Showing posts with label Alemanno. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alemanno. Show all posts

Sunday, July 8

Rome's Metro: Not a pretty sight?

I don't take the subway - or underground - around Rome, and generally, not around most places because I like to actually see where I'm going (except Milan, and then, well, it's better to be underground). And I seriously don't dare go into the underground in the summer, when I understand that it starts to resemble a trip straight to Hades.  But, I was curious about the opening of Rome's new subway extension, part of the METRO B line, inaugurated in June by our Mayor Alemanno.  Although the stations it serves look mighty spiffy, it's been paraded out all over the press and internet as the symbol of all that doesn't work in Italy.
First off, to build those spiffy stations - three, to be exact - it took seven whole years.  I'm not sure if that's going at a good clip or not, but certainly, lots of public works are held up because of archeology digs.  And when we consider that in thousands of years we've only uncovered a third of Pompeii, do the math.
Turns out, since it became operable, on June 13th, the metro has also only been running successfully for seven full days.  Last Thursday's delays were due supposedly to a track switch engineer out on vacation - that was actually the message that the ATAC metro people put out on its loudspeakers.  Gotta love a place which puts holidays above customer service - so, I was all for it.  But again, I wasn't one of the people trapped for two hours in the bowels of the earth.  On Friday, it was a general strike which is actually, business pretty much as usual, so no one was caught out.
Perusing one of my favorite sites, [a hugely popular site called 'Rome Sucks' and attracting the attention of politicos and legal offices threatening defamation at about the same rate], I was amused to see the pictures of the inauguration.  Of course, the photo opp in the press showed a sleek new train and stunning stations just in time for the ribbon cutting.

If I am to believe someone's post with regard to the cars of the Metro, this line has 39 cars; 8 of which look like the above, also mercifully sporting air conditioning.  Of the remaining 31 cars, 2 were restyled on the outside, and 1 totally revamped.  So, the remaining 28 present themselves a bit more like the cars we ride in day in/day out.  Rome doesn't have the corner market on graffitied up cars, scary stations, and un-airconditioned vehicles, by any means.  One post even went so far to claim that for just €1.50 you can catch a ride back to New York City in the 1980s!!  But that was a small price to pay in NYC to have trains running 24/7.  I noticed in Barcelona, they were uber-amazing as long as you rode in & out of the airport and around the central city.  Trains to the suburbs were a bit more shabby, indeed.
In any case, I did get a big kick out of our photographer's point of view as to the trains rolling in & out of the station on inauguration day  (click on colored section above for a stream of fun pics!)  Too bad for the riders, the free-flowing of cool (or rather, hot) graffitied cars didn't last long enough to catch anyone's attention.  To mirror the transportation fail, the head of ATAC, making over half a million dollars per year, gets to stay put as well.
Instead of fixing the problems, ATAC every now and again is happy to supply bandaids for their client's misery:  they hand out bottles of water to the poor souls who lose half their body weight just trying to get from point A to point B.

The Picture of the Day Win for me?  From  
Our Mayor Alemanno, looking a bit p'oed over having to wait on a train...

Monday, February 13

The Born in Rome Conspiracy

One of the hallmarks of Life in Italy is the wild conspiracy theories one can relish for an unlimited source of entertainment.  Believe me, it's better than TV.  Chat with total strangers over an espresso at the coffee bar, engage a taxi cab driver, meet clients over lunch, and you will find a terrific theory to explain every single happening in your world.  Some of my favorite conspiracies were being bandied about last week to explain our 'wildcat snow emergency' response in Rome and environs.
Intermingled with "snow day" theories was one theory that totally caught me by surprise.  Even moreso, it had nothing to do with the media rush to make news while terrorizing people who did not have the good sense to simply look out their windows.  As more reports came trickling in on the Concordia accident, this particular theory had to do with Captain Schettino and his big crippled boat.  It turns out that the truth behind the events (sheer bravado, a hot babe on board, jumping ship) did not hold enough muster on their own to explain this totally preventable tragedy.  While Costa Co. pointed fingers at the Captain and vice versa, in the end, they all settled on who would be held truly responsible.  No shock there.  
Instead, I was told, with no hint of irony by the relator that "Captain Schettino was most likely paid off by the competition to sink that boat."  
Like a soccer player caught betting against his own team, I can see the origins of this line of thinking.  But I can't think of a more ridiculous explanation than just chalking this up to sheer stupidity and gross incompetence on a grand scale.  Nonetheless, conspiracy theories tend to foment when the situation is so intensely risible that it begs a better explanation than what meets the eye.

So it was with the Snowstorm of 2012.  Men on the street starting offering up wild explanations as to why the Rome Mayor (and others around), would choose to ignore weather reports, not wait for the snow to actually start falling before making a decree which could cost the city untold millions, and preempt Mother Nature by closing schools and city offices days before we were (not) hit with much snow -- and on a Saturday, no less. So, here's a brief offering of explanations heard about town:

- Mayors closed schools & city offices in order to put people in a panic and get them to stock up on fuel and groceries, giving a boost to the economy.
- Rome's Mayor closed schools & city offices in order to grind the economy to a halt so they could blame our technocrat govt.
- Offices & schools were closed to keep everyone home so they wouldn't see how ineffectual the cleanup might be (this, I'd say, may have some merit)
- Everything was shut down so only those who needed to travel could, given the conditions (and for those stuck on the Ring Roads and highways for hours, the closures could have helped).
- The Mayor wanted to look like he was doing something, so as not to be caught out with ineffectual planning (a case of an 'ounce of prevention') - likely, the most probable explanation
Rome's Mayor is in the pocket of the petroleum companies...with the gas prices so high, they weren't selling anything and now look at how many chains and snow tires he must have sold.
- If he declares an emergency, the City won't have to finance the cleanup (in fact, in towns around Viterbo, the military was called in for snow removal in huge dump trucks like they do with the trash removal in Naples).

