Friday, May 28

Rome's Proposed Tourist Tax - Are You Flippin' Kidding Me??!!!

Dear Mayor Alemanno:

Certainly, we can all understand your point of view; trying to come up with ways to arrive at month’s end – just like the rest of us – with money in the bank.  It was a stroke of pure genius – hit the captive audience that won’t crowd your city center, block traffic and hold huge sheets with protest slogans in revolt.  It’s an even better idea, considering that "other capital cities" have been charging a sojourn tax for years, [Let’s ignore the fact that other cities like London or New York have over 15 million inhabitants compared to your 3.5 million - with services to match - but, who's counting?].

Regardless, since you’re a Roman resident and you’ve never had the privilege of enjoying the city as a tourist, allow me to shed some light on the subject.  You’ll find that the Tourist Tax has been levied for some time now – paid in full by tourists – your petroleum – a tax so widespread, it’s like an oil slick on your country larger than the one now threatening the U.S.

A day in the life of a tourist in Rome

- Arriving at Rome’s airport, you’ve already been shaken down by the ‘airport tax’.  The service you receive instead?  Forced to wait in an un-airconditioned arrivals area holding pen 40 mins or longer for your bags, that is, if they arrive in the first place.  Check to see they're not missing objects handily withdrawn by the baggage handlers--the cause for the delay.

- You make your way to the train station where you have to pay 14 euro - $17 for a ticket to Rome's Termini station.  Just like in ‘other capitals’, except for the fact that in London the trains arrive every 4 minutes while in Rome, you might have to wait 40 minutes on a urine-filled platform (where else to void the toilets but in a closed train station), on a good day for the ‘next train’ to arrive.  At least your nose will be prepared for the onslaught of the Calcutta scene of homeless immigrants who live at your arrival station.

So, you decide to try your luck on the local train?  Terrific – except you have to be a soothsayer to know that the train marked for ‘Orte’ actually makes stops in Rome's center. You have no idea what stop to get off at, but you recognize Trastevere and go with that.  Then, you have to know how to buy a ticket – you can wait in a long line where the ticket vendor charges an untold €1 ‘tax’ on it, just for fun.
Last month, the 20 min train ride cost a reasonable €5.50.  Overnight, the price was raised 45% to €8, in view of an improved service.  So far, the only thing that was advanced was the price.  The grimy cars – with no room for luggage (it’s an airport train, after all) are still the same.

Jetlagged and drowsy, you suddenly need a PhD to know about stamping your ticket in the little yellow machines.  In ‘other capitals’, trains come with conductors who take your ticket.  But Rome is one giant tourist attraction – and on arrival, ‘You’re the protagonist!’ You get to play conductor, just like at Legoland.  In case you missed the ticket machines, a conductor will come by – to charge you 50 euro for boarding a 20 minute train without a stamped ticket. 
If you’re lucky, they’ll let you out instead – only to find yourself at a station with no personnel, no ticket machines, and the only other person is the gypsy who just stole your camera out of the front pocket of your suitcase as you dragged it behind you up the flight of steps to the street.

- Or, perhaps at the airport you decide to take a taxi.  Know that, like in other capitals, you have become a lovely fish in a tank of great white sharks (the color of Rome’s cabs).  They put the meter up a notch, or charge you tariffs for items you didn’t know exist.  At the end of the trip, you’ve spent 60 euro for a 48 euro ride, but the driver doesn’t declare his ‘extra’ income on his tax returns.
Take a taxi in the city, it’ll cost you $7 just to sit down.  But, that's not an option because you can’t find one anyway.  In ‘other capitals’, taxis roam freely, people take them regularly, and, the price stays low. I guess Adam Smith was right. Incredible how that works.

- Not wanting to deal with trains nor taxis, you rent a car instead.  Don’t forget your airport tax for that audacious request.  Get the car at Termini Station, you’re charged a train station surcharge.  And after navigating between the drunks, drug addicts, crazies and homeless beggars (Benvenuto a Roma!), you start thinking that you should be paid a Tourist Tax to go and retrieve your car out of the dank urine-stained area of the Termini Terminal (clearly suffering from an incurable disease).  While loading up your car, you discover someone has just made off with the bag you left on the seat – running right by the policemen who are busy chatting in a crowd.

