Sunday, September 30

Wearing it on my (pants) Sleeve

I recently spent time in Oslo attending a Women's Networking Conference. Now I'm not going to bore you with the obvious differences between these 'orderly to the nth degree' Scandinavian countries and our beloved mediterranean societies. After all, if we wanted order, we wouldn't have chosen a wonderfully chaotic place like Italy to live in in the first place. But, in (the only) country in which I discovered just yesterday that has more women than men in the Cabinet, where their (male) Minister for the Family and Gender Equality can state, "the opposite of equality is injustice", well, some things just sort of stand out. Like the bathrooms.

The Oslo hotel boasts unisex bathrooms (albeit temporarily, to accommodate the 700+ women guests here). And, as any woman the world over could attest, this very basic concept would go a very very long way in a country with stadiums and concert halls as big as in the USA. And although it might diminish gay-bashing politicians' pick-up rates tremendously, just think--not getting caught by undercover cops would allow them to keep their jobs and fabulous addresses. And, a few more of us women might just get lucky.

Italy also could go this route, and in clubs and restaurants, already do.
The only problem is, they use as their unisex toilet those ubiquitous 'holes in the ground', commonly called Turkish Toilets. There is no amount of explanation that will resolve the question as to why, in 2007, you not only can purchase these ceramic marvels new, but are still forced to use them. Men are obviously driving the purchase decisions in this niche market.
Italians of both sexes will inform you that the choice is purely hygienic; a case of living in such denial that they will actually argue that they are more sanitary. Ask an Anglo-Saxon, and absolutely no one can divine how wading through 3cm of...errr liquid, dropping your pants into that very substance, and then, ahhh, spraying your pants legs and ankles (even if you're a good shot) can, in the most optimistic of circumstances, be related to any form of cleanliness. At least dogs are still allowed in restaurants here. As far as I can tell, the bottoms of their feet are infinitely cleaner than the bottoms of yours.

But, I do know that this practice, like many others, is actually steeped in tradition. If you stop by any ancient ruin, you can often find a place called a 'Fullonica'. This was the public laundromat -- your sort of 1 day dry cleaners -- And the cleaning agents? Urine collected in little clay pots strategically placed throughout the city, some even right there (maybe you got a discount, or better yet, maybe closeted politicians got lucky). They say it really cleaned well, although I'm willing to offer that togas were never quite the white ones we think of, perhaps tinted a strange sort of yellow instead.

And, in keeping with tradition, I bet that back then, you probably still didn't get your tunic back within a week.

For your very own instructions for use, go here.

Thursday, September 27

Turn Me On!

Judging by the number of cellphones per person in Italy (the highest count in the world), and automatic everything here, I assure you, Italians are great technophiles. After all, it was Marconi who gave us the fax machine, Da Vinci the flying machine & Volta, well, volts have played a pretty significant role in making it all work. Italians brought Robotics to Detroit, & even invented the fast lanes which automatically deduct the highway tolls (of course, as a former Detroiter, one can always make the case that we shouldn’t be paying for them in the first place). I was introduced recently to a fantastic gadget which allows you to automatically set your parking meter with a pre-paid thingamagig. They even have vending machines which serve hot pasta.

And so, it’s with great surprise, that they invent or introduce these things, but can’t manage to actually run them.

I remember when I first arrived in Italy in 1985, it was the year that companies decided they would go Pc (and I don’t mean politically correct). There they were, on every single desktop from the Director to the Doorman, turned off, bearing plants, and draped with covers that made them look like mini-coffins. Everyone just carried on doing the work as they always had, by hand (and I worked in a bank)!

With an almost maniacal fervor, those technologies are hooked up faster than white on risotto. At the Borghese Gallery, they installed a million-dollar x-ray machine, placing it strategically in the most prime retail slot in the entire gallery, and then, left it turned off for over 8 years. Every time I asked them to move it, and let us provide visitor services there instead, I was told that the machine was an essential security measure. I guess they were counting on the power of suggestion to dissuade would-be terrorists intent on blowing up the luggage room.