As I stated on my facebook page, Captain Schettino tried to convince 1000 passengers that islands don't have rocks around them and Mayor Alemanno tried to convince millions we were totally snowed under.

Let me know if there are any other conspiracies out there, or what your favorite might be!

Saturday, February 4

The (snow) Fall of Rome

This week, hysterical reports from weathermen in rapture finally got their day in the sun, or in this case, the rain.  The pouring rain.  Taking their clue from the terrorize-your-viewers-24/7 meme of U.S. media, we were told (incessantly), that the mamma of all Siberian snowstorms was coming to Bella Roma, and we all better watch out.  Instead of preparing for the worst, with snowplows on call, and salt trucks filled to the ready, what we got instead was a pre-emptive strike against mother nature.  And anyone who's from the USA knows how well pre-emptive strikes work in our favor.
So as not to be caught like more than a few Detroit mayors with residents stuck in chain car collisions and buses stuck tire-deep in snow drifts, Rome's Mayor decided he could best deal with the concept of an impending snowstorm by just not allowing anyone to go out in it.  So, as the rain beat down for the better part of a day, school children were stuck pressing their noses disappointedly against house windows, hoping, praying, that the snow they expected and which granted them a grace day of no school, would actually fall.  It didn't. Or rather, where I live (right in Rome), it rained.  Just inside the city walls, it slushed.  Restaurants and shops closed their doors, and I found myself wheeling around town, thrilled to be the only car on the very wet Roman roads.
Attending a stupendous Happy Hour for the American-International Club of Rome at Piazza Farnese's Camponeschi Wine Bar, only a handful of the bold & the brave came in from the cold to be served food to the gills that had been prepared for dozens and dozens more.  Turns out, we were Germans, Dutch, French and Americans (Northerners only).  We laughed at our plight of having to trudge through 3 centimeters of slush to get to our cars which seemed like sitting ducks in large puddles.  
I zoomed off to the airport in record time.  Rome's Mayor not only had closed the schools, but shut down all public transportation, and, unfortunately for my brother-in-law, all the taxis in town decided not to take advantage of a golden opportunity and went home clearly to drink hot cioccolato instead. 
sledding in the Circus Maximus
After picking him up around midnight, the snow did, indeed, finally start to fall.  So we drove all around Rome watching it get blanketed in a beautiful white mantle.  I was here during the huge storm of 1986 and knew that this may be our only chance out the door to see Rome snowed under.
Whoever said that Italians don't plan ahead?  The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful city, shut to a screeching halt except the clean-up crews busying themselves with shoveling and removing all the downed branches from the umbrella pines.  Too bad for our prescient Mayor, he was a day late, and, considering the cost of the shutdown from the day before, well more than a dollar short.

Wednesday, February 1

Tante Belle Cose - Italy gets off to a New Start

With our Prime Minister Monti receiving the (sham) recognition* from the Paris journal Trombinoscope as "European of the Year", it's not surprising that things are looking up for Italy, despite the crippled Concordia stuck on its side in troubled waters [insert your metaphor here].

There appears to be a new tide of taking on the tax cheats, petty criminals and those bad apples who seem to ruin the entire barrel, if you are at least to believe the newspapers.  Regardless, it's a welcome sight to see the mainstream media finally bringing to light the Corruption of the Day blasted right on the front pages.  Hopefully, this pace will keep up. 

- This month, we saw the Financial Police (something akin to the IRS) go in to nightclubs all over Milan.  Once the proprietors saw that they were being watched, incredibly, receipts and income rose by 44%, in some cases up to 200% in one night alone.
Of course, it could be that suddenly a lot more people just wanted to party before the end of the world in 2012...

- Rome brought out a fine of €250 for those caught not scooping up the poop.  Surveying the lofty Via Veneto, one woman in a fur said, "Give me a ticket - I can't pick that gross stuff up."

If that's the case, why don't you (and all your paesani for that matter) simply "curb your dog"???

- Italy's new Minister of Equal Opportunities blasted Rome's Mayor Alemanno for playing three-card monty with his City Council members.  Forced by law to have equal numbers of men & women (he has 10 to 2), he simply dissolved his cabinet the day before it was to take effect and re-employed them all.  That way, those who oppose his number-challenged mind, have to start the judicial process all over again.
In his defense, he said he "canvassed lots and lots of women but no one wanted the job"....Really?!  I could name a few, starting with Yours, Truly.

- And, in a case of citizen watchdogs run amok, the Consumer's Associations (for whom I usually nurture unbridled love), retracted their lawsuit against Mr. Della Valle of Tod's shoes for offering €50 million to restore the Colosseum. 
It was an unprecedented case of corporate or, in this case, personal philanthropy, something sorely missing in European society, and these jokers wanted to block it.  Providing this observer with an extreme case of hives from scratching my forehead in utter disbelief.

* A sham given that he started his new job at the end of November 2011.  Just like Obama before him & the Nobel Peace Prize, since when do we now give award for promises and not for deeds well done?  It also stands to mention that in his last year as President of Italy's MBA University Bocconi, it fell from 28th place to 42nd.  Hoping that'll not be the case for Italy as well... 

Wednesday, December 7

Rome's Mayor is really the Grinch?

I was going to post today about the truly bizarre Christmas tree I happened to pass last night in Rome's main Piazza Venezia.  At first, I thought it was a promotion of a water company, launching their eco paper drinking cups in place of the plastic.  As someone twittered about the "tree", it looked like a gigantic cone decorated with the Mayor's sash.  Fortunately for Italy, the red-white-green color of our flag happens to match that of Christmas.  Which could be actually deliberate when you come to think that it was good ol' Saint Nick whose bones were stolen out of Turkey back in the day & laid to rest in Bari who started the whole affair in the first place...

