Other recent articles
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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.


Comment: Church and State in Italy. Moving backwards.
Mar 15, 2009 at 06:06 PM

Mussolini and Pius IX sign the Lateran Accords

To be published soon in Wanted in Rome.

Earlier this year, on February 11, the Vatican celebrated - with an exhibition, a conference and a concert - the 80th anniversary of the Lateran Pacts, the 1929 treatywith the Italian state(generally known as the Concordat) which made Roman Catholicism the state religion and, 59 years after the capture of Rome by the army of a newly united Italy, restored sovereignty to the Vatican, however reduced in size from the days when Popes ruled over vast areas of the peninsula.

Rome et al: Dècor in the dumps
Mar 15, 2009 at 05:56 PM

ImageThe New York Times carried an interesting article the other day about the Tuscan city of Lucca, the lovely walled city in the part of Italy previously known as Etruria, where the Etruscans once lived, loved and died. The article deals with the controversial decision of the town's center-right municipal administration to put a ban on the opening of new fast food and "ethnic" and restaurants in the city's "historic center" (the old ones, which include four take-out kebab houses,  will be allowed to stay). There have been charges of racism and old-fogeyism on one side and, on the other, plaudits for the mayor's attempts to preserve tradition.

I haven't been in Lucca for a while and can't comment on the situation there, but the same problem is being faced by most Italian cities and in Rome, it is fair to say, municipal administrations of both the left and the right have not done, and are not doing a very good job. Personally, I have nothing against either ethnic restauants (on the contrary, although most visitors would not believe it, eating Italian every day can get to be BORING, BORING). And there have always been lots of "traditional" Italian fast food places around that sell supplì, pizza al taglio, and panini (by the way, someone should tell people back in the US. that  the word "panini" is plural; the proper word for only one Italian sandwich is panino.)

ImageBut I do think city administrations should be bending over backwards to preserve and safeguard as much of the original décor of the historic center and Rome is quickly going to the pits. What a difference from the days back in the 70's when the first McDonald's first dared to raise it's fast-food head here. A hue and a cry went up, and before a license was granted to open the first ever McDonald's, of all places in downtown Piazza di Spagna, plans for the restaurant were gone over with a fine-toothed comb and the result was a façade that was sober, attractive and in tune with the city's architectural style.

ImageNow, however, someone has not been payng attention with the result that there are all too many garish storefronts, neon signs, and horrible lighting systems which have nothing to do with anything remotely "historic". So when you see city police with badges saying they belong to the "decoro" squad, you can have a hearty laugh at their expense. For whereas restaurant or café owners can - and do - get hefty fines if their outdoor tables take up a half a square meter of space more than they pay for, garish signs and storefronts seem to be immune to any kind of city regulation, even if there are strict rules on the books.

Indeed, the local Trastevere committee has been unable to get the Blue Ice gelateria in beautiful Piazza Santa Maria to change it's hideous sign or to do anything about the bright yellow gelateria in Vicolo del Cinque - with the most improbable mounds of gelato on sale - and its horrid signs in English and Italian.

In another area, on Corso Risorgimento, just 100 feet or so from one of the most beautiful squares in the world, Piazza Navona, someone has been allowed to open a yellow and orange, 24 hour, vending machine store that is ugly beyond belief. Or shall we say that while it would look fine in a New York subway station, maybe even attractive, here it is totally out of place. And yet, alas,  no one seems to care.

Major Giotto show opens in Rome
Mar 08, 2009 at 02:42 PM
ImageANSA) - Rome, March 6 - An eagerly awaited exhibition celebrating the father of the Renaissance, Giotto, and his groundbreaking impact on 14th-century art has opened in Rome. The 3.3-million-euro show at the Vittoriano boasts over 160 works of art, including 20 panels, exploring the life and times of Giotto di Bondone (c.1267-1337).

The Thursday inauguration of the exhibition, presided over by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, was attended by leading figures from the world of Italian art, who praised the breadth and value of the works on display. ''This exhibition is a once-in-a-century event offering a multi-faceted overview of a crucial period in the history of European art,'' commented Florence's Art Superintendent Cristina Acidini. ''Giotto set out from Florence and, as Dante did with the Italian language, unified Italy's art world''. Art historian Francesco Gandolfo described the exhibition as ''a real head-turner'' and said it offered some ''complex food for thought''.

The exhibition features wooden sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, goldwork and paintings by a variety of key figures from the 1300s, including Simone Martini, Giovanni Pisano and Arnolfo di Cambio.But the highlight of the show is the selection of Giotto's own fragile, 14th-century panels on loan from major museums around the world, several of which have been restored for the show.

''This event does not simply commemorate Giotto's work, it aims to approach the master from a fresh point of view,'' said Architectural Heritage Superintendent Roberto Cecchi.

''There are so many aspects to Giotto that we still know little about, such as his interest in architecture, and the exhibition will contain some appealing ideas for future studies''.

