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 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.

Thursday, September 4

What goes up...

Well, if we are to believe what we read (and, at this stage in the game, I wouldn’t if I were you), it looks like Alitalia [code-named: la Fenice - the Phoenix] may be rising up from its ashes.

Italy, not used to firings (I even tried to look up the definition of esuberi and it wasn’t in there) is having a hard time swallowing the numbers being thrown around on those whose wings get clipped. Air France started out with 4000. Then, Berlusconi said no one had to go – once again showing his true business sense – and acting a lot more like a communist than an entrepreneur. Next, it was 2000 by the illustrious Fenice group. Like a barometer, yesterday’s reading is around 7000, today it’s 4500.

But, I digress. I really wanted to tell you about my own risk-taking adventure on Alitalia, Rome-London. Risk because I thought if this buyout didn't work out, I may just be stranded in this soggy city for longer than I intended…

At check-in, Alitalia has obviously placed so much faith in technology, there are hundreds of machines to choose from and no one manning the counters. You had a choice between domestic and international. I was going to London thru Milan. Where did I go? Trying domestic, I was sent to international.

After 15 mins. in line watching 6 people chat among themselves while one checked people in, I walk up to the counter and was told it was closed. Just in time for the person behind me to reach the next slot…
Alitalia Flight Crew

On board, we sat on the runway for 90 mins. but were duly informed it was due to security and I was all for it. The personnel (including the pilots) was highly efficient. But considering we were about 80 people in a small plane, I was surprised to find three guys in cabin class. I’ve taken huge Airbuses packed full to South Africa with 300 in cabin class and we didn’t have three flight attendants. These guys were so busy tripping all over themselves that they reminded me of Chip n’Dale: After you, no after you, no you, no you until they both get stuck in the doorway.

Amazingly, on both flights, they couldn’t manage to pick up my trash after refreshments. And me wearing an awfully low cut blouse (but I suppose in retrospect I was barking up the wrong tree…) All I know is that I for one, could make a few recommendations on personnel cuts.

La Fenice…wasn’t that the name of Venice’s famed opera house which burnt to the ground?

Tuesday, September 2

Tante Belle Cose - August 08

August was a strange month – one in which all my free newspapers were on holiday, so, it felt kind of weird but refreshing to have no news. I sort of liked feeling like an Albanian for awhile.

But, it was August and it was hot. So, when it came to flashing a bit of skin on the cover of magazines, was I surprised to see that Italy is having its own little anti-Berlusconi moment: Suddenly, the media is in love with stunning, sophisticated and dare we say it? Gorgeous older women.

There is a precedence because the entire country has been ga ga over Sharon Stone ever since her historical leg-cross scene (and I believe she was 36 at the time, twice the age of almost everyone in film or on TV). She’s aged beautifully—nothing that a few episodes of nip&tuck can’t take care of. And now, she’s even been seen with a man half her age. And even youthful but not young Jodie Foster is the face of my bank these days.

But this month saw 46 year old Simona Venturi gracing the cover of the Italian Vanity Fair. Followed by 44 yr. old Sabrina Ferrili being lauded in ads, on TV, in film and all the gossip and sports mags. Not quite satisfied, Vanity Fair just asked actor Monica Guerritore to pose nude at 50.

Aside from their looks, with the oldest population on earth, could Italy finally be facing up to the fact that readers and viewers are, in fact, on in years and no longer appreciate seeing tanga-clad nubile girls with Barbarella cone-like boobs?

Or, was it that viewership is off in the summer, so no one was really watching anyway?