Sunday, October 28

Mussolini comes to Washington

Propaganda • Politics • Public Works • the Bully Pulpit

Four Trump plays from the Mussolini handbook

Not long ago, President Trump quipped that maybe President for Life is a pretty good deal. From where I sit in Rome, it’s hard to tell on some days, who said it better? Trump or Mussolini? 

Although little Benito started out in abject poverty, the differences between the two end there. As a child, he was considered unruly, aggressive and moody.  
Mussolini grew up to become a media man who understood how much power properly placed propaganda held to prop him up. As he carried out his mission to establish a one-party state, fortunately, he would not achieve totalitarian rule because the monarchy and the papacy acted as a sort of check on his ambitions and power; not to mention the allies later running offense up and down the Italian peninsula, Africa and elsewhere to resoundingly put him and his fascist ways asunder.
But first, about that monarchy: The House of Savoy was beloved by the people – it's thought that even the Margherita pizza was named after a Queen. Mussolini erected the huge white monument in Rome’s Piazza Venezia for Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a united Italy, probably as a monument to the King’s ego – a sort of insurance policy so that the king would have his back. But by the time the war ended, the Savoia’s would be run out of the country into exile in Egypt; their palaces and properties confiscated, and no male heirs or royal consorts permitted ever to return. 
This held up until 2003, when Parliament figured that by then, they were quite toothless, only to discover that the former Prince had used his idle time to start up a prostitution ring in the northern gambling town of Campione d’Italia. His son recently set up a street food stand in LA. I guess they could use the dough.
But why did popular sentiment turn on them so quickly? Italians, after the war, realized that the monarchy had not defended its own people – pretty much its only real job description, other than that of opening bottles of champagne for visiting dignitaries. Mussolini had enacted the racial laws and before anyone knew it, Italian citizens, Jews, were being rounded up from the ghettos, eventually to be hauled off to death camps to the North, most never to return. This was too much for the peaceful people of Italy – even for those who had so blindly supported Mussolini and his muscling in on their basic liberties

At rallies—surrounded by supporters wearing black shirts—Mussolini caught the imagination of the crowds shouting, 'Viva l’italia!' Many Italians, especially among the middle class, welcomed his authority. They were tired of strikes and riots, responsive to the flamboyant trappings of fascism, and ready to submit to dictatorship, provided the national economy was stabilized and their country restored to its dignity. It would be declared:
“Either the government will be given to us, or we will seize it by marching on Rome.” 
[source: Brittanica]

So how did Mussolini rise to wield such power over a people and get away with it…that is, up until he was hanging by his feet from a lamppost in Milan, marking the end of WWII? At least in Italy. And especially for him? When elected Prime Minister in 1922, his Fascist party held only 32 of 535 seats. This guy, who many considered a blowhard, and far too young and unprepared for high office, swiftly obtained ‘emergency powers’, garnering control over parliament. In his defense, he remarked, “It is really easier to give orders myself instead of having to send for the Minister concerned and convince him about what I have done.” Just one year later, he would introduce a law to gain absolute majority in parliament. By the next election, the Fascists would secure 66% of the vote.

“I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

To gain support of the people, Mussolini operated a binary system: employing intimidation or threats to suppress his opponents, while at the same time pretending to be a moderate when it came to crafting deals. He would be the lone warrior against that ultimate evil, socialism: “Italy… wants peace, wants quiet, wants work, wants calm; we will give it with love, if that be possible. Or with strength if that be necessary.” But who said it best?

It should be a bill of love,” Mr Trump said, but “it also has to be a bill where we’re able to secure our border. Drugs are pouring into our country at a record pace. A lot of people coming in that we can’t have.”

That split message, part conciliatory and part unyielding…

[Independent • Jan 9, 2018]

Mussolini set out to ban opposition parties and non-fascist unions; not unlike corporate America’s decades-long battle against labor and teacher unions – perhaps starting with Ronald Reagan’s mass firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981, and ending with Walmart’s utter disregard for workers, up to Wisconsin’s banning of teacher unions altogether. Mussolini picked off opposition Senators one by one with those finding themselves like a few Dems who today are on the wrong side of the NRA, or publicly humiliated after a particularly cogent grilling of one’s Attorney General.
Pocahantas…Flakey…Flunkey…”Except for one senator, who came into a room at 3 o'clock in the morning and went like that [gesturing thumbs down, ndr] we would have had health care too, think of that.”

But one of the most effective tactics was Mussolini’s private security detail; basically arresting people for any anti-party activity. In the USA, peaceful demonstrators get arrested, others intimidated or frozen out for their ‘anti-patriotic’ stance while drivers are encouraged to plow through demonstrations. And ICE – well, we know which party those families would belong to, if they could vote. Mussolini reintroduced the death penalty in 1926, with scores of ‘traitors’ in line for execution, declaring, “…It will be less and less easy to threaten the government’s existence and tranquillity of the Italian people.” I imagine hordes chanting at his rallies, “Lock them up!” Eventually, 12000 prisoners would be held captive on a remote island, picked up by the private military police and Mussolini’s personal ‘bodyguards’.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” adding,

“Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness.”

President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t seem to tire of setting new precedents. Despite being provided with a newly bolstered Secret Service detail
after the election,
the president-elect has retained his own private security and intelligence force, breaking with tradition and creating operational and potentially legal problems.

Mussolini knew that another pillar to take down would be opposition newspapers, so he started censoring them, harassing editors or forcing them into exile. He ultimately proclaimed that one could only report within the confines of the State – his State – and no one would be permitted to muddy its name or actions. While obstructing the opposition press, he used his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy) to spread his State propaganda. Even military defeats would be portrayed as a win.

President Trump kicked CNN reporter Jim Acosta out of the Oval Office after the reporter badgered him with questions. “Out!” 

While speaking about or tweeting about “fake news!” 153 times 
in his first 11 months in office. 

Enter Matteotti – who denounced this despot as early as 1924 -– “You want to hurl the country backwards, towards absolutism… We will defend by demanding that light be shed on elections” he challenged, culminating his impassioned speech with, “Now you can prepare my funeral oration.” Matteotti would be assassinated in short order, allegedly by Mussolini’s own private security force. In protest, 150 opposition members left the Chamber during one of Mussolini’s speeches. He quickly proclaimed that anyone leaving would not be allowed back into the House.

“The true believers who pulverize the search for truth are a fixture of American life. Their attachment to their heroes is absolute and impregnable. They have built themselves a big, beautiful wall. They have laid the cornerstones of absolutism.  [source: The American Prospect]

On the Democratic Black Caucus:
“They were like death, un-American. Somebody said treasonous. Yeah, I guess, why not?

Can we call that treason? Why not? 
I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.” 

To further consolidate his power, he turned a blind eye to tax evasion by big business and introduced religious education in public schools. He brought the men of the cloth to his side by increasing pay for the clergy and banning contraception, while at the same time, locking his own former mistress and her child in a lunatic asylum, lest they speak out.
Trump signs new budget deal giving taxpayer money to churches 
in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.

It seems a swathe of people were still more inclined to protect the unborn than their own freedoms. Mussolini chirped from his balcony in Rome’s Piazza Venezia for every decree: “The truth is, the people are tired of liberty.” Once he determined he could govern by decree, he would hand down a dizzying 100,000 of them. 
Trump issued more Executive Orders in his first 100 days in office than any president since Harry Truman.

By 1928, just 6 years after taking power, all new newspapers would be banned. Thankfully, in a digital age this is impossible, but terming any opposition article, “fake news” or insisting that journalists are the “Enemy of the People” while muddying the waters with real fake news, comes as close as you can to mirroring the nefarious deeds of the past in the new millennium. Soon, Italians would be ‘educated’ with pro-fascist viewpoints alone – resistance outlawed entirely.

More than 200 protesters arrested on Inauguration Day will face felony rioting charges

In just under a year, by restricting the freedom of the press, the Fascists were fully in control of the people of Italy. The result? Mussolini became ever more popular, convincing the populace that extensive public works projects put people to work while educating the masses in civic virtue. It was not long for people to see that a strong single governing body would create an even stronger, united Italy.

"I hope they arrest these people because they're really violating all of us," Trump said.

His fervor to ‘go it alone’ (up until joining Hitler) was legend. But who said it better? We become strongest, I feel, when we have no friends upon whom to lean, or to look for moral guidance”.

“'America First' - we won’t be lectured by corrupt countries on the Palestinian and Israeli issue."
"I am a Nationalist."

This ushered in the attack on the Deep State or the Cucks, or both – purging them until a fervent 300,000 followers would swear personal alliance to Mussolini, alone. He needed to make sure that the most radical ones who wanted a revolution – say, the Bannon’s of the group – were not allowed near the halls of power. A former (socialist) colleague of his would provide the perfect metaphor for Mussolini: “He is a rabbit, a phenomenal rabbit. He roars – observes those who do not know him – and mistake him for a lion.” Of course – Mussolini was once a socialist. But it would not take long to hear him call out Socialism as “A fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.“ 

“Based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate has been terminated as part of our Tax Cut Bill”

In the end, it was this trumped up fear of socialism that allowed Mussolini to cling to power. And even as he gained control over most parts of government, he continued his shenanigans, playing with propaganda, day in and day out, in order to garner more recognition and tributes. His mantra, “The people must accept obedience. They must and they will believe what I tell them…” would soon securely establish his influence over a people. It was, effectively, a one-party state.
“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.”

