Thursday, December 29

Italy's Holiday Traditions

Natale con i tuoi...Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with the 'rents - parents - Easter with whomever you choose) is always a nice way to look at the holidays in Italy.  Many families stay home, delaying beach or snow vacations until after the 25th of December so they can break bread with others in their oft-extended families.  The die-hards who really want a getaway, sometimes take mamma with them, in a case of killing two birds with one stone (and the benefit of free babysitting!)  So you often see multi-generations enjoying the pool during your holiday vacation.
Comparing notes this Christmas with a (German) friend, we got around to the topic of card games and Tombola! (Italy's version of Bingo!) which, after imbibing in the big meal is a hallmark of the festivities.  I remarked that the kids had won 20 euro off of me that day while playing Mercante in Fiera, a sort of bidding on cards that might turn up lucky once you've accumulated enough in your hand.
And it dawned on us ironic that the celebration of the birth of Jesus was observed by heavy duty gambling, bartering and card dealing?  I'm not sure where the tradition started...perhaps long before Alexander the Great decreed Christianity as the official religion...but, wasn't it Jesus who eventually threw the money changers out of the Temple?  After losing more and more as the day grew on, I too, found my inner Jesus and wanted to go after the ones changing my money into theirs!
According to, it was actually the Bourbon King of Naples who instigated Tombola...Reasoning that, by making it legal, they would do away with the dark underbelly of illegal gambling.  And so it was that Tombola Neapolitana entered into the homes of all Italians and those immigrants to foreign lands.  Leave it to the crafty neapolitans who love their traditions and you've got Tombola! 

Friday, December 23

Holidays are for Giving

I would like to say, first & foremost, in the spirit of Christmas or all that you celebrate, Grazie mille! to all my faithful fans, long time readers, and occasional drive-bys wherever you may be.  And while I'm thrilled that there are people out there who take time out of their day and select my blog of the 10 trillion 489 thousand blogs to choose from (and that's excluding the Chinese!), this season, I thought I'd ask for something in return.
I came across this terrific post at by author & blogger, Melissa Ford.  She suggests a few things to give your favorite blogger - which won't cost money, will seriously cheer someone up (namely, me!) and make the world of difference in someone's life [insert image of 70s star Sally Struthers and her charity here].
from - gift items for sale
Give the Gift of Comments.  And I quote:
I know you're probably thinking this gift sounds akin to receiving socks under the Christmas tree, but hear me out.  What do writers want most of all? They want eyes on their work and a response to their work.  Bloggers crave traffic because traffic equals human beings all enjoying the words they've strung together.  And they like comments because no one wants to speak into a vacuum.  We want to know that our words were heard and to know how the reader received them.
So, if any of you want a New Year's Resolution you can stick about commenting on posts every now and again?  Letting us know someone is 'out there'.  In the words of Christopher Robbin to Winnie-the-Pooh..."Are you there, Pooh?  Good. I just wanted to be sure of you."

To read the full blog post and see Melissa's 'gift certificate' list, click here.

Grazie del pensiero!  
Buone Feste - 

Wednesday, December 21

Merry Crisis!

If this is the gift the govt wanted to give,
shall we say...
You really shouldn't have!
Although we have heard rumors that pensions will go up a bit (while the age of retirees will be raised considerably), just like in the USA, it won't be the rich nor the politicians who will foot the bill for Italy's present financial woes.  The rich get to keep their money abroad, the criminals get to pocket the cash (upwards of 100 billion euro industry), and the politicos get to keep their high salaries and their black income while - according to the above Pensioners Union, it will be those left working and those low income families who will be hurting the most.
Last week alone saw Ms. Mussolini (the granddaughter of the late great Berlusconi predecessor) saying that a pay cut for the highest paid Parliament on earth would be "akin to instigating suicide".  They're all paid more than Barack Obama and I don't see him in bread lines.  She blithely ignores those that actually have killed themselves due to this financial crisis.  Nonetheless, if govt cuts = suicide, that could mean two things:

1)  Italy now embraces assisted suicide
2)  Will most of the Parliamentarians do it?
That would ease the burden on us all, pensioners or not.

Monday, December 19

Oopla! and other Exclamations...

One of the delights of living in a foreign country is finding all the words that are similar, and even getting tripped up by the 'false friends' that may come your way.  But when it comes to little-known exclamations, I always get a great big kick out of them.  

In English, when you hurt yourself, you say Ouch! or Ow!  Everyone knows, starting with your first boo-boos that that's what one must emit in order to convey pain.  In Italian, the word is Aiiah!  And to this day I still think the person means Wow! whenever I hear it uttered.  But that can't be, their word for that is Waio!  It all makes me want to thumb through some old Batman comics just to get a glimpse of the Pow! Bash! Bang! and their Italian equivalents.

When you hear a crowd sing out, Hip, hip hoorah--The über-phonetic Italians will actually shout Hoo-rah and not the American hooray...something that always brings to mind Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Furthermore, in my opinion, this is actually much more correct as I recall when first learning to read and wondering just why it was we said 'hooray'!

