Wednesday, June 30

Your Guerrilla Guide to taking Taxis in Rome

Taxis / Your guerrilla guide to Rome's gorillas

1.             If some bloke comes up to you in an airport, uttering ‘Taxi-Taxi’ as if he’s about to sell you a kidney, it’s best not to take a ride. He’s illegal.  Go to the regular – authorized – white cab stand just outside the airport.  You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the handwritten sheets of paper taped on some of the signposts there.  picture from

2.             Right now, the tariff from Fiumicino (aka Leonardo daVinci) airport is at 48 euro fixed price, including tip & bags (extra persons about 1 euro each).  This is the case if you are traveling to the City Center (or, inside the Aurelian walls, as if newcomers to Italy know what that is).  If you’ve passed an immense brick wall with huge archways for cars to pass under, chances are, you’re inside the walls.  Going anywhere else, the fee is what’s on the meter.

The fee is 30 euro from Rome’s Ciampino airport. It will be printed on the side of the cab [A huge improvement from the days of printing it on a sheet which the cabbies just updated and placed in seat pockets with the tariffs of their choice - A practice you'll still find in Naples]. When you arrive at your destination, just know that drivers will regale you with a thousand excuses why it’s 60 euro or more. Take the advice of Rome Explorer, and do NOT pay a penny more.

3.             So, before you get in the cab, note the medallion number on the outside door of your taxi – copiously -- I personally like to take a photo with my phone.  Rome is quite serious about weeding out the thieves.  Any question over the cost of your ride, don’t pay it and call 113 for the police.

4.             In summer, ask first if they have air conditioning = aria condizionata.  Generally, they'll say ‘It’s broken’ (each summer, there is such an epidemic of broken air conditioners in taxis, you’d think by now all Taxis would have been recalled).  You can take another taxi and let that guy sit & sweat.  This does not, however, signify that the taxi driver then turns it on much, often leaving a window open so they don’t catch cold.

5.             Or, to avoid this entire hassle, book an airport transfer - private car or minibus with or take those groovy fast buses that wizz you into the City Center.  

But if you take a taxi from Rome's central Termini Station, there is now a 2 euro surcharge just for the benefit of picking up a white cab out in front. 
Note: I avoid taxis - worldwide - at all costs so I do not recall if this little regulation is written anywhere (save for a tiny sign stuck to a post somewhere) but I have since found confirmation:  The doorman of the Hassler Hotel also confirmed it, but he’s most likely in cohoots with the taxis…

Taxis in Italy: Ride at your own Risk.

For more caveats for Travellers arriving in the Eternal City Click Here

Tuesday, June 29

Traveling to Rome? Tips for Travelers1

With the spectacular fireworks display for our Patron saints, Peter&Paul, launched from the gorgeous terraces of Castel Sant’Angelo, Summer is officially in full swing.  And with that comes - for Travel Tuesday - the best part of what Rome has to offer – L’Estate Romana.
[never mind that next year, Rome’s Mayor will no longer finance the immense cultural offerings – something with which I am entirely in agreement].

So, if you’re planning to come to Rome, here is the latest & greatest to keep you abreast of what’s on and what should turn you off in Rome:

Prisons / Speaking of Peter&Paul, the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi just inaugurated the restored Carcere Marmertino – Mamertine Prison, the place where it is said our saints were imprisoned & chained right next to the Forum (and from whose vantage point you can get the best views without having to go in the Forum itself).  How Peter got out of his predicament is best illustrated on the walls of the Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Museums – hint: he had the help of an angel.  [all on my audio tour of the Vatican!]

If you happen by on a Friday, the Miracle Players do a terrific rendition of Rome’s history in English in about 45 mins. – fun for the whole family!

And, although the Ministry cut out the events at Castel Sant'Angelo, you can still visit the dungeons there - just ask for a separate ticket at entry...

Events / Rome sadly pooped the best party in town on the terraces of Castel Sant’Angelo with comedians, jugglers, performers, and music (citing that the few summer tourists were damaging the monument that had been repeatedly overrun by barbarians, marching armies, and wild hoardes and is still standing strong – go ponder this at the Colosseum & Pantheon with it’s millions of tourists, and go figure), but there is still something for everyone.   
Most tourists spend their evenings eating out, but if music is your thing, you can find plenty of opportunities, most conveniently starting at 9pm or later:

Open pool (all day) – music and more In Ombra del Colosseo – right above the Colosseum on the Colle Oppio hill. 

