Tuesday, October 30

Internot Redux

Well, as the saying goes, I guess I put that cart before that ol’ horse… or, as the Italians say, I put the cart before the oxen… That's because in Italy, things move a lot slower due to the weight of the red tape, value-added tax (iva) and other charges that find their way in between point A and point B…

And so it is, after properly sending in via telefax all of my web domain registration info to the proper office, I found a number of various emails in my inbox telling me that, no, Dorothy, we were still decidedly not in Kansas anymore…

On Friday, I was informed (twice) that my request for a domain name was rejected because they did not receive my myriad documents. This, due to the Regulation of 1 March 2007 regarding the awesome website registry, telling you it would still take a week to register my name.

I was also informed in the same mail that, if I had already posted my docs and various i.d.s (including those of my unborn children), NOT to simply disregard this message, but to start over from scratch following their easy steps. It would appear that in Italy, they have no get out of jail free cards in the deck.

So, back onto the website, and off it was again. Eureka!

But, on Sunday (and, I’m happy to report someone was taking care of my domain on a Sunday… but please keep it to yourself or else someone will be bound to shut that service down)… I received another email from register.it.

This time, stating that they had, in fact, received my documents, but they could not read them due to a problem with the fax. They then list how to go BACK to the website and reprint them again in a nice font size. They print out fine at my end, so, I imagine that it’s the actual fax transmission that’s tripping us up.

Adding another 40 minutes (and a 5 day waiting period, should all go well) to my 3 day affair…I wonder if I tapped the heels of my ruby red slippers together if I might not get a home page...

Friday, October 26

A Week of Magical Thinking

Now, I don’t want to take full credit for this week’s events, but…the stars seem to have aligned in my favour on a number of issues:

First and foremost, the HEAT did go on today! (see entry below). And yes, we are back to our wonderful no-coat weather, albeit with a slight drizzle. It doesn’t matter, seeing that my building went coop, and, as true democracies do exist (I like to refer to it as mob rule), the heating arrangement basically favours those elderly and infirm (and the little ones) at the subsidized expense of us worker bees. After all, Italy is a socialist country.
You see, unlike in enterprising Milan, where the heat’s on before you wake up, and shuts off during the noontime sun, only to go back on each eve before you get home from work, well, our heat was voted to go on at noon.
So, it’s not enough you have to wake up at 6am to make it to your office, you can’t take a shower because you would not be able to survive the subzero temps in your uninsulated abode when you got out. They would find you only in the spring, with your arm extended toward your towel, in much the same way as they found the mummy, Ötzi in the Alps. Take a shower in the evening? Fugettaboutit. The heat goes off again at 8pm.

Despite having to sleep with a wool hat on my head, I like the entire arrangement anyway. I work from home, so appreciate the daytime heat (even though the sun is blazing). And, it gets me to the gym more often, where I can enjoy a hot shower in a steamy locker room.

And then, my favorite man from Italy’s Antitrust Office decided to go after the Pasta producers too! It appears that they, like their bread brethern, may have formed some sort of pricing cartel. Or, perhaps they all just happen to go to the same tarot reader when looking at the future market.

Not only this, but Rome’s Mayoral office has decided to simplify the subscription process for going onto their site. With much fanfare, they announced this week that their – at this point totally demoralized -- potential visitors no longer have to start printing out documents and sending via fax all sorts of forms just to pay their taxes or look at the FAQ’s.

One small step for man, One giant step for humankind…

Thursday, October 25

If you can’t stand the cold…

Get into the Kitchen! As I write this, I am sitting at my desk, flannel sweatpants on, a wool t-shirt under my sweater, a hat on my head, and my winter coat over all of it. On my hands I don those kind of gloves where your tips are exposed, so they’ll only have to amputate the tops of my fingers once they’ve turned dark purple from the frostbite.

It’s not the incredible cold front that arrived in the Land of Sun from Siberia that’s the problem; after all, even global warming can’t stop that kind of air pressure system (although I wish it could). It’s the fact that it’s October 25th, and, the heat won’t come on in buildings in Rome until November 15th; the day the authorities have predetermined that it’s cold inside.