Disney's Oopla says Oops!
from Disney Character Central
But my personal favorite is Oopla!  And although lists it as Oh, Dear! (just about how more un-hip can you get?!) I think the true translation is Oops! just as it should be...
But looking into all this hoopla I came across Oopla who I gather is a Star Wars figure.  And then there was the guy from - someone professing to make sense out of stocks & portfolio issues.  Perhaps his name is intentional...given the huge mistake of allowing our banks to throttle the universe with their derivatives and spreads and subprime mortgages... (and to think...all this time and the world was afraid of Kim jong-il...)

Nonetheless, I still would advise an updated brand name for Mr. Braeckman and his enterprise.

Saturday, December 17

Italy: Closed for Business

In this Age of Austerity, Italians have been taking to the streets to protest the various measures which are leaving the middle class to foot the bill for the excesses of their political class (comprising some of the wealthiest in Italy & the most coddled politicians on earth).  While I'm all for protests, like sit-ins on the capital, or the SNOQ Se non ora quando marches by women across the boot,I for one cannot tolerate the endemic strikes that wreak their havoc on daily life in Italy [and moreover, the summer strikes that bring the French truckers & farmers to occupy that entire country's highway systems for weeks on end.]
Today I don't strike
In the first place, I think it's a big brand image mistake.  I cannot for the life of me comprehend just how pissing off millions who would otherwise rally your cause helps you make your case.  In the last few weeks we've seen all the buses, trams & subways shut down, thankfully operating during rush hours as they are forced by law.  Nonetheless, it still took me 6 1/2 hrs. to go to two different appointments located on polar opposite sides of Rome.  The last thing I wanted to do by the time I walked in my front door was feel warm fuzzies for the strikers.  In fact, my solution would be Ronald Reagan's:  Fire them all and hire a whole host of hard-working Bangladeshis, Poles, Libyans & Romanians who just want a job.
If you want us on your side, take your woes to the Ministry of Transport - occupy their house - throw rotten eggs - broadcast propaganda against cuts on your buses for all I care, but leave the rest of us well enough alone.
One of the most incredible things I heard over the radio was the fact that, like many other sports before it, Italy's horse racing venues are all drastically in the red.  Counting on payoffs - by the local or national governments to keep them alive, these places have also been hit by the budget cuts.  In the 1900s, horse racing was the biggest sport in the USA.  People bet on their horses by the thousands, jockeys were revered like our basketball & football players today.  But, market forces changed all that and out it went to be something that only Arab horse breeders now contend for.
Our knighted Chairman of the Ippica Foundation offered his own solution for the decline in interest in his sport - while lamenting the fact that people no longer flock to the tracks, he offered, We're planning to go on strike.
At least no one will be bothered by this audacious act of dissent.

Tuesday, December 13

Italy: the Grapes of Wrath

The fruit of the spirit by Magnolia Heartbeats
One of my good friends and loyal blog fan, Carolinrome held a warm holiday evening so I could present my book to a group of women readers & expats...We all enjoyed a few good laughs doing what women do best: Tell incredible stories.
Using the book chapters as a launch pad, it wasn't long before everyone was telling one of their own...These ran the gamut from post office woes (where one woman actually called the toll free number pondering exactly, why, people didn't 'go postal' in Italy given the services were so much worse) to toilet flushers (from my brief run-down in the book called Royal Flush).
We also discussed some of the other unique features to Italian living, such as never ever touching one's food with one's hands.  In my book (Peel me a grape, Beulah - click here for entry), I imagined this was for pesticides but then again, I decided it was just germs combined with the impeccable table-training at the apron skirts of mammas everywhere, in order to exhibit one's exceptional Bella Figura. 
Turns out, I may be wrong.  A woman stated that her own (Italian) husband, will not let her peel his mandarin oranges or clementines for him...She discovered that it upset his bodily harmony...Again, I immediately assumed this was due to the perceived onslaught of germs perhaps from her handling her fork prior that might be lurking around just waiting to get under that orange peel and onto a juicy slice.  I was wrong. 
In what might lead to a certain revision in the book, she was told in no uncertain terms that the way she peeled the tiny oranges released acidic juices so as to upset his stomach.
As I stated in the book, In Italy, stomach upsets out-trump all other existential conditions.  Therefore she was left with no other choice than to simply serve the oranges as nature intended them and let him sort out his own gastric juices accordingly.  
As a postscript, I found these warning labels for grape eating on the website The Perfect 

Although it seems that grapes can have a huge positive effect on the human body, there are some RESTRICTIONS/ WARNINGS regarding their consumption. Here are some of them:
1. Neither grapes, nor grapes juice are recommended for persons suffering from stomach ulcers, diabetes and obesity;
2. Eating grapes or drinking grapes juice can cause dental problems. If you have a cavity in a tooth, it is not recommended to consume grapes, as they will intensify the destruction process of the tooth;
3. Grapes cannot be consumed along with a relatively large number of food products, like: milkfish, beer, mineral water, melons, etc. The combination of these kinds of food products with grapes can cause serious stomach problems.
Perhaps we should all wisen up and take our cue from the Granmammas whose health precautions are probably the soundest advice one could ever have gotten prior to the internet (and even afterwards)!