The Milan train station once installed dozens of automatic schedule notices, and in their zealotry, they ripped down all the paper ones. Aside from creating kilometer-wide lines desperate for a glimpse at the schedule, before long, none of the machines were working. And none of the posters were put back up. I must say, though, they had a record year of schedule book sales (I think I had purchased at least nine myself).

On buses and commuter trains throughout the boot, you’ll find handy little electronic boards running scrolling messages. Too bad the message tells you nothing else then the final destination. Aside from that small detail being posted handily on the outside of the bus, what one needs is an idea of the NAME of their actual STOP scrolling by while you're actually in the bus.

Traveling around a country which prides itself on Tourism, I wonder when, exactly, the on-switch will be turned on to make it easier for the tourists.

Wednesday, September 26

Day Off

A friend of mine who is currently in between jobs has been calling me regularly with updates from the field (although I must admit, the same thing happens to all the husbands left behind to fend for themselves in the city every August). Ever since he arrived in Italy, he had a pretty good job with a personal assistant. Turns out that that assistant did everything for him, so he wouldn’t have to deal with it himself. Now, he’s been seeing for the first time, what many of us (especially women, even working women) have known all along:

- did you know that you can’t get anything done at lunchtime? All the stores are closed.

Yes, except in the city centre, and although I find it an endearing (and an unfortunately changing) part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, it does, in fact, beg the question: If all the retailers take Mondays off only, when do they get their errands done?? I have often wondered this and still do.

- did you know that you can’t buy stamps at the Post Office? But, you can pretty much pay all your bills, go Christmas shopping, open a mortgage, invest in mutual funds and buy tickets to a show?

Yes, and, when you do a Christmas mailing you have to actually go to a dozen different tobacco shops to buy them, because each one will only sell you a few of their stash in order to ‘save’ them for other clients who may ask for them (see excellent link to 'The American' magazine on the sidebar for a story that all of us have experienced).

- did you ever notice how many grandpas are in the parks pushing little babies around in strollers?

Yes, and, while it makes it easier on the family, all psychological results are in—with the verdict that the absolute worst place for little babies is with their grandparents (on a day in, day out basis). They just don’t have the energy to interact & deal with them. Lord knows I can handle my nephews for a max of 72 hrs. at which point I have been known to hang white sheets out the window, with the words AIUTO scrawled across them.

Another friend noticed that her baby was up all night on the days she left her with the in-laws. Turns out, they’d close her in a room shutting off all the lights and then declare, “She’s over-tired. She sleeps all the time”. To wit she would respond, ‘if you closed anyone in a room and turned out the lights, they’d fall asleep too!’

Wednesday, September 19

Marketing 101

I rarely watch TV, but, every now and again, I take in a favorite show or a good movie. Always new to the ad campaigns, I am usually quite taken by them (and, truth be told, I don’t have a working remote to zap the stations). So, I watch them.
You can imagine my surprise when the “university” to obtain a sort of mail-order degree actually advertised their curricula and their students using the voice of an enormous red monster who is quite popular on TV. Let me explain: he looks like a big red Barney, or a larger-than-life-sized Elmo, but talks even more stupidly.

I’ve never quite understood the Italians’ knack (or lack) for advertising. On most occasions, I think it’s the boss’ kid or even younger mistress who comes up with most of them. In a country known for its supposed ‘creativity’, the sleek, tongue-in-cheek ads almost inevitably come from a foreign multinational.

Their ads often border on racism, using stereotypes of foreigners that back in America would have protesters rocking the airwaves and calling for people’s heads. Women are usually fair game. A baby suckling at a naked breast to promote fruit juices (for you, not the baby). A Filipino housekeeper who can barely manage to speak Italian, let alone spread Philadelphia cream cheese on a slice of bread. A Samsung (Samsung!) ad for a camera, plastered over every single bus and subway in Italy stating “Shoot her” (this, in a country where a woman is killed ever 3 days by her lover, husband or boyfriend).

