Thursday, August 28

The Olympians

A few people have asked me to weigh in on the Olympics, although I must say, I was so proud of the Italians that I really didn’t have a barb ready and waiting to put fingertips to keyboard. Proud, first because our athletes were so awesome. And I didn’t care about the medals. The coverage of their stamina, their training and dedication was awe-inspiring, especially the women.

Every four years you can look forward to a split second in time when women are on TV, yes, still scantily dressed (just take a look at the beach volleyball teams), but revered for their prowess, their acumen, their commitment. The sportscasters get it, the country gets it, so why can’t it last longer than a few weeks?

But, these Olympics are even more awesome when one looks around the country and thinks… they have athletes here? (soccer players not included, of course).
No class of citizens here called Soccer Moms (for which we are all extremely grateful), no after school sightings of kids in jerseys, and certainly none of those thick football player necks and skulls and perky cheerleaders (although with the obsession of eye candy, I'm not quite sure why this hasn't caught on). I remember years back when I lived in Parma, they had the No. 1 baseball team in the country (yes, baseball). Almost everyone on it was American.

Another reason I loved the Olympics this year was the age of some of the players. Although I’m partial to having non-professionals compete, I was thrilled that some of the leading teammates were pushing 40 or more, which made them about 5 times the average age of the Chinese “women’s” gymnasts. In what is just about the oldest country on earth, and despite its obsession with youth, this was yet another inspirational feat.

But, the real reason why I love watching the Olympics in Italy are the newscasters. They show an extreme love of the sport, the game, the players. They are not cheerleaders like in the U.S. They analyze moves, strategy, the competition. Italy was just as thrilled by Phelps as if he had been one of their own. The screens split and show us other games, and not just those focusing on Italians.

But most importantly, they spare us the ridiculous sob story blather that plagues reporting in America: “Did you know, Mike, that Julie once had an ingrown toenail so bad, that, if it had ever gotten infected, she might not be competing in the long distance today???”
Italy garnered some well-deserved medals. But they get the gold in reporting.

Sunday, August 24

Here Comes the Bride

When visiting Italy, with its astounding number of charming churches, stunning scenery and perfect piazzas, you will find an added attraction: wedding couples having their photographs taken in full dress. The brides coming out of churches, crossing the gardens, or sitting in front of fountains always stop crowds.

While friends and I were enjoying granitas in Castel Gondolfo, directly in front of the already picture perfect entrance to the Pope’s residence (replete with Swiss Guards, no less), we were graced by a young couple in the piazza.

We looked on as the groom, in his sparkling tuxedo (I must admit, we first thought it was wet), was asked to twirl his bride around. Shots completed, everyone set out for the next gorgeous promenade to set up the next shot. Well, everyone except the bride, that is.

While the best man, the groom and the photographer headed across the piazza, our damsel became distressed. Her heel had caught on her train. As she struggled to set herself free, the men, now fully across the piazza, just kept right on truckin’. Finally, although by this time, she was already on her way, all by herself and toting her bouquet, her husband-to-be turned to wait. A collective whew! rose from the crowd of onlookers.

But as soon as she reached him, off the groom was again, leaving his beautiful bride in the fairy sparkle dust coming off his tails.

Now we all know, love and accept life in the Mediterranean, where men are men and women are (usually) treated like women, but this was a bit much. While debating whether to call out, It’s not too late to change your mind!, we watched to see if she would throw that silk shoe of hers at his head.

Sad to say, she simply picked up her dress and scuttled on behind him.

"He never even noticed my outfit!" photo from

Friday, August 15

Under Wraps

One of my most favorite columns ever pre-blogosphere, that is, was the article by humorist Dave Barry on his trip to Italy. I still have a copy of it as it nearly killed me with laughter. It was mostly about the Italian drivers he came across during his holiday, but he also stated something so obvious I had never thought about it before:

August is a time when everybody in Italy goes on vacation – including the statues – and every building seems to be wrapped up, under restoration.

It's true: every July, for some strange reason, builders across the boot are busy as bees putting up scaffolding and tarps across pretty much every façade in sight. They give one hope -- a nation intent on showcasing its cultural treasures for all the world to see. But come August 1st, they only call it quits -- leaving the tourists with a cute little ‘Name that Palazzo’ game to play over their summer holiday.

