Wednesday, April 28

The Ara Pacis – Rome’s Altar of Peace

Not long after settling in office, Rome’s Mayor Alemanno presided over the installation of a Council for Dignity, Forgiveness & Reconciliation. Taking place at the highly controversial (if you’re the Mayor of Rome) and highly disliked (again, if you’re the Mayor of Rome) Ara Pacis Museum, I was convinced that it was his gesture toward leaving the building – and its Architect, Richard Meier, finally at peace.
Having declared the first modern building in Rome's center in nearly a century an official eyesore on the sights of stunning Rome, wanting to dismantle it, and in the best case, rebuild it in Rome’s ugly suburbs (so much for beautifying the entire city - in his eyes), I thought he descended upon the Altar to declare instead its official Dignity; to Pardon Meier for his horrific creation, and to start forward toward modernizing Rome in an act of Reconciliation. This single act would lead the way toward building something new again within the city center limits.

Turns out I was wrong. On all accounts. While the city keeps up its campaign of eye pollution in allowing the hundreds of illegal advertising billboards, while it allows the SS teams in the Parks&Gardens Office to continue razing any sign of greenery in the city (leaving behind a trail of meter-high grey tree stumps which get uprooted only for planting a billboard), this was a matter of a totally different sort.

Although it must have pained Alemanno to hold his celebration at his most hated monument, he even stood to accept a sheet of pergamon to convey the lofty ideals of respect, comprehension and dialogue. Three characteristics that do not surround his Meier diatribe (built by the former left-wing Mayor). In his words,

“Occorre saper comprendere le vere ragioni dei conflitti. Al tempo stesso, "non bisogna chiudersi nella vendetta e nell'odio ma affrontare le cause reali.”
One needs to search out the real reasons for conflict.” At the same time, “One shouldn’t close himself behind hate and revenge but take on the true causes.”

Now if he would practice what he preaches, maybe the fatwa against Meier can be lifted, and the Mayor can preside over a Pax Alemanno of sorts.
picture courtesy of
click here to see the entire Altar & museum in its splendor

From RomanGuide: After a century of bloody civil and foreign wars that had brought to the end of the Roman Republic, Augustus, who had ruled as emperor since 27 B.C., seemed finally to have placed the Romans under his own personal peace, the Pax Augusta. In recognition of this achievement, the Roman Senate voted in 13 B.C. an altar dedicated to peace and to the emperor who had made the end of the civil wars possible. The result, completed about four years later, was a triumph. The Ara Pacis Augustae, the Altar of Augustan Peace is the most intimate imperial monument. The Ara (a 35x39 foot rectangle), is a perfect example of the elegant and gracious style cultivated by Augustus. Justly proud of his altar, Augustus made mention of the circumstances that led to its creation in his Achievements of the Divine Augustus (Res Gestae divi Augusti), the official autobiography written near the end of his long reign.

Saturday, April 24

Adopt an Italian Child Campaign

This in from the Italian ANSA news bureau:

'Adopt an Italian child' campaign

Italians have lost their humanity, African NGO says

23 April, 17:43

(ANSA) - Milan, April 23 - An African NGO has launched an 'adopt an Italian child' campaign as a way to help the 'sad Italian people'.

Poveri Voi (Poor You) was founded in 2008 by Tanzanian Ronaldo Samako and claims to be a non-political and non-profit active in social work.

In its ad campaign, which will be launched here next week, the NGO cities as candidates for adoption the cases of "Giuseppe, seven years old, who has never learned to laugh" and "Maria, 14, who dreams of being famous".

"We decided to act immediately because tomorrow it could be too late for too many young Italians. In agreement with the Italian institutions and with the Church, we will offer aid to young Italians," Samako said in a statement.  The main purpose of the African NGO is to find a solution to social unrest and unease among young Italians which in modern society has driven them to "alcoholism, anorexia, depression, drug addiction, consumerism and an unhealthy desire to become celebrities," he added.

All this, Samako observed, "is leading Italians to a progressive and dramatic dehumanization".

To combat this, Poveri Voi said it was ready to organize meetings, courses, concerts and cultural events as recovery tools to help children in need of support.

This along with arranging long-distance adoptions and visits to Africa.

On the NGO's website , Samako observed "Italians are sad and confused, they have lost their humanity.

Together we can give them a smile for the future".

