Friday, January 27

Italy Strikes: Just what are they (all) on about?

Italy has been hit not just by mild earthquakes, but rolling strikes by seemingly every single category of worker and (non) across the country.  Even the indignados showed up at Parliament to put there own take on the problems befalling our broken system.  The only people, of course, who haven't complained (so far) are the Parliamentarians, still grossly overpaid, outnumbering their foreign counterparts by 2 to 1, and outrageously detached from the populace.  As gas stations, pharmacists, trains, taxis, truckers and more stop their work and take to the streets, Italy is starting to feel as though we're engaged in our very own intifada.  There's even police violence to put them in their place, as we witnessed with the fishermen marching on parliament as well.

So, let's take a look at our PM's efforts to bring Italy into the liberalized world of work and see what everyone's complaining about. [Everybody except the body that gives itself raises in the face of budget cuts, allows for never-ending perks, and goes against the law by deciding that those assisting the mafia are okay to serve as well.  With the Mafia Inc. the number one business in Italy, at least they can say they're pro-business].  

- Adding 5000 more pharmacies / As I state in my book, you would be forgiven for thinking that those neon green crosses were a modern update to the holy shrines found on nearly every street corner.  Turns out, there are not enough of them.  And the govt's going to make it easier to open one.  Pharmacists protest that it would ruin their profession.
- The govt wants to add more notaries as well, simplify some procedures, and improve competition in the auto insurance industry by forcing cos. to provide competing tariff information (I'd love to see how that's going to play out).
- They no longer wish to enforce min/max tariffs for lawyers as long as you are forewarned of the charges and they do want to enforce max bank charges and a ceiling on highway taxes, which today is the very definition of highway robbery.
On the whole, I think it looks like liberalization and keeps govt out of private companies & prof'l offices. Correct me if I'm mistaken.
- Adding to the pot, the govt wants more taxi licenses - unleashing the equivalent of the wrath of God - when, in fact, they should spend money on taxis by giving them all a crash course in Supply & Demand.
- The petroleum cos. and truckers are pissed over liberalizing gas contracts, meaning any gas station, despite its name, can buy from any supplier.  They're also keen on breaking up the supply chain to add to more competitiveness.  Gas stations will also be able to sell products in a mini-market, which I believe has the added consequence of pissing off retailers.  They will no longer have limits on the number of self-service stations either.  As for this last one, I have no idea why it was in place in the first place.
- The govt may win its battle on allowing shops to open / close when they want to, doing away with the siesta in the interim, but retailers won their war against allowing anyone to hold sales and offer product discounts whenever they want to.  They - incredibly - believe if that were the case, the large outlets and mega-stores would hold sales all year round and put them out of business.  
Little do they realize that those stores are already putting them out of business, and, those companies, with such low margins cannot readily afford sales 365 days per year...Once again, for a quickie course in Economics 101 is called for.
- And finally, the govt wants to put an end to nationalized work contracts (e.g., you're paid for your category whether you're an engineer in Lucca or Lecce).  This is an effort to liberalize the labour pool, allowing people to negotiate their pay & perks directly with the company they're looking to work for.  Naturally, this has put in a tail spin every single person that does not make up any of the above categories, starting with train people.  The workers argue that without a govt mandate, companies will start bringing salaries down to nothing as jobs are so hard to come by.  That's true, but eventually, the companies are going to need to attract people too.

As Mario Monti stated (a bit more eloquently than here), "I hope I've pretty much pissed everyone off."

It certainly is starting to look that way.

Tuesday, January 24

Italy's Horseracing Sector - Off course by a length?

This, too, was once an Ippodromo Race Course

While the world has been buzzing over the sinking of the Concordia, while those of us in Italy are experiencing the rolling strikes of taxi drivers, now pharmacists, then truckers, lawyers and gas stations in protest of the government's austerity package, there's been one group on strike and seemingly getting nowhere fast: the horse racing industry.  But this poster doesn't just reveal what's wrong with the horse race sector of Italy, it's a poster advertising what's wrong with almost the entire country's approach to each and every sector: 

First, let's ignore (if you can, without scratching your head in a WTF moment) the idea that an empty field - the late great Circus Maximus - was once a race course track.  Once again, resorting to "our glory days" - and here, evoking the Greatness of Roma: Caput Mundi.  Too bad we have to go back to centuries before our own calendar even started for show-and-tell.  I get it:  let's not abandon our race tracks and leave them in ruins.  
But, showing me a popular tourist attraction - no longer in use - and attracting more people than the modern-day race tracks -- in my opinion isn't the best way to go about doing this.

