Tuesday, March 30

Tante Belle Cose - March 2010

Of course, that Spring is in the air, and we are now enjoying the ORA LEGALE (giving it a ‘legal’ moniker was the only way to make sure people actually moved the clocks ahead en masse), is certainly a gran bella cosa as we wrap up March.

Italy just held its Regional elections -- and that’s something else to be thankful for.  The kilometer-long eyesores of political slogans and signs with their huge faces staring out at us next to insipid slogans will finally be over.  Although, as late as 1985, 90% of Italians used to vote, thanks to general apathy, disgust, and most likely rampant cynicism, that percentage this year descended to American levels – 50%.  In ravaged Aquila, of course, the figure was even lower – people didn’t know where to go to vote (che sorpresa) but, did they even have their voter cards on time??

The Bella Cosa about elections is that in Rome, two women faced off for the Governorship of the region.  In a country where women don’t even make it to the sitting position at conference panels (the standing ones are the eye candy to ease the view of the pot-bellied octogenarians all talking on cellphones while at the presenters’ table), lest it be considered ‘non una cosa seria’; well, this was nothing short of a miracle.  People may actually start taking what women have to say seriously.  Score one for working women – one down for the “party of amore’ of yesteryear.  And, considering they're taking the place of the guy ousted after having a long term affair with a transvestite hooker in her / his drug den…well, things can only be looking up. 

While traveling, I discovered that the illustrious TrenItalia has a new phone app that will allow you to check schedules, heck, even buy a ticket with your phone.  Right now it’s being offered for free – get yours before they change their mind.  But, take my suggestion and read the fine print:  that ticket feature will probably cost you some exorbitant surcharge. 
Trenitalia is busy advertising ‘from’ 39 euro on the fast train to Milan/Rome.  You only need to try booking a month in advance…(try being the operative word).  But, forewarned is forearmed.

And speaking of train travel, at Milan’s train station, they’re rethinking the escalators and you can now sort of make it up to the tracks from the front of the station, as long as you don’t actually need the escalators – meaning, you have no luggage.  But, it’s still an improvement on the 20 minute (slightly) moving sidewalk up to your train. 
Newspapers finally made a cause celebre’ out of the fact that in the aftermath of the station’s restoration, they simply did away with the waiting rooms for the hoi-poloi while building sumptuous waiting rooms for the Club Eurostar passengers.  Made in all glass, you can feel just like the third class passengers on the Titanic as you stand in the freezing cold or sweltering heat with your luggage and little kids.  Pretty soon we’ll be seeing an orchestra playing bars and people in tuxedos eating caviar in there.  But for now, you’ll have to fight with the homeless for a slice of bench, one of the six lining the walls.

Another wonderful sight at Milan's train station was a policeman actually ask the loiterers who accost you at the electronic ticket machines to leave the premises and stop shaking down travelers.  It was a scene out of Norman Rockwell, and it warmed my heart.  So much so, I’m almost ready for a new trip on TrenItalia – especially if it’s only 3 hours from Rome to Milan!

Friday, March 26

Obamacare -vs- I Could Care Less : a view from Italy

Regardless of what you think about the results of Sunday’s historic vote in America – to provide health care to all Americans, one thing is certain:  most pundits agree that Obama and many in his party ‘put everything on the line’ -- their name, their party, their future - in order to form, what Obama loves to pronounce, “A more perfect union.”  Democrats had been fighting for this cause for decades, with the now-Octogenarian Democratic Michigan Congressman John Dingell introducing a health care bill year after year, picking up where his father had left off.
For someone in Italy (and even countries from Canada to Costa Rica and beyond, the question wasn’t so much about ‘why’ the U.S. should be providing health care, but, ‘why not?’.  This most basic of civil services, with all of its failings, is still a right in much of the civilized world.  But, from where I sit in Rome, this is not the issue.
Instead, I’ve seen two party heads spending the last 18 months fighting – desperately at times – to change their countries.  One, for the good of all their countrymen (even republicans). Another, for the good of himself and his party cronies.  The ‘battles’ being played out night after night in the media could not be so markedly diverse; it’s as is if both were cruising along on magnificent ocean liners; except one was on the QEII and the other, in a strange, alternative world, so upside down that it would appear we were all on the Poseidon.

Berlusconi has proven to be quite adept at pursuing his ad personam laws, especially with a majority rubber-stamping parliament in place.  Over the years, he’s successfully gotten a number of cases against him thrown out, all the while disparaging the judicial arm of Italy’s government.  The pinnacle of his manoeuverings;  passing a law giving people in power immunity from prosecution while in office.  That really makes one confident that politicians will be acting in the best interests of their electorate.

