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Italians learning (slowly) to love home exchanges. PDF Print E-mail
Oct 23, 2011 at 04:57 PM

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First there were hotels, then vacation rental apartments, then low cost airlines, and then the even newer way to travel, the home exchange, be it simultaneous or staggered, time-wise. Don't ask me why, but Italians have been slower than other peoples to get into the latter, being particularly possessive of their homes and instinctively suspicious of their fellow human beings.

But things are changing. A growing number of people here are joining American, Canadian, British and French travellers and putting their homes up for exchange in order to have affordable travel, to see the world from a different viewpoint, and - perhaps - even make new friends.

There are no accurate statistics regarding the total number of Italians (or, for that matter, of any other national group) who are now using this method of visiting another city and/or country, but there is no doubt it is on the rise. In Italy, this is because of a change in attitudes, albeit a gradual one.

"Italians need a lot of reassurance before they take up something new", says Annalisa Rossi Pujatti who since 1995 has headed the Italian branch of Homelink International, a home exchange association that was set up in the United States in 1953 and arrived in Italy the following decade. More than Americans and British travellers, they seem to be overly concerned that their visitors might steal, damage things seriously or leave their dwellings dirty, clearly forgetting that these are two-way relationships: in other words, they are in my house, but I am in theirs.

Nevertheless, there are now some 800 Italian homeowners (out of a worldwide total of 13,000) who have signed up for Homelink to treat themselves and their families to extra vacations they might not otherwise be able to afford. A subscription, enabling you to post your home, explain your preferences and seek out homes in other countries (Homelink's lists include dwellings in 73 countries) costs about €120 a year.

Annalisa who has more than 120 exchanges under her own belt (she started house swapping in 1985), says those who sign up belong to all social classes, are singles, couples with children and those without. The majority, however, come from the Italian North, Tuscany and Lazio, with the South lagging behind. And even if a goodly number offer to exchange their vacation homes, rather than their primary residences, they all have one thing in common: a love of travel and discovery. "Furthermore", she adds, they are generally people who are tolerant and open-minded".

Homelink is not, of course, the only organization doing home exchanges in Italy. Intervac and Home Exchange, the websites of which claim, respectively, to have 30,000 members and 39,000 listings, also have representatives in Italy. Me, I belong to Homelink and find lots of opportunities offered by interesting people. Unfortunately, I can't always take advantage of them as one, alas, does have to work.

Naturally, the spread of home exchanges here in Italy should in part be attributed to the soaring use of the internet: in April of this year there were 26.6 million people in Italy who went on line at least once during the month, an increase of 12 percent over 2010 last year and included an additional 694,000 more users than the previous month.

But increasingly house-sharing is being seem here, too, as a way to save money (rental apartments are cheaper than hotels but they still require a significant outlay of cash) and as a means of avoiding the typical tourist vacation, of experiencing a city, or a neighbourhood, as a local resident and not as a foreign visitor. It is also a good way to travel with children and to enjoy more short, long-weekend vacations and, generally, to better see the world.

Italians learning (slowly) to love home exchanges. PDF Print E-mail
Oct 23, 2011 at 04:57 PM

First there were hotels, then vacation rental apartments, then low cost airlines, and then the even newer way to travel, the home exchange, be it simultaneous or staggered, time-wise. Don't ask me why, but Italians have been slower than other peoples to get into the latter, being particularly possessive of their homes and instinctively suspicious of their fellow human beings.

But things are changing. A growing number of people here are joining American, Canadian, British and French travellers and putting their homes up for exchange in order to have affordable travel, to see the world from a different viewpoint, and - perhaps - even make new friends.

There are no accurate statistics regarding the total number of Italians (or, for that matter, of any other national group) who are now using this method of visiting another city and/or country, but there is no doubt it is on the rise. In Italy, this is because of a change in attitudes, albeit a gradual one.

"Italians need a lot of reassurance before they take up something new", says Annalisa Rossi Pujatti who since 1995 has headed the Italian branch of Homelink International, a home exchange association that was set up in the United States in 1953 and arrived in Italy the following decade. More than Americans and British travellers, they seem to be overly concerned that their visitors might steal, damage things seriously or leave their dwellings dirty, clearly forgetting that these are two-way relationships: in other words, they are in my house, but I am in theirs.

Nevertheless, there are now some 800 Italian homeowners (out of a worldwide total of 13,000) who have signed up for Homelink to treat themselves and their families to extra vacations they might not otherwise be able to afford. A subscription, enabling you to post your home, explain your preferences and seek out homes in other countries (Homelink's lists include dwellings in 73 countries) costs about €120 a year.

Annalisa who has more than 120 exchanges under her own belt (she started house swapping in 1985), says those who sign up belong to all social classes, are singles, couples with children and those without. The majority, however, come from the Italian North, Tuscany and Lazio, with the South lagging behind. And even if a goodly number offer to exchange their vacation homes, rather than their primary residences, they all have one thing in common: a love of travel and discovery. "Furthermore", she adds, they are generally people who are tolerant and open-minded".

Homelink is not, of course, the only organization doing home exchanges in Italy. Intervac and Home Exchange, the websites of which claim, respectively, to have 30,000 members and 39,000 listings, also have representatives in Italy. Me, I belong to Homelink and find lots of opportunities offered by interesting people. Unfortunately, I can't always take advantage of them as one, alas, does have to work.

Naturally, the spread of home exchanges here in Italy should in part be attributed to the soaring use of the internet: in April of this year there were 26.6 million people in Italy who went on line at least once during the month, an increase of 12 percent over 2010 last year and included an additional 694,000 more users than the previous month.

But increasingly house-sharing is being seem here, too, as a way to save money (rental apartments are cheaper than hotels but they still require a significant outlay of cash) and as a means of avoiding the typical tourist vacation, of experiencing a city, or a neighbourhood, as a local resident and not as a foreign visitor. It is also a good way to travel with children and to enjoy more short, long-weekend vacations and, generally, to better see the world.

American woman latest victim of Italian hit and run drivers PDF Print E-mail
Oct 10, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Image A young American woman has been one of the most recent victims of a spiralling number of hit and run drivers here. A 56 year old building contractor turned himself in this weekend as the driver who last week brought to an absurd, early end the short life of Alison Owens, a 23-year old American tour guide.

Alison was killed a week ago Sunday while jogging along a road in northern Tuscany while listening to music on her iPod. An all-points search was on for the hit and run driver who says now he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up only when his car hit the guard-rail and was unaware of having hit someone. Police apparently do not believe his version; why did he take five days to make contact when the story was making headlines throughout the country, they ask.

But in the meantime, the tragic incident of a life cut short has refocused attention on the growing number of hit and runs here. Although it is sometimes hard to believe given the reckless driving habits of many Italians (and the failure of Italian police to regularly patrol major thoroughfares), road accidents in this country have dropped sharply - by 43.7% - over the last decade, with deaths from car accidents falling to 3,998 from the 7,100 recorded in 2001.

In contrast, the number of hit and runs continues to climb. In 2008, 400 people were killed or injured in hit and run accidents, a number which rose to 746 (in 585 incidents) in 2010 (of whom 98 died) and to 759 (in 644 such accidents) in the first nine months of this year, with 101 deaths recorded so far, th emost recent two occurring yesterday when thieves stole a truck and then fled after killed two people in a smaller car.

The available statistics indicate that in 22% of the cases, the drivers involved in hit and runs were under the influence of alcohol and drugs and indeed the Italian parliament is considering amending the Codice della Strada, the driving code, to establish the crime of vehicular homicide which currently does not exist. Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni said recently that anyone who knowingly takes drugs or alcohol and then gets behind the wheel is knowingly accepting the risk of an accident and ought to be punished accordingly.

At the moment, 65% of hit and run drivers are eventually arrested here but this is likely to increase because of the growing number of street cameras and the willingness of witnesses to testify.

 

Blind man's BLUFF: cheating the government PDF Print E-mail
Aug 07, 2011 at 02:59 PM

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Blind man shopping

There is an old saying in Italy which, roughly translated, says "Once a law has passed, find a way to get around it" and there is no doubt that many people in this country are experts in doing this.

Just recently, for example, the paper's carried reports that for 19 years a 62 year old resident of the Apulian city of Lecce had been receiving subsidies from the Italian welfare system because as a blind man he was entitled to both an invalid's pension as well as money for an "accompagnatore", someone to accompany him when he went outdoors.

We don't yet know the guy's name but we do know that now the jig is up. Italy's Financial Police, the Guardie di Finanza, also known as the Fiamme Gialle, somehow got wind of the fraud and got him on tape (see video) doing everyday things such as examining produce on grocery store shelves, repairing a bicycle, successfully tossing garbage into an open bin, and crossing - unaided - crowded, trafficky streets. The man may not have been getting rich - reportedly the total subsidies amounted to only 112,000 euros, that is around $160,000 but he was getting it illegally and is now going to have to pay it back.

Mr. X, however, is not alone. Forget about the blind guy who last April was arrested by the Fiamme Gialle in Santa Maria Capua Vetere near Caserta at the wheel of his car, after collecting disability for the previious eight years. Data developed by the Italian National Statistics Agency indicates that in general  residents of the Italian south either are very sickly or highly skilled in obtaining state money in some sort of fraudulent manner - which of course means finding complicit doctors to fill out the necessary forms. Thus, in Naples, one out of 40 people receive some kind of invalid's subsidy, compared to only one out of 122 inhabitants in the northern capital of Milan. In Olbia, one of Sardinia's larger cities, nine percent of the population appears to suffer from some kind of handicap while in Taranto, in Apulia, at least one component of 50% of the families in the area is an invalid of one sort or another. In contrast, in the entire Trentino province in the North, only one person is currently receiving this kind of subsidy.

Recently, INPS, the Italian social security agency, has begun a crackdown on the so-called falsi invalidi (false invalids), a move that gains even greater importance today when Italy must absolutely cut back on spending if it is going to get its financial accounts in order and not end up like Greece. Today, according to the Rome newspaper "Il Messaggero", about a sixth of social security pay-outs go to "civil invalids" and other forms of welfare assistance not linked to worker , employer or taxpayer pay-ins. And according to OECD in Paris, no other developed country is as generous as Italy when it comes to disability pensions.

Last year, INPS, cancelled 40,000 payments reputed to be fraudulent, compared to 23,000 the year before and of 100.000 recent audits, 23% have proved to be suspicious. Agency experts believe that in the South, some 50% of disability pensions may be fraudulent. Some 500,000 inspectionss have been scheduled for the next two years.

 

BELIEVING THE UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! PDF Print E-mail
May 11, 2011 at 02:34 PM
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The late Raffaele Bendandi
Many Italians are not particularly fond of their Roman brethren and one long-standing  in-joke is that the SPQR (Senatus Populusque Romanus, or "the Senate and the people of Rome") that the ancient Romans wrote on everything remotely public really means "Sono Porci Quei Romani" (Those Romans are Pigs).  If you consider the earthquake fear that in the last few weeks has affected a good part of the city's population, you might think it means "Sono Pazzi quei Romani" (those Romans are crazy).

Yes, indeed. For weeks now many Romans, especially those prone to superstition have been quaking in their boots because of a prediction made almost a half a century ago by an erstwhile seismologist that TODAY, May 11, 2011, Rome will be razed to the ground by one of the most massive earthquakes ever. Never mind that the city is not built on any major geological fault nor is it at the center of an area of frequent or significant seismic activity. There was, nevertheless,  spiralling fear. I myself heard these concerns expressed primarily whenever I was at the hairdresser. But I read in the press that for weeks now the phones have been ringing off the hook in the offices of Italy's Civil Protection office with requests for clarification or instructions as to protection.

In recent days, the city government  finally stepped in with attempts to quell the fears that reportedly have led some people to leave the city or plan to keep their children out of school for the day. The city phone number, 060606, prepared a set of answers to anyone phoning in to express fears or other concerns, explaining that the astronomer Raffaele Bendandi's prediction has no basis in science. The president of the Roma province  cancelled all out of town appointments to make it clear with his presence that there is nothing to fear. And Lazio governor Renata Polverini has done more or less the same.

