Wednesday, January 28

Business Weak

This past week a lot happened in Italy’s business world. I thought I’d give you a brief rundown:

The first week of operation of the new! (but obviously not improved) Alitalia started with … a strike.
Always quite comforting to know that some things are quite stable in our unstable world.

Tied to this is the heady Milan meeting in which the government and flight partners asked that Linate airport be closed down (this proposal has been - thankfully - and steadfastedly refused).
Milan’s Linate is a 20 min. drive to the city center, versus 40 mins. (on a good day) for Malpensa. It only makes sense, with all those businesspeople flying back & forth from Rome, Naples, Bari and Palermo to add a few extra hours to their day. Perhaps the motto can be: “Malpensa: Keeping Italy Unproductive”.

And of course, the biggest news is the Chrysler – FIAT partnership. Now—you know you’re in deep doo-doo when pairing up with FIAT is your best option.
I hope that they bring America the cute little FIAT ‘500, or Topolino, which in my opinion is the best design to come out of Italy – ever. And, with all those Chrysler dealers around, FIAT might not suffer from their poor image which brought the moniker, Fix It Again Tony.

Monday, January 26

Separated at Birth?

I know that the Bush Administration is getting a bad rap these days, blamed for all kinds of things...but, I couldn't help but noticing the uncanny similarity between one of the Bush girls and Amanda Knox, currently on trial for murder here in Perugia.
Could it be...??? And they thought the DUI was a problem...

Friday, January 23

Il Pasquino

This is one of Rome's infamous "talking statues". As I posted long ago, he was nothing less than Earth's first blogger. There were once five of them in Rome, and irate and poetic (and usually quite quite witty) writers would post messages all over them, railing against the government, taxes, people and the authorities in general. A posting on one side of town would receive a response from a blogger on the other. Click here for an excellent posting about them.

The Vatican had the statue near them moved inside, as was the talking 'gigante' at the top of the Campidoglio in a weak effort to stop public displays of disobedience. But the Pasquino still stands and even these 5 centuries later keeps posting.
So, as one of the changes to my blog, I will update his tradition by offering his posts in the left hand column (towards the bottom), along with my rudimentary (and un-rhyming) translation. They generally refer to things going on in Italy, but for us residents, I think we'll "get" the meaning. If not, maybe my Italian readers will help us out...

Santo Silvio
La notizia non è bella
delle bufale campane
la squisita mozzarella
or si trova nelle grane
Silvio, non con sacrificio,
vuol comprare il caseificio

The news is not good
from the buffalo on the plains
the exquisite mozzarella
is now in deep pains
Silvio, not without a sacrifice
wants to buy the cheese producer's edifice

you can download a terrific document about Il Pasquino (in Italian) here.

Tuesday, January 20

Obama's Inauguration - as Seen from Abroad

As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, America has always signified for me, a place of hope, success, progress, and a place where anyone – despite their background -- could make it if they wanted to. Those words on the base of the Statue of Liberty, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” have long stood out as a reminder to every American whose ancestors came from another land. A gift from France, she proudly stands as a beacon to those who long for a better life.

When those towers fell right at her very feet, the entire world was shaken. Living in Italy, bustling Milan fell silent. People wept openly in the streets, candlelight vigils were held in front of the Embassy, and overnight, American flags sprung up on nearly every balcony, over car windows and across store fronts. Despite her gaping wound, everyone knew that America would stand upright again, and shine her light across the globe. I was proud to be American and, as such, a spokesperson for a country looked up to by so many from so far.

Sadly, almost as fast as those flags went up, they disappeared. Solidarity turned to cynicism, defending the innocent turned to war profiteering, and candlelight vigils became hostile street protests. Anti-American graffiti was splayed across every wall and, after more than once getting mobbed, I was afraid to drive my car with those glaring Michigan plates. For those of us living abroad, the hostility was palpable. The last 8 years have been sown with international discord, personal discomfort, and the depressing fact that democratic America was not only looked down upon, but was driven into the same category usually reserved for despot dictators.

With the arrival onto the political scene of the improbable candidate, Barack Obama, a sea change seemed to be brewing. With his election, it felt more like a tsunami. In Rome, Bangladeshi car washers would give me the thumbs up when seeing my ‘Obama 08’ bumper sticker, Italian newspapers followed his ascent almost as closely as their own elections, and Europeans gathered in pubs and piazzas from Scotland to Sicily to watch the election results throughout the night.

With Barack Obama’s inauguration, the swearing in of a son of an immigrant who yearned for a better life, a man without a European-like political dynasty to prop him up, a man who embodies the very ‘melting pot’ that is America, we have shown the world that once again, what America truly represents:
that it is still a place where anyone can rise to greatness; where an education at top universities is possible, despite your meager means; where the oldest democracy in the world can still shift power without violence, corruption or coups and where a house built by slaves can one day be inhabited by a mixed race family.