Casa del Jazz (right near Terme di Caracalla, site of the open air opera festival)

Villa Celimontana (and more of my faves here)

World Music at Villa Ada (northern Rome)

And Rome’s Auditorium has an amazing summer roster – July Sounds Good festival.

Also, clubs lining the Tiber River nearer the Castle and Isola Tiberina are a wonderful way to wile away the hours in the open air, and without the traffic.

Check listings in  for updates on everything going on all summer long.

And finally, just to show the doorman at the Hassler Hotel that there are no hard feelings, I would truly suggest a sunset drink on the terrace of their Palazzetto, right above the Spanish steps.  Beautiful.
[I no longer boycott them since they stopped their most haughty & hateful practice of not allowing you to drink at their Hotel bar if you were not a guest – gotta love recessions – at least they’re good for something].

You'll find more of my Rome favorites in the Carpe Diem section of my blog (to the left).

Friday, June 25

World Cup Roundup: Italy's Azzurri Sing the Blues

For those of you who might be interested in how the 'World Champs' could have fallen so far, so fast, from grace, I proffer a roundup of the Mia Colpa circulating in the media and in the street:
  • Coach Lippi - who has, in a rare moment of humility, taken all of the burden upon his shoulders.  Perhaps he should have watched a bit more Seinfeld or Dallas, and gone out while he was still on top [Coach of the World Champions 2006].
  • The players - The coach could barely make a team of Italian players seeing that their strongest team is almost totally foreign (see a previous blog entry here).  Add to this the fact that Italian players do not stray far from mamma's apron strings to venture out in teams far afield, and you've got a B-string team as your national squad. So, most players came from Torino's Juventus, not Italy's no. 1 team.
  • The histrionics - I admit, this didn't cause them the loss, but it sure as hell showed the immense lack of sympathy worldwide for our Azzurri once they went down.  While Italians are loved the world over, judging from Twitter, sports sites, and every media outlet on the globe, their team certainly is not.  
And, I don't think it's a case of sour grapes.  While Italy is not the only team to grab various body parts and convulse on the pitch (Slovakia's goalie wins the Oscar yesterday), they have the moves choreographed as well as a Verdi Opera.  If only they would put as much finesse and forethought into their passing.
    • The players' age - The team in the end, is old and just plain fatigued from having to play so many tournaments prior to the World Cup.  The best players were benched for injuries...And in a nutshell, the street is screaming for fresh, young blood.  People old and young were shouting this at the screens, with one octogenarian claiming, "The same names, the same shirts, we've been seeing these same guys for 30 years..."  Well, with the top age of 36, this isn't actually true...But, this team was already 4 years older and many of the leading lights back then weren't on it now (see Lippi above) 

    If we could now get people from all walks of life to join in, and repeat:
    Out with the Old, In with the New 

    -- now, one more time with gusto:  
    Run the octogenarians out of political office, Media conglomerates (for Berlusca this is one & the same), University fiefdoms, the TV shows, the Museum dictatorships (where some Directors are as old as the artifacts on display), Company Board Rooms, and even from the Holy Trinity of Italian society: La Mamma needs to step aside & let her 30-something kids grow up & get going, people were even saying so about the Pope (and his upper echelon), and finally, let's pull 'em out even from the Mafia Don secret refuges...and allow the energy & fantasy of youth to drive the ball straight into the net. 
    Do this, and believe me, Italy would not be caught offsides.
    [we'd then only have to figure out how to get our hands on the billions in Mafia money...]

    Tuesday, June 22

    Black Gold, Turin Tea

    It must be all those images of petroleum mucking up things all over America's south that brought the attention - front & center - to the EU commission.  Would they start sms campaigns to help Americans in their time of need?  Stick tougher regulations on the European petrol companies?  No - all that gooey brown chocolate gook made them think of one thing and one thing only -- how to regulate Nutella through taxes and warning labels -- seeing that the one for cigarettes has had such a resounding success over the years.