Saturday, December 10

Italian Post Office Blues

I have been sending out copies of my book recently to places far and wide.  And incredibly, books were delivered to the person intended in under four days - and these were to places as disparate as outside Milan, the Siena hillside, London, and Calabria.  So much so, I thought maybe I'd have to eventually eliminate the chapter in my book, The Postman Never Rings (even) Once.  
In fact, with all the talk these days of the U.S. Postal service eliminating saturday delivery, it looks like I might have to republish the chapter in a book on the USA.
While discussing the post office and all the terrific things one can do inside this update of the Ancient Forum main square, one newcomer to Italy remarked to a colleague that he'd never set foot inside an American post office in his life but after moving to Italy, he'd already been there five times in under 2 months!  
Another Italian friend was totally bummed out because he had to step inside the post office  to make some transactions.  He was worried about the wait.  I had never thought of it, but that's because it was the first of the month.  The elderly would be mobbing the joint to collect their pension checks.  So that's why I sometimes found that I was the youngest one at the post office!  Certainly - the young immigrants now use call centers or Western Union outposts to wire their money home...
And while it looks like these days money might buy efficiency (it's now €5.50 just to send my light book outside Italy), I'll stick by my comment under the book entry entitled, Going Postal:
For any expatriate or any Italian who has lived abroad                                          Post Office horror stories are legend:  true legends.
 Feel free to post yours!

Wednesday, December 7

Rome's Mayor is really the Grinch?

I was going to post today about the truly bizarre Christmas tree I happened to pass last night in Rome's main Piazza Venezia.  At first, I thought it was a promotion of a water company, launching their eco paper drinking cups in place of the plastic.  As someone twittered about the "tree", it looked like a gigantic cone decorated with the Mayor's sash.  Fortunately for Italy, the red-white-green color of our flag happens to match that of Christmas.  Which could be actually deliberate when you come to think that it was good ol' Saint Nick whose bones were stolen out of Turkey back in the day & laid to rest in Bari who started the whole affair in the first place...

In fact, when I took a good look at it, it appeared that the tree was made out of white turkish carpets and topped with a minaret.  Perhaps as a nod to all of the new Italian residents who have shown up on our beaches from Libia and in the recent census?  
Needless to say, by the time I went back to Piazza Venezia to take a photo of the monstrosity, it was gone. Out of sight.
Mayor Alemanno gets into the Christmas spirit
Turns out our Mayor of Do-Overs (search Ara Pacis & you'll see the lively debate which touches on elevators, parking lots, & even a statue of the pope or click for one excerpt here) simply "Didn't like the look."  Errrrr...if he can wield veto powers over city decór, perhaps someone could have let him have a peek at the design to begin with?  
Of course, in these days of austerity, people are asking the question, How much did this new fiasco just cost the people of Rome?  Actually, since it's in eye-shot of tourists in the popular Piazza Venezia, I'd say, How much did this just cost the tourists from the ever-burgeoning 'tourist tax' budget?  Consider it our little Christmas present.  You'd think with all our generosity they'd let us at least step up onto the grass if not to sing a song hand in hand like in the Grinch, to photograph the lovely nativity scene when the do-over is set into place.
But my question is, Did the guy who pocketed the bribe for the "Holiday Decoration Contract" have to return his portion of the fee?  Or, does he get double the money now that they're doing a makeover?
Regardless, I think the Mayor should have done nothing.  With a papier mache tree, it would only have lasted up til the first rain storm anyway.
To see the mirage tree, click here.

Monday, December 5

Italian Lessons from Life in Italy

Life in is an excellent online publication of all good things Italian.  For some time, and through the words of able writer Elisa Bressan, they offer mean, lean mini-courses in Italian also available by mp3 download, for any of you who want to brush up on your Italian conversations.
Her most recent posting is, "How to say you're sorry in Italian" (click on title for link) Bellissima.  It's always nice to know how to show a sign of grace when up against the odds.  To her - exhaustive - and highly accurate list of expressions, I would also add one more:  
Permesso?  or, Con Permesso?  
Although this is more like an Excuse Me versus an I'm Sorry.  
Nonetheless, it comes in very handy.  One should use it when entering a room, any room, even if it's someone you know very well (like a boyfriend's house and especially his parents' place).  It's asking permission to enter, or like an 'Excuse Me' when spoken on a bus, in a crowded area, or even before barging into a meeting.
picture from Cliff Robbins speaks business blog
My only doubt in all of this formality, however comes from a line in my book, Sorry is for Sissies:
Say you're sorry and you'll be going down as fast as the Titanic.  
In fact in Italy, you will be hard-pressed to ever hear the words spoken by anyone - in any given situation. It's as if, as related by TV personality & business blog commentator Cliff Robbins, people followed John Wayne's advice that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  In fact, just the opposite is true but this is a cultural difference worth noting for future reference.
In any case, as I conclude in my book:
The old adage that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” must have been born in Italy, the country of Amore.

*all links in grey are live 

Cliff Robbins has been doing a television show called Fox Robbins since 2009. 
To view past episodes visit: Fox Robbins and visit Fox Robbins Business Blog on Cape Cod Today.

Friday, December 2

Lost Luggage? What (not) to do in Italy!

