Wednesday, July 29

All the President's Cards

While on vacation with my American nephews and niece, we got to talking about the hullaboo in America over Barack Obama’s (supposed lack of) birth certificate, the ‘Birther’ movement (which to this blogger sounds a lot like people proposing natural childbirth), the bill introduced in Congress to force Presidential candidates to ‘prove’ their certificates are for real (as if government seals on original birth certificates were not enough ‘proof’), and so on.
And, it struck me, that the Italians, having had a full-fledged working Republic oh, give or take a few thousand years before us, have got the solution nailed.
But, let’s take your docs from the top (forgive me if I've left a few out along the way)…

- Your birth certificate. In the old days, if you were born to a single or unmarried mom, they actually wrote FATHER UNKNOWN. And this was well before sperm banks and test tube babies, so you know, pretty much, that the woman generally knew who she did it with and when…
Nowadays, if you’re born to a single or unmarried mom, the child is pretty much not allowed to have your last name for your efforts of 36 hours in labor – unless you swear on a stack of bibles that the FATHER IS TOTALLY UNKNOWN. In Italy, the only single feminist symbol around is that women, due to the extreme bureaucracy, you are forced to keep your own names. That’s because it’d be so totally impossible to change them even if your name happens to be GianPieroMaria Mangiapane Bevilacqua.
If you were unfortunately saddled with a middle name like every American, you’d then have to consider it like a first name the rest of your life, even if you were named Luisa George after a long-lost uncle in America. Whenever I sign on to my Vodafone account, I’m cheerily met with “Welcome Francesca Martine!”

- Someone in your family would then have to go down to the City offices and make a form, STATO DI FAMIGLIA, announcing your home’s new arrival. At which point, the GARBAGE COLLECTION people would start charging extra, considering you're producing more garbage [and if you stop and think about how many disposable but not biodegradable diapers that baby consumes, you’d think the rate would quadruple, but, let’s not give the authorities any ideas…].
Funny thing is, when your roommate moves out, and you change your Stato di Famiglia, the garbage people somehow don’t quite catch on to the change…

- You then need to get a PASSPORT (if you’re the traveling kind), a CARTA D’IDENTITA’ (an i.d. card which even used to list if you were single, married, widowed or divorced and in an incredible encroachment, I think even dating and available…) and now, a HEALTH CARD which doubles (in an anti- bureaucracy moment of respite) as your SOCIAL SECURITY CARD (codice fiscale).
As you age, you’d have to get a DRIVER’S LICENSE and pay your TV Tax, coming clean on the number of Tvs you have in your household.

- Try moving out of your parents’ home and, most people, to avoid the hassle, keep their RESIDENCY CARD always in place (much to the chagrine of the pappas who pay the garbage tax, but the mammas who are happy to have that little apron string dangling in the form of figuring you into her garbage collection – Of course, with all the meals she prepares for you and sends over in Tupperware containers, you are most likely causing the majority of the garbage over at her homestead anyway).
So, you then must set up your DOMICILE certificate, claiming that you do, indeed, live somewhere else than your primary residence. All this has to do with keeping track of you, where you vote, and, in the case of asking for a mortgage, at what rate you might be getting.

Note: NONEabsolutely none – of the aforementioned documents are stand alone: You need to show proof of almost all of the rest in order that they will allow you to be the recipient of the doc you’re missing. So, they’re all intra-related in some way.

- But the clincher, as a reader once informed me, is what would obviously settle the insane Obama debacle once and for all: The illusive and illustrious CERTIFICATO DI ESISTENZA.
This is, in short, a document in which you claim in front of a government official and in the form of a written statement, that you do, indeed exist.
I am not sure what it’s used for or how they can prove otherwise, seeing that we are not yet double-checking fingerprints nor conducting iris scans, but…perhaps if Obama had dual citizenship, his coughing up this certificate would really put things to rest. Or not.
After all, dual citizenship would probably carry with it its own bill pending in Congress: the Double Birthing Bill [not to be confused with some Octo-mom anti-fertility drug measures].