    Their central aim is good - trying to put an end to childhood obesity - but they are far off the mark. It seems that, after Nutella was lauded for having one of the best brands on earth (like say, the French soccer team), it was too much to handle -- and so the EU would have to step in to put an end to it.  After all, as fellow blogger over at the Smiling Eggplant stated so precisely, it's not Nutella that brings on the pounds, it's the person's behavior.  Think Augustus Gloop and Charlie - I'm quite certain that even once Charlie moved into that Chocolate Factory, he still would have kept the pounds off.

    And while it's true that those trim Italians are starting to look a lot more - well, American - and I don't mean the jeans & Nikes - I don't believe it's the sugar and fat of their favorite breakfast treat that's the culprit.  My nephews eat it by the barrel, but are all such sports fanatics that it wouldn't cause even a ripple in their rib cages.  And, one can make a fairly strong case that - Nutella has been around for a very long time, and Italians - up til now - haven't had much of a weight problem to speak of, unless of course, you count la mamma of days long gone by.

    Over the years, I've seen Italian kids go from 'no eating between meals' to the ones who, like their American counterparts, will go into a grocery store to pick up a six pack of Coke and a pack of Mars Bars.  Kids who had no idea what snack foods were are now treated to Pringles mini-packs on every street corner.  Add to this the McDonald's 'get 'em while they're young', the lack of school sports and mammas who call out on the playground, "Giovanni, don't sweat!" whenever they start to do something as foolish as run. All said, we're in for a case of double diabetes before you can even say, 'Coca Cola calda con la canuccia*.  The fat camps won't be far behind.

    But don't touch the one industry that does seriously well in Italy. If Italians didn't eat Nutella for breakfast, they would have no brain food at all.  They'd be back to their sandpaper Barilla biscotti dipped in milk.  And believe me, that certainly can't be a good thing.
    Nutella gives us energy, Nutella makes the world go round, Nutella, in a word, is our petroleum.

    *warm Coca-cola with a straw - an hilarious thing to hear in proper Tuscan dialect

    Sunday, June 20

    World Cup Highlights

    I don't know how many of you out there are following the World Cup, but today was priceless.  In fact, there's been a lot happening behind the scenes that really shows the true nature of countries and humans, really -- I just wish we got more African coverage to sort of expand my world...But, as far as sweeping generalizations are concerned (and, anyone who reads me, knows it's my currency), here are my World Cup highlights:

    The French Team does what Frenchmen do best - they went on strike in protest.  After a teammate got pulled from the team for his unsportsmanlike conduct concerning the epithets he hurled at the disappointing coach, the entire team decided to get back on the bus and draw the shades instead of train today. 
    This, of course, is the football equivalent of French pig farmers overturning their tractors on the highways (After all, if they didn't show a sign of strength in a very public place, it's not like the rest of us would notice if they simply stopped cleaning the manure on their farms).
    And from there, it just unraveled in wildly French histrionics.  The fitness coach stormed off the field, the Captain handed in his resignation, and the Team Director simply got in a car and drove away. 
    All I can say is, why do we never see this much action - and verbiage - in their godawful, drawn out, melancholic flicks they always send our way?  This is much better in terms of protagonist conflict -- but, will it slide to resolution?

    The Spaniards blamed their losses on a pretty Pandora (we'll call her Eve) who was covering the game on the sidelines.  Sure, she's pretty, but she was always fairly conservatively dressed, unlike a few news reporters I've seen in the Bel Paese.

    And, in today's match Italy vs New Zealand, the hearty 'All Whites' fans took off their shirts to celebrate the tie with Italy (they needed something to celebrate, seeing that they hadn't even been in the World Cup in ages).  Stadium shots of the Italians showed them bundled up in scarves and red-white&green hats - just to stave off that stiff neck in the morning from the draught of air coming in over the goal posts.
    Regardless, I still would have preferred to see the Italians with their shirts off over the ruddy beer-bellied guys who actually did so - and can someone please explain to me why this is a form of celebration in any country?

    And finally, the Kiwis brought a bit of humour to the whole enterprise, with this brilliant article awarding my paesani the Oscar for best acting on the pitch...
    They may have a point there.

