Monday, January 31

Tante Belle Cose: January in Italy

For any Italophiles out there, of course, the best news this month was the fact that the judiciary struck down a Berlusconi law that would protect people in office from being prosecuted.  Thus the ensuing legal hassles our Premier is now undergoing.
It's true, that it distracts them from the duties of office, but, it could also keep more than one nefarious nympho from living like they're above the law, and partying like it's 1999, which, to some observers might be considered a distraction as well.

And speaking of charges, I personally was pleased as punch to hear that nine archeologists & other 'experts' were under investigation for neglect in the Pompeii collapse.  Other good news this month, is that the EU is sending Pompeii monies for propping up other at-risk buildings and so forth.  Let's just hope the funds don't end up going to prop up the construction contracts with the mob.

And, a couple more of my pet peeves were being addressed by the powers that be:   
- Kids were now going to have to take driver's tests prior to cruising around in their micro cars.  After so many senseless deaths...this is very good news.  Again, we hope that papà doesn't just grease the palms of the driver's ed instructor to let Giovanni pass with flying colors.  In fact, in a recent blitz, they nailed 51 driving instructors 'on the take' in Palermo.  At least we now know why Italians are such rotten drivers.

- The EU is trying to get the Italian banks to stop the extortion on bank account fees, double the fees of most other member countries.  As if that wasn't enough reason to store your money elsewhere, a conference will be held shortly in Lugano - in Italian - on keeping your money offshore.  It should be a nice people-watching meeting - of the who's who of Italy all in attendance...

But, my favorite bit of news was that, it took 2011 years (but who's counting?) in the making, but we finally have the arrival of 'Family-sized' milk cartons!!!  With its tag line, E' NATO IL FORMATO FAMIGLIA. E' L'ULTIMO ARRIVATO MA È IL PIÙ GRANDE DI TUTTI [family-sized form is born...the last to arrive, but bigger than all the rest]...

Coming from the country of super-size me, I can't tell you how happy this makes me.  Add to this the advent of biodegradable plastic bags in Rome...well, things in my kitchen never looked so good.  Now - to figure out how to fit it into my mini-sized fridge...

Live links in gray on official blog

Thursday, January 27

Francesca Maggi's...Strange But True!

There's been some seriously strange happenings around town, and I'm not referring to all those dead animals turning up (or falling out of the skies - giving new meaning to the phrase, 'drop dead').
The most horrendous incident occurred when thieves decided it's not enough to rob the living, nor is it enough to steal precious objects from ancient tombs.  Italy's most beloved showman, Mike Bongiorno, who passed away in 2009, was stolen out of his very own grave.  The thieves will ask for ransom money in return for the corpse.  Now.
Italy has a long tradition of wealthy people coveting dead saints' bodies, even traveling with them from abode to abode.  And, I know that TV personalities are demi-gods, but, really...
Turns out this is not an isolated case, with the most famous being Charlie Chaplin.  Even the money man of Italy, Banker Enrico Cuccia, was considered an account receivable to some wily grave robbers.

On a lighter note, in Sicily, a man's favorite goat died, and so the man posted those mourning notices all over town.  His heartfelt appeal?  «Unitamente ai pochissimi e preziosissimi amici e ai molti cari conoscenti profondamente affranti da dolore, comunichiamo la prematura morte del fidato Carlo il caprone!»  Along with our precious & few friends and our dear grief-stricken acquaintances, we notify you of the premature death of our trusted Carlo - The Goat! 
So nice, I may actually consider it when little Trevor meets his maker.  But, I'm not saying these two guys are related, but, it did make at least one observer wonder...And, speaking of goats, fellow blogger - Bleeding Espresso - has a new blog in which she chronicles the life of her baby goat, Pasquilina, called Goat Berries.

And, keeping in the spirit, in an 'Only in Italy' moment, a school bus was caught with its proverbial pants down -- carrying an advertisement for a Sex Shop, Erotic Dreams.
It's a good thing the tots probably don't know much English. But, considering  large adverts are prohibited within a certain distance of schoolyards, I'm wondering where the bus driver lets the kids off for school.

Tuesday, January 25

Berlusconi's Babes-Follow the Money

The English press, since their own politicians usually can't have nearly as much fun as their Mediterranean counterparts always have a heyday when Berlusconi gets caught with his pants down. As much as the Brits love to vacation in Italy, they seriously can't take Italy...well, seriously. Forget being cozy with Putin, Berlusca is 'peeing off the plane' Boris Yeltsin's protégé.