No sooner had I posted that TrenItalia was finally going to search for your left luggage or lost objects, than I lost my cellphone aboard an Italian train.  I decided to test drive their new service and see how I fared:

- The announcement was made on 18 Nov stating that people like me ("the distracted traveler") can now report their lost objects to the Ufficio Assistenza Clienti at the main rail station where they have disembarked.
Unfortunately for me, I did not read the fine print with the operative word, "subito" (immediately).  Although I had noticed my cellphone was missing right away, and even re-boarded to look for it, I could not find it.  It could be that it had been stolen off the little table in my distraction disembarking the train.

- Checking the Trenitalia website, however, this announcement has not made it to the computer screens of their online web content person, most likely the son of a manager's lover, hired to keep him out of trouble.  I began the Italian internot series of surfing the web (which generally feels like the surfer has actually been drowned by a massive wave).  
Clicking on:  
- Lost Luggage = Contact the City of Rome then trying
- Assistenza Clienti (Customer Assistance) Contact the City of Rome then on to
- Lost Objects under the Station Services Tab = Contact the City of Rome
and finally, looking under 
- FAQs / Oggetti Smarriti (Lost Objects) you will find the Civil Code detailing why, in fact, you must Contact the City of Rome.
Each of these options boldly promised "For more information, click on Trenitalia website", of course with a live link redirecting you to ticket purchases only.
All of which provoked the question, Does the Mayor's office get involved?

- I of course was still operating under the assumption that should my cellphone have slipped and fallen, perhaps the Cleaning Crew might bring it in.  After all, my train was the last one in that night, and perhaps by morning it'd be found and handed in the next day to Customer Service.  So off it was to that very place.

- I was given the typical customer service song & dance that one commonly receives when faced with any dilemma: "No can do."  Followed quickly with, "You should have come in immediately, we don't hold objects, we can't help you..." and soon thereafter by the agent just getting up and walking away from her desk.  A forlorn soul behind her took pity on me, flicked some pages in a log book of lost objects (I am assuming, but it was probably their bets on the day's soccer match), and shrugged her shoulders.  I asked if they might at least list what I was missing and my contact info...but to no avail.  I offered that perhaps the cleaning crew might turn it in, and then how would they reach me?  In response, I was given a tiny over-copied slip of paper.  On it, the Magic Words:  Contact the City of Rome.  At least this time it was specified "Lost Objects Office", emails & other contact info.

- I was then told to file the "Police Report" in order to assure that my tel number would be cancelled by my operator.  The dept was located nearby, right in front of Track 13.
Going there, I was sent to Track 1 - about 1 mile away.  

- Thankfully, the police dept was actually on Track 2, so I only walked about 1/2 a mile.  Once inside, I began the wait - but after 40 minutes the same 3 people were still ahead of me.  So I up & left with the knowledge that my cellphone was now in use by some lucky chap who boarded the train that very morning.  So off I went directly over to a Vodafone store.

- Turns out, I no longer need a police report for them to cancel the SIM card & issue a new one.  New card in hand, I started receiving messages from the fellow that had my phone.  With a sense of humor, he asked if I might not top it up with funds.  

- I had an appointment at the Carabinieri later that day, so I filed a report - saying this guy clearly had my phone.  That "denuncia" (complaint) only took about 40 mins. to complete-they didn't ask for my first born, just my father's name. I would like to think that they'll track this guy down thru his cellphone that now appeared on my screen (as the Italians like to quip, La mamma of the idiots is always pregnant...). 

In short, the new TrenItalia fab "lost & found" service:  
(0) in communications
(Sub-Zero) if you only notice your missing item much later 
and in terms of efficiency (-25) Contact the City of Rome's lost & found office 
Once there, I can assure you, you will be sent to the police station taking hours to file a complaint, and, only in the unlikely event that your bag or object should ever turn up (assuming the gypsies haven't pulled it out of the rubbish bin first), you would need a return trip to Italy just to check on it and retrieve it.  (-100).

Oh - and to Contact the City of Rome?  
Try email:
Address:  Circonvallazione Ostiense 191
opening hrs:  
Mon-Wed-Fri 8:30 - 13.00 / Tues 8:30 - 13.00 & 15.00-17.00 / Thurs 8:30-17.00

Wednesday, November 30

Rome-TrenItalia-Bialetti Espresso Makers & other good things about Italy (including politics)

Of course, the absolute *best* news to come our way this month (other than the launch of my book!) was seeing Silvio Berlusconi get his comeuppance when finally he was delivered with the sorry news that It’s the Economy, Stupido.  [To his defense, he had relied on the Italian post office for it came a bit late].   A bon vivant and symbol of all that is wrong with Italy (skirting the law, sidetracking the women professionals in favor of the professional women strippers, proffering rampant nepotism & cronyism, suggesting people don’t pay taxes all the while treating the judiciary with gross disrespect), he was finally forced to step down.  He may be down but this does not signify he is out.  Although he did very little for Italy over the last 17 yrs wandering the lap dance halls of power, he has vowed to play on...
In fact, fans of Silvio's will find that his record album, Il vero amore was released this month.  If that's not a case of a politician lying right through his teeth, I don't know what is.  Tell us about True Love, Silvio!
We are now faced with the prospect of his delfin – Angelino Alfano, the strange alien life form now at the helm of his party who I am sure if he took off his mask is in reality Admiral Ackbar.  Italy: the next Death Star.
I may be a bit behind on reporting this news, but after recently purchasing two wonderful tiny Bialetti Moka espresso makers (you know, the old-fashioned ones that you set on the stove only after spilling costly coffee grains all over the kitchen counter and then wait as it spits up the black gold all over the stovetop), I discovered a whole section of spare parts for it hanging in grocery & appliance stores around town.  Offering – at long last – the little plastic handles and tops to your espresso maker that you have, over the years, melted down to irrecognizable clumps of their former selves. 
Perhaps if they’d offered this years ago, the rest of the world wouldn’t have switched to the handy spill-proof pods & electric coffee makers by now.  Regardless, I say stock up now before they can only be found in archeological museums.