    Wednesday, June 16

    Italy's Economic Miracle - The World Cup

    As we’re all swept up in World Cup fever (mostly brought on by those incessant horns which provoke the cessation of all brain activity), in Italy, and in most of Europe, news from the World Cup action is vying for headlines with the belt-tightening measures across the continent.  Perhaps because of those cacophonic horns, I have blurred the two news stories into one – and therein lays the solution of Italy’s economic woes.
    In short, if Italy were to run their country like they run their soccer teams, tattoos & all, the country would be a winner on the world stage.  And to think – we wouldn’t have to invent it, we could just copy the game plan from their most successful format – football.
    - Merit / First and foremost, soccer is a meritocracy.  Only the best players ‘make it’ and, once at the top, are rewarded handsomely for their trouble.  Take a look at Italy’s education system, post-graduate jobs, or any career paths and in Italy, this is simply not the case. 

    While there are certainly exceptions, overall, in Italy you get the job from a ‘recommendation’ (read nepotism, political favours, family ties, or worse). Once in, you rarely have career upward mobility based on performance (unless of course, you’re an Agnelli and then you get to run the company entirely despite having a resumè which can only delineate the number of pistes you skied in San Moritz combined with the number of champagne bottles you uncorked by the age of 25).

    - Ageism / While Italy bemoans its ‘aging’ players, soccer is a career filled with young people working their butts off in order to score big.  The average age of our World Cup team, largely with guys who actually don’t go home to mamma each evening, is well below the average ‘bamboccioni’ – the Big Babies who don’t manage on their own until well into their 30s.  The Bonus?  And this should be incentive for any number of Italian boy-men -- they get to hook up with hot babes without having to go to a car because mamma’s knitting in the next room.

    But I digress.  The key here is that young people are allowed to perform at their peak in order to obtain results for the good of the entire organization if not the entire country.  You don't find on the football field too many octogenarian feudal lords like the ones who dominate business, politics, the media, arts, sciences, universities – heck even the mafia - across the Bel Paese.  

    Sure, our Coach Lippi has snow white hair – but he serves to motivate his young players to produce results; not keep them sidelined while he continues juggling the ball on and on and on and on [did I mention that Italy has the longest-living population on earth?] and on and on and on...

    -       Money / Soccer is the most monied sport worldwide – and it shows.  Imagine what can happen to those trillions of businesses in what is a country absolutely exploding with ingenuity, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit.  By putting money with talent, an eye to the consumer (the fans), transparent attempts to not operate at a loss, they still having something leftover for the politicians. 
    If businesses – hospitals – schools - transportation in Italy actually used the money to invest where it counted (attracting good talent, building a team, marketing itself, competing internationally…) how far would Italian enterprises go?  The sky would be the limit. 
    [note: This is not to say they sit & wait for the nanny state to give them a handout – one of the most prevalent business strategies in place today].  

    -       Customer Service & Satisfaction / With the fan clubs, t-shirts, trips, TV, you name it, the fan base is appreciated and the teams show it.  These are not companies who take your money and then don’t show the game, or don’t even show up for the game.  The relationship between the Clubs and their Fan Base is a virtuous cycle of goodwill, money exchange, emotional branding, and a whole host of factors from which Alitalia, Eni, Telecom, and myriad companies littering the boot would be well-advised to pick up some pointers.  They could start small - by mimicking the soccer club phone lines.  I'm fairly sure if you call in, you can actually purchase tickets or get fairly accurate information on game times. Try that with any company, and you're on hold for 20 minutes while being forced to listen to music that makes the S.African horns sound like a symphony in comparison.
    Italy - don't let your time worn ways get in the way of scoring big

    -       Security / Ahh, the fan base – some are violent, and ruin it for the rest of us, right?  Well, you haven’t seen security like you have at the stadiums.  The public officials work wonders, do their jobs properly, nab their criminals and generally keep the peace. 

    Wouldn’t that be amazing if this most basic of law enforcement could be applied across the streets of our fair country?  Instead of taking bribes from transvestite whores and mafia peons, or handouts from every enterprise from Parmalat to your corner pizzeria cooking its books, Italy would start to look a lot like Singapore.

    -       Free movement of labor / Looking at our non-World Cup teams, you see that soccer is a highly democratic sport.  Africans go literally shoulder to shoulder with Italians, Argentinians, British, Brasilians… How much talent do we let go to waste by not allowing other fields to employ their labor due to the color of their skin, or their religion?  Or, just because you're French and can - in theory - work in Italy, doesn't mean they'll hire you (and, for the record, vice versa).

