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Rome to wage war on graffiti (or so they say) PDF Print E-mail
Feb 09, 2010 at 03:06 PM


They've said it before, but this time Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno claims he means it when he says that graffiti - on buildings, monuments, trams and subway cars - will no longer be tolerated in the Italian capital. As any recent visitor has been able to note, in recent years the city's graffiti artists (sorry, no,in this case they are only delinquents) have wrought havoc on the Eternal City, damaging and defacing centuries-old buildings and churches as well as irreplaceable monuments. His administration has now passed a ruling saying that anyone writing on public or Church property will be subject to substantial fines - from 300 euros to as high as 1000 euros - and that also applies for storekeepers selling on non- bio-degradable spray paints to minors.
The ruling is part of a new, comprehensive plan against urban decay and includes fines for people throwing empty packs of cigarettes on the ground, abandoning old cars or scooters, or affixing unauthorized posters or advertisements. Rome authorities appear to have adopted the hard-line policy recently adopted by the city of Milan. This involved a special task force, set up in July, 2007, the imposition of hefty fines, civil suits by the city against the so-called "writers" and the establishment of a data base of tags and styles that should enable authorities to find the culprits who, if apprehended, will also be required to clean up after themselves within two weeks or face additional charges.

More or less all Italian cities (like cities elsewhere) have this problem and have chosen different ways to deal with the phenomenon, most of which have so far been unsuccessful. In Rome, the real problem will - as usual - be actually putting the crack-down into effect. There is, on all fronts, a huge gap here between il dire e il fare, what is said and what is done. This is partially due to either a lack of manpower or poor usage of manpower or - equally probable - to an absence of real commitment on the part of the Rome city police, as individuals. And this is obvious to anyone who notices the huge number of graffiti, the huge number of double-parked cars, the huge number of unleashed dogs etc. etc. etc.


Portrait of a Nation (PART ONE) PDF Print E-mail
Feb 08, 2010 at 04:36 PM
ImageThe Italian national statistics agency, ISTAT, recently published a document called Noi,Italia , which provides a snapshot of Italy as it was at the end of 2008. I thought I would extrapolate some salient facts about the country we all love that will make visitors more aware of what is, and isn't, going on here.

Say it in....Italian! PDF Print E-mail
Jan 24, 2010 at 08:17 PM
ImageSupport is mounting in the Italian parliament for a law that would establish an official linguistic Council to protect the Italian language from ongoing bastardization by poor grammar, excessive use of dialects and exaggerated reliance on foreign words. Many Italians are fed up with an excess of English-language words and bureaucratic terminology and want some kind of a body, similar to those in France, Spain, Sweden and Norway, that can help to maintain the purity of the language. In addition, as has happened to other languages, Italian is evolving in a way purists abhor, with certain rules of grammar regretfully falling into disuse.

This is something I can really sympathize with since every time I hear an American say things like "for who" or "to who", forgetting that the proper word is WHOM, I feel slightly ill. I also object to "him and me" as opposed to "he and I", the use of "less" in place of "fewer", and the near total disregard of our poor, pitiful English subjunctive as in "I wish I was in Italy", which should, of course, be "I wish I WERE in Italy".

But Italian, like other European lingoes, has an additional problem: The intrusion of words from English, clearly the lingua franca of our age (once it was French, but that is no longer the case). And the fact is that words such as break, know-how, bodyguard, bar, film, garage, smoking, babysitter, spin, mouse, welfare, look, are all concepts that can be expressed in pure Italian without any foreign assistance.

In addition, some frequently used English-sounding words such as footing (jogging), box (a private, single-car garage), stage (a period of internship), and ticket (the percentage of a health-system service to be paid by the patient) either don't really exist in English or have an entirely different meaning.

Legislative proposals of this sort are not new but the latest has been signed by representatives of all the political groups in Parliament with the exception of the Northern League which favors increased use of the northern dialects used in what they call "Padania", the area of Northern Italy around the river Po. Others believe dialects can increase separatism whereas the use of standard Italian has repeatedly proved a factor of greater unification. They would like to see an article stating that Italian is the national language inserted into the 1948 Italian Constitution.