While this was a terrific measure during the ‘70s gas crisis to save money, I say, let’s abandon tradition (something very hard for our nostalgic Italians to do), and, maybe turn on the heat when the cold arrives. The system is so absurd, that at the tail end of winter, if we get a heat wave in April, the heaters are still pumping out, because they don’t go off again until April 15th. So much for Energy Conservation.

I remember coming down to Rome and finding my great-aunt standing, fully dressed with a hat and winter coat, in front of an open oven running full blast while she prepared her espresso; sometimes all four burners going, too. I used to laugh at the scene—but now make a mad dash to the oven each morning. In a portrait reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, my dog is curled up right there with me; it’d be perfect if only we had a fireplace.

Thankfully, the powers that be, with an eye to their ever-aging populace, will no doubt decide that the heat can actually go on early, especially in schools and hospitals and the like. I’m sure just in time for the cold front to move on out.

Sunday, October 21

Kneading the Dough

Last week, I heard a terrific lecture from Italy's President of the Antitrust Agency, a remarkable man with an amazing background and excellent presentation skills. Unlike most of his paesani, who usually just sit up there and read out an excruciatingly boring internal report, he was witty and spoke off the cuff, and we all learned quite a lot, which will be food for my fodder later. He only touched lightly on a subject that is rather close to our hearts, and even closer to our stomachs, and even more closely, to our wallets. He had announced just the day before, that they would be looking into what's up with the price of bread (err, above and beyond the stratospheric price itself).

See my previous entries: Getting Milked at the Pump, Post Scriptum on Inflation and Hunger Strike.

It would 'appear' that the bread guys have formed a sort of cartel and that's why prices, overnight, seem to just keep rising (maybe it's the yeast). The bakers say it ain't so, but, in one day last week all the bread around the entire city of Rome went up 79% - literally overnight. Hmmmmm... In their (collective) defence, each and every baker, independently of the other, stated it was because they had just happened to be holding a terrific sale on bread the day before. Mr. Antitrust certainly has his job cut out for him.

In Milan, that totally inaccessible city, remotely located like for example, Bermuda, the price is double that in Rome and even more compared to Naples. Must be the difficult transport of the wheat across the Lombardy flat lands. It's no wonder we associate Bread with Dough meaning Money.

Don't ask me, but it's stuff like this that kicked off the French Revolution. Except back then, it was purely economic: Short supply, high prices. The Italians, on the other hand, have never been terribly fond of Milton Keynes & his ilk. So, prices just keep rising -- maybe the bakers are just burned out...

Saturday, October 20

Milano & Rome ban traffic [sigh] - again

Each year, someone posts the listing of the state of the environment of Italy’s top 100 cities. Mostly smog and small particles. Not surprisingly, the big metropolises are more polluted then say, lovely Belluno. Last on the list? Ragusa in Sicily. Now, Sicily is not known for its industry, so I was pretty surprised by this, thinking it was due to exploding Mount Etna. I’ve since learnt that it’s due to a huge petro-chemical plant there. Wow. That should be a wake-up call. And trapped Florence which everyone considers the most polluted of all, comes in under Rome and Milan.
In short, it’s all those vehicles. Italy, after all, has the greatest number of cars pro capita in Europe. They have one car for every driver. And, considering the exorbitant costs of keeping, driving, and maintaining them here, not to mention that most of the roads people actually drive on were built for donkey carts, well, you’d think there’d be a deterrent somewhere. Not here.
But, I don’t get bothered by the smog, except that it blocks a once-terrific view of the mountains around Milan. What irks me, on the other hand, are the ludicrous measures that City officials, across the entire boot, put into action in an attempt at ‘containing’ the smog. Talk about spitting in the wind. Their measures actually serve to increase the very smog they were trying to get rid of.
It goes like this:

From Monday to Friday, more cars than any city can handle clog the roads as people try to get from here to there. We are constantly admonished to take public transport: average wait, over 20 minutes (the time it takes to get to the center of Rome by car), while the other night, past midnight, I waited a full 40 mins., finally flagging down a cab for my 6 min ride home. So we drive.

