Other recent articles
Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
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Sari's e-book on sale this weekend at Amazon
Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance.
Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now)
Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold.


The last of Italy's great postwar politicians is dead
May 22, 2016 at 08:15 PM

Marco Pannella
Marco Pannella, the founder of the Italian Radical Party and a long-time warrior for civil rights in Italy and elsewhere, died Friday, May 20th,  at the age of 86. Many young Italians of today probably don’t even know who he was. Or, if they do know his name, they may have come away with an image of a cantankerous person who sometimes spoke on the radio for hours and who was repeatedly staging hunger strikes that often led to very little.

But to say this would be what the Italians call riduttivo, that is totally simplistic and inadequate and  Romans who are well aware of this today jammed into Piazza Navona, where Pannella usually held his rallies, for a last salute to a principled and dynamic man.

Crowds in Piazza Navona saying a final goodbye

The fact is, that if today’s Italy is a freer, more modern place than it was 40 years ago, this is largely thanks to Marco Pannella and his gadfly, aggressive, dedicated radicals. It was under his leadership that Italians went to the polls in a series of unprecedented referenda and voted to have, first divorce and then, in 1978, to give women the right to have an abortion. They pushed to make contraceptives legal (when I first arrived here in the early seventies they were NOT). They defended the rights of prisoners, of porn stars (one was even voted into parliament on their ticket) and fought to end the draft and, less successfully, for the end of the death penalty in places like the United States, for the liberalization of drugs like marijuana and hasish, for a stop to hunger and for world peace.

Pannella, originally from Teramo in the Abbruzzi, where he will be buried on Monday, became active in politics when he was only 25. In 1955, together with several others he founded the Radical Party of which he became the official leader in 1963.  He hated violence and believed that civil disobedience, sit-ins and hunger strikes were the most effective – and acceptable – weapons of political struggle.

He served in the parliament for many years and was also elected to office in a series of city and regional councils throughout the country. His party collected signatures  - more than 50 million over the course of three decades - for a variety of popular referenda that in his eyes would make the justice system and the electoral process more democratic and responsive.

He had innumerable love affairs, with both men and women, smoked (unfiltered French Gauloises) like a fiend and indeed from this may have got the lung cancer that contributed to his death. He could be annoying and obstreperous but he made Italy a better place than it was before his arrival on the political scene. Rest in Peace.


Rome rudderless (or possibly not)
Nov 08, 2015 at 02:58 PM
Sadder but not necessarily wiser
Rome is now in a pretty pickle. Just four weeks from now, on December 8, the Jubilee or Holy Year (the year-long Vatican-sponsored celebration that many of us residents are dreading) is to begin and Rome, the Eternal City, is without a mayor. True, there is now a prefect - actually two prefects - who for the coming months will be running the city. But it is pretty embarrassing that it has come to this and the blame is to be shared out between the outgoing mayor, Ignazio Marino, formerly a successful transplant surgeon, and the political party that sponsored his political career and has now (finally!) disowned him.

Whatever his good intentions when he was elected mayor in June, 2013, Marino quickly showed himself incapable of managing a city with myriad problems in sectors such as sanitation, public transport, and security. And like some of his predecessors he also failed to gain influence over other city institutions whose support, or lack thereof, can make or break any Italian mayor: municipal police, civil servants, and the (often corrupt or inefficient managers ) of the semi-autonomous agencies managing transport or garbage collection. Indeed, Marino's major failing may well have been that of not putting into effect measures that would allow the city administration to ward off attempts at infiltration by criminal elements; a report by a special commission released this week says he continued many of the former administration's contract procedures and kept on bureaucrats who for a truly clean sweep should have been replace. As Raffaele Cantone, Italy's anti-corruption chief put it last week, Rome (unlike Milan) does not have the necessary antibodies to stave off corruption, and Marino clearly was unable to do much in that direction.

Under fire from merchants opposing his controversial plan to shut a good part of the city center to traffic, and faced with growing complaints from Romans of all political stripes about the filth and disorganization that have increasingly characterized daily life here, the now former mayor then became embroiled in a dispute about expenses and foreign travel. Interestingly enough, he had been accused of similar irregularities when he left his post as transplant surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh and director of an ultra-modern, Italian-American liver transplant hospital in Palermo, Sicily. But despite this, in 2005 the left-of-center Partito Democratico nevertheless put forth his candidacy to the Italian Senate, to which he was elected the following year. And in 2012 its members chose him, despite his lack of governing experience, as their choice for mayor.