In fact, when I took a good look at it, it appeared that the tree was made out of white turkish carpets and topped with a minaret.  Perhaps as a nod to all of the new Italian residents who have shown up on our beaches from Libia and in the recent census?  
Needless to say, by the time I went back to Piazza Venezia to take a photo of the monstrosity, it was gone. Out of sight.
Mayor Alemanno gets into the Christmas spirit
Turns out our Mayor of Do-Overs (search Ara Pacis & you'll see the lively debate which touches on elevators, parking lots, & even a statue of the pope or click for one excerpt here) simply "Didn't like the look."  Errrrr...if he can wield veto powers over city decór, perhaps someone could have let him have a peek at the design to begin with?  
Of course, in these days of austerity, people are asking the question, How much did this new fiasco just cost the people of Rome?  Actually, since it's in eye-shot of tourists in the popular Piazza Venezia, I'd say, How much did this just cost the tourists from the ever-burgeoning 'tourist tax' budget?  Consider it our little Christmas present.  You'd think with all our generosity they'd let us at least step up onto the grass if not to sing a song hand in hand like in the Grinch, to photograph the lovely nativity scene when the do-over is set into place.
But my question is, Did the guy who pocketed the bribe for the "Holiday Decoration Contract" have to return his portion of the fee?  Or, does he get double the money now that they're doing a makeover?
Regardless, I think the Mayor should have done nothing.  With a papier mache tree, it would only have lasted up til the first rain storm anyway.
To see the mirage tree, click here.

Thursday, July 21

Rome's Mayor in need of Sex Ed?

Rome's Mayor is under fire from women in the city offices as well as from women's groups who are growing more and more outspoken against the Business as usual way of Italian male-oriented politics.  When coming into office, he had two women on his twelve member team, despite laws to the contrary decrying "equal representation" of both sexes in city governments.  But this was before women took to the streets - fed up with the Ol' Boys' Clubs.
In January, he dissolved his team, shuffled it around -- and dropped a woman.  As I've mentioned in the past, despite evidence to the contrary, Italians seem to believe that a country on its last leg economically speaking should just go on the way it always has.  For most politicians, women should be seen (as eye candy) and certainly not have their voices heard through equal representation. But in January, women took the case to the courts.  And this week, they won.  The tribunal in fact came down on this gross lack of representation, and asked Alemanno to dissolve his Administration once again.
The Mayor's response?  Add a woman and make her Vice Mayor.  Following this logic, if the Vice Mayor position equals five men, where were we prior to this upset?  As for me, I'm starting to think that Mayor Alemanno simply skipped early elementary Health Ed.  
So, here's a video to set it all straight.  

Perhaps we should install those airport body scanners in City Hall, and maybe, just maybe, the Mayor might get his numbers right.

Thursday, December 2

The Colosseum Lights Up - Against violence to women

Better to light one monumental symbol...than to curse the darkness

I interrupt my regular monthly report - Tante Belle Cose - to bring you Una Grande Bella Cosa:  November 25th marks the Int'l Day of Violence against Women, and on that day, Rome announced that the world's most loved symbol (well, not counting the WWF Panda) would serve as a torchlight for women the world over.  And, in a case of the wheels of democracy - or in Italy's case, bureaucracy - burning rubber, this initiative took root in only a fortnight.
Last October, Rome's Professional Women's Assoc. had the privilege of hosting the Hon. Monica Cirinnà, City Councilwoman for Rome, and President of the Commission for equal rights.  I cornered her and, from my lips to a goddess' ear, told her my dream: Under Mayor Veltroni, the Colosseum turned green each time America executed a prisoner.  Instead, I wanted to see the Colosseum lit up every time a woman in Italy was killed by her partner, lover, or ex. 
In Italy, every 3 days a woman's life is ended this way, and tragically, the figure (115 this year) is rising.  Combined with a spate of surrealistic episodes, like the Romanian woman killed by a punch in the face over an argument in the subway, to the 15 yr. old killed by her Uncle or cousin, or both, it seems no time is better than the present to do, as Cirinnà states, "Bring women out of the shadows."
And the motion was brought to the table, and passed. Although Mayor Alemanno was totally on board, stating, It's a symbolic gesture, one that shall shed light on the abuse of power over women who end up hidden in the dark recesses of society, three members on the right voted against it and another 6 abstained.  Let's hope that they're the first to see that by lighting up a symbol for humanity, humanity may get illuminated.  

My new dream? That other cities across the boot follow suit - so every time you drive by the Colosseum or town square and it's turned color, we can shed light on the plight of women the world over...
One small step for women, one large step for all humankind.

The reaction has been overwhelming. The next day, the Taxi Union came on board with offering women 10% discounts on nocturnal rides, after the motion passed that they wait until you've entered your building before taking off (although I must say, many of them already always did).

The Voting: 29 voti a favore, 3 contrari (Consiglieri : Berruti, Bianconi, Orsi) e 6 astenuti (Consiglieri : Angeliini, Cassone, De Micheli, Guidi, Mollicone, Naccari)

Commissione delle Elette - Check out who are the keepers of the torch - Like the Vestal Virgins of long ago, their offices are on 'Via delle Vergini"
What the Commission did last month - a law against ads which harm women's dignity

Tuesday, August 3

Tante Belle Cose - July10 New Rules for Living in Italy

In the spirit of writing about the good things that go on each month's end, I will try (desperately, a bit like Dobby resisting to inform Harry Potter of impending danger "Bad Dobby, Bad Dobby!" to ignore the fact that Rome's tourist tax is taking effect. Not only that, the city's museums along with the State-run Colosseum&Forum will be levying an extra charge on the people who bring them income.
(Gulp: there I go again..."Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this." 

But in the lazy days of July, the City Officials were clearly running on double espressos and drumming out new laws to bring some order into our world - and much of it is to be applauded: 
  • Wild-card tables -- No more cafè society. Proprietors are to pay for the privilege of occupying the sidewalk (as if the passersby would get a windfall since they're the ones being inconvenienced) or they're shut down.  One day alone, 4 bars in Trastevere/Piazza Navona were closed for 10 days and fined.

