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Italy moving "laywards?" PDF Print E-mail
Dec 22, 2012 at 06:42 PM

Now THIS is news. According to Wednesday's Corriere della Sera (by the way, my paper of choice here now that I only read one newspaper a day), in 2011, in both the center and north of Italy, the number of civil marriages has outpaced those celebrated in church.

Although the overall figure is still 60-40 in favor of religious marriages, in the center and the north of the country over 50% of couples now are choosing to be married in city hall rather than in church.  Although in the south tradition prevails, with three out of four couples marrying still prefer the religious rite, the new statistics published by ISTAT, the Italian national statistics institute, give an indication of how the average Italian's relationship to Catholic teachings is evolving. 

And perhaps even more interesting is the fact that 26% of the children born in 2010 (ISTAT's annual report is generally has a two-year lag), were born to couples who were not married at the time of the child's birth. And I can tell you from personal experience, that this trend does not just involve young adults with a university education but is an across-the-board phenomenon that 20 years ago would have been unthinkable. 

The Italian public has defied the church before, most notably in 1974 when despite a massive campaign by the Church, a majority of Italians went to the polls in a referendum and made divorce legal and then repeated the gesture four years later by legalizing abortion. 

So it will be interesting to see what happens should the center-left win the national elections that will be held in the first quarter of 2013: the leftwing coalition - now favored in the polls -  supports changing Italian laws to permit same-sex marriage or some other kind of union for homosexual couples, a living will that will allow individuals to issue do-not-resuscitate orders, and hopefully adoption by single parents, all strenuously opposed by the Church. (At the moment, Italy is one of only three European countries to have failed to move forward on these issues, the other two being Ireland and Portugal).

From the point of view of a North American, Italy is not a truly secular society in many ways. Crucfixes adorn the walls of schools, police stations and many government offices even though Roman Catholicism has not been the state religion since 1929. But while most Italians still have their children baptized and confirmed and most families have funeral masses said for their loved ones, the recent statistics show that  increasingly they see life in the 21st century in a different fashion that the Church hierarchy does.

Italian women high on murder list PDF Print E-mail
Oct 27, 2012 at 04:58 PM

Last week when sisters Carmela and Lucia Petrucci were returning home from school in Palermo, they were accosted in the entrance to their building by Lucia's former boyfriend who was wielding a knife. Carmela, 17, threw herself in front of her 18-year old sister and was killed in her stead. The tragic slaying by a 23-year old spurned boyfriend made the front pages throughout Italy. But it also focused attention on a little-known fact: that a huge proportion - almost a quarter - of the murders that take place in Italy (at 586 in 2010, these are far fewer than in many other countries, including our own) are those of women between 16 and 44 years of age who were killed by men whom, for the most part, they knew.

Following Carmela's murder and the knife attack on Lucia who, a more than a week later is still in the hospital, the daily newspaper, Il Fatto Quotidiano, published frightening statistics. Carmela was the 100th woman victim so far this year of what the Italians are calling femminicidio (femincide, as opposed to homicide) killed so far this year. In 2011, there were 137 such victims who were knifed, stabbed, strangled, shot or beaten to death.

It is believed that in these cases men kill largely because of jealousy, unwillingness to accept a separation, particularly where children are involved, and economic issues. But there also appears to be aproblem in dealing with the phenomenon. Since April, 2009, Italy has had an anti-stalking law that is supposed to help women get protection from violent men. But reportedly police forces in many cases (Lucia reported her ex-boyfriend's unwanted attentions to the local Carabinieri station in July but was told merely to change her phone number) are not yet equipped, in professionalism and mentality, to take such situations seriously.


Italy lagging behind in internet use PDF Print E-mail
Oct 24, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Italy is only number 23 in country rankings measuring the penetration of the Internet in today's society and thus it's economy, according to a new country-by-country global study. The Web Index, launched this fall by the World Wide Web Foundation, purports to measure the impact of the Web on the world's people and nations.

