Friday, May 29

FIAT-Chrylser: The Italian Job?

picture from Chryslerpedia
Take a look at some of the most recent headlines from my journal of choice when I get a bit homesick - The Detroit News:

23 Apr 2009 Fiat CEO says Chrysler deal is the top priority, but doesn't rule …
Fiat SpA Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne signaled Thursday that the Italian automaker might explore a deal with General Motors Corp.

25 Apr Fiat leader convinced he can help Chrysler
The chief executive of Fiat told the White House auto task force Thursday that the Italian automaker could help Chrysler recover and repay the billions it ...

…That is emerging as a sticking point in talks between GM and Fiat... Marchionne ruled out spending cash to combine Fiat with Chrysler and GM Europe. ...

Summers: Fiat-Chrysler talks still up in the air
Saturday, May 2, 2009 Fiat head to discuss Opel concept
Berlin -- The head of Italian carmaker Fiat SpA, which is in the process of acquiring U.S. automaker Chrysler, is continuing talks with German officials about a possible takeover of General Motors Corp.'s Opel unit, according to media reports Saturday.

Fiat explores merger with GM Europe
Italy's Fiat SpA said Sunday that its board was willing to explore a possible merger between the Italian company's auto activities, including its interest ...

Fiat seeks GM Europe deal

Italy's Fiat SpA, fresh from signing an alliance agreement with Chrysler LLC, said Sunday that it was exploring the possibility of merging its auto business ...

29 May 2009 Fiat to stay away from Friday Opel talks
Milan -- Officials from automaker Fiat will not attend Friday's talks with the German government about its offer for Opel, blaming Berlin's ...

Now, anyone who has ever read the Detroit papers as long as I have will attest that generally, they’re usually pretty reliable sources of information. So, what gives? I’d be willing to venture that the jolly card here is FIAT being put into play.

Any historian buffs or business execs out there will certainly recognize a few salient features in this deal:

1. Modern day capitalism with its' correspondent takeovers between companies valued at greater than most countries is nothing short of warfare.

2. Although in Italy, Italians love to repeat they are all ‘individuals’ and not team players (except maybe in soccer), they love, when it comes to business, to form unwieldy teams which then get bogged down in petty fiefdoms and conflicts of interest, just like in the days of Theodoric. And here, I cite Alitalia. It wasn’t enough for Air France or Italy’s Air One to take it over (or together). No, they had to form a huge consortium of banks, old Alitalia, Lufthansa, and heck, Air One and Air France just for kicks.

3. In Ancient Rome, a snazzy Triumvirate was formed between three good men, namely Gaius Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great). To complicate matters, according to Wikipedia, the First Triumvirate had no official status whatsoever – its overwhelming power in the Roman Republic was strictly unofficial influence -- and was in fact kept secret for some time as part of the political machinations of the Triumvirs themselves.
After the deaths of the above (see: all's fair in love & war), a Second Triumvirate was duly formed by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus (later known as Augustus), Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony. And, we all know how successfully that ended.

4. Italians in WWII fought valiantly, winning key battles not so much through their prowess, but more simply by flummoxing their adversaries (first the British then the Germans after switching sides when they saw their chips were down) through your basic disorganization variety of battle strategy [I cite the Battle of El Alamein, in specific, and the battles for Africa in general]. Sometimes, they even perplexed their own side:

Quote by Axis Commander Erwin Rommel (source wikipedia):

Rommel was later to blame the failure to break through to the Nile on how the sources of supply to his army had dried up:
… then the power of resistance of many Italian formations collapsed. The duties of comradeship, for me particularly as their Commander-in-Chief, compel me to state unequivocally that the defeats which the Italian formations suffered at Alamein in early July were not the fault of the Italian soldier. The Italian was willing, unselfish and a good, and, considering the conditions under which he served, had always given better than average. There is no doubt that the achievement of every Italian unit, especially of the motorised forces, far surpassed anything that the Italian Army had done for a hundred years. Many Italian generals and officers won our admiration both as men and as soldiers. The cause of the Italian defeat had its roots in the whole Italian military state and system, in their poor armament and in the general lack of interest in the war by many Italians, both officers and statesmen. This Italian failure frequently prevented the realisation of my plans.

Rommel complained bitterly about the failure of important Italian convoys to get through to him desperately needed tanks and supplies-always blaming the Italian Supreme Command, never suspecting British code breaking.

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but this FIAT – Chrysler no, FIAT – Opel, no Fiat – GM – Chrysler Triumvirate smacks a lot like history repeating itself.

