Wednesday, June 29

What's Wrong with this Picture II ?

There's been a huge tempest brewing in the internet teapot since last week, when Italy's Partito Democratico (the left and opposition party to Berlusconi's) launched their annual outdoor festival in Rome.  Women's groups were incensed to find the woman depicted headless & as a hot pair of legs, alà Marilyn Monroe, next to the businessman of the day, smiling and fully attired, in a necktie no less.
The Winds of Change
After women's groups started protesting, the PD answered the resulting polemic with their own - incredible - response:
The ad simply depicts a familiar icon and showing a pair of legs doesn't damage the image of women in the least.
They seemed to have forgotten that Marilyn is an icon for about 40% of the population - the heterosexual men amongst themselves...

As for me, while I'm heartened that women are finally taking note and speaking up, I take a more guerrilla approach: 
I find every single poster plastered by the politicos all across the country sexist - since they contain only all-male names running for offices, championing causes, speaking at conventions, rallying the crowds.  
Until the men release the women from their invisibility cloak burkhas (and not in the Berlusconi sense), it's still 'No Country for Women'young or old.

What do you think?  Sexist?  Fun? Effective?

Sunday, June 26

Hot Time-Summer in the City

Each June, Italy pulls out all the stops when it comes to providing the plebes with ‘panem et circensis’ and seriously, there’s no better place to be in terms of backdrops for your sensational events.  New York in the summer means concerts & Shakespeare in the park, street artists, picnics in Central Park.  But the boot – well, ‘lo fa la scarpa’ – meaning, gives it a run for its money as well…It’s as if the entire boot will burst its laces so full up with cool events for all and sundry.  Following is a brief recap of my last few weeks, with some ideas of what to look for should you be looking for fun in the sun.

My month really kicked in when the pool opened in Monteleone.  Life in the Lazio environs is filled with much more than lazy days under the olive trees.  Farmers markets (where, near Rieti you can buy a goat or sheep if they happen to catch your fancy), horseback riding, and “Sagre” fêting every type of food across every tiny town (mushrooms, pasta, sausage, you name it --one of my favorites, 'Sagra of the Spaghetti all'Amatriciana, held fittingly in its birthplace, Amatrice) keep everyone sated yet always hungry for more.  In Rome, the pool near the Colosseum opened in the “All’ombra del Colosseo” in a place that at night turns into a cabaret, music fest, and bar area as well.

While at the Colosseum, I treated friends & relatives to the Rome Rewind show nearby, but this summer's highlight is the show on Nero – while plans are underway for its restoration, sponsored by the Todd’s shoe company.  On Rome's Isola Tiberina, you can catch an outdoor movie, have drinks on bean bag chairs, or listen to music here and there – come autumn, you will truly miss nights out with the river roaring by you.

We held our Professional Woman’s Assoc year end party on the terraces of what will now host The Wine Club at via Veneto's Hotel Baglioni.  The view is something to behold as you enter, but elsewhere on the terrace, you lose the views completely.  I didn’t really care as I was busy cutting the immense sacher torte having been voted ‘Woman of the Year’

Dinners out under the stars have taken me to a few terrific places (see my last post for my fish extravaganza), but one of my favorites still remains the terrace of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna  (near Villa Borghese).  Other terraces worth the hefty price tags include the rooftop of the Hotel 47 (right by the Bocca della Verità), the top of the Hotel Minerva (Pantheon), and the Wine Academy overlooking the Spanish Steps run by the nearby Hassler Hotel. 
As for the most magnificent terrace of all, but whose views you should take in on a full stomach as the food offering is crummy at best, is on the Castel Sant’Angelo.  Summers there used to mean music, night life, comedians, jugglers, cabaret, and fun for kids…It unfortunately proved to be too excellent an enterprise and was put to an end last year for no apparent reason [Reason given: wear & tear on the monument but alas 6 months later there was talk of turning it into a gigantic theme park so go figure].  
Hot off the press: The Castle will be open on Saturday nights (like many Roman museums until 1am, with Tuesdays & Sundays openings of hidden places (like the dungeons), and Wednesdays & Sundays, readings, music, & theatre taking place.