    -       Planning / It’s pedestrian to state that Italians are organizationally challenged.  And while our Italian World Cup coaches (Italy/UK) didn’t announce their lineups til the last minute, I like to think that’s more likely a strategic move versus a lack of basic planning.  But the plays, the year round training, the techniques, and back again are what make our teams great. 
    Instead, it is a rare company who actually spends the money and time to train its employees, never mind the ones who might be sitting on the bench most of the game.  Training these people up, providing incentives, and putting them on a road to career success -- and allowing them to implement what they've learned -- There's a TV with a soccer game on nearly 365 days a year in households across the country.  Why this practice hasn't rubbed off onto the proletariat is beyond me.

    -  Team playing / Italians love to quip that they're a country of 'individuals' - all 58 million of them say this in chorus.  Anyone who has ever stopped at an Autogrill at 1pm or, tried something extreme like laugh out loud at a movie - knows that there's a not a lot of truth to this.  In reality, it's code for 'egotistical'.  And while young boys learn the team ropes early on, for some reason, their soccer skills have no further relevance the moment they take off their cleats. 
    Watching the US team play in the World Cup was like watching a bunch of 4 yr olds. Never passing, hogging the ball, and when they did kick it away, it was inevitably into a group of British shirts.  Look at the Italians, and that was soccer as Dio commanded.
    I can't help think what Italy could achieve if those kinds of moves were put into play - from dividing your trash for the good of the community, to working with new people instead of the old guard to achieve amazing results.

    But for now, I’ll have to sit through the mind-numbing horns to see if the Azzurri – by implementing the finesse of team tactics – take South Africa by a storm and brings home the Cup. 
    If it happens, the wild revelry in the streets will be awesome – but certainly, put these plays into practice and Italy would win more than a World Cup trophy – and the celebration would last for generations.
    And if not, maybe we should all start importing vuvuzelas to drown out the sound of our own autogol.

    Saturday, June 12

    World Cup Hooligans: The Fans, the Players or the Coaches?

    As all of Europe (and parts of the U.S.) gears up for the World Cup games in South Africa, I came across a terrific editorial from the WSJ in which the writer bemoans the bad behaviour of footballers today.  In it, the author delineates a fine line between the players in the soccer stadium and the hoodlums who wreak havoc on the stadiums, the fans, and on the cities that host them.
    It's a hot topic as the UK has mandated that their hooligans turn in their passports, arresting and fining (over $8000!) anyone who did not comply.  A gang from Argentina was turned around right upon arrival in S.Africa's airport.  The Africans have designated train cars cum makeshift jails with judges aboard - and speedy trials and sentences - just to prepare for the pithed-brain jerks who are in serious need of attention.
    In March, the Italians tried to clean up their players' act by outlawing blasphemy on the field.  The international Fifpro organisation said it's an 'infringement of free speech'.  But, as Coach Trappattoni so astutely remarked, "If you play like a jackass, what has God got to do with it?" And while the debate ensues, my question is: Like most laws in Italy, who's going to enforce it?  With multi-cultural teams, who's to say that the guy from Cameroon didn't just insult a god of the skies of some sort? The referee?
    As the writer mused in his editorial, he'd travel far and wide for a good game of Rugby, and wouldn't go near the soccer stadiums as it is not a sport that shows off good sportsmanship.
    In the end, his reflections were nothing more than a twist on the old saying, 
    "Football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligans' game played by gentlemen"...

    Tuesday, June 8

    Italy's Economy: Business Weak

    Well, as the economy takes its toll on first Greece, then maybe Spain, and really all of Europe, we settle into a general State of Denial in preparation for the World Cup.  The players, making a zillion times the average Giovanni's salary, we cheer on while our own sort seems played out by the number of kicks an average soccer ball takes in a game.  And so, as we're told to tighten our belts, as even politicians take a pay cut (don't worry, they will more than make up for it in handouts, free apartments, cash payments in small envelopes, and the 'privatization' by buddies of the most essential services - like water), some habits just seem to die really hard:  Like raising prices in a recessionary economy.

