Sunday, May 29

Festival for the (Whole) Family

It may be Memorial Day in the USA, but today at the local Catholic school here in Rome, and across much of Italy, was the day that families gathered to celebrate with games and food the Fesitval of Hypocr  errr...Nuclear Families in the spirit of togetherness, tolerance, and clearly other widely-held Christian values.  It was the Festa di Famiglia - which, by most Western standards would include those couples who are most likely hiding their affairs from each other, who are 'separati in casa' (in-home separation) and lead double lives in order to keep up appearances, and of course, that rarist of species, the fully healthy family with parents that not only still talk to each other, but actually love one another, and their kids, and the kids love them back as well -- A citing so rare indeed, it was last seen in the 1970s in a species that entomologists coined, The Brady Bunch Genus.  I once read that Brady Bunch families according to one study were estimated at 5% of American families.
So, to partake in the festivities, I'll throw my own celebration to include single-parent households, gay families, the divorced and separated parents and their offspring as well.  Just think what a huge party that would be!  Of course, the Church probably thinks (with no irony whatsoever), that it would probably devolve into a wild Bacchanalia, the likes of which have only been seen in various seminaries and Evangelists' hotel rooms far and wide.
My guest speaker?  Zach Wahls, Engineering student raised by two women.  
Oh so, let's raise a toast and...God Bless Modern Families.

Thursday, May 26

Letter from Milano

Spending a bit of time in Milano, I ended up cooling my heels at the Milan train station.  Always nice to sort of buzz around, if nothing else than to get a terrific lunch with fantastic service and uber-friendly personnel (I swear, it's Milan I'm talking about) at my fave place for a quick bite, Panzera.  You need the nose of a mouse in a maze to find it, but it's worth the effort (out the left side as you egress from the station, on the ground floor).  
I found the Garibaldi station nearby just keeps getting spiffier and spiffier, but I got totally confused when I came out of the metro, and found myself surrounded by tall skyscrapers. I thought that somehow I'd been tele-transported to Shanghai.  Of course, I realized I wasn't since there were no bicyclists in my midst and cars were trying to run me down while I wasn't watching (too busy craning my neck).
But, back at the capitalist heart of Italy, I noticed that the enterprising people at Trenitalia (our motto: Leave no Euro Behind) have decided to do away altogether with those big boards telling you when and from where, exactly, your train will depart. 
They've sold out the space to advertisers.  It's not all bad, as in your effort to catch a glimpse of the time table through the huddled masses (making a reverse Statue of Liberty statement) at one of only two teeny kiosks now pointing out crucial traveler information, you can rest assured that in the very least, you'll know what sunglasses to buy when you're forced back out of the station after you've missed your train.
So, passing the time whilst waiting for the NEXT train to come along, I took to reading the signage.  Italians love rules, and I had absolutely no idea there were 18 of them governing elevator riding alone.  Clearly, Trenitalia & Co. are trying their best to dissuade you from going up to the tracks without first passing the dozens of retailers you get to behold while riding their slow-motion sidewalks - an experience akin to the moving walkway at It's a Small World exhibit at Disneyland, except there are no cheery children's voices to seranade you as you're transported along at a ridiculously slow pace.
So, here are the rules for riding the elevator (or lift) - Take a look and discover your favorite [just click on foto to enlarge].

My favorites?
  • Don't allow to use the lift to children under 12, if alone -- How can I disallow if they're by themselves?  Or maybe, it's me who's alone or maybe...whatever.
  • Don't use the emergency alarm button if really necessary -- Really?!
  • Drunken travellers are excluded from transport such as those who carry on objects that block on the lift, and those who, because of their status or their behaviour...Never mind I need a drink!

I later discovered it was actually an advert put up there by Facebook as to why you should never use Google Translate.

Saturday, May 21

Pope John Paul II - Dr. Evil in Disguise?