Thursday, April 22

Bumper Cars

I will never forget the absolute thrill of being able to drive my own car around the tracks at Ohio’s Cedar Point.  I was probably only 9 or 10, and loved getting behind that wheel and tooling around the park! Heck, I was so thrilled I could drive without  a license, I ignored the fact that the car was on a sort of track and I could only accelerate so much.  That driving experience was enough for me that at 12, I took my dad’s little sports car to the local mall to pick up a bathing suit.  Never mind that it was 15 miles away.
Since amusement parks on the order of Cedar Point (the best thing Ohio has to offer) don’t exist in Italy, Italian parents like to offer their kids that same experience.  Thus the moda of the microcar.  Just because it looks like a car, acts like a car, and goes on roads like a car, parents pretend that it’s not a car.  Unlike my dad, who pretended I was actually driving a real car, in topsy-turvy Italy, parents pretend their kids are driving fake ones.  So it’s the ‘must-have’ item on any 16 year old’s wish list.
It took not one - but two - fatal accidents in the same weekend to finally shock the Romans out of their collective cognitive dissonance.  In true Italian style, of course, it’s not the fault of the person who doesn’t need a driver’s license to drive their toy car – no full-fledged patente, just a mini-patentino will do; it’s the mechanics’ fault for souping them up a bit so they’ll drive just like a real car.   
Instead of cracking down on the cars, the parents, the kids, they’ve decided to go after the mechanics.  
As for me, unless it’s your 13 year old on the tractor in the fields of Puglia, these kids should never be on four wheels - in Roman traffic - under any circumstances. 
Take them to Cedar Point instead.

the popular microcar - just for kids! in Rome.

Cedar Point's cars are larger.

Sunday, April 18

Americans Retake Rome!

With participation from Italians, of course - especially the Fondazione Garibaldi...

I thought I'd apprise you of the Retake Rome initiative -- Saturday's Earth Day event was a smashing success, with participation by all three U.S. Ambassadors (Italy-Holy See-U.N. - who knew?) and even Rome's Mayor came out to lend a hand.

See La Repubblica's terrific slide show here

What's interesting is the enthusiasm to finally do something about the graffiti covering what would otherwise be the most beautiful city (and country) in the world.  Every time I have visitors, that is one of the first remarks.  The movement is gaining such momentum that some of the crowd remarked they wanted to Retake Kenya and Retake Russia, too!

It was a great symbol of solidarity that our Ambassadors dove right in to provide some elbow grease.

and more coverage from the Corriere here

(and who says we don't practice par condicio?)

Saturday, April 17

Morning Sickness

I have finally figured out the true reason behind Italy’s low birth rate; abysmally low despite the hearty self-proclamations claiming to follow the dictates of the church.  No, it’s not what the sociologists say: that low birth rates are due to an ever-increasing financial burden, the fact that most households need two incomes, nor even because mamma’s boys are still getting pampered at home at 37 (although that certainly could be seen as a mitigating factor).

No, while in most countries, pregnancy comes with rosy-cheeks, baby showers, pats on the ever-bulging tummies, heck -- even photos on facebook; 
in Italy, pregnancy is seen as a near terminal disease which will wreak havoc on your entire being, body and mind until it is excoriated with the birth of the bouncing bundle of joy.  
 Of course, once born, childhood looks much like the outside re-creation of the ‘womb’ – with insular padding and closeness in proximity to mamma – and mamma only.  It’s like bubble boy – except mamma’s in the bubble with him.

My sister-in-law told me her Italian babysitter, two months pregnant, is suddenly not showing up for work despite claiming not to have perma sickness.  Like most Americans, she had worked up until the day she had contractions to give birth to her overdue twins, and so was quite perplexed.  I told her to expect the worst.  While my own assistant could no longer ride a bike, exercise, nor think about movement, let alone eat food (she dropped everything that might have been in contact with actual earth or animals), my American friends were heli-skiing 5 months pregnant. My other sister-in-law joined a gym after becoming pregnant.  So far, the babysitter has come down with every sort of malady listed in the ‘Merck Power of Suggestion Manual.’

The idea that you have to ‘get through’ pregnancy as if it was akin to sleeping on a bed of nails for 9 months, must be enough to put everyone off of it.  I mean, if you were told you’d experience 9 months of pure hell, even your parish priest might let you off the hook for using birth control.  
It is so pervasive, that I sometimes wonder if those crazy images of monstrous satan figures you see on the walls just before exiting a church haven't been updated to depict the maladies that women suffer during pregnancy in the more modern ones.  And you thought it was labour that God gave women as a special thank you note -- In fact, it was the whole childbirth thing -- 9 months and all.
You heard it here first.

