage collection, with 1 guy in 1 truck pushing a button versus Americans pitching bags into the back of a truck and you'll see there is a lot of truth to that.

Photo credit: Daniele Leone / LaPresse
Factory upon factory, owners would proudly claim how technology had allowed them to replace 70 people with just a single robotic line - and with this technology, came a 50% jobless rates besides. All in the quest to avoid the cost of hiring employees who later can't be fired - even if they end up in prison.
 
Lunch Breaks
- While it’s true that companies still break for lunch and provide veggie-laden cafeterias, go to Milano, where it’s far more commonplace to wolf down a sandwich with an espresso chaser. Street food has taken off here for a reason, and not just because it’s all people can afford now that unbridled tourism has heralded in $18 pasta plates. Notwithstanding, it still beats the herd of employees across the USA waddling to their cars to drive across the 5 lane highway to McDonalds & KFC drive-thrus on a daily basis.

Salaries — The young couple was correct. Their paltry salaries may allow them a modicum of quality of life, but let's face it: the average city councilman in a lovely hill town makes the same as Barack Obama, while the 600 strong bloated parliamentarians (in every way) take home two or three times as much, and that's before bribes, lifetime pensions (that carry to spouses and children too) lining offshore bank accounts well before retirement age. It's no wonder most youth aim to "enter politics" - it's the only money-making scheme in the country.
Just as in the USA, wages have been stagnant since 1992. Nonetheless, Italians manage to live better than your average American working three jobs. I believe it's due to their sharing of living quarters with mamma and papa’ up into their 30s. Salting away their pay, while someone else covers all your living expenses (even clothing and Thai resort vacations) and then coughing up the down payment on your house or buying it outright, definitely allows for handy disposable income with which to treat yourselves benissimo

As for the 13th paycheck? Yes, it’s true. Sometimes it’s even 14 (an extra one in August in order to enjoy your 4 week holidays all the more). But it’s a psychological tactic on the order of David Copperfield: Your annual labour-contracted salary is divided into 13 slices; allowing for gift giving and holiday meals all together as a family. I always liked the concept, but I still beg to differ when people quip how they get an “extra” month’s pay. No, you don’t. Pure and simple.

Labour laws providing for honeymoon time off is a wonderful family-friendly practice. You’d think that Italy would have transformed itself into a Mormon colony just to get those extra 2 weeks. [I mean, this is the place where the “legally blind” are regularly caught behind the wheel.] But pregnancy benefits have gone way too far. A new mother needs two months off before the baby is born? To what end? In Italy, it is oft-seen as bad luck to buy baby stuff prior to the birth, and baby showers are unheard of…All this time off means that young women are not welcomed with open arms into companies that is, unless it's into the open arms of the Company owner. 

The rub is, that while Italian women have given up on giving birth altogether (another sign of economic distress), they still don't get hired. Go figure.

Health Care - I haven’t seen enough of the movie to weigh in on whether or not Moore tackled Italy’s healthcare, but it was recently reported that it had one of the best in the world. Not sure about that (living in Italy, I'm healthier than the average American and don't have a general practitioner) but certainly, Italy’s physicians are top-notch and ply their trade worldwide, saving lives in both research and in the operating room. Not a day goes by that another Italian research team doesn’t come out with yet another amazing discovery. When an esteemed Italian doctor I know living in the USA needed a liver transplant for his son, he came to Italy. Imagine what they could do if they were actually funding R&D instead of lavish homes of politicians and government bureaucrats. Nonetheless, it makes it all the more risible when Berlusconi, waxing prolific on the wonderful health system we have, jettisoned straight to the USA the moment a cancer cell appeared on his sun-kissed skin (or maybe we just have better plastic surgeons in the USA? I mean, compare the stunning Sharon Stone to Donatella Versace...)

It is my experience that Italy does, indeed, take quite good care of its citizens, offering them regular checkups and so forth (it’s what the elderly do instead of playing bridge). On the downside, it is said people needing a mammogram may have to wait months, and beds are allotted to the highest bidder--an illegal practice which I hear goes on in the USA as well. But at least, people do not have to sell their house to undergo life saving treatment. Physical therapy - and even spa treatments - are considered part of recovery. In a country where a slight breeze or air conditioning unit can cause every sort of malady, people are allowed to stay home when they are sick, with no reprisals (other than the surprise doctor visits to make sure you're not in Capri instead). In the USA, you have to use up your ‘sick days’ and vacation time to bring a new life into the world. Sure, old people are lined up in hallways on stretchers, families need to bring in bottles of water, and waiting rooms are eerily reminiscent of an Iranian torture chamber, but I suppose you can say that on the whole, national health care in Italy is as humanitarian as can be.  Americans should only be so fortunate.