Sunday, July 26

Business Weak

A friend of mine recently gave me a fabulous hairbrush – so fabulous, I thought it came from a top salon. Turns out it came from The Euro Store – that Italian reproduction of the Dollar Store, except that everything’s $1.42 (at today’s exchange rate). But, funny thing about the euro store in Rome – the one near Piazza San Silvestro decided to improve on the dollar store – and go not one, but two better: His store is called the €1 €2 €3 store. So much for containing costs in a global recession.

Rome and the Province have been pretty busy busting up mafia organizations all around town. This month we heard that they’ve confiscated 328 properties owned by mafia ties (or their so-called, prestanomi – basically, unemployed people from the south with clean records who seemingly amass small fortunes overnight and buy prime real estate around the country).
So, with city funds low and operating costs high, what do they do with the property? Sell them at the amazingly high market prices? Naw….they want to turn them into various city buildings…uhhhh—basically making them cash bleeders, not givers. I guess even humble city clerks still want to stamp their cards under frescoed ceilings.

Along with their bust of haughty establishments like the Via Veneto's Caffè du Paris, (the swanky bar was closed for their money-laundering activities) – only to reopen a few hours later. Granted, that was to establish the City as officially governing their monies but still…

America just went to Digital TV. The government has offered coupons of sorts so you do not end up as roadkill on the digital highway. TV converter boxes usually cost between $40 and $80. Each U.S. household may request up to two $40 coupons to help pay for the cost of converter boxes.

In Italy, they’ve done the same thing. All you need is to purchase a simple decoder – the most economic – inappropriately called “ Zapper” (word used to mean switching from station to station, obviously due to the exceptional programming) – yours for only 100 to 200 euro ($142 - $284). You can even get a more interactive unit at the special price of only 250 to 350 euro ($355 to $500)!
But, not to despair, you can receive your own rebate of 150 euro per user! But before you rejoice, read the fine print: the Zapper is excluded from the rebate program. And, don’t forget: You better have your RAI subscription (107.50 euro) intact and up to date.
One thing I have to look forward to: If I’m over 65, I can get 50 euro off (but by then, will we even have Tvs?) And, when I reach 75, I don’t even have to pay the RAI shakedown!
Let’s hope there will be no more RAI by then.

Wednesday, July 22

Tips for Travelling in Italy

With so many visitors to Italy, I grow a bit tired trying to explain the tipping thing. Time & again. Inside & Out. And, no matter how much I blather, there they go, leaving tips and ruining the market for the rest of us. So, as one of my periodic Public Service Announcements, here it is, YOUR GUIDE TO TRAVELING IN ITALY – TIPPINGDo you? Or, don’t you?
Like any good practices, let’s start with a definition of terms:

TIP: “a gift of money for a service, especially as an amount above what is owed”

So, why do we tip? TIPS – To Insure Personal Service

And, who receives those tips?

In the USA, we generally give a tip to people who have the following qualities:

- making well under the minimum wage (and that wage has been kept to a bare, unmovable minimum for years).
- do not get paid vacations
- probably do not even get paid sick leave, which means they lose income for getting the flu
- do not have health coverage on pretty much any level, although this is not across the board
- are often students/ actors looking to top up income
- try their best to assure you get great service in order to gain those tips

In Italy, waiters are a bit of a different breed:

- they make the standard wage for their category, assured by State Law (not by the enterprise), although that wage does not always go up year after year
- they get an extra month’s pay in August or December, or both
- they get paid vacations, upwards of 4 – 6 weeks
- they get paid sick leave, with no max no. of days that they can’t be sick. In fact, if they break their leg or even pull a shoulder, they don’t have to go back to work for 6 weeks, all the while, getting paid their entire wages
- they receive free national health coverage on pretty much any level
- they are professionals in their industry, and often get paid as well as a banker or other professional categories. If they’re paid under the table, 100% of their income is in their pocket, no taxes applied. And they probably can still use those health benefits
- they try their best to assure you get great service anyway, which is a good thing although this is not always the case.
The incredible thing is, if you leave a tip on the table, it almost all goes handily into the cash register of the owner, and not into the pocket of the person who served you in the first place.
That same owner, aside from charging you $12 for a 12 cent plate of pasta, already owns most of that gorgeous block of buildings where you’re eating, right in the heart of (fill in city name here). They bought the block around the corner too, after doubling prices following the introduction of the euro.

