Sunday, October 31

Tante Belle Cose - October2010 / Rome's Excellent Adventures

For many of us bemoaning the status of a Grande Paese such as Italy, it seems often that for every step forward, the country takes two steps back.  But this month, that is not the case.  There have been many good inroads made here, and not only reserved for underage girls spuriously named 'Ruby', who get a 'get out of jail free' card from noneother than their supposed lover & septuagenarian benefactor, Berlusconi...

Rome's Mayor announced that plastic bags would no longer be in commerce - only biodegradable plastic bags in supermarkets and stores from 2011 onwards.

On a specific Tuesday of each month until January, Italy's State Museums (the creme of the crop) will be free and open til 11pmI was finally able to divine which museums on which days, but not by going to the Ministry website...Try here.

Hon. Monica Cirinnà, a Rome City Councilman, informed us of a heretofore unpublished & unpromoted juicy piece of news -- that ads showing naked or near-naked bodies will no longer appear on Rome city billboards.
Of course, the disgusting Diesel campaign showing tweens in every sort of position (one teeny-bopper was shown legs spread eagle in a supermarket vegetable aisle holding a cucumber)...made the grade as she was clothed...

And, in the (very likely) event that these same girls end up getting man-handled, the City of Rome will now be one of the plaintiffs prosecuting the cases -- every one of these incidents also reflects negatively on the image as a whole of Roma.               This decision came down just as the Romanian nurse was pounded in the face by an Italian man she crossed insults with in the subway -- ending up in an irreversible coma and then dying.  It may not prevent these crimes, but it's an example for the rest of the world.

Wednesday, October 27

Italy-Rejoins Africa?

image from Europe-Africa Summit
The Corruption Perceptions Report by Transparency International provoked almost as much debate as Marchionne's comment (see OVERHEARD in the upper right hand corner).  While Italy has been quite fierce in going after corruption (despite Berlusconi's best efforts to keep himself and his cronies far from the fray), the appearance by business people caused Italy to slide - just below Ruanda & one spot above Georgia.
The Italians looked on the bright side: at least they weren't the most corrupt in Europe - although they have an expanded Europe largely to thank for that.  No, it is seen that people are more corrupt in Romania, Bulgaria, and of course, that other bastion of civics-minded people (and the palm-greasing that goes along with it), Greece.
But, as one analyst stated, unless you're Denmark, New Zeland or Singapore, most countries fell under the 5.0 mark - meaning they're more corrupt than not.
Clearly, shaming countries in the public forum might be one way - in an internet-connected world - to move things in the right direction.  Of course, that would signify that you didn't control the media that reports on such transgressions, too.

As for the conclusion by TI?  The message is clear: across the globe, transparency and accountability are critical to restoring trust and turning back the tide of corruption.

Monday, October 25

Happy Halloween?

As we approach Halloween weekend, I've always liked the idea that this uber-commercialized all-American celebration had winded its way somehow back to Europe, returning to its humble origins somewhere in the land of England (or Palermo, take your pick).  And, while I'm usually not so fond of seeing American just-about-everything over here, I admit, I do get a big kick over seeing store windows decorated in all things monstrous & scary.  In fact, I found it fitting:  there are lots of black cats around -- now they have a calling in life, so to speak.
And so it came as no surprise, when I headed into an Autogrill yesterday to find the stacks of Halloweeny treats.  But was I in for a shock.
Italy celebrates Halloween

Right next to the kiddie treat buckets - pre-loaded since most kids can't really expect to get treats door-to-door -- that aspect hasn't quite hit the octogenarian stay-at-home crowd just yet -- In fact, All Hallo's Eve is still more popular with the carousing set (they probably make orange & black ecstasy pills just for them) -  I found all the Christmasy goodies spread right out.  Yikes.
I thought even back in the USA, Christmas was sort of off limits until after Halloween.  No more, it turns out.  A country living on credit can't get enough of the Christmas season -- it's as if by putting out the goods we could just skip November altogether.  And now here we are, too:  Natale in October, with all its trimmings and wrappings.

This is one tradition I really didn't want to find on my Italian radar.  We already got Santa Claus climbing up people's balconies in the neighborhood -- next thing you know, there will be wildly decorated building fronts for people to visit as tourist attractions [then again, maybe not - electric co. charges here will keep that practice at bay].

While leaving the place, pondering this little cultural dilemma, I heard the cashier say to a client (in the hills of the Abruzzi mountain range, I remind you) "Thank you very much!"  In English.

Bethlehem is out of the question.  Maybe I'll have to head to that North Pole to find the true meaning of Christmas again.

