Monday, February 23

Povero Oscaro

Well, Oscar night has come and gone and the verdicts are in. I for one was absolutely blown away by Slumdog Millionaire (called here simply Millionaire), so was thrilled by their garnering of so many awards. In Italy, Oscar night usually brings with it a great deal of fanfare as the Italians, as much as they hate to admit it, love our films. None of that “we don’t need your crass and petty films” like the French.
But, this year did mark a disappointment for Italy for the terrific docu-film, Gomorra. I thought it was excellent, especially concerning the taboo subject matter taking on organized crime from North to South. Although it was a bit hard to follow at times, a bit too dark (literally, if not also figuratively), and perhaps with less of a true plot than the simple minds that the Americans in the Academy could handle.
And in Italy, when every major public event is marred by petty grievances, overdoses of gossip, and out-and-out political rivalries splattered across every newspaper page, well, the Oscars did not disappoint. Oscar time is also Sanremo Music Festival Time – more than showcasing the terrific young stars of the day, the papers and TV are fully consumed by controversy. Ditto for the Venice Biennale. For the foreign press, it’s a parody right out of a Fellini film – talk about the severe need not to air your dirty laundry…
But this is the country that when Benigni won for his highly controversial humor to recount the Holocaust (with his improbably entitled film, La Vita è Bella)…well, every Italian worth his subterfuge self uncovered the depths of his conspiracy which went something like:
Benigni made a film to touch the hearts of the Jewish American population (esp. studios and Academy voters) deliberately to win. As if that conclusion had been a shoo-in, but still…
Of course, reading between the lines, it was as if it were a bad thing to actually try and make a film that might actually show some merit in the all-consuming no. 1 film market (in terms of box office draw) and garner a few prizes along the way. They even begrudge their own talented Muccino working in L.A. with Wil Smith (Pursuit of Happyness) because uhhh…he makes films with happy endings (can someone tell them it was based a true story?) and he jumped ship where he could make it on merit.
And so, the Italians did not take the snubbing of their worthy film very well. Off charged the criticism, controversy and the challenge to change the game: With all the bickering, I believe that people were waiting for the last minute punt by a perfectly placed politician, perhaps even pressure from media mogul Berlusconi calling “friends” for the quick fix for his native film. No one could believe until they saw those envelopes being opened right before their eyes that Gomorra was not going to be announced as winner. Score one point for meritocracy, strike one for political hacks.
All I know is that I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of the conspiracies against this one.

Friday, February 20

When the Chips are Down

One of the favorite shows for Italians in the late 70s-80s was Chips – you remember, the couple of hunks riding on their bikes doing Highway patrol. They were the male version of the infamous Veline, except they were fully clothed and were not given to gyrating senselessly on a tabletop. But, you get my drift.
I think in terms of policemen prototypes, these guys were not so tough and scary; kind of like the way the Italians like to think of their own cops. Collectively, there’s not a whole lot of respect here for the law enforcement guys, although I do think it’s improving. Following the bravery (provoking unseemly national pride) of the Carabinieri’s performance in Iraq, you don’t hear too many Carabinieri jokes these days. But still, when the guys running the red lights, talking on the cellphone while driving, or letting hotties get away with running their own lights (yes, that’s sour grapes!) you tend to lose a little bit of respect for the guys in blue.
The other day I heard an interview on the radio traffic station with a top official from the Highway Patrol (I know, I know, there’s a highway patrol???!!) He was commenting on the ways motorists can stop bleeding money thru the hefty speeding fines levied by the tell-all cameras hidden on every thoroughfare throughout the boot. His suggestion? An emphatic: Just Slow Down. Not only sage advice, but safe too. I was impressed.
Until he quickly followed it up with, “and, if you really must speed, just be sure to get to know where those cameras are hidden.”
It’s always wonderful knowing that you are fully and happily within the boundaries of your comfort zone. As for Chips? Luckily, those huge cement blocks hiding the cameras aren’t mobile. And ugly as they are, no one pays attention to them anyway.

Link to a brilliant site with everything you want to know about the Autovelox cameras, including their positionings and tips to avoid getting nailed.

Tuesday, February 17

Superstitious or Super stitches?