Live links in color above

Monday, May 9

Sidelined at Komen Race for the Cure

...or, why I won't be racing in this Main Event of the Year. 
The Italians have totally embraced the incredible importance of the Komen cause. Its branch is the oldest international organization in the league, and I believe pretty much the most successful. If nothing else, the Komen race did something absolutely Herculean (or Amazonian, rather) It raised awareness of women and their breasts from both women and men alike [Plastic surgeon's office and reality TV aside].
All in all, we get a magnificent day out, with families, sponsors and lots of smiles - starting at the Circus Maximus and pretty much winding thru the main sights of Rome before ending with ice cream, games and loud music. It doesn't get much better than that.
Except for one thing.  A recent article - to cite support for the race and underline the importance of the dire situation and promise of a cure - suggests that breast cancer cases in Italy will go UP by about 50% in the next few years. Making it all the more important to run our butts off so sponsors will donate more money, right?
Wrong. I believe we should be Racing Against the Cause not racing for the cure.

Untold millions have been spent annually on funding research trying to come up with a cure. But until Komen puts their oodles of money into fighting Monsanto protection laws, removing the lead in our lipstick, cutting the flow of rivers of antibiotics poured into our poultry, combating the cancer-causing ingredients in most everything we put in and on our bodies, they can and will - continue to raise untold amounts of money - which we'll always need more of as cases rise, and rise and rise.
So no. I won't partake in this un-Merry-go-Round of receiving hush money from sponsors and support from survivors while mad-with-greed multinationals carelessly (or is it carefully?) pour cancerous agents into our skin, onto our products, over the soil, high in the skies and down into the seas. 
[A major sponsor is Johnson&Johnson. That's right, the Company now found to have convinced millions to put talcum powder on our babies, in their diapers, in our panties and panty liners...and who is now facing an onslaught of lawsuits on behalf of the thousands of Ovarian Cancer victims. It's one thing to allow Philip Morris to support the Arts. It's quite another to have as your main sponsor a company causing the very thing you are up against.]
Komen needs to put an end to this rat race to the bottom and put their money into politicking and policies that will stop these nefarious profit-driven societal cancers right in their black-ribboned tracks.

Sunday, May 1

In Vino Veritas? Not in Italy

For a fully wine-producing country (whose output has just outpaced France), truth doesn't seem to flow out of the carafe all so easily. In fact, anyone who has read my book will know that I entertain a number of theories on why Italians play so fast and loose with the truth [Spoiler Alert: I think it goes back to Judas or Brutus...and their lofty place in history]. And while these attitudes flummox newcomers and tourists in equal measure, I must say that decades on...It sometimes gets the best of us old-timers, especially when you're faced with a flurry of truthiness all at once.
And so it was, when I woke up and went to my wondrous bar and noticed they no longer touted my brand, Illy Caffè, which is the only reason I would pay as much as a bag of espresso beans for a single, solitary cuppa. No more snazzy cups, no cute little lists of ways you can drink a flavored Illy coffee that would put Starbucks to shame. And worse, the coffee sucked. So I mentioned that I noticed the brand had changed...Emphatically, they insisted that no, it had always been this coffee...but maybe a while back under previous ownership...so on and so forth. So earnest was their protest, I started thinking I had the wrong coffee bar.
Returning home,  the doorbell rings. It's one of a posse of faux Energy Utility guys telling me that my contract needed to be revised if I would just sign the dotted line...I rebutted that if the Company had something to tell me, they knew where to find me. By mail, or email. Then, in a case of 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em', I lied. I said it wasn't my contract to begin with. At which point he threatened me saying that if I didn't sign up a new contract, I'd be paying four times the amount and it was illegal to have a contract not in my name...and so on. I shut the door, called my utilities company who told me to --- shut the door on these jokers.
My neighbor's pipes broke, staining three walls of my office. Upstairs I go. She admitted it, but raising her hands in the air and giving me 'The Chin', said she wasn't the one responsible. Or, that she'd get someone to look at the damage the next day. Or that it was the building admin's job. Or... We'll see how long it takes to get someone to repair the damage.
Pinocchio...an Italian DOC
Photo by Walt Disney Studios
Out again at the marketplace, I surveyed some clothing items, on sale at season's end. Some items looked nice, but on closer inspection, I found the stitching  coming out on each piece I happened to pick out (okay, they were on sale, after all). The retailer, like a hawk, swooped in to tell me how fabulous these items were. When I pointed out the problem with them (aiming, I admit it, for a hefty discount...) I was met with, "No, these aren't defective! This is just how the items are made!" She was insulted that I would dare suggest that her custom may be somewhat, say, of low quality [did I mention I was at a market stall?].
I walked away...scratching my head and recalling the words of my former
[Italian] boss who loved to quip that Italians didn't quite beat you at the game, as much as simply wear you down...

