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"My Home Sweet Rome" now in paper PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2014 at 03:15 PM

Image It's a great place to visit, but would you really want to live there? If you want to be able to answer that question, read mybook, My Home Sweet Rome: Living (and Loving) in the Eternal City, which is now on ( or bboth in print and Kindle format. And if you like it and enjoy it, please write a review. Reviews are particularly important for independent authors.

As for me, after living in the Eternal City for close to 40 years, I can answer that question in the affirmative; I am here for the duration. But it is a resounding "yes, but". A native New Yorker, I moved to Rome after graduate school and am not going anywhere. But I wrote My Home Sweet Rome to describe what life is really like in the Italian capital: beguiling, intoxicating and ......infuriating. Italy's people, its food, the architectural and artistic remnants of a glorious past are probably unequalled. But the country's stifling bureaucracy, its dead-end politics and contradictory social customs can make you despair and daily life can often be a challenge.

As a foreign correspondent, I also lived through the less pleasant phases of recent Italian history like the Mafia's attack on the State, terrorism, the assassination attempt on the life of the first (but not the last) non-Italian Pope and the meteoric rise of Silvio Berlusconi. And as an attractive single woman, I also leaerned a lot about what love (and sex) are really like with Italian men, be they average Giuseppes or high-placed movers and shakers.

"Ever wondered what it would be like to wake up every morning surrounded by a cast of Roman characters straight out of Fellini? To fall in love with not one Italian, but many, again and again? Sari Gilbert is the ultimate insider-outsider, a journalist who knows what's really going on and has a wonderful ability to describe what it looks like, smells like, feels like, to live like a Roman." Robin Lustig, British journalist and commentator.

"I can't imagine a better introduction to Rome than this - a first-hand account with lots of illuminating and often amusing anecdotes. It is the most perceptive analysis of the Italian way of life that I have read since Luigi Barzini's The Italians fifty years ago."
Katherine, former U.S. diplomat and Rome resident.


Rome invaded by illegal peddlers and city does.....NOTHING PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2014 at 08:42 AM


The merchants association of Rome (Confcommercio) is once again up in arms against a growing army of illegal peddlers who are taking business away from legitimate stores, evading taxes and dirtying an already chaotic city and distracting attention from Rome's marvelous monuments and medieval buildings. I couldn't agree more and think it is shameful that Rome's new mayor (like his predecessors) is doing next to nothing about it.

I don't know if Confcommercio is correct when it numbers the peddlers - some Italians but these days mostly Asians, Africans and Eastern Europeans - as between 15,000 and 18,000. That would seem rather exaggerated to me. But there sure are a lot of them. The Asians, mostly scores of Bangladeshi, appear on the streets (sometimes you encounter one every ten steps or so) to sell cheap umbrellas that must be stores in warehouses throughout the city by the people who exploit them) or else set up tables, often only a few feet away from one another, selling imported silk scarves that they roll up like small turbans.

The Africans, primarily Senegalese, sell counterfeit bags - Vuitton, Fendi, Chanel etc. Nigerians wander around selling socks and counterfeit CDs. Others sell sunglasses, cheap jewelry, gadgets of various sorts and still others pretend to be "street artists" since one city law was/is (it's not clear) more tolerant of those who are truly artisans.

But whoever these people are, the fact is that they are selling goods without paying any taxes on their earnings - income or VAT -or giving receipts to customers. They are setting up tables, chairs and lights for nighttime selling on public soil without paying the fees to the city that any restaurant or café does to put chairs and tables out on the sidewalk. And they are making money without incurring any of the costs borne by legitimate shopkeepers - taxes, rent, utilities, personnel. It is, by any standard, unfair competition. But in addition, the widespread illegality clogs up sidewalks and, eben more importantly, mars the view.

Rome, glorified in the recent Italian Oscar-winning film. The Great Beauty, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But with sidewalks covered with sheets bearing counterfeit goods, unlicensed pushcarts and snack trucks parked in the places favored by tourists, it is sometimes hard to tell.

