Friday, December 25

The Meaning of Christmas in America

Even though Christmasy music has been playing 24/7 on some radio stations since November 1st. Windows have been dressed since Halloween, and Santa decorations compete with pumpkins (Although just for the record, it's great for finding a befana if you should so desire). But this year, it seems Americans have an urgency to just get Christmas underway. With so much that has gone so wrong for so many, it seems Christmastime or ‘the holidays’, including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa just couldn’t come fast enough. People decorating their houses and yards to such an extent, you’d think Santa Claus was setting up a franchising network starting with your next door neighbor’s front yard.

It’s been a long while since I spent Christmas in the USA and it's usually a bit overwhelming. I prefer the Italian, more understated, more traditional celebrations, right down to the Vienna Philharmonic concerts broadcast on New Years Day. Last year, hardly anyone noticed we were missing the gorgeous Christmas tree near the Colosseum, but thousands still flock to hear the Pope’s Christmas greetings.
America always seemed more about spend spend spend instead of spend some time with loved ones. But judging from the empty parking lots around the near-empty shopping malls, the store closures and the numerous articles on helping those less fortunate, maybe we’re actually having a helluva celebration. My nephews have rung the bells for the Salvation Army, sung for the old folks in the area, given toys for tots and more. Heck – even the number one movie depicting America’s grim present, Up in the Air is the big Christmas Hit (although I'd prefer to see Alvin-The Squeakuel…)

Thanks to the internet, as I reconnect with people from elementary school, old colleagues, friends and family while baking cookies, wrapping gifts and hearing choir concerts, well, I think it’s going to be a Buon Natale after all, and a pretty Buon Anno too.

Tanti Auguri a Tutti –wherever you may be celebrating the holidays.

Saturday, December 19

Tiger's Striped Past (and bright future)

You know you’ve been living in Europe far too long when you still cannot believe that (yet) another famous American man is held up to public ridicule for his private indiscretions. People coast to coast express their dismay, shake their heads, wag those fingers – it truly brings home the idea that this country was, indeed, founded by those early ‘Puritans’.

An Italian friend wrote to me, ‘I stand by Tiger’. And that pretty much sums up what most Europeans think of this truly American spectacle. Looking at many a politician, never mind a sports figure: Mussolini, Berlusconi, Sarkozy, heck – even a stripper elected in her ‘party of love’. The spectacle grows even more spectacular when we are onlookers (or peeping Toms) while the politician’s career explodes and his family life implodes into a front page view of blue dresses and cigars, airport bathrooms, mistresses, and Las Vegas porn stars.

I got to thinking that it may be that many of Tiger Woods’ sponsors have dropped or will drop him [Accenture’s ads, exhorting you to ‘Be a Tiger’ has decidedly taken on new meaning], he probably has a pretty good career ahead of him as a spokesperson in Europe – from golf courses to even Berlusconi’s own media empire, soccer club and more! Italians didn’t think twice when Pavarotti, after being fined for tax fraud, soon became the face of Monte dei Paschi (or Monte dei Pacchi, as I like to call them). Europeans simply keep private matters private, and, seeing Tiger’s transgressions overtaking real news all week, I’m all for it.

But, I must confess, I enjoy all of the Tiger jokes, the double entendres, and even what one sports columnist described as the now creepy (or totally hot, depending on how you look at it) PGA motto, “These guys are good.”

As for Nike, I think they’re sticking to Tiger and their moniker, “Just Do It”. Now there’s putting a face behind the brand.

Monday, December 14

Tennessee - America's Little Italy

It’s not just the Bella Figura of ‘Southern Hospitality’, the scandals simmering just below the surface, and the Gentleman’s Clubhouses…there’s more that Y’all have in common – or, at least in what meets the eye:

Villas cum Museums
/ These great Antebellum homes are the American update of the Papal dynasty palaces of days gone by. Many now house museums or religious universities, just like in Italy.

Politics / I have no recollection of someone actually shooting down their opponent in Italian politics, so the Tennesseeans win this one, hands down…but, I suppose that the fist fights we often see on the Italian Senate floor do count for something.

Regional Cuisine
/ They are proud of their food, and I must say, even vegetables here taste like the real thing (unlike in most parts of the USA).

Immigration / Here, it would seem the ‘extra-comunitari’ abound, much to the chagrin of the Christian locals. Ethnic groups are accepted and rejected in equal parts.

Public Spending
/ Just outside our offices, there is a multi-million dollar sink hole. What started out as the big dig for a huge housing – shopping complex, ran out of money somewhere along the line. And so the hole is now one gaping eyesore on the city scape, collecting trash and runoff water. Tales of people ignoring building permits to create their own mansions, siphon off the local water supply, and perhaps pay the fines later are ‘sulla bocca di tutti’.

Male Chauvinism / It’s not enough that a woman lawyer I know was called a ‘whore’ by the judge (just because she happened to be practicing in his court). And although most girls still don’t want to be showgirls, striving for their M.r.s. seems to still be a driving force in southern society.