Rome continues to beautify itself.  This time, completing the restyling of the romantic Parco degli Aranci (the orange garden) on the Aventino hill which offers a stunning – and silent – view of Rome.  Also, the park across from the Bocca della Verità was done up and now sports a labyrinth of greenery for you to enjoy. But for some real treats in the area, head up the tiny street nearby - via dei Cerchi - and on the corner before crossing into the Circus Maximus you’ll find Cristalli di Zucchero.  It's a slice of heaven serving tasty treats including those mouth-watering macarons in every sort of flavor – my favorite rose - bagel sandwiches and chocolate-covered ambrosia, food of the gods.
Across the street from there & up a few doors is a newish wine bar serving great food 24/7 and excellent happy hour buffets.  Next stop: Piazza Vittorio, Rome’s largest piazza (remember, St Peter’s square is in Vatican territory) will be getting its own facelift.  And around there, even more treats to be had amongst the foreign foodstuffs &amp, cheap Chinese shops, and Rome's oldest gelateria.
Now if the city only spent more time & money on cleaning up its outskirts or enabling recycling, we’d truly be a shining jewel in the crown of city planning.

Elsewhere around town, the Province of Rome has installed hundreds of solar panels in schools everywhere.  And That website for allowing the lowly customers a voice was launched in Italy (I personally can’t wait to start uploading reviews).  

And finally, Trenitalia finally got closer to their customers by starting a lost luggage contact point with their Ufficio Assistenza Clienti located at each rail station (Really?! Italy's Trenitalia has a customer service center??! Hopefully it'll be an improvement on the one I went to at Rome's airport - with the doors locked and no one in the office once I infiltrated the premises or the one in Torino where the doors do not open automatically).  Of course, this news doesn't bode well when their illustrious website still informs you that you must file a complaint with the local police dept instead.
Luggage-less English speakers can also try their luck at calling the Phone Center (they speak English) but...that costs you money and...I wish you luck.
Regardless, this is still great news arriving only 172 years after people started losing their bags on trains since taking to the rails under the Naples' Reign of the Two Sicilies.  
But hey, as the Trenitalia motto reads:  Always better late than never.

Tuesday, November 22

Letter from Paris

Paris - the City of Lights - quite necessary due to the grey haze and often rainy days that is a part of its cityscape.  Although if you wake up early and hit the streets you can sometimes find cloud formations and skies that would wake the senses of any a fine artist.
Having lunch in a café, I was startled out of my amazing Japanese meal when the elderly and elegant woman next to me started yelling -- calling for the owner to come to the front immediately. I was stunned by her total composure (she just kept right on supping) in the throws of what seemed like a total Bella Figura breakdown.  The New Yorker in me figured she was just another loose screw in the machine that makes up our civil society.
Finally turning my attentions away from her and in front of me, I realized the reason for her alarm: four gypsy kids had meandered into the crowded locale so they could meander out with a five-finger special: your bag, wallet, cellphone, or anything from the pockets of your coats hanging on racks or seat backs.  With all the raucous, they turned and ran out immediately, and straight into the arms of a local policeman who then popped his head in to see if anyone was missing an item.  He stepped back out to shake the kids down and recover their stash.  
This was not the only instance of security I found in this bustling city.  Your arrival at Orly (and probably a few other airports and train stations as well) is greeted with machine-gun wielding soldiers strolling the arrivals and departures areas.  Coupled with those lime green plastic garbage bags waving in the wind like a humungous Christo exhibit installed throughout every single arondissements which have taken the place of metal garbage cans, well, you can see that these Parisians take their security seriously.
I realized that not only were these the first gypsies I've ever seen around town, it was certainly the first time I've seen them so bold as to enter a restaurant.  In Italy, this doesn't seem to happen although instead we have a nightly infestation of wandering vendors selling Chinese gadgets and unscented roses who make their way in amongst the diners.  But at least these guys are fairly harmless and don't seem to steal (and, I must admit, I harbor a secret desire to buy some of that junk every so often...).
Nonetheless, I found that the vigilance of both the customers and the proprietors when it comes to protecting our private property and our dining experience quite impressive.  I imagine that in our always compassionate Italy, there is the idea that "they're just trying to make a living" which allows our vendors in the door. And the idea that "gypsies are people too" which allows them to roam the streets and pick-pocketing tourists to their heart's delight under the blind eye of our law enforcement officials.