The highest ranking country in the Web Index is Sweden. The US ranks second and the UK, third. Yemen is the lowest ranking country in the Index, preceded by Zimbabwe. Italy, at number 23, is also preceded by Canada, Finland, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, and a whole bunch of other countries such as Korea, Chile, Qatar, Spain, France and Japan .

To a certain extent, this may reflect the fact that fewer Italians are well versed in written English than the people in many of the countries that precede Italy on the list, something that is certainly true of at least the first ten (except Switzerland) where English is at least a second language. Another explanation may be found in the fact that education in Italy varies sharply among different economic groups and that broad sectors of the economy continue to operate outside the Internet. According to statistics, roughly one half of Italians have never logged onto the Internet, as compared with only 20 % of Swedes.

A third reason that explains why Italy lags behind many of its neighbors in this sector is because of government inertia or ineffectiveness in its attempts to get the country's institutions to go digital. Although there have been changes - payment on line is now possible in a few branches of government - generally speaking Italy's bureaucracy remains a deadweight that seemingly has only one real objective, that of making life difficult for the rest of us.

The Moka. The "real" Italian coffee pot PDF Print E-mail
Oct 23, 2012 at 02:04 PM

The Moka in various sizes
The gurgle  comes from the kitchen and is unmistakable, as is the smell of freshly-brewed Italian coffee that permeates the air.

Amidst the proliferation of at home electric espresso machines that use ready-made capsules and which now account for some 3.5 % of the market, there is a whole other Italian coffee scene of which most foreigners are not aware. The Moka! That (non-electric) grey, aluminum coffee pot, or caffettiera that is a fixture in most Italian households and used by some 70% of the Italian population (according to a recent article in the Turin newspaper La Stampa).

Espresso, you might be surprised to learn, is an extra for the majority of Italians, a tiny beverage you drink mid-morning or, in any event, once you have left the house. Espresso (unless you are like me and have it lungo which means with extra water added) allows you only a few sips, while with Moka coffee you can happily fill your cup.

The Moka in pieces
The Moka is a three-piece coffee machine with pressure valves inside. The water is put in the bottom part, the coffee is put in the middle part, called the filtro, or filter, and must NOT be tamped down, and the top part is then screwed back on and the whole thing is put on a low flame. What happens next? According to Italian coffee lore, as soon as the coffee starts spurting into the top part, you must open the lid, and lower the flame. Remove the pot from the fire as soon as it is filled; you do not want it boiling. Some people stir the coffee before pouring it out.

Here are some additional coffee facts regarding the Moka and Italy: the major producer of the classic Moka, Bialetti, has sold, worldwide, some 270 million caffettieri. But there are many other manufacturers - seven million pots are produced every year - and most Italian households own at least two (one cup, two cups etc).

The average Italian (per capita annual consumption is 5.7 kilos of coffee) has a cup of coffee as soon as he or she wakes up. Almost 70% of the total amount of coffee sold in Italy (about 320,000 tons a year) is consumed at home, on one's house, and 57% of that is drunk in the morning at breakfast, or as it is called here, colazione.

There are dozens of brands of packaged coffee for Moka coffee, the best known being Illy and Lavazza, although personally I prefer a brand named Kimbo. But many Italians prefer to have their coffee ground at the local  torrefazione, although these days reportedly there are only about 700 in the country.

Caffettiera napoletana
The Moka has also been made in ceramic, copper, steel, silver and brass, but experts say coffee made with those will taste differently than when made in aluminum. Of course some Italians prefer another type of pot, the napolitana (see picture) which at the end of the process has to be turned upside down. But that, too, is used at home and is - like Moka coffee - still not espresso.

P.S. Just this morning, I answered the phone and the caller was a representative of Lavazza offering a purchase arrangement for a Lavazza home espresso pot. "No thanks", I said. "I use the Moka". "Va bene", she said, "thank you for your time.

Crisis keeping Italians at home? We'll see. PDF Print E-mail
Aug 04, 2012 at 05:32 PM

The Exodus (Italian style)
Today is one of those days that they say you shouldn't travel by car: Bollino Nero (black marker) is what the Italians dub it, reminding you that the roads are likely to be jammed with the cars of all those hundreds of thousands who are leaving for the traditional August vacation, heading either to the seashore (68%) or the mountains (15.4%), depending on one's preferences.