I stopped buying Grana Padano cheese after they showed a decidedly pregnant woman, cradling her protruding stomach, only to close in on it, and reveal that her beautiful round tummy was actually hot-branded with the Grana Padana label (just like on the enormous cheese wheels). Years on, I still don’t give them my business. And this was before tattoos were even fashionable.

But, my favourite for errr…poor marketing was when Luciano Pavarotti (may he rest in peace) was finally nailed for tax evasion. The guy was arguably one of the wealthiest entertainers on record – and certainly in all of Italy (if you don’t count Berlusconi’s past as a cabaret singer). It seems he neglected to declare a property in France or two on his tax forms. Doing the right thing, rather than going to jail (imagine what that might have done to his figure and his vocal chords), he admirably offered to pay up in millions of back taxes and was absolved. Next thing I knew, there was his picture all over nearly every bank window across the country – as the bank’s new spokesperson -- talking about what good investments you could make at Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Call me a prude, but while Americans go overboard, I still prefer to see Michael Jackson or Michael Vick lose their contracts with Nike and Pepsi, or women protesting outside Bloomingdales rather than be titillated by these sort of advertisements.

Ad below for English language course (admittedly, tied into the Gazzetta dello Sport)

Tuesday, September 18

Italy's Fountains: Spilling out money

Rome’s former Mayor Veltroni announced during his watch a few years back that the City of the Future will be more Green. This is exciting news. In fact, just two years prior, Rome was named the “Most Green City” in Europe. And it deserves it. There are so many parks and public spaces, people don’t even realize it. Nearly every corner has a quiet place where the elderly go with their little grandchildren, usually filled with sculptures, ponds, playgrounds and even dog fountains now and again. It's wonderful.
But, I guess with all this greenery, the Greens have sort of sat back and relaxed. More precisely, those politicians representing the Green Party. All I know is that they’ve been sitting pretty quietly on fairly major ‘green’ issues which affect us Romans (or rather, yours truly in specific).

But, where were the ‘greens’ when the greenery had to go? I didn’t hear a word when they cut down dead or dying trees, leaving 2 ft. high stumps in their wake, never to be replaced. Or, when they brought down all of the amazing trees lining one of the most beautiful streets of Rome, just off the Via Veneto. Walking down that street made you feel like you were in Paris. And maybe that’s why they had to go. They cited, ‘Security Reasons’. From my point of view, it looked more like they needed to make way for parking spots and a bus lane rather than snipers hiding out in trees. Nonetheless, seeing that the U.S. Embassy is right nearby, well, I knew one way or another the Americans would be blamed for this disaster too.

It goes unreported, but those wonderful water fountains with the long snouts (charmingly called the ‘nasoni’) spout water day and night. And while my dog is most certainly grateful to receive some cold clean water in his lifetime, the amount of money going literally down the drain is incomprehensible. What’s even more unbelievable is the fact that all it would take to stop the flow is a little spout with a turning mechanism. To think of the amount of bribes one could garnish from fitting these sprouts across the city, well, it’s all the more unthinkable that it hasn’t happened yet.

What makes this situation even more preposterous is that Italy is consistently levied steep fines from the European Union precisely for their --errr turning up their noses at the problem. The water problem, cited repeatedly in the documents coming out of Brussels, costs the taxpayers billions. And yet, no greens pipe up (pun very much intended) on the issue.

They say that our next wars will be over water. One of these days, I’ll bet we’ll see an astute Italian entrepreneur team up with the Saudis and just start bottling and shipping the free (and exceptionally clean) water coming out of the nasoni before that happens. Maybe they’ll even garner the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Saturday, September 15

The Big Kahuna

Now, everyone knows that it was the Greeks who gave us the true democratic system; with votes and senators, and probably perks of special gymnasiums and private chariots. But, it was the Romans who somehow managed to get that system down pat: running it fairly successfully (with a strong Defense Ministry, I might add) from Tunisia to Great Britain.

Given what we know about Italian politics today, 33 Governments in the last 50 years, most of the success stories in the centuries prior came from despots or dictators, not to mention a few miserable monarchs, well, one could make a strong case that politicians, don't do such a swell job of it.