I can’t figure out the rationale, other than getting set to go come September. But, once again, in a country dependent on tourism, you sometimes gotta scratch your head in wonder.

But, applying my own little conspiracy theory…from the looks of it, it would seem that while the workers may be officially on holiday, they’re all double-dipping in and around the very scaffolding that should be as still as a humid Milan summer’s night. Because come fall, when work resumes, and they eventually rip down the tarps, neighbors who once had a perfect view of that dome in the distance, now see a 4 bedroom party palace for some amico or another of some unnamed City official.

I suggest someone start making those groovy little books with the plastic drawings overtop so you can see what the Building looked like before August, and compare it to what it looks like now.

picture of Torre dell'Orologio in Venice's St. Marks Square, designed by famed photographer, Olivero Toscani who obviously figured, if they can bring Venice to Vegas, they can certainly set Pisa in Piazza San Marco

Monday, August 11

Slurp at your own risk

Spring is in the Air. And with it, come the maladies of the season. The other day, I was shocked by the huge title ticking across the Telegiornale Newscast screen. Even though summer after summer this news repeats itself: A little boy had died of congestion after drinking a slurpy (granita, in Italian).

Now. I am certain that the bereaved parents do not think this is a laughing matter, and nor do I. After all, one moment he was a healthy kid, slurping away, the next he was gone. But, I truly cannot believe we have the whole story here.
After all, if this were true, America, with its Monster Cup drinks and slurpys would have a literal holocaust of pre-teens. Surely, cinemas and 7-11s would be offering funeral parlour services and viewing rooms just out the back exit.

I am not a physician, so, I don’t know if one can actually die of the malady that reveals its ugly head each summer. Congestion. It’s a term I thought had gone away with the bubonic plague. But it seems to afflict thousands who foolishly dive in the chilly (in August?) waters right after downing their last piece of watermelon over pranzo. And each August, we are regaled almost daily by accounts of those who perished in their folly.

More than congestion, I simply wonder if one can die of an extreme case of Brain Freeze. As when it hits, you are immobilized instantly and do, in effect, feel like you’re going to meet your maker. They pose such a risk, that I'm sure by now in America, monster cups come with their own warning sign: Slurp at your own risk.

As for me, I’ll take my chances and keep ordering up granitas – my favorite flavour, limoncello.

But for an excellent exposé on Brain Freeze click here.

Tuesday, August 5

Inshallah: Italy's brush with terrorism

Talking with friends, we were all a bit incredulous as to how come Italy has not undergone an attack on the order of Madrid, London or Bali. After all, the Italians were (and still are) a part of the 'Coalition of the Willing' to go into Iraq with America.
And then, I received this humorous entry from an Italian friend – I’ve taken the liberty of translating it (liberally), although the author is unknown. So as not to plagiarize our witty auteur, I will quote:

“Two terrorists, intent on wreaking havoc on the infidels of the Bel Paese, arrive in Naples. This is how it went:

Domenica, 23:47
Arrival in Naples from Turkey.
They leave airport only 8 hours after arrival, having waited all day for their bags which never arrived. And while the airport baggage service declined any responsibility, they are advised to try again the next day…after all, one never knows…
They get in a taxi. The (illegal) taxi driver checks them out in the rear view mirror, and, seeing that they’re foreigners, takes them for a ride around the entire city in over an hour and a half.

Even after the taxometer reaches over 200 euro, they prefer not to pipe up. But, to their misfortune, arriving at the traffic circle of Villaricca, the taxi slows down and in slides an accomplice. After having beaten them nearly to death and taken all their money, they leave the poor souls at Rione 167 near Secondigliano.

Lunedì ore 04:30
Upon reawakening from their tortuous adventure, the terrorists manage to get to their hotel near the Stock Exchange. In the morning, they decide to rent a car from Hertz in the Piazza Municipio. They start to head back towards the airport, but just before reaching Piazza Mazzini, they’re blockaded by a street protest against the garbage, united by students, no-global protesters and a mix of unemployed neapolitans.

Lunedì ore 12:30
Finally in Piazza Garibaldi, they decide to exchange some more money. Their dollar bills are promptly exchanged for 100 euro in counterfeit money.