Where are the race tracks?  Family days at the races?  Competitions like the Kentucky Derby?  Name that foal?  Go to the wiki on Horse Racing, and under Italy you find only a mention of the Palio, a race held twice a year and lasting only 30 seconds at that.  I love the races, the San Siro stadium in Milan, but have rarely set foot inside - more often to admire the magnificent bronze horse of Leonardo gracing its entranceway out front.  Like much in Italy, unless you're in the know (or follow the cultural bloggers - who work for free) the world at large knows nothing of the exceptional cultural offerings taking place nearly every second across the boot.

Next, we have the appeal to the government to step in & save the day. Keeping 15000 horses from the butcher's block, and maintaining many a worker.  Instead of employing marketing techniques, school programs and user-friendly websites to keep things going, just throw more good money after bad.  People wait for the government to give money to make movies, the government to pay for theaters and opera houses, and a host of other cultural events.  So much of it is so ill-spent it's absolutely criminal.  The Italian people cough up money so that those on the receiving end can live high on the hog, improve their vast art collections, and do a number of things that have nothing to do with actually producing or promoting their venue.
Italian generosity also keeps these low-funded but culturally phenomenal concerns from stepping up to the plate and fundraising, sensitizing the public, building trustees, investing in their own improvements and more.  If they did these things, waiting for a handout would not be even considered an option.

Finally, we have the strikes and street protests.  Too bad it's the first time I ever saw the horses make their way into the public arena.  More of this to promote their races (okay, it might be illegal) and maybe they wouldn't need to take to the streets begging people to pay attention.  If they had just added signs, race times and cards of horse's names... maybe people would actually take the time to check them out.

But, let's go back to the Glory Days.  As I stated before in my entry on strikes,  the theory goes...because we were once great, we can lose touch with our professional prowess, ignore the potential customers, run things as if it were a private club, not allow any new blood (and here I'm thinking of the Arabs who saved Kentucky), not invest in new and better ways to do things...

After all, we were once the great Made in Italy brand.  And that should be reason enough to expect the throngs to keep coming.

Friday, January 20

Concordia's Deep Throat

The tragedy of the Concordia has been rocking the airwaves and bandwiths for days now, each day bringing out new revelations.  But for every bit of news that goes reported, it seems that it gives rise to even more questions. So true also in the case of the mystery Moldavian who was hunkering down in Moldavia after jumping ship and skedaddling as fast as her dancer's legs could take her.  But the most pressing question, in the first days of the tragedy was...How could this have happened?!  We've been met with a captain's smorgasbord of explanations ever since.
A friend who was holed up at Rome Airport’s Hilton Hotel with many of the crew members all last weekend simply asked them the next obvious question:   “So what was really going on there?”  Little did she know before it broke at the UK's Telegraph that the word on the street was that our wonder-boy was most likely banging a “Russian whore” on the bridge before banging his boat into the hard rock basin below the Island of Giglio.  That's not true.  Turns out, she's Moldavian.  A former "dancer" for Costa lines.  Perhaps in the way Berlusconi's Egyptian princess, Ruby Rubacuore (Heartstealer) is also a dancer?   
I, for one, do not believe the Italian macho press when it states it was she who "egged him on" to go closer & closer to the shore -- in the land of the Papacy, ahhh...don't we love a modern-day Eve?   After all, the videotapes of the bridge have yet to be released.  It would make much more sense that he was trying to impress her by taking his boat so close to the island.
In fact, as he approached, he jokingly asked the Commodore (by phone, and the man Schettino had purportedly wanted to salute), "Got water?"  Talk about famous last words.  Can't wait to see that on a t-shirt.
From the get-go, no one has believed Captain Schettino’s version of events.  Especially his last alibi, "I tripped and fell into a life boat".  Hundreds trying to get into those boats didn't make it in...He goes onto say he was stuck in his little dinghy - not able to jimmy the boat down into the water...So much for his mariner's skills at that.
But doesn't that make a convenient excuse for explaining your absence?  It'll go down in the annals of history alongside "The dog ate my homework."
I'm going with my version instead:  Perhaps he had jettisoned off the boat to make sure his “lady friend” would be on land before being found out -- a Poseidon Adventure version of having your wife come home while you’re in bed with your lover, so you shimmy her out the window to make a clean escape.
He also supposedly called a taxi, but never took one (reports vary).  Perhaps the taxi driver can shed a bit more light onto who his passenger was?  It would explain his absence and his presence on a lifeboat when people were anxiously trying to jump ship from the prow.
Nonetheless, the audacity of Schettino's admission makes the entire disaster even more senseless.  It also certainly explains the stunned reaction of our Captain once he was caught knee deep in it – and with his pants down.  
Schettino, for his part, was only following in the example of our former Prime Minister who had come to love the brazen mixture of power, money, whores, spectacle and thumbing your nose at the rules.  In fact, both men started out in life on cruise ships. It comes as no surprise at least to this observer that, at first accosted by the Coast Guard Commander and later upon arrest, our Captain Coward denied everything just like Silvio -- right down even to the existence of the rocks that has torn more than his boat apart.

