Tuesday, December 30

Tantissime Belle Cose

As I reflect on the past year, I would like to first and foremost thank all of you dedicated readers (and commenters) of my blog for your patronage...it's nice to know that I am not writing for an audience of one, and that every so often I can bring a smile to what sometimes seems like daily trials & tribulations of life in this wonderful country of contradictions. I'll be making a few changes in the New Year, but always appreciate your observations (be nice!) if you'd like to see more / less of something or other.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my short list of Bellissime Cose del Bel Paese... and the not so terrific (in no particular order).

- Il bello: Quark, Superquark & Ulisse / The best TV programs the RAI has to offer.

The worst? Any reality show and the Veline on the omnipresent 1970s-style variety shows.

- Il bello: The Metropolitan Cinema in Rome and its dedication to English-language theater.

The worst? The demise and troubles behind the singularly fantabulous Spoleto Festival di Due Mondi.

- Il bello: Gomorra, Roberto Benigni's interpretation of Dante's Inferno, and the ongoing collaboration of Will Smith & talented Director, Gabriele Muccino (Pursuit of Happyness, now Sette Anime).

The worst? Having to stomach the constant bickering behind the Venice Film Festival, San Remo Music Festival, the running of the RAI and pretty much everything that gets politicized unnecessarily.

- The hope that the political wind change will bring about real change.

The worst? The occupation of Naples by troops for garbage removal.

- Il bello: The rise to the head of Confindustria of 'The Woman of Steel'.

The worst? That Italy, along with Portugal, has the lowest representation in Europe of women in business (although that figure must leave out the thousands upon thousands of retailers and hair salons). Just ask the ex-model and Equal Opportunity Minister to address it.

Even worse? Alitalia still flying the unfriendly skies and all the related strikes, baggage losses, and see-sawing which has marred the takeoff of CAI.

- Il bello: The U.S. Government, in the persona of our most excellent Ambassador Spogli, trying to promote Venture Capital as a stimulus for the economy.

The worst? The departure come January, of said Ambassador

- Il bello: All the wonderful ezines, blogs and websites dedicated to Italy, including Life in Italy, Italy Mag, The American - in Italia, Italy Travel Guide and the people bringing you the best of Italian culture, along with those who dare dream of change, like Beppe Grillo and the thousands of bloggers who attempt to post the problems...if for nothing else, than cathartic release.

- Il bello: Italy's Associazioni Consumatori in all their various guises, finally giving a voice to the downtrodden and getting results.

The worst? All of the store and restaurant owners who keep jacking up the prices so that pasta is now 2500% markup and plain old pane has gone up nearly 40% in the last year.

- New Year's Celebrations with spectacular fireworks displays, along with some excellent Prosecco...

Please feel free to add your own below.

Felice Anno Nuovo!

Wednesday, December 24

Oh Happy Day! (When Jesus was Born)

It’s Christmas Eve, the night that most Italians celebrate with family and close friends, awaiting the arrival of the Baby Jesus. In fact, only at midnight he makes his appearance in the crèche.

Driving up to my little slice of paradise in the hills outside Rome, I listened to my favorite Christmas Cds, and I noticed how American (and English) Christmas tunes are often more fun and funny, versus the reverence one pays here in Italy. If you stop and think about Jingle Bell Rock, even the lively Deck the Halls! Or the sassy, Santa Baby, and of course, what holiday would be complete without Grandma got run over by a Reindeer?

I guess having the Pope in your backyard helps keep the dial firmly on Jesus. In fact, the Italians even have their very own Christmas Carol about the whole event: Tu Scendi dalle Stelle. It seems our tunes, even Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night or even Away in a Manger, don’t quite mark the seriousness of the birth of Jesus the way the Italians do.
Singing this ditty in our Caroling group, I forgot all about Santa, Joy & Merriment and started hoping they had laced the eggnog with Prozac.

(As I type this, it’s the opening song to the Verona Christmas Eve Concert on TV – I’m getting the vodka out now)…

Tu scendi dalle stelle, You come down from the stars
O Re del Cielo, Oh King of the Heavens
e vieni in una grotta, and you come into a cave
al freddo al gelo cold and icy
e vieni in una grotta,
al freddo al gelo

Now here comes the Catholic Guilt

O Bambino mio Divino Oh my Baby Jesus, My Divine
Io ti vedo qui a tremar I see you here shivering
O Dio Beato Oh Blessed God
Ahi, quanto ti costò Oh, how much it cost you
l’avermi amato! to have loved me!

In case it didn't quite sink in...

Ahi, quanto ti costò
l’avermi amato!

– the kiddies are singing it on TV…there’s not a smiling face in the house.

A te, che sei del mondo il Creatore, To you, you who are the world, the Creator
mancano panni e fuoco there are no clothes, no fire
O mio Signore! Oh my God!
mancano panni e fuoco there are no clothes, no fire
O mio Signore!

And it ends with…
Povero ancora.
Povero ancora. Still poor, still poor.

Pass the tissues.

Friday, December 19

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16

Giacomo & the Beanstalk

I recently read an interesting piece from one of my favorite websites, Life In Italy. Once again, Italy’s intrepid researchers had made a breakthrough discovery:

Italian researchers have made an advance in plant-growth research that promises to stretch roots so more species can grow in arid areas and the fruits of other plants will be healthier without having to use fertilisers.

This discovery was nonetheless more significant as it was made by (a woman), Rome University’s Sabrina Sabatini, incredibly enticed back to Italy from the U.S. to further her plant research on Italian soil (pun totally unintended). But what makes it all the more miraculous was not the modification of the growth hormones they succeeded in isolating so that 'scientists will be able to control the length of roots so that shorter ones aren`t affected by salty water, enabling them to bear more fruit, and longer ones can tap into deep-lying reserves in drought-hit zones.'

It was because this discovery was made by a team of experts who came from a place that does not even have the rudest elementary concept of photosynthesis. Obviously skipped over in 5th grade science class, photosynthesis is right up there in Italy with 'superstition as a cure or cause of maladies' -- except that it's the plant which is causing the harm.

This is why in Italy, one is not allowed to bring flowers to new mothers in hospital. The cut roses, it seems, suck the air right out of the newborns’ lungs. So, most hospitals’ halls are lined with flowers perched outside the doors alongside the bed pans. Contrast that to the florist you’ll find at the entrance to pretty much every non-Italian hospital round the world.

This is why in Italy, my friends made me swear off plants in the bedroom. Again, insisting that they cut my supply of oxygen during the night, to the point that I would have hallucinations. Never mind that I’ve yet to hear a single case of this malady afflicting anyone in any other country.

And so, hats off to Sabatini and her great discovery. Maybe now she can devote her attentions to getting basic CO2 and Sunlight back in the school books. Now that would be a miracle.

Saturday, December 13

Holidays in Italy--Spreading Good Cheer or Good Germs?