There has been a tempest in a humongous teapot (one about 4 meters high and cast in bronze) of the newly-placed statue of Pope John Paul II in front of Rome's Termini Station.  Let's just say that even in death, no one can deny that John Paul II was a figure who united all people.  And while contemporary art is always controversial, no less than 90% of La Repubblica readers agree that it should be removed - almost as quickly as he is to be made a Saint - subito.  As one commentator stated, here he is, looking like the inside of a church bell.  My picture doesn't do it justice, you see him here with his robe extended - one imagines it's to encompass us all.  But from my persepective, he's totally hollowed out as if he were a big fat C3PO waiting for new parts.
Googling all of the different angles of the statue, brought to mind other noted figures in our vast lexicon of cultural anthropology.  Every time I look at it, I can't help but think that it reminds me of someone else -- Take a look at my choices, and then, decide for yourself.
[For those reading elsewhere, if you go to my actual blog page, you will be able to see the pictures of his look-alikes]
Pope John Paul II as:
Stay Puft?

King Pin?
Dr. Evil?

or, my favorite...

A weight-loss sauna box?
As politician, Stefano Pedica of Italia dei Valori offered, perhaps we should use the cavernous section to post a sign of apology stating, "We truly wanted to render homage to the Holy Father, but we didn't succeed."   

Please google the pictures of the statue and then let me hear who it reminds you of most! 
Here's a nice article (just google translate it) on the 40 uses of the new statue - from a kebab stand to a new entrance for disabled to the underground subway...

Thursday, May 19

The Perfetta Italian Wife - What's wrong with this picture?

I came across a stylized version of this gorgeous ad for bridal gowns.  Can you tell what's wrong with this picture?  Well, for starters, certainly the long blonde locks of our Sposa Italiana seem a bit out of place.  But with the ever-increasing trend of hair dyes in the Bel Paese, anyone landing in Milano would not be faulted for thinking they got off the plane in Malmol, Sweden instead.

Here, our lovely lass holds in her hand a long-stem rose?  Clearly too cliché for the times.  In the re-stylized photos the shot focuses on her upper body, curly-cues of seductive smoke wafting into the breeze from her ciggy.  As the Italians say, a true woman 'da sposare' (to marry).  Not only does her gorgeous outfit smell like the skanky pub up the road, she tastes like ashes as well!  So, she probably won't mind a bit when you light up your cigar during the reception either.

In the UK, they found that the most effective way to stop teens from lighting up was to show them progressive aging of their faces compared with non-smokers.  Judging from the dozens of teens copping a quick smoke on their way to school each morning, Italy would be wise to try these kinds of Public Service Announcements.  Girls here (and everywhere, I'm afraid) are concerned even more with their looks than with the coolness factor.
In Australia, they're taking a more macabre approach.  Now would you kiss the bride?

Monday, May 16

New York's No Smoking Ban - A kinder, gentler city?

Although it has yet to take effect, many of the tiny litter-free city parks littering New York City, already jump-started the citywide No Smoking Ban by posting these charming little notices around town.  A small shot of courtesy here, and a heavy dose of New Yorker vigilance there, and I'm fairly sure the ban to protect us all against second hand smoke will be vigorously enforced.
While an adamant smoke-free person, while walking the length of the immense Central Park, I did find the measures a bit draconian.  Sure, it's a pain to plop yourself down on the ground only to find the couple upwind from you puffing over your pastry puffs. But, generally, I move my spot and carry on.  New York is also banning beach smoking as well, a measure I believe Italy has in place already.  
Not to be outdone, I also noticed that local companies finally started enforcing the removal of 'smoker's corners' at their building entrances.  You may remember those shoulder-slouching people copping a quick drag between classes in Junior High school...
Like when boarding trains in Europe, it always was a bit disgusting having to brave the billows of smoke prior to going to your meetings only to find your Fendi perfume now smells more like the homeless guy you just passed by down in the subway.  