- You head now to your hotel, 6 bags and all, less the one that just departed.  Near the Pantheon, you manage no problem.  Except that you just got hit with an automated-traffic ticket to the tune of 70 euro for passing through the city center, naturally - where most of the hotels are located.
As every Mayor in Italy knows and banks on, forget the 5 euro tourist tax – it's 70 euro each time they go in/out of the hotel.  What a nice souvenir postcard from Bell'Italia -- in their mailboxes by the time they get home.  This perk for city coffers is kept conveniently although they could easily allow rental cars to pass right through, just like cars for the handicapped.  And those poor bastards with luggage? Let ‘em walk to their hotel (or take a taxi, who takes them round and round prior to shooting over to their nearby hotel).   

- Once you're on the open road, let’s not even consider the gas charges (5X the USA) most of which are taxes (but payable to the State) and highway tolls.  Like ‘other cities’?  Let me explain to you the meaning behind the word, ‘freeway.

- For the brave souls who manage to take a bus, drop in your €1.50 in coins (despite the price indicated on the meter: €1) and out spits your ticket.  Again, who’s to tell them that they then need to pass through a wall of people to the other end of the bus and ‘validate’ it in another tiny machine, different from this one.  That is, until the vigili grab hold of them – and charge them a fee for not having a valid ticket – payable immediately.  Of course, the meter maids won't hit up the other passengers, illegal immigrants with no tickets nor i.d., nor money; the city counts on their tourist prey to always pay up.   
Of course, the city spent upwards of 1800 euro each for thousands of their little stamp machines, lining the pockets of who knows how many politicos along the way.  Their real cost? about 23 euro - 56 if you count the installation. No wonder they're looking for more money.

- Visiting the monuments, you pay exorbitant prices for every activity that are proving out of reach for most Italians (even the ones who don’t pay their taxes). At least Italians get discounted tickets and students often go for free.  You fork over 7 euro just to take the elevator up on the big white Vittoriano monument, not to mention the $9 coca-cola you’ll drink once you’re up there.  For an entire family (and I’ll remind you that unlike in uber-Catholic Italy, Americans still have children), things start to add up.   
And, what do you get for your 8 or 12 euro ticket entry price?  Hours standing in line at the great (and open air & uncrowded) Forum & Colosseum, longer still at the Quirinale and the Vatican Museums.  Go to the Borghese Gallery, and bouncers unceremoniously throw you out (!) after 2 hours, in order to protect the 15% that the ticket company makes on every single reservation.  Exceptional services like these certainly justify the Tourist Tax.

- You want to stop for a snack?  Caveat emptor!  In some countries, the motto is, ‘you break it, you buy it.’ In Italy, ‘you sit, you shell it out’.  While sitting and eating is sort of standard practice the world over, in Italy, you pay double for the privilege.  No matter, you didn’t know that (you’re a tourist), so now you’re stung.   
At dinner, you pay more than the Rossi’s next to you, the bill is hand-written and unitemized, and there's a (supposedly outlawed but not enforced) ‘cover charge’ before they’ve even added in ‘service’ charges – and taxes.  Americans foolishly leave tips - I call them 'guilt tips' - besides.  Naturally, they don’t issue a receipt and don’t declare the income.   
You want a Tourist Tax, Mr. Mayor – start getting ahold of your 20% VAT tax paid on every plate of pasta sold.  Tourists don't know it, but they spend 20% sales tax on everything they buy - but that money from gelato to jazz concerts rarely makes it to the tax man.

- You set out with your guide – She earns 15% on everything you buy – from the little rosary in Saint Mary Major to the normally 9 euro cutlet for which you were just charged 16 euro.  She earns in tax free income over 50,000 euro per year; all contributed by the ‘tax paying’ tourist.  But that doesn’t mean she’ll pay taxes on it herself.
All of these products and services for tourists offered by the very same citizens who don’t want to pay for their City services, but then insist that the roads are smooth, garbage is removed regularly, schools are open and hospitals are free for all and sundry.
But of course, instead of forcing these people to pay up, let’s go after the ‘easy prey’ – a simple surcharge on tourist hotel rooms.  After all, tourists can’t vote.

Of course, looking for the tax evaders amongst your dear citizenry takes work.  But, watch out.  Tourists can – and do – vote.  With their feet and their wallets.  Take a look, Mr. Mayor, at (from home or office, wifi services for those out and about are such a bureaucratic nightmare, no one uses them), and you’ll be inundated with people who say, ‘Never Again.’

Have a seat in Piazza Navona and ponder this, Mr. Mayor, over a bowl of gelato for two.  If it weren't for your citizens paying your bills, that luxury would run you close to $30 – you are practically renting the table, as if the proprietors, after centuries, still have to make good on the bill to Bernini for the gorgeous fountain nearby.

