Tuesday, September 28

Rowing upstream down the Tiber

A friend visiting from Holland decided that since he’d be spending 6 weeks doing as Romans do, he’d take advantage of being in a city with a big fabulous waterway. He’d continue his weekly rowing jaunts, just like at home.
So, he sets off to find a rowing club. Dressed in a t-shirt & jeans, he was informed that many of the Canottieri clubs were located – appropriately – down the Tiber, near the Flaminio.
He ends up at the Circolo Canottieri Reale -- the oldest and probably haughtiest club in Rome, right up there with the Polo and Tennis clubs of Prati. He said he walked in and felt he had just entered the main dining room on the Titanic.  Huge wooden doors, red plush carpets, golden chandeliers, and…a doorman who took one look at him and said, “You must be in the wrong place.” (Of course, Reale = Royal should have been an indication...)
Charmer that he is, he explained his purpose, and, could he possibly go rowing here with a few people? The doorman was charmed, took some pity on him – but just enough to tell him to try his luck a few doors down.
Entering the next club, he finds it much more low key, basic light fixtures, no carpets. But even here, the woman laughed – and told him they couldn’t let him enter either. But while waiting for the bus, he runs into her, and she points him to another club nearby. “Try over there, they might just take walk-ins.”
This club was perched right on the river banks, so down the steps he goes to find two makeshift boats practically tied down together to form the club house of the Canottiere – Ferroviere Dopo Lavoro. A rather large man who looked like Captain Ahab on a whale fat diet sizes him up. Finally, he asks what he was doing there.
My friend, intent in his mission, and even more charming with his naiveté, said simply, “I’d like to row.” Clearly seeing that he was not an ex-Italian Train Company employee, the man said ‘No can do.’
Having been to Italy in the past, my friend immediately tried a new approach. “But I already know how to row! I’m just here for six weeks…” Finally, the man caved, mentioning the monthly rate – just for him. According to my friend, the price was exorbitant – but, no matter, he was going to be able to row. So, chirping he’d be back another day – to bargain the end price and finally get his feet wet as an Italian Canottiere.

Friday, September 24

Berlusconi fiddles while Rome burns...

And, if Nero had been alive by the time the Flavian Amphitheatre had been built, well, this is very much what it may have looked like. Granted, there's not much to go up in smoke today, but...this video is by far the best video on youtube, although you don't see the orange - and very realistic flames- from this temporary art installation in Rome. Why temporary? You'd think after all the trouble of putting up these things, they'd keep it going for awhile...After all, Rome wasn't burnt in a day...

I absolutely love the Colosseum as a monument of all times. It used to be lit up green every so often -- but, unlike the Empire State Building - it was lit up that way whenever America killed a death row inmate. Personally, and considering that one woman is killed every three days in Italy by her lover - husband or ex, I always thought they should be lighting it up pink just about every three days...and then, hope it would be temporary.

Tuesday, September 21

Those Scandalous Brits

It may be because I just watched the movie, Scandal, a portrayal of the Profumo Sex Scandal of the 1960s that my head is on things Britannica...The whole while, like with the Clinton or Gingrich or fill-in-the-blank scandal, heck even the (scandalous because it took place at all) wedding of Rush Limbaugh, I just kept reminding myself that one needs to suspend their critical judgment: I don't mean about the film, I mean about the fact that any of these guys could ever get someone so hot to go to bed with them in the first place (well, Monica excepted).

So was I tickled as pink as a stripper's boa when reading the British headlines today:

This 25 yr. old jobless bloke (to avoid calling him what he really is, a total loser) has fathered 10 kids by 10 women (two on the way), paid for by the British taxpayer (and maybe upwards of 15 since he refuses to use condoms and clearly can't count that high). One look at him, and you cannot for the life of you fathom how he could have bagged anyone, let alone 10 of them. He must have found 10 women with a fetish for albino snakes.

This article was then followed by the piece reporting that Viagra would now be available at supermarkets at half the price.