A quick jaunt to Florence brought me to enjoy the New York University's Villa La Pietra campus year end affair, including a theatrical performance in the gardens followed by a buffet and concert by Italy’s most talented jazz pianist, Marco Fumo, playing a repertoire of all the Scott Joplin greats (& more).  Set in a grotto and overlooking all of Florence, it just couldn’t get better than that.

That is, until I found myself racing back to Rome to attend the inauguration of the site that once seated the Temple of Hercules in Tivoli.  We were treated to a video reconstruction of the site brought to us by Piero Angela, my favorite TV presenter for all things ancient, a musical ensemble of Tarantella while we (tried) to eat – the catering dis-organization left a lousy taste in your mouth – followed by a concert by one of Italy’s top folklore guitarists, Eugenio Bennato.  All with a stunning view of all of Rome and Lazio below, and a sunset that seemed to have been carried across by Mercury himself.

The night after, we had to go one better - so ran with friends down to the Pino Daniele – Eric Clapton concert in lovely Salerno.  Welcomed into the stands by the locals, listening to thousands sing along or chanting PI-NO! and going wild over Clapton’s “Cocaine”, pretty soon we were all dancing, passing beers, and having a generally excellent time.  Staying just outside of Naples, we recovered with a day at the beach and the southern hospitality of friends who fed us a perfect leisurely lunch at – 3pm!

Next up:  Fourth of July celebrations, the magnificent fireworks displays of the Feast Day of Rome's Patron Saints, Peter & Paul (June 29th) and in Venice, the Redentore, and of course Umbria Jazz in Perugia.  Music festivals, outdoor jazz concerts in Villa Celemontana,  the Casa del Jazz, Villa Ada (world music), and pretty much every other park across the country.

If my summer keeps going at this pace I don’t know if I’ll make it to the fall. 

Monday, June 20

What's Wrong with this Picture?

I recently came across the official website of the City of Monreale, a sort of suburb of Palermo, Sicily.  Although we're in the deep south, I was still amazed at the women's participation in local politics, or lack thereof as the case may be.  Down in Sicily, even the mafia has more women heads at the helm of the 'family'.  
It's a scene played out in Rome, Bari, heck probably most of America's south as well.  Review the names, and you'll find that the (two) women come at the very end, as a sort of after-thought. So much so, they're represented by little mini-men as well (although if we asked about it, we'd probably be told it was for the sake of equality).  Or perhaps we'd be told it was deliberate so the site wouldn't look like the doors to the office restrooms.  

Call me a simpleton, but what seems to behoove all of these well-paid politicos from Trapani to Trieste (and over to Texas & Tennessee as well), is that, the dishes are pretty much done, cleaned up and put away on the success of enterprises, organizations, communities, and even entire nations. The simple notion that   When women are involved truly in the process, things improve for all involved (and not just their cronies).  

Every day, we hear politicians and businessmen drone on and on, up & down the boot while wringing their hands as to how to keep Italy competitive on the world scene.  

Stop showing us the same old picture. That's how.

Friday, June 17

Fish on Fridays - Roman Style

Every Friday, the gourmet shoppe on the corner posts a charming sign, Oggi Ceci & Baccalà - just one of those sweet reminders that you're still in the 'Old Country' despite the SUVs, the Happy Hours, the kids on Ecstasy and other imported accoutrements that remind you of home.  And while I've never eaten the cod from my local deli (I tend to save it for forays into Venice whereby I eat it 'til my gills burst), I must say, when it comes to imbibing in invertebrates, the Romans really know how to do it.  