Has Rome's mayor won his battle against snack trucks? Only time will tell.
Jul 10, 2015 at 10:49 AM
Image In modern Rome, government is a now you see it, now you don't phenomenon. So it remains to be seen if the administration headed by the unpopular Ignazio Marino (at the moment, seven out of ten Romans would not vote for him) has really won its battle agains the souvenir stands and snack trucks that park daily in the city's magnificent archeological area, marring the view of ancient monuments like the Coliseum.

This week a Rome administrative court, the TAR, ruled that the city of Rome is within its rights to ask licensed peddlers to move their trucks and stands away from the Eternal City's archeological monuments by today, Friday, July 10. The camion-bar - small refreshment trucks- and souvenir stands have continued for years to ignore the city's requests for them to move and now, it appears, they have no choice. This morning, early reports say, the area was clear.

The commercial enterprises against which the city has been waging its battle control 22 camion-bar, 43 souvenir stands and 11 florists, for a total of 76, most of which are said to be owned by the somewhat notorious Tredicine family whose various businesses - watermelon stands, snack trucks, chestnut sellers,, and clothing - are believed to be worth more than 25 million euros. The family has been buying up licenses since the 1950s and appealed to the court on the grounds that national regulations originally stated that a stand cannot be moved other than to a position that is equally remunerative, in this case impossible. But recently, parliament changed the existing law so that no legal obstacle prohibited the city administration from making changes.

This means that starting today the stands and trucks have to move elsewhere. The 22 camion bar have been re-assigned spots in other areas of Rome including Lungotevere Oberdan, Testaccio, Piazza della Vittoria, delle Armi Viale Maresciallo Diaz, via Marmorata, via Beniamino Franklin, via Antonino di San Giuliano, Piazza Albania, Largo Diaz, via della Piramide Cestia and Piazza del Fante.

The 43 souvenir stands, here called "urtisti" although goodness knows why, are to set up along Via di San Gregorio, on the side across from the Coliseum and the Palatine Hill. Three florists will be moved to Piazza di Spagna and the remaining 8 elsewhere.

Will the administration of Mayor Ignazio Marino follow through with by fining those who do not obey and confiscating their goods? This remains to be seen.

One problem is that the spaces left free by the camion bar may quickly be occupied by some of the hundreds of illegal peddlers, mostly foreigners but not only, who crowd central Rome's sidewalks. The city's prefect, Franco Gabrielli, has promised to constitute a task force to see that this does not happen, but Rome is not known for the ability of its police forces to follow through on issues of this sort.

So far the mayor - for reasons known only to himself - has allowed these illegal peddlers to occupy spaces throughout the city despite the fact that they have no licenses, no permits to occupy public soil, do not pay any taxes and compete unfairly with the city's stores. His lackadaisical response to this problem is, to my mind, a damning one.

Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
Jul 09, 2015 at 02:17 PM
ImageThree months ago, Terminal 3 of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport (aka Fiumicino) suffered serious damages when faulty electrical connections caused a raging fire to break out and burn throughout the night. The repercussions have created significant organization problems for the terminal, which handles a huge chunk of international traffic (although not that going to North America and Israel).

But now, investigators say they have discovered a series of airport-wide irregularities - largely the failure to use non-inflammable materials in parts of the airport's structures - which, if they are not set right within the next three months, could result in a total shut-down.

The fire that raged in the early morning hours of April 30, led first to a temporary shut-down of the terminal with the resulting cancellations of hundreds of flight. The terminal re-opened a few days later but subsequently, following inspections by health authorities, a major take-off area, the D pier, with 13 gates, was deemed unsafe because of deposits of dioxin and other chemical particulates.

The airport has coped reasonably well although people checking in at Terminal 3 are currently re-routed through Terminal 1 or 2 and then, at times, bussed to other parts of the airport.
Now, however, things could get worse.

According to a report by the Fire Department sent to the Attorney General of Civitavecchia, which is handling the investigation and forwarded by him to the Interior Ministry in Rome, the filler substances used between the roofs and the dropped ceilings of the entire airport were not the inflammable materials required by law but inappropriate materials whose presence there may have contributed to the virulence of the fire. He has given the Airports of Rome company (ADR) three months to rectify this situation or else the airport could be closed down. ADR has set up a team of 100 engineers to work on the problem and says it is confident it can meet this deadline.