According to Confcommercio, the turnover of this kind of illegal commerce in Rome alone amounts to around 1.5 billion (sic!) Euros a year. If the illegal peddlers, in Italian referred to as abusivi, were to pay taxes and other charges, the city coffers would definitely be fuller than they are. But would it be worth it? I don't think so. I came to Rome to bask in the remains of its glorious past. And if I want to shop, there are wonderful Italian products to buy rather than the CRAP these peddlers are plying.

So why have a succession of city governments allowed this to happen? Some people may imagine that it's all the fault of a corrupt city police but I don't buy that. Another possibility - and it is certainly a contributing factor - is that the Rome city police force is seriously understaffed. But it is much worse. This is Rome where law enforcement officers and local politicians are just too lackadaisical, laid back and lazy to really care.

Despite Francis, Italians less religious and less observant. PDF Print E-mail
Mar 30, 2014 at 10:18 PM

Palermo mayor Leoluca Orlando after celebrating a civil marriage
Despite the highly favorable attention that Pope Francis 1 has been getting here in Italy (as well as elsewhere), there can be no doubt that this Roman Catholic country increasingly has been becoming less religious and less observant. This is not a new phenomenon, indeed the phenomenon is a worldwide one where Catholics are concerned, but the trend is increasing, as a recent study conducted by the “Critica liberale” magazine in Bologna indicates and it is questionable whether the popularity of the new pontiff can make any kind of difference..

The study compared the frequency of a series of Roman Catholic rites between 1991 and 2009 and found the following:

Baptisms: down 19 percent to 70.3%

First communions: down from 9% to 7%

Religious marriages: down from 257,556 in 1991 to 124,443.

Religious/civil marriages (a combined form of rite permitted here) down from 312,061 to 204,830, while purely civil marriages have risen from 54,546 in 1991 to 80,387 in 2009.

Ordained priests: down from 57,274 in 1991 to 48,333 in 2011


On the other hand, 89.3% of Italian children still opt (or rather their parents do) to attend religion classes in Italian public schools. In 1993 that figure was 93.9 %. And 65% of Italians (although frankly I don’t believe this) claim they go to mass every Sunday or at least twice a month.


 Another study conducted by the Spanish-language Univision American television station

Attendance at religious education classes in Italian public schools from in 1993, 89,30% in 2011

An earlier study published by La Repubblica newspaper on February 7 looking at religious beliefs among Catholics in 12 countries found that millions of Catholics are moving away from Roman Catholic instruction.


The study said 79 % of Italians Catholics were opposed to the current church doctrine (although this may change under Francis) that divorced people should not receive communion. About, 57 % believe priests should be able to marry and 59% say that women should be able to be priests. A whopping 84% is in favor of contraceptives, and if only15% of Italians declare themselves to be unequivocally pro-choice when it comes to abortion, another 68% say abortion should be possible in certain cases. (Indeed, since 1978, Italy has had one of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe although its full application is often thwarted by the nigh number of doctors who declare themselves to be conscientious objectors. In contrast, only 30 % of Italians believe same sex marriage should be allowed, and in fact it is illegal here.


Another sign of how the Italian family is changing, in contrast to the hopes and wishes of the Church, is the soaring number of legal separations and divorces. Statistics released by Istat, the Italian National Statistics Agency last year showed that separations had increased 23.4 and divorces by 48.2 between 2000 and 2011. At this year’s conference of Italian divorce lawyers, new statistics emerged confirming this trend. Research released showed that in the Italian north, 383 out of every 1000 marriages end in one form of separation while in the more conservative south, only 180 out of every 1000 end in a split.  In 30% of the separations, the cause was infidelities discovered.


The total number of marriages has also declined with many more couples living together and having children without actually tying the knot. In 1972, there were 420,000 marriages whereas by 2012 that number had shrunk to only 208,000. Another novelty? Now older Italian couples are breaking up as well. The lawyers noted that today one fifth of the divorces filed for concern people over 65.




New municipal chief police to use technology to fight double-parking PDF Print E-mail
Jan 24, 2014 at 11:14 PM
Raffaele Clemente
Rome's new traffic police chief Raffaele Clemente is (or appears) determined to do something about this city's clogged streets, with much of the problem clearly due to double (and triple-) parked cars which the city's understaffed (and underwilling?) traffic police have made little effort to resolve. Heretofore.