Each year, members from the American International Club of Rome (AICR) gather to sing Christmas carols for all well, make that some of, the bambini at the Rome Children’s Hospital right by the Vatican; appropriately named, Bambin Jesù (Baby Jesus). The group delivers gifts to the kiddies and even a few of the tots dance along with the tunes.
This most traditional of events, however, did not come without its own security apparatus fit for the coordination team of a sitting U.S. President. Basically, the revelers were not allowed into the corridors of the hospital; we could only gather in one of the main areas, where the kids who were well enough to walk could come and listen (chaperoned, I'm sure). Although it makes some sense, I mean, we could bring the gift of incubating flu to fragile patients, or take a kid under our coats as a sort of free gift...I still feel that the spirit of wandering mistrals was lost on the general hospital populace.
So, when last I joined the merriment, out in the sun-beaten area replete with a glorious Christmas tree we were.  It was probably the nicest tree I’ve seen in a long time (London included).  But it was mostly for the staffers:  the children weren’t allowed out because of the inclement weather -- after all, it had been raining for days.
The group was actually informed that they couldn’t wander the halls, obviously for the protection of the kiddies, but also, because the doctors were doing their rounds and, lo and behold! Because the children were, in fact – sick.
So much for spreading good cheer. Next year maybe we should just send pre-recorded tapes in sterile bags instead.

Saturday, December 6

Miracle on High Street

One striking aspect about this holiday season is the notable effort that stores are making to separate people from their money as we face a near-depression, joblessness, and general angst from the spending public [and none from the powers that be on Public Spending]. Traipsing around London, Paris or Rome, one thing stands out even more than the multi-colored Christmas decorations and bright lights: the humongous SALE signs on many store windows, beckoning you to come in and take advantage of their PRE-Christmas sales?

Woolworths has become the English version of the dollar store, taking the entire enterprise entirely literally: they’ve reportedly offered their 850 stores for sale for 1 sterling. You start to wonder if the Grinch hasn’t sort of come in and stolen Christmas, so you better shop now before there’s no merchandise on the racks or, in the case of Woolworth’s, no store left to shop in.

Back in Italy, a place where socialism runs deep, sales come twice annually and you surely won’t find them before the holiday season. In fact, in Italy, store sales are dictated by national law and are end-of-season ones only. And don’t think you’ll get discounts on holiday items come January, either. The inventory is merely tucked away for another year. Talk about re-gifting.

I firmly believe stores and store owners should be able to put their items on sale whenever they want to, how they want to, and if they want to. And while I applaud efforts on the part of the sales police (the sales police?) actually going into stores to uncover fake markdowns on merchandise in an effort to protect shoppers, I still bristle at this Big Brother system of consumer protection.

Personally, this capitalist thinks shoppers should police through their pocketbooks and the government should let store owners govern their own merchandise, store hours and markdowns…To do otherwise is to truly put the Grinch in charge of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 3

It's not what you say...

Perusing the headlines whilst in London, I've come across some interesting stories. They say as much about the crime culture here of course, as the entire English culture itself. And, just like in Italy, when the adjective best suits the crime, there is something in the way the English portray their criminals and victims by age vis a vis the Italian style of daily drama. Basically, the more severe the incident, the older or younger you become for dramatic effect. It's just that in Italy, one could argue, the age going up or down is an inversely proportional twist:

From the UK:

A 20 year old man was shot today…

The young man showed a promising future (about an 11 year old boy who was run over by two cars).

Police investigating a series of hoax security alerts at a west Belfast school two male youths have been arrested…(18 years of age)

British Transport Police spent hours painstakingly tracing the four men using CCTV…The court heard how the men terrorised passengers as they demanded mobile phones, MP3 players, jewellery, wallets and PIN numbers for cash cards. The most prolific member of the group, Melvyn Gay, 27, Sheldon Williams, 20, of Clapton and Aaron Flemming, 20, of Hackney, east London, received four-and-a-half years each and Douglas Lawrence, 20, of Tottenham, north London, was sentenced to five years.

A British doctor volunteering in DR Congo used text message instructions from a colleague to perform a life-saving amputation on a boy (16 years old).

Two men have been killed, after 19-year-old was found seriously injured

A teenager has been jailed for life…

In Italy:

Tragedia a Roma: Due ragazze irlandesi di 28 e 29 anni sono state travolte e uccise la notte scorsa da un’auto pirata (Two girls, 28 & 29 years old...while the 32 year old unemployed mamma's boy was often referred to as ragazzo)

Gli scherzi telefonici di un ragazzo italiano fanno impazzire il web - I video-beffa di Francesco, 19enne casertano.

Un giovane di 30 anni, Valerio Ullasci, ha ucciso con un machete i propri genitori (30 yr old youth kills parents)

I bimbi—senegalesi, rom, italiani — sono tutti uguali per chi sfrutta i minori di 14 anni nell’accattonaggio (the tots - minors under 14 yrs old)

14ENNE ACCOLTELLATO DA UN COETANEO Tra i due giovani...(knifing between two 14 yr. old youths)

Una ragazza 14enne uccisa (14 yr. old girl killed)

Vendeva cocaina a ragazze diciottenni in cambio di sesso. (sold cocaine to 18 yr. old girls)

La macchina della giustizia è in moto per dare un perché alla morte sul lavoro di un ragazzo di 18 anni (boy of 18 dies on the job)

Un 30enne di Urbania ha iniziato a minacciare di ritorsioni l'attuale fidanzato, della sua ex, un ragazzo di 24 anni, consegnandogli anche una cartuccia per carabina. (a 30 yr. old began threatening a boy of 24)

As in War, so as in Love.
In the UK, the country with the highest percentage of teenage unwed mothers, they are called just that. While in Italy, my 42 year old unwed pregnant girlfriend was called equally and disparingly, 'ragazza madre'.

Friday, November 28

La mamma...è sempre la Mamma

I received this in my inbox, and thought I'd share it with all of you -- a special thanks to the brilliant anonymous author of the piece. click on image to enlarge

Dear son,

I'm writing these few words just so you know that I've written.
If you receive this letter, it means that it arrived. If not, just let me know and I'll resend it. I'm writing it slowly as I know you don't read very quickly.

A little while ago, your father read in the news that most accidents occur within 1 km of one's home. With that in mind, we've decided to move a bit further away. The new house is wonderful, it even came with a washing machine, but I don't know if it works. Just yesterday I put in the clothes, I turned on the water, but then the wash disappeared completely.

The weather here is not so bad. Last week it rained twice. The first time for 3 days straight, the second for 4. I also wanted to let you know that your father has a new job. He has 500 people underneath him: in fact, he cuts the grass at the cemetery.

With regard to the jacket you asked me for, your uncle Piero told me that it'd be much more costly to send over with the buttons (due to the added weight), so I've taken them off. If you want to have them sewn back on, I put them all in the inside pocket.

Meanwhile, your brother Gianni did a really stupid thing with the car: he got out, slamming the door behind him with the keys still in it. So, I had to go back into the house in order to get the second set. That way, we all could get out of the car.

If you see Margherita, please say hello for me. If you don't see her, don't worry, just don't say anything.