But, what was truly a refreshing breath of fresh air, while passing by the myriad signs banning everything from dogs who pee on the planters to loud noise at night, was the manner in which many of the signs are posted.  Maybe Italy, with its penchant for forbidding everything in every way might get a few more people on board if they took this  kinder approach?  The signs in New York went from the cutsie to an appeal to your keen civic sense ('It bothers others').  Spotting signs that instead of stating something was illegal told us it may hurt us, say, to stick our heads out a train window, or open the doors while the train is moving, may actually work. 

Here's a recent photo taken by a friend in Rome - being put on notice obviously caught her attention.  But, could she light up if she had wanted to?

Friday, May 13

America's Teachers - Graded just a C?

Today I had the opportunity to be in the studio audience of ABC's Live! With Regis & Kelly show.  In a time when politicians and proletariat alike are demonizing teachers across the USA to the point that children are starting to think that their very own History teacher is a death eater from Hogwarts, this week Regis & Kelly are honoring the inspirational teachers who have made a difference across America.
And watching the videos of these amazing heroes in our midst, I enjoyed seeing them bestowed with gifts, a new heating system for their homes, and even a car.  Their classroom will receive 35 intel mini pad computers as well.  Clearly, ABC, Regis&Kelly and their terrific sponsors are honoring one small person who has made big improvements in the lives of others.

Vote for the Best Teacher to win the Grand Prize
But despite all the warm fuzzies going around the room, and across the country, I couldn't take my eyes off the graphic.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but, doesn't the above sort of - ummmmmm - convey the wrong image?  Or, are they (in my conspiracy theory-soaked mind), subliminally (or, actually, not so subliminally) grading our schools or teachers a big fat juicy 'C' ? 
I mean, shouldn't that apple be placed on the 'A' instead?  Or, better yet, up above in the 'O' for TOP?  Italy is nothing if not a highly advanced graphic arena. Italians have been using pictures to convey complex concepts like the 'Genesis' long before people could even read.  
I can't imagine, then, if pictures are worth a thousand words, how this one could have missed its mark - or, turned the other way round, be so spot on.
How do you like them apples?

Tuesday, May 10

America gets its varmint

While Americans are still simultaneously lauding and lamenting the Bin Laden assassination, here in the U.S., the war continues on its steady path across many fronts.  There are gun battles raging as I type down in the basement lair of many a household.  Call of Duty the name of the game.  When kids are bored with that, they can move on to Zombie and kill as many of them as they can within a few minutes.  I was attacked the other day by a very realistic gun app - just hold up the iTouch and pull the trigger -- you can test out every sort of firearm in existence, from the blasts of a silencer to a surface to air missile launcher.  Granted, the net effect isn't the same.
Kids graduate from Nerf Guns to BB guns, spending hours improving their shot by playing video shoot 'em ups each morning before school.  Local police get involved when bathroom graffiti takes a dangerous turn and someone scrawls BEWARE of BOMBS on the bathroom walls.  And this in an affluent suburb, where kids born with platinum spoons in their mouths and golf clubs in their hands are in constant need of new and exciting diversions.  
In areas nearby, I'm warned not to go to the spectacular movie house - one of the top-grossing places in all the USA - on a Friday or Saturday night.  Security is deployed to watch for the car break-ins and gang warfare that's not taking place on the screen.  Although I do find it a bit amusing to think that while you're watching The Hulk thoroughly demolish his umpteenth city, or a gun battle raging on the screen, you may be treated to your own version of Grand Theft Auto in 4-D -- with gangsters running through the cinema -- the police chasing close behind.
In Europe, a place where I suspect most people feel infinitely safer (I know I do), despite having 6 locks on our doors, and supporting a huge market of anti-auto theft devices, knife fights are currently all the rage.  Hopefully, we won't graduate to marksmenship and the gun totin' ways of the land -- although Germany and even Sweden has already seen a few school shooting sprees.  
Either way, it certainly makes for one import I wouldn't like to see brought in from the Wild Wild West.

Friday, May 6

Italian Cooking? Fugheddaboutit.