More propaganda tools were set into motion, including the publication, ostentatiously called, The Cult of Il Duce. Mussolini would be the first to appear in a talkie movie. Posters would be printed, and State control over businesses following the crash of 1929 were deemed ‘necessary’ to help prop up the banks. The Corporate takeover of Italy was well-established at this point. Mussolini himself, the ex-socialist, put it this way: Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Just ask Tillerson. Or the Koch Bros. Or the Waltons, or virtually every cabinet member tied to a major corporation.
“You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor. 

Public works projects guaranteed full employment, with Mussolini summoning the ghost of Caesar to make his case. “A nation of spaghetti eaters cannot restore Roman civilization.” In other words, Make Rome Great Again. All told, it was the propaganda machine that gave him a comfortable, uncontested seat at the top. Britain’s Times observed, “Italy has never been seen so united as she is today. Fascism…abolished the game of parliamentary chess… it has given… national respect.”
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Mussolini might have remained a hero until his death, had not his callous xenophobia and arrogance, his misapprehension of Italy's fundamental necessities, and his dreams of empire led him to seek foreign conquests.".
But what about that monarchy or the church as a check on his power? Although the Pope publicly upbraided Mussolini for his anti-semitism and his cozying up to Hitler in 1938, it was not soon enough nor emphatic enough; merely a slight tear in his iron-clad glove. It would seem that the Church still preferred a dictator over a socialist. And the die was cast.
As for the King, Mussolini would simply ignore advice doled out in their weekly meetings, limiting his interaction with the monarch. The King, in an effort to reestablish his position, welcomed the Führer to Rome instead of letting him meet with Mussolini. While still in control of the military, the King made his bed. He would eventually have to sleep in it – in exile.
Mussolini, in a rare moment of frankness, would concede he had had to share power, stating, “There were three of us: me, the King and the Pope.”
Alas, the United States cannot count on either of the latter two.

Blogger & Author, Francesca Maggi
Has been commenting on Italy’s State of Affairs since 2007
Burnt by the Tuscan Sun • Irreverent Italy on Facebook


Monday, January 16

Italian Espresso vs American Coffee...What not to order on your next trip to Italy

I grew up watching those Hogan's Heroes episodes ... they'd stand around...wishing for something hot and then spit out whatever it was they'd be served, usually coffee. BC Comics called it swill. With all that bad press, it's a wonder how any of us grew up to be coffee drinkers. And while I'll take an Illy Caffè Italian cappuccino over any coffee in all 50 states (okay...well maybe excluding New Orleans), when you happen upon a good's really not so bad.

But ask any Italian, and for as long as I can remember...they would wince at the mere thought of taking a sip from that horrid cup of "extra long" used bathwater...And this, I believe, is the true reason why Starbucks didn't make such a swift move into the Bel Paese. In all these years, I never really got into the down and murky convince Italians otherwise. Who was I to explain that the real reason they were disgusted by Caffè Americano had nothing to do with American coffee? At all.

But then, I was talking to a friend's teenage son who had just come back from NYC. When I asked him what he liked about his trip he said..with a note of surprise in his voice, "I thought the coffee was amazing." While I also think his tastebuds were distracted from the idea of camping out on a plush sofa with freewifi at a a local Starbucks...versus downing a 1 inch high sip standing at a bar counter...I could see his point. Up til now, his version of Caffè Americano was basically the water that is left at the bottom of my Bialetti coffee pot -- after I've already bubbled up the contents and poured it into my cappuccino.

So after 25-odd years, I'm going to finally come clean for the Italian people, and...for all the unsuspecting American tourists who come to Italy - begging for a super long Caffè Americano:

No...An American Coffee is NOT the end result of an espresso machine that's forced to urinate all the leftover water, calcium deposits and murky espresso bean slime until it's a faint yellowish piddle flowing into your cup.
Baristas still seem to think that that's what we do in America. Just add water. Instead, American coffees are left to soak up their Burnt Sienna grounds...percolate, so to speak. [We actually get a bigger hit of caffeine than from a standard espresso because of that.] try an American Coffee at your peril. You begin to beg for something that represents prehistoric swill.

Recently, an American couple breezed into one of the bars on the Appian Way and asked for a big ol' cuppa Joe to Go. They grabbed their Monster-sized cups (by espresso standards, anyway) and took off before I could warn them that what they ordered...wasn't quite an American brew. I found their (full) cups in a bin not much further along.

And so I've now come full circle on the Starbucks in Italy idea...Because, if you could actually serve up real American coffee...who knows? It might just catch on.

POSTSCRIPT:  It's 2018 & I just had the experience of ordering a 4.80 "Latte" -- Starbucks has only opened in Milano...and, as I predicted on my Facebook Page @IrreverentItaly , prices were going to be on the up & up -- It's started.

In any case, if you would like to make your own cuppa espresso –– check out the selection of the best of the best! Their
team ground, tamped and frothed their way through market leaders to find which machines delivered expert results through an intuitive and user-friendly design. Check it out here
But, do the planet a favor...and stay away from the pods...per favore..

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 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.