Tuesday, May 26

Roma Nascosta - Really Hidden Rome

Well, this week we were greeted with totally cool news: a bunch of underground archeological sites, heretofore unseen by the general public, would be opened in an exclusive showing. And we thought we had the place pretty much carved right up! The release was picked up ‘round the world, but with no snoopy reporter offering a clarifying followup question.
Problem is, in keeping with tradition, the places remained hidden from public view, even in the newspapers and on websites. Incredibly, but typically, they simply forgot to provide the details – oh, say, like names and, how to make a reservation (obligatory, however). They went all-out to make sure they got the standard quote in order to fan the ego errrr.. feathers of the town Mayor, however. As if his comment is going to send a rush of fans to the front doors.
Sadly, from Milan to Messina, huge posters often go out announcing the event, only to have neglected key details. I've even seen signs up all over town for performances, but missing the date. Sometimes, you'll find a new-fangled website, the name of which you will never ever remember upon leaving the station. For a show on Garibaldi, for example, the site might be:
In the event you do remember the logon, you have to click through in a sort of Finding Nemo sort of fashion in order to find what you’re looking for, only to be timed out upon ticket purchase.
I started thinking that perhaps they had simply made Hidden Rome into a sort of archeological dig theme party. The ones who manage to pick out an underground site, go to google street view (oops – that wouldn’t work, as it’s below the ground), and stand in line (oops – that was for hot cornetti) and make it in, would be treated to a host of netherworld delights.
The first clue was to be found on posters with a call in number (as if I would be able to write down all the names, opening times, and locations). I opted instead to try my luck at the Rome City website. There, I started clicking away, down to artistic sort of things, giving new meaning to the term, 'carpal tunnel', and lo and behold! I could download a pdf of the entire week’s programming. (but only because I’m in the business, did I know to click on the very last item on the list, Zetema – as if that name was a dead giveaway).
This is actually an improvement: In the past, I would have had to fax in my i.d. cards, promise my first born and attach a picture of me kissing the last pope’s ring colored in burnt sienna in order to obtain the pdf file. I feel I’m way ahead of the game – if everyone else has as much trouble as me, perhaps the lines will be considerably shorter. I’ll keep you posted on what else I dig up.

Here is the magical pdf file link
Please note, check back periodically for this initiative as it runs off/on throughout the year.
For reservations: Tel. 060608 or see the Zetema site.

Saturday, May 23

European Elections - what are we voting on?

I've finally reached a conclusion about the upcoming European Parliament elections. It comes down to pretty much two sides, but, in Italy, not even just between Right & Left; candidates seem to compete with each other within their own 'tidy' little party. But, from my perspective (a streetwalker of sorts), it comes down to how you view Italy & Europe:

Mr. Gualtieri wants to bring more of Europe into Italy (and, I must say, a welcome choice of semantics).

While Mr. DeAngelis wants to bring more of Rome (and its parent region, Lazio into Europe).

Seriously wondering how the Swedes, heck, even the Belgians would feel about that.

Berlusconi's right, on of course, their mad path to demagoguery definitely holds no bars when it comes to what they want: absolute control of Europe through the 'Italian way'.
Even his right wing brother, Sarkozy attempted (and failed) to extend the Presidency indefinitely, taking his cue from like-minded Napoleon.

While the rest of the cast of characters, tend to follow DeAngelis' lead here, and decide that the European elections, are, simply put: about Europe.

I guess they haven't figured it out yet that Italy is, in fact, part of the European Union already.

Thursday, May 21

Lots o' Luck!

As I’ve stated many times before (and like many before me), Italy is nothing if not a land of contradictions. But, when it comes to looking at life’s petty inconveniences, if not truly huge disasters, the Italians always turn to the exact opposite of what one would expect.

For example, if you get shat on by a pigeon (a fairly common occurrence and the incident which sparked this blog note), while you’re pretty much standing there, immobile and absolutely grossed out, an Italian will quickly quip, “Porta Fortuna!” (it brings good luck). While you ponder the goock in your hair, and your upcoming dry cleaning bill, you wonder what kind of luck is in store for you…

Ditto for stepping in dog doo. Now, if this were truly the case, the Italians would be the luckiest populace on the planet, with a close runner up by the French. And the Singaporeans, who seem like a fairly happy lot, would have the highest suicide rates in the world.

Brides are told that rain on their wedding day also Porta Bene! Try telling that to Bridezilla.

But, my very favorite expression of all, is of course, “In Bocca al Lupo!” (in the mouth of the wolf) for anyone who has to pass a test, or to whom you simply want to wish good luck. It’s the Italian equivalent of Break a Leg! But still, as someone who grew up on Little Red Riding Hood, I can’t help but think there’s a bad omen in there somewhere.

And, whomever said that Italians weren’t optimistic?