Leave it to the Americans to take a wonderful, unadulterated sublime thing like Italian cuisine - pasta & prosecco included - and turn it into a 21st century update of Tuna Helper.  After all, I am in the land of spam.  So, landing in Detroit, the urban landscape and every place in between is boasting their 'italian-ness' - from biscotti (pronounced: bis-kaht-ee) at Starbucks to heaping plates of gnocchi (pronounced: ga-knockee by most everyone) served up hot and as gooey as Chinese pot-stickers.

A friend posted this terrific Ad Fail for a great pasta place on his facebook page, which took a few of us awhile to even figure out the play on words...try & see if you can manage the pun.  Driving around, I've run into Johnny Pomodoro's (originally called, Nino Salvaggio's).  Nearby was Cheesy Luigi's and Tomatoes Apizza (spoken with your best Godfather impression).  When you leave, you can go home and turn on Jersey Shore*.  Pretty soon, we'll have Frankie Avalon & Louis Prima playing the Palace.

My dad loved to quip how, when he was growing up, Cornmeal Polenta was a sure sign of poor, near-starving immigrants.  Now it goes for $15 a dish - grilled, of course.  But at least back in the '50s, Italian-Americans took their food seriously - and you could go to Gino's Pizza or La Traviata ristorante -- and eat serious Italian cooking without the gimmicks.

*Advisory Warning:  The Italian govt has issued a warning for students coming to New York as they are filming in the student dorms - suggesting they shouldn't sign off on any documents nor get filmed.  Too bad the govt neglects to remember that it's an Italian dream to rise to Reality Show stardom.

Wednesday, May 4

Letter from America

A friend visiting the USA mentioned to me that Americans – with their absolute consumer-friendly consciousness – have become a nation of big babies.  What started with the lawsuit-inspired ‘warning labels’ onslaught (affixed to everything from champagne bottles – “don’t hold up to eye” to stepladders – no longer even produced as a result of the legal ramifications of selling something that people might – duhhhh – place in quicksand)*, Americans, it would seem, can’t seem to think let alone do anything for themselves anymore.  Landing in LAX, debarking announcements included, “Don’t give money to those soliciting on the premises.”  As if.
And so the lines have been blurred between providing awesome new consumer improvements like, “Automated check-in here,” and bizarre features that only serve to remind you how pathetic we have truly become.
The car I’m driving no longer needs to be actually unlocked.  Touch the handle and the doors magically open.  Push a button to start your engine.  As a driver of a 14 yr. old jalopy whose only features are electric windows (which don't work so well, I might add), every time I get in I forget what I’m supposed to be doing there.  Blame it on muscle memory.  The cars beep when your favorite program is starting on the radio, light up when you get too close to the curb, and will even drive you into a parallel parking spot.  In the Dodge I'm driving, the radio goes slightly softer when you slow down.  
But then you find the ice maker on your fridge door has a ‘lock’ feature so kiddies don’t make all the ice spill out onto the ground.  The bus driver reminded us all to ‘hold onto the handles’ when using the facilities lest you end up peeing all over the toilet and yourself should the bus suddenly round a curve.  Parents aren’t allowed to pick up their own children early from sports events.  You’re no longer allowed to sit in your car while pumping gas (and this in Michigan winters) – Costco even has guards posted there to make sure you’re compliant – why they just don’t pump your gas for you, is beyond me.  Cup holders in cars now bear the ominous threat, “Not for hot liquids.” And every time I sit in a car with heated seats, I always kinda feel as if I've wet my pants.
I can’t tell if we’re getting to the point where things are going to be so totally awesome – like having a tiny robot run around your house vacuuming all the while – or where people will have to be pointed in the right direction and given a list of three steps (and no more than three) to carry out in order to conclude their transaction.  Anyone who’s ever watched someone check into an airline or check out of a grocery store might know what I mean.

*To get your fill of the American penchant for wacky warning labels, listen in as my Detroit area friend Bob Dorigo Jones discusses absurd litigation, or, pick up his book,  Remove Child Before Folding, The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever.