Other recent articles
Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty.
Wettest summer in 35 years
Donor insemination to come to Italy
Sites reopened at Pompeii
Sari's e-book on sale this weekend at Amazon
Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance.
Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now)
Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold.


Italians on their feet: running for sport, running for office
Mar 22, 2010 at 08:21 PM
Italians took to the streets this past weekend in a variety of demos and other events that turned out to be a multifarious greeting to what appears to be the first days of a long-awaited Italian spring.


On Sunday, over 15,000 contestants showed up to run in Rome's 16th Marathon (the winner, once again, an African, Ethiopian, Siraj Gena, finished the 42 kilometer course in slightly over two hours and eight minutes) and another 50,000 turned out in Milan to run in a shorter, ten kilometre race for non-professional athletes (this one won by a Kenyan). Here in the Italian capital, it was a good reason to stick close to home as I decided to do, changing a lunch reservation downtown to one in my neighbourhood of Trastevere; a journalist for the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, reported it took her over an hour and a half to drive her Vespa from the Ara Pacis monument on the Lungotevere to the Testaccio neighbourhood down river. Generally, she said, it took her five minutes! Yikes!

But if Sunday was for fun, Saturday was spent by people marching for more serious causes. In Milan, 200,000 people turned out in an anti-Mafia demonstration, in Potenza, in the Italian south, thousands joined the family of Elisa Claps, a 16 year old high school student who disappeared in 1993 and whose partly mummified body was discovered Friday (17 years later!!!!1) in the attic of the church where she was last seen. In Rome, tens of thousands rallied in and around Piazza Navona to protest the center-right government's plan to facilitate the privatization of water supply services in some Italian cities.


And across town in Piazza San Giovanni, huge crowds turned out for an election rally organized by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to help his PDL party in next weekend's regional elections, or rather to help the PDL's candidate for the regional presidency, since the party's ticket has been excluded from the vote here on technical grounds.


Estimates of the number of people gathered in Rome's San Giovanni square to listen to Berlusconi and to cheer candidate Renata Polverini, who is also running on her own ticket, along with the PDL's candidates for the other 12 regions where the presidency is up for grabs, ranged from the 150,000 on the part of the police to the one million claimed by the rally's organizers. In any event, it was indeed a massive turnout of ordinary Italians, young and old, who seemed to be enjoying the spring-like weather, the music provided by a band hired for the occasion and the bombastic words of the remarkably popular Mr. Berlusconi.
Sadly, for those of us who are not so easily dazzled, his speech was an collection of grossly-exaggerated claims for his government's policies, attacks on the center-left opposition and aggressive comments regarding left-leaning Italian magistrates some of whom, he ludicrously claimed, have pictures of Che Guevara in their offices.
Berlusconi, who is under investigation here on a variety of charges, including a recent inquiry into his purported attempts to convince television authorities to help quash two very aggressive political talk-shows, claimed once again to be a victim of activist magistrates (there may be some truth to this but no way as much as he says). The response of the crowd - who followed his lead in every turn of his speech - was unstinting and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Indeed, at the end of the rally these tens of thousands of hard-core supporters joined him in singing the PDL campaign song, the refrain of which is, unbelievably, "meno male che Silvio c'è" (thank goodness that Silvio exists).

Portrait of a Nation (PART TWO)
Mar 21, 2010 at 06:58 PM

Image The 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 have aleady published Part One of this portrait of a nation. Here, now, are some other interesting dacts about Italy that can help the visitor have a better idea of what the lives of ordinary Italians are like.

To vote -- or not to vote. That is the question.
Mar 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM


It seems incredible, but only two weeks away from elections scheduled for March 28/29th in 13 of Italy's 20 regions, a bizarre (even for Italy) brouhaha over candidate filing procedures has raised political tempers and raised the question of whether in the Lazio region (that surounding the Italian capital) the election will even be held and if so in what conditions. 

Repeated rulings by a series of Rome election commissions and administrative courts  - the most recent today, Saturday, March 13th,  by the Council of State - have upheld the ineligibility of the list of candidates presented by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Popolo della Libertà party (PDL), currently Italy's major political party. This means that if Berlusconi wants the PDL's candidate for regional president, Renata Polverini, to win, he will have to ask his supporters to vote for her personal slate of candidates, meaning that many seats in the regional assembly may end up occupied by Polverini supporters, not by PDL members.

Caravaggio in Rome: The man behind the myth
Feb 26, 2010 at 10:58 PM

Judith beheading Holofernes

Exactly 400 years ago, Michelangelo Merisi , today known to us all as Caravaggio (the name of the town from which his parents came), died alone, penniless and ill in a poor man's hospital at Porto Ercole in Tuscany. Celebrating the centenaries of an esteemed artist's death has now become the fashion, so it is hardly surprising that celebrations have been planned for 2010, with the keynote being the small but intense exhibit in Rome that opened at the Scuderie del Quirinale on February 20, 2010 and will last until June 13th.

Senza speranza (sob!)
Feb 18, 2010 at 06:10 PM

Bertolaso: Et tu, Guido?
  To be published March 3 in Wanted in Rome.

As we write it is hard to know exactly how the latest scandal - that which some of the country's least imaginative journalists have dubbed Bertolaso-Gate - will actually play out. We don't know if Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso, despite the ongoing support of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, will be forced to resign. We don't know of what, if anything, the country's most-admired high-profile official is actually guilty. What we do know is that the preliminary results of an investigation into collusion, corruption and bribery by high-ranking civil servants and a group of unscrupulous "costruttori" or builders, that was carried on over the last 18 months by the ROS Carabinieri on orders from the district attorney's office (la Procura) of Florence has left a sour taste in many people's mouths that will be difficult and perhaps impossible to eliminate.