  • Documents/i.d. cards -- It took 'til 2010, but they've finally figured out how to process papers in under 40 days.  By allowing city officials on one side of town to look into a database at your original docs in the State Archives and give you the i.d. card within 4 days. In 110 b.c., the process involved slaves going from building to building, but in modern times, you were slave to the process -- repeatedly waiting hours in infernal lines at each of the buildings in question. Now I know why it's called the Eternal City.

  • Skype lines -- The City is touting this as the new wave of the future, swapping out their land lines. Anyone who has ever used skype will know that the service is less than ideal -- just when we stopped the "line from falling", we can dust off that expression and put it back into use.  But, the switch, while not great for customer service will save the city millions.

  • Microcars -- And finally, even the state has gotten into the regulation act and are requiring seatbelts and anti-suped up models of the teeny-bopper cars.  Too bad, you still don't need a regular driver's license (and accompanying driver ed course) to drive 'em.
  • Movies -- Italy is starting a ratings system like in the US or UK [X, R, 12+ etc.]. While this is a good thing, the chorus of voices chimed in as to the sacrosanct practice of allowing young kids to still enjoy naked women in cages, S&M imagery, and all sorts of violence all day long on TV. 
Having just taken a number of trips up&down the Via Salaria, where the City had finally ousted the prostitutes and levied laws against stopping, I was treated (along with the 9 year old boy in my car) to a parade of almost-naked women lining the streets once again, and cars stopping right, left & center causing many of the fender benders that plague that path...One wonders, 'how long will the enforcement last before it all goes back as it was'.  

Get me away from this keyboard..."...Dobby has to iron his hands...")

Quotes and picture posted on

Friday, May 28

Rome's Proposed Tourist Tax - Are You Flippin' Kidding Me??!!!

Dear Mayor Alemanno:

Certainly, we can all understand your point of view; trying to come up with ways to arrive at month’s end – just like the rest of us – with money in the bank.  It was a stroke of pure genius – hit the captive audience that won’t crowd your city center, block traffic and hold huge sheets with protest slogans in revolt.  It’s an even better idea, considering that "other capital cities" have been charging a sojourn tax for years, [Let’s ignore the fact that other cities like London or New York have over 15 million inhabitants compared to your 3.5 million - with services to match - but, who's counting?].

Regardless, since you’re a Roman resident and you’ve never had the privilege of enjoying the city as a tourist, allow me to shed some light on the subject.  You’ll find that the Tourist Tax has been levied for some time now – paid in full by tourists – your petroleum – a tax so widespread, it’s like an oil slick on your country larger than the one now threatening the U.S.

A day in the life of a tourist in Rome

- Arriving at Rome’s airport, you’ve already been shaken down by the ‘airport tax’.  The service you receive instead?  Forced to wait in an un-airconditioned arrivals area holding pen 40 mins or longer for your bags, that is, if they arrive in the first place.  Check to see they're not missing objects handily withdrawn by the baggage handlers--the cause for the delay.

- You make your way to the train station where you have to pay 14 euro - $17 for a ticket to Rome's Termini station.  Just like in ‘other capitals’, except for the fact that in London the trains arrive every 4 minutes while in Rome, you might have to wait 40 minutes on a urine-filled platform (where else to void the toilets but in a closed train station), on a good day for the ‘next train’ to arrive.  At least your nose will be prepared for the onslaught of the Calcutta scene of homeless immigrants who live at your arrival station.

So, you decide to try your luck on the local train?  Terrific – except you have to be a soothsayer to know that the train marked for ‘Orte’ actually makes stops in Rome's center. You have no idea what stop to get off at, but you recognize Trastevere and go with that.  Then, you have to know how to buy a ticket – you can wait in a long line where the ticket vendor charges an untold €1 ‘tax’ on it, just for fun.
Last month, the 20 min train ride cost a reasonable €5.50.  Overnight, the price was raised 45% to €8, in view of an improved service.  So far, the only thing that was advanced was the price.  The grimy cars – with no room for luggage (it’s an airport train, after all) are still the same.

Jetlagged and drowsy, you suddenly need a PhD to know about stamping your ticket in the little yellow machines.  In ‘other capitals’, trains come with conductors who take your ticket.  But Rome is one giant tourist attraction – and on arrival, ‘You’re the protagonist!’ You get to play conductor, just like at Legoland.  In case you missed the ticket machines, a conductor will come by – to charge you 50 euro for boarding a 20 minute train without a stamped ticket. 
If you’re lucky, they’ll let you out instead – only to find yourself at a station with no personnel, no ticket machines, and the only other person is the gypsy who just stole your camera out of the front pocket of your suitcase as you dragged it behind you up the flight of steps to the street.

- Or, perhaps at the airport you decide to take a taxi.  Know that, like in other capitals, you have become a lovely fish in a tank of great white sharks (the color of Rome’s cabs).  They put the meter up a notch, or charge you tariffs for items you didn’t know exist.  At the end of the trip, you’ve spent 60 euro for a 48 euro ride, but the driver doesn’t declare his ‘extra’ income on his tax returns.
Take a taxi in the city, it’ll cost you $7 just to sit down.  But, that's not an option because you can’t find one anyway.  In ‘other capitals’, taxis roam freely, people take them regularly, and, the price stays low. I guess Adam Smith was right. Incredible how that works.

- Not wanting to deal with trains nor taxis, you rent a car instead.  Don’t forget your airport tax for that audacious request.  Get the car at Termini Station, you’re charged a train station surcharge.  And after navigating between the drunks, drug addicts, crazies and homeless beggars (Benvenuto a Roma!), you start thinking that you should be paid a Tourist Tax to go and retrieve your car out of the dank urine-stained area of the Termini Terminal (clearly suffering from an incurable disease).  While loading up your car, you discover someone has just made off with the bag you left on the seat – running right by the policemen who are busy chatting in a crowd.