Berlusconi, in his self-interest zeal, has not only maligned the judiciary, but he attacks the free press (those not owned by him, of course) regularly; getting journalists fired, pulling shows off the air, and now trying – as if reading from the Iran manual of media relations – to silence the bloggers (especially those that write mean things about him).  His own channels and the public RAI1 play politics without care for 'equal opportunity on the airwaves'.  Always trying to find a way to skirt the law, his new approach is that all bloggers need to be written up in the ‘albo’ or listing of journalists with degrees in it (and anyone who reads the rot written by many many ‘journalists’ in the Bel Paese will know that’s a real seal of quality).  Even if you wanted to, how you would be ‘let in’, of course, would be up to a government stooge.

And finally, with this weekend’s Regional government elections. Berlusconi’s party has shown such an utter disregard for the rules of law that even President Napolitano, had to intervene.  The party lists of candidates in many cities (including Milan and Rome) were not presented officially, excluding them from the elections.  Berlusconi’s banter:  “It doesn’t matter – we’ll get around this trivial detail.”  And he then held an all-night law-making session to change the laws expost facto, once again showing total disregard for government and the people he supposedly represents.  

It’s good to see Americans taking an interest in their politicians and the political processes – however pathetic – that get them their laws like National Healthcare.  What’s sad is to see an entire country reaching a point of cynicism whereby ‘all politicians’ and politics are alike – and laws are made to suit themselves, not the people.  
With a Prime Minister as the poster child of that “I could care less” cynicism.  
 Berlusconi still remains popular for the very chutzpah he shows at every turn – but, at what price, Italy?

Thursday, March 25

Where's my feed?

For those of you who think I've stopped posting, because you no longer receive my feeds...I'm still out here!
It's just that Google changed everything, and instead of migrating us all to its new feeder, simply deleted everyone.
So, go to the top of the page and hit FOLLOW or at each post, to re - sign up for the feed in your feeder of choice.

Sorry for the inconvenience/

Tuesday, March 23

Let sleeping dogs lay..or, How (not) to travel with dogs in Italy

I recently took a 2 hr. train trip from Rome to lovely Spoleto and in the process, managed to get my rights read to me as a weapon-toting, harm-wielding outlaw.  Little did I know that once again, the rules & regulations governing traveling with dogs aboard trains are now more stringent than any gun law in any country, and even more severe than the penalty for chewing gum in Singapore.

Trevor, that wild, foaming-at-the-mouth rottweiler wannabe as always, was curled up, sound asleep in his doggy bag.  And this was enough to alight the passions of the most somnolent train ticket guy.  I found out that:

1.    My dog was allowed on board in a bag (he doesn’t pay a ticket for occupying an extra space)
2.    Larger dogs – who may fit under your seat, no less, have to pay.
3.    Even though he’s in your bag, he must have a travel license, with a visit 24 hrs. prior to your trip by a Vet, or, at least have handy certification that his shots are all in order.
4.    He’s not allowed to travel in or out of the bag on any trains during rush hour (7am-9am) nor in the evenings.
5.    If you do not abide by any of the above, you will be fined €200 and forced to get off at the next station (thankfully, they let me stay on board)

After we discussed and debated at length the intelligence behind each of the above points - each clearly devised by the Veterinarian’s Association and none having absolutely anything to do with dogs and travel, I sat back in my seat.

To be accosted by a stream of ticketless beggars, pick-pockets or bag ‘handlers’ who don’t have even so much as an elementary school certificate let alone have their shots in order.  Even Trevor takes a bath.  And, whom, you are most likely to find in rush hours on every train from tip to toe – and, are never forced off at the next station, or in the odd chance they are, simply board the next train; ticketless & toothless (and probably with tetanus) once again.

Trenitalia does it again.

Thursday, March 18

Italy - Scene from Abroad

These pictures from the Dusseldorf Carnival were sent to me and, after some deliberation, I decided to post them.  What strikes anyone is the obvious...how we're viewed by the rest of the world...But, I don't really think that's the question.  I have a few of my own.  But first, the pics:

First off, if we're going to pick on politicians' sexual appetites, why aren't they showing floats of ridiculous British Lords with their pants down and tied up and oranges stuffed in their mouths?  Or the Formula 1 guy doing a threesome dressed as a whip-wielding Nazi?  Or, perhaps that's a bit too close to home?