Sunday, November 20

Tons of travel tips for Italy

Friends who run a wonderful B&B - The Beehive - and apartment rental service Cross-Pollinate in Rome have been penning quite a few pointers on their blog for years.  It is filled with excellent tips for anyone coming to Rome, with a touch of user-friendly advice as given by their lovely daughters often featured in the videos.  I loved the quirky stuff so much, I thought I would bring you one as a guest post feature.  
This one is on how, exactly, to drink from the Nasoni (or Big Snout) Water Fountains of Rome just like a native.  They also provide another on shopping tips, or purchasing train tickets from Rome Termini Station (right near the Beehive) to Fiumicino - Leonardo Da Vinci airport.  You can even download on their home page an exceptional 'insider's guide' to all things Roman while there.  Their cross-pollinate blog posts are also filled with cool tips and neat stuff to make any trip that much more pleasurable.  So be sure to buzz over there sometime and check out what hoteliers Steve & Linda (& their girls) have to say.

note: all live links are in grey above

Thursday, November 17

Berlusconi, Monti & the Spread

All the Prime Minister's Women / This picture was posted on the Informare Controinformando News Facebook Page and compares the women Ministers of the previous Administration to those of the newly minted Monti Administration.

Above, we have (the titles above are incorrect)

Minister of Justice - Paola Severino - Lawyer, Four time Vice President of the Council of Military Magistrates, with a stellar defense career, she has been listed as one of the richest public officials.

Minister of the Interior - Anna Maria Cancellieri - Commissioner of Parma, Bologna,, Prefect & Sub-Commissioner of Milano.

Welfare Minister - Elsa Fornero - Economist, specialized in pensions, & Prof of Policy & Economics, Vice Pres on the oversight board of one of Italy's top banks, Intesa Sanpaolo & advisor for Russia & E. European banks

Below, our previous ministers:

Minister of Tourism (Italy's most important industry) - Michela Vittoria Brambilla - Former model, Voted Miss Elegance for Emilia, worked for Mediaset (Berlusconi's TV co.) - Studied some philosophy & obtained journalist credentials

Minister of Education - Mariastella Gelmini - Graduate in Law/Administration outside track, President of the City Board of Desenzano del Garda (a small tourist hamlet)

Minister for Equal Opportunity - Mara Carfagna - Former topless model, ballerina & voted Miss Cinema at the Miss Italy contest - Graduated with honors in jurisprudence before working on Berlusconi's campaign in Campania.

Let's just hope that these women with the credentials can now be the ones to turn heads.

Sunday, November 13

Don Silvio's Curtain Call

I found it perfectly fitting that the Prime Partier's departure from Parliament was met with spontaneous all-night parties, the likes of which could only be found in his Sardinian hideaway (sans pole dancers, of course).  But before he handed over the reins to our serious President to consider, like a tired-out Don (although they get facelifts to hide their identities, not to flaunt them) he got into his limo to allow the competing family to control the clan.  I would have loved to witness the scene, with no bargaining chips left, of Silvio heading to the table--cards in hand to give his "conditions" for leaving well enough alone.

foto from imdb
He stated that his right-hand man, the guy really pulling the political strings, someone as close to him as you can get to Don Vito's Hagen, Gianni Letta, should be Vice Premier under a new government.  It was his last-ditch attempt as master puppeteer to manage the machinations of the country that had seemingly lost its way, no fault of his own.  Letta has been the guy in charge while Don Silvio (self-proclaimed "Part-time Prime Minister") jetted around strutting his showman stuff while generously opening his heart and wallet to those that needed him:  the lonely hooker with a heart (Ruby Heartstealer, in fact, straight out of central casting) who was gifted with thousands so she can get a leg up (purportedly to "open her beauty salon and get off the streets"), "loans" to "friends" like aging Talent Scout Lele Mora who in return for his booty, brought in the booty, and childhood buddy, Lucio Stanca (former head of IBM) who learned that 58 million euro could quickly buy you a website for $5.99 on GoDaddy ( 
While his minions gathered around him to bid him Addio, his beloved Tessio, Umberto Bossi, would betray him in the end.  Sollozzo, aka Roberto Formigoni, showed his loyalty by flipping off the crowd as he entered the Don's residence.  His delfin, his Sonny boy, the highly disagreeable and unfathomably homely Alfano (now party head) was angling for position, but, like Sonny, no one took that too seriously.  
But in the end, Letta, understanding that it might be his head next, demurred and Italy's President gave Silvio a condition of his own: In the final scene, we have the Don, as he nods his approval agreeing at last that he would not return on the ballot box.  As he leaves to go back to his palazzo, seeing his likely future perhaps even behind bars, he utters one final departing monition:
 "We can pull the plug on Monti*, anytime we want."

* Economist Mario Monti, head of Milan's University of Bocconi and a Technocrat who will most likely head a provisional government.  

As for Monti, formerly with Goldman Sachs along with his buddy Draghi now at the European Central Bank, who remarked how beautifully this gorgeously sunny Roman day was starting (he's from Milan, after all), a comedian had this to consider:
So, let me get this straight:  These banks fail, leaving the State to bail them out.  Once back in business, they leave the States to fail, who then turn around and make these same bankers head of those very same States.
And in a plot twist worthy of Mario Puzo, the curtain closes on Italy.

Forza, Italia!

