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Wi-Fi for Italian trains PDF Print E-mail
Nov 19, 2010 at 02:17 PM
ImageThe Italian State Railway Company (Ferrovie dello Stato) and Telecom Italia have signed an agreement to upgrade phone and internet capacities on Italian high-speed trains. Starting on December 12, these upgraded wi-fi systems will be available on the 60 Frecciarossa (Red Arrow) trains running between Naples and Turin (with stops in Rome and Milan.

The entire project to install the latest generation of telecommunications and IT systems aboard the trains cost 50million euros, divided down the middle between Telecom Italia and the FS group. To get a better 3G signal, 74 new junction points were installed along the 1000 km-long high speed train line, which includes 82 tunnels, now endowed with more than 200 antennae.

Trenitalia has also installed at least 100 km of optical fiber cables, 600 radio transmitters and 650 wi-fi modules. All 60 trains have now been equipped with Umts amplification systems and wi-fi access points in every carriage. The systems are equipped to receive signals from all other Italian mobile operators.

Starting in May, the Frecciarossa trains will also be receiving news, music and film programs as well as videogames and travel and weather info. The same services will be available on the Frecciargento (Silver Arrow) trains that run between Naples, Rome and Venice and Naples, Rome and Verona as of next September.


Rome's Tram 8 Terminus to be Moved? PDF Print E-mail
Oct 29, 2010 at 05:08 PM


The city of Rome is taking an informal poll among its citizens with regard to the future of the number 8 tram which runs from the southeastern outlying neighborhood of Casaletto. On the municpality's website Mayor Gianni Alemanno asks citizens to take a stance on the proposal to move the downtown terminus of the much-used line from Piazza Argentina to Piazza Venezia around 500 meters away.

The problem, he says, is that in its present location, the terminus of the tram prevents any significant urban improvements regarding the square's important Roman ruins, and also blocks the entrance to the 18th century Teatro Argentina, to the southern end of Piazza Venezia (see the computer generated photo that accompanies this piece.)

Dear Fellow Citizens, the mayor writes, "By moving the last stop of the tram to Piazza Venezia, it would be possible to improve significantly the entire area of bus termini, broaden the pedestrian zone and prepare an interchange with the future C line metro station". The project he said would help prepare the city for the 2020 Olympics, should Rome actually win its bid for that sporting event.

The outcome of the referendum would not be binding but Alemanno clearly wants to test the waters. The project would cost eight million euros and has already been approved by the Superintendence of Arts and Monuments. Tere are also plans to bring the tramline to the Termini railway station but this, if it happens, will be several years in the future.

Number of Italian poor on the rise PDF Print E-mail
Oct 25, 2010 at 06:49 PM

When one travels around most if Italy, you do not have the impression that there is much poverty here. But Italy's poor are there, even if not immediately visible in a country with a rather florid life-style. Indeed, according to the Catholic charity, Caritas , the number of people living in poverty in Italy is at least half a million more than shows up in official statistics.

"The real figure should be 8.37 million, not the 7.81 million in the official data", said a Caritas spokesman, presenting the agency's tenth  report on poverty earlier this month.The difference, some 560,000 more, translated into a 3.7% rise. To this figure, Caritas said, should be added another 10%, or those 800,000 Italians who are "impoverished" and live in "great economic fragility".

Most of the poor are living in Italy's underdeveloped South, the Mezzogiorno, Caritas said. Commenting on the figures, Msgr Mariano Crociata, Secretary-General of the Italian Bishops Conference, said: "Tax elusion and evasion hurt the honest and cut help to the poor".
More garbage PDF Print E-mail
Sep 26, 2010 at 10:17 PM
Back to School PDF Print E-mail
Sep 26, 2010 at 09:46 PM

ImageWell, it's September and it' "back-to-school" time in Italy as more or less everywhere else in our parts of the world. But in Italy, September is even more of a "starting-over" period. The summer - which for the majority boils down to August - is lived so intensely that when people do come back home - the so-called rientro - it's kind of like a rebirth. Anyway, this time I, too, kind of bailed out on you readers for a while. I was only away for a short period of vacation. But as the news from Italy was mostly depressing, and as I have had a great deal of work, I did somewhat neglect Stranitalia, for which I apologize.