On the weekends, (Friday evenings, to be precise) and holidays, cities literally empty out. Off to the beach, their mountain retreats, the countryside. In Milan, I would go rollerblading down the fantastically empty streets.

So, what do our omniscient city officials do? They block all autos on Sundays. All 11 of them.

Not allowed in the City until after 8pm (or you are met with heavy traffic fines, with police out in force all day long, with overtime pay, to boot), what do you suppose takes place?
Instead of letting us trickle back home to mamma, in time to enjoy a banquet that is Sunday pranzo, we get miles and miles of cars, idling in traffic at 7:45pm, crawling back to their homes, as if it was top of the morning rush hour.

This exercise in futility is almost as senseless as taking shoes off at airports. Talk about what happens when decisions are made by committee.

Italy's Dirty Secrets

I wanted to print the whole list of Italy's cleanest to dirtiest cities, but the full report was not published. So, here's what I've managed to glean from a variety of sources:

no. 1-Belluno Home of my favourite Company, Luxottica. It goes to show you that even plastics can be clean.
2-Bergamo Set in the midst of Italy's industrial north, I don't think this fares well for the economy, but, their zero tolerance for traffic bodes well for pollution.
11-Venice Incredible, with all that drilling and shipping & cruise ships, but, of course, they don't have autos. But where does Mestre fit in in the report? Mestre is to Venice as Oakland is to San Francisco.
13-Genova If the Italians could figure out a way to drive down those streets once configured for the bazaar, they would.
17-Firenze Florence is always chastised as the most polluted, and yet, it beats out all of the major cities in Italy.
58-Milano Although it seems worse, with its grey ceiling overhead.
74-Torino Well, what do you expect from the car capital of Italy? It's still one of my favourite places, & you can still see the mountains from there.
77-Verona Lovely Verona, we hardly knew ye...
82-Bari (We're headin' south)
91-Naples Having lost 24 spots, probably due to the garbage pile-up, well, there's a lot of truth to that See Naples and Die saying
98-Frosinone This is the town where all the major pharmaceutical cos. ran to when the govt in its eternal wisdom gave tax incentives for Italy's South. It's right at the Rome border. Besides, their Directors probably never go there.
99-Benevento One of my favourite little towns...
100-Ragusa (Sicily) Hard to find pollution in a place with virtually no industry, but, here we have a petro-chemical plant & all that that signifies.

Friday, October 19


Okay. I’ve already established that the Italians are signage-challenged, but really the root of the problem is much deeper than that. It’s an organizationally-challenged populace, coupled with nonexistent customer service, leading to a lack of understanding of how those very services should flow...You can see what kinds of trouble we’ll be having in Tiber Town as Italy, like the rest of the ‘developed’ nations, moves into the Service Sector.

And so it is with the Internet. How many times has your click-through ratio moved into stratospheric heights, only to start finalizing your purchase …and be timed out unexpectedly by the system. Or, it doesn’t accept something you’ve (naturally) done but doesn’t allow you to hit ‘back’, so you're forced to start all over again. Or, it doesn’t accept credit card payments from foreigners (in a country banking on tourism), or, just simply crashes in the key moment. I have created so many identities attempting to purchase train tickets, that I’m sure by now I've been fingered by Interpol for suspected terrorist activities.

My Home Banking is so clever, that each time I want to conduct a transaction, I actually have to first go back to the bank, collect a new password, certificate, authorization and code, and by now propose my 9th-born son, that even taking care of it at the insidious post office is a better option. The bankers informed me of late that they received accolades for their terrific security system; I offered that they could just make it completely inoperable and it’d be totally failsafe.

And so it was, when I decided to order domain names for my business. Sitting in Italy, I chose a .com address, went to the U.S. site, and for $9.95 and a pay now! thru paypal, I was as good as gold: total transaction time, including searching for some cool names, about 9 minutes.

Same name, this time .it. About 10 mins and $49.35 later (and a few under-the-breath remarks on what one capitalist feels about monopoly power), no problem. But, I must wait 24 hrs. for confirmation in my inbox. Next day, I discover a mail stating that, unless I was an EU citizen, I could not take out a name. So much for free markets. They obviously missed the irony in that they’re offering Asian addresses to us non-Asians… or, is that just a smart marketing campaign targeted to the large Filipino community here?