- You head now to your hotel, 6 bags and all, less the one that just departed.  Near the Pantheon, you manage no problem.  Except that you just got hit with an automated-traffic ticket to the tune of 70 euro for passing through the city center, naturally - where most of the hotels are located.
As every Mayor in Italy knows and banks on, forget the 5 euro tourist tax – it's 70 euro each time they go in/out of the hotel.  What a nice souvenir postcard from Bell'Italia -- in their mailboxes by the time they get home.  This perk for city coffers is kept conveniently although they could easily allow rental cars to pass right through, just like cars for the handicapped.  And those poor bastards with luggage? Let ‘em walk to their hotel (or take a taxi, who takes them round and round prior to shooting over to their nearby hotel).   

- Once you're on the open road, let’s not even consider the gas charges (5X the USA) most of which are taxes (but payable to the State) and highway tolls.  Like ‘other cities’?  Let me explain to you the meaning behind the word, ‘freeway.

- For the brave souls who manage to take a bus, drop in your €1.50 in coins (despite the price indicated on the meter: €1) and out spits your ticket.  Again, who’s to tell them that they then need to pass through a wall of people to the other end of the bus and ‘validate’ it in another tiny machine, different from this one.  That is, until the vigili grab hold of them – and charge them a fee for not having a valid ticket – payable immediately.  Of course, the meter maids won't hit up the other passengers, illegal immigrants with no tickets nor i.d., nor money; the city counts on their tourist prey to always pay up.   
Of course, the city spent upwards of 1800 euro each for thousands of their little stamp machines, lining the pockets of who knows how many politicos along the way.  Their real cost? about 23 euro - 56 if you count the installation. No wonder they're looking for more money.

- Visiting the monuments, you pay exorbitant prices for every activity that are proving out of reach for most Italians (even the ones who don’t pay their taxes). At least Italians get discounted tickets and students often go for free.  You fork over 7 euro just to take the elevator up on the big white Vittoriano monument, not to mention the $9 coca-cola you’ll drink once you’re up there.  For an entire family (and I’ll remind you that unlike in uber-Catholic Italy, Americans still have children), things start to add up.   
And, what do you get for your 8 or 12 euro ticket entry price?  Hours standing in line at the great (and open air & uncrowded) Forum & Colosseum, longer still at the Quirinale and the Vatican Museums.  Go to the Borghese Gallery, and bouncers unceremoniously throw you out (!) after 2 hours, in order to protect the 15% that the ticket company makes on every single reservation.  Exceptional services like these certainly justify the Tourist Tax.

- You want to stop for a snack?  Caveat emptor!  In some countries, the motto is, ‘you break it, you buy it.’ In Italy, ‘you sit, you shell it out’.  While sitting and eating is sort of standard practice the world over, in Italy, you pay double for the privilege.  No matter, you didn’t know that (you’re a tourist), so now you’re stung.   
At dinner, you pay more than the Rossi’s next to you, the bill is hand-written and unitemized, and there's a (supposedly outlawed but not enforced) ‘cover charge’ before they’ve even added in ‘service’ charges – and taxes.  Americans foolishly leave tips - I call them 'guilt tips' - besides.  Naturally, they don’t issue a receipt and don’t declare the income.   
You want a Tourist Tax, Mr. Mayor – start getting ahold of your 20% VAT tax paid on every plate of pasta sold.  Tourists don't know it, but they spend 20% sales tax on everything they buy - but that money from gelato to jazz concerts rarely makes it to the tax man.

- You set out with your guide – She earns 15% on everything you buy – from the little rosary in Saint Mary Major to the normally 9 euro cutlet for which you were just charged 16 euro.  She earns in tax free income over 50,000 euro per year; all contributed by the ‘tax paying’ tourist.  But that doesn’t mean she’ll pay taxes on it herself.
All of these products and services for tourists offered by the very same citizens who don’t want to pay for their City services, but then insist that the roads are smooth, garbage is removed regularly, schools are open and hospitals are free for all and sundry.
But of course, instead of forcing these people to pay up, let’s go after the ‘easy prey’ – a simple surcharge on tourist hotel rooms.  After all, tourists can’t vote.

Of course, looking for the tax evaders amongst your dear citizenry takes work.  But, watch out.  Tourists can – and do – vote.  With their feet and their wallets.  Take a look, Mr. Mayor, at (from home or office, wifi services for those out and about are such a bureaucratic nightmare, no one uses them), and you’ll be inundated with people who say, ‘Never Again.’

Have a seat in Piazza Navona and ponder this, Mr. Mayor, over a bowl of gelato for two.  If it weren't for your citizens paying your bills, that luxury would run you close to $30 – you are practically renting the table, as if the proprietors, after centuries, still have to make good on the bill to Bernini for the gorgeous fountain nearby.

Rome still manages to keep tourism alive, despite the worst financial crisis since WWII.  But, instead of prizing your tourists, better to punish them; the ones who provide so many with their livelihoods. Keep going down this track, you’ll not only lose the little income the honest proprietors pay in taxes, you also won’t find any tourists to tax either.  You'd think the lesson of the backlash with the Japanese tourists overcharged for their meals would have been learned.  Obviously not.
But when the tourists stop flowing in because of this cowardly and cynical manoeuvre, let’s see what your voters then have to say about it. 

From the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, the Tourist Tax is in play – just as it has been for a very long time. 

Note from Aug 2012:  Sadly, nearly every city in Italy, large or small has now followed suit - levying the traffic fines as well on cars in their city centers.  In any case, I have updated this post to take into consideration all the price rises over the last two years:
20% airport taxis, 16% train fares, 50% rise on bus fares and a 1% VAT Tax raise a gift from the Monti govt.

