Friday, December 25

War on Christmas - WTH?

Christmasy music has been playing 24/7 on some radio stations since November 1st. Windows have been dressed in red & green since Halloween, and Santa decorations compete with pumpkins (Although, just for the record, it's great for finding a Befana should you so desire). But this year, it seems Americans have an urgency to just get Christmas underway. With so much that has gone so wrong for so many, it seems Christmastime or ‘the holidays’, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just couldn’t come fast enough. People decorating their houses and yards to such an extent, you’d think Santa Claus was setting up a franchising network starting with your next door neighbor’s front yard.

It’s been a long while since I spent Christmas in the USA and it's usually a bit overwhelming. I prefer the Italian, more understated, more traditional celebrations, right down to the Vienna Philharmonic annual concert broadcast each New Years Day. Last year, hardly anyone noticed we were missing the gorgeous Christmas tree near the Colosseum, but thousands still flock to hear the Pope’s Christmas greetings.
America always seemed more about spend spend spend instead of spend some time with loved ones. But judging from the empty parking lots around the near-empty shopping malls, the store closures and the numerous articles on helping those less fortunate, maybe we’re actually having a helluva celebration. My nephews have rung the bells for the Salvation Army, sung for the old folks in the area, given toys for tots and more. Heck – even the number one movie depicting America’s grim present, Up in the Air is the big Christmas Hit (although I'd prefer to see Alvin-The Squeakuel…)

Thanks to the internet, as I reconnect with people from elementary school, old colleagues, friends and family while baking cookies, wrapping gifts and hearing choir concerts, well, I think it’s going to be a Buon Natale after all, and a pretty Buon Anno too.

Tanti Auguri a Tutti –wherever you may be celebrating the holidays.

Saturday, December 19

Tiger's Striped Past (and bright future)

You know you’ve been living in Europe far too long when you still cannot believe that (yet) another famous American man is held up to public ridicule for his private indiscretions. People coast to coast express their dismay, shake their heads, wag those fingers – it truly brings home the idea that this country was, indeed, founded by those early ‘Puritans’.

An Italian friend wrote to me, ‘I stand by Tiger’. And that pretty much sums up what most Europeans think of this truly American spectacle. Looking at many a politician, never mind a sports figure: Mussolini, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, heck – even a stripper elected in her ‘party of love’. The spectacle grows even more spectacular when we are onlookers (or peeping Toms) while the politician’s career explodes and his family life implodes into a front page view of blue dresses and cigars, airport bathrooms, mistresses, and Las Vegas porn stars.

I got to thinking that it may be that many of Tiger Woods’ sponsors have dropped or will drop him [Accenture’s ads, exhorting you to ‘Be a Tiger’ has decidedly taken on new meaning], he probably has a pretty good career ahead of him as a spokesperson in Europe – from golf courses to even Berlusconi’s own media empire, soccer club and more! Italians didn’t think twice when Pavarotti, after being fined for tax fraud, soon became the face of Monte dei Paschi (or Monte dei Pacchi, as I like to call them). Europeans simply keep private matters private, and, seeing Tiger’s transgressions overtaking real news all week, I’m all for it.

But, I must confess, I enjoy all of the Tiger jokes, the double entendres, and even what one sports columnist described as the now creepy (or totally hot, depending on how you look at it) PGA motto, “These guys are good.”

As for Nike, I think they’re sticking to Tiger and their moniker, “Just Do It”. Now there’s putting a face behind the brand.

Monday, December 14

Tennessee - America's Little Italy

It’s not just the Bella Figura of ‘Southern Hospitality’, the scandals simmering just below the surface, and the Gentleman’s Clubhouses…there’s more that Y’all have in common – or, at least in what meets the eye:

Villas cum Museums
/ These great Antebellum homes are the American update of the Papal dynasty palaces of days gone by. Many now house museums or religious universities, just like in Italy.

Politics / I have no recollection of someone actually shooting down their opponent in Italian politics, so the Tennesseeans win this one, hands down…but, I suppose that the fist fights we often see on the Italian Senate floor do count for something.

Regional Cuisine
/ They are proud of their food, and I must say, even vegetables here taste like the real thing (unlike in most parts of the USA).

Immigration / Here, it would seem the ‘extra-comunitari’ abound, much to the chagrin of the Christian locals. Ethnic groups are accepted and rejected in equal parts.

Public Spending
/ Just outside our offices, there is a multi-million dollar sink hole. What started out as the big dig for a huge housing – shopping complex, ran out of money somewhere along the line. And so the hole is now one gaping eyesore on the city scape, collecting trash and runoff water. Tales of people ignoring building permits to create their own mansions, siphon off the local water supply, and perhaps pay the fines later are ‘sulla bocca di tutti’.

Male Chauvinism / It’s not enough that a woman lawyer I know was called a ‘whore’ by the judge (just because she happened to be practicing in his court). And although most girls still don’t want to be showgirls, striving for their M.r.s. seems to still be a driving force in southern society.

Cars / Not everyone can own a pickup, but I have found the love for fast driving and sort of macho road posturing to come part and parcel with life in the south. And with it, guns and hunting are close to follow.

Music/ Starting with Opryland, the sad ballads and folk songs still make up a large part of the repertoire of music here in the South – not unlike those ballads that are regurgitated each year in San Remo.

Manmade lakes / Some of the finest scenery in Italy comes from the gorgeous lakes that Mussolini ordered built from damming up the waterways. Tennessee boasts no natural lakes at all; but to see these beautiful sights, you’d never notice the difference.

Their own brand of Mafia / even Al Capone came from Tennessee, although he’d be rolling in his grave to find the house he built for his mistress has now been converted to a restaurant and tourist attraction.

And finally, I'd like to make a little update to my Tennessee experience.  After having worked as Series Editor for a Nashville-based Company, I was owed over $20,000 in fees and expenses. Like good Italian companies (although the owners of are decidedly American), they've simply decided to ignore this detail while continuing to bilk hundreds - if not thousands - of unwitting subscribers out of their money.  Years after stopping operations, the website is still up & running, they take the money - and don't send you the books.  Just like many Companies in Italy.  As they say in the Old Country, Caveat Emptor.

Thursday, December 10

Giacomo Daniels, Anyone?

Having spent the last few days in Tennessee, I cannot for the life of me think of why all of the Italians didn’t settle right here. Talk about Little Italy – Tennessee, with its mountains on one side, its plains on the other, feels a lot like home (if you leave out the multitude of fast food joints, easy driving – down to 15mph in school zones and fried green tomatoes).

According to the constitution, Tennessee is “…three states within the great State of Tennessee.” That’s stuff that should bring Bossi & his Lega Party over on a ‘fact-finding mission’ faster than you can say “ethnophobic”. Western Tennessee, with Memphis, a hip urban place, not unlike Milan; more laid back Nashville, the music capital, where working hours are fairly short. And then, Eastern Tennessee, they say is sort of ‘backwards’ like the Mezzogiorno; they even have their own brand of Viking Sicilians there: people with olive skin and bright blue eyes. Who knew?

I’m pretty sure there are more churches here than in Rome, with people of all ages attending them on a regular basis; many even daily. Lest that be a deterrent to our Catholic brethren, judging by the number of scandals, affairs and divorces ‘sulla bocca di tutti’ over here, I think people would fit right in.