And so, when we discover that Italy’s politicians are the best-paid in Europe, the Business Manager in me comes out: it’s like paying out golden parachutes to guys who have not only run the entire company into the ground, but, overseen the merger that put it out of business altogether.
And, Italian politicians don’t even bother with the golden parachutes; they’re quite happy with their platinum handcuffs, thank you very much. In fact, their decrepit senators for life seem to hang on to those positions for a very long lifetime. Now I know why Italy has such a long life expectancy.

Italy’s Prime Minister Prodi is so proud of his country’s success as an economic miracle (when you toss in the black market, the rampant tax evasion, and the mafia-controlled parts of the country), that he actually makes three times that of France’s Sarkozy. Perhaps that’s some sort of premium for having to work in a 'hardship placement' in the first place.
His office loves to say well, he’s dropped his salary by 30%…well, if he hadn’t, he’d be making more than Leader of the Free World. Russia, for all its faults, has moved to a capitalist system -- with Putin’s salary, a mere 1/4 of Prodi’s. You begin to wonder who is handling the world’s nuclear power, manning dozens of borders, defense, a war in Chechnya, the oil oligarchs, their own mafia, kgb and of course, keeping it all together while offing the opposition and pesky journalists along the way.

But this spending for good work is not limited to the powers that be: the Parliament barber does such a good job, he’s paid 130.000 euro per year (that’s over $180,000) – isn’t baldness rampant in Mediterranean populations? – according to the Espresso magazine article, that amounts to more than a magistrate with 13 years in service. An accounting dept clerk makes more than the President of the Republic. The stenographers, who obviously need enough money to supply themselves with large cups of Starbucks daily just to sit through the sessions are rewarded along the likes of Enron executives: 253,700 euro/year – that’s $352.643 which could buy you a lot of treatments for your carpal tunnel. Too bad in Italy, that’s paid for from the public coffers too.

Prodi’s office has responded with stating that these are all true professionals, with tremendous experience, who bother to show up each day: “professionalità, presenze, esperienza”. With these qualifications, doormen should be making more than the head of Exxon.

The whole thing is as if, since Garibaldi rode ram shod over all of the petty fiefdoms that once demarked the boot, uniting the country in only 1867, that they simply replaced those same monarchs with parliamentary seats, their courts with a new kind of courtier, the privileges, with private planes, cell phones, gyms and apartments; every modern convenience that the modern age could supply.

And yet, as the saying goes, Italy works not because of its government, but despite its government. But from where I sit, it would appear Italy is its government.

Wednesday, September 12

Crimes & Misdemeanors

A (very) long time ago, I’m sorry to say, I used to take my sister’s driver’s license and make booze runs at the local 5 & dime…obviously, my friends and I were under aged drinkers, as the legal drinking age had just been raised, on my watch, to 21. (I know, I know, there go my chances for running for public office… but hey, in Italy, there is no age limit, so all of this is just pure science-fiction).

And, this went on quite nicely until one fine day, I ran a yellow light. And got pulled over. For “disobeying a traffic signal”. I even argued with the cop who politely informed me that, yellow means slow down, not speed up. So, he was right, and, I didn’t really want to push the issue seeing I was probably 14 years old at the time (another confession: I’ve been driving since I was 12). But fortune smiled on me that day, as I just happened to have handy, my sister’s driver’s license.

I paid the ticket promptly, and no one was the wiser.
Until, that is, the day she applied for a job in a law firm or for law school and, when she checked the box ‘no infractions of any kind, not now, not ever’—after all, this was a woman who wouldn’t steal a single penny from someone’s piggy bank – well, wasn’t she surprised to find, to my horror, that she had been caught running a light (which, on paper didn’t look yellow at all…it looked in fact, quite quite crimson).

Fury be a woman scorned? Nuh-uh… FURY be a sister who is applying for law school who just found out her spotless record has a big stain right down the front of it. She was not hired, nor would she ever be. She thought her career was over. I thought my life was. Fortunately for me, she did become a lawyer despite all the aforementioned drama – otherwise, I’d be writing this column from somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, place unknown. I still cringe at the memory.