Thursday, October 21

FIAT-in the driver's seat

As a followup entry to 'Baby you can drive my car' below, I'd like to heap some praise on our fledgling Detroit automobile company...But first, the bad news:

FIAT (and incredibly, NOT Chicco, the baby seat/baby toy producer - go figure) conducted a study outside schools & nursery schools in which they observed parents & their darling offspring.  They confirmed what all the rest of us foreigners already know: 
Despite supposedly holding their single child more dear than even God himself (sometimes the two indistinguishable from one another), Italians are pretty careless with their heavenly little cherubs. 
Okay-I'm paraphrasing of course.  That's NOT what they studied.  They found that: over 60% of Italian children are put in cars with no safety belts or safety seats whatsoever.  Now, they know they're Italian because, let's face it, the immigrants usually don't have cars, or, their parents are too busy trying to make a living, than to cart children around town. Ride the bus and you'll know this is true.
What's even more remarkable, is parents' complete ignorance of the facts:

- Car accidents are the number 1 cause of death for children aged 5 to 12 (although I'm sure that's pretty universal)
- Each year, 10000 kids wind up in car accidents (that's 30 bambini per day)

And why they still don't cough up how many actually die, they say that safety seats would guarantee a 70% chance of surviving an accident (and no, that does not mean children strapped in the front seat with tiny heads in front of an airbag pronto to release at 160 km/hr).

What they need is a bit more of that American knack for creating a nation of people unable to do anything on their own:  Sue everyone you can when you're own stupidity caused the accident in the first place - heck- it's like winning the lottery - only easier!

As a result, a mamma told me that in the U.S., the hospital walks you & your baby out to the car.  They help you put the baby in the car seat and make sure it's strapped in properly.  No seat. No baby.

In Italy, they send you home with a mild warning: "Whatever you do, make sure the baby travels flat on its back for the first few months."  Now - you can imagine what that kind of propaganda does for the car seat people...

Why Chicco isn't all over this is still beyond me, but in the meantime, I only hope that FIAT quits wasting money on 'studies' and allots their car seat behavioral budget to me instead.

And those careless Americans?  Turns out they have their own little epidemic going...forgetting kids in cars altogether - It would seem Americans are wound so tight with kids strapped in so well, that the kiddies don't even peep while daddy runs to the office -- for 9 hours.
Thus was born the baby seat monitor (pictured above) and ZeroSeconds.

I guess that's one problem that Italians succeed in avoiding - hard to forget an 8 lb. baby when it's sitting right on your lap...

Monday, October 18

How to Speak Italian - Part I

I received this excellent portrayal in my inbox - it is so spot-on I thought I'd repropose it here.  As my Uncle would often quip, "If you cut off your hands you'd be speechless!"  Well, consider this your encyclopedia for speaking Italian - in gestures.

Cartoon by Alfredo Cassano

Friday, October 15

Baby, You can drive my car

A friend recently brought her newborn baby over from the U.S.  I took one look at the stroller – and I knew she had bought it there – it’s the SUV of baby strollers.  Suped up, ready for action – with the seat doubling as a car seat you just pull right out and strap into your car.  All in very elegant fabric, like the inside of a Cadillac.  Except it had the Italian label – Chicco – on it.
Of course. No wonder it was elegant, too.  She said, aside from the fact that her (very) Italian husband would never have ‘bought American’, it turns out that that model – is the Armani of baby strollers (I shoulda figured). Until very very recently, the strollers here looked like they came straight out of a 1940s reel of Mary Poppins.  Whenever my sister came to visit with her 4 kids, they would get stopped constantly – with all the mammas just oohing and ahhhhhing…
Not over the rather large brood (a family of 6 in Italy is hard to come across), or the cutie-pies in the bunch…No, the mammas all wanted to talk strollers.  So, one would think that this stroller could have been purchased here, in its mother country, so to speak.
Turns out, it was so over-the-top, they don’t even sell it in Italy. 
America, land of hyper-convenience had the ‘built-in-baby car seat’ on their deluxe model.  Why they don’t carry it in Italy, when it seems just as good of a market is beyond me. 

The Chicco 'Cortina' Baby Stroller
- not available in Cortina -

But on second thought, that might just be for two reasons: 

       1.    Mammas don’t leave their house with their piccolo  bambino until they’re too big to fit in a car seat or
       2.    Italians prefer the ‘Mamma-wraps-her-arms-around-the-baby-just-like-a-seatbelt-while-sitting-in-the-front-seat-with-bambina mia’ version of car seats.  
      It would seem that Italians still don’t divorce much,  because they still need someone to drive the car.

Tuesday, October 12

Oooh Lah Lah - l' Frenchman - ou è t'il?

I remember in the 70s & 80s people loved to quip that there was no such thing as a native Californian (and once they elected an Austrian as their Governor, I believed it). Come to Paris, and you start to think that the proverbial Parisian man is on the endangered species list (not that that’d be a bad thing).

While in bustling London you see faces of every distinction, you always get a very firm sense that there’s still an English something-or-other about the vast majority of them. Those pasty complexions, the rosy cheeks, the micro-mini skirts in January, the stone drunks at the pub…you get my drift. Not so Paris.

Paris seems to be the ethnic hub of the world where people from every extraction seem on the go. It’s as close to New York City that I’ve ever seen, except when factoring in those real Parisians, the average weight & size changes a bit compared to their American fraternitè. Riding the subway, I felt like I was in the Grand Bazaar while above ground, Indians mixed with Chinese, Japanese, American and -- everything in between.