Fortunately for me, I have dual citizenship. So, while wondering if people must marry Italians in order to get a domain name, I decide to simply change my initial purchase details.
After attempting to log on – third time was a charm – I get to the Home Page.

Cannot discern how to change my coordinates. I discover the letters in cute boxes: D E H M
Having perused the page, I divine that they mean, Domain – Email – Hosting – Mamma Mia!!

I try Domain – I take a wild guess at Information. I bump into my coordinates. It refuses to accept my telephone number written in the format of Italian tel numbers. First recomposing my tel number on a piece of paper, I’m in! I finally change everything, except my NATIONALITY, the thing they didn't approve of in the first place. At which point all of the changes previously made are lost. Again, back to GO with no $200. I see a message: ‘You must request assistance via email for these items”. I request assistance.

Next day, they have courteously changed the NATION for me. I’m quite certain there’s a valid reason for this block. Probably to challenge Americans who don’t know what a nation is.

Next day, properly inserted into the system, I discover that I still don’t have a domain registered. I reread the email, and find that I must now print out a Letter of Assumption of Responsibility (LAR), and fax it into some institution with my signature and soc sec’y number. I’m starting to feel like road kill on the information super-highway. They cheerily claim, “If you haven’t done so yet!” as if you knew you were supposed to do that in the first place. It just takes a button. They say we can find the LAR at the bottom of the ‘Documents’ section of the site.

Nowhere on the entire page is a section entitled Documents (not even under D) -- but, in my search, I did discover that I could have a t-shirt made with my domain written across it!

Logged on, but no place to go. That’s because, on the Register.it site, there is no site map, nor a search mechanism. And these guys actually offer to build you a website?! Finally, thinking like an Italian, I click on my domain name which appears totally inactive. Eureka! And, not on the bottom of the newest page, I see Documents. Here, I find Please Note (without the please): ‘we will not accept electronic signatures nor print-outs modified in any way’ (that’ll be blocked by another dept, I’m sure). I click the link to the LAR.

Blank page.
Try a second time. Blank page.
I start over from scratch, skipping the Ride on the Reading.

The home page reloads with a blank blue box. For some reason (obviously those Italian genes kicking in again), I scroll over the empty box. Like magic, links start to appear. I am on my way, back to Documents and over to Printer. So satisfied, I go play the lottery.
My number? The time of day plus the number of hours the entire transaction has taken (not including the fax time), spilling into 83 hours (and counting).

Sunday, October 14

Get the Big Babies out of the House

Well, if Italy’s Economic Minister didn’t finally tell the Emperor he had no clothes, this came pretty darn close. Here he was, Mr. Padoa-Schioppa, telling a country which prides itself on having raised an entire generation that does not know how to make a dental appointment without mamma’s intervention, let alone work as one, that the economic development of this country depends on … getting the Bamboccioni out of la casa. He might as well have stated that Italy no longer needs a diet of pasta & olive oil. But, at least, while no one has a real solution, a lot of lively debate has ensued.

Economists & sociologists and the like have been weighing in ever since. But, they’ve got it all wrong. In an article in last Sunday’s Sole24ore, the WSJ of Italy, two writers made the case that it’s because of the school system. To them, I say: you have got to be kidding me. It seems ‘La Mamma’ is still as solid an institution as the very marble columns which hold up the Ministry for the Family itself.
Following, is my response:

Dear Sirs,

While I appreciate your astute examination of this cultural phenomenon of the so-called, ‘Bamboccioni’, I believe your analysis, that these kids are born in the classrooms, is strikingly off the mark. The Bamboccioni are made, nurtured, and developed much earlier—and within the four walls of their very homes. And, while the school system does play a minor role in this phenomenon, it is only an accessory to the crime: the true culprit being La Mamma—a figure who has devoted her entire existence to assuring that her little pride & joy (after all, there is only one) stays attached to her apron strings … for the rest of her very (very) long life.
From the time that child enters her world, everything - everything - is contrived to give La Mamma her haloed role in his. Even after the kid is grown and ‘flies the coop’, there she is, keeping a watchful eye from the apartment upstairs. I have a friend whose husband, post-marriage, refused to purchase a washing machine; he wanted his mamma to do his (& now her) laundry for eternity. Needless to say, the relationship didn't work out.

