Sunday, June 28

Evolution in Italy: Darwin at its best?

My apologies...but I just couldn't resist...And, Tanto di Cappello to artist Marco Martellini (who you can find on facebook) the talent behind this sensational drawing, which requires no explanation other than the names of some of those featured in what is a modern day version of Raphael's depiction of all the great thinkers of his day...(sorry, I've had visitors here all week...visiting the Vatican,

On the right, you'll spot Garibaldi in his red shirt, Mussolini, Andreotti, and of course, our beloved P.M.

To read what the foreign press is coming up with, click on the links below:

The Huffington Post's Big News Page on Berlusconi
On the petition set off by the wives of G8 leaders trying (in vain) to relegate Berlusca to his misogynist place in history

The Times of London is having a field day (although I can't locate their map of all things tawdry & titillating)...

Thursday, June 25

Eating out in Italy: TV Dinners

Last night I got to watch the USA beat Spain 2-0 in the FIFA championships. The best part about it is, I got to watch right through dinner. Now, to most Americans who eat in front of the TV, this is not big news. But I am actually one of those people who firmly believes that dinner is a time to be spent with the family, around a table, and with no outside distractions especially of the nightly news, big brother brain dead jibberish, game shows or tits & ass varieties.

I did not make an exception to this rule because of the USA game. I actually had no choice. I was in an amazing little trattoria outside Rome, with friends eating the best pizza on planet earth. Like most restaurants in Italy, the television was set up front and center – never mind that it clashed with the décor – for easy watching. The volume turned up so loud you could barely hear those across the table.

This scene is played out throughout the country. Even when I’m the only one in the trattoria, begging them to please turn it down, they won’t. Or even when nobody’s watching the thing, the decibel level raised to exorbitant heights, they won’t give in.

I’m curious to know who the interior designer was that thought huge-screen TVs would be a welcome part of any meal out. Probably the same one who goes home for dinner each night and has a meal with his TV blaring straight through the pastasciutta. In reality, I believe it’s a throwback to the days when only one bar in town had the tube. Villagers would crowd around the one screen and watch the 1950s American musicals, dubbed appropriately in Italian, except for the songs.

At least one thing’s for sure: Everyone would have heard them belting out Singin’ in the Rain.

Monday, June 22

All the Prime Minister's Women

One thing's for certain: If you want to capture Berlusconi's eye, and make it as a PYT (Pretty Young Thing, or Politician Youth Today, take your pick), you better dye that Italian mane of yours blonde. In fact, one look at Italy, and you'll find that the Italian dark Signora (I'm thinking Anna Magnani, Gina Lollibrigida, heck even Sofia Loren) no longer exists. What's funny in Italy -- a country that should look a lot like say, Japan, in terms of hair hues -- is that the country is in fact, quite blonde. The Italians will be quick to inform you it's the influx of the Vikings who once ruled Sicily...I say it has a bit more to do with the conquering of Italy's populace by the French: L'Oreal, that is.
Look a bit closer and you'll see that only half the population is platinum blonde on the level of Paris Hilton...the women. Just as a key to becoming the Apple of Berlusca's eye, or, an up and coming's what your portfolio might look like: It's his second wife, "Veronica" (name changed to protect the boring and nondescript), Patrizia & Noemi...

Check out the slide show on the left.

Friday, June 19

Numbers Games

Yesterday, I was contacted by my gym with an enticing offer on my renewal: “Same as last year, with 2 months free!!!, or, "Choose a fab FREE trip offer for a weekend -- yours, for only 185 euro more!!!”
What a deal. Almost too good to be true. It was.

Anyone who has lived in Italy long enough knows they need to park their American-style FREE offer mentality right at the front door. America, with its gross “all-you-can-eat buffets”, if tried in Europe, would have been bankrupt right after that very first Thanksgiving dinner. In Italy, don’t even THINK about going up to the buffet table twice, and, try piling it on, you’re charged more in the end. Even McDonalds charges extra for the ketchup.