In Italia, quando si calpesta la cacca in strada lo si considera un buon auspicio.  Ora che lo stivale dell’Italia si trova proprio nella merda…che cosa ci possiamo aspettare?
Desidero pertanto offrire la mia panacea (o l'utopia).

Possiamo davvero aspettarci di cancellare secoli di clientelismo politico, irremovibile maschilismo, decenni di radicato socialismo…e spazzarli via con un colpo di bacchetta?  Il venerato "ViadiMedici Incantesimo?"   Con l’aggiunta di un pizzico di ‘occhio di meritocrazia’?  Buona fortuna, Mr. Monti.

Ma, se non sei Silente (e siccome lui è gay, non credo che la chiesa lo approvera’...gia’ vogliono il mago Harry nell’aula dell' Inquisizione), non credo che le riforme votate dalla Camera possano aiutare l'Italia oggi più di tanto (anzi’ molte di esse aprono la porta anche a future opportunita’ di corruzione)…Ma di certo potrebbero mettere il paese sulla strada giusta per il futuro.  A mio avviso, è la mentalità di un popolo intero che deve cambiare. E 'come se l'intero paese avesse bisogno di prendere un periodo di pausa e di andare ad emigrare in un altro paese, persino in Francia per un po'.  Per constatare la rapidità con cui le tradizioni che hanno messo in ginocchio il ns paese verrebbero scartate non appena sbarcate altrove. 

[Basta chiedere a qualsiasi cervellone che ha lasciato l'Italia (siamo l'unico paese esportatore di laureati a questi livelli) e vi diranno che l’hanno fatto per andare avanti; giovani, ambiziosi e di gran talento  (spesso donne) in cerca di meritocrazia.  Persino il fiorentino Bini-Smaghi, appena lasciata la Banca Centrale Europea ha accettato un posto a Harvard, piuttosto che tornare al covo di ladri a casa.]  Ma sto divagando.

Come promesso, come puo’ l'Italia ridurre i costi senza imporre alla classe borghese di sostenere le spese di un paese intero?  [Quei dipendenti privati e statali le cui tasse vengono prese alla fonte e che non sono in grado di nascondere il reddito].  E, allo stesso tempo, come puo’ l’Italia diventare più competitiva?  Non ho la formula magica, ma anche una piccola dose di pozione magica potrebbe servire.  
Ecco una dose della mia Magia Monti che potrebbe dare un taglio a spese enormi e senza senso, aggiungere un minimo senso di responsabilità (parola che ha perso il suo significato negli anni di Berlusconi), affrontare la corruzione e forse rendere i cittadini orgogliosi del proprio Paese.  Ma bisogna iniziare dalla leadership.   Quindi, proprio voglio incominciare da li':


- Tagliare i numeri           L'UE ha richiesto che l’Italia "provi" a tagliare il Parlamento. Per me Napolitano dovrebbe scioglierlo subito e permettere solo alla metà dei membri di rientrarci.  Anzi, aggiungiamo la clausola che i Parlamentari debbano essere eletti e non scelti dal partito.  Come potremmo monitorarne il successo?  Paragonandoci con il Regno Unito. Entrambi i paesi hanno dimensioni simili e PIL simili, eppure non sembra che i politici del Regno Unito stiano soffrendo la fame (a dire il vero...sembra proprio il contrario).  Un corollario a questo atto sarebbe:  se uno è sotto inchiesta o è stato gia’ colpevole, ‘No Party’.  Di qualsiasi tipo.

- Tagliare i costi               Se si innalza l'età pensionabile a 67, allora ciò deve essere applicato a tutti i cittadini. Compresi i politici.  E, per buona misura, per sollevare il ns morale collettivo, deve essere retroattiva. Tutti coloro che sono al di sotto dei 67 anni attualmente vivono dei ns risparmi; mi dispiace, ma da oggi in poi avrete un piccolo taglio di stipendio. Fin da subito.  Aspettate il vostro turno e non disperate; state tranquilli, perché l'Italia si vanta di un'aspettativa di vita molto lunga, quindi sarete ancora in grado di godere i vs quatrini quando sara’ il momento…esattamente come tutti gli altri (poi c’è da precisare…potreste contare ancora su tutte le tangenti per vivere – senza preoccuparvi del fisco). Quindi non lamentatevi.

- Tagliare le Auto             Oltre a bloccare le 19 Maserati per il Ministero della Difesa (con i cui risparmi potremmo comprare treni per i pendolari del Lazio – sono pur sempre veicoli con autista)…rimuoviamo tutte le autoblu che portano uomini dei Comuni, delle Regioni e dello Stato (che sono quasi tutti maschi, tranne quando le loro amanti vengono accompagnate a fare shopping).  Anche qui, il numero di coloro che effettuano il servizio di scorta (e non escort) sarà basato sui parametri del Regno Unito. I poliziotti torneranno ad occuparsi delle ns strade e non piu' ad occupare le strade, bloccando il traffico di volta in volta.

- Tagliare i Benefici         No, il popolo italiano non sovvenzionerà più un barbiere che guadagni più di un Direttore di Banca e quant'altro. D'ora in poi, pagate di tasca vostro il taglio di capelli, i vostri pranzi da gourmet, e no, non si può addebitare la spesa a noi.