Tuesday, April 13

Post-Christmas Returns

Given the media frenzy surrounding the mother who put her adoptive son back on a plane bound for Moscow - it would appear that this is a case that stands out because it is so exceptional.  Instead, it seems to be part of a sickening trend...
Here is my blog entry from last Christmas:

Pure bliss. Almost as good as receiving the presents, going back to the stores post-Christmas for painless returns and exchanges is something that, when you’ve been so long without, you almost forget how carefree it could be. Like riding a bicycle. I actually returned items at a different store from which I had purchased them! Some of the items, I boldly took home simply to try on, and then brought them back when they didn’t quite fit!
I was getting an actual adrenalin rush from this tempting of fate…pushing the envelope one bit further. I swore to the cashier that I saw the $29.99 hand blender on sale for $19.99 – so they said, ‘Fine – we’ll give you that price”! And for a moment I was haggling with the market vendors back at Porta Portese - but for a shiny new item instead.
But no, when the store didn’t have the right size (still) for my niece, they apologized – apologized! – and said they’d drop it in the mail straight to her…no shipping fees.

It would appear the long arm of the returns culture has America firmly in its grip. After not being able to return a purse I had purchased 30 minutes before, or train tickets that I discovered were for the wrong date, well I thought, could you have too much of a good thing? Apparently so.

While listening to my cool Soul radio station 24/7 in Detroit, I heard an absolutely atrocious story (and they weren’t talking about the Nigerian who wanted to blow up a plane over Detroit):
People were actually debating the pros & cons of returning their adopted children.
After going through the arduous process of adoption (and the even more arduous process of raising your child), it would appear that some people have found themselves with incorrigible kids, or parenthood too taxing, or whatever it is that didn’t go right. As if non-adoptive families had it any easier.

Their solution? They returned the kids. One woman actually had the nerve to call in and say she was not fully prepared to handle a special needs child - blaming the system, I might add – ‘they didn’t tell her what it involved’ (as if while deciding to bring into your home a severely disabled child -- you couldn’t quite grasp what that might entail), and so she returned her child. Later having second thoughts (just like me and the floor mat I bought at Kohl's), she then proceeded to try and get her back.
She cooly remarked, with some degree of disbelief, “They refused to give her back to me!” I for one could not believe my ears.

I wonder if in the future, they will start asking for a money back guarantee – good for three years with proof of purchase.

Saturday, April 10

Italy: Attack of the Clones

This week, I brought my little nephews to see one of the greatest sights in Rome – located right next to the Colosseum.  No, it’s not the Forum nor the Arch of Constantine, nor even the Palatine Hill where our word palatial comes from.  It was the 3D film of all of Ancient Rome, reelaborated by the University of Virginia and brought to you by Rome Rewind.  It took a Brit (and British humour) to give us an improvement on Nero’s age-old Anfiteatro Flavio [yet another example of the Italians’ penchant for naming things two times over…].

We learned many things about the area, gladiators, & the monuments before stepping into the past and visiting the Roman Forum in 3D.  Afterwards, the kids enjoyed dressing up as gladiators, battling, and playing video games on Ancient Rome.  Having read many of the Caroline Lawrence's ‘Roman Mysteries’ stories, they already knew a lot, but even I learned something new.

In an Ancient Roman update (or is it a back date?) of Sesame Street’s ‘one of these things doesn’t belong here’, we discovered that things like soap or waxing hair were not used by the Romans.  But, the most surprising was that tomatoesyes, tomatoes! – did not exist in Italy in ancient times.  In the country that gave us pasta alla Bolognese, this discovery was mind-boggling at best. 
That is, until you stop and think how much Italians copy things (from test answers to shoe designs, to cash card cloning to most everything).  Only thing is, unlike the Chinese (or the Americans for that matter – who gave us instead Tuna Helper, Olive Garden restaurants and The Venetian in Vegas), they tend to make them better.  Ford may have given us the Model-T, Italy brought on the Ferrari.

And so it was with tomatoes.  They supposedly took that pasta from the Chinese and opened ristoranti far and wide.  Prosecco is beating Champagne right out of the market, and kiwis?  What the New Zealanders thought was only theirs, is now exported in even greater quantities from the Bel Paese.  Heck – it’s said that they were Egyptian Pharoahs who sent slaves up mountaintops to bring back lemon ices.  Now, you find them sold off street carts in Spanish Harlem.

It was only so long before Italians would start copying each other.  Thus the latest rules & regulations governing all of their fine treats:  Prosciutto di Parma only from Parma, Prosecco D.O.C. only from Veneto, Parmigiano and mozzarella only from a certain type of cow…

But, considering the Chinese actually copied a Ferrari down to its decals, I predict it’s only a matter of time before we see gondoliers drifting up the Yangtzee River.

Tuesday, April 6

The Spa Treatment

I have been entertaining my nephews for the week (and they, me -- I might add) and along the way they learn things about living in Italy that are essential, like:  "Do not expect cars to stop for you just because you're in the crosswalk, like in Switzerland or England," or, "No, it's really not a good idea to try jumping in the Tiber because most people drown...," to less essential things like, "Sulphur smells like rotten eggs and most hot thermal baths smell like that."
So, off we went to try our hand at the Thermal Baths - and this experience, of course, was so typical on many levels.  Of course, the scenery to get there was spectacular.  The lake, the driving through a postcard.