In psychology, this pathetic result is what’s known as ‘Learned Helplessness’.

The treasured bambini are spoon-fed, washed & clothed until well into their school years. Their mothers pick up everything they drop, proudly declaring, ‘Boys will be boys’, rather than teaching them to do so for themselves. La Mamma carries their book bags to and from school, and, I imagine does much of their homework, so as to ease their burden further.

How many times have I heard, ‘Giovanni, don’t run!’, when the child is simply just trying to be one. He learns to stay right in her sight, never venturing on his own. And let’s not even mention the single mothers-all of whom share a bed with their ‘little man’ right into puberty, under the guise of ‘protecting’ him, when it’s she who needs comfort. Even pea-brained birds know that they must throw their offspring out of the nest in order to see them fly.

I am convinced that Italy, now the flag-barrier for a pacifist state, does this out of the most base instinct for self-preservation. Should a calamity come like those of the past World Wars, these kids would not be like their forefathers; scavenging for food or joining the resistance—they’d be found cowering in a kitchen corner screaming for their mamma.

Growing up in the U.S., my brothers & I all had paper routes by the age of 9. We understood the idea of responsibility (waking up at 5am every day), good service (to get those tips), and the worth of a penny, which is exactly what we were paid per paper. Three feet of snow, my dad would roll over in bed, mentioning that he already had a job, and it did not involve waking up at 5am. So, off to work we went. We did it, not out of necessity, out of an almost knee-jerk reaction for independence.

At 14, we worked in restaurants or ice cream shops or babysat. They say that 1/3 of Americans have, at one time or another, actually worked at McDonalds. Italians, on the other hand, pride themselves in not having kids who work. Great training for a bright future.

At school, exams are oral & based on theory, not practice. You are taught to regurgitate the facts on page 339, but never allowed to actually use them. Passive learning by Professors is the rule of the day; there is no translation for ‘engaging’ in the Italian language.

Once in college, there are no internships that allow you to practice your trade; likewise, jobs are not assured when you get out. So why bother? As a student of psychology, I worked through University in the world-renowned Institute for Social Research. I was given so much responsibility, I rarely met the person in charge of the studies. By 19, I was writing Corporate Communications for Burroughs (Unisys) while a friend handled the night desk for a local TV station. In Italy for an internship at 20, I was responsible for stapling papers for 3 straight months in a large bank – and probably the first case of carpal-tunnel syndrome ever documented here.

If you manage to find a job out of college, (usually through daddy, and not through your own talent), you are almost paralyzed in it; while you wait for your manager-mom to tell you how to do your job, in which way, even what to write in that report. You do not bring new ideas to a meeting. My Company director friends complain they feel less like motivational managers and more like babysitters. I can’t tell you the number of times I have even fielded calls from La Mamma to set up interviews for their little bundles of joy—I usually respond that if La Mamma has to call, it is highly doubtful that I wish to employ her son.

Is it any wonder that one of the most successful businessmen this country has ever seen, Leonardo Del Vecchio, the founder of Luxottica, was an orphan? It makes perfect sense to at least one observer.

Aside from being orphaned, there are other exceptions to this rule, especially those who grew up with divorced parents or working mothers. But, these, sadly, are not the norm.

Even laboratory rats if rewarded with a piece of cheese, will repeat the behaviour endlessly. Well, not only do we reward these bamboccioni with fresh parmigiano (grated) on their daily pasta, but a roof over their heads, no monthly payments for rent or utilities, housekeeping service, & even a personal shopper and a fabulous car; not to mention health clubs and long vacations in the Maldives with their girlfriend…And you expect them to go against human (and rat) nature & simply turn and walk away? Come on. So no, dear Minister, it is not a question of providing for cheaper rents; these kids still need to cough up all of their other living expenses to boot.