In Italy, your Frequent Flyer mileage card is yours, for only 150 euro per year! Every month you receive an update of services on your CartaViaggio by Italy’s illustrious TrenItalia, the company that has singlehandedly taken price gauging to new heights; except the listing includes all the new services you no longer will be receiving, along with a price increases of the most basic ones. They even tried getting us to clean up the cars for them; that didn’t fly, so pretty soon we’ll soon be charged for cleaning service alà RyanAir…

Collect points at your Grocery store or Gas Station? You can get your free toaster or CD player by submitting 10,489 of them (the equivalent of 2800 euro in expenses), and then claim your gift for another 129 euro – free! Every Christmas, I present myself at the GS store to get a truly free gift, only to find they’re ‘sold out’, try back tomorrow. Too bad the points expire at year end. I’ve yet to get as much as a mere frying pan out of GS.

After all, this is the country that has duped 40 million workers into believing they actually get an extra paycheck each August holiday and Christmas. In a purely 3-card monty card game, they have merely taken your annual pay and divided it by 14 months. For a country based on mistrust of every institution, there isn’t an Italian in Italy who believes this last statement to be true. Don’t ask me why.

As for my Wellness Town offer? The two months are NOT free – you just don’t pay for 2 months straight away, and then pay an added amount each month for the remaining 10 months. Saying, 'no thanks' to the “free” trip, I received another call later:

“We have a new offer to make you. If you renew now, you’ll receive a free trip along with your membership.” Is it a case of severe Cognitive Dissonance, or, simply hoping you have early onset Alzheimers???

Wednesday, June 17

We're the Ones we've been Waiting for

Last week, Libya’s Gheddafi caused a big stir – not least for his Bedouin tent he set up on the backside of the Vatican as a ‘camp’. Taking his cue from the former Pope (Innocent X) whose family once owned that very Pamphilj park, he received you on your own turf; not the other way around. But the biggest flap was that, obviously stricken by being so close to an Infidel H.Q., he became caught up in prayers – so rapt, he kept an entire auditorium of people at the Foreign Ministry waiting for 2 hours before they said, Amen or Inshallah and went home without hearing what Gheddafi – in his first formal visit in decades – had to say.
This story is incredible for 2 reasons:

1) A man who owns dozens of palaces replete with your standard fare concubines, pools, and surely hammams (I don’t know this for sure, but I reference Saddam Hussein) has the audacity to camp out when visiting your land? I know Italy has some pretty spurious hotels, but really…The Cavalieri Hilton is that bad?
In fact, if he really wanted to show some chutzpah – having the Bedouin chief drop a few petrol dollars on expensive hotels, restaurants, limos and girls well…that would have spoken volumes over his Lawrence of Arabia farce.

2) The Italians actually waited for 2 full hours to receive their guest? I would have lasted about 22 minutes myself. But, this, in retrospect, is the least preposterous. After all, there isn’t a city clerk, official or politician who shows up on time. It’s some weird throwback to the days when they didn’t have watches, and sundials had yet to be fine tuned. Or, in the very least, when Princes and Kings would receive you in their bedrooms, so you could make your case while they dressed – never mind rushing off to a proper meeting.

But these aren’t the two reasons I truly had in mind. After all in Italy, no meeting, committee, concert, or even play starts when they say it will. Guests of honor barely make an appearance once they show up 40 minutes behind schedule -- lest they appear as though they have nothing else to do. I once begged a meeting on the parks nearby to just begin without the City Official, after all, he didn’t know squat about what the experts present knew anyway. After 50 minutes and obvious restlessness on the part of the participants, they started without him. I left after another 40mins later and he still hadn’t shown up.

So, really, not waiting for Gheddafi was unbelievable, not because of the obvious int’l faux pas both by host and guest alike (although I applaud Fini's response), but really, the fact that they a) waited so long in the first place (if you’re non-Italian) and b) the fact that they didn’t just keep sitting there (if you’re Italian).

Nonetheless, the applause when announcing the closure of the event was, I’m sure, cathartic for all concerned. Maybe now the politicians will think twice before keeping us waiting for their entrance.

Monday, June 15

London's Law of Attraction

Anyone who’s read ‘The Secret’ will know that according to the Law of Attraction, you attract into your life whatever it is that you put your attention (and psychic energy) to. I may not have been a firm believer before, but I am now since going to London. It would appear that blogging about the trials & tribulations of Italy has now come to sort of follow me wherever I may go. In spades.