So September came and Italian children went back to school, but their parents, at least, were not in the best of spirits. The recent Italian school reform, put into effect by the Berlusconi government and spearheaded by Italian education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, has angered both teachers and parents. Many teachers are pissed because the reform does little to relieve the unhappy situation of the thousands - the figure seems to be around 110,000 - of substitute teachers who do not have full-time contracts and who are not likely to see one anytime soon. Parents are upset because classes are too big and afternoon hours in some cases have been cut back significantly.

And others are upset because despite a norm that says no class should have more than 30% of foreign-born children, this is not always the case. For example, in the Iow-income Roman suburb, Tor Pignattara, this year the two first grade class will be made up entirely of the children of immigrants, with only two Italian children out of 39 students. One of the sections, will b made up of 19 children, all of whom have foreign-born parents, for the most part - in this case - Bengalis and Chinese. Many elementary schools in Milan are also in a similar situation but worried parents should remember that mot of these children were born in Italy and therefore already speak Italian.

A few days after the school year began, the Rome city government's education councillor came under attack from the left by referring to immigrant children in another Roman school as "foreigners". But that is what they are. Italy, unlike the United States or neighboring France where citizenship is a birthright (those who are born there. Automatically become citizens, unless they are children of foreign diplomats), does not automatically confer citizenship on a person who is born here. So a child born to immigrant parents who are bonafide residents will have all the privileges of a bonafide resident but only at 18 years of age can he or she apply for Italian citizenship (which, barring special circumstances, should at that point be more or less automatic).

The next school question to come up was that of a new elementary school in the town of Adro, near Brescia in the Italian north, which mayor Oscar Lanciani, had had decorated (some 700 were plastered on walls, desks, windows and even wastepaper baskets) with a green flower symbol that is the symbol of the sometimes secessionist Northern League party. Minister Gelmini ordered him to remove the symbols, which had replaced the Italian flag, but so far - and despite various protests by political activists and parents and now by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano - he has not done so saying he would only follow orders form party leader, Umberto Bossi. Subsequently, the same mayor made more headlines announcing that the school cafeteria would not offer special menus for Muslems. "Anyone who doesn't like Brescia food is free to go have lunch at home". He was quoted as saying.

Unfortunately, the rientro did not bring with it anything new in the field of politics. Stay tuned and I'll explain better later this week.


Rome mayor wants to tax demos: I say "yes"! PDF Print E-mail
Aug 19, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Image The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, has raised eyebrows, and tempers, with a proposal to apply some sort of tax to major demonstrations held in the Eternal City. It is far from clear just how such a tax could be levied - who exactly would be expected to pay it? The organizers? Participants?. Opponents have reacted sharply, accusing him of trying to stifle democracy, not suprising since anyone remotely left of center here appears unable to forget that Alemanno comes from the far right of the political spectrum - the former Fascist party - and as a youth was pretty aggressive. And even some conservatives have expressed doubts. But the mayor may have a point.


Last year, 2009, there were 2.051 demonstrations in downtown Rome ( police statistics say 830 were political or union demos, 115 were student demonstrations, 91 involved sports fans, and the remaining 1,015 were of various types)and these included 65 marches through the city. According to the mayor, the costs borne by the city administration are enormous. Everytime there is a march by 10,000 people, he said, the city ends up spending something like 18,000 euros for overtime for city police, setting up barricades, preparing emergency sanitary services, rerouting buses, and cleaning up afterwards. For a march - the Italian word is "corteo" - of 30,000 people, the total would be 41,000 euros. And for a major demonstration involving 100,000 people or more, the city would have to dip into its non-bulging coffers for at least 100,000 euros, and so on.


Image Is this so outrageous? Furthermore, if organizers were forced to pay part of the costs, might not we see a reduction in the number of these demos and marches? For me, this is the main point. You have no idea the extent to which ordinary people's lives are disrupted by these protests, especially because even when a march is not involved, police often allow them to be staged smack in the middle of a major thoroughfare. Once I needed to do a series of errands in my neighborhood, Trastevere, and decided to take my motorbike to save time. Yeah! There was a fairly small demo by disgruntled part-time teachers outside the Education Ministry in Viale Trastevere. I was unable to turn left onto the avenue and in the end was forced to do a detour of some 10 kilometers before I was finally able to get home. I grew up in New York in a family with strong sympathies with organized labor and was taught not to cross a picket line. Well, Rome sure cured me of that. It is hard to have sympathies when protesters don't seem to care that other people have a desperate need to go about their own business.

