Tuesday, November 30

The Gods Must be Crazy

Photo from Il Messaggero Archives
In an extreme example of Art Imitating Life, another wall has come down in Italy (and not in the Berlin sense).  This time, an external garden wall of the Casa del Moralista (Moralist's House).  It has been raining for weeks, and, near to the fallen Domus of the Gladiators (the Schola Armaturarum) came today's crumble.  
In days of yore, if two events like that happened in a span of weeks, you'd start thinking about appeasing the gods or making offerings to Isis.  But now that we have the House of Morals seriously in disrepair, and the fighters no longer standing...I'm ready to place my own little Trevor on an altar, if it would bring an end to the decay.

Maybe that's what Berlusconi must do - make the ultimate sacrifice and stop surrounding himself with escorts and cavort with Virgins instead.  He'd have to sacrifice them in the end, though, but at least he'd do away with his 'deep throats' (in more ways than one).

Now...Lay down, Trev, Lay down!
See a slide show & good analysis here

And again, on 2 December, another break in the wall...
This time, at the Domus of Trebio Valente right near the Schola Armaturarum

Sunday, November 28

Berlusconi's Folly

When I first came to Italy as Director of a small U.S. subsidiary, one of my responsibilities was running the factory in Southern Milano.  I had long-suspected that the (3) workers across town did not actually labor a whole lot, and it wasn't just for slow sales.  So, I'd often pass by, unannounced.  One day, I found them kicking around a soccer ball - inside.  So that explained the broken windows so high up.
Filing a complaint with their union - I was told of their defense in the whole matter:  It was my fault for having caught them in the act in the first place.

And so it comes as no surprise when Berlusconi takes the same tact over the perfect storm of events that seems to be crippling the country.  In the sex scandal & gaffe-ridden Premier's mind, it is the foreign media in cohoots with the opposition that is contriving to make an embarrassment of the country.
Why in the world we'd all want to see the world's favorite country brought to its knees goes unexplained.  But in short, it's our fault for finding him out.

Berlusconi is correct - if it weren't for the EU magnifying lens holding them to task along with the instant global reporting from the web, many things, from the earthquake in Aquila, to his latest sexual escapade, to the Camorra's grip on the country, to the felling of the domus in Pompeii would hardly get noticed.  But to think that everyone wants to see the country fail is delusional, at best.

The reason why these things get hyper-reported, say, versus some wild turn of events in France or Spain, per se, is that Italy is a place which everyone - everyone - holds dear to their hearts.  Italian immigrants contributed to their host countries 'round the world, the Italians & their style, their food, their families, their church, even, not to mention their historical legacy (in the very least for engineering & architecture) from Ancient times on down are all things we can all be proud of.
And so, its failings are all the more heartfelt, more disappointing, more unnerving to the rest of us.  It's as if the dear 'ol dad to whom you always looked up as a role model and symbol of perfection -- for his style, charm, wit, success, traditions -- turned out instead to be a philandering money-launderer, like Parmalat's Calisto Tanzi.

The problems besetting Italy are all real.  From the corruption at every level of government (on all sides), to the nepotism, the scandals from nearly every sector of society, the dual plague of tax evasion & illegal construction, from the crumbling of its ancient artifacts & modern institutions to the mounting of its rubbish -- we all want to scream, "Viva l'Italia!'   
Just put an end to all this nonsense and show us what you can really do -- just say no!  But it needs to start with the leaders - across all facets of life - to set the example, and not by screaming out their entitlement from the rooftops of their fabulous low-rent apartments or from the windows of their wasteful 'blue cars'.  Their age-old profiteering from the public sets such a cynical example, that it infects every other citizen, from the heads of hospitals right down to the guy who delivers your mail.  
image from Pixdaus.com
While it's true, their failings are oft-reported, Italians are at the head of many successful enterprises worldwide.  This weekend, Geneva's Large Hadron Collider started to unravel the secrets of the Universe - and Italian researchers (including a woman) are leading the way.  As Sergio Bertolucci, Director of Research commented, "We are a perfect example of how competition & teamwork combined are the key factors in the success of our field of work."