Arriving in London, I was met – not with a 1 day strike of a few non-rush hour hours like that which befalls Italy -- but an all out, all points 4-day Subway (Tube, Metro, whatever you want to call it) Strike. Appointments were canceled West End, East End & center.

While in Italy, most of the population usually sides with the strikers, the Londoners were having none of it. With job losses at record highs, these workers reportedly earn about 50000 pounds pay per year and 8 weeks vacation for merely pushing a button and making sure they don’t drag old ladies caught in the closing doors from one stop to the next. I don’t know what the rate is for these drivers in Italy, but even considering the exchange rate, it’s probably a pittance in comparison. Bank tellers here garner something around that rate (when you add in all the social costs, etc.) and while vacation time is high, I can’t imagine it reaches these heights.

In any case, with the London strike in full force, I pondered whether, like the infamous strike which hit New York, woman would trade their glitzy pumps for comfy footwear. In Italy, that would probably never happen, but I enjoyed entertaining the vision of seeing women actually repair to their desks to change out of their Nike’s. In fact, given that the dress code here these days is tattoos and bare tummies (just look at the politicians and newscasters), probably adding a pair of Nike’s would not be much of a Brutta Figura.

As for me, I was sure I was losing weight at record speeds whilst hoofing it up & down the hills of North London where I stay. But sadly, it would appear that in the case of weight loss, the Law of Attraction, however, does not apply – or is the Law negated by the negative effect of endless Cadbury bars scarfed down with scones???

Thursday, June 11

Book Review

Taking care of my little nephews last week, I began to gain some perspective upon – if not outright compassion for those mammas who I so disdain for carrying their kids’ book bags [how does that American Indian saying go about walking a mile in my moccasins?]. Granted, in a country like Switzerland where they have taken the Montessori method of ‘learn at your own pace’ schooling to new highs (or lows, depending on your point of view), books are not a big part of what gets carted around in kids’ school bags. All I know is that, if you want to get them home in time for you to make dinner, you better grab the bags.

In Italy, on the other hand, tiny tots lug huge volumes to and fro, reminiscent of books originating in hilltop monasteries (obviously, a tradition handed down from the times when one was schooled only by the church). Like their forerunners, these books are so precious, kids are not allowed to mark them up (so much for interactive learning), and must share them with their deskmate before handing them down to the next class. In a country famous for copying, making actual copies of only the pages in question is totally out of the question -- one of the few rules that actually gets enforced here.

Each school year is marked by the typical Back to School Sales and the Back to School Sit-ins by moms and tykes alike, protesting the book bag weight scheme. Nonetheless, I now find little kids with backpacks on rollers in order to get their studies to school while saving them from a lifetime of Chiropractic care. Considering how much kids dilly-dally on the way to and from school, you begin to wonder if we couldn’t get the kids themselves on those rollers.
Perhaps that’s why those healies shoes were invented. By a parent seriously tired of reiterating ‘C’mon, Let's Go!’ ‘til he was blue in the face.

Tuesday, June 9

Party Time

Well, the European elections have come and gone, with the rigid right seemingly trouncing the left and socialist parties from Brussels to Brindisi. It’s not enough to know what, or for whom, we were actually voting for, but how those elections play in Parliament. What’s actually more confusing are the myriad parties from each place who garner representation there. I am still convinced that if my Mr. Carlino won out, he’d be spending his time selling houses to his fellow parliamentarians.

Italy is slowly eking its way into a two-party system. Except that in the Italian case, it's more like a multi-colored, multi-logo, 12 party one. Sometimes, they join together only to fight it out amongst themselves later (like Bossi’s Lega Party in Berlusconi's coalition); sometimes, they simply go it alone (like DiPietro’s one). In America, party heads don’t seem to carry all that much clout (even Howard Dean, a physician and ex-head of the Democratic Party, after wholly revamping the party didn’t garner a place on Obama’s cabinet—even in the Dept of Health). But here, they become part and parcel with their party. Reaching demagoguery on the level of our beloved Prime Minister is the only natural conclusion.

I recall the office of a former Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal here. Splayed across an entire wall of her office was a sort of Family Tree of photos and political philosophies of every big wig across every party. Not unlike the situation room of Al Qaeda trackers, pieces would be moved here, there and everywhere to mark each cell's new party alliances, their rise, theire fall and their manoeuvrings.