When Barack Obama takes his oath, once again, Lady Liberty can proudly shine her light and lead the way – bringing back hope to people, wherever they are, who look to her example for the very values that all of us Americans hold true, wherever we may be.

Monday, January 19

Unveiling the Veline Defense

My original posting from her first trial.  October 2011, Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito is defending her case through the Court of Appeals.  

Anyone who has heard any news from Italy these days knows about the murder trial going on in Perugia. Amanda Knox and her (now) ex boyfriend who are on trial for murdering her roommate with a quick knife cut to the throat. And, although she changed her story time and again, she says she’s innocent.
Obviously, the time she’s already spent in jail watching Italian TV (in Italy, you’re guilty until proven innocent) has taught her a few things. And so 'Foxy Knoxy' (her former internet i.d.) has decided on a charm defense, trying to turn it on for the presiding judge, after seemingly already winning over her lawyers. So here we have another case of a 20-something naughty girl (or Veline, as they're commonly called here, basically, 'eye candy'), flirting around with yet another overdressed septuagenarian man. Only this time, he’s not donning a 3 pc. suit, but covered head to toe in robes.
There’s one thing her Italian finishing school didn’t teach her, though. That laughing is not acceptable for girls of any repute, let alone of ones of hers. I might add that, given the circumstances (oh, say, a senseless murder of a roommate or, you know, the fact that you may rot in an Italian prison for some 30 years), that one might cop a more serious pose. I’m thinking something along the lines of say, the Statue of Liberty and decidedly not Charo.
So her coquettish behaviour, giggles and hardy laughs with the men obviously garnered the big headlines. Not so much for offending the décor of the trial itself, but for having so blatantly flaunted one of the Golden Rules for Women Living in Italy: THOU SHALT NOT LAUGH IN PUBLIC. I swear it was one of the original 10 Commandments.
Amanda says in her defense, “They’ll come ‘round to seeing my side of the story”. But what about the victim’s side? 
 Let’s just hope the judge can keep his hormones out of the courtroom. Perhaps the prosecution can show him a few episodes from Perry Mason or Colombo as a sort of counter-defense measure.

Thursday, January 15

New Tech in a Grand Ol' Paese

I promise you, I am not growing soft in this New Year.

But today, I took a detour off the information superhighway, to sort of pause, look up to the sky, and think about what had just taken place. As I write this, I’m watching live coverage of the outstanding 'water landing' of the US Airways flight (which would explain my sometimes awkward grammar). Earlier today, I would grow impatient when my connection stalled momentarily. The nerve!

So, while sitting at my desk, I get an email from my sister telling me that the front door to my building was open and also that she was looking, but couldn’t find, my car. She was not across the street.
She was in Detroit.
I wrote back that the door now stays open as a Benvenuto! for burglars due to the fact that a tenant (for lack of a more appropriate adjective) on the ground floor is a compulsive smoker of repulsive Toscana cigars, and is little by little gassing us all to death. As for my car, it was around the corner.

And it struck me, how my own great aunt must have felt the first time she either saw a plane flying overhead during WWII or the first time she herself took a plane to America to visit us (I believe in 1964). On her last trip to America in the 90s, she still confided that she would not believe the plane wasn’t going to drop right out of that sky…Although today's events would have sort of proved that theory correct.
Living in the 20th century, she got to see the advent of telephones, the automobile, and, I’d add to that, her prized Folletto vacuum cleaner. Although she always had a conflictual relationship with freezers and clothes dryers. Every once in awhile I would catch her baking potatoes right in the fireplace, just because she could.

And I think that in our lifetimes we take all of these technological developments truly for granted, almost with cynicism…C’mon, you don’t have the latest version of Leopard, geezzzz???!!! I for one still think faxes work by a strange mix of metaphysical willpower and mental telepathy…Basically, you hold the vision of the page in your mind…and it arrives at the other end.

As we venture further into the 21st century, maybe there will be new things to be in awe about, but it seems in the meantime, we’ve grown quite accustomed to daily arrivals of new technology; especially since they no longer take the form of planes or spacecraft. Although I might say that living in Italy, where a most common letter may never really find its final destination, truly makes you appreciate the wonders of email.

But, I leave you with one person’s response: While working on a project about video surveillance (basically what GoogleMaps is all about), a comment made by someone on youtube stated that every so often he simply pauses, looks up at the big blue sky, and gives it the finger.

Tuesday, January 13

Sideswiped by Supply Side Economics

Italy has always had a long and turbulent relationship with Economics. After all, here is a country that has given us the best scientists, researchers, inventors, architects, artists and designers on earth, right up to today, and yet it is the Greeks and Arabs who win the math prize since Pythagoras on down. In fact, when it comes to basic Economics, I’m afraid Italy isn’t that much smarter than a 5th grader.