And then, there are the names. I’ve heard of someone here actually named Robert E. Lee (no relation to the actual one), Henry Clay, and today’s obituaries included a guy called ‘Hog’ (need I say, he died young?). Two guys whose first name is Bimbo were running for office. And while I’ve never met a Cristoforo Colombo in Italy, there are plenty of people who can’t change their names – and so we find the delightful Bevilacqua, Mangiapane, Napoleone (first name) and Buongiorno.

I was greeted today by little children who sang out, “Hello, Miss Francesca!” in chorus. Music to my ears, since it’s been a long while since I got the ‘Signorina’ greeting. The cordiality of the people (they may not say Buon Giorno when they pass, but everyone seems to smile and wave), the Bella Figura lifestyle, the villas, the nature -- I’m not sure if Tennessee could use a few good Italian restaurants, but I do know that Italians, if they caught onto this place, would truly find themselves ‘a casa’.

Monday, December 7

Amanda Knox: Did she, or didn't she?

Well, so many people have been asking me if the proud Ms. Peacock did it in the bedroom with a kitchen knife, I thought I'd put my hands into the fray surrounding Italy's first O.J. trial (leave it to the Americans to export this insane media frenzy, too).

Just like everyone poring the Italian papers, I was utterly convinced Amanda Knox was guilty, along with her Harry Potter-like boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito. Like the Preppy Murder 20 years before, could it be, as the prosecutor suggested, it was a sex game gone awry? But, looking at the American press, you begin to question her guilt. An excellent article in last summer's Newsweek makes a fairly non-biased summary of the very Italian convoluted 'trial procedures' (if you can call them that), which begin to illustrate the chaos of the case. To highlight just a few:

- Knox's original witness list contained 35 names but defense lawyers have retracted 23.
- The jury is not sequestered, and are allowed to talk with each other and read papers along the way.
- Sollecito's chief forensic consultant walked away from the case (and stuck lawyers with a 50,000 euro bill) in May because he disagreed with the defense strategy.
- The witnesses who actually testified for the defense caused even more confusion: two forensic scientists placed on the stand contradicted each other. (Sollecito's expert told the jury that Kercher was killed by a single assailant from behind; Knox's said Kercher was killed from the front).
- Sollecito's lead attorney, a parliamentarian in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, missed court for weeks.
- His other two attorneys dismantled their joint practice during the course of the case.

Furthermore, we have a guy already in jail for Meredith's murder, Rudy Guede, caught after a series of knife break-ins around Perugia and across Italy (and repeatedly released), and then picked up only after fleeing to Germany. In America, one of these three would have been fingered for the actual murder, the others as accomplices to the crime -- after all, how many people actually held the knife?

To this circus, one must evaluate the excellent observations made by an American journalist during another media circus trial: Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi in their book about a serial killer in Florence, quaintly called, Il Mostro - 'The Monster of Florence'. In a nutshell, they reveal that a) the prosecutor devises his own cockamany theory, then b) pursues it with unbridled fervor, c) stopping at nothing to prove his point. He then d) brings in sex cults and e) stuff straight out of a Sydney Sheldon novel, like accusing an innocent man in Perugia for running a black sect, and at one point, even arrests said journalist for being the mostro himself, despite the fact he was most likely at the Olive Garden (to be differentiated from 'an' Italian olive garden) near his home in the U.S. when it occurred. During all of this, the hungry media was fed lines -- no investigative reporting, just repeating the rumours endlessly for effect. In fact, all those accused by this loose cannon have been released by Italy's Supreme Court and the case remains unsolved.

This same prosecutor, with his fervid imagination, is the man behind the Foxy Knoxy trial.
And, while I agree with the Times' view that in Italy (as elsewhere, I might add), circumstantial evidence and on-trial behaviour is important; even with Amanda's conflicting stories, her base accusations that the police beat her (provoking them to sue her for slander), and all the other conflicts in this comedy of DNA errors, I cannot honestly state that she should be convicted 'beyond a shadow of a doubt'.

Friday, December 4

Tante Belle Cose - November / Print Media Edition

This past month, newspapers & magazines are pulling out all the stops to keep us reading, thinking, and conversing. They say 'necessity is the mother of invention' well, I haven't seen such genius in a long while...

Berlusconi lauded as 'Rock Star of the Year' by the Italian Rolling Stone.
Says Carlo Antonelli, Editor Rolling Stone, "This year the choice was unanimous, for his obvious merits due to a lifestyle for which the words 'rock and roll' fall short,"Rod Stewart, Brian Jones, Keith Richards in their prime were schoolboys compared to [Berlusconi]."
No further comment necessary.

From the files of 'tutto il mondo e' un paese'...Americans are creating a generation of their own mammones, but worse. These kids don't have all the traditions of la famiglia at their disposal, and yet, they're mammones all the same.
But at least this new societal malaise garners national cover attention.
Recognition is the first step toward recovery...

And then, the Wall Street Journal poses a loaded question on its very front page which I glimpsed right in glittery Times Square where the comparatively infintesimal ball will drop in just under a month. The now-octogenerian and truly beloved American Bandstand host Dick Clark, still rockin' 5 years after suffering a stroke is slated for New Years Eve.And they dare say it, "Isn't it time to pass the baton?"
After witnessing the recent passing of his Italian brother, Mike Bongiorno, who no one wanted to see departing this earth, I wonder if maybe the question shouldn't be posed first to certain politicians...

And, the best news yet: Tiger Woods' has done more for golfing with his 'transgressions' than even his golf score. His fall from grace has given the Golf industry its greatest drive ever.
I mean, who'da thought that a bunch of pot-bellied guys willingly donning lime green and plaid pants, goofy hats and riding around in cheesy carts could ever have a scandal so twisted it makes even Berlusconi pale by comparison.
Oh yes, Silvio, Tiger is tanned, too - so consider yourself doubly pale.

And with headlines like 'Tiger is a Cheet-ah', from the New York Post, who says that newspapers are dead?

Tuesday, December 1

Capitol Punishment

When visiting our nation's capital, two things stand out: One, the lack of people roaming the streets midday, and the average age of people when you do finally see them. In fact, I now see why visitors to Rome always ask me, "Does anyone work here?" I believe that's due to the numbers of government employees who get out at 2pm (but work saturdays), if that's still the case. Of course, don't ask a Milanese, but I think Romans are quite hard-working. They did away with the siestas and Italians generally clock in a good 11 hours at work. And then, of course, you have to consider the numbers who work in their regular jobs and then work in their other (black market) jobs...but I digress.

Once you get beyond the lack of humans on those huge thoroughfares lining Washington DC, you then notice the sheer numbers of homeless. It seems the homeless really took note of that inscription upon Lady Liberty (see entry below). It's no wonder they dim the lights so low in the subway. Everyone sort of seems like they're taking part in a fine evening cabaret, shopping carts and all. That lighting did wonders for my self-esteem.

But after hanging out at Union Station at lunchtime, I was very nervous to leave the place and go down into the subway there. Judging by the faces of all these yuppies, I was convinced that the moment I stepped out onto the curb, a huge machine would scoop me up for soylent green. Nowhere did I see anyone over 40. And, adding credence to my theory, only the homeless seemed to age here -- perhaps they would soil the food rations?

Now I see why we hold our graying Supreme Court Justices in such high regard. We put them in a special building, robes and all. They can't ever leave their office, lest they, too, get scooped up and made into soylent green. So, they're only replaced when they die -- in fact, come to think of it, those who have 'retired', were never seen thereafter in public.