I’ve always claimed that ‘You know you’ve been in Italy far too long when you have no qualms about going to the dentist.’ Now, I’ve had foot operations and root canals and am none worse for the wear. In fact, I think many many physicians are quite excellent and many many are just as deficient no matter where you are -- even if my favorite program uncovers yet another pseudo dentist practicing each week.
Last week, a friend’s daughter was given a cast on her foot without having taken an x-ray. Another was told she could leave the premises after a motorino accident; she would have, if she could have walked. In both instances, both ended up flying back to the U.S. for emergency operations.
But, what I love are some of the remedies for various ailments which I have whole-heartedly accepted. Not one for popping pills, I’m always up for trying a homeopathic cure, usually brought in from a distant memory of a long lost Sicilian grandmother.
Right now, I am boiling Roman lettuce (verva) to use as a compact for an infected tooth. Another friend puts hers in the microwave (well, she is American). She was told no, that’s not right, you’re supposed to iron it. What I can’t figure out is, if boiling takes away the nutrients, how can it serve any medicinal purposes whatsoever?
Twice this week I was told about how drops of oil totally dissipated in a bowl of water filled by those cursed with the mal’occhio. And a friend was given a red diary with a red pen this week – not for Valentines Day – but to ward off evil mal’occhio spirits.
I don’t know about you, but, I’ll take all the help I can get. So just to cover my bases, I’m thinking of tossing red food coloring into the Roman lettuce pot…

Sunday, February 15

Buon Compleanno!

This weekend, it seemed that everyone I know had a birthday to celebrate. In Italy, this is doubly good news, because, instead of the birthday gal or guy getting fêted, you get treated instead! And while here and elsewhere people always throw parties in which guests arrive, gifts in hand, when it comes to bringing the treats to the people, or going out for drinks, the Italians keep up the routine we all had in elementary school.
After all, how many cupcakes have I baked in my lifetime for birthdays at school? [well, come to think of it, not that many since I was born on Leap Day]. But, you get the drift. In Italy, I love the tradition that the birthday boy carries the goodies. That also makes up for people actually having to remember everyone’s birthday at the office. Go out for drinks after work, they buy! And, at the risk of sounding stingy, it makes me happy to have a birthday every four years!
Of course, in Italy, when there is a Leap Year, stores don’t shower you with free gifts and treats like they do elsewhere, but that’s okay. You can still count on my bringing the brownies.

Thursday, February 12

Electrifying Europe

Once again, I am forced to look outside my comfy borders to bring you the audacity of the situation with our brothers to the north.

Back in 1986, when they first started talking about a “United Europe”, I (naturally) scoffed. I said to all who would listen, that there would never be a United Europe until all of the appliance plugs are the same in every country. And back then, we weren't even considering Poland or Romania.

This Christmas, my poor house guest spent his time running around to three different hardware stores in order to change all my pseudo-German plugs to ones that would actually fit into Italian holes (I used so many adapters my kitchen looked like the central control panel for O'Hare airport). From the fridge to the frying pans, I was finally cooking. They may be made in Germany, but, they worked without melting, sparks or blowing a fuse. Needless to say, I was pleasantly shocked.

Just in time to hear the British protesting a company’s decision to hire dozens of Italian workers (all of whom, from what I could tell, already worked there -- although that's only because, if they'd been flown in, they never would have made it to their first day on the job flying the New Alitalia).
This week, instead, here they are, protesting the Spanish workers. This would be like waging a protest in New Jersey because Johnson & Johnson decided to bring in an entire factory of workers from Staten Island. It doesn’t happen [although with America’s unemployment rates skyrocketing, we may not be too far behind].

The ultimate irony in the entire matter is that this latest company is actually French.

I stand by my statement. United States of Europe? Socket to me.

Tuesday, February 10

The Future According to Berlusconi

Eluana, Italy's Terri Schiavo, after 17 years living in a total vegetative state finally breathed her last breath. May she and Terry both rest in peace. I won't go on about the amount of political maneuverings, legal loopholes and misconceptions that accompanied her passing (Berlusconi's incredible statement 'well, she can still reproduce') was just one of the many even more sickening opinions on this very private matter which went expressed.

And while I won't go into the implications of this decision to discontinue her feeding tube (which include political, human rights, constitutional, religious posturing and street protests; not to mention the family's very own right to privacy), I'd just like to say that perhaps Berlusconi, in his eternal quest for the fountain of youth, was actually serious.
After all, what with his hair plugs, facelifts, and barrage of sexual potency insinuations (he must have his very own Viagra production house), I'm sure he would like to live on forever; even if that means being kept indefinitely on a feeding tube.
I wouldn't be surprised if he's taken all his money and arranged to have himself frozen in a cryonic suspension case, so he can come back later and appear on talk shows in the Year 2310 next to 20-somethings in bikinis. Who knows? He may still have his singing voice.

But, this idea of keeping people alive just because we can strikes me as something out of the 1978 Michael Crichton flick, Coma. Just think: there are not enough beds in Italy to house the temporarily infirm, where will we put the bodies? Maybe this is Berlusconi's true solution for Malpensa Airport. Use the hangars for hangers. That might explain the secretive meetings with officials in Milan.

Whether or not you agree, it certainly beats the Soylent Green solution.