I mention this because over the weekend, something remarkable took place in Italy: a popular comic let out the war cry that perhaps Parliamentarians, many of them lawyers themselves, should perhaps not be allowed to sit in the senate or run for office, if they have been indicted for crimes or are under investigation.
Now, I’m not going to go into the Berlusconi litany of alleged crimes, after all, he’s no longer Prime Minister. And, I won’t even mention the ‘Senator for Life’, Andreotti who has always been plagued by allegations of connections to the mafia, in much the same way Larry Craig has been plagued by allegations of homosexuality, or Bill Clinton, by his albeit, alleged, ‘zipper problem’.

But, the comedian’s cry for the heads of senators, has shockingly caused a great deal of debate here. Shocking, because it seems so totally obvious at least to one voter, that we should not be represented by criminals, past nor future ones.

Just stop and consider the repercussions: if Mayor Barry can get reelected after a cocaine arrest in Washington DC, no less, it can happen anywhere. But, did anyone truly believe that Washington is a better place with him at the helm? It is, in actuality, a cesspool of crime, with the highest murder rates in the country. Like the pusher in the school playground, its closeness to our State Government, well, must have some sort of 'trickle down' effect.

Given my own (checkered) past, I’m certainly not for electing prudes: but, I think drawing the line at criminal records would be actually something worth signing up for. In Finland, the Prime Minister lost her job for using her government credit card for personal expenses – even though she always reimbursed them. And, no one is going to argue that in Finland, things don’t run like a greasy wheel.

As Mayor Giuliani once said, if you get them on the little things, like jumping the subway turnstyles, you won’t have to fight the bigger things: like theft and homicides. Likewise, if we don’t let them in office after having paid bribes or committing other white collar crimes, we should feel that much less worried about people stealing from the public coffers, or worse.

Monday, September 10

Hunger Strike

September 13th the Consumer Federations have announced a symbolic strike (see the Notizie to the left)--no one should buy any food all day long. Now, we all know what that means: we'll just be buying it the day before or the day after, but, it's the thought that counts.

A new study came out to show, just what, exactly is going on here. It would appear that from a study in 1985 compared with today, that:

our daily Bread costs 12 times what it once did
Fresh Pasta, 20 times
and Sweets 70 times more.

Considering what one pays for a single rice krispie treat at Starbucks, well, they don't have nuthin' on us americans, but...

What's all the more frustrating is that, in 1985, wheat cost 23 cents a kilo. While the finished product, bread, cost 52 cents/kg. A little more than double from front to finish.
Today, wheat costs an even lesser, 22 cents! But the finished product, 2 euro 70 cents and up to 5 euro per kilo for special types!
That is an increment of 750% from raw material to end product. All I can say is, I'm glad I have a yeast intolerance.

And that is why, on September 13th we'll show them.
But, I'd like to offer my own solution: how about putting ancient mills in the courtyards of all the palazzi (they used to do that in Ancient times, you know, so we know it would work) and just making the bread ourselves?!


...iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli
uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim
imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se
continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat,
panem et circenses. ...
(Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81)

Juvenal here makes reference to the elite Roman practice of providing free wheat to some poor Romans as well as costly circus games and other forms of entertainment as a means of gaining political power through popularity.

Saturday night was the 5th edition of La Notte Bianca, or, White Nights. To spend a white night in Italian means to be up all night/can’t sleep/you get the drift. In my opinion, it would make a bit more sense to call it a black night, or dark night, because of how you’re going to feel the next day, but… who am I to argue with such a colorful language?

So, the white night is when hundreds of cultural events (theatre, music, art, acrobatics…) take place in hundreds of venues across the city. Just like in days of yore, our enlightened Mayor Veltroni has truly got this right. Although it costs the public coffers gazillions of dollars in expenses from overtime for bus drivers, to the national guard, to the doormen and security people in every museum…(and that’s not to mention the army of garbage trucks rolling out at 5am…no wonder the Italians had to pull out of Iraq). This, some spoil sports would argue, while basic services like superfluous school teachers and day care and housing for the poor remain fundless, of course.