Friday, April 1

Nuns on a Bus

Picture from Treggia's Blog
I've said it before, and I'll say it again (and again!), Italians have a lot of superstitions. Some of them are endearing only 'cuz it reminds you of your granma...or nonna...as the case may be. Others, because the Italians - having had to put up with all sorts of indecencies over the centuries, heck, millennia, always seem to find the wherewithal to pull through, perhaps laughing about the matter along the way.
And so you hear that 
if you step in dog poop, it brings good luck.
If your pooped on by a pigeon...it brings good luck.
If it rains on your wedding day...it brings good luck (naturally)...
but I think these are all just to make one feel better about their apparent pitfall.

And so, it came as a surprise when I discovered that it has become somewhat legendary that should a Green Prinz car cross your path, it brings bad luck. That is, if it's full of nuns. These nun buses in fact are legend, long before Nuns on a Bus became something of a Big Deal in American politics and culture. [They even have a twitter account and hashtags, right up there with #PopeonaPlane!]
So, just one more thing to worry about on the roads of Bell' Italia...! Or as the picture I recently posted on my @IrreverentItaly Facebook Page read – ADULTS ON BOARD...We want to live too. 
Buona Fortuna!


Sunday, February 21

One of Life's Great Italian Mysteries....Solved!

Well, this is embarrassing. For 20-odd years I have invented every sort of superstition known to man in my head to explain the odd practice I found in every town from top to toe of the Italian Boot: That is, the placing of plastic water bottles - full of water - in front of one's doorway. Aside from the flag it waves reading "We're not home! Come in and make yourself at home!" I couldn't - for the life of me - figure out what those bottles meant. I asked little old ladies, even my own great-aunt who - religiously placing them out the front door - couldn't tell me why and what for. I was flummoxed, to say the least.
Okay...It's usually just a bottle or two, but these guys must seriously mean business
(photo from Tenace Concetto Blog)
 
And, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I never actually thought about asking Siri what she thought about it. I mean, really? She can't even pronounce Giuseppe or Stefano properly - what would she know about it? In any case, while running around Deruta (home of gorgeous Umbrian ceramic works), I was gifted with a personal tour of the Antica Fornace Maioliche & Museo of Giovanni Baiano (The Ancient Kiln of Umbrian pottery - and thru the outrageous museum in his store choc-a-bloc filled to the rim with pieces and sketches of the works since man first found fire and then heated it up to a few thousand degrees...)
Leaving the premises, I happened to ask casually, not truly expecting a real answer, what the bottles were doing there on the doorstep. And Giovanni's wife stated, "I know what they're for!!!".  Incredibly, I discovered a superstition that never made its way into my book (look out for a new print run...!)...Drum Roll, please....


Turns out...it's to ward off kitty cats (or their pee, to be more precise).


As an unbridled cynic, of course, I couldn't just let that simple explanation stand for itself. I mean, really. Twenty-plus years, and that's all there is? [Cue Peggy Lee here]. So off to google I went.
 

To lighten my dismay at not googling it in the first place, I was heartened to find that the question is debated as vigorously by Italians as what the best cut from a pig is or whether or not you should add oil to your pasta water (you shouldn't). So, not even Italians knew what was up with the cat bottles. But, you can't blame them. After all, plastic water bottles haven't been around all that long (and they gotta compete with the 10 million- plus other superstitions already on file).

In my search I found that many
vets thought it was a silly waste of time. And...I gotta admit, I'm pretty much on their side. I have had cats my whole life, and I have never seen a cat want to pee on a doorway - like never ever. I mean, how would they cover their tracks? But hey, ask anyone who side-steps a ladder or a black cat...What can a few bottles outside the door hurt? Right?