Secondly, I don't have anything good to say about our man Berlusconi, but, this government has succeeded in arresting and trying (and hopefully keeping locked up) the greatest number of mafiosi than many of his predecessors combined.  Now, I think all politicians must be in bed with the mafia, but I still wonder how these mass arrests have been going on to such a degree for such an extended period of time (could it be that it's just being reported more?).  Is it purely window dressing? I don't have the answer.

Finally, don't the Germans have any home grown scandals to take pot shots at?  They have to go all the way to Italy?  I'd like to have a look at the other floats going by...
I'm reading an outstanding book, L'Orda, by an even more exceptional journalist, Gian Antonio Stella, at the ways in which Italian immigrants were treated around the globe (his point: just like they are now treating their own).  From Switzerland to Sydney, these kinds of events (depicting a Prime Minister, no less) would, at least, in the day, have caused a diplomatic row.  I know that George W. Bush sort of opened the flood gates on picking on Heads of State (I know, I know, say what you will, Berlusca's NOT the Head of State, but, he's still the guy in charge...)but I think this is really over the top. 

Maybe, if the Italians were really behind Berlusconi (and not in the above sort of way), they would start a boycott of Siemens and Lufthansa...it's either a good thing, the Italians don't take themselves so seriously, or, that they're really not such activists after all.

Monday, March 15

Garibaldi’s green shirts take on Rome

Yesterday, a small miracle took place.  Like the first time someone has a sighting of the Virgin, or sees a statue cry real tears, it usually starts off small.  Word-of-mouth gives the story momentum, the internet makes it explode – until even the authorities have no choice but to take notice.  And so it was, with the Retake Rome initiative, spear-headed in part by an American lawyer, and long-standing Roman, Rebecca Spitzmiller, and the Fondazione Garibaldi; named appropriately after the man who, town by town, made Italy a whole country.

Like all major paradigm shifts, it all started with a small discovery:  that simple oven cleaner will clean off graffiti.  And an oven-cleaner brigade was born.  Yesterday, the group – filled with green-shirted students from the American & International universities and schools - set out to clean the walls of the otherwise stunning Pincio Park in Rome’s Villa Borghese.   And clean they did.  The miracle had grown until even the City authorities sent out a team - on a Sunday no less - to help out in the endeavor.

It was as if Garibaldi’s own red shirt brigade had made it to the walls of Rome – and in its tenacity, united Italy.  Soon, Italians came to ask questions and join forces.  And, talk of making this first halting step toward civic pride part of the school curricula with cleaning field trips perhaps…the miracle may even grow larger.   
Combined with the recent ad campaigns detailing the fines for littering and graffiti, we may be at a watershed moment in Italian history.
It was the second time I’d ever seen an actual protest turn into taking actual action ; the first being the activism of Aquila’s homeless residents actually scooping out the detritus from the earthquake themselves.  Up ‘til now, most protests consisted of the obligatory sit-ins on railroad tracks until “the authorities” did something about it. 
This, naturally, would transform itself into a few words spoken to the press followed by years of political inertia while whomever had lodged the complaint either lost interest or died waiting for an outcome.  In fact, Italians are not combative.  They will win just by levying a perpetual three-card monty game with you, until you have no choice but to throw in the towel.

Personally, I think the “writers” (I prefer ‘scribblers’ – if you could read something, that might signify actual brain activity) will take all this notoriety as a challenge – and quickly cover up the walls as fast as they were oven-proofed down. 

But, no matter, maybe what started out as grassroots can in fact take root.  And, maybe, Italy will be united for the second time in its history.

Friday, March 12


I loved this post from Jacques, a fan & fellow blogger.  I must admit, www.italia.it ,  the €40M fiasco had fallen off my radar, since it was plugged back in.  So, here's Jacques to apprise us of 'where your money went' - Part II:
Italia.IT the renowned (some would say infamous) Italian National Tourism portal, has done it once again.

Even after millions of euros thrown away by the right leaning government before launching it, and by the left leaning one that inherited it -- with almost as many problems and criticisms as euros spent; Even after the modifications to get it in line with the current accessibility laws and to placate the most severe criticisms; and Even after the soon thereafter blackout for another extended period of many many moons, they still haven't found 9 euros* to hire a decent proofreader for the home page in English.

In Italian, the bottom right corner has a menu of site services (Colophon), the first of which (and thus, presumably the most important) is "Collabora", which leads to a page for feedback and suggestions entitled, appropriately "Collabora" [see for yourself].