A few weeks ago, Clemente went on Twitter to tell Romans he wanted them to let him and his office know when cars were illegally double-parked or parked, and so far the response has been encouraging. A few weeks ago, 34 cars that were double-parked in one street in the Tuscolana neighborhood received fines in a single go. And just the other day, a journalist with a disabled son sent a photo of a car illegally parked in a spot reserved for the handicapped and later wrote that there was an almost immediate response. If I can figure out how to get my Twitter account onto my recalcitrant Blackberry, I'll be doing a lot of tweeting in my growing role as urban crank.

There are two Twitter accounts that can be used for this purpose, that of the Twitter desk of the municipal police - polizia municipale - which is (@plromacapitale); and that of the comandante himself(@raffaeleclement), to which he himself is said at times to directly respond.

But his plans don't stop there. He is planning to outfit the traffic police's cars with cameras that can, as they drive along, take photos of double (and triple-) parked cars and their tags. The information will be sent to Headquarters and the fines will go out directly from there. "Since we don't have the means to increase Manpower on the streets, we are going to have to rely on technlogy", he says. "Other cities have done it. So can we." It's a good start but I am not holding my breath.

Tax evasion in Italy. Ever rampant PDF Print E-mail
Jan 24, 2014 at 10:56 PM

Image In recent years, the Italian government has been trying to frighten Italians into paying their taxes with a series of instruments that elsewhere might well be deemed unconstitutional: these include the so-called sectors studies system which sets up presumed income levels for anyone in a particular profession, the dreaded spesometro, a set of calculations regarding income based on an individual's expenditures (as in, you have a boat therefore you must earn a certain amount or show me how you were able to purchase that car); limitations on payments that can be made in cash and so on and so forth.

But is it working? Yes, but mostly no. Reportedly, 4.2 billion euros in evaded taxes was recovered last year but at the same time new statistics released this week by the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian tax police, show that during the course of 2013, the state lost some 51 billion euros in unpaid taxes. Their latest report indicated that in 2013
12.726 people were investigated (only 202 were arrested, however) and 14,220 others who had declared no taxes whatsoever were discovered.

Investigations during the year of some 300,000 businesses, showed that despite a series of spectacular - and well publicize raids - one of every three companies had either done a sale without registering it or issued a fraudulent receipt. Almost five billion euros of VAT or sales tax went uncollected, at least two of these involved fraudulent foreign transactions. Total tax evasion last year, according to the tax police, amounted to 51 billion euros.





Rome sanitation department under attack but many Romans not doing their part PDF Print E-mail
Jan 06, 2014 at 03:38 PM

ImageLet’s be clear about this. Separating waste for recycling is not a form of torture invented by AMA, the Rome sanitation department, to drive Romans crazy. As in all of Europe, it stems from the European  Union’s 2008 Waste Framework Directive designed to improve the environment and thus all of our lives: by recovering waste according to precise typologies and re-using it in industrial processes and energy production, we can reduce our need for dwindling raw materials and thus limit the amount of garbage destined for landfills, of which the Rome area has far too many, or for old-style incinerators.


AMA is under attack for inefficiency – delays in pick-ups, changing schedules and overall disorganization - in collecting trash. But are the Romans pitching in and doing their part to the necessary degree? I think not. Collecting urban waste destined for recycling is not easy in any large city. If it is done primarily at the household level, families are forced to fill their homes with too many bins (think of what will happen if, in 2015, the EU goes ahead with plans to have glass, metal and plastic collected separately!) If it is done later on, municipalities will be required to hire more labor, something most of them cannot currently afford to do.


In an ancient, historic center such as Rome, collecting refuse for recycling becomes even more difficult. The streets are too narrow for the dumpsters used in other parts of the city. And even if there were sufficient physical space for them, they would be a terrible eyesore in a city known for its beauty the world round.


As of now, AMA has come up with two models of waste collection in downtown Rome, both of which rely on alternate day schedules and the use of differently colored plastic bags (which now, I am told, may no longer be distributed by AMA). The first system is one in which residents walk their garbage to pre-established collection points, no fun for anyone but particularly hard on the aged and infirm. The second, the door-to-door system in use elsewhere in the world (who knows why Italians always think they, uniquely, are victims?), is also imperfect because in the mornings (and often even later, although not necessarily because of AMA’s inefficiency) the streets are lined with unattractive garbage bags. I can’t imagine what other solution there could be but let’s be clear. These imperfect models will totally break down if residents don’t do their part.