Like the money-losing Olympics, cities across the globe are clamoring to repeat this folly. But, it’s loads of fun, and, I can attest that, while some of the acts are tedious or, lame like the hip hop guys whose sound was fab, except it was pre-recorded…all in all, it was terrific (having taken in a real art collection, hip hop performances, a bell concert at the lake, and drinks on the famed via veneto, all by 4am).
I must, however, for the sake of my readers, describe the scene which took place at the new & improved Palazzo delle Esposizioni…a contemporary art venue obviously dedicated to minimalist something or other: After waiting an entire hour in an Italian ‘queue’, finally fighting our way to the top with hundreds of people suddenly vaporating (alà Harry Potter) always just in front of us, we wandered through 7 empty rooms where musicians should have been, while discovering ridiculous installations, most of which used bank spy cameras for us to view ourselves. Wow. Neat. Awesome. For music, we were treated to something that sounded like a car crash for flute in Bminor. But, hey, that’s just an opinion. Other than the 20000 of us who wasted our time at this venue, a good time was decidedly had by all.

The only (other) downside was that around 4:30 or so, I started having a coughing attack, a slight case of asthma.
I realized that, although I had been out of doors for the better part of 7 hrs., I was suffocating from smoke inhalation. No cars or motor scooters were permitted on the roads, so…what was the deal?
In a country where they abolished smoking in public places and actually enforced the law, it would appear that this event attracted every smoker from Turin to Trapani from Bolzano to Bari. They say 2 million people crowded the streets -- I think that's the entire number of Italy's smokers -- so they could finally enjoy terrific indoor events, outdoors, smoking all the while. It felt as though I had been in a dark bar for the last 7 hrs.

Like an alcoholic awakening to an empty refrigerator after a bend, the Italians have woken up to the fact that although nearly all of Europe abolished smoking, they were incredibly the only country to have actually respected the law. And, the headlines love to bring this up; but not out of pride -- out of a ‘hey, who pulled the wool over our eyes?!’ kind of reflection… They can’t believe that the French just keep puffing away shamelessly while here, smoke is nowhere in your eyes… except outside, that is.

The only way I can think of improving on this event and give the people what they truly want, while going one step further than the Ancients? By holding one of those great ‘smoke-ins’ like we used to have every April 1st in Ann Arbor – smoking marijuana, that is. Along with, of course, vouchers for low-cost bread. Now, that’d be an event to go down in history.

From Wikipedia: Panem et circenses is given as the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birthright of political freedom:

... Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man,
the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time
handed out military command, high civil office, legions - everything, now
restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things:
bread and circuses

Friday, September 7

Firemen, Firefighters & Fires in Italy

I have a neighbor that I secretly admire (well, okay, lust after). He’s a Fireman (with a capital F). And he came right out of Central Casting. He is such a dark-haired hunk that I’ve often thought about setting fire to my apartment just so I can get him to come over. Each day, I see him come and go, off to work. But sometimes, I just can’t help but think that he must have been so totally disappointed to have passed all his endurance tests and exams and whatnot, only to be sitting around the Firehouse with absolutely nothing to do, day in and day out.

I mean, Italy is nothing like America, where they build their houses out of (flammable) wood. Here, I think the biggest excitement is undoubtedly gas leaks - of which there are many - since we all use the gas lines for heating and cooking. And, top it off with none of that ‘cat up a tree’ that is the very fabric of American life, well… In Italy, the cats are free to roam, or they were intentionally abandoned up that tree and so no fretful owner is going to see to it that they get back down. In short, there hasn’t been a major fire since Nero’s day.

Now, I may be a bit hard on our Fireman, because there are huge, life-threatening brush fires raging throughout the peninsula, some nearly right up to my door (no, I didn’t light ‘em, I swear). And a few years back, the sets of Ancient Rome burnt down (again) at Cinecittà. So, I’m certain they have lots of fires, actually, to put out.
It’s just that in the city, Firemen and Fire trucks and all that are just not a part of civic life. I don’t know, but, I wonder if elementary school kids get to even visit a fire station here in Italy and slide down that tube…I think the kids would wonder where the heck they’d been taken and why. And, come to think of it, I don’t even know the word for Fire Truck (as I was searching in google images for an appropriate shot).