With an average of 827 takeoffs and landings a day, Fiumicino is Italy's biggest and busiest airport. Daily there are roughly 110,000 passengers, people flying planes belonging to some 100 airlines to or from 230 destinations in 80 countries. The airport's entire area amounts to 320,000 square meters. It has 4 terminals and some 40,000 employees and is of key importance in the Italian tourism industry.

Which is why this latest news is simply shocking. Or perhaps not. This is a very Italian story and by no means can the blame be placed solely on AdR's shoulders. Who disregarded the rules for proper fire safety regulations. Was someone saving money or just being careless.

But above all, how come no one noticed? Leonardo da Vinci aiport began operations back in 1961 but major expansions and restructurings took place throughout the 1990s and the early part of this century. Wasn't anybody looking? What kind of inspections were done, when and by whom? Were earlier inspectors bribed for their silence or is this just a result of the same slipshoddiness and sloppiness that has made Italy what it is (or isn't)?


Fallout from May fire putting Fiumicino traffic – and Italian tourism ? at risk.
Jun 13, 2015 at 06:42 PM
After ongoing uncertainties about possible health problems caused by a severe fire at Terminal 3 in May, the Italian Civil Aviation Board (ENAC) has decided to reduce air traffic at Fiumicino airport by 40% for the foreseeable future. Coming just as the tourist season is moving into high gear, visitors can expect significant check-in delays or re-routing to Rome's smaller airport, Ciampino. The cutback was asked for by AdR (Aeroporti di Roma) but is not good news for anyone.

ImageThe new regulations mean reducing the number of daily departing flights from 1000 to 600. Following the fire on the night of May 6th, the causes of which are still being investigated (see below), traffic had already been reduced with almost all low-cost airlines re-routed to Ciampino (in recent years, EasyJet had moved from Ciampino to Fiumicino and other low-cost companies including Veuling and Blue Panorama had also switched to the larger airport).

But even if this meant some 20,000 fewer passengers a day, it was not enough. The attorney general's office in Civitavecchia, which is handling the investigation, has also put under sequester the D quay, thereby eliminating from daily use the latter's 14 embarkation jetways, out of a total of 47. The attorney general's office believes that the fire might have left unacceptably high levels of particulate matter, including two types of dioxin. The main concern is not for passengers, who are in the airport for only a short time, but for airport workers. What is absurd, is that 35 days after the fire, Italy's health authorities don't seem able to decide whether the above is true or not.

In the meantime, Alitalia has announced that check-in all its flights will now take place at Terminal One. AdR has set up a task force to help passengers who arrive at the airport only to discover their flights have been cancelled. And airlines are being asked to text their passengers about changes in flight plans. There does not seem to be any problem for arriving passengers. I myself flew into Rome from London on June 3, and things were totally normal. My departure a week before was, instead, more complicated than usual. This was before the shutdown of D quay and nevertheless after checking in at Terminal One, I had to walk a considerable distance, take a shuttle bus to another departure gate, board at that gate, and get back on another bus that took the passengers out to the plane.

As far as is known, the fire broke out in the kitchen of an airport café. One story that is going around is that the short circuit that caused the fire came from a mobile air conditioning unit that had been placed in front of an electric power board that was believed to be overheating to cool it down. Cool it down? How about fixing it?



Divorce, Italian Style, version 2015. New law significantly shortens waiting times.
Apr 25, 2015 at 07:59 PM

Marcello Mastroianni in Divorce, Italian Style (1961)
When I first moved to Italy in 1972, divorce in a limited form – after three years of legal separation and obligatory attempts at reconciliation
had been introduced only two years prior. The influence of the Church was such that before 1970, unhappily-married  Italians could get a legal separation but could never get remarried.

After 1970, thanks to the new law that had been pushed through parliament by a coalition of leftists and liberals, things had changed. And attitudes really changed  after 1974,  when over 59% of Italians voted in a popular referendum to defeat an attempt by conservatives and the Church to abrogate the 1970 law.

However, getting a divorce in Italy has always been a lengthy, expensive and bureaucratically difficult process, which may in part account for the fact that the divorce rate here is still far lower than that in many other countries as well as encouraging far fewer people than in the past to actually tie the knot.