Yes, it’s true. Old habits die hard and many older Roman residents probably nurture nostalgia for the past when the garbagemen (now called ecological operators) actually climbed upstairs to pick up everyone’s unseparated waste right outside their apartment door. But times change and one must learn to think of the community, not just of oneself.


Everyone I know who is ecologically-minded and who lives in the historic center is going crazy because of all the neighbors who refuse to abide by the new rules. Either they don’t separate their refuse into the required paper, plastic glass and metal, food refuse and non-recyclable categories, or they don’t respect the hours and put their garbage out on the street at inappropriate times. Some continue to leave their refuse inside their buildings, causing problems for other residents, forced to clean up after them. And still others deposit paper, plastic and glass into the bin reserved for food refuse, thereby making it ineligible for composting. Yes, AMA has defects but the historic city’s inhabitants bear a lot of the blame.








Rome restaurants changing, not necessarily for the better PDF Print E-mail
Jan 06, 2014 at 03:19 PM

Image Over the last several years, the restaurants of downtown Rome have undergone a sort of restyling in order to better exploit the fact that tourism appears to be one of the few sectors of the city’s economy that is suffering less than others from the ongoing economic crisis. Many restaurants in the centro storico have thus adopted fixed-price tourist menus, sometimes at very enticing levels. To better serve the visitors from other countries, many of whom are used to eating much earlier than the Romans are, the restaurants in Trastevere and around the Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Camp dei Fiori have decided to break with tradition and stay open, uninterruptedly from 12 noon on, hiring young, non professional (and often non-Italian) servers. This way the tourist who is tired and hungry after a long visit to the Vatican Museums or to the Roman Forum, can sit down and have a meal without waiting until an official dinnertime.


In addition, the owners of many restaurants have also set up huge (often very ugly) signs outside on the street in front of their eateries or on the walls next to the door of their places of business; and as these are sometimes decorated with Japanese-style pictures of this or that plate of pasta, it would be an understatement to say that they add little to the already-challenged décor of the city.


But to a certain degree, these are changes that one can easily understand. In a difficult economy, it is normal to try to survive. But there is a risk, and it is that of the disappearance of the dear, old irreplaceable Roman trattoria, with its professional waiters in their white jackets, with their heavy Roman accents and their tired, “I have seen it all” expressions. Following the lead of their owners, who often took your orders personally, they made you feel at home, taking care to satisfy your every wish.


In these trattorias, whether they be the more famous ones such as La Campana, Al Moro, Da Fortunato, La Fiorentina, Il Pollarolo, Il Girarrosto, Il Comparone, La Tana di Noiantri and so on, or the smaller corner trattorie of your local neighborhood, if you were a regular they probably didn’t even bother giving you a menu. The discussion with your waiter was almost a sort of negotiation in which he (in those days they were almost exclusively men) would tell you what was good (and what wasn’t) that day and you could talk about your liver problems or your mal di pancia and ask for something simple, in bianco, and easy to digest.


Are we going to lose all this with the imperatives of modern catering – low cost tourism, fast food and so forth? Some of you will remember the fantastic diner scene (still available on YouTube) from the American film, Five East Pieces (1970) when a very young Jack Nicholson is totally frustrated when he proves unable to convince a recalcitrant waitress to bring him something that is not on the menu. Let’s hope we here in Rome don’t make such a sorry end, a sort  of Back to the Future,


Turn signals: in Rome more theoretical than anything else PDF Print E-mail
Dec 15, 2013 at 07:43 PM

Image When my father taught me to drive in the suburbs of New York, he assured me that little by little, all the new things I was learning would become automatic like using my signals for turns, never ever passing on the right, and keeping a safe distance – three car lengths – between my car and the one in front of me. He was right and even today the turn signal is so automatic for me that I find myself using it even when I am inside a garage or a parking lot. Clearly, I have developed some synapse in my brain so that the moment I think about making a turn, my arm goes into motion. I am, of course, not the only person in the world to have developed this reflex, but in Rome I may well be alone…or almost.