Wednesday, January 18

Captain Coward and the Sinking of the Concordia

There has been so much excellent commentary combined with a whole lot of conjecture on this terrible incident, I didn't want to weigh in on what seems to be a singular act of bravado by a seriously inept commander.  Usually, guys love to show off.  But when Evil Knievel jumps over a cliff, or a motocross racer does it, they usually only put themselves in danger (save for the spectators down below).  
Many people find it compelling to compare the Italian disaster with the Titanic, whose 100th Anniversary is this April.  I don't think that's foolish journalism.  If we are to believe Cameron's depiction of the causes behind the sinking (it wasn't the iceberg, btw), it was the ship owner's desire to arrive in New York's harbor ahead of schedule.  Speed was the cause, and once they saw the iceberg it was simply too late.  No boat or plane can be protected from sheer chutzpah (and I refuse to use the term, "human error" - "spectacularly poor judgment" would be a lot more accurate) by a guy showing off at the helm.  Furthermore, if this act of bravado had taken place off the coast of say, Iceland or Newfoundland, we would be mourning a lot more than the 30 or so who are dead or still missing.
What I find remarkable about the entire fiasco is - believing the Captain's statements made - that he "...Didn't know or didn't think there were rocks so close to the Port of Giglio."  Or his statement of today, that once he realized he was too close, it was too late to maneuver a tidy 8-story city out of harm's way.  
Anyone who has ever swum or rowboated or kyacked around any island can tell you...there are rocks in shallow waters surrounding it as you go out to sea.  But, don't take my word for it:  Captain Schettino could have just meandered into the Aquarium in Genova - the port town where his boat docks - and studied an entire topographical representation in amazing detail of the ocean floors covering our beautiful blue planet.  He could even have skipped the lines, the Aquarium is owned by Costa - the same Company which owns his sunken ship.  For the map image, click on the link here and look at page 2 of the pdf file.
However, judging by comments on online news pages worldwide, many are blaming the "bumbling Italians".  When it comes to our skipper, nothing could be further from the truth.  Italians - like the Greeks before them - have been sailing the seven seas long before other humans dared venture off the land [you can insert here your own metaphor on commandeering sinking ships].  Shipping companies, cruise ships and ferry operators worldwide are often manned by all-Italian crews.  Their skippers and engineers are flawless.  Bravery - and usual calm under pressure is legend (unfortunately not employed by the Italian Coast Guard Captain in his - rightfully placed - extreme frustration) and can be seen in the countless examples of their soldiers and Carabinieri stationed in Iraq & Afghanistan and in hot spots 'round the world.  
When it came to "organization" of the rescue effort, certainly I would fault the captain and his crew.  Misleading announcements picked up by the Spanish couple egressing from their cabin (they prod the crew member, "If it's an electrical outage, why are you wearing a life jacket?!!) and the fact that half the lifeboats where on the side that was listing into the water would reap havoc on any emergency procedures.  But, is this justifiably due to Italian disorganization?  Although I dedicate an entire chapter in my book to disorganization, Hurricane Katrina and the fiasco of America's emergency services in that disaster come to mind...or the response of BP in the Gulf of Mexico, which was entirely English, indeed.  The reason why Captain Sullenberg of the Hudson River landing is so famous is that that kind of cool and outcome in such extreme circumstances is so totally unusual.  [I might add that his boss, the head of USAirways was a total pig-headed idiot when it came to his response].
Nonetheless, for Captain Schettino ("Rollerskate" in English), this is one instance when "rockering" doesn't make for a swift and easy maneuver - and a move that he'll not get out of anytime soon.

