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.


LIFESTYLE: How (not) to order a glass of milk
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!

Berlusconi trying to patch things up with the Holy See? Lots of luck!
Aug 27, 2009 at 12:03 PM
Dream on!
Dream on, Silvio
This will be a first! On Friday, Agust 28th, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is apparently planning on attending the so-called Perdonanza celestiniana, a rite of forgiveness established some 800 years ago by Pope Celestine V on the date of his election to the papacy (August 29, 1294) and held each year in L'Aquila, the earthquake-ravaged capital of the Abruzzi region (where the Italian government recently held this year's G8 meeting).
Editorial: health care from the European point of view
Aug 20, 2009 at 09:59 PM
Health care. Zowie! The proposal to introduce some sort of national health system in the United States has aroused violent reactions among some Americans which to me -  personally -- are incomprehensible. Some US commentators seem to believe thse often violent reactions mask anti-Obama racism. Some think they reflect vast misunderstandings about what a health system is. Others say that people on Medicare - above all on Medicare Advantage - may lose some benefits. I have no idea what views my readers hold but I thought it might be useful if I were to provide a "European" point of view, particularly since some of the things that are being said in the US these days are, quite frankly, WAY off the wall.

National health care is NOT a Communist idea. It may have its roots in some forms of socialism but, so what? The fact is that ALL, and I mean ALL, European countries - Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany etc. etc. ALL of which are DEMOCRACIES where there are free elections, a free press, and an economic system that is predominantly capitalist (this is NOT the former Soviet bloc, which by the way no longer exists) have some sort of national health system, the purpose of which is to make sure that everyone has decent health care. The same is true of Canada and many Latin American countries. (Read Roger Cohen in the New York Times on the differences between the US and the French system.)

The bad side to national health, especially in countries such as Sweden and the U.K., is that to support a functioning national health system, income taxes often have to be rather high. In Sweden, where I am right now as I write, the average income tax is 60%. But if you get sick or have an accident, which was the case last spring for my friend and host Cristina, who broke her ankle getting out of a still moving car, off you go to the hospital and get x-rays, an air cast, crutches and painkillers plus several follow-up visits, all of which at cost practically nothing. Cristina´s total cost for two sets of x-rays, doctor visits and the equipment she was provided with, was 900 Swedish crowns, the equivalent of $ 125.00. That by the way is the annual ceiling for hospital charges so that if she needs hospital care again within a 12-month period she will not pay anything.

Just as a note of interest, in Sweden the out of pocket chargeSwedes must pay are, for a hospital bed per night, 80 crowns ($11.17), for a visit to the family doctor visit, 140 crowns ($19.56) and for a visit to a specialist 260 crowns ($36.32).

It might also be of interest that the state health and welfare system also provide Cristina´s 99-year old mother (yes, 99, and no one is trying to bump her off!) with two weekly visits from a social assistant who helps her bathe and a third visit from someone who goes food shopping for her. She also has an medical alarm bracelet Cristina´s mom has significant savings and therefore pays more for these services than other Swedes, something like $190 a month. If she had no savings she would get the same things free. And if she were sicker - she lives alone and is relatively self-sufficient - or bed-ridden, she´d get almost constant attentio, for next to nothing. During a period of illness when she couldn´t go outdoors (today she is back to taking her daily walks), the welfare office sent over a carpenter to install a ramp so she could go out on her balcony with her walker.

In Sweden, some people now have private insurance policies which cover them when they are abroad or if they do not want to wait for a diagnostic test or opertions such as hip replacements or cataracts since sometimes (but only in the event of non-life-threatening illnesses) there are often delays. But most people rely on the national health system.

In Italy, there is a similar system, the SSN. You have a family doctor whom you can choose and for whom you pay nothing unless he makes a house visit and you are under 65. Medicines are divided into two categories, A and C, the first of which you get free except for a slight out of pocket charge imposed by your regional government, and C, for which you have to pay unless your income is below a certain level, you are over 65 or in a special group of the chronically ill. This includes all sort of pharmaceuticuals. For example, I take HRT and pay only 2 euros $2.80, for each month´s supply.