After having an outstanding meal including a simple plate of sea bream covered in salt at Il Gabriello (near the Spanish Steps), I can tell you that all of the diners were thrilled with their respective fishes in the dishes as well.  The locale is charming, in an ancient Osteria (sort of a wine cellar), the staff outstanding as the use pet rocks to indicate (I surmised) what course you were waiting for, and you were surrounded by artworks.  Lone businessmen, couples and large tables were treated to plate after plate of some of the best food I've ever seen served [the place is small and tables quite smartly arranged within, so you could pretty much see what was going down the aisle without trying too hard].  And dining surrounded by artworks by one of the sons of the original owner, who goes by B.Zarro.  Reservations a must.

My usual favorite has always been Pierluigi's down via Monserrato near Palazzo Farnese.  The fish from front to finish is exceptional.  I personally love the Catalan dish (shrimp, tomato, potato-they add calamari as well), followed by an exquisitely prepared Rombo [translating fish names is not one of my specialties - no matter what you're eating, in my book, fish=fish] or Turbot.  The problem is, while the wait staff could not be more efficient, attentive, and just plain charming, when Pierluigi expanded with a zillion tables  out into the even more charming piazzetta, they seemed to have forgotten to tell the kitchen staff that they would be serving 300 more people a night.  So, a 90 min. wait for that fish to fry is not unusual.  Again, if you want to eat at prime Roman time (8:30pm to 10pm), reservations a must.

There are other places around, with fish flowing out of the storefront windows.  I simply haven't gone there.  But, another 'eating adventure' is a tiny Osteria in Trastevere, called Il Gensola.  Elbow to elbow with the other diners, the fish was outstanding - and we had ordered most of it uncooked.  Diners are packed in there tight as sardines, so it's a place I prefer to frequent in winter.

Please let me know where you like to go when things start to get fishy...

Tuesday, June 14

Hilarious Italian Names

While comedians were having a wild Bacchanal over the gift from the gods of the Weiner-Penis scandal, I couldn't help but think of one thing:  How is it that this guy went through life - especially elementary school and college - with that last name?  I always thought that Americans were very quick to change 'inconvenient' last names, especially if it was a bit embarrassing, like Pork or Hamburger or Hardon or something of that nature.  
I suppose based on the sexting (after all, isn't a picture worth a thousand words?), Weiner was clearly proud of his family name (as well as the family jewels) and wanted to 'uphold' the brand, so to speak.

I have always gotten a big kick out of the last names you come across in Italy.  In Italy, up until very very recently, and I'm quite certain in most city offices it's still not allowed, you couldn't change your name if you were armed with a Papal decree to do so.  While I've almost never come across truly embarrassing last names (the Italians clearly since time began have always kept in check their Bella Figura), you still happen upon names that never fail to put a smile on your face.

My coworkers and I used to keep a running list whenever we met a client that had one of those.  What I wouldn't give to have it now.  

Mangiapane   Mr. Eatbread
Bevilacqua    Mrs. Drinkwater
Bugiardini     Little liars
Poverelli      Poor little souls
Malinconico  Melancholic
Inganno        Trickster
Tagliabue     Ox-cutter
Quattrocchi     Four-eyes
Culetto        Little ass
Scopacasa   Sweep house

You also come across cities that give you a chuckle, like Bastardo (Umbria) or Scopa (Screw or Sweep, near Milan), or Malpensa (Ill-thought) - one place in which I for one wouldn't want to live...

What are they putting in the drinking water in this town?A friend was tickled pink to come across this doorbell listing: 
Frega = Rip-Off | Felici = Happy | Troiani = Trojans or Whores 
[so now we know why condoms are named Trojans]

You can find another enjoyable listing here, replete with photos (just click on 'listing here') but in any case, feel free to add to mine in the comments below!

More on Italian last names - Click here 

Friday, June 10

Moving to Italy? How (not) to get connected!

I received this mournful lament of our modern era - the era that's being dubbed (much to the chagrin of Weiner, Shwarzy & Co.) "The Era of Communications."  But if you're planning a move to Italy from abroad, here's an eye-witness report on how to obtain a telephone line.  I recall that a friend working at the Embassy waited months for her hookup...Both had something else going for them...they both know Italian -- always a plus.  One might think that we live in the Error of Communications instead.  In any case, Benvenuti in Italia!