Wednesday, April 28

The Ara Pacis – Rome’s Altar of Peace

Not long after settling in office, Rome’s Mayor Alemanno presided over the installation of a Council for Dignity, Forgiveness & Reconciliation. Taking place at the highly controversial (if you’re the Mayor of Rome) and highly disliked (again, if you’re the Mayor of Rome) Ara Pacis Museum, I was convinced that it was his gesture toward leaving the building – and its Architect, Richard Meier, finally at peace.
Having declared the first modern building in Rome's center in nearly a century an official eyesore on the sights of stunning Rome, wanting to dismantle it, and in the best case, rebuild it in Rome’s ugly suburbs (so much for beautifying the entire city - in his eyes), I thought he descended upon the Altar to declare instead its official Dignity; to Pardon Meier for his horrific creation, and to start forward toward modernizing Rome in an act of Reconciliation. This single act would lead the way toward building something new again within the city center limits.

Turns out I was wrong. On all accounts. While the city keeps up its campaign of eye pollution in allowing the hundreds of illegal advertising billboards, while it allows the SS teams in the Parks&Gardens Office to continue razing any sign of greenery in the city (leaving behind a trail of meter-high grey tree stumps which get uprooted only for planting a billboard), this was a matter of a totally different sort.

Although it must have pained Alemanno to hold his celebration at his most hated monument, he even stood to accept a sheet of pergamon to convey the lofty ideals of respect, comprehension and dialogue. Three characteristics that do not surround his Meier diatribe (built by the former left-wing Mayor). In his words,

“Occorre saper comprendere le vere ragioni dei conflitti. Al tempo stesso, "non bisogna chiudersi nella vendetta e nell'odio ma affrontare le cause reali.”
One needs to search out the real reasons for conflict.” At the same time, “One shouldn’t close himself behind hate and revenge but take on the true causes.”

Now if he would practice what he preaches, maybe the fatwa against Meier can be lifted, and the Mayor can preside over a Pax Alemanno of sorts.
picture courtesy of
click here to see the entire Altar & museum in its splendor

From RomanGuide: After a century of bloody civil and foreign wars that had brought to the end of the Roman Republic, Augustus, who had ruled as emperor since 27 B.C., seemed finally to have placed the Romans under his own personal peace, the Pax Augusta. In recognition of this achievement, the Roman Senate voted in 13 B.C. an altar dedicated to peace and to the emperor who had made the end of the civil wars possible. The result, completed about four years later, was a triumph. The Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar of Augustan Peace is the most intimate imperial monument. The Ara (a 35x39 foot rectangle), is a perfect example of the elegant and gracious style cultivated by Augustus. Justly proud of his altar, Augustus made mention of the circumstances that led to its creation in his Achievements of the Divine Augustus (Res Gestae divi Augusti), the official autobiography written near the end of his long reign.

Thursday, February 25

Business in Italy: Business Weak

Today I was catching up on the goings-on in my neighborhood, considering I had been absent for so long.  I mean, in the two months I was gone, a whole new building went up, trees were planted along a 200 meter strip (while the other square kilometer went barren, but hey, it’s still better than nothing), and they took down the long-standing and city-block long OPEL ASTRA sign perched high above a huge building.  I mean, is Opel still making cars anyway?  I don't think after 25 years of seeing that sign, I've ever seen one.

In a charming little park in nearby (and even more charming – if you only look at the architecture and not the people), Garbatella, they launched a free wifi service.  In December.  On a trial basis.
While I’m hoping the trial lasts 'til the good weather comes, my conspiracy theorist in me thinks that looks may be a bit deceving. Most likely, the ‘winner’ of this deal came under the old government, the new government has to let them in, but by allowing them to set up shop in winter, thus no hits, they can close them down where an ‘amico’ of the current city government gets the contract – just ripe for the summer pickings like figs off a tree.

I had previously reported that Rome also launched last November, their fabulous Tourist Angels service.  These are people on wildly decorated modern chariots
(Segways in disguise) who will cart around Piazza di Spagna and environs hoping
to help tourists. Whether they’ll race after the pickpocket who just swiped
your wallet is another story: probably not in their job description.  This, like the wifi service, is great news and a long time coming (give or take 2000 years, I’d say—Imagine: if they’d had these guys in the day, the Pantheon may never have been stripped of its bronze in broad daylight).
But, November?  When there are precisely 12 tourists?  Not to mention the 68 days of rain and the snowfall that followed (the ads alone should have been removed for false advertising).  Lends more credence to my conspiracy theory by the minute.

And, if you don’t believe me, as the Rome n’Bike guys.  The Spanish company, Cemusa had won the favour of someone somewhere and gotten those red bikes placed strategically all around Rome. On a trial basis.   
Rome’s Mayor later came out strongly in favor of this great service for citizens and tourists alike.  As well he should:  It was unceremoniously taken over by the city-owned transport company, ATAC. You know, the guys who bring us buses.  You’d think there’d be a conflict of interest somewhere in there, but who's counting?

And, judging from the fact that the Red bikes were stopped to give the green light to Green ones, well, hey - maybe there's nothing to my conspiracies at all -- it was all just meant to be.

Friday, July 3

Tante Belle Cose - June09

Well, the best news to come out this month is the arrival of summer, although judging from the people who attempt to cool off in Rome’s fountains, I don’t mean because of the intense heat: It’s L’Estate Romana, when there is l’imbarazzo della scelta of outdoor theatres, cinemas, concerts, plays, and every sort of entertainment around. From the ancient theatre of Ostia Antica to world music in Villa Ada, amazing shows in Tivoli and even little parks filled with one activity or another, including Rome Vintage and totally fun Gay Village, summer has arrived. It truly makes you want to spend your time in the fairly emptied city, year after year.
You can visit the site, but, being government run, good luck in actually finding show times and costs. You can’t have everything.