In Italy, if you are rushed to the hospital, you pay a small out of pocket charge (for some unknown reason. In Italy the charge is called a "ticket") for tests or the use of the hospital bed. Italian hospitals are not great; non-paying patients must have a friend or family-member available to help feed you, take you to the john etc. but if you are indigent or totally alone a solution will be found.

On the negative side, there are very long delays for some non life-threatening procedures or diagnostic tests which leads me to say that in some ways the Italian health system is more virtual than real. People who can afford it, or who like me have private insurance policies (mine is a policy that all Italian journalists must have, a percentage of one´s salary being taken out of one´s paycheck to pay for it), often prefer to pay for immediate diagnostic tests or procedures rather than wait. But the fact that the system exists has the effect of keeping medical prices much much lower than in the U.S. There are many things in the U.S. that cost significantly less than in Italy, including food and many restaurants. But health care is not among them and this can only be attributed to our lack of a national health system.

Here are some examples:

The price of an MRI if you decide not to wait for the health system to find room for you is rarely more than $500.

A pelvic sonagram runs around $140.

I recently paid $146 for about 30 minutes of lasering on my face, chest and hands. When I was last in New York, the doctors office I called asked for $325 for a consultation which did not include any of the actual lasering and no prices were available by phone.

Most private psynciatrists charge between $140 and $200.

What are the downsides of national health? Obviously, there are differences among countries and they way they operate (inefficiency is probably much more of a problem in Italy than in Sweden) but to the extent one can generalize I would say: waste, duplication, long waiting times and burocratic confusion among national, regional and muncipal agencies. But how can these defects justify the rage that some Americans have been expressing and the blatant lies that have been circulating. Is it just ignorance or fear of losing what one has? Which is what, huge doctors and medical bills in times or emergency and, for many, next to no coverage at all???? Furthermore, the fact that scores of Americans don´t seem to realize that Medicare is a government program is a sign that something, as Hamlet said,  is severely wrong in the Kingdom of..  somewhere. And this time it is certainly not Denmark!

Bad drivers who think they're good
Aug 10, 2009 at 01:19 PM

ImageThe association of Italian municipalities, ANCI, has commissioned a survey regarding the way Italians drive and the results show that drivers here are pretty much as we know them to be: undisciplined and inclined to break the law. The most amusing thing about the survey, is that the majority of the drivers polled gave themselves vey high marks for driving, an average of 7.9 which in the Italian grading system is the equivalent of a B or B+. The survey showed that among the capitals of Euope, Rome had the highest mortality rate for road accidents. Not a good record but on the other hand, other Italian cities were  even worse. The highest fatality rate was registered in the Sicilian city of Catania; the lowest, in Genoa.

Aug 05, 2009 at 06:21 PM
ImageOnce when I was in the UK on vacation (more specifically, it was Scotland), I stopped into the local surgery (state health system office) in a small town and asked the doctor on duty if he would give me a shot as I had one of my bad backaches. Since I hate pain, I never travel without some syringes and some anti-inflammatory vials for eventual injections, but I was a bit taken aback when the doctor looked at me in amazement. “What” he asked, with undisguised surprise? “ Are you sure? I can do it but it seems pretty odd to me”, he added, making it clear he thought my request was very unusual, if not downright weird.