Cars / Not everyone can own a pickup, but I have found the love for fast driving and sort of macho road posturing to come part and parcel with life in the south. And with it, guns and hunting are close to follow.

Music/ Starting with Opryland, the sad ballads and folk songs still make up a large part of the repertoire of music here in the South – not unlike those ballads that are regurgitated each year in San Remo.

Manmade lakes / Some of the finest scenery in Italy comes from the gorgeous lakes that Mussolini ordered built from damming up the waterways. Tennessee boasts no natural lakes at all; but to see these beautiful sights, you’d never notice the difference.

Their own brand of Mafia / even Al Capone came from Tennessee, although he’d be rolling in his grave to find the house he built for his mistress has now been converted to a restaurant and tourist attraction.

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And finally, I'd like to make a little update to my Tennessee experience.  After having worked as Series Editor for a Nashville-based Company, I was owed over $20,000 in fees and expenses. Like good Italian companies (although the owners of Linguality.com are decidedly American), they've simply decided to ignore this detail while continuing to bilk hundreds - if not thousands - of unwitting subscribers out of their money.  Years after stopping operations, the website is still up & running, they take the money - and don't send you the books.  Just like many Companies in Italy.  As they say in the Old Country, Caveat Emptor.

Thursday, December 10

Giacomo Daniels, Anyone?

Having spent the last few days in Tennessee, I cannot for the life of me think of why all of the Italians didn’t settle right here. Talk about Little Italy – Tennessee, with its mountains on one side, its plains on the other, feels a lot like home (if you leave out the multitude of fast food joints, easy driving – down to 15mph in school zones and fried green tomatoes).

According to the constitution, Tennessee is “…three states within the great State of Tennessee.” That’s stuff that should bring Bossi & his Lega Party over on a ‘fact-finding mission’ faster than you can say “ethnophobic”. Western Tennessee, with Memphis, a hip urban place, not unlike Milan; more laid back Nashville, the music capital, where working hours are fairly short. And then, Eastern Tennessee, they say is sort of ‘backwards’ like the Mezzogiorno; they even have their own brand of Viking Sicilians there: people with olive skin and bright blue eyes. Who knew?

I’m pretty sure there are more churches here than in Rome, with people of all ages attending them on a regular basis; many even daily. Lest that be a deterrent to our Catholic brethren, judging by the number of scandals, affairs and divorces ‘sulla bocca di tutti’ over here, I think people would fit right in.

And then, there are the names. I’ve heard of someone here actually named Robert E. Lee (no relation to the actual one), Henry Clay, and today’s obituaries included a guy called ‘Hog’ (need I say, he died young?). Two guys whose first name is Bimbo were running for office. And while I’ve never met a Cristoforo Colombo in Italy, there are plenty of people who can’t change their names – and so we find the delightful Bevilacqua, Mangiapane, Napoleone (first name) and Buongiorno.

I was greeted today by little children who sang out, “Hello, Miss Francesca!” in chorus. Music to my ears, since it’s been a long while since I got the ‘Signorina’ greeting. The cordiality of the people (they may not say Buon Giorno when they pass, but everyone seems to smile and wave), the Bella Figura lifestyle, the villas, the nature -- I’m not sure if Tennessee could use a few good Italian restaurants, but I do know that Italians, if they caught onto this place, would truly find themselves ‘a casa’.

Monday, December 7

Amanda Knox: Did she, or didn't she?

Well, so many people have been asking me if the proud Ms. Peacock did it in the bedroom with a kitchen knife, I thought I'd put my hands into the fray surrounding Italy's first O.J. trial (leave it to the Americans to export this insane media frenzy, too).


Just like everyone poring the Italian papers, I was utterly convinced Amanda Knox was guilty, along with her Harry Potter-like boyfriend, Raffaelle Sollecito. Like the Preppy Murder 20 years before, could it be, as the prosecutor suggested, it was a sex game gone awry? But, looking at the American press, you begin to question her guilt. An excellent article in last summer's Newsweek makes a fairly non-biased summary of the very Italian convoluted 'trial procedures' (if you can call them that), which begin to illustrate the chaos of the case. To highlight just a few:


- Knox's original witness list contained 35 names but defense lawyers have retracted 23.
- The jury is not sequestered, and are allowed to talk with each other and read papers along the way.
- Sollecito's chief forensic consultant walked away from the case (and stuck lawyers with a 50,000 euro bill) in May because he disagreed with the defense strategy.
- The witnesses who actually testified for the defense caused even more confusion: two forensic scientists placed on the stand contradicted each other. (Sollecito's expert told the jury that Kercher was killed by a single assailant from behind; Knox's said Kercher was killed from the front).
- Sollecito's lead attorney, a parliamentarian in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party, missed court for weeks.
- His other two attorneys dismantled their joint practice during the course of the case.


Furthermore, we have a guy already in jail for Meredith's murder, Rudy Guede, caught after a series of knife break-ins around Perugia and across Italy (and repeatedly released), and then picked up only after fleeing to Germany. In America, one of these three would have been fingered for the actual murder, the others as accomplices to the crime -- after all, how many people actually held the knife?