I'll have to sign off because I have to run to the hospital. Your sister is about to give birth. I don't know if it's a boy or a girl, so, I can't tell you if you'll be a Zio or Zia.

A big hug from your mamma who loves you very much,


Thursday, November 27

Ice Road Trucking

Driving up to Milan this week, I realized it's been a long while since I’ve had the pedal to the metal. Only problem is, with cameras set up almost every Roman mile along the way, you seriously can no longer put the pedal to the metal. Between the inclement weather and the pit stops for Trevor, I made it up to Milan via the coastal road in well over 7 hours.

Stopping at the various Autogrills along the way, one can still sometimes find local food, or use the self-service cafeterias – Italian-style – that does not have anything to do with American versions. The food is not only edible, it actually tastes pretty good – and, it’s good for you.

But, incredibly, you can still order alcoholic drinks to go along with your meal and to ease the pain of your grueling drive. In fact, at 10am it is not uncommon to see Eastern European truckers downing a beer (or two), or asking for a vodka along with their espresso before taking off on the highway from hell.

And while it is now prohibited to sell stiff drinks to minors or anyone after 10pm (on the roads), the liquor freely flows during the day. So much so that I wonder if, buried deep in the annals of Italy’s ‘Science by Superstition’ it is written that you can only get drunk at night. Even still, that wouldn’t prevent Polish Trucker #10433 from filling up and getting loaded promptly at 9:45pm.

But, as someone pointed out in an Automobile Club blog, a trucker tipped him one day onto Italy’s national pastime, getting around the rules: just tuck the whole bottle under your arm and you can nip all night long -- an 18-wheeler version of Nip&Tuck. After all, for every rule made, there are thousands waiting to break it.

It really makes you look forward to the trip that, with the snow and ice of this week, combined with the probable levels of alcohol in drivers' blood streams, makes you feel like an extra on Ice Road Truckers. Perhaps it’s best to take the train after all.

Saturday, November 22

The Michelin Guide to Italy

Italy is seeing stars -- Michelin stars that is. The infamous guide to the best restaurants just came out, and, just like the prices they're now charging for a plate of pasta, Italy's rankings have gone up. But, according to Leonardo Romanelli, food critic, this doesn't mean that the French have turned up the gas, so to speak, on the Cucina Italiana.

In fact, according to Romanelli (in Epolis), the renowned chef Gualtiero Marchesi, the first in Italy to receive the coveted triple star rating, after stating he should no longer be critiqued given his contribution to the world of food, had the book literally thrown at him along with the kitchen sink; they listed his place as a lowly hotel eatery.

And even though any Italian worth his sale grosso will tell you that the French, with all their creamy sauces and over-stuffed geese do not deserve all those stars, Italy is now proud to boast 236 1-star ristoranti (versus 217 from the year before), and 34 with two (up from 29).

As for the triple star restaurants, there are five (versus 30 in - ahem - gastronomically superior (?) France):

Enoteca Pinchiorri (Florence) - I've eaten there - and can tell you the meal will run about 1 euro per person per minute you are seated, and that's without the wine tab. I'll let you decide whether the memory of your menu degustazione is worth one month's rent.

Dal Pescatore a Canneto sull'Oglio (Mantova)
- I'm pretty sure I've eaten here, too, but, I don't remember.
Il Sorriso di Soriso (Novara) - heck, I'd go just for the name!
Le Calandre a Rubano (Padova)
La Pergola at the Hotel Cavaliere Hilton (Roma) - which is, in fact, a hotel restaurant if you like that atmosphere.

Wednesday, November 19

It's a Dog Eat Dog World

While it may be that in Japan, 7% of dog owners eat dog food, that number in Italy rises to a steep 100% of Italians. In fact, the figure includes all Italians, even those who don’t own dogs.

That’s because, in Italy, dogs eat pasta. Not exactly DeCecco or Barilla, but, walk into any supermarket, and you will find enormous bags of cute twirled pasta -- for dogs. In the Japanese survey, 50% bought dog food based on tastes a dog likes. Let’s be clear: did Fido actually tell them what he truly likes? Because, if it were up to him, the flavors on offer would not be beef, chicken or turkey with vegetables. If our dogs could choose, it’d be more like squirrel, pigeon and fox varieties (that’s especially for Setters in the UK).

But what kills me is that in the end, each population chooses what they, themselves eat. I had an aunt who made her little dachshund a breakfast of eggs, toast and sausage every single morning. Needless to say, he died of hardening of the arteries. But, aside from those who give their dogs human food, the Italians will have you convinced that it's okay for dogs to eat pasta...But ask any Vet stateside, and they'll tell you pasta expands in the stomach and the carbs aren’t good for them. I'm sure the ones promoting this feature are the same ones backing the 'no swimming after eating' rule, too.

Back in Japan, dog food contains that seaweed you find wrapped around your sushi. I’ve tried feeding sushi to Trevor, who takes one whiff of that and literally runs and hides. Perhaps he’d be more turned on by the new Japanese fad for using excess whale meat in the food. Certainly he’d fare better than the dogs in the U.S. or China who are getting poisoned by the melamine in their food.

And so it is, each night, you not only have to prepare pasta for the family, but for your furry friends as well. Perhaps with the cost of basic pasta going up so much, even regular Italians may start to turn to those huge bags of pasta-for-dogs in aisle 9.

Saturday, November 15

Hell on Wheels

I am a feminist. I truly am. It’s just that when it comes to women drivers in Italy, I tend to side with the Saudis. The other day a report came out which proved one of my pet theories: SmartCar drivers were actually pretty stupid when it comes to using their automobiles. Incredibly, they were even more stupid than the SUV owners, who, by all accounts, simply ignore that there are things called lanes, stop signs and other petty inconveniences like other cars along their path, never mind parking spaces and pedestrians.

And, while you will get run down or cut off by both SmartCars and SUVs driven by both sexes fairly equally, I still believe it’s the women that cause more harm. Men, you see, actually take pleasure in using other vehicles in much the same way as little rubber ducks in a shooting gallery. The women don’t even see that there are dozens of ducks paddling along in the first place all desperately trying to avoid the one with the loaded weapon.

There was a time in the 80s and 90s when it was easy to spot these reckless drivers. Back then, husbands let their wives on the road as long as they were inside a FIAT UNO or Panda, basically the equivalent of a Chevy Chevette or Ford Fiesta, without the comforts. And in a sort of unspoken code, these guys collectively set out to mark which wives to watch out for – the women’s cars were always – without exception – white.
And so, when you found yourself anywhere near a white UNO (I might add the same car thought to have set off the crash which killed Princess Di), you knew to let them go ahead, or run the red light before they crashed into you from behind, or how to beat them so they wouldn’t lane drift right through your passenger side window.

But, unfortunately, with the new millennium, came the upgrade. These women insisted on immense SUVs for their one-child brood. Some sporty types opted for the SmartCars. All are now fully armed with cell phones on which they talk incessantly. They went from driving a mass weapon of destruction to actually becoming weapons of mass destruction. One look in your rear view mirror to see a woman on a mission, cellphone in hand, careening into your lane, you know you have no way out.