Thursday, May 14

Italy's Business Weak: Nutella and Taxes

There's a lot going on in Italy's business world, affecting not only Italians, but the world...and, contrary to popular belief (especially this popolo), much of it is quite positive. I thought I'd share my bus recap with you:

Now, I like to poke fun at the Italians for being Brand Challenged, but, they actually captured the prize given by the Reputation Institute for having the most trustworthy brand on planet earth: the ever-lovin', ever-smooth, truly scrumptious, so good you can spread it on bread and eat it for breakfast, Nutella.
Confounding common Italian business practice for decades, it still is what it says it is. And while Ikea came second, I'm wondering what happened to good 'ol Kellogg's Corn Flakes (sorry, it's a Michigan thing).

Although threatening to quit, Minister Brunetta keeps on his long march for reining in waste by public servants. He's decided people working in the public office can't be on facebook, although he and all his buddies are.
Obviously, what's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

A report came out on the greatest tax evaders in Italy. Again, contrary to popular belief, it was Italy's north that garnered the top spot. Although one could argue that in the north there are simply more businesses...
It seems to fly right in the face of the logic that Italy's no. 1 Company is the Mafia, who pretty much avoids all taxes...So, go figure.

And, while Alitalia is about to be sanctioned for their lack of respect for timeliness, they have decided to start offering the public low cost airfares.
That's one way to stop the griping on delays...many of the lowcost airlines run permanently late...

Your Nutella Fact Sheet:
- My sister once ordered a case of it when we were little which arrived broken. After sending a letter of complaint, they replaced them all, plus some and coupons on more!
- Ms. Adventures in Italy and At Home in Rome started World Nutella Day back in 2007.
- It would take almost 392,000 jars of nutella to go the entire 17 mile Monterey Bay drive (now, who'd want to do a thing like that??)

Monday, May 11

Cleaners...for Every Tough Job

A friend told me that she’s applied for legal status in Italy, versus living on the lam like almost everyone else. [Except that in Italy, if you come from outside of the Europe Zone (and in local parlance, that counts even Eastern Europe), you’re an ‘extra-comunitario’; but if you’re American, somehow, you’re not. I surmise it’s simple payback for the Marshall Plan. Personally, I like to call myself an extra-comunitaria because it feels like extra-terrestial…but, that’s just me.] But I digress.
So, in order to get all her ducks in a row, and all her docs right, she had to sign her ‘Anti-Mafia’ auto-certification. No, it’s nothing like saying you never were and never will be a communist (when trying to enter the USA once upon a time). It’s not even like stating you’re against the mafia and all its activities. It’s basically your word attesting you’ve never been in nor have dealings with the mafia.
I kid you not. These certificates are the Italian equivalent of Spic & Span.
In my long career here, I’ve had to sign dozens of these – every time I entered a public bid. Incredibly, even with all these anti-mafia certificates, articles appear almost daily on how much the mafia is in almost every business in Italy. And the numbers of businesses paying the extortion ‘protection’ fees (e.g. having mafia dealings) is off the charts. So, if we had to line up the certificates against the numbers of businesses actually doing the mafia’s dirty work, I can be pretty sure, it won’t add up.
Incredibly, these certificates are the first order of business for the rebuilding of Aquila. I’m sure the certificates by contractors and cement providers are being reviewed and approved handily as I type. They just sign the forms and, look now! Clean as a whistle.
It's no wonder the Italians have a wonderful saying, 'Gettare la spugna'. Throw in the Sponge (meaning, 'throw in the towel').

Friday, May 8

You have my word...

I've been toying for some months now about the idea of adding a bizarre ad of the week to my blog. And I've kept for over a year, this ad which incredibly, seems to be highly successful.
Now, every time I go back to Detroit, I'm met with another "Hi -- this is Art Van -- Come to Our 'Everything must go!' Furniture sale. I've been listening to Art Van for so long, I'm sure his furniture store should be renamed Rip Van Winkle. So, it's not an Italian thing at all.
But, the thing I love about this ad is that Mr. Carlino has embalmed himself in a sort of 1964 pose, never to come out again. It's like watching reruns of Leave it to Beaver. I frankly for some time wondered if he was even alive. I was thinking maybe the kids had him stuffed and brought out under the hot lamps for photo shoots once a year. Or, in the very least, they colored in those ads that he surely made back in the 50s.
But then, something remarkable happened. Here he was, looking down upon me from that giant billboard in the sky, NOT to sell me my dream home, but to get my vote for the upcoming European Parliament elections.
Same pose - same position.
A little investigation later, and I've discovered that, unlike his cutout in his ads, he has aged, and I'd even say, for the better. He went so far as to make an ad for TV, which has been rolling every evening for some time now. It has even provoked an analysis by a blogger.
But, cast my vote for him? I still sort of feel like I'd be asking Ozzie to come out of his 1960s home and represent me in 2009.