However, although the esodo (exodus) is taking place as usual - by road, train and plane - it appears that fewer people are travelling and yesterday, in fact, the autostrade were not quite as crowded as usual. Indeed, it would seem that la crisi, the economic crisis, is making itself felt if vacation-happy Italians are keeping their plans in check - shorter holidays or cheaper ones - or even staying home. According to the federation of Italian hotels, Federalberghi, this year 6 out of ten Italians, or 51%, will be staying put. Departures, they say, are down 29% compared to last year, and the hotel business will earn 22% less, with likely unhappy consequences for the nearly one million people employed by the sector.

Is this true? Who knows? The statistics tell you the situation is bad but as is the case every year, for the last two months everyone you meet has only one question for you: ferie? Holidays, they query when they meet you in a shop, on the street, or when they call you on the phone. Furthermore, other indications are that despite the well-known economic problems - high unemployment, especially among the young, higher taxes (ouch, me too!) and overall stagnation, things  may not be all that bad. It's hard to judge but the fact is that most restaurants in my neighbourhood, Trastevere, seem packed in the evenings, and the diners are by no means only tourists. Furthermore, the hair dressers, manicurists and masseurs whom I know say business is booming. Cristina, who does my nails but also provides her clients with other beauty treatments such as waxing, spray tanning and massaging, says in recent weeks she's had to open her store in the Testaccio neighbourhood of Rome at 7 a.m. to handle the crowd of women wanting to be in shape for the summer. When I was there the other day I was particularly struck by the enormous overflowing can of discarded waxing papers. Apparently, these days hair everywhere (and I mean everywhere) is considered follicle non grata! And no economic crisis is going to keep an Italian woman from getting rid of hers.




Simplification? Government on the right road. Hopefully. PDF Print E-mail
Apr 08, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Image Do I sound sceptical? Now why should that be? Probably because ever since I moved here several decades ago, I have always had the suspicion that somewhere in Italy, a small group of vecchietti (oldsters) were having regular meetings, probably in the unheated room of an abandoned castle, at which they tried to think of ways to torture their fellow Italians (and we non-Italian residents as well).

What most casual visitors cannot imagine, is how complicated most things are here in Italy. Here's an example. I recently lost my Italian health card, which you need if you want to deduct expenditures for pharmaceuticals or swee a doctor or have a treatment at a public hospital, and discovered that although the card is not an official ID card (no photo) there was absolutely no way to renew it by phone or on line. So off I go to the local IRS office (the card also has one's social security number on it, which is why the Italian IRS gets involved) and waited 45 minutes for my number to be called in, I must say, a very well-organized and friendly office, only to discover that all the clerk did was to look at my ID, write something into his computer, and tell me a new card will arrive by mail in some three weeks. Now why shouldn't I have been able to do that online, scanning my document and sending it by e-mail? Who knows.

To replace my Telepass card (you know, the card that goes with the gizmo that gets you through highway tolls without having to stop and pay), which disappeared at the same time, I had to say that it was lost, rather than in a wallet that had been stolen, otherwise I would have had to file a police report for a card I have never even used. Instead, "all" I had to do was to fill in a document downloaded from the internet in which I state on my honor that the card has been lost and which then has to be MAILED, together with a photo ID document, to the Telepass office in Florence so I can get a new card in four to six weeks. I should be grateful, because only a decade or so ago, I would have had to have gone to a notary public to get that "I lost my card" document authorized, so there have been improvements. But there are still all too many occasions here where you have to waste unnecessary time.

And what about what happens when a traffic ticket is delivered (yes, delivered, by a traffic policeman) to your door and you are not home. A card is left telling you to go to your local post office to pick up an important document. But when you get there, all they give you is another card telling you you have to go downtown to a city police office, which is open mornings but only one afternoon a week, where you pick up your ticket so you can then - andthat's the fourth step - go to the post office and pay it. Whew!