For some other good reads, click on these links below (some in Italian):   (article in italian)

Monday, January 16

It takes a village...

The Italians have a wonderful expression for when something happens someplace which is identical in breadth and scope of a happening somewhere else -- Tutto il mondo è un paese - The whole world is a village.  
And so it was, while reading my Detroit Free Press, I was reminded of this when 44 yr old white collar thug Brian Marsack risks being sent up the river for ripping off the elderly of their life savings.  His response?  "They were old and didn't need the money anyway."  Like Madoff, I guess he was a better financial planner - he was planning for his retirement more responsibly.
It's a sad start to a New Year but one that always brings me back to fine Italy.  Here (and everywhere, I imagine) it is a national sport for faux utilities personnel to get into the homes of the elderly and rob them blind after stunning them or knocking them out with chloroform of some sort.  Others prey on seniors by pretending to know them or their offspring, and then happily escort them to a bank machine for money their relative purportedly needs.  
Recently, two Neapolitan criminals received 15 years in jail each for killing an elderly American tourist just for his Rolex--the man had simply set out to visit the city from a cruise ship nearby.  We are constantly hearing reports of people being pulled to their deaths for their purses or necklaces in street crimes by fast-moving criminals (often on scooters).  And although a friend of my great aunt's once grabbed the necklace off the man who had grabbed hers -- he got a fake gold necklace, she ended up with the real thing -- these stories usually don't have such happy endings.
Luckily, many elderly are growing more and more aware of the perils of these sorts due to outing the scams on TV shows.  But sadly, like the family featured in the Detroit article, many of them get ripped off by the people they know best.  In fact, the article goes on to state that:  

"A 2009 study by MetLife says seniors are cheated out of $2.6 billion each year, and the perpetrator is likely to be a relative or caregiver.
The study estimates that for every case that's found, there are likely four more cases that went undetected."
The article offers a few pointers for seniors such as: Do not give information such as Social Security numbers and bank account information over the phone and Be wary of charities asking for money, even if they sound legitimate.  I would add a few of my own:  ignore letters or emails saying you've won money, seek advice on business deals - even if thru a good friend or relative, and never open the door to strangers.  
Wherever you may live.  As the saying goes, the whole world is just a village.

Wednesday, January 11

And the Winner is...Burnt by Tuscan Sun Giveaway

As I had announced on my Facebook page, Blogger Michelle (& co-host of the terrific podcast show Eye on Italy) from Bleeding Espresso reviewed my book and offered a free book to the best story of someone's first Italian memory or their wish for a first-time visit in Italy.  She collected some terrific stories on her book review page.  Keeping in theme with my book, I have featured some of my favorites below.  As I wrote in my book (and in the Chi Sono? section of my blog) my first trip to Italy was at 4 mths old so no memories from then. But it was the maniacal mix of pain & pleasure that kept me coming back for more.
So, enjoy -- and, feel free to add your own first-time memories of Bell'Italia!

Saretta / My very first minutes in Italy were not auspicious. Upon arriving at the Bari airport the customs agents tore my whole suitcase apart and I was barely able to get everything back in and close it. The school where I would be teaching had sent a student to pick me up at the airport and his car was so small my suitcase wouldn’t fit in the trunk. The rather unfriendly fellow, quite obviously put out about being elected to pick me up, dumped me off in front of the apartment building that was to be my home and said, here are the keys, goodbye! I didn’t know what floor I lived on, how to work the elevator, who I would be living with, where the school was…Things soon got even worse, but eventually got better…obviously, because that was in 1990 and I’m still here! saretta´s last post . . . Yin-Yang You

Pauline / My first two trips to Italy didn’t really give me any particular positive feelings about Italy: the first time I set foot in the country was at age 15 on a schooltrip to Rome…..a lot of churches…..too many for a 15 year old; second time interrailing at 18….the problem wasn’t Italy though but rather the heavy rucksack and the tent….
Subconsciously however these trips must have made a good impression, because I’ve been living in Italy for 10 years now!!!
Amy / I haven’t been, but when I do go, my first memory will be (knowing me) the food.