Portrait of a Nation (PART ONE)
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.

Italian government to make new moves against the Mafia? Stay tuned!
Jan 31, 2010 at 08:40 PM


The Italian cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, met last week in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria and approved a ten-point plan to speed up the fight against the Mafia. At the same time, the Italian manufacturers' association, Confindustria, announced that from here on any member who pays protection money to any of Italy's criminal associations will be asked to resign from the organization. The so called "pizzo" is estimated to affect at least 160,000 Italian companies and businesses.

The government's new plan calls for the establishment of a national Agency that would manage the wealth confiscated from captured and convicted criminals and which will be based in Reggio Calabria, the capital of the crime-riddled Calabria region. A codex of anti-Mafia legislation from as far back as 1965, together with a detailed map of the country's criminal organizations, will also be compiled to help police combat them, along with an interforce desk that will share information among Italy's diverse police forces. In addition, the country's anti-Mafia task forces will now be given authority over illegal waste management. Given the recent riots in nearby Rosarno, attempts to limit illegal immigration, thought to swell the ranks of criminals employed by the Mafia, will be stepped up as will a long-overdue crackdown in the area on enterprises that use illegal labor.

Over the last year or two, Italian police appear to have made significant strides against organized crime, capturing many of the "most wanted" leaders of Cosa Nostra (Sicily), the Camorra (Campania) and the N'dranghete (Calabria). But the hold of the Mafia (or, rather, Mafias) on the Italian economy remains enormous. According to a report, released last week, by Confesercenti, the Italian association of small businesses (primarily tourism, commerce and refreshments), the estimated financial turnover last year for Italian organized crime - a business the association's authors dub Mafia Inc - in Italy was 135 billion euros, equal to 7% of Italian GNP.

Furthermore, the present Italian government has made some decisions that appear likely to weaken progress against organized crime, namely that of sharply limiting police and magistrates in their use of telephone tapping, by attempting to shorten the length of trials, and by giving arrested criminals the possibility of choosing a form of trial - the so-called rito abbreviato -which allows mafiosi to end up with jail terms that experts say are too short, that is, not long enough to make working with for for organized crime a real risk.

The plan for a new Agency to deal with confiscated wealth - estimated at over five billion euros worth - could make a difference but not, critics say, if the instrument used is that of auctioning off homes, cars, factories, inventories and so on, as in a public auction is it not hard for a mafioso to use an intermediary to buy assets back.

According to the Confesercenti report, organized crime's major earnings come from narcotics, estimated at E 60 billion, the protection racket (E24) and waste disposal and related activities, accounting for some E16 billion. Subcontracts in building and revenue from "normal" investments make up the rest. The report also says that while Italian GNP as a whole dropped last year by 5%, organized crime increased its turnover by some 3.7% (how they are able to calculate this is beyond me, but this is what the report says, speaking of a sharp increase in usury because of reduced lending by banks.). It says that organized crime is much more flexible in its largely cash-based operations than legitimate businesses.


A Pope Comes Calling
Jan 20, 2010 at 12:51 AM

Guess who came to visit?

Sunday was a day of pomp and circumstance on Rome's Lungotevere river road with rabbis in toqued hats and white and black robes waiting outside Rome's imposing Tempio Maggiore and then, for the second time in modern history, smilingly accompanying inside, as their guest, a Roman Catholic Pope. At the closing part of a two-hour ceremony, where he shared a fruit-bedecked podium with Italian Jewish dignitaries, Pope Benedict XVI denounced the horrors of the Shoah, said the bonds linking Judaism and Christianity - he specifically mentioned the Ten Commandments - were indelible and urged that the festering sores of anti-Semitism be forever healed.

In a 15-minute speech, the last of the two-hour ceremony that was broadcast live by two major networks (I watched the entire thing and it was fascinating), Benedict said the Shoah could never be forgotten and made a it clear that he would continue the Holy See's dedication to improved relations with Judaism. He spoke of the landmark Second Vatican Council as "a clear landmark to which constant reference is made in our attitude and our relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage."


Vergogna! Shame on you!
Jan 12, 2010 at 04:53 PM

There is only one Italian word that can be used after TV footage from Rosarno showed Italians what kind of conditions the majority of foreign, largely African, field workers eking out a miserable wage, in and around the town of Rosarno in the southern Italian region of Calabria: Vergogna! Shame on you!

Most of the workers lived in tents or makeshift cardboard "dwellings" inside or on the grounds of old, abandoned factories with no sanitary facilities and in one case only one working water faucet for over 600 people. A report that included an interview with a doctor from Doctors without Frontiers said the air was more or less unbreathable and most of the people living in that factory were suffering from respiratory or intestinal problems. Vergogna!



Happy New Year (hah!)
Jan 11, 2010 at 05:54 PM

Mr. B. is all better.

An apparently good-as-new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi returned to Rome today, some three weeks after being attacked after a rally by a Milanese man with a history of psychiatric disorders. I, too, am back in Rome after two weeks in New York and Washington where I did not allow the icy cold and wind to disrupt a highly enjoyable vacation in which I was able to see most of my best friends, bought myriad things you can't get here or which cost less in the US, and ate my way through various Asian cuisines and good old US standbys such as pancakes, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs and bacon, corn muffins, donuts and the great New York bacon cheeseburger, with French fries and/or onion rings. Slurp. (Yes, I came back to Italy several pounds heavier but having returned to my near daily gym routine, I expect to soon return to normal.)

Meanwhile, both Berlusconi and I were greeted with an outbreak of what may have been the worst race riots so far to have occurred in Italy and which have once again shed light on this country's failure, despite a lot of high fallutin' words, to make sure the country's immigrants are treated fairly and guaranteed humane living conditions.

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