When you sit down, aside from being charged double in bars, you pay what is called a COPERTO (bread / tablecloth use). This is a per person charge of about $1.50 to $4 depending on the establishment. I was once charged near the Pantheon $8. This can come out to 10% of your bill in mild-mannered places. In Rome, they did away with the Coperto, so now, it’s off the menu but still on the bill. I can personally attest you'll be charged even if you’re yeast intolerant.

Taking the lead of the hordes of American tourists coming here and leaving large tips for no apparent reason (even in the fanciest of places in the old days Italians would leave a 1000 lire bill on the table – roughly 40 cents), many tourist places also add a 12% or so service onto the bill. It is sometimes stated on the menu in fine print.

As a result, Americans have ruined the market, as waiters, on hearing your English, expect the big bucks. [In Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, after paying a hefty coperto, plus the Service charge, the waiter actually chased me down for the tip…! Needless to say, I never ate there again]. The craftier establishments give you a credit card receipt with the tip line empty, hoping you are none the wiser.

So, for all you Americans who, despite all of the above pointers, still FEEL GUILTY out of habit, or simply feel like indulging your obvious masochistic tendencies, you are off the hook. You have my permission NOT TO TIP. Ditto on taxi drivers.
And, to assuage your guilt further, just say to yourself as you leave and graciously shake hands, “50 years’ of Americans have been paying my tips for me.”
Besides, as the Japanese tourists recently discovered (after a 130 euro tip was added to their bill), you’re probably paying a bit more for everything anyway than the Rossi table dining right next to you.

picture from Ethisphere Click there to read about the great debate at Starbucks.

Sunday, July 19

NASA, Space Expeditions & (Un) Real Time Reporting

July 20th (21st in Italy) marks the 40th anniversary of the American landing on the moon. Everyone is making a nod to this great event, with TV specials, documentaries, interviews, heck – even Louis Vuitton came out with an extra special ad and web feature (as if they were the Official Sponsor of the Nasa Suitcase Supply).

In Italy, that fateful event did not go unnoticed. In fact, it remains in the collective consciousness a day of celebration for all mankind (except the ones who still believe it was all a hoax) and one of the great moments for TV reporting. In fact, from that day forward, TVs needed to be in every home (and with it, the notorious TV tax). While watching an excellently-commented documentary on Italian TV of the significance of that great day, I learned so much – not about opening frontiers where no man had gone before – but about the long-standing tradition of television bickering which started then; and is still going strong these 40 years later.

On that fateful day, over 20 million people were glued to their screens. It was the first all-live – 24/7 broadcast ever – a telethon of sorts lasting 30 hours. But, true to Italian organization, the only moment that was not broadcast was the landing itself. The reporters covering the event had gotten into an argument over whether or not the landing had just occurred. In their squabble, 20 million people tuned in to miss Armstrong’s fateful declaration, “Houston, the Aquila has landed.”

Basically, Tito Stagno, comfy in his RAI studio in Rome, was shouting (probably to best the on-location reporter, Ruggero Orlando live from Houston), “It’s Landed!”  Orlando chimed in, “No, it still has 10 meters to go!” Stagno couldn’t see the images just then being transmitted. From the base on the Sea of Tranquility, Stagno, trying to be the first, went down in history all right – for muddying the waters – as his name, Still Pond, suggests.

Another tidbit: The only other person who couldn’t see the landing was the third Astronaut, Michael Collins. His job was to stay in orbit to retrieve his comrades. Fittingly, our Michael was born in Rome – on the Via Tevere.