- Tagliare gli Stipendi     Chiamo questo l’Obama Test:  nessun politico, né “consigliere” della pubblica amministrazione (comunale, regionale, provinciale o statale) guadagnera’ più del Leader del Mondo Libero.  Retroattivo. Tu vuoi essere un incaricato di pubblico servizio?  Allora, ritorniamo a sottolineare l’idea di “servizio”.   Se sei un funzionario qualsiasi (anche se fuori lavoro sei un ‘high class escort’ come la Minetti), la tua busta paga sarà uguale ad uno che lavora all’ufficio postale (non ti preoccupare, puoi sempre arrotondare per arrivare a fine mese come escort…).  I manager verranno pagati come un funzionario di banca, poi direttori di filiale della Banca, e via via finchè arriviamo al Presidente del Consiglio (dimensioni della popolazione: ¼ degli Stati Uniti, allora puoi percepire ¼ della retribuzione di Obama).   Intanto, ricevi sempre i tuoi appartamenti gratis e tangenti a go-go, così avrai i tuoi benefici lo stesso…Ma le nostre entrate fiscali non verranno  più utilizzate per pagare per le tue serate ad Ibiza.

- Ridurre la burocrazia            Si tratta di una clausola proposta nel pacchetto corrente, e a me sta bene, a patto che non è il nipote, figlio o amante quello assunto per portarle a termine.   Anzi, suggerisco una minima sentenza di 10 anni per nepotismo (applicato anche alle università dove la pratica è diffusissima).  Cosi’ vediamo quanti desiderano di sistemare il proprio figlio lobotomizzato nelle alte cariche di governo o di business.  (Propongo che questa legge sia anche retroattiva e di applicarla nel caso di società in cui il Stato sia socio, come Alitalia. Così Elkann non sarebbe più al timone della FIAT -- può andare a formare una propria azienda, se è così talentuoso - e poi valuteremo i risultati).

- Tagliare il sistema di finanziare i partiti       Non c'è da meravigliarsi se l'Italia ha così tanti partiti. Mettono miliardi (pre-lira!) di fondi dal governo direttamente nei loro forzieri.  Questa pratica deve cessare immediatamente.  I partiti possono farsi finanziare dai loro padroni (invece di riempirsi le tasche e le loro pareti di capolavori).   Lasciate decidere la gente e le aziende se aiutare la loro causa.  Si tratta di un sistema marcio, vero, ma è meglio di quello che abbiamo.  Gli italiani non dovrebbero pagare per sostenere i partiti a scapito dell'istruzione e gli anziani, dei servizi comunali e degli asili nido.

- Tagliare l’assenteismo         Vuoi mobilità per i Statali? Mentre mi fa piacere la clausola di rendere più facile licenziare i lavoratori (specialmente gli anziani – con l’ovvia eccezione dei politici…) che dire ai nostri rappresentanti? Non si presenta in aula per votare?  Si addormenta sul posto di lavoro?  Vede porno sull'iPad? Tre colpi e sei fuori. Se ci comportassimo cosi’ nelle aziende…perché non possiamo dare un esempio con i nostri funzionari pubblici?

- Tagliare il Maschilismo    Tutti sanno ormai che le donne nella politica e nella comunità fanno più di ogni altra cosa per la crescita e la sostenibilità.  Ora basta escluderci dalle stanze dei politici (con l’eccezione dei ‘dopo-lavoro’ come ad Arcore) e imponiamo la quota del 50% di rappresentanza femminile.  Rispettando tali quote, non avremo assistito muti all’assunzione di 42 manager uomo all'Expo di Milano, tenendo le donne fuori dal discorso politico,  invitate solo se ci spogliamo (chi non si ricorda la Partita dell’Amore?). Non si vede il collegamento tra essere il fanalino di coda per il discorso delle donne in politica e essere il fanalino di coda in Europa?  Non preoccupatevi, potreste sempre basare le vs scelte sui favori sessuali...come abbiamo visto con il voto Berlusconi; a volte anche una puttana ha un cuore.  Basta che le donne, una volta arrivate ai vertici, non si comportino come gli uomini.

- Pagare per la sua parte        I partiti devono pagare la propria parte per la pubblicità, per la sbalorditiva quantità di manifesti che occupano 2 metri e mezzo di spessore davanti a tutte le fermate degli autobus o nei cantieri, e poi pagare per la pulizia (proprio come fanno i fruttivendoli al mercato). Sarebbe il caso di far pagare loro anche il riciclaggio di tali manifesti. Forse servira’ una volta per tutte per fermare questa forma di inquinamento causata dai loro assurdi manifesti…

- Google It        Iscrivere il paese intero a Google Governo o Google App for Public Policy (il servizio di monitoraggio ai fondi pubbici).  Così il popolo potrebbe seguire in diretta le proprie spese.  Napoli ha appena ricevuto 2 milioni per una nuovo patumiera?  Oppure, i soldi destinati all'istruzione sono finiti ad una scuola di modelle a Parma? Non ci penso proprio. I ladroni, quando smascherati, dovrebbero pagare tre volte tanto in sanzioni.

Solamente cosi’ potremo iniziare a togliere lo Stivale dalla fogna in cui si trova.