Rome still manages to keep tourism alive, despite the worst financial crisis since WWII.  But, instead of prizing your tourists, better to punish them; the ones who provide so many with their livelihoods. Keep going down this track, you’ll not only lose the little income the honest proprietors pay in taxes, you also won’t find any tourists to tax either.  You'd think the lesson of the backlash with the Japanese tourists overcharged for their meals would have been learned.  Obviously not.
But when the tourists stop flowing in because of this cowardly and cynical manoeuvre, let’s see what your voters then have to say about it. 

From the moment they arrive to the moment they leave, the Tourist Tax is in play – just as it has been for a very long time. 

Note from Aug 2012:  Sadly, nearly every city in Italy, large or small has now followed suit - levying the traffic fines as well on cars in their city centers.  In any case, I have updated this post to take into consideration all the price rises over the last two years:
20% airport taxis, 16% train fares, 50% rise on bus fares and a 1% VAT Tax raise a gift from the Monti govt.

Tuesday, May 25

Travel Tuesday Special - Italy May Activities Not to Miss!

With the (sudden and unexpected) onslaught of summer, my thoughts have turned to playtime - and it seems that the Italians can't wait for the insane amount of wonderful summer activities to get underway.  So, here's a sneak preview:

Florence hosts its first-ever Gelato Festival - now that's something icecream about!   may 28-31

Visitors to Florence will find the entire city turned into one big outdoor gelateria, divided democratically into traditional & industrial variations.
My sister says that Florence has the best gelato in the boot, so, anyone who is fortunate enough to be there at this time really lucks (or licks!) out.
Add to this the (real) closing of the streets all around the Duomo (no traffic at all compared to other pedestrian zones) and, you're taken back to the 1950s when the central piazza was filled with people and plants.  The hosts are even planning an open-air ice-cream themed dinner.
Now - how they're going to get this to jive with the city ordinance of 'no loitering' - 'no eating' around those parts is another question...But, Buon Appetito!
check out ItalyMag for details

Not to be outdone in new groovy cultural initiatives, Rome is unearthing their treasures in year 2 of the Roma Nascosta initiative.  If I recall from last year, there was no idea on the posters how to sign up and what monuments you could visit - so the entire thing remained very nascosta (hidden) -- note website and details on said poster, a text book case of publicity in Italy.
This year, they've come up with a calendar and a way to make a reservation (book fast!) and if you dig deeper, you may even find the info in English.

And, to know more about things happening in Rome, we suggest you go to InRomeNow - who publishes a listing of all the happenings in town monthly.

And, in early June, if you're in Milan, you can enjoy all the movies from the Cannes Film Festival - the annual event which makes living in Milan the rest of the year endurable.  Turns out that Rome also does the Cannes film festival redux, so now there's something more to cheer about!

Thursday, May 20

Fly AirBerlin! You'll forget you're in Germany...

Now that I'm happily repatriated to la mia bella casa romana, of course, I couldn't help but notice the ad campaigns.  This time, and I'd seriously like to see the 'concept paper' on this one, I really want to know the rationale behind picking three Latinas or Romanian gypsies or the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean for this ad to visit Germany.

Because, when I think of traveling to Berlin, I certainly don't think of this:

And, as much as I love hip Berlin, the Love Parade, the big ol' State Museums, the clubs, the shopping, I still kinda think of this:

Okay, so I get it that they want to sort of steer you away from all that...but, to take you over to Las Rambas?

Here are scenes from AirBerlin's launch night here in Rome.  Clearly betting on the success of the veline over any 'truth in advertising'.  But, if their ad people hailed from Milan, they'd know that most Italians don't even like that look.  They're all too busy turning into emaciated blond stick figures.

But, let's see how AirBerlin truly pictures itself:

I rest my case.

Reasons for using the gypsy look to Fly to Berlin:
- Sexy blondes are hard to come by - in Italy, all the Eastern-European ones are too busy turning tricks
- Since all the Italians have gone blond, perhaps they could be enticed to 'go back to their roots' in Berlin
- The only people who can afford to fly these days are the illegal workers, or Gypsies, so the ad was conceived to appeal to them
- Disney has just opened a new Caribbean theme park there
- Chancellor Merkel is too much in the news these days, and they sort of wanted to counter that image

Sunday, May 16

Italy's Giro - Off Course

This past week, we saw the start of the famous bicycle race, Italy's Giro di Italia.  According to Wikipedia, the Giro di Italia is:
The Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy), also simply known as The Giro, is a long distance road bicycle racing stage race for professional cyclists held over three weeks in May/early June in and around Italy. It is one of the three Grand Tours, and is part of the UCI World Ranking calendar.
And so, it came as a bit of a surprise, when we started seeing & hearing the results of the first leg of the race -- around Holland.  I could not, for the life of me, think of why the race was so off course -- visions of Mount Vesuvius erupting to put an ash cloud over the race popped into my head.

picture from

Considering the Italians' fame for lack of organization, I got a big kick out of this news.  Perhaps they used their GPS systems, and they ended up 9 hours off course.  Or maybe, they wanted to start on flatter ground, to sort of warm people up.  Or, they wanted to challenge the god Vulcan and have all the athletes land in the thick of the huge ash cloud.  Or maybe, to apply a little conspiracy theory of my own, they decided to use the ash cloud to their advantage and limit the competition who could not arrive to Amsterdam airport on time...