But I digress. A new bill passed by Parliament a few days ago, is designed to (finally) make many things easier. Here's a partial list.

• Hospital reservations will be made on line and patient charts will be downloaded over the internet;
• All public offices are to make online payments by credit card possible;
• The so-called DIA, with which one informs local authorities that a building or dwelling is to be renovated, no longer has to be backed up by official attestations by architects or surveyors;
• Residence changes are to be done on the spot, all certificates are to be available online, and from now on ID cards will expire on o
ne's birth date;
• University enrolments are to be done exclusively online;
• Applications for civil service exams are to be submitted exclusively via the Web;
• Hunting licenses will last six years instead of one;
• Bakeries will be allowed to bake fresh bread on Sunday mornings (don't ask);
• Vehicle safety and emission inspection will now be required every two years and no longer every year.


Strano ma vero (Strange but true) PDF Print E-mail
Mar 31, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Image Here we are in 2012, and there are still anomalies in Italy that make life more difficult than it should be. Here's one that those of you who are planning a trip should remember: you cannot buy train tickets online in Italy, or for that matter by phone in Italy, if you are using a non-Italian credit card. Yup. It is 2012 and yet this is a fact. I believe I knew it but had forgotten, encountering this stranezza (this is why my site is called Stranitalia) once again the other day when I was trying to buy a train ticket from Rome to Florence for a Canadian friend who was having trouble using the Trenitalia site.
Aside from the fact that the site kept transforming itself into the English-language version, which was most annoying, it also would not give me the possibility of choosing a window seat for my friend: "the seats on this train will be assigned automatically", I read each time I tried. And then, I also found I couldn't use her credit card.
Normally, in a case such as this, I would have simply used one of my Italian credit cards and she could have given me the cash. But it happened that I had just come back from New York, where the wallet containing all MY credit cards had been pinched, and with the new cards not yet available that was not an option.
I decided, therefore, to do the entire transaction on the phone through the Trenitalia call center, phone number 892021, which is quite efficient. The seat selection process turned out, of course, to be perfectly possible but the payment with a foreign credit card was not. What to do? The operator herself suggested the solution: make a reservation, una prenotazione, write down the reservation code, and go to a Tabacchi which handles the Sisal Enalotto lottery (not all do, by the way, some handle Lotto, which is something else) and pay with cash. Which is what she did. But still a pain especially, especially - and this is weird - since if you book the tickets on the same site in the U.S. and, I would assume, Canada. you can, indeed, use your American cards. Very strange, particularly if you consider how important tourism is for Italy. Go figure.
Italian government trying to bring Italy into 21st century PDF Print E-mail
Jan 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Rome Registry office on a bad day

The government headed by Italian prime minister Mario Monti, this week continued its battle to bring Italy into the modern age by issuing a third major decree that hopefully will make life easier for the country's often frustrated citizens. The "simplify-Italy" package follows the controversial "liberalization" reform that is leading to protests from several high-visibility special interest groups  such as taxi drivers, lawyers and notaries, and is the third major undertaking  - the first being the Save Italy austerity plan) by the government of technocrats that took office following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November. A fourth major reform, on the labor market (good luck with that Mario) is expected in March.

Bureaucracy comes to an alleged criminal's aid PDF Print E-mail
Nov 06, 2011 at 11:00 PM
Ayo Akindele, a 29-year old Nigerian who was jailed in Sicily a month ago on charges of being a drug smuggler (he came into Italy with cocaine and heroin in balloons inside his stomach) is now a free man. Italian law, or rather International law, guarantees that anyone arrested has the right to be able to understand (and read) the charges against him. So if that person doesn't speak the language of the country where he has been apprehended, what needs to be done? He needs a translator, in this case into English, not a problem where his legal representation is concerned. But guess what? The orderof arrest in this overly verbose nation was no less than 570 pages and who the hell was going to pay for having that translated into English. So, Ayo Akindele went free to go back where he came from, perhaps to bring in another supply of illegal drugs. Great!

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