Lunedì ore 15:45
Once at the Capodichino Airport, they intend to set in motion their plan to hijack a plane so that they can crash it into the Enel Electric tower and headquarters.
Unfortunately, Alitalia pilots are on strike; asking to quadruple their salaries and work fewer hours.
Joining them are the Air Traffic Controllers who also ask that each passenger checks and stamps their own flight paths, just as the train passengers do with their tickets ("after all, what kind of controllers are we?", they ask).
The only available plane is Maradona Air, going to Alghero (Sardinia), with 18 hours delay. The staff and passengers are camped out in the waiting rooms singing Sardinian folk songs mixed with slogans against the government and pilots.
Suddenly, they are descended upon my maurading gangs, 'the celerini', who begin to wreak havoc on the passengers, striking our two terrorists with particular fury.

Lunedì 19:05
Finally, things appear to calm down. The Sons of Allah, covered in blood, go up to the Maradona Air counter to purchase two tickets instead to Sassari, so they may hijack it and ram it into the Enel tower.
They are sold the tickets but, unbeknownst to them, the flight has already been cancelled.

Lunedì 22:07
At this point, the terrorists argue over whether to continue their mission or not—they can’t decide whether destroying Naples is an act of terrorism or one of god-given charity.

Lunedì 23:30
Starving, they decide to grab a bite to eat at the airport restaurant. They get frittata sandwiches with a bit of mussels.

Martedì 04:35
Overcome by a wicked case of food poisoning from the frittata, they end up in the San Gennaro Hospital. They’re forced to spend all night in the hallway of the Emergency Room. It would have all passed in a few days, if it hadn’t been for the bad case of cholera which ensued, caused by the mussels.

Domenica 17:20
After 12 days in the hospital, they find themselves nearby the San Paolo stadium. Naples has just lost an at-home game against the up and coming Palermo, 3-0, after two penalty kicks going to the Sicilians and given by the Referee, Concettino Riina da Corleone.
A band of ultra nazi-skin fans from the “Masseria Cardone”, upon seeing the two dark-skinned men, mistakes them for Palermo fans and then proceeds to pummel them to a pulp. Adding insult to injury, the boss of the ultra group, a certain “Peppo o’Ricchione”, sexually abuses them both.

Domenica 19:45
Satisfied, the ultras finally leave. The two terrorists decide to get drunk (even if it’s a sin!) for the first time in their lives. In a little hovel near the port, they are served wine tainted with methanol and again the two ne'er-do-wells find themselves admitted once again to San Gennaro for toxicity.
The doctors discover them to have the HIV virus (a little gift from Peppo).

Martedì 23:42
The two terrorists escape from Italy on a homemade raft heading toward Libia.

Still queasy from the methanol, and with the onset of a variety of infections from the HIV, they swear by Allah that they will never ever make such another attempt to attack the Bel Paese, as long as they live."

Saturday, August 2

Tante Belle Cose - July08

This month, Italy is on the move. And, within all the negative information on the 14+ million people on the road for the August holidays, the skyrocketing cost of gas, train tickets at record highs, there are many good things happening in the world of transport (not least of which, the eventual sale or demise of Alitalia)…

Italy’s Eurostar – The train I love to hate has actually been recognized as the safest on the tracks, and probably the best made. The rest of Europe will soon be taking Italy’s engineering prowess to their own drawing boards.

Shame that the announcement came just days before -- in two separate incidents – two carriages split right in two whilst being towed.

The Great Italian Vespa – High gas prices in the USA have delivered great news to the Agnelli-owned Piaggio Company, makers of the illustrious Vespa. Even with the low dollar, sales are up 150%.

Of course, the Company doesn't mention that they went from selling one Vespa per year up now to three.

Rome’s Horse Carriages – Animal rights groups are partially rejoicing after trying to remove the buggies which take tourists around Rome. They won’t be removed, but, will undergo surprise checks to see that the horses are not abused, are stationed in the shade and, in the summer heat, will not be available between the hours of 13.00-17.00.

Now, if we can just get these same groups to fight for human rights and get air-conditioning on the buses between the hours of 13.00 and 17.00, they might help put an end to our misery.