The examples of Italy’s hate/hate relationship with Adam Smith or Milton Keynes are endless: You need only to look at the price fixing of days of yore, when everything cost exactly the same price everywhere. Or hear the basic complaint from generation after generation of retailers lamenting over “la crise” – all of whom shut their doors at lunchtime and on weekends, the only time when people are free to shop. Or, see how exporters, with a strong dollar, raise their prices instead of riding out the heyday and selling more items – at their already acceptable margins -- than they ever possibly imagined. And then there’s my personal favorite, when business is down, restaurateurs and companies actually raise prices in order to make up for their losses; something I’ve yet to comprehend with my own basic knowledge of supply and demand. It’s no wonder so many Italians like the idea of Marx. He took the math out of the equation.

And so here we are, with the new and improved ‘stimulus package’ introduced the other day -- with an added amendment by the xenophobic Lega party -- which takes the only entrepreneurs who are opening businesses at a very fast clip, who are keeping thousands of their countrymen employed, who are the only ones supposedly preventing Italy's wholesalers from going under, and deciding to levy a 10,000 euro "money guarantee" on them when they open their shop doors. Let’s ignore the fact that these immigrant businesses have managed – beyond all expectations – to take the equivalent of something like 60 years’ salary in their homelands in order to leave their countries and open up a shop in a foreign land in the first place. Or, the fact that with rental agreements, notary fees, lawyers and other costs will practically cost another 60 years' pay...(in euros this time, though). And while I exempt from my basic analysis the illegal Chinese businesses which are making money hand over fist, this tax will be like taking a fire hose of ice water to a lonely match, the only part of Italy’s economy that is arguably on fire.

It’s no wonder that Italy’s own emigrants went out to the four corners of the earth. After all, these people were economic migrants, probably facing certain persecution in their own country had they remained.

Thursday, January 8

Happy Malpensa Day!

Today, according to the newspapers, is Malpensa Day. It's a fine day to be celebrating, since even the workers who planned to strike in an effort to keep it open (go figure), struck out.
That's because our ill-thought airport was closed due to inclement weather. As one politician remarked the last time the airport closed because of a snowstorm..."They built the airport at the foot of the Alps and are caught off guard when it snows in the wintertime?" A man after my own heart.
But today, meetings were held about its fate, when flights have been reduced already to 1/10 of what they once were.
I am still holding out that Malpensa stays afloat. I can't fathom the economics behind it, but, I still love it. Besides, it's not at fault for starting out with fowl Feng Shui...My solution? Change the name to Benpensa and see what comes next. In the meantime, I'll light a candle for you...Happy Malpensa Day!

Sunday, January 4

New Years - Italian Style

I was hoping, in the spirit of giving, to start my first blog entry of the New Year on a very positive note. After all, who can come up with something che non va right off the bat, when surrounded by good friends, smooth wine, sensational sounds, awe-inspiring views -- heck I even enjoyed the mimes in Piazza Navona (but not the crowds). Even the nasty weather couldn’t get me down as I stood catching up with a friend near the gates of gorgeous Castel St. Angelo…So inspired, I set out to trek to see the nativity scene in St. Peters wandering back through the center just to take it all in…

All this holiday vibe, even though I had spent the 31st filling out and signing umpteen forms at the post office to pick up the year’s last ‘raccomandata’ (it's my version of those guys who dive into the ice cold Tiber each year end) while playing dodge 'em with the tellers closing windows right, front & center. I then dashed back and forth to the bank before it closed early due to ‘pre-festivi’ hours (who knew of such a thing?) only to find a line so long I wasn’t allowed in the front door. I quickly discovered the cash machine in the new year was upgraded to no longer make the most basic payments (my internet banking had logged me out eons ago). I could, however, load up my phone and buy tickets to the theater (they’re obviously getting their missives from the Post Office where I was unable to buy stamps due to a broken machine but could pay my bills, donate to charity, buy wrapping paper and check out recipes– trust me, I pleaded for simple, lickable kinds to no avail).

I still went fairly merrily along with the flow, wishing a Buon Anno and Auguri! to all I met. But then I saw it: not even near midnight I found that with the new year came even more unbelievable service upgrades. Whereby most major cities on New Year’s Eve add extra transport and increase operating hours to avoid having revelers drinking & driving – heck even in money-driven America the taxis work for free -- the Rome municipality decided the best way to ring in the New Year was to give all the bus & tram drivers a night off. Seriously. Service ended at 9pm, just when they'd close the city center to cars; basically making sure that everyone who wanted to party would get there early and stay drunk longer before getting behind the wheel. And this after they closed the only hospital right in the town center! Their deterrent? More policemen (who probably make more money in overtime than drivers), to basically arrive earlier at the scenes of the innumerable bangups that would surely take place all night long. We were assured, of course, that service would begin again promptly at 8am.

So much for logic. I’ll close with a simple toast to a New Year of wonder & contradiction with my best Prosecco, ‘cuz I gotta get driving across town...