And after your car has been squashed like an accordion, they are the first to pop out screaming into their cellphones while yelling indirectly at you what a loser you are for having caused such a horrible scene. While you are busy checking your pulse to see that you are still, in fact, alive, they have already hopped back into their unscathed auto and taken off at full speed toward their next target – leaving you to ponder how life might look in Saudi Arabia.

Wednesday, November 12

Holiday Gift Packages - from Italy to America?

Not to be an alarmist, but visiting  friends the other day,  I was totally shocked as to what I saw happening there. She and her daughter were preparing gift boxes of all things
Italian to send to friends and family in the USA.  One could argue that with the Italian post office in the state it is, these were actually just care packages to the downtrodden postal workers; many most likely would never reach their intended destination.  Or perhaps...they were sending them out so they can arrive before Christmas – 2020.
In any case, like two of Santa's elves, they were filling packages full with Ferrero chocolates, little Kinder treats for the kiddies (illegal in America due to some serious lobbying by the U.S. confectionery industry, but they do have a strange - chokeable - prize inside their famous eggs), some fabulous Pugliese taralli of all flavors, panettone, biscotti and other sundry items. I half-expected to see a carton of MS cigarettes and even some Peroni beer tossed in for good measure.  It looked to me as if America woke up one day in the middle of a sort of Mad Max film; gourmet stores boarded up, no aceto balsamico on the shelves, and even chocolate was no longer an item one could purchase without giving it a second thought.
There was a time when seemingly everyone in Italy had an ‘Uncle in America’ who would likewise send treats, money, and most of all hope. With the mortgage crisis, the credit crunch and the bottoming out of the middle class...Is this where America is headed?
Luckily for my niece and nephews, they can boast a Zia in Italia who, should they get in a pinch, will always be on hand to send over a jar of Nutella and some crisp euro bills (yeah, right.)  But as the U.S. economy picks up speed while Italians are headed overseas by the thousands to find a new future...maybe it will be lo Zio d'Italia who will soon be receiving those Yankee dollars and gift packages from a treasured niece or nephew after all.

Friday, November 7

The End of Ignorance

In the words of Gaius Giulius Caesar, I say to Barack Obama, Veni, Vedi, Vinci.

It is truly rare in one’s lifetime to experience history being made. Talk to your grandparents and you will hear – no feel – the emotion of watching man taking his first footsteps on the moon, children being given chocolate bars as American troops marched down the streets of newly liberated Rome, the end of Marcos in the Philippines, the literal breaking down of the Berlin Wall. And you could always count on those who would bear witness to these earth-shattering events to understand and convey with a mixed sense of euphoria, eloquence and even gravitas worthy of the event to others who had not the privilege of seeing it for themselves. Naturally, we turn to our leaders.

“What belongs together is now growing together,"
former West German chancellor Willy Brandt eloquently surmised for the world to hear on November 10 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Armstrong boldly declared: "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

At midnight of August 14, 1947 Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s leader, delivered his now famous “long ago we had made a tryst with destiny…” on the British withdrawal from India.

And Winston Churchill stated, after the Battle of Britain “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

And so it is with great dismay and deep disgust that we heard from Silvio Berlusconi, former nightclub singer and now Prime Minister of Italy remarking on the historic election of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America. And while it’s true an ignorant quip is more representative of the speaker than of the person being spoken about, sheer ignorance upfront and center still can feel like a slap in the face.

It is no wonder that Berlusconi loves to flaunt being buddy-buddy with his other verbally and intelligence-challenged comrade in arms, George W. Bush (who so eloquently expressed Obama’s landslide victory using the adjective of a brain dead teen on ecstasy…“awesome”).

Berlusconi, head of the 7th largest economy in the world, while standing at the side of Russia’s new premier, says he was “just cracking a joke”. Certainly, if his name had been the byline as a reporter for Jon Stewart, or for the political satirical website, 23/6, or as a writer for SNL or even Striscia la Notizia, his line was “awesome”. Just take a look at these day-after headlines from the top satirical reporters in the USA:

Inappropriate Hottie Rundown - The Obama Cabinet!

Barack Obama has been president-elect for two days yet my cancer isn't cured- WTF?

Presidential dog not leaving his White doggie-house without a fight

Barack Obama: Young, handsome and even tanned!

[Berlusconi on what the President-Elect brings to negotiations with Russia]

Now that there is a highly intelligent and articulate man in the White House we can finally go back to Statesmanship as it was intended. To a day that when world leaders speak, people don’t have to sift through the rubble of their garbled sentences to find the significance; To when we no longer have to see someone like Boris Yeltsin peeing himself on the tarmac, a place where Cabinet Posts aren’t thoughtfully based on the sex appeal of the occupants as if running the Playboy Empire. Hopefully, we will now find ourselves in a time where gaffes are not excused as ridiculous slips of the tongue but are accurately and vehemently called out for demonstrating the pea-sized brain of the person who has uttered them.

The symbolism of an unknown Senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, who, after having put an end to slavery, uniting the States, has been oft-quoted this election cycle. Known for his gift of elocution, and his firm commitment to his beliefs, I leave dear Berlusconi with this message, that you may reap something from his sage words:

“The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.”

You can read what real European leaders said about the Obama victory here.

Wednesday, November 5

Casting Your Ballot

As the elections results came in from the USA, I received a message from an Italian friend of mine. She asked, ‘how come I was not in the U.S. to vote’? And then I recalled, that of course, in Italy (where, I might add they have huge voter turnouts usually of upwards of 70%), that up 'til just recently, one always had to show up for the voting in person.

In fact, in the old days, I recall that train travel was free or close to it for people who went back to their home residence (generally the town they were born in) to cast their ballot. Absentee ballots took decades to come about. This was because of the (well-founded) fears of corruption. I could just see it: hundreds of counterfeit ballots being flawlessly copied and cast left, right and center.

And so it is that actually, in the last Italian elections, I did receive an absentee ballot. I’m not quite sure how it works, but I believe you go down to the Italian consulate to vote. I decided, since I was in Italy, just to vote in person, just like in the good ol’ days. So, carefully armed with my voter registration card, off to the school I went. Highly efficient, no lines, and no bizarre hanging chads, strange machines, butterfly ballots and every other sort of manifestation coming from what is supposedly a well-functioning democracy. Simply put, you just mark an X next to the name.

But then, I was pulled aside and disenfranchised from the electoral process; or rather, from electing the Prime Minister and party heads. Because I had been sent an absentee ballot, I was not allowed to cast a vote in person. After all, it could be that I brought in my ballot to the Detroit consulate, hopped a plane to Rome, and raced to the polls. Considering that the only airline flying Rome-Detroit direct is strike-prone Alitalia, that scenario was highly unlikely. Regardless, my pleas were rejected.

No matter, today I'm just happy my absentee ballot was successfully cast for the U.S. Elections.