New Italian driving rules take force PDF Print E-mail
Aug 15, 2010 at 05:59 PM

ImageAs Italians continue their summer holidays (statistics released last week say 22 million Italians, that is, almost a third of the population, have chosen August for their vacations), there is one more obstacle to perfect happiness - along with some bad weather over this holiday weekend of Ferragosto (August 15th), mounting political instability and concern about this fall's economic situation: As of August 13th, in fact, the new and stricter Driving Code (Codice della Strada) took effect making it clear that officialdom would like to crack down on the worst of Italian driving defects, although how effective they will be remains to be seen.

Marriage Italian-style (or, welcome to the modern world) PDF Print E-mail
Jul 23, 2010 at 02:10 PM
ImageRemember all the talk about the stability of the Italian family? Well, ha ha ha. The latest statistics about divorce in Italy indicate that they ain't all that different than we are. And if I sound a bit sarcastic, it is only because when you've lived in Italy for as long as I have, at some point you get sick and tired of hearing a lot of nonsense about OUR country; families don't count for anything, we are all racists, you can't get a decent meal etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, here's the story. According to data released a couple of days ago by ISTAT, the Italian national statistics agency, in the last 13 years (no, I don't know why they chose 13 years as a reference point but there it is) have doubled and, what's more in 2008 the number of divorces rose by 3.4% and the number of legal separations by 7.3%. In 2008, there were 84.165 separations and 54.351 divorces. Put another way, that amounts to 179 divorces for every 1000 people and 286 legal separations although, as to be expected, the rate is twice as high in the Italian north than it is in the Mezzogiorno. Who knows what was going on in 2005 because in that year, the statistics tell us, there was a peak of

But that's not all. The data tell us that nowadays in Italy the length of the average marriage is 15 years, 18 years if you measure up to the time that a final divorce is granted. The average age fro those getting separated is at present 45 for men and 41 for women.

Curiously enough, fewer Italian marriages are breaking up before the five-year mark whereas longer ones are increasingly in trouble. In 1995, 24% of marriages ended before five years; today that has declined to 17% - still a hefty chunk). On the other hand, the number of marriages that end after ten years has doubled since 1995 and those lasting 25 years have tripled (there are no statistics on this, but how much do you want to bet that in the latter group it is mostly men seeking younger women?)

In most cases, the report adds, respectively 86.3% and 77.3%, the separations and divorces are consensual (or appear so). And in 78.8% of the dissolved marriages involving underage children the final solution involves joint custody. I would add that the statistics obviously do not take into account the huge number of couples who now live together without getting married at all although I suspect most of them (but by no means all) tie the knot after the bambini arrive.



Rome taxi fares to rise PDF Print E-mail
Jul 15, 2010 at 08:48 PM
Image Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno has honored the promise he made last fall to the capital's taxi drivers so starting in November (if the increases are approved by a special ad hoc technical commission) you will be paying a bit more for a taxi here than you used to. The increases for the most part regard short trips since the rate per kilometer will now go from 98 euro cents to 1,42 euro for the first five kilometres of your ride. As for transport from the city's airports, the rate will rise five euros to 45 euros for trips from Fiumicino airport to the city center and from 30 to 35 euros from the smaller Ciampino airport. Transport to the Porto of Civitavecchia has been set at 120 euros. Limousine drivers can set their own prices

The new city ordinance also calls for a 50% discount on the meter fare for people bringing sick children to the Bambin Gesù hospital (why this hospital only, some pediatricians are asking) and a discount of 10% for women travelling alone between nine p.m. and 1 a.m. . It rules that taxi drivers with pending judicial cases involving crimes committed during the course of a fare will have their licenses suspended. Drivers will also be required to give receipts that will include the date, time, price and itinerary. Unlike taxi drivers in more advanced countries, they will be required to accept credit cards only for fares costing above 30 euros.

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