It was my ambition to have a phone and internet connection already set up for when we got to Italy - I can virtually see you rolling your eyes ;)    
I encountered a few rather Kafkaesque situations: On the forms, you have to fill in the province - but all they give you is abbreviations. How should any foreigner know that the abbreviation for the Provincia di Roma is RM?? Thank God for Google!!  Telecom Italia asked for my codice fiscale (Italian social security number).  I was so proud to be so well- prepared to already have one for months (after all, I'm German! and I came prior to set this up).  Unfortunately, they informed me that my codice does not match my (new) address in Rome.  No surprise, I do not live there yet.  A bit scary too, because it makes you wonder if the codice fiscale of every person in Italy is linked to their residence…(it is).
At Vodafone, I was more lucky.  No abbreviations, no codice, but I needed an Italian mobile phone number…Are there no foreigners moving to Italy???  Finally, they did accept that there are potential customers who are not Italian, and they eventually accepted my passport number.
I guess you get the direction.  In my distress, I gave them your cell phone number.  Forgive me. It happened in the heat of the moment! 
All I can say to our demoralized writer and readers is, wait til you try for the ADSL line! Maybe I should start a service of hosting cellphone numbers to potential visitors to Italy...In any case, I feel your pain. You are forgiven.

Wednesday, June 8

Retake Rome: Get in the Act!

If you live in Rome or know someone who does, here's an opportunity to act like a local: Participate in an upcoming protest march thru the city streets:

RETAKE ROMA, a movement aimed at increasing civic pride of our public spaces, has launched a Cordata per il decoro or “March for Dignity of Public Spaces” to take place on Saturday June 11. Our aim is to raise awareness of citizens, and all the institutions, associations and committees and those who see us march, to view our streets, our walls and other objects in our urban landscape with new eyes.
While Saturday's demonstration will involve only a small part of the XX Municipality, we believe it will be only the beginning of a cultural movement that will spread through the entire city.
It is essential that citizens begin to understand what it means to give a new face to their streets, involving ourselves directly and actively in the management of the urban décor of our neighborhoods.
Seeing our walls, streets, signposts, garbage bins, rooftops and other urban structures clean, and not blighted with advertisements, signs, stickers, graffiti and other vandalistic, abusive elements is a question of respect and common courtesy to others.
Abusive signage that spoil the streets and sidewalks is also dangerous because it often violates safe driving norms. The decision to remove signs from the spaces in which we live our daily lives is not only a cultural and environmental battle, but one aimed at increasing safety. 

Who’s participating?

Check for updates on the event at Retake Cassia: cordata per il decoro

Sunday, June 5

Pizza Italiana -vs- New York Pies

Comedian Jon Stewart killed the other night when dissing 'The Donald' for his New York Pizza-eating etiquette...Viewers got a quick & dirty 'user's guide to pizza eating in Manhattan', with an extra topping treat of his short list of the best pizza establishments New York City has to offer, although, I'd go one more:  Artichoke - just under the hi-line at 14th & 10th Ave - pictured here.  Buonissimo.

But what Jon doesn't know are few facts about true pizza eating in its birthplace.   Visitors to Italy are always a bit stunned when ordering their first 'pie' - they get to eat the whole thing!  That's because, they'll soon find a pizza crust so thin (yet so totally deliziosa) you would not be faulted for thinking they had simply forgot it altogether.  [Of course, in Naples you can still find the thick-crusted as well]  But the most important trait?  Look around you - everyone's eating it - with a knife and fork!

One other surprise?  In Italy, you'll be hard-pressed to find Italian pizza-makers (although I must admit, my local trattoria still has the real McCoy - or maybe, Maccari, as the case may be...).  Like the chain in The Daily Show video, many pies are being made by Albanians - but it's the Egyptians spinning your dough by those brick ovens who are the upper crust when it comes to dishing the pies...