To this circus, one must evaluate the excellent observations made by an American journalist during another media circus trial: Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi in their book about a serial killer in Florence, quaintly called, Il Mostro - 'The Monster of Florence'. In a nutshell, they reveal that a) the prosecutor devises his own cockamany theory, then b) pursues it with unbridled fervor, c) stopping at nothing to prove his point. He then d) brings in sex cults and e) stuff straight out of a Sydney Sheldon novel, like accusing an innocent man in Perugia for running a black sect, and at one point, even arrests said journalist for being the mostro himself, despite the fact he was most likely at the Olive Garden (to be differentiated from 'an' Italian olive garden) near his home in the U.S. when it occurred. During all of this, the hungry media was fed lines -- no investigative reporting, just repeating the rumours endlessly for effect. In fact, all those accused by this loose cannon have been released by Italy's Supreme Court and the case remains unsolved.


This same prosecutor, with his fervid imagination, is the man behind the Foxy Knoxy trial.
And, while I agree with the Times' view that in Italy (as elsewhere, I might add), circumstantial evidence and on-trial behaviour is important; even with Amanda's conflicting stories, her base accusations that the police beat her (provoking them to sue her for slander), and all the other conflicts in this comedy of DNA errors, I cannot honestly state that she should be convicted 'beyond a shadow of a doubt'.

Friday, December 4

Tante Belle Cose - November / Print Media Edition

This past month, newspapers & magazines are pulling out all the stops to keep us reading, thinking, and conversing. They say 'necessity is the mother of invention' well, I haven't seen such genius in a long while...



Berlusconi lauded as 'Rock Star of the Year' by the Italian Rolling Stone.
Says Carlo Antonelli, Editor Rolling Stone, "This year the choice was unanimous, for his obvious merits due to a lifestyle for which the words 'rock and roll' fall short,"Rod Stewart, Brian Jones, Keith Richards in their prime were schoolboys compared to [Berlusconi]."
No further comment necessary.

From the files of 'tutto il mondo e' un paese'...Americans are creating a generation of their own mammones, but worse. These kids don't have all the traditions of la famiglia at their disposal, and yet, they're mammones all the same.
But at least this new societal malaise garners national cover attention.
Recognition is the first step toward recovery...

And then, the Wall Street Journal poses a loaded question on its very front page which I glimpsed right in glittery Times Square where the comparatively infintesimal ball will drop in just under a month. The now-octogenerian and truly beloved American Bandstand host Dick Clark, still rockin' 5 years after suffering a stroke is slated for New Years Eve.And they dare say it, "Isn't it time to pass the baton?"
After witnessing the recent passing of his Italian brother, Mike Bongiorno, who no one wanted to see departing this earth, I wonder if maybe the question shouldn't be posed first to certain politicians...

And, the best news yet: Tiger Woods' has done more for golfing with his 'transgressions' than even his golf score. His fall from grace has given the Golf industry its greatest drive ever.
I mean, who'da thought that a bunch of pot-bellied guys willingly donning lime green and plaid pants, goofy hats and riding around in cheesy carts could ever have a scandal so twisted it makes even Berlusconi pale by comparison.
Oh yes, Silvio, Tiger is tanned, too - so consider yourself doubly pale.

And with headlines like 'Tiger is a Cheet-ah', from the New York Post, who says that newspapers are dead?

Tuesday, December 1

Capitol Punishment

When visiting our nation's capital, two things stand out: One, the lack of people roaming the streets midday, and the average age of people when you do finally see them. In fact, I now see why visitors to Rome always ask me, "Does anyone work here?" I believe that's due to the numbers of government employees who get out at 2pm (but work saturdays), if that's still the case. Of course, don't ask a Milanese, but I think Romans are quite hard-working. They did away with the siestas and Italians generally clock in a good 11 hours at work. And then, of course, you have to consider the numbers who work in their regular jobs and then work in their other (black market) jobs...but I digress.

Once you get beyond the lack of humans on those huge thoroughfares lining Washington DC, you then notice the sheer numbers of homeless. It seems the homeless really took note of that inscription upon Lady Liberty (see entry below). It's no wonder they dim the lights so low in the subway. Everyone sort of seems like they're taking part in a fine evening cabaret, shopping carts and all. That lighting did wonders for my self-esteem.

But after hanging out at Union Station at lunchtime, I was very nervous to leave the place and go down into the subway there. Judging by the faces of all these yuppies, I was convinced that the moment I stepped out onto the curb, a huge machine would scoop me up for soylent green. Nowhere did I see anyone over 40. And, adding credence to my theory, only the homeless seemed to age here -- perhaps they would soil the food rations?

Now I see why we hold our graying Supreme Court Justices in such high regard. We put them in a special building, robes and all. They can't ever leave their office, lest they, too, get scooped up and made into soylent green. So, they're only replaced when they die -- in fact, come to think of it, those who have 'retired', were never seen thereafter in public.

Let's just say, I was happy to leave DC safe and sound.