    So, here are a few doozies of the week - a short list of those brainy ideas to keep business in Italy weak:

    My favorite group on earth, the Taxi Drivers are upset.  They're upset because they have to charge a fixed rate into Rome (40 euro). They're upset that the guys from Fiumicino city get to charge more (€60 - presumably because they can't pick up clients in Rome). They're upset that they keep getting fined for transgressions, like running the meter on the teenie no. 2 when it's supposed to be on the teenie no. 1 (you can email me for an explanation of what that's supposed to mean).
    Their solution?  Raise the fee a good 25% to a nice even €50 for all.  Italians love round numbers - just look what happened to your morning caffè after the introduction of the euro.
    My solution? Send 'em all to a basic economics course about supply & demand.

    Another austerity solution being bantered about is, in an effort to reduce tax evasion, to reduce cash payments.  I'm not sure if this will apply to under-the-table payments or payments to your transvestite hooker or not, nor how they'd control this, but, it's a fascinating start.
    Fascinating because, as a foreign credit card-wielding consumer, I am unable to make any online purchases...say, for telephone calls, train tickets, and assorted  sundry items.  This, for 'security' reasons.
    As a result? I am pushed into the netherworld of 'cash only' transactions, just like an Al Qaeda wannabe...Next thing you know, I'll be picked up by Interpol when purchasing fertilizer for my plants.  
    Like the taxis before them, the Feds can't figure out the most simple rule of espionage:  get a paper trail.  All I know is that I can't wait til the law takes effect.

    And, while we're on the subject of cash payments, my house guests recently asked me how much it cost to send a postcard to the USA.  I have no idea, but I think it is the same amount as a letter (6o cents).  And then, my thoughts turned to those heady, anarchic days of the Italian postal service:
    When, you could send a postcard for cheap, provided that you only signed your (totally illegible) name.
    When, whistfully adding a 'Rome is nice - wish you were here', that was considered a letter - and it cost more to mail.
    When I finally had learnt this simple formula, it was like discovering the Holy Grail.  It explained the ridiculously plain cards from friends & relatives in Italy over the years, and why, I'd always be charged a different stamp - sometimes with the clerk actually counting the words.  I now knew how Newton felt when he let that apple fall.

    Nowadays, everything has been streamlined, so it's one fee, and not up to the clerk behind the 12 inch thick window whose lips are moving but no sound vibrations  emanate your way.
    And, while I'm going postal, I'd like to lodge a formal complaint against (France).  If you purchase a French book from the marketplace, the price indicated is 2.99 postage&handling.  By the time you check out, they've added 3 euro to your till.
    Even though it costs the same now to ship to Italy as in France, they charge you as if you lived in a tree house in the heart of New Guinea.  I received a book with 1.35 euro postage.  I was charged 5.99 for the courtesy.  And they want me to 'rate this vendor'? Really?

    It's not Caveat Emptor.  My new motto in an internet age:  Caveat Venditor.

    Sunday, June 6

    The cost of gas in Italy

    While I'm transfixed by the sheer impotence & incompetence of man as the oil continues to gush into the gulf of Mexico, my thoughts turn to the out-of-pocket costs of running my car.  The oil companies look at any blip on the geo-political horizon to increase prices, combined with the drop in the Euro, well, we're looking at an expensive summer in arrivo.

    In Italy, everyone is hyper-ventilating over the fact that while the price of crude went down by something like 35%, the prices at the pump only declined by 1.3%.  Coupled with the fact that 62.5% of that price is all taxes, I thought I'd see what was going on (to the best of my internet ability).  For the record, those taxes are fairly average with the rest of Europe.

    Italians love to quip that in the cost of our gas we are paying for 1. the actual cost 2. sales tax (the IVA value added tax, which means 16.7% tax on every step of the way from Russia to Ukraine to Europe to the pump), and 3. the spurious 'accise' tax - which is a conglomerate of war chest funds starting with Mussolini's war in Abissinia (1935), the Suez Canal crisis (1956), the Vajont disaster (1966), the flooding of Florence (1966), various earthquakes, and missions in Lebanon (1983) & Bosnia (1996). It would appear missing Afghanistan and Aquila's earthquake, but they're probably in there today.