As the reporter for the Corriere della Sera so appropriately remarked of the occasion, “Noi siamo di quelli che quando il dito indica la luna, guardiamo il dito.”
We’re the ones who, when indicating the moon with a finger, ends up peering at the finger.”

Thursday, July 16

Rome's Nose Jobs

While biding my time at Rome's ACEA Electrical Co. offices (just wait 'til you hear about that one!), I came across this incredible treasure map of Rome's Nasoni water fountains. And so, as a service to tourists and residents alike, currently melting in the unbearable summer heat, I thought I'd publish it here for you.
Why, in the face of EU fines they would ever actually provide the world with an actual map to their water-wasting ways is beyond me, but, maybe it's a nod to transparency. Of course, should officials descend on the ACEA fontanella, they'd find it was retrofitted with a tap. Why the dozens of others don't get them is beyond me. But, in reality, I wonder if it'd make a difference -- after all, the water's flowing beneath our feet anyway, no?

I also found their listing of the quality of Rome's water, which is better than bottled and the best thing in town...(but, they never come clean on the pipes which bring it into your home...)

Wednesday, July 15

Bloggers on Strike

I meant to post this YESTERDAY, because it was the day of the strike, in which bloggers in Italy supposedly kept mum in protest of a new decree against freedom of speech and press which the Italian government will most likely pass. The reality is, I got my dates wrong, but I would have blogged anyway: I am fundamentally opposed to strikes of any kind, anywhere, and for any reason; especially ones in which -- errrr -- to oppose the government silencing you, you decide to silence yourself? Wow. That'll really make them capitulate.
In my opinion, bloggers and twitterers should have been churning up the airwaves, hacking into Alfano's Ministry, causing political unrest, and posting Alfano Sucks and other like epithets -- such as the ones they're going to try and 'police' 24/7.
So, what's the strike all about? According to the email a reader sent over (grazie mille), I'm not totally sure. True to form for the illustrious Italian reporting which they are trying so hard to defend, they sort of glossed over the WHY in the 5Ws which needed to be answered (Who, What, Where, When, Why). But, for your reading or sleuthing pleasure, I will reprint here the missive. I believe they are trying to get bloggers (you can call it the Anti-Beppe Grillo decree) to stand by their 'reporting', basically taking opinion (which is us bloggers' very currency) out of the equation.

On July 14, 2009, Italian bloggers will muzzle themselves in the Web as well as in Piazza Navona in Rome, where they will meet to protest against an Italian government bill (the Alfano decree) introducing a number of new rules which will limit the freedom of expression in Italian internet.
The so-called "obligation to rectify" imposed to the manager of an information
site (blogs, social networks such as Facebook, Twitter etc) clearly appears to
be a pretext. In fact such imposition, in terms of bureaucratization of the network and of very heavy penalties for users, shall make of the new decree an internet killer.
The practical effects shall be to cause independent sites and blogs to cease or to materially reduce their publications. The apparent intent of introducing criteria of responsibility hides the attempt to make life difficult or impossible for bloggers and users of shared sites (for example: You Tube...)
The fact is that bloggers are already entirely liable, from a penal standpoint, in the event of crimes such as insults, defamation etc: there is no need to introduce unbearable penalties for "citizen-journalists" who do not intend to submit themselves to the bureaucracy and the burdens contemplated in the Alfano decree.
The plurality of information, regardless of the media, internet, newspapers, radio and tv networks etc, is a fundamental right of men and citizens, on which democracy and freedom are based. The Alfano decree is an attack to the freedom of all media, from the major newspapers to the smallest blog.
For this reason we invite all Italian blogs and sites to a day of silence, on the
day in which newspapers and tv networks will also remain silent. It is a message of all operators in the media world, who give a shout out to the political world: "We do not want to be gagged".
We therefore invite all citizens with a blog or a site to publish this logo. Defending the press, the tv and radio networks, the journalists and the Web, we firmly defend the basic freedom of information and the future of our democracy.

Welcome to the anti-Berlusconi Gossip Pages decree. Or, welcome to Iran. Same thing.