Italy approves RU486. Vatican issues sharp protests
Aug 01, 2009 at 02:24 PM
Image The Italian Food and Drug agency, Aifa, on Thursday finally approved the use of the medical abortion drug, RU486, in Italy and true to form the Vatican is again threatening with excommunication any one who uses it to procure an abortion along with any one, that is doctors or nurses, who administer it. The government has said that it will guarantee the application of the law, but this may be a problem in a country where seven out of ten doctors working in state-approved hospitals have said they are conscientious objectors and refuse to apply the country's 1978 abortion law. On Sunday, in fact, in what I personally would consider an act of subversion, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops' Conference, appealed to doctors to choose conscientious objector status so as to interfere with the use of the pill.
Michelangelo's Last Paintings are Newly Restored
Jul 04, 2009 at 06:24 PM

Saul (St Paul)
You're hardly likely to get to see it, but it is nevertheless big news that after nine years what is said to be Michelangelo's last painting has finally been totally and beautifully restored in the Vatican's Pauline Chapel, the Cappella Paolina. (To see the pictures, click here.)
The chapel, inside the Apostolic Palace and normally reserved for use by popes alone, boasts two frescos on facing walls depicting St. Paul and St. Peter and which some consider the Maestro's spiritual testament. The experts have gone so far as to be able to determine the very last figure painted by the aging Florentine artist in March 1550, a dark complexioned, hefty old woman with a turban, cloaked in blue, the figure furthest to the left in a group of four women grieving under the cross on which Peter has been crucified and possibly a shepherdess. In other words,when he painted her it was the last time he took brush in hand prior to his death, at the age of 89, on February 18, 1564.

Can he survive? In amoral Italy....perhaps
Jun 24, 2009 at 02:40 PM


Silvio Berlusconi has gone on the offensive, insisting he never paid women to attend parties at his residence and suggesting that the woman who has told her story about the invitations and about spending a night with him was paid to create problems for him, something she hotly denies.
In effect, the investigation by a Bari magistrate into the prime minister's parties has not (so far) accused Berlusconi of any wrongdoing (for the moment, its target is a Bari businessman named Giampaolo Tarantini accused of "inducement to prostitution"). But the image of the Prime Minister's residences as Playboy Mansions to which access was apparently possible with little or no attention to security, has struck home, at least among many of the country's more conservative inhabitants.

Berlusconi: Knee deep in it?
Jun 20, 2009 at 11:36 AM


ImageSilvio Berlusconi says reports that women were paid to attend parties at his private residences in Rome and Sardinia are all "garbage" and that he will sweep it away like the garbage of Naples; he won't be undone, he adds, by the media and the judiciary. But it is a safe bet that any dreams he ever had of ending his career as President of the Italian Republic can now be tossed in the bin.

Although many Italians, particularly men, appear to admire Berlusconi's wealth and pleasure-oriented life-style, there is a limit even here to what people will accept in their leaders. Furthermore, on the eve of the G8 meeting to be held next month in earthquake-stricken L'Aquila, his image is being increasingly blackened by revelations regarding his private life wirh political leaders and pundits now asking themselves if scandal will not damage Italy's standing in international circles.

Bulgari: From History to Eternity
Jun 14, 2009 at 02:00 PM
Image A magnificent show on Italy´s most famous jeweler is being held at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni through September 13th. The exhibition celebrates the house of Bulgari´s 125th anniversary with a retrospective showcase of over 500 pieces of jewellery that also traces the history of jewlery over that samer period. Visitors to Italy often forget that Bulgari has a long history and that the founder of the firm. Sotiris Bulgari, a transplanted Greek, was known thrughout Europe. Curator of the show is my friend Amanda Triossi and below is her introduction to the exhibition. Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Via Nazionale 194, tel. 0639967500. 10.00-20.00. Fri-Sat 10.00-22.30. Mon closed.

Bulgari. From History to Eternity. 125 Years of Italian Jewellery

 by Amanda Triossi

Palazzo delle Esposizioni  currently presents a landmark show devoted to the jewellery of Bulgari which marks the 125th anniversary of the opening of the first store in Rome in 1884. It is an event that is extremely significant for Italian decorative arts, in particular, for the history of jewellery, inasmuch as it makes it possible to survey the evolution of European jewellery through the production of one of the leading jewellers in the world.

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