In this city, the overwhelming majority of drivers clearly have not developed this gift of automatic response and act as if the turn signal (la freccia, in Italian) simply doesn’t exist. And that tiny number that do remember that the signal lever is a part of the car they bought, generally use it improperly that is, only after they are well into a turn, which totally defeats its purpose of letting the car behind know what you have in mind.

At a T-junction, one where a driver should let others know whether he will be turning right or left, no one in Rome – and I mean no one – ever bothers. And this despite the fact that the Highway Code, (specifically, art. 154, para. 2) labels it a violation that merits a fine and a loss of two points from one’s license, even though I suspect this rarely happens except in the case of a road accident.

 In the United States rules of this sort are observed with far greater attention; last winter I went to visit a friend in upstate New York and was amazed to see her stop at a stop sign on a country intersection, on a road on which ours was, as far as one could see, the only vehicle.

But the most mysterious aspect to me is why it should be that there is such a widespread disregard in the Eternal City for an instrument that is important not only for courtesy to fellow drivers but for greater safety? At city driving schools I am assured that instructors do teach Romans learning to drive to use their turn signals and do explain their importance. If that were not the case, the mystery would be solved. If they do in fact, teach student drivers the correct use of “la freccia” and other good driving practices, then the mystery deepens. How to explain that an entire city population chooses spontaneously to ignore the basic tenets of good and safe driving?

The only explanation is that there are other cultural factors at work here (mors tua vita mea?) which, I’m afraid to say, are hardly admirable.



Too few foreign-language films in Rome. Time, perhaps, for a change? PDF Print E-mail
Dec 15, 2013 at 07:30 PM

All alone, I'm so all alone....
One of the reasons I love going to Paris from Rome is because you can always see films there that haven’t been dubbed but are in their original language. Personally, I hate seeing a film that has been made in English dubbed into Italian. As good as Italian dubbers are – they are after all real actors – somehow the timbre of the voices or the emphasis in speaking lines is never quite right, especially when they are comedies.


France, like Italy, has a major dubbing industry for foreign films and TV programs. But at least in Paris, the capital, almost all important foreign films can be seen in V.O. format, original version, with French subtitles. In Rome, also a nation’s capital, this is not the case. In fact, since the demise of the Metropolitan theatre, is is even more difficult than before to see an undubbed foreign film. The Alcazar and the Nuovo Sacher, both in Trastevere, do generally show films in the original language, but only once a week. Only the tiny Nuova Olimpia off the Corso regularly shows V.O. films with Italian subtitles. And other showings, now and then, ath the Greenwich, the Farnese, or the Barberini are too few to really count. Rome also has fewer V.O. films than Madrid or Berlin although both Germany and Spain also have major dubbing industries.


Aside from making resident foreigners homesick, the absence of V.O. theatres also means that non-Italian visitors to Rome, whether here for tourism or for work, are out of luck if they want to go to the movies. Isn’t it about time for a change? Nowadays, if only to be able to hear the real voices of their favorite actors, there mist certainly be many Romans capable of (and willing) of seeing a film with subtitles. (In the U.S. and in the U.K. foreign films have always been subtitled and I can remember going to such films even when I was in high school without blinking an eye. The xenophobia of the Mussolini years is long gone as is the widespread illiteracy of the postwar period.


It was back then that the massive Italian dubbing industry was born and there is no doubt that it gave work to thousands and also allowed hundreds of thousands, no millions, of Italians to see and understand films they otherwise would not have had access to. However, this has not come without a price, which is that of widespread unfamiliarity with foreign languages, particularly when it comes to colloquialisms and slang.


Ever wonder whyamong continentall Europeans so many Scandinavians and Dutch speak English so well? It’s because in Stockholm and Amsterdam foreign films and TV programs are never dubbed with the result that young people grow up with the sound of English (or other foreign languages) in their ears. But it’s never too late. Recently the Spanish Minister of Education suggested doing away with the dubbing of foreign films and YV programs and showing them instead in the original. Maybe in Italy, too, someone will start thinking this could be a good idea.




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