Saturday, November 1

Tante Belle Cose - October

The best news ever to come my way is that the Fabulous Federconsumatori managed to win a hefty penalty levied against Italy's Trenitalia for shady business practices. Anyone who has ever tried to book a ticket online (I've never succeeded but, hey...) knows what goes on there: promotions that disappear upon purchase, discounts that don't exist, out of frustration you're forced to dial their (pay) telephone number. No, they would never think to offer a toll free one.

Because of the fangs of consumer associations like Federconsumatori, I just know that I'll live to see the day when the monopolies stop treating you like a mere prey to be shaken down, and will start trying to earn your business. After all, it happened with Telecom Italia (well, they still prey on their customers, but many of us ran off to Vodafone, et.al. to get away from them) and it's happening now with the energy companies. Who knows? Maybe even Alitalia will have a reawakening...

As of November 1st, bars which have adhered to the Fipe-Confcommercio accord will block price rises for your morning cappuccino.

This is terrific news since prices now rival Starbucks, the greatest scam in the universe. Only problem is, in October breakfast prices clocked a 15% increment. In Italy, there is no free breakfast.

After the success of turnstiles introduced in government offices, it seems the government now wants to introduce them pretty much everywhere else. They now expect to make abut 350 more employees sing for their supper and start stamping their ins and outs of office. Not only that, Renato Brunetta's office announced he wants government offices to go completely email - inbox.

Seeing that the internet came around some time in 1989, it's about time. But, that's not to say you will ever get a response...I have yet to send in a COMMENT form and receive a reply in return...even when asking for business from companies...But, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

After all, hope is the last to die.

Wednesday, October 29

Cinema Paradiso

In honor of Italy's various Festival del Cinema happenings across the country, I thought I’d offer my own little ‘movie-watching guide’ to the Bel Paese. After all, Italians are great movie buffs and the dubbing is exceptional, save for the super strange voice that crops up now and again (like hearing a high-pitched Cary Grant, or an L.A. gang member speak perfect Milanese). But, once you get over the fact that mouths don’t move quite in sync with the words, you’re good to go. You settle in your chair, and today, you can even enjoy a bucket of popcorn to munch on right by your side. It’s as good as it gets, or so you think.

Until comes that moment, somewhere halfway into the film, at that crucial point where scriptwriters, directors, costume designers and casting agents, actors and accountants, having spent literally millions to get you to extend all critical judgment, follow the story, hit the climax and actually... Believe.. in the magic of movies…
Suddenly, you are transported -- into a bright-lit auditorium, people chatting and flitting about as if in a cafè, and, if you’re lucky, you'll find a vendor wandering around offering you Coca Cola and ice cream.

You find yourself staring at the screen in absolute disbelief. It's like watching the last frame of Gallipoli, where the screen goes pitch black. You look up anxiously to the cameraman, hoping he is obviously taking care of the problem. Surely there must be a problem. I mean, the film just cut out – just like that – and in mid-sentence, no less. But then, in this split second of sheer panic, you are suddenly transfixed. On the screen, like a scene from Friday the 13th, something horrible has just appeared. Huge letters cross the screen: INTERVALLO.

And you spend that intervallo pondering the serious lobotomy of the person who could ever – ever – have actually thought this was a good idea. You place your bets on the candy seller, obviously the son of the cinema owner, who needed a leg up with his livelihood. You wonder if the floor can just open up underneath him and have him fall into a bottomless pit just like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then again, you think about how charming this all truly is, kind of reminding you of a Norman Rockwell painting of theater-going days gone by. You wonder how you could petition movie directors from Hollywood to Bollywood to get them to stop this virtual decapitation of their films.

Your mind continues to wander, but now the house lights are dimmed and the film is back on. By now, you have forgotten the entire plot. You pray they rewind a bit - just like at home when the phone rings while watching a movie. You struggle to find your way back to Siriana or Fargo, you try to be let back in to Willy Wonka’s factory and what was Wall-E doing 5 minutes ago? Finally, mercifully, you sink back in your chair and beg your brain to turn off the conversations going on in your head.

Sixteen years on, and each time, it hits me like I’ve just come face to face with Sigourney Weaver’s Alien. Enjoy the show!

Monday, October 27

If I Could Turn Back Time

This weekend, Italians changed their clocks (well, many of them...mine are still all wrong). Around Rome, where the public clocks are right only twice a day, this event will have little bearing on our movements. In Milan, on the other hand, with Germanic timing, those clocks lining nearly every street at the stroke of 2 slip back to 1am.

But what really intrigues me about this event is what must transpire to get people (City of Rome excepted) to go on board with the whole rigamaroll. After all, they could, like the State of Arizona, just not do it. So, while in America, clock-turning is cheerily branded, 'Daylight Savings', Americans buy into the concept pretty handily...after all, who wouldn't want to save, and get the extra bonus feature of extra daylight?!! It's a 2-for-the-price-of-one special if I ever saw one.

In Italy, it's drearily called, 'Ora Legale' -- basically, stating, as most everything here,

"This is a Top-Down decision which you have no control over and since it must be this way, we're going to confer legality so any rogue provinces can't get away with doing without it. Got that? It's Legal. We mean it."

It's the daylight version of those ubiquitous 'VIETATO' signs which are stuck to nearly every single surface around...in an attempt to scare people into servility. My favorite?
The new "Welcome Passengers, enjoy your trip!" sign plastered in 8x10 humongous lettering at the entrance to Rome's Train Station. (I will remind you, it's almost entirely open air):

Thursday, October 23

An Italian Bailout

A lot of people have been asking me how America’s financial meltdown is affecting us over here in the Bel Paese. And, the true answer is, not much, thank you. And while they’re predicting a sure recession and all that goes with it, the sound you hear of the gears of productivity, growth and fiscal levity grinding to a slow halt have been resounding long before America’s blood bath.

In fact, Italy, has spawned an entire generation of mammonis whose only skill is how to live (well) off of mamma & papà (mamma for the cooking, cleaning and clothes, papà for the dough, expenses and fabulous cars and trips). Rather than be entirely productive, Italy is having a problem playing catch up with the rest of Europe, if not the rest of the world. The 1970s boom allowed parents to invest in properties, things, and all sorts of trappings, leading to the coddling of offspring to the point of inertia. From time to time, reporters enjoy getting the boy/man-on-the-street interviews, asking them how they’re coping…astoundingly, most proudly declare, they live off of daddy. So, with the low productivity, high competition, and out of control inflation (post-euro), the economy was already well in free fall long before Wall Street was.

Then, there’s the housing/mortgage crisis. Again, while cheap mortgages did take Italy by a storm, here it didn’t blow so hard and so fast. Italy still has a long tradition of home purchases for the kiddies; rarely do parents take out those mortgages. Defaulting on your mortgage? Italians don’t need the nanny state to bail them out, they get it from their own mamma state (tax and interest free, no less). I know dozens of mammas who currently fork over (from their retirement savings) the monthly mortgages, cars, and vacations of their adult kids. Call it an umbilical cord of credit.