Let's just say, I was happy to leave DC safe and sound.

Tuesday, November 24

Living in America

Any visitor to any country, will immediately identify three things that truly signifies they are no longer at home. In Nepal, it could be the cows roaming the streets, the garbage flying out the windows, and the constant bartering. In the USA, I found:

1) The huge cars - Attending a soccer game in New Jersey, each auto seemed one version or another of a strange metallic Mammoth species. These SUVs, Maxi-vans (whoever called them mini was clearly misguided), and immense pickup trucks made me feel like Stuart Little.
While giving thanks this holiday season that the roads are equally large, I also realized how fortunate we are in Europe to have roads far too small to accommodate these monoliths. Although they make their presence known, in Italy they are still easy to pick out of a crowd. In the gas-guzzling, super-sized America, there are entire fleets of these vehicles seemingly moving along roads like an oversized swarm of giant locusts.
Now I see why little cars like the Mini Cooper or SMART have such a hard sale here.

2) The grocery aisles or, people's kitchen cupboards - Stocked so full of stuff, it makes their immense pantries and shelves appear bare when there's one item missing from the usual seven different cereal boxes and 12 salad dressing bottles.
The funny thing is, in every house I've been to so far, the kids open the cupboard, blankly stare into a crowded space (but that's only because they're not watching TV, texting friends, and posting on facebook while listening to their iPod and doing homework at the same time), which most foreigners would take for a bomb shelter storage unit, before slamming the door and decrying, 'There's nothing to eat in this house!"
From a foreigner's perspective, it's so routine, that it appears to be an Ancient ritual not unlike saying a quick prayer to the house gods who once occupied little cupboards in 1st century Rome.

3) Toilet paper - For people used to the sandpaper as something to actually bring close to sensitive parts of your body, coming to America is like a dream come true. Not only do they offer nice smelling aloe versions of the stuff, they even decorate them for the holidays. You can find turkeys, pumpkins, and little santas just to make your bottom happy.
Englishmen will recall that up until 1995, they actually used wax paper - pretty much the least absorbent item on earth, as t.p. I imagine that for them, it brings new meaning to 'America is no. 1'...and no. 2 as well.

Sunday, November 22

Coming to America

Anyone who says New Yorkers are rude, has clearly never set foot in Milan. From the Customs Officials chirping, well, okay, grunting, ‘Welcome Back Home’ right down to Merl the cool bus driver telling me that “If any other driver tells you you can’t bring the pup, you tell him, ‘Merl said to take good care of me’”, the bon amie has been baffling. And that’s without anyone actually seeing Trevor – America is an extremely dog un-user-friendly place -- who could melt the frigid heart of Torinese widow in about 12 seconds flat.

At Newark Airport -- a place so completely comfy it feels like Milan’s Linate or London’s City Airport – even though it’s three times the size -- I found myself being escorted to the holding pen at immigration. Although I’m an American citizen, I’m on a delinquent list for having had 3 passports stolen when traveling/living in Europe. Combined with my two year hiatus, they wanted to just make sure it was me trying to break the border.

Traveler’s Advisory: Always take the U.S. Embassy recommendations, and leave your passport at the hotel and carry a photocopy. Yes, the cops might get mad, but you won’t end up on the eternal roll of the delinquency list.

At Ground Transportation I felt I had walked into the control tower for JFK. Debra the Manager was handling three customers, two staff and three telephones – not one her own cellphone. “Where you goin’”? She’s calling up the companies for me, negotiating the rates…No, no, no, no, no!– hanging up. “I got $29 and they’re trying to charge you 60.” Next company, 33. “I got 29 (she pipes up, looking annoyed) – “Okay you’re good to go. This gentleman (in the red suitcoat) will be escorting you down to the Welcome Desk where your driver will meet you. Have a great time in Jersey.”

As I left the airport, my thoughts drifting to Debra perhaps telling me $60 only to split the difference with the operator…surrounded by signs reading, ‘If they ask you for a ride, You shouldn’t be taking one’, I thought, ‘No Debra, you’re not in Caltanisetta any more…’

Thursday, November 19

Nuovo Mondo

America. After a two years’ absence, I feel like so many immigrants who came before me. And, although I know the country (I’ve heard the stories from or Jon Stewart), and the language, I will be taking my impending trip with a new perspective… blogging about my experiences in the New World while I’m there…(these two months). It is not the promise of the Yankee Dollar, while my liras keep deflating...zeros added to them time again. Instead, with the strong euro, my American dream appears as a 50% off sale (when compared to European prices) and (relatively) cheap gasoline. Perhaps even 1 day dry cleaning and Tivo. And, as long as I avoid Starbucks, I might even find a bottomless cup of coffee at a local diner, but sadly, no free wireless.

While I do not carry livestock, I have little Trevor in tow, stuffed in a bag for the 16 hours (between take offs and landings) underneath my seat. I do not have to endure the trials of those immigrants stuffed in the bowels of the ships (although Trevor does), so wonderfully portrayed in the movie, Nuovo Mondo (or Golden Door - its name in English). But, traveling in ‘cattle class’ can, at times, feel much the same. Cramped conditions, no leg room, but at least treated to a movie while being served a wonderful grilled chicken dinner with a fudge brownie for dessert.

Stay tuned as I bring you my experiences in America…First stop, Newark Liberty International Airport [that would be, NEWARK LIBERTY all attached and not, Newark Airport or Liberty Airport, to use interchangeably as in the Fiumicino / Leonardo DaVinci debacle…].
Can’t wait to meet the Mother of Exiles as she greets me -- one lowly bit of 'wretched refuse' as described in Emma Lazarus’ epic poem. Of course, most of us being received only after finger-printing and taking shots of the irises of the eyes). And, while we have to claim on a form we've not been in contact with Mad Cows or various Swine (e.g. people), it still beats the health exams of Ellis Island of days of yesteryear.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

with silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

* picture from NIAF - National Italian-American Foundation online banner

Monday, November 16

Thinking of Moving to Italy? Think Again. Three Ways that Living There is Different than Visiting

Guest Post by Cherrye from My Bella Italy

The idea of living in the bel paese makes many would-be expats as green as fresh basilico. It is Italy, after all, one of the top tourist destinations in the world and a place where history and culture seep from centuries-old buildings and antique cobblestone streets.

However, visiting Italy and planting roots aren’t quite the same thing -- a truth I’ve been forced to share on occasion whenever bright-eyed tourists proclaim their love for this land and quickly inform their spouses, “I think I could live here.”
The truth of the matter is, it’s not easy to live in Italy. In addition to the sad state of the economy, the laughing stock of a prime minister and the forces responsible for letting 100,000 tons of trash overtake Naples in recent years, there are some things that are harder to live with than others.
And here are three of them.

1. Cibo and Vino
People travel to new countries to soak in the culture and lifestyle of the region they are visiting, and when these people are in Italy-they get to eat it up. Literally.
Italian food is arguably the best food in the world, and I’m a sucker for Calabrian red peppers, eggplants and pecorino cheese. But sometimes, a girl just wants a peanut butter sandwich on American white bread … some cheddar cheese … real orange juice.
When you’re traveling in Italy, PB&J, Mexican burritos and quick and easy sushi are the furthest things from your mind. But the longer you stay overseas, the more you’ll find that not only old cravings die hard but -- after a year--or three- they can spring back to life - with a vengeance.