But, I do not come with only complaints; I offer you a solution. Dear Mr. Padoa-Schioppa, forget lower housing rates. Why not bring in those incredible, dynamic, multi-taskers, financial planners and amazing personal relationship managers? Why not, start a campaign & start hiring La Mammas.

You’d not only kill two birds with one stone, you’d light the economy right on fire.

Saturday, October 13

What's love got to do with it? Story of an Italian neighborhood

I offer an update on the goings-on in my little piazza...While the graffiti artists haven't found a decent tabula rasa to deface, there appears to be other problems which the concerned residents have taken into their own hands...
A public letter & petition has been posted around the neighborhood. Surprisingly, though, these sort of 'direct democracy' initiatives often get responses. In a country where we don't have 'town hall' meetings, well, first they petition the governing parties, then they go to the press, and if all else fails, well, they start occupying the train tracks. Let's see if my piazzetta becomes the Little Piazza that Could.  My update as of Aug 2012 below.

To: President of the XI Municipality, Sig. Andrea Catarci

Dear President,

The residents of the Ardeatina Quarter, in particular those inhabitants of the Largo Bompiani area, Via delle Sette Chiese, et.al., would like to express our sincere gratitude for what you have done in Piazza B. Bompiani. Through the restoration of this area, you have provided a pinch of beauty to a quarter that is considered by many just a thoroughfare between Ancient Rome [the Appian way is nearby, ndr] and neorealistic Rome, given that we host the nearby historic monument that evokes great pain -- the site of the Fosse Ardeatine [again, this is the place in which 388 innocent Romans were massacred by the Germans toward the end of the war, ndr].
However, if you will consent, there exists some room for complaint. This in the fact that, having given us a new piazza, the competent authorities have completely abandoned the project before its total completion.

A. You have installed a properly operating electrical system, complete with lighting and proper illumination of the entire piazza; but to date, we are still completely left in the dark.
They installed in-ground light fixtures, all of which have been smashed to smithereens by the hoodlums of the 'hood.  I wonder not only why they're made of glass, but why they are not solar lights to begin with.

B. We were promised that the monument inside (see photo in sidebar) would be totally restored--but still, nothing.

The monument was beautifully restored, only to find one asshole who has mucked it up with his graffiti, and others who have smashed in parts of it, just because they could.

C. Additionally, we ask to whom goes the responsibility of cleaning the piazza of the leaves, pine needles etc. which fill the entire square; risking that someone will slip and fall? The people who frequent the square? We don't think so.
[note: in Italy, there is often a problem between the street cleaners who don't touch the parks, and park people, who don't touch the street, or garbage, or whatever--leaving much of whatever it is that people or nature leave lying around, stacked up for years of neglect,ndr].

Cleaning seems to be going a bit better...Meno Male!

And so, Mr. President, instead of thinking of creating a 'Love Park'*, why not think of doing the right thing for all of us, and start by solving the serious problems that reach the entire quarter; and not just when you're interested in getting a post of command -- while you wait on the honest and hopeful votes of your citizens!

Thank you!

*The Love Park, is a place nearby, where, all of the transexuals and Eastern European sex slaves are lined up one of the main thoroughfares in all of Rome. Instead of solving the problem at the roots, this President thought we might as well create a sort of Park there where men can freely enjoy expressing their 'love'. I say, 'what's love got to do with it?'

Wednesday, October 10

Italy's Brain Drain

A friend of mine, after 12 years in Italy, culminating in a terrific position as Managing Director of a major multinational firm, just left for the USA. Having been ‘restructured’ out of his job, his only options, according to the headhunters over here, was to join the multitudes and go into business for himself. Those same multitudes who hiccup from client to client, often going unpaid after delivering thousands in work performed and who live lives of freelancers, free being the operative word.

In fact, time and again, we are regaled by reports of the thousands of managers and researchers, academics and attorneys who have sterling careers, make discoveries and open restaurants the world over. That is not to say that Italy doesn’t have excellent talent right at home. It’s just that combined with limited mobility, those same managers often calcify like trees in petrified forests doing the same job that they had great talent in, but unable to bring in new blood or advance in any way. Combined with the lesser-talented and usually incompetent ‘figli d’arte’ taking over daddy’s place, well, you soon discover that in Italy, the ladder to success is missing a few rungs and is perched precariously in quicksand.