Saturday, July 11

Monte dei Pacchi*

Italians love to assert that they’re a nostalgic people. In fact, with their cobble stones and family dinners, being tied to the past is one of the qualities that, from an ever-changing-all-the-time American perspective, can truly be heartwarming. Except when that nostalgia extends to your local bank.

Monte dei Paschi di Siena was the first bank to open its doors to the public way back when in 1472 (in fact, it’s thought to be the oldest bank in the world). Back in those days, you could send a check to France – horseback – and your funds would arrive and most likely could be cashed by the Prince next door (if you happened to have one). Banking with them today, you still need a Prince next door to expedite your transactions. MPS, when faced with growing competition and modern technology seem so wholly perplexed, they fall back on their Medieval ways; in a way to sort of stump the competition (their motto: one step behind our customers!).

Let’s start with the global picture: Banks are getting together faster than Berlusconi and his call girls and yet, you still can’t deposit money in Milan and find it in your account in Rome. Try cashing a check, and you need the Pope’s blessing on a Leap Year. My recent check from a Roman bank took 9 days to clear, 13 for me to actually use the funds.

In Piazza dei Navigatori, they spent 6 months refurbishing the spanking new branch. With great expectations, its doors opened up right to a vision -- of 1982. The three counters turned into 2, one on most days. Countertops were removed so we no longer can fill out our forms – but that’s not a problem, there are no forms. You have to wait your turn, just like at the Post Office to fill them out; adding about 4 minutes per transaction. While you wait, you discover that the 14 seats are now halved. At the ‘long transaction window’ they simply did away with them, so you stand there while perusing your dozens of mortgage forms.

With so many people milling about, they no longer allow you in the door. If there’s a line, you wait outside – rain or shine. They won’t allow you in to grab a number so you can go run a few more errands in the meantime – because there are no more ticket machines. Now you have to vie for your place in front of the little old ladies who creep up in front of you, just like at the panetteria. While the men pretend you just don't exist, except the old lechers who try and stand belly to belly with you.

They’ve managed to fill out the employees with pretty young things. They toss in the male ‘elder’ (one I’ve known for over 25 years) to provide an actual understanding of the business. He is interrupted about every 40 seconds to go help out the fanciulle who stare up doe-eyed. I think it's actually good for business. Going up to the counter, and you get the impression that you just walked onto a variety show, veline and all.

I had to make a simple deposit. My clerk actually got up, made photocopies of the deposit forms, pulled out the scissors, and ecco fatto! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. Asking for a credit card, the hostess – errr – bank clerk disappeared. For so long, I thought she quit over the pressure. Much later, she hemmed and hawed before telling me to “come back in a few days and maybe they’ll have the forms in.”

Trying your luck with the Bancomat outside is like trying to win the lottery. It’s operational about 1 day a week. When it works, you find they’ve added about 4 new steps to making your transaction, such as donating to Aquila’s rebuilding or long distance adoption, before you can even insert your code.

All this great customer service combined with the infinitesimal interest rates and extortionate taxes and misc. 'charges' (that are the highest in Europe), and the mattress is looking like a pretty terrific option. Now how’s that for nostalgic?

*Monte dei Pacchi = Mountain of Ripoffs / un pacco actually means a package, but when used in as “Mi hanno tirato un pacco” it means, 'They've totally ripped me off."

Thursday, July 9

Driving in Italy, Michelle Obama and Gelato

Okay, now I don't ever do this, but since my sister & husband showed up today with their four kids, I think it comes with the sort of Twitter-mentality induced by trying to complete a full sentence to any one person within a certain space of time (like, say, 9 hours). So, I'm just going to share a few random thoughts about today, just because my synapses can no longer fire coherently:

- Michelle Obama & kids visited the Pantheon today. It has been twittered, and it's probably TOTALLY UNTRUE, in the friend of a friend of a friend sort of variety of info that our TOTALLY COOL FIRST LADY donning black leggings - leggings!- under a black dress asked for a doggy bag at the restaurant. You mean to tell me, my blog isn't required reading prior to a Presidential presence in Italia???!!! I mean, is she a midnight snacker? Did Barack call her up and say, honey can you pick me up a little something while you're out and about??
If not, I'm going to say in her defense that she must be travelling with Bo, and she didn't know she could bring him to the ristorante...(again, if she only read my blog...!)