Dining at the Hassler Hotel’s Palazzetto one fine evening overlooking Piazza di Spagna, I was amazed to find the Spanish Steps just teeming with people. This is one law I’m fully thrilled is not being enforced. The idea of banishing people from the steps, and fining them if they so much imbibed in a gelato was the greatest insult to a tourism-based kind of place. Recently it was also proclaimed to get rid of the masseuses off the beaches of Ostia. Frankly, I think it’s a fine idea – after all, they’re not licensed or anything.
But, could they please add the trinket salesmen with their glow-in-the-dark gadgets to their list? I’d truly love to enjoy a meal out in a trattoria in Trastevere without having a half dozen glow toys surrounding my Prosecco glass.

Like so many of Mayor Alemanno’s vast proclamations, after the clean sweep, just like flies the perpetrators just keep coming back for more. Although another bella cosa is, I haven’t happened upon the hookers on the Via Salaria, although the transvestites who frequent the Aventino are still in full force right under the nose of the military posted there.

Aside from uncovering Saint Paul himself, they also discovered at the close of this Pauline year, a truly ancient fresco depicting the saint himself. It was found in the catacombs of Saint Tecla and dates back to the IV century.

And finally, it would appear that all of the monuments damaged in Aquila’s earthquake have found sponsors for their restoration. Thank goodness.
Just in time for the new tremors felt today.

Tuesday, May 26

Roma Nascosta - Really Hidden Rome

Well, this week we were greeted with totally cool news: a bunch of underground archeological sites, heretofore unseen by the general public, would be opened in an exclusive showing. And we thought we had the place pretty much carved right up! The release was picked up ‘round the world, but with no snoopy reporter offering a clarifying followup question.
Problem is, in keeping with tradition, the places remained hidden from public view, even in the newspapers and on websites. Incredibly, but typically, they simply forgot to provide the details – oh, say, like names and, how to make a reservation (obligatory, however). They went all-out to make sure they got the standard quote in order to fan the ego errrr.. feathers of the town Mayor, however. As if his comment is going to send a rush of fans to the front doors.
Sadly, from Milan to Messina, huge posters often go out announcing the event, only to have neglected key details. I've even seen signs up all over town for performances, but missing the date. Sometimes, you'll find a new-fangled website, the name of which you will never ever remember upon leaving the station. For a show on Garibaldi, for example, the site might be:
In the event you do remember the logon, you have to click through in a sort of Finding Nemo sort of fashion in order to find what you’re looking for, only to be timed out upon ticket purchase.
I started thinking that perhaps they had simply made Hidden Rome into a sort of archeological dig theme party. The ones who manage to pick out an underground site, go to google street view (oops – that wouldn’t work, as it’s below the ground), and stand in line (oops – that was for hot cornetti) and make it in, would be treated to a host of netherworld delights.
The first clue was to be found on posters with a call in number (as if I would be able to write down all the names, opening times, and locations). I opted instead to try my luck at the Rome City website. There, I started clicking away, down to artistic sort of things, giving new meaning to the term, 'carpal tunnel', and lo and behold! I could download a pdf of the entire week’s programming. (but only because I’m in the business, did I know to click on the very last item on the list, Zetema – as if that name was a dead giveaway).
This is actually an improvement: In the past, I would have had to fax in my i.d. cards, promise my first born and attach a picture of me kissing the last pope’s ring colored in burnt sienna in order to obtain the pdf file. I feel I’m way ahead of the game – if everyone else has as much trouble as me, perhaps the lines will be considerably shorter. I’ll keep you posted on what else I dig up.

Here is the magical pdf file link
Please note, check back periodically for this initiative as it runs off/on throughout the year.
For reservations: Tel. 060608 or see the Zetema site.

Sunday, May 3

Tante Belle Cose - April09

This month, the best thing to report is that I was canvassed by the Comune di Roma for a questionnaire regarding all city services. This is great news and I never turn down a chance to voice my opinion (che sorpresa!). They score big on roads, zero on the trees, could improve bus & garbage service, but no, thank you, I don’t wish to spend more on museum & auditorium tickets, etc.
The problem with the surveys is you’re never allowed to give a comment. So they never truly know if they score low on garbage pickup because it’s not often enough, or if it’s too noisy at night. Ditto for train surveys: The train from Geneve to Milano is clean, nice, picturesque. But, I had to give it a zero for lack of computer sockets – on a business commuter train no less! But, no one will ever be the wiser…They still get kudos for commissioning the studies in any case.

This month, it was announced that Rome’s Talking Heads (see Pasquino in left hand column) will be getting a facelift. This, do to the terrific enterprise of the Associazione Abitanti del Centro Storico. First on the list: l’Abate Luigi (piazza Vidoni), followed by my very own Pasquino, Madama Lucrezia and then Facchino.
While that means they’ll be covered up for some time, when they come back, I’m sure they’ll have loads to talk about.

Rome’s Mayor Alemanno discovered a mole within his midst. Seriously. After digging a tunnel from the Capitoline Hill directly into the Forum, he’s now talking about digging another one from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican.
Whether these will only be open to VIP’s, hard to tell. But one thing’s for sure, he is finally giving back the Pincio Terrace overlooking Piazza del Popolo to the people; the scaffolding from the absurd parking garage will soon be removed from the Villa Borghese park.

And finally, we all thought the best Limoncello came from Sorrento. Turns out, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the gold medal was awarded to "Lemon Armonia" produced by the company, DonnaFrida -- from Padova!
But, is it legal? Italy's drive to keep things local & official should disqualify our winner: After all, they hardly grow lemons in the cold & foggy northeast corridor.

For all things Limoncello, check out this terrific blog. More great stuff in left column.

Tuesday, March 3

Tante Belle Cose for Travelers to Italy

You may have noticed I’ve been playing hooky for awhile, but, hopefully all will be forgiven as I have been picking up great experiences (and not so great – see left column) for the blog…But first, the good news (which does not include finding snackpack-sized Oreos in every airport and bar these days. Although it was seriously about time. I think Marco Polo even with his 20 year stint in China brought noodles here sooner).