This is so much so, that I was quite taken aback the other day when I saw my first full-fledged Italian fire truck come roaring by. Sure, I’ve seen the little Fiats and mini-vans with the writing FIREMEN on the sides (okay, I can translate that to a more appealing Fire Brigade in honor of my cute neighbor), but really. Quite compact, to careen through the tiniest of Roman roads, at first, I thought it was a huge metal garbage truck with a siren and windows. Here was a row of gorgeous guys, arms out the windows looking a lot like the keystone cops in their very strange (for me) aluminum-sided fire truck.
It careened around the corner, tilting almost entirely on one set of wheels, and for a moment I thought that I had stepped into an excellent Richard Scary children’s book. Except, it wasn’t entirely red. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

Thursday, September 6

Auditorium Update

Well, with the immense summer concert series throughout Rome and all of Italy, it never really ended, but...

It appears that the fabulous Auditorium with its main attraction, the world renowned Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia orchestra, has also taken notice that people need a better way to actually attend the concerts, or, in the very least, get there without missing a beat, so to speak. So, this year, they have announced the shuttle service for concert-goers, with a few extras. And, while the route still remains a mystery (I think it’s like being part of a secret society to be privy to certain information), well, it’s all certainly for the better.

They outline different prices according to your subscription (symphony or chamber). And to pay? Just get yourself down to the Auditorium (which, of course, is exactly what you were trying to avoid – see All Roads Lead To…) and pay.

For those non-annual ticket holders, it appears for only €6 per r/t you can also use the service, with only the minor inconvenience that although you don’t know where it goes, you can probably call or email to find out. It remains to be seen if you actually have to go down, too, to the Auditorium to pay for your trip prior to departure.

The new feature is great: they are giving you the possibility of making your own shuttle service to/from wherever you and a group of friends (10, to be precise), want to go. As detailed in the brochure, all you have to do is: send an email to Trambus, they’ll evaluate the possibility, and then they’ll try their best to insert you and your stops into their standard shuttle service.
Too bad that I have trouble finding one person to enjoy an orchestra concert with, but,in any case, I'm thrilled about the service. I’ll just keep my eyes open for the Hogwarts Express errr, I mean, Auditorium shuttle bus. I wonder if there’s a Platform 4 1/2 that opens up at Termini Station?

Wednesday, September 5

Home from the Holidays

Last week marked the return from holidays for a number of Italians, with ‘business as usual’ starting today. A friend from Milano came down to Rome to conduct some urgent business in what, for many Romans, was their first day back from holiday (notice, I didn’t say ‘back to work’). He was there for an American client, who, with their 2 week vacations (aka 10 days + a few extra sick days if you can get them), didn’t quite grasp the summer holiday work stoppage.

So, down he came, pretty much one of the few guys donning business attire (and in Italy, there’s no such thing as casual Fridays) on an Indian summer day in all of Rome.
After making the presentation, briefing his colleagues thoroughly, and then going over the strategy and other details of the new project, he noticed however, that eyes were starting to gloss over. To the point that finally, he gave in, closed his book and apologized for the intrusion.

After all, the first week back from holiday isn’t a time where you check 480 emails (actually, there are probably a lot less than that, since no one else was working either), but a time where you all regroup, treat yourself and your colleagues to a nice lunch and compare tans.

Yes, Italy is still one of the last bastions of dark tans – no sunscreen. Adults and children alike. It is more than a national pastime. Tanning is a badge of honour. Whereby you declare to the world, you had Time Off and a great time at that. They’ll have none of that American martyrdom here, where people actually spend their dinner conversations and cocktail hours one-upping each other on how stressed out they are and how much they worked over the weekend or holiday. No. In Italy, the tan is the award-winning logo of the Mediterranean Quality of Life.

