Monday, December 24

Away from the Manger-Christmas Eve in Italy

Christmas Eve is the night Italians often celebrate the birth of the little baby Jesus. This event is quite significant, especially if you are to judge by their crèche or manger scenes; something we Americans can only remember with nostalgia of days of yore.
But you see, Italians are nothing if not highly literal people; especially given their long history of language, discourse and oratory, starting with Latin and Lord knows what languages even before. And so it is with their manger scenes.
When I first came to Italy, I thought all those presepe showing an old Giuseppe and his young wife looking fondly down on a heap of hay, standard issue donkey, sheep and even the Three Kings in the distance, was simply yet another indication of Italians' poor planning: Someone clearly had forgotten the Baby Jesus!!!
Who stole Baby Jesus?picture from GodsDiscussion.com
After seeing this a few more times, I thought: 'Okay, who stole the Baby Jesus?!!'
But then, I finally figured it out: This is a country in which article after article, conversation after conversation, they feel the need to warn you prior to making a joke or a cynical statement, just in case the meaning is lost on you - so you don't take it literally.  [I always envision this practice much like the Robot in Lost in Space: “Danger! Guglielmo Robinson! Giovanni said, with a note of irony…”] In Italy, unless forewarned, and if no hidden meaning is implied, they take the sentence for what it is fully worth.
And so, little Baby Jesus never shows up on the manger scene until the stroke of midnight. Although, in their search for authenticity, something is always a bit amiss. You will always find him looking more like an 18 month old, than a cone-headed red-faced newborn; bright-eyed and chubby on Christmas morn.
Incredibly, to add to the veracity of the scene, I have only recently discovered that those three kings, though smaller in size, to represent distance, actually creep up day by day, until January 6th (the Epiphany, for you pagans out there) when they bestow their gifts on the Baby Jesus.
What I don’t get in all of this figurative placement is why, then, they don’t swap a very pregnant Mary for a less pregnant mamma (and perhaps decidedly exhausted one due to labor pains whilst riding a donkey) the next day, too. I guess they don't take it that literally, after all.

Buon Natale a Tutti!

F. Maggi @IrreverentItaly
(decidedly not Magi, like those three wise men!)

Tuesday, December 18

Rome Mayor for a Day

There's a political campaign going on around Rome asking you to post and click and join some movement or another and reveal what you'd do if you were Mayor for a Day.  There isn't a day that goes by in which I don't think obsess about that.   [If only citizen's suggestions were actually put into action, well, perhaps cities would be amazing places for all concerned]  So, in the spirit of the season, I thought I'd offer my wish list for my first 100 days; because I'd probably be run out of town or worse before the 101st.
Day 1   Internal Organization   
- Install a Cabinet of 50% women & a woman Vice Mayor (to top off that extra 1% of which we hold the majority)
- Toss out all the "advisors" and watch my budget grow (like the City 'on-staff' Doctor who never has to report into work but still gets paid approx €5000/month for services) - and with the extra money, open nursery schools and daycare for Altzheimers patients
- Make sure everyone uses their own unreimbursed mode of travel to their offices (and just watch how fast those bus services start working like a freshly greased wheel)
- Start enforcing absenteeism and docking pay

Transportation     
Before giving TrenItalia one red penny for their abysmal train 'service', they would have to first: a) provide airport trains with space for luggage and no additional staircases inside the train b) add additional commuter trains and staff to clean them c) add an elevator to the airport track at Ostiense Station.  Then, they would have to extend hours for commuter trains so people could actually use them after a night out on the town.
- Build commuter parking lots for those who might consider taking a train or bus into town
- Build a foot bridge over the Via Imperiale from the Colosseum so cars no longer have to halt every time one of 7 million tourists passes by, and another one on the Cristoforo Colombo so people can flow as easily as the cars.  I might add one over at the Capitoline Hill besides.
- Make sure night buses are small and electric.
- Put ticket agents on every single city bus.  Believe me, you would pay their monthly salaries in a week.

Long Term Infrastructure (which creates jobs, I might add)
Start a 'Big Dig' from the Pontina to the Cristoforo Colombo to stop the buildups at one of the most congested arteries in all of Rome.
Ask a tourist (or better yet, me) to travel around Rome and redo all the incorrect or missing signage - such as the entranceway to the Tangenziale; removing all the signs for Rome's Auditorium and putting them near the Auditorium where they might actually do some good.
Turn the abandoned buildings of the ex-Fiera di Roma into a Science Center for children and families
Actually fine and force people to remove their illegal structures in Rome at their expense or risk of jail

Cut Costs
- Police no longer used for political escorts - if you want to make sure you won't get shot up, maybe it's better to not draw so much attention to yourself in the first place with dozens of police postings, lights flashing and 8 cars before and after you.
- Police no longer traveling in three or more to a car
- Meter maids must work on their own and not in tag teams; Meter maids also employed to give fines to owners of dogs who don't clean up their crap
- Bring in night watchmen on dog duty and levy hefty fines for infractions