Not only in the field of Physics, caro Bertolucci.

But for your paesano & Prime Minister, Berlusconi, Italy's problems need not be in the spotlight -- all the better to hide them -- So the country -  windows broken & poor productivity - can keep up the charade of its beloved Bella Figura.  Media Mogul Berlusconi - would be wise to heed the advice of the Editors at The Guardian, with regard to the Wikileaks fallout:
"The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment"

Tuesday, November 23

Via col Vento

I recently toured the newly renovated Galileo Museum in Florence.  It contains a vast assortment of gorgeous instruments used and collected during the times of the Medici and more. And, if you’re into that kind of thing, you'll also find a sort of reliquary containing Galileo’s very finger - you know, the one used to point out the sun - and upon closer inspection, even his teeth (which he may have wanted to use to bite his persecutors). But what I found really cool was outside the museum, a very neat sculpture with a type of modernized Gnomon stretching out from it.
And beneath it, a compass revealing the winds of time…really.  Up ‘til now, I had no idea that those myriad mutterings of my great-Aunt on a windy day were actually something quite more scientific than old wives’ tales.
On days she couldn’t get out of bed, she would hazily remark, “This is all due to the Tramontana” (a north wind).  Warm gusts would be greeted with the title “Scirocco”, one of my favorite words in the Italian language.
I never heard her actually speak of the Southern winds, the Austro or Libecano, but maybe that’s because she was rarely in Rome in summer.  Although I’m no expert, I’m sure it's those same winds coming from the Sahara that regularly dump sand on my car in summer.  The Western winds are called the Ponente.  But, it is always the dreaded chilly Maestrale (or Mistral) invading from France that shakes one’s soul—and that keeps more than old aunts from getting out of bed in the morning.
The only one not mentioned was Trieste's Bora - that same wind that blankets cars & boats in ice. [There's even a Bora Museum in Trieste - so significant this wind is in the cultural makeup of the city].
All I know is that, the deeper you dig, the more scientific explanations one finds behind perfect common knowledge--Leading one to draw the conclusion that it may just be the bloggers that are full of hot air.

Saturday, November 20

FIAT breaks glass - in more ways than one

The American arrival of the cutsie Cinquecento this week (NOT to be called the five hundred, per favore!) made headlines the world over – and of course, in Italy it was quite a big deal here in Bell’Italia.  The ultimate in 'Bella Figura.'  It was as if overnight, those ships they once cracked a bottle of Champagne over were transformed into mini-cars launched with a bottle of Prosecco.  This time, however, the Italians disembarked with their heads held high.  No more Fix it again, Tony – or at least, we’re all touching our privates to ward off that jinx.  So beloved of the press, we can call it, Tony's Vendetta.
But what was the most titillating, from news articles to editorials to facebook commentators was the launch itself – not so much the car.  Italian-American Laura Soave was just as much in the headlights of the cute little car she presented to the world. 
Here we had, a spokeswoman, start the engines of the FIAT 500.  After centuries of men droning on about their autos while Stepford women draped the cars, smiles as frozen as their cerebral cortex, an MCP like Agnelli is probably turning somersaults in his grave. 
And, she got rave reviews.  Most striking was, she was actually clothed!  No T&A, no flirtations - although she looks quite good on camera – a huge step for womankind not to be presented as a dim hood ornament, but actually as fully clothed & conscious, Mistress of Ceremonies (without being the mistress-not that I'd know...but Marchionne?).  As usual, her age was bantered about in all the media—not sure if it was because she was so young to have such responsibility, or if it was because she was so old – she was clearly not to be taken for eye candy.  Either way, in Italy, she nearly garnered as much print space as the car & Company itself.
Now that they've allowed a woman to smash through the windscreen, let’s see what else is under the hood. 