They love their tans so much here, I think all the tanning parlours in Italy put together must make more than Microsoft. And, by sheer force of will or the grace of God or what, the Italians also do not seem to have the cancer rates of other countries. I’m with the guys who claim it’s due to the red wine. So, just make it a good red instead of lemonade.

And so it’s true, back at the office, everyone sort of gathers together, discussing their holidays, comparing destinations, new tattoos and tans -- and slowly going about the business of Getting Back to Work.

And my friend? He told me we would see each other next week, as he’d most likely be back -- he was certain that he’d have to make the presentation all over again when people were truly ready to work -- and simply treat the entire endeavor just as a dress rehearsal.

Tuesday, September 4

Post Scriptum on Inflation

1.2%?? According to whom?
Didn’t know I was so prescient (see previous entry), but, today’s headlines screamed about the Sting Operation being sprung on us consumers as we casually return from our leisurely summer holidays. Nearly every consumer good is going up, averaging an annual cost to families of $1500 per year. The funny thing, they too noticed that milk had gone through the roof. But, don’t blame the cow farmers.

Yesterday, in Torino (now, they’re rather close in proximity and I’d say, personality at this point, to the French) they actually took their cows straight into the City Offices in protest. They say they are not raising the prices, so why have prices gone up 325% (that is NOT a typo). In October, the price of milk is expected to go up even further.

In fact, the October sting Is looking like this:

Pasta up 10-20%
Flour up 20-30% (watch out, pizza orders!)
Butter 20%
Milk & milk products 10-20% (well, you could still switch to yogurt and get off easier)
Yogurt 5%
And Bread, up a mere 10% because last March it was already up 20%
Water bills 14.7%
Electricity a tiny 2% (that's because it's already the highest in Europe - 66% above the avg. EU country)
And, even kids’ classroom books will be up by 12.4%

Food for thought.

Sunday, September 2

Getting Milked at the Pump

I don’t care what that cute Economist on TV said the other day about us having 1.2% inflation from last year to this, all I know is that I now pay over $18 for a gallon of milk. Okay, so I drink (correction: drank) soy milk. Not being much of a meat eater, I figured I’d get rid of the dairy and add protein all in one fell swoop. Well, not anymore. But, even regular milk works out to $7.85 per gallon.
The same economist stated that between July and August inflation was 0.2%. Oh yeah? Tell it to my corner grocer who just raised my milk price from July to August, 6.78%!!! I mean, if you stop and think about it, soy milk should be vastly cheaper than milk made from live cows; I mean, no heifers to feed, no mating, no automated-milking systems, no foot-in-whatever disease, no mad cows. Pure and simple grass.

But, what about the pizza man I just paid $17 to just last night for a simple salami pie? Prior to the euro, pizzas cost exactly $5.55. Adjusted for say, 3% inflation per year, that should be about $6.45 today. Ditto for drinks in bars and movie theatres. Cappuccinos doubled overnight and continue to climb. According to some estimates, in the last few years bread has gone up 140%. Whatever the economists say, my personal basket of goods is going through inflation rates that make Argentina & Brazil in the ‘80s pale by comparison.

The surprising thing is that milk basically follows the gas prices so closely, whenever I pull up to the pump, I think of a fillup in numbers of cappuccinos. I’m convinced, actually, that Exxon and Shell really don’t have huge oil rigs off the cost of Norway where they battle the elements whilst drilling miles down for a little black gold. No, in my opinion, the Petroleum Cos. actually own vast territories of land in France, Germany and Austria, in which they raise cattle. And in those round carriers supposedly carrying gasoline across the continent? Milk. Coming in fresh daily.

I know, it’s my very own little Italian conspiracy theory, but, I really don’t believe I’m wrong on this one. And, imagine that if it were true, it’d still fill the greens’ agendas perfectly: what with what we know about cow gas and the ozone, well, Al Gore could still say that the petroleum cos. are causing the earth’s demise.

My dad used to love to toss out a quote from Henry Ford: “You buy a cow and the cow milks you.” Ford was supposedly referring to upkeep costs of a car. But from where I sit, supping a cappuccino, I’d say he knew exactly the true meaning of his words.