2. Chiuso … Again!
You know how charming it is that stores still close in the middle of day and everyone goes home to enjoy a long lunch with their families? Well, try running to the store for tampons, ahem, personal items, in the middle of the day and being met with closed gates.
Not so charming anymore …
Not so charming at all … .

3. Red Tape and Personal Space
Italy is notorious for its never-ending red tape and just about every expat has a bone-chilling Italian bureaucracy experience to tell. Travelers to Italy generally laugh off the eternal lines and misinformation -- but when your residency depends on spending 3 hours a day over 3 full days in various lines only to be told you have to start all over again, it is not a laughing matter.

Speaking of laughing matters, there are dozens of contradictions that we foreigners come across on almost a daily basis. And, I’m sure, that for Italians moving to America, the same goes for them, too. For example, southern Italians, who hang their laundry to dry for the entire neighborhood to see, notoriously get upset when their privacy has been invaded even in the smallest way. So why they have no problem when a pharmacist questions them in front of a crowded room of those same neighbors, “What do you need?” And they reply in a loud, proud voice, “Something for my hemorrhoids.”

Do you live in Italy? What other misconceptions do you think there are about living here as compared to traveling here?

Cherrye Moore is a freelance writer and B&B owner living in Calabria, Italy. She writes for Affordable Calling Cards offering calling cards for Italy.
She also pens informative and entertaining articles on traveling to Calabria on her website, My Bella Vita.

Friday, November 13

The New Oprah?

I suppose because it worked for her, posting her image on every single issue of one of the most successful magazines in publishing, it could work for the Pope. After all, during the downtrodden days of a global recession, a general lack of spirituality, people leaving the flock...we need to put a face on inspiration. And not Oprah's New Age version of it either. No, we're talking a bit more Old Age. As in Testament. And so it is, that Pope Benedict XVI will be coming out with his very own calendar, His Grace gracing each page.
Here's a sneak preview:
Benedict greets his guests in his Sunday finest...Tiara and all.

Okay, everyone, now look under your seats! Keys to the Kingdom of God!

Showing off his fashion sense

Never a moment's rest for the leader of Christianity, but this is much better than the Flying Nun.

But, for those of you who would like something a little less lofty, and a bit more eye-catching, well, then there's always the Roman Priest Calendar, on sale at a newsstand near you...

Tuesday, November 10

LowCost Airlines-You get what you pay for

Today is a day that will certainly go down in history.
It’s a day that marks those first cracks in a seemingly 46km long barrier between those allowed to practice free choice, and those who would refuse their brethren these basic freedoms. While it is never as great as the first time the wall was breached, it is still a day to be remembered for generations to come.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall? No.

The day I actually achieved the nearly impossible feat – obtaining a reimbursement of sorts by an Italian Customer “Service” department. It’s not the first time it has occurred-in my nearly 18 years here, there’s been one – but who’s counting? - one – other time.
It’s a momentous occasion which deserves great pronouncements, so as one of my occasional Public Service Announcements, I will share with you the details behind this very exciting episode of history in the making:

6pm - I went to to purchase a ticket to the USA (after 2 years’ absence, I am totally – totally excited about this (in the American sense of the word, not the Italian)-- although I’m sure a few readers will ask ‘why don’t you stay there, too?’.

CONFIRM BUTTON – Agreed – Credit Card – the Works.
373 euro ttl. to Newark, and I can taste that Thanksgiving Turkey & sweet potatoes already!
Don’t hit the back button or anything else or you’ll be charged…
Penalties in case of changes from this point forward.
You get my drift.

9am next day / We get an email stating that the carrier (and not has changed the price of the ticket by 50 euro. Naturally, it did not specify whether that price was going down (doubtful) or up (most likely). I smelled a skunk.
When you hit AGREE WITH TERMS, isn’t that a sales contract?
When they advertise a price and the deal is done, doesn’t that make it FINAL?
And, at this point, an astute friend pointed out that if I continue along this path, I was headed straight for another straniera di merda kind of response.

Nonetheless, pursue I did.
Noon/While on hold for Customer Service, I was offered an online survey by to rate my most recent transaction. Aren’t they going to be sorry they asked. I gave them my online survey version of the riot act, commenting further that: “This is Highway Robbery, fraudulent at best, and these kind of wild price increases post-purchase is tantamount to criminal conduct.”

The very pleasant woman on the phone said, in short, “Suck it up”, or rather, she did what Italians do best, denied all responsibility: “First, it’s a price increase but it has nothing to do with us, and, it wasn’t a binding agreement since we’ve yet to charge your card…So, do you or do you not approve the expense?” In other words, Suck it up.
I decided not to press my case with her, and withheld a response until I went online to see if I could beat the now increased price elsewhere.

4pm / I couldn’t beat even the price rise, so back I went, armed with the pen (or keypad), mightier than the sword. I emailed the Customer Service rep who originally sent me the mail, telling her to go ahead and charge me, but, I still found this practice totally unfair, and, while I understood it was not due to, for me, after two whole years of not traveling home, waking up to a 50 euro side swipe was just an unpleasant way to start my day.
For good measure I cc:d a couple of Consumer Associations who deal in travel ripoffs, adding that I’d pursue a full reimbursement when I had more time.

I actually got a response! And, a nice one, at that!! She wrote back saying she fully understood my dilemma, and, after talking with her supervisor, would charge me only 20 euro and they would pay the rest.
I thanked her profusely for her time and effort, as while I still was upset over the 50 euro surcharge, I was immensely grateful. And, did I mention, I am a nasty little blogger about disservices in Italy?

Next morning, another mail: will be paying for the entire 50 euro surcharge that the carrier threw on them.
In my book, the Customer Service People at (Italia) are close to reaching goddess status.

Now, I don’t know, exactly, which of the above maneuvers got them to practice 'The Customer is Always Right' adage. Regardless, what would have been my last transaction ever with, may not have us parting ways so bitterly. I recommend trying all of the above. But, I still wonder, do airlines have the right to just up fees like that? A gas surcharge? What? I know in Europe, travelers are much more protected by these drive-bys that the U.S. carriers get away with. Nonetheless, in a global recession, you’d think they wouldn’t try to pull a fast one – at the last minute.

Saturday, November 7

Emoticons...Italian Style

Cherrye from My Bella Vita left a comment on one of my blogs stating, "I laughed so hard I scared my husband". My first reaction was one, of course, flattery. But then, I said to myself, 'He must be Italian' (he is). In a country where LOL: Laughing Out Loud is pretty much frowned upon (my great aunt would always remark that my friends and I cackled like a bunch of hens - which is probably where those rambunctious Brits get their 'hen parties' from), I wondered, how do Italians (stalwart internet users, half of them) signify their (silent) peels of laughter over the internet?

So, I came up with my own little table. Feel free to add to it.

:( LOL Laughed Only a Little
but totally not worth actually laughing over

:! CAS Cracked A Smile
but now I have to run out and get a botox injection

:0 LNA Laughter No Audio
but at least la mamma would be pleased

3:) OIL Omigod! I Laughed
but now my boyfriend will break up with me for having caused a scene

picture from

Wednesday, November 4

Tante Belle Cose - October 2009

I obviously have a case of brain freeze...I almost forgot to write all the wonderful things that happened last month -- with the most important (but it was this month), The Heat Came On for all of us in Southern Italy! It doesn't matter much though, because in my palazzo they voted for it to come on when it's hottest - noon til 9. Which means, for those of us who work, taking a shower in the cold each morning, or taking a shower in the cold each evening, after work. I think it's due to those bouts of nostalgia for the old days that Italians love so much. But I digress (although I'm typing with a hat, coat and scarf on...and it's not even winter!)