There are many many successes here that prove the rule, like the orphan turned mega-industrialist at the helm of Luxottica, and Armani, & even the Benettons. But take one look at the umpteen thousands of small-business owners who ply away at their trade, you start to wonder how many Bill Gates’ or Anita Roddicks there might have been had they simply been born somewhere else. Head to the even more precarious ‘freelancers’, and the wasted talent is unparalleled. I once met an optimistic young woman who managed to even get a position (as a sort of unpaid gopher at Cinecittà), before taking the courageous step to run off to India, where she was given huge opportunities to work in high-tech surroundings and be part of the team producing a movie a day.

A photographer friend in Rome gets all her work from Spain. The visually talented Italians almost all end up in Hollywood to give us some of the greatest films ever seen on celluloid. Even Andrea Boccelli is more popular in America than in his own country.
And this does not include the multitudes of foreigners who trade off the Italian quality of life for a huge huge part of their earnings potential in jobs well below their acumen, professionality and talent.

Meanwhile, the black market thrives, but those wily entrepreneurs can’t (or won’t) come out of hiding to avoid the exorbitant taxes, labor laws, politician-client privilege, and a host of other deadly sins.

What would Italy really look like if the powers that be finally admitted defeat, and stopped insisting that there was an ‘Italian Way” out. Just think, unlike Japan or China, they wouldn’t even have to commit hari-kari for it. Italians are quite compassionate in these things.

It would launch a true Renaissance.

Sunday, October 7

Like a Virgin

Taking a walk through Milan's city centre is always a wonderful experience, and after two years away, one could really see the changes. Of course, there were little things, like my favorite florist having moved and expanded in what is the most Parisian corner of the city; or, fabulous inline skaters shooting up the promenade to hip-hop tunes. Most of the scaffolding had come down off the stunning Duomo, albeit just after tourist season. And, there was the huge addition to Milan's Opera House, La Scala.

But, one thing that struck me more than anything else, was here, right in Piazza Duomo, there was no Virgin Music Megastore. Now, that's not to say it was an improvement to begin with, but, Virgin, with this single store, literally changed Italian business overnight. Or, what seemed to us onlookers as overnight--for Richard Branson, it was more like over a long nightmare. He once famously remarked that the opening of this one store in Italy took more pain, money, red tape and other nonsense than all -- I repeat -- all of his other stores--combined. A remark which I'm sure further endeared him to the City officials.
But, he did make quite a splash -- opening hours 'til midnight, open even on Sundays--he ushered in a whole new shopping experience. The Italian merchants didn't know what hit them! As they scrambled to improve their stores, allowing shoppers to actually touch merchandise, thumb through books & magazines, and, all this, gasp! at any hour of the day or night, well, they responded the Italian way... with protests, naturally. Even backing it up with the powerful Archbishop of Milan, whose Piazza the store was adorning...maybe it was the name and not the hours they protested, I mean...this is a Catholic Country after all.
As for the merchants, by finally giving us an outlet for our pent-up demand, he was taking away their business. Never mind that until Virgin, you couldn't buy a cd on your lunch hour, let alone listen to one in the store.

But, like all those other trailblazers before him, great conquerers of empires, and adventurers of the Far West, here he was, shot down before he even got a chance to bask in the glory of his brave new conquest.
By all accounts, Italy operates a free market system. But, why, then, are there 422 Midas muffler shops, the Gap, Banana Republic and a host of other foreign stores and companies opening daily--in France? (and we won't even mention the folly behind putting Snow White and her brood in a hostile climate there--both literally and figuratively)... If it's so free, where are the foreign merchants? More or less unseen since Marco Polo brought Chinese traders to Venice.