Increase Revenues
- Take away the dreaded 'Tourist Tax' and instead make the Rom pay for their garbage removal services and property squatting.  €10/person/day to live on City property and, campers immediately towed and fined €5000 if parked on city streets.
- Advertisers and Outdoor advertising companies fined €2000 per sign that goes up and is illegal, political ads must pay for the space
- Instead of allowing new building, people will get tax breaks for picking up the abandoned ones and turning them into places of business

Improve the City
- Actually enforce all the rules & regulations that heretofore have been put in place (e.g., squeegees, prostitutes, illegal building and the like)
- Stop all tree 'pruning' and ask the Finnish Park Service (they're in the EU right?) to oversee any future cuts
- Force the private companies who cut down the trees to take away - at their expense - the hundreds of thousands of tree stumps they leave in their wake and replant them with proper, tall, magnificent trees as in the rest of the neighborhood
- Discontinue planting of nano-orange trees and replant the beautiful Roman trees that give us oxygen
- Force the paving firms to guarantee that the crosswalks will be white for at least 5 yrs and they must repaint within 24 hrs or pay a hefty fine when they magically disappear
- Allow citizens to photograph license plates of cars who nearly run them down while crossing on crosswalks and/or who are on cellphones or worse, texting - or those that double park and block crosswalks and then charge hundreds in fines
- Give tax advantages to stores and offices who don't use or turn off florescent signage at night
- Build - keep up - and enforce contiguous bike lanes throughout the city
- Provide toilet paper in every single school and start painting and improving the facilities
- Turn off the lights on the Colosseum every day a woman is murdered by her partner or ex.

Santa, Baby...are you listening?

**Items in gray have live links.

Thursday, December 13

Milan Stock Exchange: A Sign of the Times

Even Milan has it's own 'Talking Statues' like in Rome*
On my recent trip to Milan, I was surprised to see this 'Temporary Installation' to modern culture erected for - two weeks only! - during the Milan Furniture Fair still standing.  After all, it was mounted in September of 2010.  Supposedly, City officials didn't want to host it then and yet, here it is proudly proclaiming what the world already knows.   As much as I (sort of) like the statue, it's yet another provocative Fuck Off to the citizens of Milan by "artist" Maurizio Cattelan who seems to have convinced more than a few people that the city is his canvass, and to hell with you if you don't understand "art".  His last cool 'bad boy' maneuver in the name of 'creative license' was hanging a bunch of life-sized children from trees around a major thoroughfare.  There was such an uproar the City finally gave in and had them taken down.  If he thinks he's leaving a legacy to the city of Leonardo, I'm sure Da Vinci is laughing his ass off in his grave.
The statue is well-constructed, almost appealing, and many believe the artist was flipping off the bankers at the Stock Exchange.  But if you look at it closely, that hand is facing us.  And this reason only is why the statue passes muster with me.  I would love to see it in the center of Wall Street as a symbol for the occupy movement.
Not one to be a prude, I don't think it doesn't have to be shown.  But when we're still censoring swear words on Comedy Central, an openly City-approved 'bird' is, in my humble opinion, not kosher.  If I want to see Cattelan's dead children or his fuck finger, I'll pay a ticket and see it on exhibition.  Forcing men, women and children to lay their eyes on his 'artwork', or forcing them to take another route on public property to me is undemocratic and unacceptable in modern society.
If you look closely at the fascist figures in relief adorning the front of Palazzo Mezzanotte (figures, I might add, that nobody can say precisely quite what they're doing), I have read that they represent the "Four Essential Elements of Modern Economy".
Leave it to Cattelan to give us the fifth.

For more views of the Milan Stock Exchange, it's article and Cattelan's work, click here.

*For Rome's Talking Statues - Earth's First Blogger - read here.

Sunday, December 9

Italy Taxes: #IMU I Miss U

This title will not have much meaning for those outside our Bell'Italia shores, but this week most of the country is paying up begrudgingly on their reinstated property tax holiday that one Silvio had brought on, to wreak economic havoc on a country in badly need of tax revenues.  So, the standard property tax - that most City governments count on in order to line all kinds of pockets implement all kinds of services was brought back in (under Berlusconi & Tremonti, I might add) ---and no one is happy about it, except the Finance Ministry, of course.  It was probably done purposely, because it's Mr. Monti who is getting the blame.
Problem is, the State govt did away with the tax.  City govts were left high and dry, so they instated a new tax. Now that the old tax is reinstated (stay with me here), with a brand new name, the IMU, cities have left their new tax.  So as usual, the burden is left to fall on the honest tax payers come Dec 17th.
So, I went to find information online about how to pay the IMU [which in my opinion should never have been cancelled in the first place, but this was only a swift maneuver that many an ancient emperor tried out successfully, in order to curry favor with the populus - so we can say Silvio was just following tradition].
On Twitter, I searched #IMU - and I soon realized it did not mean what I thought it did.  Here's a brief compilation of pertinent tweets.  You'll soon bear witness that it means a number of things to a number of people [feel free to ponder the creation of mega-piles of manure bytes filling up the bandwith only to be sorted out someday by archivists who find themselves in hell]:

We'll see if the money comes rolling in...(it has)
Miss Lavender@LavenderLowe
Only time will tell... #imu

The tax man cometh...
"You say?" "say something" "anything else?" #IMU

Alas...me too.
I think about the same thing 24/7< 

Someone whose papà must have paid the IMU:
Now "GOD MUST HAVE SPENT A LITTLE MORE TIME ON YOU" by N'SYNC is playing. BEST. MORNING. EVER. Seriously. #imu 

People will go to all ends of the earth to hide their money
It has been announced by @ISAFmedia that an insurgent from the #IMU was arrested in Kunduz province yesterday. #Afghanistan

Clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation
Wen u have a good girl like mines... All u can do is be good nd hold tight nd love the mess out of her. #IMU

The President of a prominent Italian University telling his son to move abroad - by open letter in the papers
A diet for those who want to both live and study.   @ Iowa Memorial Union

Mr. Monti counting the spare change...
Cierra Collins@cc_nichole6
Love you more! #IMU

Mr. Tremonti, former Finance Minister celebrating his creation

you can find me sprawled out on a couch nomming on a cranberry bliss bar, drinkin a salted caramel mocha & pretending to write a paper 

All the rest of us, coughing up the tax.
a part of me just went away....... far away #imu

Tuesday, December 4

The Perfect Gift of Electronics (kids only)

A friend came to visit one holiday season a few years back and told me she met someone on the street who showed her fine camera to buy - for just 50 euro.  Thinking it had been stolen, she couldn't believe her luck.  She negotiated him down to 30.  She insisted she had been offered a gorgeous (Canon, Olympus, fill-in-the-blank) for her bucks.  She handed the money, and the next thing she knew she was the proud owner of ... an empty camera case.  To this day she did not know what sleight of hand he pulled on her in order to affect the swap, but, when she showed up at my house with her empty case, she was fit to be tied.  And she is Italian.  I told her those ploys - in any country - are reserved for tourists...how could she have been so silly?!
In NY, 42nd street was famous for making the swap in the electronics shops and their policy was No Returns Accepted (and no credit cards).  I'm not sure if this is the case today, but in the digital age, it would seem a folly given that any missteps in the face of consumers would end up on the web before you could type out Yelp!
But in this last case of camera swapping, I had heard the tale many times before, but I finally met someone who had succumbed to the wily ways of the streetwise savvy swindler.  These guys aren't just small-time crooks, they're darn good actors besides.  Because their elaborate thievery has them convincing their target that they know the family, the kids, and all kinds of personal details.  The only thing that can trip them up, especially in a country of single children, is that they only stand a 50/50 chance when first approaching their mark to guess that the person has a son over a daughter, or a child at all.  But, it's a miniscule margin of error in order to rake in hundreds on every single transaction.  And besides, I'm sure they've figured out a cover story for every sort of mishap they came across.  They're so smooth that they even get the prey to thank them for their trouble besides.
How I ended up with a fabulous baby gift for burgeoning photographers...
Taken all together, it looks fairly real - but the weight should
give it away immediately as a scam
This is my favorite part
Baby can play as hard as he wants at becoming the next
Man Ray... Even the lens is plastic
The elderly gentleman walked out of the Post Office (this is one of the main Points of Interest in Italy for anyone over 55 and where they usually go to collect their pensions - so they have ready cash-in-hand...).  A man approaches and the conversation goes something like this:

"Oh-how are you doing? What luck!  I've not been able to get ahold of your son and I have the camera he wanted!"
"You mean, Francesco?  I don't know what you're talking about!"
"You see, Francesco put a downpayment on this camera (takes it out of the bag).  But, he still owes me 160 euro. Perhaps you could pay me and get the money from him, instead of me trying to reach him again and again."

"I don't have that kind of money, and (growing suspicious) besides, how do I know that it's my son you're talking about?"
"Well, why don't you give him a call?  If you ring him, I can tell him I have the camera, I ran into you, and then we're squared away, okay?"

Fumbling for the phone, and feeling a bit uncertain (you know, when that sixth sense we all love to ignore kicks in) 
Dials the number.
Upon hearing a responce, he says, "I have your friend here who says he's got the camera for you -- you talk to him about the money, and just let me know what to do."  (Incredibly, he passes the cellphone to the crook - who could just make off with it and call it a day).
Francesco, at this point, is shouting, "No, papà, it's a scam, don't do it!" But to deaf ears.  That's because our Actor-Thief has now disconnected the phone and carried on his own version of a conversation in which they're squared away. 
"Okay, so he says he'll pay you back the 160 euro he owes me."
"But I don't have 160 euro, just €120 or so..."
"Va bene, va bene...I'll take the 120 euro just to put this thing to rest."
"Very well. Grazie tante."

Judging from what you read in the papers, this scam is so prevalent the thieves could form their own actor's guild.  But the real mystery remains, Why are the best, most efficient customer-oriented, demographically savvy, target-marketing people the scam artists?  The world may never know.