The most disturbing facts surrounding this media circus however, have seemed to pass the media by (not to mention the EU & World Bank for that matter). That the government has been at a standstill, aside from the internal cat fights, for seven months, while Berlusconi & pals entertain new ways to get him off the hook, instead of trying to resolve Italy's stagnant growth, brain drain & myriad problems. Today's ace up their sleeve? Introducing a law to fine 100,000 euro anyone issuing an order for telephone interceptions (read: judges - which is what tripped him up in the first place), if there is no ultimate proof of wrongdoing (the chicks aren't chirping, so, it will get him off in the second place).

Another issue much ignored by the anglo press is, of course, that paying for escorts is not illegal. It's the girl's age and playing the 'get out of jail free' card that may cost him Park Place.  Every day I see policemen picking up prostitutes to keep them off the streets - but, it's hard to uphold that law when your PM seems to be getting their phone numbers and inviting them to his villa. Only the church seems to be talking about decorum and how one should assume a more 'statesmanlike conduct' (and we know how good they are at saving face in the face of scandal). Let's face it. If any of us carried on like this in our jobs, except for Hef, we'd be fired.

But, my biggest beef is none of this.  I wonder, while Italy has income tax revenues too low to speak of, State spending above their GDP, no money to pay their teachers, remove their garbage, build nursery schools, maintain the streets, rebuild Aquila, etc. etc., why Miss Minetti, the 25 yr. old ex-dental hygienist cum City Councilwoman (and, allegedly, the Madam of the mansion), and who, I am certain, is, according to Berlusconi, "a splendid person, intelligent and educated,"

makes as a fledgling City Councilwoman in Milan, more than Barack Obama.

Her pay? 12.555 euro per month (times 14 months' pay and including about 8 weeks vacation - more even, than George W. Bush). This comes out at today's (lower) exchange rate to $245,155/yr. - and I believe that's after taxes. Multiply this by their thousands of city council people and...Work in the EU? The pay is over 50% more than that. We've already seen the picture play out on this legalized graft -- it's called Greece. This is the real scandal.  Of course, one could also state that the escorts don't make out so badly either. 

What did P.J. O'Rourke call it?  Parliament of Whores -- and that was the US Government.

Sunday, January 23

Rome's Best Dressed List

Milan may be the fashion capital of Italy, but when it comes to your parish priest, mecca is in Rome.  If you find yourself in or around the Pantheon, you'll be amazed by the window shopping.  You can find any number of objects with which to hold your liturgical services, from candlesticks to purple robes fit for a Cardinal.  I've never gone in to price compare, but I have often wondered about these sorts of things.  I mean, what does a Bishop's hat run these days? And, are they available online?
Turns out, these Urban VIII outfitters do more than put cloaks on the backs of poor Franciscan Friars.  It seems that priests the world over covet their collars and count their cotton fibers as coyly as Martha Stewart in a Frette sheet boutique.  My sources reveal that if Martha were a nun, she'd be picking her frocks at Barbiconi's, the Armani of priestwear; located somewhat ironically on via St. Catherine of Siena, a woman who received her own habit from a Dominican tertiary.  Maybe not so ironic when you learn that Catherine was the daughter of a wealthy Sienese garmento.

Every year, dashing young priests pose for calendars which you can find around Rome.  Who knew that they are simply the Kate Moss' of their order, shopping on High Street for the very outfits in which they're shown?  Considering how impressively clothed are our 'men of the cloth', make sure your cloth has the right label attached.

Thursday, January 20

Italian Food: Worth licking your plate over

Over the holidays, when they bring onto the front burner those desultory articles of seemingly low import, some major bombshells were dropped about Italians and their eating habits.  As a 'sloppy seconds' American, these came on like tsunamis in my world view.

We know that Italians conquered the food world, right about the same time that poor man's polenta became so chic, it was priced at about $5 per sliver.  Baloney, or Bologna's melt-in-your-mouth mortadella was something you only dreamed of finding on your plate at Happy Hours.  Then, they did it again when they won over the American FDA in the 80s, and were allowed to ship over their prosciutto by the ton.  Competing ferociously for the American dollar, Italian wines -- and my favorite, prosecco, still carry the day, if not the entire evening as well.

In the 90s, we were treated to the Slow Food Movement.  Italy's singular response by a great visionary to the encroachment of McDonald's on its shores.  And in 2010, Eataly took New York by a storm.  So, what could they ever do for an encore?  Ancora! (More!) that's what.