For those of us a bit addicted to the Superenalotto Lottery Game (with prizes well over $100 M often), it has finally joined the rest of Europe and is offering play time online.
This is good news for many, but not for those truly addicted...

Not only did the Calder exhibit open at Rome's Palazzo degli Esposizioni (one of my favorite artists), a show regarding the work of Galileo was just inaugurated (on until Jan 6th).
It took them 500 years to issue a pardon, and about as long to show his work on Roman soil...Nonetheless, it's taking place at Palazzo Incontro, and I plan to be there.

One of Italy's applauded 'brain drain' medical researchers who has returned to his roots was asked to give his (supposedly) anonymous opinion on a number of projects that would get financing, based on his approval. Suddenly, he was met with numerous 'raccomandazioni', "to make a favorable decision" or give "the highest vote possible". He refused to capitulate.
Now, if more people will follow his example...(although it remains to be seen how long he'll be holding his post).

And finally, it will be considered a crime for those trafficking in animals or mutilating them for aesthetic purposes, with heavy fines to pay.
One blow for the cute little pet shops, one giant leap for mankind.

Monday, November 2

Business Weak

There have been a few nice October Surprises to announce, with the most incredible, that of my beloved Fiumicino Airport (aka Leonardo Da Vinci) -- breaking out new signage throughout the entire complex, a 'reorganization', which means, a new villa for the head of the ADR -- most likely in the Maldives, paid for in cash (not his own).
It's no wonder that a woman rushing to her plane commented that she was more confused than before, although the A, AA, B Terminals have finally been numbered (im)properly (for the rest of us): T1, T2, T3 and T5
Stating they've taken their cues from International Airports round the world, (and the befuddled Spanish-run Heathrow's Terminal 5 comes to mind), I'm starting to seriously believe that it is the number 4, rather than 13, that must be unlucky.

This October, grain prices went down a full 28%. Which means that pasta and bread prices went likewise dxxxx -- oh -- scratch that, UP by the usual monthly 4%.
Once again, I am happy to announce that food allergies have never felt so good.

Transparency International released its annual CPI (Corruption Perception Index) report finding that Italy ranks number 55, (1 being the least corrupt) just below South Africa, and 26th out of the 31 European countries (including those Eastern European ones).

And finally, I don't know who's doing the counting, as I've seen wildly divergent rankings in terms of Universities around Europe and the world, with Bocconi usually coming up okay on Business Schools, and Bologna or Rome faring well overall -- But, a newly released compilation states that no Italian universities are in the top 100 of the world's Best Universities. The University of Bologna checks in at number 187.
Is anyone paying attention to this stuff?

Friday, October 30

Sex, Lies and Dvds

History has just been made: An Italian politician just went down for his sexual picadillos, in what is a very first for this country. I mean, we’re talking about the place that gave us Caligula, Popes with 17 kids, Caesar & Cleopatra and then Marc Antony & Cleopatra, and Emperors gifting sumptuous villas for their mistresses. It was the Italians who remarked upon seeing photos of Gary Hart on the ‘Monkey Business’ with a pretty blonde (who was not his wife), that he most likely would have lost his candidacy if he’d been on the Monkey Business and not tried something. And so, catching Marazzo, the Governor of Rome’s great Lazio region with his pants down and taking the fall? This is nothing short of monumental.

Has Italy suddenly become prudish? Not if you count the numbers of men (and women) who back Berlusconi’s affairs as a sign of his ‘virility’. No, with all the drama of an Italian tragic opera, it wasn’t one of your plain vanilla puritan American affairs; getting caught sleeping around, or paying for escorts, or getting blown in the oval office, or even chasing pages (these transgressions don’t even cause blips on the radar screen). He was caught – on tape – shacking up with transvestites. But that’s only the QuickRead version of the story. It grows more complex by the minute.

What started out as his ‘personal weakness’ for the likes of Natalí and Brenda, later involved four Carabinieri policemen who filmed him in the act (for whom?, one might ask). He tried offering them hush money. The film supposedly ends up, however, in the hands of one of the huge media outlets – who warns him about it, rather than publishing it. That person is also the one running the country, Berlusconi. Speaking of Prime Ministers, the building is the same one in which Aldo Moro was famously held prisoner before being murdered. The same neighborhood where Italy's Secret Service purportedly own 22 other apartments (begging the question...did they murder Moro?). Or, did the Carabinieri have ties to Rome's local mafia, the Casalesi, and is it true, they have other hot videos (involving other ex-Ministers)?
As the climax of Marazzo’s personal and professional life is spent as fast as a man after well, climax, he's taken a leave of absence from his job. Unfortunately, just when Berlusconi’s men are maintaining a public campaign to halt absenteeism for false maladies – Marazzo goes home and gets a note from the doctor. The opposition cries foul, and presses for new elections – surely to win.
And, speaking of Berlusconi, the spotlight's now off the uncannily quiet Berlusca and his escorts, and shining brightly on the left, where the dirt is so murky, his own affairs pale by comparison. Hmmmmm...those accusations now seem like fun foreplay when set against the after-glow of Marazzo's transvestite trysts.

Shakespeare set his plays in Italy, for all the intrigue and fascination the place obviously held even back in his day. But Shakespeare, if he were alive today, could never have predicted such a convoluted unfolding of events.
As for me, since the days of seeing Gary Hart's Presidential campaign go impotent, up to John Edwards' premature ejection from public life, I still can’t figure out for the life of me, why public figures don’t keep their privates private – at least for the time they’re occupying a public office.

p.s. You can read an update here:
In a great show of support, opposition politician and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has stated that the video will not go published on any of his media outlets. Yet another genius move by the great Chess player.
Birds of a feather...

Tuesday, October 27

Traveling to Rome - Bus Tickets

The longer I live here, the more I am stunned that it is the British who brought us Agatha Christie, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and a whole panoply of other super sleuths, and not the Italians. I mean, the Brits give you careful instructions at every turn: 'Look Left', Mind the Gap, This Way To...It's no wonder they never found the Holy Grail - it wasn't spelled out for them. Life in Italy is nothing but a search for that Holy Grail inside the Labyrinth of King Minos. Just try to find the most simplest of info (like bus ticket prices) on any Italian website, and you'll see what I mean.
Stranded at Ciampino Airport (more on that another day), I came across a huge sign that indicated all of the tickets that one could purchase around town. It was the first I'd ever heard of it -- so, I immediately thought it was some joker who sold fake tickets to innocent victims (I'm joking, I'm joking).

So, to make things easier:

75 min. ticket = €1
(it's actually €1.20 to get out of Ciampino by bus, but that's only to inconvenience all the poor travelers who have no change and who are then forced to buy something at the bar or newsstand there in order to then get their ticket - on board, though).
Called BIT - Biglietto Integrato a Tempo - once again, an 'A' for marketing.