I just have a few words of wisdom for all involved:

- For (very) Lucky Louie: If you really wanted your sperm out there, perhaps you could have sold it and earned some money from your exploits (of course, there's always a reality show waiting, co-starring Octomom)

- For the Ladies (term used loosely-in this case, real loose): No, coming forward with your story is not going to bring in gazillions.  In case you haven't noticed, he is NO Tiger Woods.

- For the British Govt: Am I the only one who thinks that you're going about things...a wee bit ass-backwards?? 

Perhaps the Pope's visit to the UK was a good thing after all:  Importing a bit more Italian catholicism and hey - maybe the birth rate would plummet to Italian levels.

Saturday, September 18

The American - Clooney's Flick - My Picks

I was recently given the honor & opportunity to pen my picks - along with other terrific bloggers musing over things Italian - of films that best represent Italy and the Italians.  You can find my picks on the website of the production/distributor website of George Clooney's latest film, The American, shot in Abruzzi - where part of me comes from. you may have to reload page

But, check out all the picks -- for an expat look into portrayals of Italian culture on film.  And, be sure to check out their outstanding backstage look at shooting in the Abruzzi countryside.

Let me know what you think of my selection, and...what movies for you best sum up Life in Italy...!

Thursday, September 16

Signed, Sealed and DelXXX Signed Again

Today I had to go to my local bank to cancel my debit card and order a new one since I seem to have misplaced it somewhere on my desk.  Sounds easy, right? In many places, you could call a toll free number and a card would be put in the mail within 24 hours.  In my neck of the urban concrete jungle, it was a process taking close to an hour.  And I was truly happy. 
Used to be I'd have to first parade over to a local Carabinieri office (after first trying the police station who would dismiss you without reason), wait in line behind all the other document-seeking peoples (and I don't mean illegal immigrants - that's a whole 'nother enterprise and study in patience), get told to come back another day and not so close to lunchtime, be interrupted by real emergencies and phone calls from the moglie, asking when she should 'buttare la pasta', and on your third attempt, file a police report that was destined to become part of the State Archives  never to be released, as if misplacing your card was akin to mining the State secrets of the Bay of Pigs.  Eventually, you would be given your leave but only after having signed 3 copies of the report in three places.
You should have seen the faces of the American police dept. when I waltzed in one fine day and asked if they could please make a 'missing i.d. card' report for me for the Italian authorities.  The story made the rounds of the entire station and I thought I would be given a lie detector test to see if this was not some weird prank I was forced to carry out on a dare. 
But I digress.  So, off I was, card in hand, having signed over 12 different documents, short forms, receipts and declarations (and I admit, 'card in hand' - no 24 hr. wait either!)
Darting out for a drink with a colleague, he informed me how, just the day before, he actually had to sign a form to give to the info desk at the city office in which he needed to file some work papers. They gave him a new form to sign to visit Window no. 1.  Unable to help him, he was told to go to Window no. 5, but not before first signing a new form.  And, of course, you guessed it, Window no. 5 first gave him a form to sign, but then told him to come back another day with some new forms that he had produced, but not in enough copies.
We wondered whether or not he'd need to re-sign all the forms once he restarted the process, or whether re-sign was just actually a term to get you to resign your mission altogether.

Monday, September 13

On Time Arrivals

Flying around these days I got to experience firsthand the latest developments in a few select airports.  Arriving in London, of course, is always terrific because you can dart inside a Marks&Spencer's for duck rollup or dozens of yummy and totally British snacks before heading for the trains. This time, however, at Gatwick Customs we were met with mile-long lines for EU holders and no lines on the foreign ones. 
One look at the front and there were idle passport checkers just biding their time.  Basically, they had instituted that day a new (non) system of line greeters, who were a bit slow on the uptake.  These guys would usher in one at a time when 6 counters stood empty.  Once again, I'm convinced that transport authorities harbor a sincere disdain for passengers.  Let the throngs decide the line to go in - it's a fairly efficient system, rewarding the ones without jet lag for keeping an eye on the 'about to open' counter.  Note to self:  bring American passport to London in future.

