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, 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.