Incredibly, Italians, by their own admission, have reignited yet another passion (for all us food lovers with peasant hearts):  La Scarpetta.  My favorite way to eat food.  I'm not even sure of the etymology here, but, it translates to...ripping off that sumptious corner of delectable bread, and scraping your plate with it until you've soaked up the very last drop.  Let's just say that in finer households, this is say, frowned upon.  But it would seem of late...that people are getting caught - shall we say, red wine-handed??  Food has never tasted more delizioso.
                               You can take the kid out of America... but can't take the American outta the kid, especially if brownie batter is involved
But then, no sooner had you scraped that last bit of walnut cream sauce off your plate than it happened. First one table, then another, at your favorite ristorante.  Not just ugly Americans were actually - ohdiomio - asking to bring home their leftovers.  People in the know say Italians leave behind upwards of 30% of their meal -- and now, and especially with the prices at record levels, and perhaps the lack of time to prepare good food like mamma used to make, a taboo has been wrapped up just like your Penne all'arrabbiata to be reheated next day.  Incredibly, these morsels of goodness go even in 'doggy-bags', in English.  Could eating with your fingers be far behind?

I had a boyfriend break up with me after I ordered a pizza to go - in a pizza box (it was half the pie, hardly just one slice).
Do you think there's anything wrong with bringing home the bacon?

Monday, January 17

Happy International Pesto Day!

According to today's papers, January 17th marks Int'l Pesto Day.  That's the day in which we all can have garlic breath...I've said it once, and will say it again, Pesto even on old shoes will taste good.  And, although this treat has its origins in northern Liguria, it's pretty much standard fare on tables around the world.
This picture and accompanying recipe comes from all the way in New Zealand - Wicked Food Cooking school and TV.  And while I'm sure it's absolutely amazing, alas, they suggest Parmigiano and not the traditional, Pecorino as in the original.

In fact, while 70 cities in Italy are hosting chefs in 'make-offs' (versus bake-offs) today, another article caught my eye:
According to the food czars in Italy, 9 out of 10 pestos do not respect the original and real ingredients of pesto, as Dio commanded and Mamma intended.
That's true.  I've found pretty much everything in my store-bought pestos, including nuts (not pine nuts, and if you're allergic...) and all kinds of flavorings.  So read labels, or...better yet, make your own.  And, if you're really in for a fabulous treat, try a red pesto as well...

And, here's a helpful hint from my very own mamma -- take that pesto and scoop it into ice cube trays and freeze as single-serving portions for later.  That way, every time you get a pesto rush, you won't have to grind up the basil right there & then.  It's as good as fresh.  Of course, that would imply you don't then unfreeze the entire tray for your own single serving of some of us - ahem! - may do...

Post links to your favorite pesto dishes below...

Saturday, January 15

Buy Made in Italy! Per Favore...

This is a message for you men out there – or, you women who shop for your men.  There is obviously a severe crisis in the mens’ fashion world, and clearly not enough guys are putting down the dough for gorgeous Italian clothes.  It would appear that in these times of economic crisis, way too many guys are shopping at Wal-mart.
How do I know this?  Well, not to judge by the looks of most Americans…but, that certainly would be a mitigating factor…Instead, I’m judging from this week’s Men’s Fashion Shows taking place in Florence – Pitti Uomo.  It seems that companies, or their advertising agencies, simply can’t attract the business.  So, they’ve decided to follow in the foolish footsteps of Diesel [the ones who came out with the Beevis&Butthead tag line, ‘Be Stupid’ to promote their styles – as if adolescents needed any more encouragement] and give us a whole slew of pathetic and positively raunchy campaigns. 
Taken straight out of the Ogilvy annals, ‘If you can’t talk about the product, get people to talk about you’ I offer the crème of the crass crop [I refuse to name the companies, so as not to give them more reason to regurgitate their rancid campaigns]:

-       One company has lined the streets of Florence with dead cadavers, crime scenes, blood, guts and all, along with offering up scenes from the school massacre in Beslan (Russia), where over 400 were murdered, 156 of them children.  Yeah. That’ll truly make me want to rush out and spend my money on ‘clothes to be shot up in’.  In the wake of the Tucson shooting spree, it’s even more tasteless in its timing.
Advertising Age:  about 12 yr. old video gamers – too bad they don’t buy their own clothes.
-       Another has Jesus hanging in agony on the cross, imploring you not to succumb to evil, and help yourself by buying their clothes.  Unless they’re selling togas, this is sheer idiocy (and, as the Italian press emoted, blasphemous in the extreme).  My recommendation?  Try that tactic with Mohammed, and see how cute the public thinks you are.  You better have bomb-proof glass at your Company headquarters.
Advertising Age:  clearly not done by any real agency, I’d give the advert an age of 16, the brainchild of the owner’s up & coming son.
-       And then we have provacateur extraordinaire, enfant terrible, ('Terrible' being the operative word), of the consummate self-serving egomaniac of Benetton fame, Oliviero Toscani.  For his Menswear promo, he’s released a calendar.  Great.  I’m thinking a male version of the Pirelli calendar.  Oh. Wait. No, this one is a series of women’s genitals, month by month.  Certainly not a turn-on for women, and seriously off the mark for the legions of homosexual fashion buyers frequenting the shows.