The problem is, and I’ve been asking myself this question for years, how are these kids – with low savings, nonexistent means, under-employment, and high costs going to provide for their kids once the Boomer Generation (and I mean those who lived through the 1970s boom) are gone, along with their savings?

You want a bail out? The Italians are currently using buckets with holes in them in order to keep this ship afloat.

Monday, October 20

A Place Where Time Stands Still

This past weekend, there was an amazing Flea Market here in Rome. Amazing, not for its size or scope, but for the fact that it took place in the first place.

You see, Italy still remains unwaveringly beholden to the Bella Figura lifestyle, in all its forms of expression. And, selling your used belongings is one of the last bastions. In fact, for Italians, they believe that the Mercato delle Pulci means that the stuff most certainly is full of fleas. Basically, you will never find great pickings perched curbside in Italy. For us New Yorkers, rummaging down Madison Avenue was almost a weekly pastime. I have furnished entire kitchens, recovered gorgeous sofas and resurrected fine chaise lounges from the pickings.

In the U.S. suburbs, signs even on the haughtiest of boulevards call out ‘Garage Sale’. Almost everyone takes a drive by to see what's on offer.
In Italy, these signs are tantamount to declaring, “My husband ran off with his 20 yr. old lover leaving me unemployed and penniless and my children in torn rags playing in the gutters, so I have nothing left but to sell my dishes."

There is, however, another reason for this madness. The Tax Man. Basically, the government wants to get its hands on “unofficial business” or, the 20% Value Added Tax receipts (even though you already paid in spades at the cashiers' for the items in the first place). So, if you wanted to hold a garage sale, you’d have to first obtain a permit (5 years), then open a business (another 2 years and $48000 later), and then issue receipts for your business engagement. In fact, since the advent of Ebay, the government continues to wrack its collective brains about how they can ‘stick it’ to all these mega-millionaires out there selling their Spiderman action figures, old Topo Gigios and outdated Readers Digest cassettes.

Thus, in building after building, apartment after apartment, people confine in sort of makeshift museums the hordes of grandma’s china, huge ugly-as-sin dressers, clothes, nightstands, videotapes and every sort of object inherited over the decades – never to be thrown out and certainly not to be sold. Italy's housing shortage is not due to the fact that apartments are filled, but rather, that they are left empty as warehouses of generations of belongings.
In the event that you actually do find an apartment rental, you are forced to live with the cheesy junk as it was left, circa 1947. And I ask, what kind of Bella Figura do you cut when friends come over for dinner?

Friday, October 17

Those Dastardly Brits

Once again, I am compelled by the absurdity of the situation to look beyond my borders to bring you some news: A quick look through the local papers, and it would appear the Brits like making as many inane laws as the Italians. Whereas usually in Italy it's the judges who bring down wildly incomprehensible sentences...like when one said a woman who is raped while wearing jeans is obviously consenting to the act...for the difficulty of taking them on/off (never mind she might have a gun to her head)...Or, that 36 year olds living at home are entitled to an allowance.

But these days, it's the UK that seems to be taking the cake.

- First they are toying with a ruling that would allow -- I repeat, allow, teachers to have sex with students, even minors. Or, not make it a felony, in the very least.

- Then, in a country in which dozens of young men have died by knifings, a fashion house decided to take advantage of the exploding market and sell a coat with a knife already in the pocket...I guess they're putting new meaning to the word pocketknife. They're looking into a law against this one.

- But, to moderate the violence, they passed a law that it would be a crime for parents to hit children which leave marks. But, many lawmakers don't think that goes far enough, so they want to include slapping in the bill, too. So, who's going to tell the tots what their rights are? And, how to dial emergency when it should happen?

- And lately, the government has been entertaining the possibility of introducing (or not) Sharia law in the UK. Considering that the number 1 name over there is now Mohammmed, perhaps that wouldn't be such a hot idea right about now.

And the UK Independent newspaper actually had the nerve to whinge...(and directly quote Byron I might add), "that in Italy, if it's fun, there's probably a law that outlaws it"...
At least Italy appears to be going in the right direction!

Tuesday, October 14

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

It's not only the markets that are behaving erratically...it seems everyone is losin' it these days...

- In an unprecedented display of pent up hostility, a man hopped over the counter and started pummeling a Post Office clerk.

I say it was probably for refusing to sell stamps or take a letter because the address wasn't written in black ink. And, his frustration was probably at the hands of the same teller who attempted to refuse my letter because I wrote UK instead of Gran Bretagna.
So now we know the real reason behind those thick glass windows...it's not for the oodles of money they handle on a daily basis, it's to prevent incidents like this one from occurring. Or, as a clerk smugly responded when I said I could not hear her through the glass, "That's what it's for".

- And, speaking of being pummelled, a High School Prof of fine arts was socked in the face by an irate student. After 32 years of service, he has decided to quit his job.
Now I'm not one to incite violence, but...have we perhaps finally discovered one way to get these guys to relinquish their positions so that younger people can finally step in and make their way up the ladder?

- They instituted at the Office of the President of the Republic, turnstiles to track employees' comings and goings in an effort to reduce absenteeism. Already, absenteeism had gone way down.
But one guy who had gone hunting with a friend (not Dick Cheney) during office hours and was shot in the leg, later claimed it had happened while at work and tried to claim workman's comp among other things.
Thankfully, they have since proved him wrong and are throwing the book at him. He may -- I stress may -- even lose his job.

- A woman who nearly missed ending up paralyzed by work from a fraudulent dentist went and filed a complaint with the 'authorities'. Their esteemed response? 'Take your case to the satirical comic show, Striscia la Notizie (a sort of SNL of Italy) and you might get faster and better results.' Well, that's what she did.

- And finally, in the ultimate test of sheer chutzpah, two on-duty taxi drivers were caught on film jumping out of their cabs just in time to steal two vespas and hide them, before going back on duty...They too, will most likely get to keep their jobs...

Saturday, October 11

The Hospitality of Hosting Ospiti

I’ve had wonderful friends from Milan staying with me this week; quite a houseful with their two little kids. Needless to say, it’s been great and very unstressful.
That’s because, when you have Italian house guests, you really don’t have to do anything save for a pot of espresso each morning. Most Italians don’t even do breakfast, and if they do, it consists of a few cookies dunked in their milk or bambiniccino (my word).

But, even better, you don’t have to do any tidying up prior to arrival. In fact, you can remove every single thing from every single surface, including the pillows on the couch, sterilize the kitchen counters, shine up the fixtures until they glow, and banish the dog to the balcony – with no effect whatsoever: No matter what you do, when they first walk in, the house will still be considered by all an absolute wreck ready for demolition. In fact, your guests will appear a little nervous thinking that homeless people will be at the door at any moment to rifle through the rubble. No matter what you do, your house will never ever come close to the cleanliness bar set by a typical Italian household.

The next advantage is, you don’t ever have to do laundry. Incredibly, considering that this is the land of high-thread-count Frette sheets, Armani towels, and hand-spun linens, you can just save your money. That’s because, Italian house guests come with their own linens. At first, I thought it was a most-outlandish practice, especially since they don’t know my bed size (U.S. sizes no less). But now, I kind of revel in the lack of work involved post-visit.