1 Day Ticket (good til midnight) = €4
Called BIG - Biglietto Integrato Giornaliero - getting better

3 Day Ticket (who knew?) = €11
Called BTI - Biglietto Turistico Integrato - just to confuse everyone.

7 Day Ticket = €16

Called CIS - Carta Integrata Settimanale - Lord only knows where you need to purchase them, and how many buses you must take to find them

I went online to verify the above amounts. True to form, on the official 'biglietti' page, it lists the 7 day ticket as valid for 3 days, due to the cut&paste job from the entry above...

But, this explanation was by far the richest:

Tickets are not sold on buses. In rare occasions, you'll find a machine at some bus stops. If it works, it surprises anyone with how complex a ticket sale can be with its encrypted initials and four languages. A better solution is to buy tickets at tobacco stores, cafès, and newspaper stands. Even so, not everyone sells them, so you might want to ask around. When you find them, they may carry the old tickets, or the new ones. Some metros and buses take the first type, others take the second one. They are planning to switch completely to the second type [this has been done, ndr]. The new high tech ticket crashes some validation machines, which might no longer react or may indicate that the memory is full... Some buses have both machines, which don't always work.
Fortunately, Romans did not organize the switch from national currencies to Euros.

I rest my case.

Tourist notes: Once you purchase a ticket, and some buses have little machines which spit them out, but, they're not always there or working, you must then go over to another machine and punch them in. I have known tourists who have used their first ticket for days on end, which in this case, would signify, 7 day pass = €1 !!!

Sunday, October 25

Happy International Pasta Day!

Wednesday may have been Prince spaghetti day, but, today is International Pasta Day! And, judging from the latest statistics, Americans are eating pasta even more than once a week. In sunny Rome, we had a beautiful day to celebrate, with all kinds of pastas being served in the shadow of Castel Sant’Angelo. Heck, they even had a kiddie area where they were making Colosseum replicas out of the boxes!

It seems everything’s happening in Bella Roma this fall: The Festival del Cinema, a Calder exhibit opening (can’t wait!), theatres filled with performances, even the Barnum & Bailey circus, museums at night…It’s no wonder that Rome was voted recently one of the most livable cities. I would totally agree, although there are those other studies which show for pollution, traffic, and, services (like no nursery schools)…it’s not so great. And, if you don’t count the hundreds each year who get run down on the crosswalks (they probably would have agreed, it was a great city in which to die, though)…I think those reports are spot on.

My friends called from Castel Sant’Angelo to tell me that the day was picture perfect, and the organization flawless. Of course, there were the curmudgeons who were wondering when they’d get fed their ‘secondo piatto’ (was it called International Roast Bif Day??!!)

But, a friend who went to the Dennis Hopper presentation of his new fab book of photos (at 500 euro a shot, it better be fab) had this to report: He was doing a book signing of sorts. Except that he was signing little slips of paper, promoting the book. There were no books on display, nor were they on offer. I wonder -- was that intentional (to avoid the embarrassment of him not signing any books since we’re in the throws of the Great Recession?) – or, were the books merely stuck in customs?

Thursday, October 22

Consumer Marketing 101

Here's a new approach to winning over customers that was tried out on me today by the illustrious Telecom Italia Call Center --

Granted, as soon as I hear from a Telecom phone salesperson, I tend to stop them right away -- as I would not sign up for their (dis)services if it were the only company operating on earth. In fact, even if they were offering unlimited bandwith and free calls worldwide, I'd probably opt for two cans tied together with a string.
Usually, I say so much and enjoy a nice chuckle with the poor soul at the other end, wishing them good luck, but, recommending (highly) they try to change carriers. The responses I get are nothing short of remarkable (coming straight from the annals of, 'It's just a job, Ma'am). None of those American Express Co. 'Customer and Company are always right' memos for these worker bees!

But today took the cake.

Interrupting my day, the woman said she was calling from Telecom. I simply told her straight away, "You're wasting your time." Usually they say, are you sure you don't want to hear about our offer, etc. etc.
This time, she answered adopting the 'Best defense is a good offense' strategy.

"No, you're wasting your time, you piece of shit foreigner." (for you English, that'd be, 'bloody foreigner', I believe.

I wonder when more companies will begin utilizing this new sales tactic. Considering the new Italian middle class is most likely filled with foreigners from every corner of the earth, it might just work wonders. For some inexplicable reason, though, I can't seem to find it in my copy of Dale Carnegie's, 'How to Win Friends and Influence People."

Part 2/Telecom Italia Calls
Just 4 1/2 hrs. later, I received a call - incredibly - from the Customer Service office of Telecom Italia (I know, I know..they have a customer service office??)This, after my very specific missive entitled, "Zenophobic insults from Telecom employees". After a long discussion with a very charming man who expressed his sincere apologies, I was left with:

- the call didn't originate with them, so they can't do anything
- if they find which of their subcontractors has my number, they will issue a fine. Too many complaints, they cancel the contract.
- he's sorry, because being a foreigner shouldn't even come into it

He also said that the 50000+ employees of Telecom is a 'specchio dell'Italia' ('a mirror image', and here, we're in dangerous waters), but he's doing everything he can to assure that these events don't occur. Problem is, his range of action is only w/Telecom employees.

I asked if my tel. number (and it's this that I desire most) can simply be canceled from their lists. I offered to be a 'secret shopper', but, he said, I'd have to join Telecom to do so (!) and so I left him with this little anecdote I once read in a marketing manual:

"Pepsi never gained customers insulting Coke drinkers"

Part 3/Telecom on the Line
Less than 5 minutes later, I receive another call from another Call Center looking to offer me Telecom Italia services. She refused to give her name, nor mention the company she works for, but, I did manage to convince her that it's in their best interests to lose my number - and fast. She said she will take me off her list, but that doesn't preclude someone else from contacting me.

The battle was hard won, but not the war...

photo by

Monday, October 19

Travel to Germany: Alice in Vunderland

There were a few more things about Frankfurt that gave me pause…like seeing Frankensteinplatz on a map, and the temperatures that kept me frozen in my tracks upon arrival. Note to self: Don’t visit northern countries after September, and don't even think about England in August.
Staying with friends in a pristine area outside of Frankfurt (so far outside, there was an Ikea nearby), her 11 year old daughter was in a play where she was the Assassin. I asked her who she had to kill – she answered, two girlfriends and a couple of others. Now, I don’t want to seem a prude, but…isn’t Germany right up there with the USA on school shooting sprees? It seemed a strange play for elementary school, but, she assured me, not as strange as the other one, all about Zombies – in a sort of Night of the Living Dead reenactment.

Speaking of Zombies, the most incredible sightings to be had in Frankfurt were the hundreds of high schoolers (?) that were sent by some strange underground force, or else on their own collective volition to appear at Saturday's Book Fair. Judging from their looks, they did not seem of the book reading type, although, I’m sure Nightmare on Elm Street definitely figured in there somewhere. The costumes were your basic Punk variety, mixed up with Halloween costumes (like Little Bo Peep and Witchy-Poo). In all, I enjoyed the spectacle, because I felt like an extra in Lidsville.

They strolled around in groups, their multi-colored fluorescent hair standing out, I decided they weren't the underground types -- so they must be there to entertain the guests of honor, (or our next overlords, rather) China. The entire week in fact was dedicated to China, including films, books, museum shows, and even the rickshaws taking you to and fro…! Talk about German organization.

But, I couldn’t help but think what the Chinese, with their gold-trimmed robes and pageantry, and their wonderful theatrical masks and precision choreography might have made of it. Here was Punk Glamour Donts meets the Last Emperor – The Chinese I’m sure must have thought it was early Halloween – or so I hoped.
No, Dorotea, you are not in Bella Roma anymore!