But that is no more.  With the approval – by 398 to 28 – of parliament, the so-called “Divorzio breve” has now become law. Indeed, as of April 22, 2015,  Italians seeking a divorce will be able to do so (not forced to, simply able to do so) after only 12 months of legal separation (down from three years) and only six months if the desire to divorce is consensual, whether or not the couple has children.

“This is a step forward in civilization”, said Donatella Ferrante, a member of the left-leaning Partito Democratico,  and president of the Justice Commission of the Italian Chamber of Deputies”. She described the new law as “balanced and realistic, one that will make the judicial process easier by reducing the time for contentiousness” Shortening the time for obtaining a divorce, she added, will make it easier to resolve conflicts between the parties and will thereby safeguard the serenity of any offspring.

Not everyone, of course, is happy about this. Famiglia Cristiana, the Roman Catholic weekly, wrote last week that the new law is a big mistake particularly where children are involved. The magazine insists that given the greater time for reflection, many couples with children have decided not to go ahead with a separation. “To reduce marriage to something similar to a flexible cohabitation pact that can be easily dissolved is a danger for all involved, starting with the children, the real victims of these cases”.



Blame-game follows Dutch hooligan rampage
Feb 22, 2015 at 09:35 PM

the Barcaccia afterwards
Lots of finger-pointing going here on after the shameful behavior by rampaging, drunk Dutch soccer hooligans, whose rioting in Rome’s famous Piazza di Spagna ended in irreparable damage to Bernini’s marble “Barcaccia”.

The not-very popular mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, understandably upset by the inability of Italian police to isolate the offenders and stop their destructive conduct beforeit was too late, is however using the occasion to try to minimize the related malfunction of his own administration – for example, failure to enforce a ban on selling alcohol that supposedly had gone into effect on Wednesday evening.

Restored only a year ago thanks to a private donor, the Barcaccia  doesn’t look that bad from afar, but reportedly has suffered some 110  irreparable scratches from the bear cans and bottles thrown by several hundred out of control Feyenoord fans, in Rome for a European League game with A.S.Roma (which, by the way, ended in a tie).

ImageBut the aftermath of the face-offs with Italian police – first on Wednesday night around Campo de’ Fiori and on Thursday at Piazza di Spagna – did more than frighten tourists, cause a loss of revenue to downtown merchants, and damage the Bernini (father and son) monument, numerous scooters, motorcycles, cars and some 17city buses.

It has set off a debate about security in Rome with the city’s mayor enraged over what he saw as an inadequate police strategy (the police in Italy are under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interni) and the Rome police chief, Nicolò D'Angelo. who insists that caution was necessary to make sure there was no loss of life.

In effect, it seems odd that Italian police who have decades of experience in dealing with demonstrations, were unable to keep the frenzied Dutchmen from reaching the heart of downtown Rome and had not thought of providing protection for the fountain.

But had the Rome city police – erroneously called “vigili” since “vigilant” they are not – been on THEIR toes, shutting down and fining the mini-markets and mobile snack bars that were illegally selling bottled beverages, there might have been less damage. Rome’s city police have been criticized for years now for their lack of efficiency and professionalism. But currently they are really at daggers drawn with the mayor after his administration rightly began punitive measures against the ringleaders of an unauthorized strike on New Year’s Eve when close to one thousand city police feigned illness instead of turning up for work.

Who knows too, if relations between Italy and Holland will be damaged. The Dutch government has said they will help identify the offenders and see that they pay for the damages they inflicted but has refused (so far) to make an official contribution.


Italy to elect new Italian president tomorrow. Or not.
Jan 30, 2015 at 10:10 PM

ImageAll 951 members of the Italian Parliament and 58 representatives of the country's 20 regions began voting yesterday to elect a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano, who resigned his office on January 13.


As predicted, the first three roll call votes ended without any candidate receiving the two-thirds majority, 673 votes, called for for the first three ballots. Tomorrow, Saturday, the number of votes needed to elect a new Head of State drops to 505, a simple majority, and Premier Matteo Renzi has repeatedly said he expects his party’s candidate, former MP Sergio Mattarella, 73, to be elected without further delay.


But will he be? Renzi’s party and its allies should have enough votes to elect Mattarella IF, and it’s a big IF, the members of his Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)  keep their word to vote for the highly respected Sicilian jurist and former cabinet minister when they put their secret ballot in the ballot box and whether the members of the other, smaller government parties, such as the New Center Right (NCD), will also go along.


Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party has officially said they will not vote for Mattarella, currently a judge sitting on Italy’s Constitutional Court; Although Mattarella is not a leftist and therefore should have been acceptable to Berlusconi, the two have clashed on media and other issues in the past and Berlusconi is, once again, putting his own personal issues ahead of the needs of the country.


 If Mattarella is elected) despite Berlusconi’s opposition tomorrow on the fourth ballot (in Italian history, only two presidents have been elected on the first ballot) it will also confirm that the former TV and real estate magnate’s political influence is rapidly disintegrating.  And it will be interesting to see if all of Forza Italia’s representatives actually follow Berlusconi’s lead on this question or whether they, too, may use the secret of the ballot box to vote according to conscience, i. e. for Mattarella.


Berlusconi’s opposition to Mattarella has effectively ended a highly controversial period of cooperation between Forza Italia and the PD, or more precisely between Berlusconi and Renzi . Renzi has no doubt lost some potential voter support in recent years (remember, he has yet to win a national election) because of the so-called Nazarene Pact (named after the hall where the two parties held talks two years ago) so, who knows, maybe his insistence on Mattarella, despite Berlusconi’s disagreement, may have had ulterior motives.




Many Italians angered by ransom payout
Jan 18, 2015 at 07:54 PM
Greta and Venessa with Italian official
Many Italians are furious about the alleged gigantic ransom - the rumor is 12 million euros - that the Italian government is said to have paid to jihadists in Syria to free two, young would-be women aid workers. Government officials have denied paying anything since the official line here is that ransoms must not be paid to terrorists, but no one believes it. Reportedly, this is the seventh or eighth time that Italians kidnapped in Iraq or Syria have been ransomed.

The women, Greta Ramelli e Vanessa Marzullo, both university students, arrived in Aleppo on July 22 with money raised to help the stricken populace and were kidnapped on July 31. They were flown back to Italy earlier this week and yesterday arrived in their hometowns in northern Italy amid the grumblings of many ordinary Italians and some politicians and pundits as well.

Clearly, no one would wish them dead or decapitated as has been the case with Americans or British victims, since both the U.S. and the U.K. follow a hard-line policy of not making such payouts, no matter the consequences. But many people here are bitter about money being spent in this fashion when more than six million working-age Italians are without jobs. And many others, including myself, are horrified that European governments in this way are financing dangerous and bloodthirsty terrorists.

Yesterday, the conservative Rome daily, Il Tempo, had a front-page story dedicated to the number and types of weapons that the jihadists will now be able to buy with the ransom money. The government should do something to keep people - however well-intentioned - from traveling to certain parts of the world or, as an alternative, to make sure they - and their families - know that they are doing so at their own risk.


Italian President to leave office
Jan 05, 2015 at 04:22 PM
President Napolitano, today
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano confirmed on January 1st that he will be resigning his office later this month. In April, 2013, the 89-year old Head of State reluctantly agreed to stay on for a second term when, after four unsuccessful ballots, Italy's wrangling political parties were unable to agree on a successor. It was the first time in Italian postwar history that a President had been asked to stay on for a second seven-year term although it was clear from the start, because of Mr. Napolitano's age, that he would not stay in office for another seven years.

The resignation is expected to come sometime after January 13 when Italy's six-month stint at the presidency of the European Union expires and could easily set off a new round of political squabbling. All sorts of names have been floated but one hat that will not be tossed into the ring by anyone is that of Silvio Berlusconi. It is known that ending his career as President of the Republic was once Berlusconi's dream. But his conviction for tax fraud and other accusations of criminal behavior that are still pending have effectively put an end to any hopes of this sort he might once have nurtured.

In 2013, Italy's largest political party, the Democratic Party, of which the current Premier Matteo Renzi is a member, ought to have been able to push through its candidate for president, former premier Romano Prodi, but a split within the party prevented this from happening. This time around most people within the PD, including Renzi, are saying they prefer for the Italian Republic's 12th Head of State a man who is above the political fray and who can marshall broad support ("a referee, not a player", Renzi said the other day). If this happens (although at present it is hard to imagine who that person might be), it should make it easier for Renzi to get support from other groups to his vast program of proposed reforms.

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