The Parisian male – you can spot them as fast as an albino in a troop of Chimpanzees.  Although, with their scrawny stature, they should be a whole lot easier to miss. Gaunt faces, no shoulders, and let’s just say, better they don’t even attempt to fill a pair of Levi's. No wonder they wear such fine threads. Take, for example, their hottest star to cross the Atlantic - Vincent Cassel (Ocean's 12 & 13) - I rest my case.

It could be that perhaps, like the Milanese, Parisians just don’t take public transport – leaving the cattle cars to the rest of us pèons (spoken with decidedly French accent). But for me, you want to see the future of France, go to Paris – There are no native Frenchmen – and it probably won’t be long before the baguette is fossilized for visitors to the Louvre.

*For more fab Frenchmen in movies, check this out

Thursday, October 7

Fringe Benefits

While in Paris attending (and blogging for) the Women's Int'l Networking Conference, my thoughts are clearly on women's empowerment, women leading the future, and the shaking loose of old (male-oriented) ways of conducting business. The Italian presenters are all amazing women, each trailblazers in their own field, all with incredible backgrounds and by their very presence, reveal that a lot of good things are happening in Italy - many of which are even being exported abroad. Sadly, Italy kept coming up as an example of how bad things can get: While we have 60% of the graduates, we rank 72nd in the world on equality issues.
The reasons are many: from mammismo, male culture, deeply entrenched ideas of men's & women's places.

And so it's last week's news out of Vicenza from the Corriere Veneto, that paints this picture for me so accurately - showing from what depths we need to come out of:

- A boss in a Company said that if his staff met their objectives, his secretary would be the prize.
In the old days, women (worldwide) turned a blind eye to this - the victim thankfully is filing a formal complaint. His response, "It was just a joke." Sorry, sense of humour failure.

- A nightclub opened in the area, "Diverso Strip Club" which needed to improve upon women in cages and lap dances. So now, it's nude women as serving trays. The food is served right on them (or off of them, depending on your point of view).

- And of course, there was the traditional beauty contest in the area whereby the winner was awarded with a waitress position at the end.

Now, we've been talking about finding your passion in the workplace, but I think this is going a bit overboard...!

Saturday, October 2

Tante Belle Cose - September2010 Roman Culture

There have been so many great things happening in and around the country, it’s almost as if the entire country of Italy were trying to hide the fact that the government’s been in meltdown since August. Cultural events, free museums, better (almost) everything – that doesn’t have to do with governing. As a wise man once remarked, Italy functions despite its government.

In terms of travel, Italy’s train company announced (along with its October special discounts released on the 30th, that you have to book 1 month in advance to get – ahem) that you can now take a train straight to Milan's Malpensa Airport from Rome – without changing trains.

Rome's Palazzo Barberini - National Gallery of Art finally reopened after years of restoration – in its entirety – after the Ministry of Culture spent (well spent) years of wrangling away half the palace that was given over to the Defense Ministry’s clubhouse (or something like that). It opened to great fanfare, day-long lines just to get in the door; and with artworks by all the masters, worth a trip for sure.

Not only did Sept bring free events in the museums and evening visits to the Vatican Museums, but we could now visit a host of other places opened by night for concerts, events, all kinds of entertainments. So much so, people were once again remarking, "Give 'em pane et circences" - bread & circuses."
It was also a great month for having rooftop drinks on terraces around Rome – and if you don’t have a friend with one, I enjoyed the sips & sights on the Hotel47 roof (next to Bocca della Verità), Hotel San Giorgio (on via Giulia), and no summer can end without dinner or a drink on the fabulous terrace of the Galleria di Arte Moderna.

Mr. Tanzi, responsible for the biggest accounting fraud in history – the Parmalat scandal (if you don’t count the Madoff-Ponzi scheme) had his Knighthood revoked (Cavaliere); although his freedom still hasn’t been. Citing age (he’s 70), they're trying to get him to avoid jail so he can enjoy the fruits of his labours…Madoff got 150 years, but it’s not like the judge & jury thought he’d live them out.

And, in a country where things are still being unearthed (mostly by monied tombaroli tomb raiders), 500 – yes, 500 cases filled with artifacts from the Roman Forum was found. Not really lost, they had gone into hiding during the war – and then lost in storage. They think it’ll take years to account for each of the pieces, but, little by little we’ll get to see the finds at one of my favorite museums, Museo di Civiltà Romana in nearby EUR.

But, my highlight of the month came when visiting Naples – Trevor & I went to the excellent Città della Scienza“the only dog-friendly museum on earth”. Aside from the installations, activities, and wealth of ideas, friendliness and professionalism (not to mention the yumbo gnocchi alla sorrentina and caponata served at their cafeteria), we found out that the following Sunday was ‘dog day afternoon’ – and families could visit with their pets in tow. Wouldn’t I have liked to see Trev’s hair standing on end at the electric current generator…