Bendandi, who died in 1979, was a self-taught scientist who believed that earthquakes had to do with the gravitational pull exerted on the earth's crust by the moon in the same way that tides are affected by it. His idea was that gravity shifted the geographic poles, producing an "equatorial swelling" that to his mind may have caused the destruction of Atlantis and somewhat later the Flood of which the Bible speaks.

Regarding more recent times, he claimed to have predicted, although not publicly, a 1915 earthquake in the Marsica area of the Abruzzo, and then in 1924 was hailed by Italy's leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera (so much for Italian journalism) as "the man who can predict earthquakes" when a quake he predicted on Senigallia in the Marche region on January 2 of that year did occur, although two days later. He subsequently developed an international reputation even though his alleged discovery of several new planets was never corroborated by anyone else. He also claimed to have predicted the 1976 earthquake in Friuli, saying that no one had heeded his warnings.

The "La Bendaniana" association of his followers have said that it is not true that a May 11 earthquake was among his 160 odd predictions of earthquakes throughout the world. But never mind. Some people clearly prefer to be frightened and hopefully they won't be too disappointed when today passes and Rome is still standing.



A Neapolitan Christmas PDF Print E-mail
Dec 26, 2010 at 09:44 PM

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Ho ho ho!

 

 

Naples last (surprise!) on liveability index PDF Print E-mail
Dec 11, 2010 at 08:59 PM

The annual "liveability" ranking published by the economic daily "Il Sole 24 Ore" says that the Italian province with the worst quality of life is......Naples.

The rating is based on overall living conditions, environment, health, services, employment, business, crime, population density, culture, book sales and volunteer activities. The Italian province with the best quality of life is Bolzano in northern Italy's South Tyrol, which jumped to top position from the 8th spot last year. Second place went to nearby Trento and third to Sondrio, which is also in the North, Last year's number one province, Trieste, fell three steps to fourth position while the 2009 second-place, Belluno, fell eight spots to come in 10th.

Naples always hovered somewhere on the bottom of the list which has been published for the last 20-odd years, but this was the first time it hit rock bottom largely because of high inflation and building costs, high unemployment, a high crime rate and an ecosystem near collapse.

Milan was 21st on the list, and Rome - which last year was 26th, dropped 11 places to 35th place. Venice dropped three places to 46th and Turin jumped 14 positions to 54th . Bologna gained five positions to make it into the top ten at the number eight spot, while seventh place went to Oristano, in Sardinia, which made a startling jump of 18 positions.

Sassari, also in Sardinia, made the biggest overall jump, 38 places from 79th to 41st, while Campobosso, in Molise, lost the most ground, tumbling 47 places, from 33rd to 80th .

 

Famous last words? PDF Print E-mail
Dec 11, 2010 at 08:52 PM

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"We can be certain that within only a few days Naples will be clean again". Thus spake Silvio Berlusconi a week ago on December 4th. But as of today, to the despair of Neapolitans who love their city, downtown Naples still looks a lot like a garbage tip.


Read more...
 
 
Plastic bags on their way out PDF Print E-mail
Dec 06, 2010 at 02:27 PM
It seems unlikely in a country which can't even manage a rational system of garbage collection, but you never know. And environmentalists cannot but be happy about today's announcement that Italy is moving ahead with plans to ban the production and distribution of non-biodegradable plastic bags starting January 1, 2011.

"There is no going back", said Environment minister Stefania Prestigiacomo, stressing that the producers and distributors of such bags had had more than enough time to prepare themselves for this change. The ministry is planning a campaign to inform citizens about the ban and about environmentally friendly alternatives  such biodegradable shopping bags and carry-alls  made of natural fabrics or other materials., said Prestigiacomo. Italians use a total of 20 billion plastic bags every year to bring  home their shopping from supermarkets and other retail stores.

Non-biodegradable plastic bags remain in the environment for a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of 1,000 years, polluting the air, the sea, rivers and forests.

Although many Italians have had trouble adapting to recycling rules for their own home refuse, their hearts seem to be in the right place. A  recent poll suggested that they are inclined to follow the new directive, with 73% saying they would use alternatives to polluting plastic bags when out shopping.
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