And, finally, if you cook in, since no Italian worth their sale fino would ever entrust an American to cook their pasta (and rightly so), you get time off on that front, too.

I have now understood why the word Ospite in Italian means both “host” and “guest” -- they are one in the same!

Wednesday, October 8

Attenzione Tutte le Mamme!

This is so serious, I've decided to make my very own PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT. Of course, it's a weak attempt on my part to change centuries of Fear of Air in the Italian mamma psyche. But, there is one thing that trumps all the superstitions and unfounded fears: Health Issues. Take one look at the hordes of people visiting the local pharmacies here, and you'll see what I mean. But I digress.

This little bit of news, not picked up by any Italian newspaper, lest it spark a mad rush on pediatricians' offices, hospitals, psychologists and, not least of which, appliance stores, is earth shattering in its boldness:


I'll write in Italian, just for good measure in the hopes that just one mamma out there actually reads my blog:


Obviously, that implies that the fans are turned on each evening.

And of course, for you Italians out there, that would also imply that the fan goes on in your bedroom since that's probably where the baby will be for the next 12 years of his life.

Hopefully, this Public Service Announcement can stop the shutting of all windows, doors, sealing of cracks and other means of restricting all air to the little bambini of the Bel Paese.

Click here to read full report (or see side panel Notizie).

Friday, October 3

Italian Traditions: Something to just die over

I’m sorry to report that the old lady upstairs passed away. She was 89. How I found out about this of course, wasn’t from the fact that I no longer heard her drag her daily chair across my forehead each morning at 6:25am sharp. Nor, was it the sudden drop in centimeters of dust and threads that she enjoyed shaking out over my balcony each and every day.

I discovered the event upon coming home to find the front door of our building layered in 29 ft. long grey velvet drapes with gold trim. I naturally figured that either the Pope was coming to visit or that Liberace had just moved into that empty first floor apartment.
Turns out, I was wrong on both accounts.

In Italy, you will not find the traditional funeral parlours as depicted in “Six Feet Under”. The funeral parlour comes to you, so to speak. They decorate the doorways, and for a few days you get to contemplate the sands of time passing; along with the bonus of feeling like you’re going to either meet your maker or the Wizard of Oz each time you bring home your groceries.

Thankfully, people aren’t laid in state in the home anymore. There’s a nice little room right at the hospital for these sorts of activities. Very cold and uninviting, people congregate in the corridors as if waiting to give blood. I almost expected to get some cookies and juice after paying my last respects. Actually, I believe this is either seriously poor marketing, or a strong case for unusual efficiency.
Think about it: “Mamma, look on the bright side! If the operation doesn’t go so well, we’ll all be waiting for you just downstairs near the lobby!”
Funerals themselves are much the same as in the U.S., if they take place in big cities. But in little towns, everyone walks to the cemetery behind the hearse with singing choir people bringing up the tail. It may not be Six Feet Under, but, it sure can feel a lot like the Godfather Part II.

Wednesday, October 1

Tante Belle Cose - Sept08

Well, this month has been filled with good news--largely because in September, my free papers returned to print, so, I've been able to find the good news to begin with! But, above and beyond the fact that Alitalia got it's flight license renewed (and you know, in some circles, that's not such good news), here are a few choice pickings:

TrenItalia caved to pressure and rescinded its dog ban...Trevor is quite pleased about this one. And don't worry, all you non-dog people out there, he still prefers traveling in his doggy bag.
In the meantime, no one over there can truly explain how those dozens of dogs wreak more havoc than those millions of passengers...

Speaking of cleaning things up...my very own late night drives around town can confirm that the prostitutes are out of business (at least the street walkers, anyway). Rome's mayor started giving fines to those who stopped for a "chat" and, lo and behold...business was down.
Not that he truly resolved the issue -- turns out they've just set up shop outside the city limits.

The EU has brought down the ax on the Telecoms Companies -- stating that the charge for text messaging (sms) is out of hand and out of line. Naturally, Italian sms msgs cost even more than the rest of the Europe. So, look for declining phone bills shortly.
Perhaps because Italy is the land of Dante, Cicero, poets and priests...could it be that our messages are just longer, thus justifying the cost?

And, Italy finally joins most of the real world, in that little children can finally take their mothers' last names. This is Big Stuff and all the more important given the divorce rate.
Although, it did lead one commentator to speculate, 'what with the Mamma-society we already are, what will be left now for Dear ol'Dad??'

Saturday, September 27


Well, the dado è stato tirato, or the dice have been thrown (or better yet, the towel's been thrown into the ring...) and they're busy repainting the planes with the symbol CAI as we speak. Even Armani is probably busy designing new outfits for the crew, too.

In celebration, I would like to provide my very own PINK SLIP report on the sheer numbers of employees who will be let go in order to get the new airline off the ground. I might add, it is this cost and their relative benefits which have brought the airline to its knees...
just click on image to expand chart

Wednesday, September 24

Alitalia's Reality: Lost or Survivor?

It finally dawned on me what the ups and downs behind the Alitalia deal is truly all about. It seems that it’s the no. 1 Reality Show in town, taking place on a station near you. Will the pilots get voted off the air? Send your text message and we’ll see...Will the show get canceled? They have until midnight on Thursday, no, make it next Monday, no, the end of the month, no, next week…

It seems the entire country is following this reality show day in and day out – but with the disconcerting air that it is all, in fact, unreal. The offers are not truly offers, the buyers are not really who they say they are, the pilots agree then they disagree, then they want to stay, then they will soon be leaving. All brought to you by your sponsor, the Italian taxpayer bailout.

As of today, we have the pilots trying to launch a management buyout (and if that’s not putting the wolves in charge of the hen house I don’t know what is). And, do we really want a motor scooter guy to run an airline? It’s not quite the same thing, is it?

Why they don’t pull the plug is beyond me. Everyone keeps saying 20000 families will end up on the streets. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like the pseudo stars of reality shows, they’ll get to go on 4 year shopping sprees and sip Margheritas in the Maldives. Pilots will receive 4 years pay scot free, most other employees, around three.

In the meantime, they will get rehired by whomever takes up the slots and the planes and starts flying the friendly skies again. But they get to keep the prize money.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.

Friday, September 19

Italy -vs - Spain Tourism made easy

Ever have one of those days? Departing for Barcelona, suddenly I was thrust into a little microcosm of petty inconveniences which, when they hit you on a one shot basis, bug you a little bit, but quickly go (almost) unnoticed. But when they come so fast and furious, you start to feel like the poor protagonist from that terrific cult movie --except in my case it all occurred in about 1/8th of the time.

The day started out innocently enough, with the usual walk around the block dodging the landmines left across my path by deficient dog owners…and over to my lovely garage guy who brings me my morning paper. Off to the Post Office (which I fondly refer to as my reading room) to pay a bill, I mistakenly handed her two of the same bill. Not noticing that the amount was identical, I was then berated for my inattentiveness and forced to endure signing my first, third and seventh born sons over to Poste Italiane in order to rectify the matter.