Tuesday, November 16

Advertising Age-The Best of Ancient Roman Headlines

In my periodic critique of Italian ad campaigns, a new bar has been set.  Up High. This is not the gold standard, but the platinum one - done for none other than my favorite local newspaper, Il Messaggero.  And, it's innovative for a number of reasons -- it shows how the internet, when put to good use, can break the boundaries and really provide something useful: a campaign that's fun to see, memorable, doesn't contribute to eye pollution, and hopefully, succeeds in selling more papers.  This campaign was a result of a contest on BootB amongst Creative agencies (winner: LS&Partners). And, whomever selected it, showed that Italians can have a sophisticated sense of humour when it comes to ad delivery.  The tag line?  
Il Messaggero:  The best news-Always (or, for all time...)

Rome Burns. Nero "Not me!"

Cleopatra & Antony: we'll take on Rome

Advertising Age?  A healthy 42 years old.
And, now, you can create your own headlines!  Follow their template - awesome.

Friday, November 12

Francesca Maggi's Strange But True!

What with a government in free fall, a hooker with a ‘get out of jail free card’, November rains darkening the entire boot since well, November, Amanda Knox the book coming out alongside victim Meredith the movie, a sleazy crime & multiple cover-ups in Italy’s south, and the falling down of a Pompeian complex – the Domus of the Gladiators - you’d think things couldn’t get stranger.  Not so, Italy.

Here’s a list of some of the even more outrageous happenings around town:

While another Italian institution – the sacred one of marriage – is also in free fall, “they” hosted a convention on ‘La Famiglia’.  The guest of honour?  None other than that twice-divorced, constantly cavorting Lothario-wannabe (‘cuz I don’t truly believe he gets all that action), Berlusconi?  Really?!!  Or, meglio,‘stai scherzando??!!’
He bowed out due to his latest fiasco – that’s why?  What an example.  It’s as if Bernie Madoff was asked to be the guest of honor on a Wall Street Ethics convention.

Another institution, that of the ‘macho’ football players, seems to be having it’s own coming out party.  A prominent gay football reporter claims to have had sex with a number of players, all of whom are seen regularly accompanied by their hottie groupies, their model wives, and so on.  Even in Germany, talk of being openly gay in the football realm is on the table.  Could it be?  It would at least confirm what we’ve longed suspected every time a goal is made…

While in Venice, signs are posted all over town – well, over half the town at least – imploring the Mayor to “do something”.  Stating (or, rather, in that very wonderful Italian way), understating that the City has been divided by a bridge…The marvelous looking but poorly designed Calatrava bridge, no less.  I thought the debate surrounding the signs meant, like the one over the Ara Pacis still raging in Rome, that half the city didn’t like the bridge for its look [Lest you think it’s over the inconveniencing 7 million tourists who come by bus, car or train who then have to lug their luggage up the steps for lack of a simple gliding ramp, think again].
Turns out, the retailers who, for the last 1500 or so years (give or take a few), have gotten the tourist dollar as the aforementioned tourists dragged their bags past their doorways, are upset.  The bridge now provides a groovy short cut around the obstacle course and now different retailers are getting the tourist dollar (or yen, as the case may be).
So, what do they truly want their Mayor to do?  Dynamite the bridge?  Let’s hope he doesn’t follow the Mayor of Rome's example and start saying he’ll tear it down, brick by brick.  But, I won’t complain if in the end he reaches an architectural compromise – like Alemanno did, and adds the luggage ramp.

Sunday, November 7

The Best Espresso in Rome? Better order Decaf

...to calm your nerves after the ordeal. 