It will be a dark day when the King of Taste, Giorgio Armani, is no longer with us.  Because if this is a glimpse into the future of fashion, we'll need more than Jesus to help us out.

Thursday, January 13

Back to Business

No sooner did the lull of the holiday break subside, than we were painfully reminded of the grinds of our daily routine:  the one pitting the poor sod of a lowly consumer against the corporate pencil-pushers who would rather ‘Just Say No’ than accept the idea that, perhaps, it’s due to customers giving their custom, that they are dutifully employed in the first place. 
My own ‘giornata a no’ – the Italian expression for a ‘bad hair day’ – began like many others (and, I must say, my hair was a mess).  I tried to recycle my plastic, but every single bin within a 1/2 mile radius was filled to the brim.  So, setting my sights on the Bancomat to get some cash, it was in its customary ‘Out of Order’ status.  At the Post Office, I discover that some smart thieves – or one seriously irate customer – had rammed a truck through the front window.  Off to the main post office, the manager comes out shouting, “Tutti Fermi!” – “All freeze!”  Luckily, it was just to perform a backup (during operating hours?) and not another heist in progress.  [After they've doubled - doubled - postage rates, I pondered who, precisely, were the heisters...] Checking the movie times, I decide to head over to my favorite cinema before it is turned into a Diesel store.  Once there, I find it already bolted shut, signs plastered, “No longer in operation” – just like the Bancomat.  So much for fact checkers.  Trying to get home, I board the bus which has a ticket machine aboard.  Also out of order.

But, my favorite came in from a friend who, on his way to New York, withdrew $2000 to deposit upon arrival.  Withdrawing large sums of money in Italy comes with a lot of pomp & circumstance:  letters in writing, lots of stamps, your i.d. card; you would think you had just stolen it and they need to make up Exhibit A.  In New York the next day, his bank takes one look at a bill and stamps COUNTERFEIT all over it -- making copious copies, and having him sign declarations, and all that. 
He immediately contacts his Italian bank, forwarding the copies.
Their response: “We have nothing to do with this. How do we know it’s ours (denying the existence of serial numbers), and besides, it is your responsibility to check the bills prior to exiting the bank.”
Aghast, he mentions that, to the best of his knowledge, his iPhone does not have an incorporated infra-red machine but, besides, "Isn’t it the institution’s responsibility to check their own bills prior to issue?"
Again, the request is refused.
He then mentions his bank accounts, mortgages on two apartments and other business he may reconsider holding with them, should they not simply look into and rectify the matter.
Their response (ignoring the previous communications and reams of request papers involved): “We cannot possibly honor bills after 8 months have passed since their issue.”
He then reminds them – that those conversant in the banking world might want to keep in mind - that in America, the dates are inverted.  "And so no, it’s not from April 1st, but rather from January 4th," the day before, as reported in the initial request and subsequent documentation.  He goes on to suggest that his friends in the room, all NYC bankers, will reconsider their business with the bank, and one institution already refuses to do business with them for their lack of – shall we say, propriety – in conducting int’l transactions.
Their response:We will look into it, but please know that our bank is changing hands, and you’ll have to deal with a new entity upon your return.”
After more negotiations upon his return to Italy, he finally was credited the $100.   His time?  About $800 worth.

Monday, January 3

Italy 2010 - The Best & Worst of a Year in Review

Following is my serendipitous selection of the Good-Buono, the Bad & the Ugly-Brutto of Life in Italy 2010.  Feel free to add your own.

buono      Milan’s train station grows up – and starts adding slick services & fancy stores for passengers.
brutto       You’ll have to count on those stores for your water supply…Milan has ripped out all the fountains all around town (you know, the ones from which water flows out all day & night) because people were – gasp! – taking advantage of the freely flowing H2O and using it to wash their cars, while the homeless got cleaned up.
While I’m all for not wasting water in today’s day & age, I’d like someone to please tell me that the clean water isn’t just flowing freely underneath our feet and that shelters now provide showers.