Then, it was off to the airport via bus to the train station. After waiting the cursory 30 minutes for a 6 min ride belly button to belly button with people I’d rather not be in such a predicament (and, I’m sure they with me), I asked someone to please step aside so I can retrieve my suitcase. Naturally, she refused to budge. Jumping out of the bus just before the doors closed on me, I trudged past the throngs of homeless camping out at Stazione Ostiense.

At the station, I decided not to use the trusty ticket machines seeing there was no wait in line. Having packed my purse in the suitcase lest the homeless station greeters or the wandering gypsies get the better of it, I was armed with a 20. The ticket was 11 euro -- and naturally, I had to undergo a dressing down by the ticket man for not having any change to give him. I remarked that filling his change drawer was not, in fact, the passengers’ responsibility -- to no avail -- and I promised myself I would never use a ticket window again as long as I walk the earth.

Of course, both escalators were out of service, but I knew I had to endure lugging my bag up the steps to the only platform without an elevator. From there, it was onto the train devised precisely to not allow anyone with a bag larger than a wallet. Perfectly on time, we ended up accumulating an 11 min. delay in the 3 mins. it took to Stazione Trastevere.

At the airport, check in on Spain’s ClickAir went flawlessly. Finding no outlets for my mac, I happily plugged in at a closed Gate counter. When a nearby gate opened up, I was accosted by the Flight Attendant guy: “You can’t do that!!! It is outlawed and against all rules!! Who let you do that?” I coyly responded that if he could kindly show me an outlet in the entire International Terminal, I’d gladly go someplace else to hook up.

“Do you have permission?” he countered. Naturally, I did what people do best, I lied. Magnificently. “Well then, it’s okay.” (so much for rules and regulations, however one of the highlights of living in Italy, I must add). At which point, he proceeded to compliment me on my clothes, my look, and ask the backhanded mother of all queries, "Why’d you come to Italy? Your husband?” Hoping to find I was single. Needless to say, I lied again.

Scheduled for Gate B8, we suddenly heard an ominous loudspeaker announcement alerting us that many flights would be canceled or delayed due to a sudden Air Transport strike. No sooner had I heard the broadcast than I looked up and my flight disappeared off my gate’s screen and every screen back to the departures lounge.
There, we were assured that there was a simple gate change – of course, unannounced.

Racing to the gate with a Catalan woman, she was practically crying, “I just want to go home.”

Sunday, September 14

Alitalia & the (funny) men at the helm

Call me superstitious, but it seems that the aviation industry in Italy truly never got off to a great start. After all, Italy is the land of poets and seamen -- nearly all of the captains and crew of ships sailing the seven seas are Italian. But frankly, I think things started off poorly because of the names—and although Alitalia is a terrific name, it did lend itself well to the epithet: Always Late In Takeoffs, Always Late In Arrivals.

Malpensa (“Ill thought”) Airport never quite took off. It’s now practically out of business. Only AirOne (“Heron”) managed to understand the importance of a good brand; even though it was also the name of an Italian nature magazine.

And so, it has not escaped me, that the people in charge of Alitalia’s revival have names that could errrr … not bode so well for the future of the newly formed Compagnia Aerea Italiana (CAI)*.

We start out okay, with Mr. Passera (“Hedge Sparrow”) from the Banca San Paolo, obviously putting his eggs in one basket, but hoping that others will join his flock and endeavor to let the CAI take to flight.

But, I lose all faith when the man in charge as Commissioner of Alitalia is Augusto Fantozzi -- Fantozzi being a favorite bungling figure of Italy’s film industry, a sort of Mr. Magoo. As Adam, God said to him, "Go out and multiply...as little as possible!"
One of his films was, Fantozzi contro tutti - Fantozzi against the world. Perhaps Augusto should take a look at it to see the outcome…

Next comes the Ministro del Lavoro, and the man who has his pulse on the numbers of people who will either be dismissed or, in the case of bankruptcy, sent home for good. This job is left to the appropriately named, Mr. Sacconi (“large sacks” like garbage bags). Certainly, when they say they’ve been sacked, nothing could be closer to the truth.

And while the white knight in this grouping, the President-to-be of the NewCo, Roberto Colaninno thankfully was christened with a name of no real derivation, I must add though, that the verb, Colare means to strain (unfortunately, not the kind he's doing as we speak, but the kind used for pasta). Precisely what he is trying to do by catching the good bits of Alitalia and basically washing down the drain the others.

But then again, “colare a picco” does mean ‘sinking straight to the bottom.’

*CAI is the name of a long-standing hiking group in Italy. Does this mean that, in the case of flight cancellations we should all just go take a hike?

Friday, September 12

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 9

Hadrian...Made in Italy

While in London I treated myself to a magnificent show about Hadrian at the outstanding British Museum. One of the greatest men to ever have lived, it did not disappoint. And despite the somewhat boring audioguide, I did learn a bit about this great poet Emperor of ours whose immense burial tomb is now Castel Sant’Angelo.

In Hadrian’s time, just like today, oil was the big issue – olive oil, that is. It fueled the empire, it was taxed and transported far and wide, and those that had it were pretty well off. Although at the helm of a fairly united Europe, Hadrian was unable to contain the Brits (probably for their lousy weather…after all, who’d want to occupy their country anyway?). And the Libyans and the Palestinians were regularly in revolt.

What is not quite common knowledge is that Hadrian was actually of Spanish stock. Given the rivalry these days between these two countries, well, I don’t blame the Italians for sweeping that little detail under the tapestry, so to speak. One might have noticed, however, since his beautiful head of curly locks did not reveal that most Italian of conditions…male pattern baldness. But soon enough (after being adopted by the childless Trajan), he certainly took on some Italian habits of his own.

Of course, like most politicians, he was duly married to the lovely Sabina, but had an open and long term relationship with a stunning youth (judging by the statues on hand), Antinous. While today, those paramours are still tightly kept secrets, I can assure you, they’re still going strong—after all, it’s a long-standing tradition.

His very first act upon attaining high office was to cancel tax debts, not unlike our new government which has also banished the housing tax on their first day on the job -- a terrific tactic to please the populace.

Hadrian also built himself a villa fit for an errrrr Emperor. Standing at Tivoli with over 900 rooms, I can say it’s a bit more over the top than most of today’s politicians' homes, but, I’m sure the artwork and entertainments that go on inside are right up his alley.

But Hadrian, like Trajan before him, took the reproduction thing one step further than our single-child Italians – he remained childless (for my very own explanation, see affair above) and adopted a few nieces and great nieces to keep things going.

Note: the word for nepotism comes from the word nipote, meaning nephew…a hallmark of the Italian way.

And finally, despite being a marked man, (he had a creased earlobe, a telltale sign of coronary artery disease), he lived a very long time, dying at the ripe old age of 62.

I don’t need any further proof than this, though, that the Italian 'Quality of Life' with its accompanying glass of red wine a day will certainly let you go far.