While driving to and fro, the big electronic sign boards on Italy's highways have posted a new message (Heaven forbid they actually tell us about tie-ups):
Make sure you fasten your child in a child seat with seatbelt.

We don’t know what drove the authorities to come to their senses (pun not intended), much less if it will have any effect, but we still remain pleased. If it can just get one mother to reconsider holding la bambina in her arms, well, it will not be all for naught.

Of course, there will always be exceptions:
A woman in America was arrested recently for holding her baby in her arms – WHILE DRIVING. AND BREAST-FEEDING. AND SCRIPTING A TEXT MESSAGE. Talk about multi-tasking…

Also while making the rounds, I discovered Bagels being touted at the Autogrill!!! (sorry, couldn't resist the pun). Personally, I don’t like the idea of all these American treats on every thoroughfare, but I secretly rejoiced while downing one of their fabulous blueberry muffins…
Click here to find the Bleeding Espresso blog on where else to get awesome American goodies.

While in Rome, those monster buses have been rerouted out of the center. This is just one element of Mayor Alemanno’s drive to make the city center a better place and his work does not go unnoticed.
Although I found on those same buses a huge ad campaign explaining the new (increased) parking rates for those driving around…
Considering that the majority of bus passengers are immigrants, school kids and the elderly, I thought the message was a bit misplaced. Might have made more sense just to post the rates around the parking areas…

While traipsing through Fiumicino Airport (aka Leonardo Da Vinci) on a Sunday night, we were surprised to find the shops open (even if the exit doors were not). We don’t know if this is due to the recession, but, it was nice to see things lit up – even on Sundays – and in Arrivals. I also noticed that the airport departures lounges have gone silent (for the most part).
Great news for all of us iPod people…now we’ll really be in peace, but you really gotta keep your eye out for last-minute gate changes. I’ve nearly missed flights coming and going as a result.

And, good news for the train traveler, one of whom I used to be…but why bother when you can fly to London for less?? They now (actually for some time now) have a superfast train Rome-Milano.
But lest you get visions of bullet trains dancing in your head…Italy boasts the only superfast trains that go slow. But, they cut out the middlemen (Florence – Bologna) and now you’re on your way. Now, if they can only apply the concept to business…

Tune in this week for the Bad News for travelers.

Friday, December 19

I'm Stumped: Rome's ongoing battle to make room for cement

An Open Letter to Rome's Mayor and the Parks & Gardens Dept. and maybe, if he reads my blog, the ever-provocative Vittorio Sgarbi, who may appreciate this forthcoming proposal:

This year, as we celebrate Christmas, I remember all those who have fallen. After all, it is the 1 yr. anniversary of my beloved 5 story high pine tree -- the very symbol of Christmas -- cut down in the prime of its life. Along with it, we are reminded each day (just by leaving the house) of the thousands of others who gave their lives for no apparent reason other than to make room for parking spots and to enrich the sub-contractors who get paid per tree they saw down. Incredibly, they're contracts obviously do not stipulate trunk and root removal.
Their time on this earth was marked by the number of rings in their stumps. In their passing, we can gaze on those very rings still, if you can find them from underneath the trash at their centers. In reality, one can see that the Dept of Parks & Gardens is totally avantgarde: They have embellished an entire concrete metropolis with 100% ecological trash and ashtray bins. Too bad they neglected to inform the Garbage Dept. (Rome's AMA) about their brilliant installations. And so the trash is simply piled up on top of these mini-petrified forests.

I've always felt that these wooden half-columns were a sort of artistic repurposing of the Ancient Forum concept. If you stop and think of it, we have entire arcades of them -- with a little imagination you need not even pay a ticket to the Forum -- just look out down the once-tree lined streets of Rome and imagine how life once was when the streets bristled with activity under shaded umbrella pines, rather than melting in the summer heat.
But then I've found someone with an even better idea. Put in place in New York and called The Stump Project, this artist has created artworks and seating covers from the tree stumps left behind.

Please, Sig. Sindaco, could you hire her in my neighborhood? Or better yet, do what Italians do best, and just copy her idea while giving the commission to your young amante.

Friday, September 12

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

Now that my free newspapers are back publishing, it looks as though September really started out with a bang. And with it, some wonderfully surprising things have taken place.

First off, the Mail Carriers actually went on strike to oppose the mandate for nearly non-delivery of August mail. This outcry was picked up by the Consumers Associations who complained that it left the poor elderly folks stuck at home without pension checks and without their weekly crossword puzzles, not to mention without their kids to help out -- all on vacation.

It seems that the Poste Italiane has taken the McKinsey assessment literally: That they shouldn’t be in the mail delivery business. Problem is, the privatization won’t occur until 2011. Until then, expect empty mailboxes.

Rome’s Demolition Mayor
is finally able to get something dismantled. Only this time, everyone is applauding. Under the last administration, plans were made to build a 700 car parking lot in one of the most beautiful outlooks over Rome: the Pincio Hill in Villa Borghese, just above the Piazza del Popolo; ruining the panorama for millions of tourists and also the beauty of the park. Never mind that there was no feeder road into the garage for all those cars they expected.
It was as if they had picked the best spot on earth and said, yeah, let’s ruin it. It was a disgrace and thankfully, under the guise of “precious ruins underneath” it ain’t gonna happen. In our euphoria, we’ll also ignore the fact that the mega parking lot just across the river (which the Vatican had plowed through ancient villas) stands virtually empty.

And irony of ironies, Minister Carfagna (ex-topless model who sold her body to calendars and magazines alike) has taken her title as Minister of Equal Opportunities to heart and presented legislation that will arrest the johns along with the hookers.

It will get the women off the streets, but will it really dent the demand?