Naturally, we followed the signs "Terme - 28 km - this way".  At a major intersection of course, no more signs were posted.  So, we sort of followed our noses until arriving to a major thoroughfare and turnoffs in every direction.  So, I did what any red-blooded American would do -- pulled right into the middle of the area where lanes were not -- and got out of the car -- and stood there, looking to the horizon, much like the farmer who throws grass in the wind to see from which direction the storm is coming.

Not finding any further signs toward where we were headed, I surveyed the landscape to see if there were any other signposts for this major tourist attraction on which the local economy probably depends.  And there, posted on a sign pointing right back where we had started was, "Terme 24 km - back that way."
Starting to feel like Dorothy talking to the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, I stopped to ask a policeman (after canvassing a variety of tourists and locals who said they'd never heard of the place...).  They said it was back the way we had come, but the sign we saw had probably been turned around by some malefactors...

Disappointed and demoralized, we headed instead for home.  Later, I went on to check the websites of various Terme around Rome - and, of course, the online directional information was not much better, but at the Terme di Roma I really got the Head to Toe treatment:

Like their penchant for dual-named airports, it's not really known as Terme di Roma (you're more apt to google Diocletian's ruins), but also Le Acque Albule - a tongue twister in any language (provoking the question, does Albule come from the Albume of eggs, explaining the smell of the baths???!).

Under a huge bold heading, Outdoor Pools, we learn they have four, two of which are totally child-friendly.  Following, in bold red letters, "We inform our clientele that the pools were closed on 30 September 2009.  One line below:  "We inform our clientele that the Beach Pool closed on 7 September 2009."
You that for the season? forever? for a drought?
While you ponder these and other existential questions, you have time to review their 2009 price list and the opening hours of the pools 9:30 - 17.00.

I tried calling, but after listening to the various automated options four times, I gave up.  Although they were selling all kinds of treatments, mum was the word on the pool openings and closings.  It was Tuesday. I discovered on the website that no one was in to answer the phones.

But not all is lost. I'm sure the kids enjoyed another lesson in mass communications to boot.

Thursday, April 1

The Michelin Man - World's worst ad icon

I took my car in for a revision.  Since I had the choice of looking at naked women or what a male-oriented industry offers 51% of its clientele while you wait: a big fat blimp wrapped in bandages, I chose the blimp.  And then my thoughts migrated to this man, one of the most recognizable figures on earth, second only to George Clooney (and probably a lot more reliable).
Now I'm often amazed at the utter stupidity behind advertisements in Italy (but it's pretty universal -- I just happen to live here), but I think you gotta hand it to the French. There are so many things wrong with this icon that I don't know where to begin.  So, I'll start at the beginning - his humble origins when drawn by -- yes, you guessed it - most likely a 'figlio di papà', Andre Michelin.  Proving my theory once again that most of the ludicrous ads we get are created by the offspring of the Company owners...

For a company making its name in tires - and therefore - road safety, they used Bibendum as their role model.  I just discovered while editing a book in French, that our dear friend Bibendum is the personification of the Latin phrase,  
"Nunc est bibendum! (Now is the time to drink!)"  
No wonder he needs all those tires around him - when he crashes from drunk driving into the reinforced pilons of the highway overpass.
[The fact they used a drinking slogan, also lends credence to my second theorum governing 'figli di papà' -- their only real talent is knowing how to open Champagne.]

Their incredible leap in logic, of course, was that Michelin would swallow up the obstacles (like cases of beer).  I'd truly like to know how many beer-drinking Frenchmen know Latin expressions.  But, decades on, and hugely successful as he's been, maybe this is a mute point.

And finally, there's the 'man' himself.  Although I've seen him depicted with a dashing scarf around his neck, there can't be anyone further from the emaciated Frenchmen (Gerard Depardieux excepted) we've come to know and love (but not be totally over the top for, either -- I reference: Sarkozy, Vincent Cassel - heck, their most famous personality is The Little Prince).

Here's a guy who probably should have been conceived in the USA, where in fact, most people (especially those driving big vehicles) look like this guy.  And, they probably down more than their fair share of beer.  No wonder Bibendum lasted so long - once America built all their roads, who better than a humanoid blimp to represent them.
And to counter the wily French marketing savvy, Goodyear came out with its very own real Blimp.  Bigger, fatter, and it flies!

Talk about oneupmanship.  Considering the rivalry between the two countries, you'd think the French would have disowned Bibendum the moment the Pillsbury Doughboy was formed.

Anyway, as for me, perhaps we should come up with some other images in the mechanics' garages, or in the very least, they could offer up the female equivalent: a rather large woman in a burkha. Or, George Clooney.