Wednesday, May 6

What's Love Got To Do With It?

When you first break with tradition, it often comes accompanied by a soundtrack similar to a herd of elephants in a china store. I’m thinking of things like, oh, little black girls attending a white school in America’s south, the investiture of a gay Bishop, the end of Apartheid, or even the first sounds of Elvis’ form of Rock n’ Roll.

And so it is, in a country heaped in tradition when it comes to making and breaking marriage vows (both done with impunity), that the very public divorce proceedings of Silvio & Veronica will be providing gossip columnists and politicos with tittle tattle for years to come. Such an audacious break with tradition has not been seen since the very married Julius Caesar brought Cleopatra over for a shopping spree in downtown Rome (and look where that got him).

This is not France – a country where the mistress and the matron can share a funeral procession; or when one presides over the wedding of someone they will soon bed – publicly [although one has to hand it to Sarkozy, like Elizabeth Taylor, he prefers to marry his lovers].

In Italy, there are a few rules regarding the holy bond of matrimony:

1. Never air your dirty laundry in public. Never. Not even to your best friend. Found your husband in bed with another man? Just respond “Tutto bene, grazie.”

2. Make vows, getting married ‘under the eyes of God’, after all, no one else is looking when you flaunt those same vows with your endless affairs.

3. Everyone knows you’ll be having affairs, and people talk candidly about them, even showing up for public functions, amante in tow. Mussolini, Agnelli, Mastroianni…right down to your local bank clerk.

4. (Try) and stay married, despite these indiscretions, for the good of ‘La Famiglia’. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is the order of the day.

So, what gives?
It’s not that the megalomaniac showman couldn’t keep it in his pants – after all, no one expected him to. It’s that he so audaciously chose to flaunt his affairs, his courtesans, his political promotion of hotties, his supposed virility so publicly.

But the Head of State being sued for divorce is simply unheard of. If anything, it’s the man who runs off during the throws of a serious midlife crisis (reference Pavarotti), leaving la mamma to tend to the nest. Obviously, living in a gilded cage now that the kids have moved is more stressful than we think.

But, one thing I know for sure: Thomas Friedman (NYTimes) often asserts that the greatest energy force in the whole wide world, stronger even than bonds of undying love, is a lack of dignity. Take away that, you unleash a hailstorm of fury – if you lose your dignity, you have nothing to lose.

And in this, with Silvio strutting his stuff, while popping Viagra 24/7, he has insulted the very dignity of the sales clerk-turned-Prime Minister’s Signora (for whom he divorced his first wife).

Obviously, Mr. Berlusconi does not know the old adage,

Hell has no wrath as a woman scorned.

Sunday, May 3

Tante Belle Cose - April09

This month, the best thing to report is that I was canvassed by the Comune di Roma for a questionnaire regarding all city services. This is great news and I never turn down a chance to voice my opinion (che sorpresa!). They score big on roads, zero on the trees, could improve bus & garbage service, but no, thank you, I don’t wish to spend more on museum & auditorium tickets, etc.
The problem with the surveys is you’re never allowed to give a comment. So they never truly know if they score low on garbage pickup because it’s not often enough, or if it’s too noisy at night. Ditto for train surveys: The train from Geneve to Milano is clean, nice, picturesque. But, I had to give it a zero for lack of computer sockets – on a business commuter train no less! But, no one will ever be the wiser…They still get kudos for commissioning the studies in any case.

This month, it was announced that Rome’s Talking Heads (see Pasquino in left hand column) will be getting a facelift. This, do to the terrific enterprise of the Associazione Abitanti del Centro Storico. First on the list: l’Abate Luigi (piazza Vidoni), followed by my very own Pasquino, Madama Lucrezia and then Facchino.
While that means they’ll be covered up for some time, when they come back, I’m sure they’ll have loads to talk about.

Rome’s Mayor Alemanno discovered a mole within his midst. Seriously. After digging a tunnel from the Capitoline Hill directly into the Forum, he’s now talking about digging another one from Castel Sant’Angelo to the Vatican.
Whether these will only be open to VIP’s, hard to tell. But one thing’s for sure, he is finally giving back the Pincio Terrace overlooking Piazza del Popolo to the people; the scaffolding from the absurd parking garage will soon be removed from the Villa Borghese park.

And finally, we all thought the best Limoncello came from Sorrento. Turns out, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the gold medal was awarded to "Lemon Armonia" produced by the company, DonnaFrida -- from Padova!
But, is it legal? Italy's drive to keep things local & official should disqualify our winner: After all, they hardly grow lemons in the cold & foggy northeast corridor.

For all things Limoncello, check out this terrific blog. More great stuff in left column.