- And while I'm on the Obama's case, I understand a bunch of nations promised to dump money into the endless corruption pit that will be Aquila's rebuilding. I don't know about you, but personally, I'd like to see a bit more of an improvement say, in making robust levees in New Orleans or actually rebuilding Ground Zero (8 years on...) before I see American tax dollars lining contractors' and politicos' pockets over here. I mean, how much black market money do we have to go around?
Between paying bribes to Pakistanis, Iraqis and Afghan Warlords, I'm sure N'awlins still needs to suck up its fair share... I can still hear Berlusconi laughing all the way to the bank with his G8 Show n'Tell.

- We walked around town to hit the best gelateria in Rome (in the lovely Garbatella area) where the kids dished into pure frozen nutella. But, my nephew wasn't allowed a full €1.50 cup of it (2 scoops), because it was more costly to produce.
I suggested we merely pay more, or, get two cups with half nutella in it, and then swap halfway through... This sort of shenanigans just boggles the mind...or, turns you into a full-fledged-always-looking-for-the-angle paesano.

- We surveyed the damage of the fallen trees in the 'hood, which, in a way, was a godsend. Because so many were fully uprooted, trunks and all, the sidewalks were actually free of all the mini-stumps left by the tree cutters union ["My job's to cut down, ma'am, not to pull out stumps"] in its wake.
Now I wonder what will become of all the mini pits along all the sidewalks...Will they just naturally fill with trash? Or, will we end up having to pull out of them old ladies and blind people periodically?

- Earlier in the morning, a man riding down the oncoming lane in order to make his left turn (they're usually on the crosswalk at this intersection, so this was actually an impeccable driver), got front-ended by a young woman on a motorino. Although clearly his fault, he managed to convince her of her caprice while bending over to survey the scratches left on his bumper.
I offered my assistance in not letting her literally get taken for a ride by this joker, but to no avail...As my nephews sang to me a bit later, "Car, car, c-a-r, get to the right or you'll be tar".
Only problem was, even when you're on the right, you're wrong!

Tuesday, July 7

Italian TV Presenters: putting on a new face

Since 1953, Italy has been using TV presenters to tell you the night’s programming, basically in what would be known today as a ‘videocast’. It’s one of the most endearing qualities of life in the Bel Paese. What’s more incredible about these announcers is that they are so loved, they are allowed to stay on long after their looks have gone into retirement. A few years back, the RAI decided to put them out to pasture – and in a public outcry so loud and long, they rescinded the order in a nanosecond. About the first time any government proclamation could be put into effect that quickly. Truly, in a country totally smitten with sexy young veline, the aging presenters are almost like an exhibition in a natural history museum, but we love them to smithereens.

And so, it comes as a huge surprise that metrosexual Italy has now chosen a new Signorina Buonasera – except he’s a Signorino. Even more incredible, he’s half-Egyptian, and it feels as if nothing short of a revolution is taking place – literally right before our eyes. In a nod toward their ever-changing population, they've chosen a young, tanned (in the Berlusconi-Obama sort of way), mixed-ethnicity guy with a truly terrific smile.

He would seem to have all the right credentials – but does he?

I have long held that Italy holds the title for the most over-talented and under-utilized population on earth. Well, even for our Signorino this seems to be the case. In a wonderful tribute article in the Corriere della Sera, we discover that our presenter Livio Bashir brings a curriculum vitae just perfect for this job announcing the evening’s shows:

- graduated with honors in Communications
- became a publicist
- won an Erasmus scholarship to the Social Sciences dept at Paris’ famed Sorbonne
- studied acting at the Living Theatre
- and has worked in theater, TV, movies and advertising

But, I shouldn’t despair. After all, Barbara Matera was a RAI announcer for 4 years. She’s now bringing down 20000 euro/month as a Europarliamentarian for Berlusconi's party.
Livio may just have the right credentials after all.