Meanwhile, taking a refrigerator-cattle coach RyanAir flight - under duress, believe me - to Torino, I arrived to discover a spanking clean new airport, looking a lot like Stansted did back in the day: like landing in a tidy shopping mall.  Testing my luck with a 1 hr. layover, all went swimmingly well, when I had to check into Alitalia, and was greeted with a smile, with even more in abundance once on board the plane.   
Note to self:  could you actually give Alitalia another try?  Or, is it only awesome service (with a cozy warm on board environment) as compared with the medieval-torture-chamber class of RyanAir?  May have to give it a second chance.

Arriving in Rome, I found excellent little luncheon places here & there and a nice little salon, always good to know.  They are doing considerable construction works, but laid out and even apologized for the inconvenience - a small miracle that almost sent me straight to pray on the tomb of Pope John Paul II - I was so tickled rosa, that I even liked the utterly casual 'Sorry' versus the "We apologize" string of words. 

Sadly, once upon the rail station of course, it was back to reality.  The robotic announcer read out the stops in an English which sounded a bit more like she was reading Bangladeshi - backwards.  Trains left from different platforms than indicated, and the whole place smelled of excrement -- from onboard toilets which the conductors seem to take delight in emptying regularly at this enclosed platform.  Note to self:  check and see if the Italian state railway isn't owned & operated by RyanAir.

Thursday, September 9

What's in a Word?

I loved this post from Up Your Bottom! It really shows how you can sum up a culture in just one word.  Read more...

The ups & downs of word translation

Funny how the same thing is seen from different angles, just because we call it differently. This is an excellent international dinner party ice breaker...

We all know what a Rollercoaster is. That is how American English christened the amusement park ride that children and the children still inside adults enjoy so much. Well, the word they chose reflects very well North American thinking: orientation towards results. If an extraterrestrial were to land in USA, she would not know what to look for. She would know what the darn thing does - it rolls and it coasts - but would have no idea of its dimensions, what it looks like, nor how would one build it. But if it rolls and coasts, probably it would be enjoyable.

So, our extraterrestrial explorer would fly into Germany, and be told about an "Achterbahn". Again, the same thing, but a totally different Weltanschauung - a different word, a different way to approach the world. It is not what it does, but how it is engineered: a "Bahn" -  a rail - made into an "eight". One can imagine carriages going round on it, but not why they do (to roll and coast). And it would not be an extremely exciting one - at least in its first incarnation.

A bit disappointed, our extraterrestrial travels to France, where she finds some exciting - "Montagnes Russes". Same thing, but, alas, another way of looking at it in a word. It is not what it is or what it does. It is what it reminds you of (mountains) and where it historically comes from, giving credit to another culture (Russia - from the East, where the travelling gypsies with the first mobile amusement fairs came). No wonder French is "the language of diplomacy". However, no idea on how a German would be able to build it, having received a full blueprint in the single word they use. So, no idea on how to build it.

Last, the extraterrestrial lands in Italy, where she finds an "Otto volante". She is puzzled. Yes, it is made into an "eight" form, but does it "fly"? Obviously not. It is how you feel when you are on it. Hence the Italian flair for that immaterial special thing that makes you feel something you cannot describe. It does not matter if you are not able to build it, if you are misguided on what it is supposed to do (flying is not rolling and coasting!), nor if you have no idea where it comes from. Just enjoy.
Vittorio M., Switzerland

Put them all together, and our extra-terrestial might think it's a flying saucer that does 'figure 8s' that you use to climb up Russian mountains!  Which is probably not unlike the outcome of much of the EU-talks on any given issue...

You can find a lot more great language mishaps on the Up Your Bottom! website - be sure to submit your own!