Now had Ken Kane, my HS freshman year English teacher, seen that glaring error, it would have been an immediate grade off. Were that a final paper, he probably would have refused to move past the front page and gone straight to "F", or made me retype the entire paper from scratch (we didn't have word processors, much less web sites or blogs, way back when).
Were that front page the result of millions and millions of euros of investment and years of effort, well, let's just say that it was a Christian institute, so it probably would have been worse than flogging but better than crucifixion.

* http://punto-informatico.it/2813203/PI/News/italiait-problemi-traduzione.aspx

*** for the spelling challenged, "partecipate" is the second person plural of the verb "partecipare" - IN THE ITALIAN LANGUAGE.
In English it does NOT exist. The correct word for exhorting people to collaborate with the editorial staff of the portal in English is "Participate".

P.S. note the fantastic attention to detail through beautiful 3-d effects on the drop shadows, but total lack of communication skills by ignoring things like proper English...

Also on the site, I found this jewel of a useful translation, in terms of clarity:

Documenti necessari per guidare in Italia
Le patenti rilasciate da qualsiasi Stato appartenente all'Unione Europea sono valide all'interno di tutto il territorio UE, quindi anche in Italia.
Se si possiede una patente rilasciata da uno Stato non UE è necessario avere un permesso di guida internazionale o una traduzione giurata della propria patente.

In Italian, they state, anyone with a driver's license issued outside the EU needs an int'l driving permit.

Documents required to drive in Italy
Driving licenses issued by any of the EU member states are valid throughout the European Union, including Italy.
Drivers in possession of a license issued by any EU country do not require an international driving permit or a sworn translation of their own license.

Is it just me, or does the English say something quite different (though not contradictory), and much less useful, for someone from outside the EU, who doesn't happen to speak fluent Italian (like a typical foreign tourist)?

How so typically Italian.

Tuesday, March 9

Italy's Poor Little Rich Kid

The Lottomatica people, basically the ones who run the State lotteries have never had it so good.  In a time of severe recession, here we have their income (nearly all profits) up by over 7 billion euro -- Only the mafia, Italy's largest company, does better.

And so, to really 'strut their stuff', and show us all they got, what did they do to thank their 'customers' for the greatest profits in the history of gambling?  Well, first, they did what they do best, and -- lied.  They released a new game, Win for Life except that the winnings only last 20 years (talk about misleading advertising).

Then, they obviously sat on their laurels and watched a lot of B movies because they came out with this ad campaign for their new 10elotto game (I won't even bore you with the pathetic 'play on words' on the name).
Basically, their awesome ad people (more likely the boss' mistress or young offspring) pulled the cast of characters from Woody Allen's 'Everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask' to give us a bunch of orange-colored sperm or worse, human condoms, to promote their game.

If this team of germs that gets washed out with Listerine had anything to do with the Olympics, well, then, another case of bad ads, considering that the human lugar who last donned this outfit, died.
Whatever the reason, there's simply no excuse for this eye pollution.

the cast of woody allen's only funny film.

Saturday, March 6

Lying through their teeth

This election season will be remembered as the year in which politicians and photographers finally figured out that floating heads on stark white backgrounds didn’t quite transmit a message of any kind – let alone the banal slogans floating nearby.   Most of the time, it was like looking at movie posters of ‘Night of the Living Dead’.                
Bonino last campaign season...

And in this year's "In Bonino We Trust" campaign - 2010

And so, we are finally treated to dark backgrounds, 3/4 portraits, smiles, and we are all the better for it.  After all, if you have to look at someone’s oversized grins 6493 times per day, they might as well make them worth looking at.  
But, the posters have now themselves become a battleground – and not just of campaign slogans.  Turns out, those politicians whose chops grin at us like Sylvester the Cat, are the ones who’ve actually swallowed the truth - just like Tweety bird – they post illegally.   

And so, weary citizens have taken Berlusconi’s decree of setting up vigilante committees, and decided to take matters in their own hands.  

First, by knocking down the actual illegal signs that should never have been put up in the first place (too large, too near intersections, etc). And now, teams are going out and either ripping down the illegal eye & environment-polluting symbols, or covering them up entirely.  Armed with the slogan, “They pollute, we polish” (my verbiage in a marketing-challenged country) - “Loro sporcano, noi puliamo!” (wow – really hits it out of the park…), they’ve set out to call out politicians’ lies and abuse of powers -- before they even get elected.