Friday, October 16

A funny thing happened on the way... the Frankfurt Fair Forum.

These last few days, I've purchased my share of double-the-money cappuccini, water, and snacks. But, I have not received one single receipt for my efforts in return. With visions of a sort of gestapo asking me to show a receipt upon exiting the store, today, I finally asked for one at the little convenience store down in the subway. You would have thought I'd asked for an original copy of Barack Obama's birth certificate.
He slowly dug around in drawers behind where he keeps his pc, adding machine, video surveillance cameras and other high tech items for a receipt book - last seen used by monks in a 16th century monastery. He walked around to gather up a newspaper to check the date on it. Returning to his counter, he sistemated the date on his stamp thingamajig to then dip in ink. Then he wrote it out. Joking about this ordeal, that was approaching the gestation period of a dog, he told me 'no one gives out receipts here'.

Now. This came as a total surprise. Here we have it, just like the no smoking laws, where the Italians are the ones obeying the rules--and to think that in cash-strapped Germany, they don't even have the threat of random checks! I couldn't believe my ears.
Turns out, the government has decided that if you run a certain enterprise, you pay so much tax. Italy has also adopted this practice. If you think you're being overcharged, you can start issuing receipts. Obviously in Germany, the tax rate seems to be pretty darn accurate...

I had lots to think about in Frankfurt, since I could not be entertained in the subways -- here, there are almost no ads at all -- contributing further to the dreary flourescent glow look. But they do have a semi-genius way of placing the intricate subway maps up on the ceilings of the cars, but you get so dizzy looking at them, you have to sit down before identifying your destination.

After two days here, I may never complain about Italian ads and prices again.

Wednesday, October 14

Modern (in)Conveniences

I just watched this terrific video about the ways in which we have developed in things technological and what have you, in absolute leaps and bounds, and, when there's a slight hitch, everyone gets upset. Comedian Louis CK really gets it right.

Click here to watch, and then read on...

I realized a few things about Life in Italy through his standing in awe of certain conveniences most of us truly take for granted:

- Italians will usually break into applause upon landing. I think the applause is either a moment of rejoicing air flight, in a sort of nod of thanks to Leonardo, or else, a spontaneous cathartic reaction that they have lived to tell about it. It's one thing I have always loved about flying in/out of Italy, but sadly, as cabins become far more mixed, people don't clap as much anymore. Either it's because Bella Figura trumps all, or perhaps because I don't fly Italian airlines.

- The phone system was so totally messed up until the advent of cell phones, it is no wonder that Italy is the most popular country for cell phone use, despite the exorbitant costs. Not only did you have a rotary dial, but "the line has dropped" was a phrase uttered at least once -- and often much more -- in every single conversation. When it happens on cell phones, people barely notice the inconvenience.
After all, it is going up to outer space -- and provides much better service than our standard phone lines.

- And while banks in Italy are still unbelievably inefficient, (the elderly still wander in to cash themselves a check and banks are still open only about 3 hours), I've gotta admit, we've really come a long way, baby, in a very short time.

Monday, October 12

The Prague Fall

I now realize why City governments believe that the opening and running of airports is such an important element for any city. Aside from attracting the obvious numbers of travelers making their way there, they often cite the airport as the Welcome Mat for the traveler – an extension of what they’ll get upon arrival. And, the more I travel, the more I see that this is so very true. So, why is it, that they choose to muddy that mat so often with the lack of basic organization?

In the least, as I stated in a previous post, they’re figuring out here in Rome that bad Baggage Services costs them dearly in terms of the brand—and this is a good start. Returning from Prague, I waited 50 mins. for my lonely bag to hiccup onto the belt (a different one than previously indicated on the monitors). In Prague, a city not fully dependent on the tourist dollar, the wait was something closer to 10. Nonetheless, when it comes to signage, they’re taking their cues from the Romans in numbering and lettering their terminals.

But, it really didn’t matter. An express bus straight to the metro line was fabulous, even though on your way back, you have no clue as to which terminal you fly out of. [They offer ‘Non Schengen flights’, which is fine if you’re a European, but…], and the bus (un)naturally goes from Terminal 3 to 1 to 2 for some odd reason I haven’t quite worked out. Terminals 1 and 2 were simultaneously indicated with Terminals A, B, C & D – in an effort to outdo the Romans on confusing the tourists.

But, once on the subway, you’re treated to electronic signs which actually tell you your stop (and not just the final destination), and, that most enigmatic of modern conveniences, elevators that take you up to street level. Riding the escalator, you find that the Czechs prefer their ads tilted slightly, just like you. I can’t decide if I liked them better that way, although I’ve been known to watch movies on my mac lying down, screen sideways. I think the angled posters added a nice touch, although I kept tilting my head so far, I almost fell down the stairs - twice!

One thing that surprised all of us attending the WIN CONFERENCE in Prague, was the level of smoking. We’d all forgotten all about that. Incredibly, at the Prague Hilton, boasting an atrium so high, it makes the Pantheon pale by comparison, you’d think you’d never ever get a whiff of the stuff. Turns out, heat doesn’t rise after all. The absolutely beautiful place was filled with cigar smokers and their stench.

Going into smoky bars & restaurants was a sort of walk down memory lane – and, I must admit, it kind of added to the atmosphere (in more ways than one!).

Wednesday, October 7

Letter from Milano

Returning to Milano is always a wonderful experience. It seems here, with the swanky clothes and the bustling vibe, everyone is on a mission, and even 'la crise' (economic downturn) doesn't seem to have an effect, judging by the outfits of the hundreds of people flocking to all the cafès & bars in the center.
Each time I visit, I find something new. This time, they've announced their own bike rentals -- carrying the appropriately cool moniker (as per my previous entry), Bike Sharing and accompanied by an advert that was actually very very good. Dare I say it? Milan, if you ignore the fact that you have a grey ceiling overhead, is a breath of fresh air.

The Italian version of "You made your bed, now sleep in it" is, "You wanted the bicycle, now pedal it"

While there, I attended the opening of the fab Boscolo Hotel (I didn't rent a bike, but got there in a Maserati, compliments of Elite Rent). I hadn't seen that much black and glitter and heels since the funeral of the Godfather. Wandering around the gorgeous architecture of Itala Bota, I felt we were all extras in a refilming of Bonfire of the Vanities but this time, with a 1950s view of how 2010 should look. We were treated to a cast of characters straight out of Cirque de Soleil, a woman with a live owl, another launching a falcon outside, and near the unbelievable pool (also from Woody Allen's Sleeper), a stunning mermaid.
Although I couldn't find very many handsome men as eye candy (if you don't count the bouncers and security detail, all looking like Men in Black), it was a pretty amazing spectacle, or, to use the very appropriate Italian, spettacolo.

The only thing that goes counter to all the hustle and bustle of Milan is the dead end you hit after you rush off your train, run to the welcoming staircases and are stopped in your tracks as you look over the railing as if at the Grand Canyon, to gaze at the vast emptiness where the snazzy escalators once were...You back up, turn around, and make your way down the 20 minute zigzag maze. Which leaves you ample time to ponder where you'll be deposited on your way down...
Nonetheless, a good time was had by all.