Tuesday, September 7

On Strike

I think you can tell a lot by a country by the way they go on strike.  In London with the current 24+ hr tube strike, one in which the newspapers say has crippled the city, I've managed to go pretty much anywhere and everywhere.  People here don't seem to side with the strikers.  And, the worst offense yet:  they want pay increases while making upwards of 40000 pounds per year + overtime.  That's over $60,000 (48000 euro).  People are saying commit money to improving the service, not the waistlines (well, that last bit is me saying it).

In Italy a metro strike usually bears no consequence on the passengers; after waiting over 40 mins. for my bus the other day, and then finding the ticket windows closed at the train station after 13.30, I can tell you that a service disruption barely gets noticed.  But even in Italy, City officials keep the buses running -- although in Milan, strikers must guarantee service during rush hours - how civilized. But then you wonder, why bother striking at all?

In the USA, where they've never been very good at these things, everyone just goes home and watches Reality TV-- every episode until the season ends.  The infamous NYC transport strike of the 1970s went on for weeks on end, until women were donning tennis shoes to get to work - a fashion statement that never went out of style.  Perhaps the City should go on strike now to get their obesity rates reduced.  In the 1980s, after the air traffic controllers went on strike, President Reagan just fired the whole lot of them.  I waited about 18 months to fly again -- as I had a sneaking suspicion that the safety of millions of passengers was compromised, but hey - who was counting?

But my favorite is France, where they don't take anything from anyone.  They'll overturn those subway cars on their sides if they have to, and then sit on highways in order to make sure everything comes to a complete halt.  When Frenchmen strike, it always conjures up images of the Bastille.  In 2008, in what began as a fishermen's strike against oil prices ended up paralyzing nearly the entire country as truckers and taxis joined in, blocking roads and the Total oil company’s offices.  This week they've crippled the country due to the government's insistence on raising the retirement age. Let's hope Sarkozy doesn't capitulate (and then, let's hope Greece follows).

There's got to be a better way to make your statement -- maybe a Facebook protest instead?  A viral video? Or perhaps ousting the guy you who's making your life difficult by publishing photos with a prostitute? Of course, in Italy, it'd have to be a male one to get him to lose his cushy politico job...

Thursday, September 2

Tante Belle Cose - August2010 Italy's Good News

Although this isn't good news from Italy, it affects all of us, especially those that happen to like soccer/football, European style.  The UEFA football league has put a mute on the vuvuzela.  Banned from games "out of respect for European culture & tradition." 
the mute for horns from www.soulomute.com

Yes, that's right.  They've put the clamp on the horns but not the hoodlums...But even there, there's a bright spot: "fans" will soon be holding electronic cards.  You won't be let in the stadium if you're on a watch list.  Only thing is, who's to stop people from gaining entry with someone else's card.  And then, of course, there's the counterfeiting to contend with.

The neighborhood near San Paolo - St. Paul's Outside the Walls - is undergoing a nice new renovation.  Of the big waste containers.  They've added spiffy new garbage cans, embedded in the ground, in an effort to clean up the area.  Although they'll make a good pit stop for pets, it's a sure improvement over the grotesque monstrosities currently littering the streets of Bella Roma.  Problem is, will it entice people to actually use them...AND differentiate their trash?  Doubtful.

And speaking of cleaning things up, local governments won a legal battle against wild increases in highway fares, citing they impede commerce and are another tax on workers.  So, the fares have gone back down, while the consumer associations are asking for a rebate to travelers who paid them since July 1st.  But of course, if you don't have a receipt, how will you prove it?.

And finally, Rome's great summer fest is drawing to a close but not before they can squeeze some last concerts in for those wanting to enjoy some summer sounds.  Two of my favorite musicians are here:  Giovanni Baglioni playing his guitar on 3 September in Castel Gondolfo and Pino Daniele on the 4th in the ancient theater of Ostia Antica.  Lots still happening in the arts, so check out www.inromenow.com for more terrific listings.