No wonder Wikipedia added their cute little warning: 

This article needs additional citations for verification.
Please help improve this article by adding reliable references

Here's my suggested contribution:

Italy's Giro d'Italia - the bicycle race going around Italy but starting in Amsterdam. Soon to be renamed, the NetherItalialands Giro.

Friday, May 14

Foreign Language Gone Wrong

Here is my entry for the Up Your Bottom! story contest 

Once when working on an ad campaign, I was in a meeting with the makers of detergent for hand washable wools.  We were discussing the shoot, and the company officials said they needed to bring in a knitter - magliaia - to create a beautiful garment to show off the fabric.
I had recently arrived in Italy, and I'm afraid my Italian wasn't so good.
I understood that they wanted to bring in a maiala - the Italian word for pig -- but, since we were clearly discussing a woman, the word is also used crudely to mean a sleeze .

No faux-pas there, until I naturally opened my big mouth and asked if that's what they meant.  The company was not only startled, but totally insulted -- and I thought I would lose my job!

Needless to say, to this day I still cannot hear the difference in the two words...

Monday, May 10

Inter-Milan - Not just between us

I love soccer tremendously, but something I am not very proud of is the fact that I have never once entered into an Italian soccer stadium, nor do I follow the sport.  To think I've been in Italy on the eve of winning many a World Cup is even more distressing.  But, nonetheless, I've always liked the sport for its democracy - with players, you need not look like the Incredible Hulk to play -- all it took was sheer talent.  
But, the democracy of the sport goes further than that.  The Economist once quipped, it's pretty much the only business in which goods (the players) move absolutely freely (I imagine other than the drug trade) -- So much so, you will undoubtedly find a rainbow coalition of teams and players moving round without impediments of needless regulations found in other industries.
So freely, in fact, that I was stunned to read a complaint by someone in Italy who remarked that 
'it's strange to find so many Italians rooting for Inter Milan, when there's not a single Italian in the whole lot.'  
So, I did a bit of investigating, and actually, that statement is not 100% correct, but rather, 75%.
The SkySports roster gives the names of each of the players, but not their nationalities.  But judging by the names, it looks as though if each team member went back to his place of origin as they do in one of their tournaments, Inter Milan for one would be hard-pressed to cobble together 11 players on the field:

Inter Milan Squad List                    
Julio Cesar     
Francesco Toldo 
Paolo Orlandoni
Cristian Chivu 
Davide Santon            
Javier Zanetti   (Argentinian)
Marco Materazzi
Ivan Cordoba  
Walter Samuel            
Giulio Donati
Lucio (Brazilian)

Rene Krhin     
Esteban Cambiasso      
Wesley Sneijder          
Ricardo Quaresma       
Lorenzo Crisetig                                               
Sulley Muntari            
Mancini (Brasil?)
Sebastian Carlsen                                               
Patrick Vieira  
Thiago Motta  
Alen Stevanovic      
Dejan Stankovic        
McDonald Mariga            
Samuel Eto'o  
Diego Milito   
Marko Arnautovic      
Mario Balotelli            
Goran Pandev
Denis Alibec                                       
David Suazo    

But, you're certain that all these guys can in the very least rely upon a bona fide Italian D.O.C. Manager.  Well, check that label again. Manager Josè Mourinho is Portughese.  
So, is it not just the researchers that are fleeing the country in a brain drain?  Do we also have a sprain drain? 

Wednesday, May 5

Hot Burkas / Hot Bods

Yesterday, driving the 10 hours from Rome to Lausanne, the radio was abuzz with the Big News from Italy: after France had passed its “Burka-Free Zone” law, a woman was fined for entering the Italian Post Office draped in a burka.  It was the hot topic even after crossing the border, and at all hours -- and judging by the phone calls I received along the way, the burka was ‘sulla bocca di tutti.” (THE hot topic)

Picture of Italian-designed Burka Barbie launched last November in Florence.   
Was anyone fined for the glamorization of the subjugation of women?