Megan / I had to change trains at the French/Italian border, in Ventimiglia. It was apparent I was in a whole other country – if not on a whole other planet! – the second I stepped off the train. There are a few tell-tale signs you are in Italy…
1. The policemen are in a cluster, chain-smoking, usually in the vicinity of a sign that says “no smoking,” and making no secret about the fact that they are trying to figure out your figure under that coat.
2. The train platform has a restroom, smoking lounge, and chapel.
3. There actually are old ladies in black dresses ready to shake their fist and yell at you…loudly. (I still can’t figure out what she thought could have been wrong with my biglietti, biglietti, BIGLIETTI!!!)
The fact that all these stereotypes actually happened to be true blew my ever-loving mind! Oh my gosh, I was so excited!!! No doubt the fact that I was smiling ear to ear only encouraged the police officers and befuddled the old lady.  Cont'd on bleeding espresso page...
And the winner the spirit of Burnt by the Tuscan Sun...(insert drum roll...)
Chef Barbie / My most vivid memory of italy would be coming around the corner to the piazza di trevi and thinking to myself, “shouldn’t i be hearing the water splashing in the fountain by now?”  and then seeing the fountain sitting there empty. it was monday morning so the fountain had been drained for cleaning and coin collection. i had to come back around later that day to see the fountain in all its glory.Chef Barbie´s last post . . . Culinary School – Q6 Week 4 LatinChef Barbie...Enjoy your free copy of Burnt by the Tuscan Sun!  For the rest of you...Available on Amazon or receive a signed copy when ordering directly from my blog page thru paypal - posted on the right hand column.

Monday, January 9

Hanging up on the Telecoms Cos.

I don't know if you happened to notice it, but it seemed to me that as 2011 was wrapping up, companies worldwide were doing their best to defraud customers  errr...I mean make their budgets before the New Year.  I wanted to pen a blog about one company and how I was being taken for a ride when three more would come onto my radar (and into my wallet) just for good measure.  Not knowing where to begin, I thought I'd start my first entry with our nefarious telecoms companies, who, like taxis worldwide find all kinds of ways to separate you from your money.
But first let's start off with the good news:  My brother in Switzerland and my sister in the USA are joining the millions of people who are getting rid of their landlines, primarily due to exorbitant monthly charges and harassment by telephone sales vendors.  In my anti-telecoms crusade, I truly believe that this is just another way for companies to shake us down -- After all, I can call landlines for next to nothing (16 cents a CALL) while we're all being charged gazillions per minute to reach cellphones. Nonetheless, I see their point and am wholly fed up with the sales calls as well.  
Incredibly, my telephone company Wind/Infostrada let me know with each call to their offices that I could register to get my number taken off those sales call lists.  Well, today, after my fifth uninvited sales call, I decided to finally register to be taken off the lists and eccolo! I found in my inbox a groovy email telling me how to go about doing just that.
Click here to register via email - tel - fax - web
And in under a minute I was good to go (or so I think).  In fact, anyone in Italy can register here so click away (you don't have to be an Infostrada client). In Switzerland, you can't even take your name off the list and in the USA, where companies are people too, I think it's pretty much a free-for-all.
I had (stupidly) switched from Wind/Infostrada to Vodafone Station this past summer.  That was the summer in which I no longer needed to worry about pestering from telephone sales people, because from the moment I changed carriers, I could no longer make or receive calls.  Desperate pleas to "customer disservice" (which by all accounts is usually fairly good, excepting for the heavy metal music they blast in your ear while on hold) got me nowhere. I switched back to the tune of some €80 or more for changing carriers (note: a charge that was outlawed so now shows up as something else - applying a bit of corporate savvy just like those U.S. credit card cos.).
And although problems with navigation due to being a Mac user tripped me up for awhile, who cared? I was getting 16 cents a call!  [again, the "customer disservice" dept told me it was my fault for owning a Mac but I resolved the issue by contacting the modem producer for assistance -- in Australia].
Shortly thereafter, I was presented with two humongous phone bills from Vodafone. Extra charges aside, my bills had tripled in the two months I could barely make or receive calls.  What happened?
Carriers cannot distinguish between most U.S. cellphone numbers and landlines.  That's because Americans use the same area codes for both.  So unless you call someone who is roaming, it is as if you are calling a landline.  Nonetheless, I am always careful to call landlines only.  Regardless, Vodafone took it upon themselves to treat all calls as if I were making an international cellphone call for each and every one of them.
Back to the "customer disservice" dept, I was told there was nothing they could do.  Following my first rule of advice for Life in Italy (it's in my book, believe me), Never take 'No' for an answer, I managed to speak with someone in the accounts dept. They told me that the praxis was that they would credit the amount only when a customer called in to complain.  I told them it was for these types of disservices that I was no longer a client of theirs.
Rather than take it on my honor and charge me for landline rates, here we were...back to the cat&mouse game of Telecoms operators and their phone charges.