Now that we’re down to just a handful of parties (Fini’s Alleanza Nazionale having recently folded into Berlusconi’s bag), it still isn’t that easy to tell them apart. In a country that has a marked disdain for marketing practices, this is because the parties often change their names in mid-stride.

Berlusconi founded his Forza Italia party just about 10 years ago. At around the same time, the communist party failed, but you can now find them lurking in the Refounded or the Reformed Communist Party (I like calling them the Reconstituted...) Recently, I saw posters brandishing the good old-fashioned Communist sickle -- now how's that for marketing prowess?
My Radical Party, in an attempt of total rebranding, is now called, unbelievably, The Rose in the Fist. To me, it’s an awful lot like In the Name of the Rose, with all those politics and murders coming into play just like in the novel.
The left-wing parties who were left, joined forces under Veltroni to make the Democratic Party (Pd). No sooner did they change the colors of their new logo than the astute (and grand Marketeer par excellence) Berlusconi changed his party to the Pdl. That ‘l’ is so thin, I can barely keep the two sides apart.
And Americans thought they had problems with hanging chads during their elections.

Perhaps they should simply stick with the huge faces instead of party logos. That way, we can just vote for the guy we recognize. Umberto Eco would get my vote.

Friday, June 5

Separated at Birth - 2?

Well, I have revived my separated at birth column to bring you...The actor turned hip hop singer Joaquin Phoenix and his twin, the hip hop singer turned actor, Jovanotti (who, I might add put Italian music - and my favorite, Italian rap, on the map). You try telling them apart.

You can catch Joaquin's awesome performance on Letterman here.

And, my first entry showing Lady Sarkozy (1 or is it 2?) and her younger clone, Lady Sarkozy.

Tuesday, June 2

Tante Belle Cose - May 09

This month I take a look at some wonderful updates from past events...

The best news is that today’s a day off for many of us as we celebrate La Festa della Repubblica! Reinstated in 2000, it all started in 1946 on the day in which Italians voted for the kind of government they wished to have (although they still seem to be working on it, with Berlusconi seeking improvements on their very constitution). Needless to say, they voted OUT the monarchy, who were unceremoniously showed the door, and a DO NOT ENTER sign posted for any male heirs at the border.
Fifty years on, they were allowed to return to Italy apparently to serve as fodder for reality and talk shows while running prostitution rings between Switzerland and Italy.

Of course, their return is not without controversy (and I'm not talking about the above!). First, Victor Emanuel refused to say on TV (actually, he emphatically shook his head ‘No!’) that he would uphold the constitution if allowed back in. Then, the family asked for their money back on their bad investment (to the tune of 260 million euro), as if they had nothing to do with WWII to begin with.
It’s as if they had merely asked the newly formed Republic to hold onto their stuff in a sort of safe deposit box in the shape of a boot until they came back from a long holiday in the Maldives. In any case, the Italian government countered with a lawsuit of their very own, asking for damages…In my opinion, they’re lucky they weren’t strung up in the piazza like Mussolini.

America’s National Italian American Foundation has started a fund for the Abruzzi Earthquake victims. They take pains to underscore that EVERY euro cent will go straight to the victims. The event was kicked off in none other than the world’s most renowned ruin, the Colosseum, with a concert by Andrea Boccelli.
Now, if perhaps some of the funds could be devolved toward its restoration…

First the tourists are banned, now the street peddlers. In its effort to make Italy a living museum sans life, all commercial activity has been banned across all of Rome’s piazzas, except for the annual Christmas market in Piazza Navona.
This will clean up the counterfeit vendors, but, hey, where will I get my roasted chestnuts each winter?

This isn’t new, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a fabulous ad on Vanity Fair trying to tell the truth about Prosecco and so-called American Champagne. The Italians (and French in Champagne) are busy attacking copycatters, or in the very least, getting people to think twice and buy the real McCoy (or real Maccheroni, so to speak).
A recent ruling by the WTO in the U.S. looks set to perhaps fly in the face of this overt protectionism…perhaps leaving it to palates versus publicity to make a difference in choice of potables.

They do have a point here. I mean, those of us who grew up on gummy mozzarella cheese and tuna helper pasta have (hopefully) by now graduated to burrata and DeCecco…