Before I go any further, let me just state for the record, that I think the burka is abhorrent to the nth degree.  But while I have a problem with our governments  interfering with how we dress, a friend in Paris and a few radio callers convinced me that the Burka is, truly a security issue.
[Although to date, one could lodge a convincing argument that it’s white guys in red ties and blue suspenders on Wall Street & elsewhere (think Parmalat, the Mafia, politicians far&wide…) whom have wreaked a bit more havoc on people’s personal security over the years – with their own ‘home-grown terrorism' – I mean, I’ve never had a run-in with a woman in a burka, but hey – it still could happen].

One stated, ‘The burka is a flag and means something much more, and it ruins our democracy.'  Another, that 'These women are not choosing to wear it freely', 'The practice is not writ in stone in the Koran'... 
But, it was another who quipped: ‘If we were to enter a bank or post office with a ski mask and covered head to foot so you could not identify me as even male or female, would we be allowed to conduct our business before being detained?’  Now he got me.  He went on to say the law is not racist, and is equal for everyone.   
And then, with that wonderful touch of things you only can find in Europe…we found out that you’re allowed to appear in a mask and coverings head to toe -- but only at Carnivale (they’ve yet to amend the ruling with a ‘Halloween clause’) -- provided that someone knows your identity and can vouch for you. 

Costumes aside, back to the burka.  So, okay, I can handle the law for the above reasons.  But what I cannot tolerate is hearing some politician – in this case, Sarkozy, claim, “We are giving these women back their dignity.”  
Personally, I believe we are making these women prisoners in their own homes – as they will never be allowed out of them - without their burka - by the overlords they call their husbands.   

But, dignity?  If you really want to do something about women’s dignity, Sarko, then lets get near-naked women off prime time TV (and that includes your model wife), let’s clean up 12 year-olds' clothing choices, lets get the veline (showgirls) out of public office and off magazine covers for starters.  Then, lets get the prostitutes some help, the trafficking of women stopped, and the list goes on from there.

Watch this incredibly poignant and timely video done by two people I know in Milan, Il Corpo delle donne (with English subtitles).  It’s an unbelievable exposèe on women’s bodies in the media in Italy.  When the vast majority of Italian girls from 5 to 35 state that their dream is to become a show-girl (a TV stripper or pole dancer nowadays), we have a serious problem for all of society and one vastly greater than the estimated 2000 burka-wearing women (in France).

And then, let’s talk about restoring women's dignity.

Saturday, May 1

From Bocce Ball to your URL: Italy's Business Weak

Although I haven't been paying all that much attention to the news these days, being up to my eyeballs in up your bottom! some events, large & small, caught my eye nonetheless.

First, I noticed that the brainiacs over at Italy's web registry, have started offering .com addresses and lowering their extortionist rates.  You early readers of the blog might recall that these are the bozos who charge you $50+ for a .it address and then make you send in 15 faxes over 75 days to three different offices to make the deal go through (and, to be absolutely sure - because you've declared - that you're not a mafioso...).  Click here for the story or search in the blog finder.
So, once Italians started doing what they do best: skirt around the rules&regulations, and everyone started getting .coms at godaddy (for $4.99 - instantly), they seemed to have wizened up.   
The one place on earth where they actually impeded web growth more is probably Iran. As for me? I'll stick with godaddy.

Even better, the City has started to allow certificates (like aforementioned anti-mafia one) to be sent in online.  Anyone living in Italy will attest that this is nothing short of revolutionary. The only event that comes close would be the advent of the printing press (if you happened to be a belabored monk painstakingly penning miniscule miniatures on parchment in a faraway monastery).
It's probably some nationalistic Lega party ploy to drive business away from the ubiquitous Bangladeshi fax stores, but who cares? I just wonder how many times you'll have to hit resend, or how fast you'll be timed out and have to start over from scratch.

Then, Rome's province announced a studentonline hotline, to report about things falling apart at your school.  They've determined things will be fixed within 72 hours.  It's unclear whether the hotline however means you will be getting a tool kit within 24 hrs. and asked to make the repairs yourself...

Just when you thought that bocce ball was a dying sport, last played by old men in berets, the best news of all is (drum roll please) the building of a spanking new, white & pretty snazzy bocciodromo near EUR.  Just in time to host the national championships, with world championships coming this summer (which I will endeavor to attend).  They're also hoping that all this attention will allow it into Olympic competition.
I for one cannot believe it's not in the Olympics, considering they let in curling???
But, just think: the one sport where you can be a pot-bellied octogenerian with bad teeth and still be an Olympian.  Sign me up.

picture from urloweb