The exaggerqated use of English words - particularly odd in a country where very few people speak decent English - is part of a trend that affects all of Europe (and not only) because of the ongoing influence of the United States in technology as well as in TV, movies and music - in other words, in popular culture (on one recent Italian TV program, one person said to another "Dammi cinque", "give me five", and you know where THAT came from).

But Italians are also getting lazy about their grammar and increasingly one hears people forgetting to use the subjunctive, which is probably one of the most beautiful verb tenses in the Italian language. It's true that in good Italian one is called on to use the subjunctive - the tense which expresses doubt - far more often than in most other languages (my take on this, is that, historically, Italians have always preferred doubt because it implies less commitment). But it is indeed lovely and if things go on as they are now it may be that the only people to use it regularly will be we philo-Italian foreigners.


Take a (popcorn) break PDF Print E-mail
Oct 20, 2009 at 04:58 PM
ImageDo Italians have smaller bladders than other nationalities? Well might you ask - especially after coming out of the movies and learning that in 2009, along with Greece, Malta and some movie theatres in Germany, Italy appears to be one of the few countries in the developed world where there is an intermission about halfway through a film, even if that happens to be in a rather important dramatic moment. Personally, not having a compulsion to rush out to the street to smoke a cigarette, and being able to get through a movie without having to pee (at least most of the time), I find this most annoying.

This intermission system goes back to the early days of the cinema when reels and possibly projectors needed to be changed to get through an entire movie. People could use those few minutes to stretch their legs or go to the bathroom (there was no need to go outside to smoke since in those fortunately far-gone days, in a movie theatre you could smoke to your heart's content. But with today's technology, even a three-hour film can be shown without any technical need for a break. So why do Italians hang on to their ïntervallo"? The only exceptions I know of are some film clubs and the Nuovo Sacher movie house in Rome which is owned by director Nanni Moretti who clearly concurs that the integrity of a film is sacrosanct.

It is no secret that those most in favour of the intermission are the candy and popcorn concessionaires who in Italy do their selling, row by row, during the break. But although it is clear that habits die hard (in Italy foreign films are also still dubbed) , the fact that the Italian public regards this intermission as normal and not annoying may mean that most spectators see movie-going more as a social occasion (in fact, anyone who has been to the cinema here knows how many people think nothing of having conversations in a normal tone of voice, not a whisper, during a film) than a cultural or artistic event. In other words, an exchange of views, the possibility of buying more popcorn during the intermission, or having the chance for a smoke, seems to have more importance than the artistic integrity of a film.


"Counterfeit" cheese and pasta PDF Print E-mail
Oct 18, 2009 at 06:26 PM

They may look Italian but they're not!

It may look like it's made in Italy but don't count on it. The Italian organization of farmers, the Coldiretti, has opened a museum where counterfeit Italian foods are on show. And according to Sergio Marini, the president of that organization, Italy may lose as much as 50 billion euros a year (can that be right, I ask myself? If so, wow!)) because outside of Italy thousands of food products - Coldiretti says one out of four supposedly Italian products is a fake - are sold with names or packaging that deliberately induce the buyer to think he is buying an Italian product.

The biggest culprits are the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In the U.S., Coldiretti says, only two percent of the cheeses sold as Italian actually are from il Bel Paese. But there seems to be no limit to human invention. Thus, there is corn meal flour labelled "palenta" instead of polenta that is sold in Eastern Europe; "pecorino" cheese sold in China with a picture of a cow on the package (real pecorino is made from sheep's milk); the name Barbera (a well-known Italian red wine), is used for a white wine sold elsewhere in Europe. Spaghetti sold - and made - in Egypt is sold in a green, white and red bag, mimicking the colors of the Italian flag, the Sorrento Mozzarella sold in the US is made somewhere in the United States, and the Parmesan or Parmesan sold in the U.S. or Canada is not real parmigiano. If you want to read more about this you can do so in October 18th's Corriere della Sera or on  the Italian news agency ADN Kronos.

Rome: No place for the physically challenged PDF Print E-mail
Oct 04, 2009 at 04:14 PM

And now?
If you are physically challenged and thinking about coming to Italy, think twice before you make the trip. Although some progress has been made - in the sense that many museums now have stair-lifts or platform lifts for wheelchairs, as do some public buildings - in general Italy is still lagging behind in making life easier for people who have some kind of physical disability. In fact, one of the first things you may notice when you come to a major city like Rome, is how few disabled people you see around in general, and of those you do see, how few are getting around on their own. Recently at a downtown Rome restaurant, around 20 blind people gathered for a birthday dinner. But this is most unusual. The majority of disabled people (for one assumes that, proportionately, the numbers are the same as in other countries) seem to stay home with the result that for the rest of the society it's a situation of "out of sight, out of mind".