A lot of ink has been spilled on the trials & tribulations of getting a good cup 'a Giò in Italy, in the USA, at home, you name it.  The results have been researched, reviled & riling the feathers of many who have come before.  But the best piece of writing - ever - on the topic comes from the NYTimes - 2002 report by William Grimes who searches for this Holy Grail in New York City, and draws the conclusion -- better to forego the ersatz drink and head straight to Rome's annointed Sant'Eustachio coffee bar.  Figures.  He's a New Yorker.
The "service" of Sant'Eustachio (and I use the term quite loosely) could mirror the legendary rudeness of a New York waiter who was just told he was fired, owed 3 years' back taxes and the table he's serving was the Tax Man here to collect them.  One walk into the Sant'Eustachio bar and I'm wholly convinced I've been transported to Milan - and that's a bald-faced lie - because the baristas in Milano have never been anything less than fun, flamboyant & fenomenale.  So I'm transported to a Milanese grocery store instead.  Like their Milanese fratelli, the Sant'Eustacchio guys simply don't care - the business keeps 'em pouring in the door - and the caffè dripping from the spouts (and at $3/cup, the euros flowing into the cash drawer, as well).
I was once "invited" on Facebook to become a Fan of Sant'EustachioThere was no greater disconnect I could think of on Earth than to "Friend" a place that seriously doesn't want friends, need them, nor care further about my custom.  The experience at Sant'Eustachio is basically Seinfeld's 'Soup Nazi' - Italian style.  If you've managed to make it past the cashier gauntlet to place your order without getting thrown out first, you then need to crowd at the bar - 4 persons deep - and elbow your way in for them to actually make it.  It's part of the 'experience'.  I've seen tiny goats climb atop a herd of sheep to steal a morsel from the trough at feeding time have better luck.
Check out the picture on their website, and it is clearly running counter to 'truth in advertising' laws [men gathered, obviously during wartime when millions were busy on five fronts, women were in the factories, and no tourists were milling about].
If you order the excellent Grancaffè (and I would strongly advise against asking what the other dozen or so 'types' on offer mean), you can barely suck it down before  being elbowed out by the onslaught of new customers waiting their turn.  They offer a (slightly) pre-sweetened brew in their secret recipe--the real secret is that they don't want anyone so much as spending the 3 seconds it would take to pour in the sugar & swirl.  So much for the slow pace of Italian life. Only Americans, who leave their coffee shops with the actual cup in hand drink faster.
I think the NYTimes author got it all wrong:  It's not called espresso for the way the coffee shoots up into the pot, it's the urgency of the experience brought to an art form at Caffè Sant'Eustachio.
But, is it worth the effort?  My American guest was thrilled down to her toes at the  entire affair.  We found a nice corner to enjoy our brew slowly, and even got to exchange quips with the furiously-paced wait staff.  I did find out later (on trip advisor), that if we'd placed our tip within eyeshot, we may have been served before breaking into a cold sweat & contractions reminiscent of childbirth.
But on the whole, before 'Fanning & Faving' Sant'Eustachio, I'll take my cue and paraphrase one Groucho Marx: I wouldn't want to join any group that really would rather not have me as a member.

Related Links:

Thursday, November 4

Berlusconi's Zipper Problem

As the press starts to state that Berlusconi's 'zipper problem' (my word, not theirs and borrowed from Bill Clinton) is beginning to be an embarrassment to the country - what with his penchant for paid prostitutes escorts, surrounding himself with underage cube dancers, and then not showing any signs of humility insofar as a father let alone the face of Italy's government.  I wonder sometimes, how deep this double (or in his case, multi-dimensional) standard goes.
 This picture comes with an excellent rhyme 
(in Italian) at this website

This week, I was invited to a conference in Florence - for the Arts - an industry in which women are prominent (but mostly cuz it's so low-paying, like everywhere else).  But once again, to hear a bunch of guys rattle on - generally reading from their pre-prepared scripts unless of course, they're making ad lib sexist jokes.
Then, a friend told me of a meeting he had in Amsterdam - between all Italians also attending a conference.  Turns out one of the two parties was a pretty serious, straight-laced fellow.  The other party, in order to 'test his mettle' decided that they'd see what he was made of.  And so, the dinner quickly diverted to the Red Light District.  I guess, if he could bag a whore, he would bag the business.
This happens the world over -- in fact, escorts doing just their job is pretty standard fare anywhere -- but you sometimes wonder, where the dividing line between upright behaviour in business ends and PMs 'defending their lifestyle' as a model example of a successful businessman cum politician begins. 
Perhaps Berlusca can turn the Zipper Problem to his advantage:  And start by zipping up his mouth.