buono      Rome turned into ‘Roma Capitale’ following other capital cities in their pursuit of providing more cohesive tourist services and so on under one umbrella. Add to this a number of free evenings to the major attractions throughout the year (and the Vatican museums deserve a shout out for their night openings as well – and still free on the last Sunday of each month), and the latest announcement -- you get in free on your birthday! (Trust me, I’ll be testing their meddle on the upcoming missing Leap Day & see how the ticket agents react...) 
For now, I'll hold off judgment seeing that the latest free evenings at State-run museums in Rome, were not mentioned anywhere on the Roma capitale nor rome city websites – shame on them.
Jan 1st also marks the day that ‘no more plastic bags’ will be used by stores – large & small – even green grocer market stands.  Not exactly true, as we’ll just be using biodegradable plastic bags.  Hopefully, it will be heavily enforced by the authorities like the hugely successful anti-smoking law.  But so far, I’ve been handed regular plastic bags, but hey, it’s only a few days in…

Activists from Retake Rome finally taking the rampant & ridiculous graffiti into their own hands – and gaining the interest (perhaps by disgracing them into action) of the Mayor's office as well.  But, will they make a long-lasting impression?  Too early to tell.
brutto     January 1st also marks the day that tourists will start paying a tourist tax, with an increase of 1 euro at all museum entrances (not to mention at the hotels) – “To pay for all the terrific services we have in mind to offer.”  As if the 20% VAT on all that isn’t already covered.  I start losing my mind every time I think about this, so, if you want my long-winded opinion on the entire tourist tax scam, click here (or find it under Caveat Emptor on the right hand column on my blog page).

buono     Turned its Piazza Duomo into a pedestrian area – and it’s wonderful.
brutto      Outlawed eating in that same inviting area and no sitting on the church steps. It's an effort to keep illegal immigrants & the homeless away, but ultimately hurts the millions of tourists who just want to take a break in a breathtaking area.

buono      Authorities will be investigating the reasons why none of the dozens of archeologists on site could forecast the felling of the buildings.
brutto       That they fell in the first place.  Besides, the cases will probably take so long, we may never know the reasons why nor prevent it from happening again (Save building a rooftop over the entire place - a solution I'm sure the local Camorra is pushing for...)

buono       Sell out shows by Saviano, the Gomorrah author both live and in TV audiences and the courage that this man has to name the most well-known secret in Italy.
brutto        That the trash piles up again for all the world to see -- along with the Neopolitans’ pat refusal to recycle, open up dumps, or see to it that those same dumps aren’t run by the mob & toxic waste isn't spilled in their path.

buono        Mrs. Berlusconi finally decided not to ‘stand by her man’ – collecting her pieces and leaving the game.  Her example of walking out of the marriage farce may finally set thousands of cuckholded women and millions of ‘separati in casa’ free (of course, it eases the pain of leaving when you walk out with bags full of your Monopoly money).
brutto         Silvio’s economic plan for the underemployed youth of his time, reiterated throughout the year, “Marry rich.” 

buono        A 3hr. train ride from rome to Milan.
brutto          The price of that train ride.

Thanks for the packages, I can't wait to empty them out (Boxes carry Union labels)
with its foray into America, fiat becomes a strange source of pride for all & sundry, while taking on the unions, who have done their fare share of damage to Italy’s productivity.  and, continuing to give us colorful little 500s, they keep the love alive…

the advent of consumer’s associations. finally exercising their muscle, and getting results – on class action suits and otherwise. go to their websites to see who they’re going after.

many young women being the pride of Italy and winning competitions in fencing, tennis and swimming, among others.

prosecco outsells champagne this holiday season

Losing in the world cup along with their display of fakery on the pitch was a double-header of disgrace.

Young women who want to be showgirls or politicians (or both!) fueling the macho- man legacy and a sad statement for the future of Italy.

Aquila still in piles of rubble. But, I’m not one to complain – Ground Zero is still an open pit and New Orleans has not returned to its former self.

the last word

Blue mozzarella & fuchsia ricotta – Colorful rainbows aside, why are we importing cheeses from Germany?  Talk about a carbon footprint!

An Italian going up into outer space – for 6 months, no less.

Arrest & sequester of hundreds of mafia men & their properties

Movies set in Italy, The American, The Tourist, Eat-Pray-Love

What did you love or hate about events in Italy this year?

Saturday, January 1

Buon Anno! A Year of Italian Satire for You

Watch your Step!

A gift from my colleague, the talented Gianfalco and his Diario Acido - Acidic Diary - Download his calendar for 2011 and a slice of Italian life as seen from his colored pen (hit link below calendar - scaricalo qui) and...Enjoy!