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'.