Friday, February 6

Out of the Blue

A friend posted online whether she thought it was wise to book a ticket Rome-London with (the new!) Alitalia. It was posting the best rate. After all, the CAI – Alitalia’s new owners – have been in business for a couple of weeks now, and, the results are in. Just like with their overhaul of the decrepit carrier, she got mixed reactions (and you can take my little poll on the left hand side):

One Brit who has lived here most of her life said, 'Sure, give ‘em a leg up! We should support our national carrier.' An American in the U.S. said, ‘No way’, and someone else said, ‘go for it, even though you may find yourself stranded in one place or the other, how bad can it be?'

Well, I’ve also polled a few people about the results of the Under New Management Alitalia. The answers run the entire gamut from quiet optimism to absolute preposterous:

- One guy was rehired and said it was ‘business as usual’, meaning that nothing had really changed; neither for him nor for the Company. Things were plodding along just as haphazardly as before.

- A friend says people in her toddy neighborhood are now spending the proverbial “time with their kids”. She sees these poor fired souls out and about, worrying about their demise, even though they’re up for 7 years home leave – with pay. They're probably all taking off to trips to the Maldives and Thailand. I wonder if they’re flying Alitalia.
Now wouldn’t that be the world’s great irony? It’s the thousands of laid off workers from Alitalia who are actually gettisoning the revival of Italy’s frail economy?

- And then, there’s a friend’s husband who is counting his lucky stars they don’t have kids. Having filed bankruptcy, he’s one of the stay-at-homes-with-pay until the NewCo. gives him a new contract. Except that the old one finished, the new one hasn’t kicked in, and he has not seen any pay in over 3 months.
Why is that? The slow plodding of bureaucracy? No – as if they hadn’t see it coming (they’d been talking about ditching the Company for the better part of 2 years), someone – somewhere - simply forgot to put in the paperwork. For the thousands of employees.
Adding insult to injury, he got a strange notification in December. His tredicesima extra Christmas payout? No. Because the OldCo. didn’t finish out his year, he actually owes Alitalia money! Needless to say, he is at wit’s end.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Tuesday, February 3

Well, today I discovered that Hans Beck, the German creator of those little Playmobil figures died. It’s almost like hearing that Charles Schulz finally passed away, the creator of Snoopy. You'd think they could just keep on creating forever (and, in the case of Playmobil, I imagine they will). And, it started me thinking of how many things we grew up with, which, in America, everyone simply believes is American. Like Prince spaghetti, Pinocchio (although Gepetto kind of gives him away) or even Speed Racer. In our limited world view, there are many people out there who probably don’t realize a lot of the things that have achieved nearly cult status are, in fact, imports [although today one could argue that it's all coming from China anyway].

And so it is as well with the Legos. Who knew they came from Denmark (well, except all you out there who’ve been to Legoland). Awesome. Pretty soon we’ll learn that Barbie actually came from the Bahamas. Although I think she might just be a Swede or Norwegian who hales from South Dakota.

There’s actually a fabulous book on Amazon for kids which shows all the things we have in America that came from Italy, including the pretzel [I actually know this story which is on my Audio Tour of the Vatican Museums…a baker made them in honor of the Polish General who fought off the Muslims at Rome’s Ponte Milvio…they were called after his stirrups or something like that…]

But, there’s a Dutch import I truly wish had never left its borders: TV’s Big Brother. Boy, was I ever relieved to learn it wasn’t yet another trash American export come our way…! But then again, although it’s from the same country that gave us the Red Light District, they also came up with those rich Coffee Houses and so…we won’t hold it against them.

Sunday, February 1

Tante Belle Cose - January

Well, this month Italy gets into the fast lane of the technology super highway:

- The Interior Ministry, after installing turnstiles to come in and out of the buildings for public employees has (supposedly) reduced absenteeism by 40%.
According to the Treasury office, this uptick in productivity alone might keep Italy from falling into a deep recession. More turnstiles are planned soon.

- And, in keeping with the modernizing through electronics, Italy's Education Ministry has proposed using text messages to avert parents when their kids aren't at school and for other 'announcements'.
It's a great idea whose time has come, but, how I remember fondly when it was my own dad who'd call in for me (and my friends) just so we could all go out for pancake breakfasts!

- Talking to friends today, there are communities in America (many of them), including towns where ex-New Yorker ex-Yuppies go to roost without cell phone coverage. In fact, you can't even go across the bridge from Detroit to Windsor for dinner and expect to call for a table.
In Italy, Vodafone has decided to do something to change all that -- by providing fast internet to every little town and hamlet across the boot.
But, a word of warning: read the fine print on your access charges...

- And, one small step behind for (bad) new tech: Vending machines in Italy will no longer be selling alcohol. I'm sure the homeless may be disappointed, but, I sort of think it's a fairly good idea. In the meantime, they've also decided to stop selling alcohol to people in bars and discos after 2am. Considering the amount of car accidents afterwards, it's high time people have started realizing that 4 wheel tech and alcohol don't mix.