Friday, July 3

Tante Belle Cose - June09

Well, the best news to come out this month is the arrival of summer, although judging from the people who attempt to cool off in Rome’s fountains, I don’t mean because of the intense heat: It’s L’Estate Romana, when there is l’imbarazzo della scelta of outdoor theatres, cinemas, concerts, plays, and every sort of entertainment around. From the ancient theatre of Ostia Antica to world music in Villa Ada, amazing shows in Tivoli and even little parks filled with one activity or another, including Rome Vintage and totally fun Gay Village, summer has arrived. It truly makes you want to spend your time in the fairly emptied city, year after year.
You can visit the site, but, being government run, good luck in actually finding show times and costs. You can’t have everything.

Dining at the Hassler Hotel’s Palazzetto one fine evening overlooking Piazza di Spagna, I was amazed to find the Spanish Steps just teeming with people. This is one law I’m fully thrilled is not being enforced. The idea of banishing people from the steps, and fining them if they so much imbibed in a gelato was the greatest insult to a tourism-based kind of place. Recently it was also proclaimed to get rid of the masseuses off the beaches of Ostia. Frankly, I think it’s a fine idea – after all, they’re not licensed or anything.
But, could they please add the trinket salesmen with their glow-in-the-dark gadgets to their list? I’d truly love to enjoy a meal out in a trattoria in Trastevere without having a half dozen glow toys surrounding my Prosecco glass.

Like so many of Mayor Alemanno’s vast proclamations, after the clean sweep, just like flies the perpetrators just keep coming back for more. Although another bella cosa is, I haven’t happened upon the hookers on the Via Salaria, although the transvestites who frequent the Aventino are still in full force right under the nose of the military posted there.

Aside from uncovering Saint Paul himself, they also discovered at the close of this Pauline year, a truly ancient fresco depicting the saint himself. It was found in the catacombs of Saint Tecla and dates back to the IV century.

And finally, it would appear that all of the monuments damaged in Aquila’s earthquake have found sponsors for their restoration. Thank goodness.
Just in time for the new tremors felt today.

Wednesday, July 1

Saint Paul, the Shroud of Turin and other Miracles

Over the last year we have been celebrating here in Rome, the Anno Paolino or rather, the Year of Saint Paul of Tarsus. This is to mark the bimillenium (that’s 2000 years to the rest of us) of his birth. And so, all of the churches around most of the Christian world have devoted programs surrounding this great man, his writings and so on.
And so it came as such a befitting ending to this year of celebration that it was announced that it is, in fact, Saint Paul who is buried underneath the altar of Saint Paul Outside the Walls; purportedly, the place where he was lain following his martyrdom by beheading. An altar of sorts had sprung up outside the walls, and the place was heaped in legend. ‘Til one day, they built the magnificent Basilica to St. Paul.
But they never knew for sure if someone was really resting in peace around those parts. So, in what can be nothing short of a miracle, there they were, working away – even on Sunday – having seemingly turned their plowshares into light sabers -- to uncover the truth behind the body at Saint Paul’s. And, lo and behold! Right on schedule (even if calendars may have changed somewhat since his time), there we were, on the Feast Day of Saint Paul and the last day in the Anno Paolino, we got the word straight from the Pope's mouth about this magnificent discovery. Doesn’t get much more apropos than that.
Although one could comment, in the marketing-challenged world that is Italy, it might have made a bit more sense to dish the dirt (figuratively) at the start of the Pauline year, and not the end...may have gone a long way to bringing in more hordes of pilgrims.
But, funny thing about those lasers and carbon dating equipment, though. They can’t quite peg the Shroud of Turin to be the Medieval rag that it is ("results inconclusive"), nor can they quite figure out if the tears of blood cried by the statue of the Madonna each year in Naples is really kool-aid, but, as for Saint Paul, it's pretty definitive—even though the body was not exhumed for the purpose.
The Lord does, indeed, work in mysterious ways.