Linguistic changes: Italian purists not happy PDF Print E-mail
Sep 13, 2009 at 07:48 PM

It may be a sign of the electronic times we live in, characterized by widespread communication with people we don't know and the instant creation of online friendships, but many Italians appear to be abandoning the old linguistic distinctions in forms of address and not everyone here is happy about it. Corriere della Sera reported on Saturday that in L'Aquila, the director of the city's pharmaceutical agency recently issued a circular reminding employees that they must use the formal form of address when talking to the CEO, and linguists here are starting to decry what some call a false sense of democratization.

In Italian, as in many languages, there are different ways to address a fellow human being. Traditionally, to speak to strangers or to people with a higher social or occupational rank, one used the Lei form (nowadays no longer capitalized) with the third person singular which in English is the tense used with he or she. (In the South, where Bourbon monarchs long prevailed, many adopted "voi", the equivalent of the French "vous" - second person plural - for that same purpose.) To address family members, children, lovers, close friends, colleagues and classmates, not to mention your gardener or housemaid, however, you traditionally used the "tu" or " informal you" form.
Historically, the whole point of the Lei was to maintain a healthy distance from people who - rightly or wrongly - were thought to be on different levels. There were always some exceptions - in the postwar period at least it has been normal for people in the same profession to tend to address their peers with the "tu" form. But after the student revolution of 1968, many teachers bowed to ideology and allowed their students "to give them the tu" and this has also spread to some offices and workplaces.

Nowadays, there appears to be a growing tendency, at least online, to use the "tu" more freely, perhaps imitating the all inclusive American "you" or the "du" in Sweden, where you always use the informal form even if you are addressing the King. But some linguists - and philophers - are not happy. "We are witnessing a wave of spontaneità which leads only to sloppiness and the banalization of human relations, says philospher Remo Bodei. While according to linguist Francesco Sabatini, who blames part of the new trend on television, in a broad spectrum of relations, "the need for mutual respect and healthy distance call for the use of the Lei".

Of course, these are not the only linguistic changes that would make an Italian purist wince. Just as most Americans now (horrendously) pretend that there is no different between who and whom, increasingly Italians have been forgetting their subjective one of the most beautiful aspects of this beautifu language. But the increasing usse of the "tu" is probably even more widespread.

Italy is not alone in this type of change and elsewhere as well there are those who protest. Corriere also reported that the Spain's Defender of the People Enrique Múgi¬ca. in this years summation of his activities complained that by using the "tu" with their professors instead of "Usted", Spanish youngsters were showing they, too, had no sense of respect.

LIFESTYLE: Bruschetta, biscotti et al. PDF Print E-mail
Sep 11, 2009 at 12:42 PM
ImageNo one is asking you to learn Italian before you come here: visitors are most welcome in Italy, not least for economic reasons, so you can have a perfectly lovely visit even if you don't speak a word of this beautiful and highly expressive language. However, wouldn't you prefer to make yourselves minimally intelligible, for example by not grossly mispronouncing Italian words that you may need or want to use?

One example that comes to mind is "bruschetta", which people in the US and England are wont to pronounce as if the word were part of their own language, as in "brushetta". Hello!!!!  In Italian, as at least the owners, managers and waiters of Italian restaurants outside Italy ought to know, the word is pronounced "brusketta"and that's what you've got to say if you want to get this luscious antipasto without an undue waste of energy.

LIFESTYLE: How (not) to order a glass of milk PDF Print E-mail
Aug 27, 2009 at 09:36 PM

ImageDo you still drink milk, just as you did when you were a little kid? Not all that many adults do, although Michael, my friend and co-author (of the National Geographic Rome Traveller guidebook) always has a glass of milk before going to bed at night and apparently can't sleep if he doesn't have it. So IF you are a milk-drinker and want to assuage your thirst for nature's calcium-crammed drink, go right in to your local Italian café' and ask for a "latte, per favore" and that, my dears, is just                           what you will get. Milk!

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