    While it's not really true that we're still paying for Mussolini's Ethiopian wars (I should hope that by now, even with interest, that's over & donewith), the point is, the tax was added, and then, war over, not taken away.  Just like the Monte Bianco tunnel or the airlines' petrol charges -- funny how that happens - the cost of going thru that tunnel and you could have been sitting on a beach in Sardinia instead.
    Thus the high cost of petroleum in Italy (I'm not sure which taxes other European countries are levying on their own petrol but I do know, it does zippo to limit car usage.

    So, here's the breakdown, according to the Sole24 ore newspaper:

    62,5% = 45,8% accisa (war funds) and 16,7% IVA (value added tax)
    The leftover 37,5% is the so-called industrial tax (upon which everyone has also paid IVA)
    made up of 26,5% crude, 1% transport charges, 4% margins for gas station and 6% margin for petrol companies.

    And, as long as I'm dissing urban legends, Italians also love to quip that America's low prices are because we have oil (now lots & lots in the gulf), and they don't.  That's not entirely true.  Landlocked Germany doesn't have oil, Spain doesn't have oil, and yet the prices are lower than in Italy.  It's the taxes, stupid.

    Tuesday, June 1

    Italy's New Austerity Program - A dedication

    Everyone would probably be in agreement that the Abruzzo region, hit last year by the devastating earthquake which uprooted hundreds of thousands, would be living as they say, 'hand to mouth' right about now.  At least that's true for the hapless residents, the Abruzzi diaspora currently living in temporary quarters (while asking, 15 months on, just how temporary is temporarily?).  With reconstruction money flowing in (but admittedly, without reconstruction), we are not without our share of scandals - But this one takes the cake:

    On the eve of Berlusconi's cost-cutting - belt-tightening squeeze, it was reported that the Region's officials - all 11 of them - gifted themselves spanking new 'auto blu'; the private cars sporting sirens that whisk politicians to and from their mistresses' apartments official visits around the area.  These cars, with a price tag of 22,000 euros ($30,000) per month come complete with plasma tvs so their escorts guests aren't bored while they officiate over another photo opp.  Enough money to rebuild at least something - how about the TV store for starters (as a sort of note of thanks), or, a bit of sidewalk in Aquila alone. 

    To these politicians, and on behalf of all Italians everywhere, I'd like to dedicate a song which I believe best expresses the sentiments*

    If you can't see video above, here is the link

    Dirty White Boy lyrics

    Hey, baby, if you're feelin' down   ‘cuz you ain’t got no home to go to
    I know what's good for you all day   ‘cuz I’m your elected official
    Are you worried what your friends see?   Don’t worry, they’ll get over it
    Will it ruin your reputation lovin' me?   So you voted for me, so what?

    'Cause I'm a dirty white boy
    Yeah a dirty white boy
    A dirty white boy

    Don't drive no big black car   Are you kidding? I got me an auto-blu with driver!!!
    Ain't like no Hollywood movie star   Hell, even Paris Hilton drives her own ride
    You want me to be true to you   Just because you voted for me? Pffffhhhhhh
    You don't give a damn what I do to you   Because you don’t protest loud enough or long enough - and no matter what you say, my car is staying!

    I'm just a dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy

    Well, I'm a dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, yeah, dirty white boy
    A dirty white boy

    I've been in trouble since I don't know when   Well, since the earthquake, actually
    I'm in trouble now and I know somehow I'll find trouble again   If you count trouble as things that fall apart that I can cash in on
    I'm a loner, but I'm never alone   No, my mistress is usually right by my side (after all, she’s my secretary)
    Every night I get one step closer to the danger zone   If my wife finds out, it’s tee time with Tiger! (better hide those golf clubs…)

    'Cause I'm a dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, yeah, dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy, I'm a dirty white boy
    Dirty white boy

    *song applicable also to Tony Hayward, CEO of BP Petroleum, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, all the Wall Streeters (with a special mention of derivatives traders & Goldman Sachs), Tanzi of Parmalat, and a list far too long to mention here.

    A friend informs me that Italy has over 600,000 auto blu paid for by taxpayers.  A country as vast as France?  35,000.
    And, for another Abruzzo town, the town of Teramo, whose entire Mayoral office swapped their auto blu for bicycles, I will dedicate another song, Sheryl Crow's version of Here comes the Sun for the Bee Movie.