And, if you want a nice review on the Home of Pizza - Napoli-style, check out Carbonara's terrific posting of the pizza experience! (click here)

Thursday, June 2

Italy's Main Man

June 2nd in Italy, Google treated us all to this nice shot - celebrating our 150th year as a united country (in fact, I saw it right about the same time the planes flew overhead); Italy's unification basically meant that from that time on, everyone had to pay all their taxes to one place (or in Italy, not pay them), although bribes are still being dispersed healthily according to the former feudal system of favoritism, nepotism and patronage depending on the region, town or village in which you live.  

Lately, the Northern League Party wants to change all that (the one-stop tax payments, not the bribes) by bringing some of Italy's national ministries to the north.  That way, Mr. Bossi (party leader) can then act as Overlord and seal the deal for kickbacks for all and northern sundry, without having to come all the way to Rome in order to do so (he may recall that Tangentopoli - Bribe City - started in Milan).  In fact, so nostalgic for 'the old ways', Bossi saw to it that his son proved so brilliant - with no experience whatsoever and who failed his high school diploma 3 times - nonetheless could scrounge up a pretty impressive job - fancy that! - He's now a Parliamentarian for Europe, earning upwards of $20,000 per month.  Earnings on par with Barack Obama.]  And Mr. Bossi loves to rail about the graft and corruption in Rome.

But I digress.  The nation, once it got its collective act together, started to build a national railway and road system.  And while I've oft-stated that via Garibaldi (named after the man who set out to unite our fair country) was synonymous with Main Street, turns out  I was right:  

- Giuseppe Garibaldi holds the pole position in the naming of streets or piazzas, with 4247 vias in his honour.
- Second comes Mr. Mazzini, again one of the architects of the Unification of Italy with 3307 streets or plazas
- And, in a show of our artistic heritage, Giuseppe Verdi garners a healthy third place with 2937 streets named after him*

*Tutta Città - the map company came out with this

Wednesday, June 1

Tante Belle Cose - May in Italy

As far as Great things going down in the merry month of May, readers most likely will believe that I am personally rejoicing the trouncing that Berlusconi's party candidates received in the recent Mayoral elections this past week.  While it pleases me as a referendum on our Dear Leader, in my unbridled cynicism, I don't think the candidates who cleaned up in the elections from the Left will be any more honest, better and bribe-free.  Watch this blog when the Left - now in charge of the store - starts getting caught with their hands in the tills.  
Having said that, however, I am personally thrilled that the (Partito delle Libertà) PdL party even got trounced in Arcore (Sardinia), Berlusconi's playground, making it for one fine way to end the month.
Italy cleans up
Elsewhere on the Peninsula, Italy's Legambiente (Environmental Group) spent 2 days spring cleaning.  In fact, they picked up over 50 tons of garbage off our beautiful coastlines, hoping that those that frequent the beaches sort of learn by example.  To put things in perspective, 30% was plastics, but even 5% was aluminum -- enough to make 274 bicycles.  
And, speaking of garbage, in May another corrupt businessman, Mr. Fazio, got the heat for messing with financial markets while head of the Bank of Italy, in order to push a Dutch offer out and allow an Italian group to take over a bank.  He'll be doing 4 years' time for his valiant efforts.
And, while on the topic of recycling, a caustic curator & art critic, Vittorio Sgarbi, made his own suggestion for the godawful statue purported to depict Pope John Paul II.  "Bring it up to the (contemporary art fair) Venice Biennale.  There, it might elicit a new and maybe better response."  He went on to say, "If the statue was to be a depiction of JPII, well, then, when I saw it, I should have known straight away who it was."  Hear, hear.
As for me, the best news this month was that I've cleaned off and gussied up my bicycle.  And, aside from the Black Lung I'll get from riding surrounded by car exhaust, it feels great to ride around Bella Roma on these gorgeous spring days.  Happy trails.