I don't know about you, but my New Years Resolution?  Always check the utilities bills.  And double check them again.  You cannot believe how a little off the top times millions of customers makes for a Happy New Year to the Telecoms Operators.

Sunday, January 1

Italy: A Year in Review

To conclude my monthly Tante Belle Cose feature of all good Italian things, this year I thought I'd offer my own highlights of the year that has just expired.  There was lots to celebrate but here is my brief recap, month by month (note: many items in color and/or bold are live links):

December 2011
Of course the Big News of the month was that Burnt by the Tuscan Sun - the book came out which took the world by a storm...! Don't I wish--you can try & win a signed copy by posting to blogger Bleeding Espresso's contest (click here).
Parmalat's Thief-in-Chief, Mr. Tanzi got 9 years in jail (18 in some reports - boh?!) for his part in hiding the money under his mattress along with his master paintings collection.
TV presenter Mike Bongiorno's remains were uncovered.  Perhaps I should say that differently.  His stolen remains (still in the casket) were found and returned to the family who says they didn't pay the piper for them...Either way, we're happy he can rest in peace (and in one piece). 
The year came to a spectacular finish with fireworks displays taking place all over Rome, and a huge concert & party in Piazza Venezia. Milano was the party-pooper by outlawing the fireworks due to smog, but I'd be happy if it was due to budget tightening regardless.

November 2011
The world applauded at the news of Berlusconi finally stepping down as Prime Minister.  But, as he's threatened, and as I've consistently stated, he may be down but he is not out of the Italian political scene (or imbroglio, as the case may be).  Hopefully, in 2012 the judiciary can take care of that, but...don't hold your breath.  He has very deep pockets.
After yet another pedophile scandal erupted across Ireland, the country closed its embassy to the Holy See, citing financial reasons.  Or, maybe it was the smog from the smokescreen lofted by Bishops worldwide over their handling of the pedophiles in their flock.  Either way, it marks a huge schism in Catholic circles.
Italian women's sports chalked up yet another victory, this time winning the Volleyball World Cup.
Businessman & Alfa Romeo/Ferrari Man Montezemolo finally cut thru the red tape and launched Italo, his shiny red NTV trains to compete with Trenitalia.  While competition is a good thing, don't expect any major cuts in ticket prices.  It doesn't take a brain surgeon to check your competitor's prices online and keep them fixed there. 

October 2011
picture from Quest for Nirvana
I was thrilled to take part in the 14th Edition of WIN-Women Int'l Networking Global Leadership Conference which took place in Rome. 1000 Career women, top executives & just an inordinate amount of energy took Rome by a storm, but not that the all-male politicos & industry leaders took any notice. Rome's City Govt continued battling the law to allow an almost all-male team of leaders, Milan's Expo flaunted their 42 all-male managers, & most political parties outlined their visions of renewal with all-male tickets.  
Italy's Women's Beach Volleyball garners the Silver in the Continental Cup.  Not that anyone was looking.
Savvy new media marketing maven, film producer & newfound friend Sarah Marder launches the completion phase of her documentary, The Genius of a Place covering issues of sustainable tourism & focused on Cortona, Italy.  Sarah&Co. reached their goal of raising $20,000 at the stroke of midnight on Dec 31st, but you can still contribute to their enterprise & get bragging rights on what we believe will be an Oscar film!  Every penny counts.