Friday, October 2

Win For Life

The Lottomatica people just announced this terrific new lottery game, with three winners on Day 1 garnering 4000 euro/month for 20 years (let's just say, we hope the lives of the Win For Life winners don't come to an abrupt end in around that time -- not that that wouldn't make a good thriller plot). But then, I think the term was used just to coin a phrase, and I wonder, how many of Italy's main players -- those aging seniors (and even a lot of youngsters) really know what those words mean. It never ceases to amaze me how much of English is used to sell anything, from the ridiculous M'Honey Bank card (from my nemesis, Monte dei Paschi) to cars to the very Italian Todd's.
And then a reader sent in this witty piece to put it all into perspective:

The English tend to struggle with foreign languages – which may be why they made the rest of the world speak theirs instead. So as an Englishman of a certain age, the five years it’s taken me to learn Italian have put, well, years on me.

Blunders that still make me grimace? Confusing ho scoperto (“I discovered”) with ho scopato (“I screwed") – on one of my first meetings with my future mother-in-law. Even worse was my asking at a restaurant what to do about la mancia (the tip). Only it came out as la minchia (a quite vulgar term for the male genitalia).

All that trouble to learn the world’s most romantic language and what do I find? Half of Italy has replaced it with “Anglo-Italiano”, a curious mix of English and Italian.

Accommodation for your vacation to Rome? If gli hotel are booked, lo staff may recommend un bed and breakfast nearby that is one of i top in the capital and comes with tutti i comfort. Staying for a few weeks? Then think about un residence or un loft with un big open-space.

The media is no better. Il Premier Silvio Berlusconi has allegedly been sleeping with le sexy escort after using il suo private jet to transport i VIP and le showgirl to i party at his home. It’s un altro gaffe by il tycoon and il feeling between him and voters has never been worse. Now he’s complaining about lo stress and il suo privacy.

Following il summit di G8 – which brought altri leader such as Barack Obama and le first ladies to Italy – Berlusconi called un meeting of his cabinet to settle un budget. But the newspapers have un scoop – during un briefing, he blamed Il Ministro del Welfare for the deficit reaching un record.

Or how about the soccer in La Gazzetta dello Sport? There was il derby during il weekend between i due club di Milan, AC Milan and Inter. Because il match era sold-out, i fans found it hard to buy i ticket. Milan’s No9 was il matchwinner with a goal from un corner. It led to scuffles among gli hooligan, which gli steward soon dealt with. Leonardo, il mister di Milan, was just happy to win.

But gossip and beauty magazines are the worst. Madonna non è piu single la superstar now has un boyfriend and she and il suo partner have been spotted in un resort. Or fancy un po’ di restyling? Read all about il beauty, gli accessory-must and i color this season – sono black and white. By the way, il new look is un T-shirt extra large with un paio di jeans.

Then there’s una showgirl from un reality show, downing i cocktail in un bar, before a spot of il clubbing and then heading off with un pop star from un boyband.

But surely Italian is a rich enough language with words of its own that do the job perfectly – un albergo, not hotel; impiegati rather than staff; spuntino instead of snack.

Last year the prestigious Dante Alighieri Society launched a campaign to curb the erosion of Italian by English words. Tough job – Anglo-Italiano is now il nuovo trend

Mille Grazie! to Ainsley Okoro for his terrific commentary on this trend...

Ainsley Okoro works for Homes and Villas, a property website and specialises in Calabrian property and property in Tuscany.

Wednesday, September 30

Tante Belle Cose - Sept 09

September always starts out with a bang, and in our Buone Notizie category, September doesn't disappoint here either.

One of the best news in town is that the Attico (rooftop apartment/terrace) that a B star built overlooking the Colosseum was actually torn down. Let's see if the trend continues...or if, it's only valid for certain people on certain days.
Judging from the amount of buildings that have gone up all over Rome, she obviously didn't have connections in high places.

400,000 Romans had reason to rejoice when their parking tickets issued up until 2004 were given an amnesty, of sorts. They only have to pay the original fine.
Let's see if any will actually cough up the cash.

Thousands of Colfs (those wonderful women mostly from Eastern Europe and the Philippines) who spend their days and nights looking after old people and babies got registered to stay legally in Italy in another amnesty.
It's great to see that the Italian government knows that without these women (and some men), the aging population would be left to their own demise -- and, considering there are not enough structures to support the aged, well, it would be costly, indeed to provide assistance.

And, in a surprising sight to see, you can now purchase basic reading glasses (even a bit snazzy) at newstands around town.
Why does this make the news? Because a few years back, stores, seemingly market-driven, started selling the eyeglasses. The Pharmacist unions started striking and protesting and hooting and hollering about how it was 'unfair competition'...(Huh??!!) and threatened their monopoly status. The glasses went off the shelves.
It would appear that the wily news agents are either more powerful or simply pulling the wool over the pharmacists' eyes on this one. Either way, consumers have a right to rejoice. Oh -- and the best news yet? Yours for only €9.90!!!

Monday, September 28

You Go Frau!

In honour of the German elections, I thought I'd post a few campaign posters on my blog -- this, in the hopes that a few German photographers might take the impetus and, instead of suing me for posting them on my blog, just run down to Italy and start offering their services...

I for one would be happy to vote for anyone who finally came up with a shot of an actual humanoid & a slogan that said something...

Did I say human?

Saturday, September 26

Business Weak

Giving you the latest and greatest in the Italian business world...

Shana Tova!
Just in time for the Jewish New Year, the GS Supermarket chain store, released their fabulous new wines...labelled with the effigies of Hitler and Mussolini. Thankfully, it took a French tourist to file a complaint and they were removed from the shelves.
GS now owned by French company Carrefour, the French obviously still haven't come to terms with their past...

Italia's Lazarus
Providing equal opportunity for religions, Berlusconi has revived from the dead his 40+ million euro quagmire of a website, .
Wondering what his buddy, Stanca, and the folks at IBM got paid off -- errr -- paid to put this two-bit disgrace back online.

Fine Fiumicino
Looks like the baggage companies are being hit with fines of 2000 euro for bag mishandling, which, aside from costing the carrier, hits Rome's image, big time. So far, 150 have been issued. The administrator said that if it were up to him, he'd have given them fines of 100,000 euro to see to it that it would never happen again!
Too bad the company isn't allowed to videotape their employees nor truly oversee them for fear of union reprisal. Maybe the unions should be paying the piper.

Bank Robbery
Once again, Italy's banking fees have been singled out as the naughty boys of Europe, outpacing their European brethren by almost 6 to 1. Italians pay about 253 euro per year in fees and taxes on their bank accounts, while the next most expensive country, France charges just half that.
As a funny insert so appropriately depicted, the robbers now waltz into banks with their hands raised.

Thursday, September 24

Making Tracks

This in from my no. 1 fan, Davide - grazie mille!

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's the gauge they used. Why did 'they' use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that same wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England because that was the original spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those oddly sized rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe (and England) for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Ancient Romans formed the initial chariot ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.
Therefore, the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman chariot. Thing is, chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses (or, two horse's asses).

And now, for the twist to the story:

When you see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, you'll see two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. The SRBs are made by Thiokol in Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line from the factory happens to run through a tunnel in the mountains, and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you now know, is about as wide as two horses' behinds.

In short, a major Space Shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse's ass.

So, the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder, 'What horse's ass came up with it?', you may be exactly right.

I don't know if this story is true, but I love it regardless.