And, it looks like the law (and thinning city coffers) might just be on their side.  I’m all for vigilanteism, especially when it means a cleaner city – and so, the Italians’ newfound activism has one fan from this blogger.

Now, if we could just clean up the slogans, we'd really be beautifying the cityscape.

Thursday, March 4

World's Ugliest Statues

Not that I'm truly an arbiter of good taste, but some things are so ugly, you sometimes wish a worldwide war would ensue just so they can be melted down for bullets.  Since people were asking me to post the pictures of the biggest eyesores ever created, here goes:

This monstrosity (and a few of its facsimiles around Rome) is my pick for the second-ugliest sculpture ever created.  It was done by Luigi Gheno, an artist from Veneto who, before coming to Rome to teach art, had obviously missed the flow and grace of Venetian artists such as Tiepolo who preceded him.  Why a non-Roman garnered so much exposure around Rome is beyond me. He may have 'gifted' his artworks to the City after he realized no one would ever pay actual money for them.
The show of his work in my humble neighborhood was installed in 2001 and to last four months.  Nine years later, during the current campaign to beautify Piazza dei Navigatori, it's been uprooted.  Hopefully, never to spoil the eternal city again.  [Update: Alas, I spoke far too soon.  The wooden version was uprooted so they could implant a humongous concrete base to hold the bronze version for eternity.  I only pray that a tractor-trailor hits it one day and puts us all out of our sheer misery.]

This, instead, garners first place in my triumvirate of 'terribile'.  It's a lime green pair of armless Venus' tiptoeing through the tulips (or are they wading through sewage spill?) along New York City's Sixth Avenue.  The picture is one of a series of outstanding photos posted by wallyg on flckr (whose shots work wonders - they almost appear viewable) and who also provides an excellent commentary on them.  He states that these 'oversized figures' (to put it mildly), were done by "artist"  (quotations mine) Jim Dine, and, despite being headless, they're "Looking Toward the Avenue."  It's unfortunate to note that they're a permanent installation in front of the Calyon Building, but maybe one day, they'll be uprooted like Gheno's during a beautification campaign along Sixth Avenue.

And, to round it off, just because three's company, here's my third choice of ugliest statues ever created:

This is found in the sumptuous rotonda room at the Vatican Museums.  It is supposedly of Hercules, but with that stance and that chin, you'd think he was the Dowager Queen of Greenwich Village.  It's no wonder he liked fur coats and carried a walking stick...Now, if he just donned those robes and threw on a Tiara and red leather Prada shoes, I think he looks like a totally buff version of Pope Benedict XVI.   

compare it for yourself (!) 

Monday, March 1

Tante Belle, errr Brutte Cose - Earthquake Edition

Seeing that February is cut short this year (and I don't get a birthday), I decided this month to skip my Tante Belle Cose -- even though some nice things happened this month -- women running for office, my receiving a check for overpayment from the ACEA electric company (after 6 months), and, the best news, they took down the second ugliest sculpture ever to be made by human (in)genius - right out of my nearby piazza.

So here were are, still reeling from Haiti when now we have Chile.  But then, I get periodic updates from fan Joshua whose family lost their home in Aquila one year ago; and whom, although not homeless in the 'senza tetto' sense of the word, last time I checked, was still living in a hotel in Pescara.

Joshua has provided photo documentation from the last three Sundays of February in L'Aquila. Last week, about a thousand ex-residents tied their old house keys to the fencing as a sign of protest given the complete inertia since the earth stopped shaking there.  The residents then "invaded" the Red Zone -- in the only fraction of the beautiful old city center which can be visited without fire fighter escort.
This past Sunday, Joshua writes,
"We were about 6000, and took part in cleaning up a small fraction of the millions of tons of debris. After almost 11 months, the government bodies have still not decided where to put and process even the smallest portion of the mllions of tons of debris that will have to be cleared away to permit rebuilding.
We know it will take years, but we want to keep an eye on things, we don't want to lose precious time, and above all, we want the city to live again, with us in it, meter by meter, yard by yard."
It may not be a Leap Year but, considering people in Italy's south are still living in metal boxes umpteen years after their own natural catastrophe, let's not skip over the Abruzzesi earthquake survivors.  How long will it take to rebuild their fair city?

Click here for the link and you can also find Joshua and all things Aquila on facebook.

p.s. the scaffolding and such that you will see is only to keep the buildings from falling down, not bringing them up.