September 2011
"Talent Scount" and Berlusca "Madam" Lele Mora gets thrown in the slammer for fraud & bankruptcy claims despite Berlusconi's paying his buddy millions of euros simply for being a buon amico...
Italy's Census starts shocking the homogenous Italians out of their stupor by reminding them there are immigrants in their midst.
A terrific movie, Terraferma opens revealing results of said census. Click here for a review in hollywoodreporter.
Italians discover their researchers have a hand in Geneva's CERN particle accelerator, even those laboring far away in Abruzzo.  And then-Minister of Education (and barely graduated) Gelmini claims that the tunnel linking the two labs was finally completed, showing that it's not just Americans who are geographically challenged.

August 2011
Of course, the season brings the best in Jazz Festivals, concert series, sagre of every gastronomic delight, and all kinds of happenings throughout the country.  Not a town is still.
Tourists in Rome are given free water bottles to handle the hot metro (subway) system.  Although this news seems to be steeped in controversy - as some say it ain't so.

July 2011
A huge statue of Roman Emperor Caligula is recovered & returned to the town of Nemi. And you can read about his sex life in my Irreverent Italy section above, in the outlandish book entitled Sex Lives of the Roman Emperors
Olympian Swimmer Federica Pellegrini breaks a world record & along with diver Tania Cagnotto are the first Italians to win in 4 consecutive events. Are we paying attention to the bold & outstanding women of the Bel Paese yet?

June 2011
Although events have been taking place all year, we finally celebrate 150 Years of the Unification of Italy in full force.  Our embarrassment-in-chief outdoes himself by touching the King of Spain in order to grab his attention.
Silvio's childhood buddy Lucio Stanca, the IBM man who ran through 42 million euro to create the defunct $4.99 website resigns from Milan Expo 2015, aka the Backscratch Bazaar. Too bad the other 41 men managers are still in place.
Since it's a year of unification, we got to witness the reopening of the (finally) unified Barberini Palace or Rome's National Gallery of Art. Stupendous.  Take time to enjoy the gardens as well.
And, while we're on the subject of art, the Vatican Museums reached out to new visitors by opening guided tours for the deaf, and a route using braille & bas-relief for those with limited sight.
Italy's water nymphs collect another medal, this time silver, in water polo.   
Italians throttle the government's attempts to hand out contracts to cronies for public water, nuclear energy, and a host of other initiatives on the referendum.  In response, Berlusconi's Ministers say that they will not let the public dictate their law-breaking - errr...making.

May 2011
Milan elects a left-wing Mayor, signs of tarnish appearing in Berlusconi's shiny facade (and I don't just mean the glow from his forehead and hair dyes).

April 2011
The first audience takes place for Silvio's soliciting prostitution from a minor, in the Ruby Heartstealer trialNot that it's actually going to go anywhere, but it makes for fun reading.
The movie about the last days of my favorite Italian author, Tiziano Terzani and the cycle of life, La fine è il mio inizio opens. 

March 2011
The cute FIAT '500 hits American roads (and the Gucci model coming out in flying colors not far behind).

February 2011
Italian women finally are fed up and take to the streets in the hundreds of thousands in the first national (& even int'l) protest of its kind, Se non ora, Quando? 
I got to climb atop the rooftops of Rome's City Hall perched above the Capitoline Hill and take in all of Bella Roma in all its splendor.

January 2011

Italy is the first country on earth to introduce biodegradable plastic bags-making it mandatory.  Of course, just like the frail bags, no sooner was the law introduced than we started to see the rips in August the law had to be reinstated, and this very December 28th, it looks like the law has mysteriously disappeared off the books.
Tod's businessman Della Valle offers to pay for restoring the Colosseum but with all the bickering about the handout, by December, it seems no work has truly started.

Tante Belle Cose a Tutti per un Magnifico 2012!!