Sure, you can point to the ubiquitous McDonalds. But, only a few years ago, they had only 12 stores, after decades of trying to get into the market, while the Italian knock-off version, Burghy, was dishing out slow burgers from any one of their 180 outlets. McDonalds finally bought them out for a king's ransom, and, just to cover their bases, gave them the meat contract...let's say, for safety's sake. Wendy's was actually the first to come over; their one store closed - just down the street from where Virgin had been.

Personally, I enjoy the look and feel of a place that doesn't smack of rampant consumerism, and, so, one less Virgin might be a good idea. But, Virgin going missing is a symbol of Italy's invisible barriers to entry. All of which forbode a decline in competitiveness, a stagnant economy, no innovation and, lack of foreign investment.

After all, can it be a good thing when it's easier to open a store in Peshawar than in Pisa?

Thursday, October 4

Bella Figura: whose taste anyway?

Who doesn't remember those scenes from Cinema Paradiso with the censors devouring every last kiss just before letting them fall to the cutting room floor? While I've been in Milan, there has been a fiery debate surrounding a new ad campaign by the controversial visual artist, Olivero Toscani. This time, his images of a naked anorexic woman, just in time for all of the other quasi-naked anorexics to descend on Milan's fashion runways, was deemed by the powers that be, to push that very slim envelope one gram too far. Now, let's make one thing clear: I personally can't stand Toscani's 'work' for Benetton et.al., because I find showing people suffering from AIDS or drugs or what have you an extremely bizarre way to sell sweaters. If he had produced these images for a Benetton Foundation for AIDS victims or a NO-L-ITA foundation against anorexia, that's one thing. But no, he just slaps up the images, walks away, and lets everyone discuss what he's up to. The Companies which allow him to do such work should, in the very least, take their logos off the ads.

Nonetheless, the ad campaign was pulled by Milan's (female) Mayor Moratti. I guess it offended just one too many tax-paying fashionista; and considering they'd rather show us pre-teens in every sort of erotic position, clothed or otherwise, I guess maybe the model just wasn't the Bella Figura the Milanese like to be associated with.

It brings to mind my very favourite ad that was ever run, by Diego della Palma makeup studio for their tanning products. It was so hot, I swear when that ad came out one sweltering day in August 1985 (I will never forget the day), the temperature went up about 12 more degrees. Showing not nearly enough nudity as any given ad on any given day using women, I think the concerned censors just thought that it was too too titillating for us women, and, allah forbid, we could never let the ladies have their fair share of it, too. So, before the fragile wives could return from their beach vacations, down the posters went (but I still have a copy).

In a country which uses naked women to sell everything from socks to SUVs, I have never since seen any ad showing a butt-naked man. But I'm hoping that, despite her censor-happy hand, maybe our Mayor will start to give equal coverage for both parties. But the future looks bleak.
To see the ad in question, go to: www.diegodallapalma.it

Ahhh...it has been good, but a taste of honey's worse than none at all...

Wednesday, October 3

An uplifting idea...

Here's a brief newsclip for you to ponder:

Today, a study will be presented at a Florence conference which shows that a full 81% of urologists are taking Viagra or like pills. According to the study's founder, urologist Sebastiano Spadafora, this incredible empathy toward their patients (and I quote): "fully demonstrates that this pill will not harm you."
Now. This certainly puts new meaning into the idea of Physician-Patient privelege. And begs a whole heck of a lot of questions.
I understand that in a culture which prides itself on virility (despite the rate of babies being the lowest in the world), that this would be important indeed. So important, in fact, that a mayor of a town here has decided to offer Viagra for free.

But, how, exactly, are these urologists proving their point to their patients? Do they quickly pop a little blue pill and sort of, whip it out? Do they have their female clients simply 'undress' or ask that their patients bring in their wives for a quickie? I mean, after all, this, in a country in which doctors do not leave the room when you undress nor is a nurse present in the room when you have your check up. Maybe that's to sort of expedite matters and not spend too much time on the fore-play. No wonder doctors are always running late.

I mean, the once-Mayor of nearby Lugano was a practicing gynecologist (while in office). Is this why he was so esteemed? After all, women do make up 51% of the electorate.

And, to my dear researcher, I ask...does a correlary to your study show that urologists have found a new niche in making house calls?