Although renowned for his skill at life drawings at a time when stylised Byzantine art dominated, much of Giotto's life, travels and training remains shrouded in mystery.He was born in Tuscany of a father named Bondone, studied with Cimabue, one of the greatest painters of his day, and completed his greatest masterpiece, the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, in around 1305.

However, the year and precise place of his birth and his family's background remain subjects of dispute, as does the order in which he completed his works and even their attribution.The exhibition sets out to address these uncertainties among others, looking at conflicting views and tracing his voyages around Italy through the impact of his art.

''The exhibition analyzes the master's presence in Italy's greatest cities, from Rome to Florence, and from Naples to Milan,'' said the event's curator Alessandro Tomei. "'First-hand evidence has disappeared but historians have reconstructed his trail through documentation and the influence his work had on his contemporaries. ''Where Giotto went, artistic expression changed for good,'' he concluded.

Giotto e Il Trecento (Giotto And The 14th Century), the exhibition runs in Rome's Vittoriano until June 29.

photo:Christ between St John the Evangelist, the Madonna, John the Baptist and St Francis, (1310-1315) from the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Eating out: TRASTEVERE
Feb 21, 2009 at 11:15 AM


First published in Wanted in Rome.

The reasons are not all that clear, but Rome's Trastevere - in modern times a sort of Greenwich Village or Soho inhabited by artists, students, intellectuals and foreign expats - has long been known as the place to go in the evenings to eat and, more recently alas, to drink, hang out, and drink some more. The result? A plethora of restaurants (and, alas, bars) that long ago put the area on the city's culinary map. Trastevere's eating places range from the excellent, the tried and true to the mediocre. It's hard to get a bad meal. But with an increasing number of eateries now catering to tourists, it's not so easy to get a great one either. Below find a small selection of places I think most people will enjoy .

Eluana Englaro has died
Feb 09, 2009 at 10:46 PM

The torture has ended.
A miracle! Almost as if she knew that this might be her only chance (see the preceding article) , Eluana Englaro unexpectedly died this evening - at 8:10 p.m. local time - of a respiratory crisis that no one had really foreseen at this time. The 37-year old woman's feeding tube was removed only four days ago, on Friday, and the next day the doctors overseeing her impending demise had stopped giving her water. Doctors had said that death might take 12 to 14 days but after 17 years in a persistent vegetative state (she could do nothing for herself except breathe and had no overt signs of awareness) she was clearly weaker than anyone thought. Her father; Beppe, wept at the news and then asked to be left alone.

Eluana's death came as the Senate continued its deliberations on the one article, stop-gap draft bill that the center-right government headed by Silvio Berlusconi was trying to vote into law in time to call a halt to the court-approved decision to allow the woman, irrevocably injured in a car accident just before her 20th birthday, to leave this world. One can only hope that the government will now withdraw the bill because the sorely-needed legislation on this issue requires much more time and thought then this ad personam bill would have been given. So yes, Virgina. Miracles do happen!

Personal tragedy becomes a national drama
Feb 09, 2009 at 04:00 PM
Beppe Englaro, Eluana's Dad
        The personal tragedy of Eluana Englaro and her family has been turned into a national drama by the Berlusconi government and the Roman Catholic church and at the moment there is no way to tell how it will play out. Personally, I am most distressed by a situation in which those opposed to allowing Eluana to die are shouting "Murder!", decrying euthanasia and accusing her father of attempted homicide.

        For this reason I have decided not use the picture of Eluana that I used with previous articles because its repeated display has helped to foster the notion that the person now lying in a bed in a clinic in Udine in the Italian north is the same as that photographed sometime around her 20th birthday. Just imagine, the other day Silvio Berlusconi, who is putting into motion desperate moves to keep Eluana alive despite her father's court-approved decision to take her off life support, said something absurd like this: "I understand she still has functioning cells in her brain and theoretically could still get pregnant and give birth". And this about a poor creature who, although she breathes on her own, has been in what is called "a permanent vegetative state" for SEVENTEEN years.

Italy enraged by Brazil (update)
Jan 26, 2009 at 12:07 PM

ImageThe Italian government is furious with Brazil - and understandably so - for refusing to extradite Cesare Battisti, a former leftwing terrorist convicted in his absence of four homicides during the late 1970s. And the tensions have kept growing after Brazil's Justice Minister, Tarso Genro justified his controversial decision to grant Battisti political refugee status by saying that Italian society is still caught up in a 1970's mentality, implying that Battisti would not be safe if he were to return here.

The comments enraged many Italians, like Giovanni Bachelet, MP, whose father Vittorio, a university professor, was murdered by the Red Brigades here in 1980, and who found them wrongheaded and almost insulting. "The fact is, that in the 1970's Brazil was hardly a democracy and there were murder squads hunting down leftwing militants. Italy, on the other hand, has been a democracy for decades and the terrorists were misguided ideologues not freedom fighters". Furthermore, he explained, most convicted terrorists have now left prison after serving long sentences and for the most part are working in social or charitable organizations. Unlike West Germany,or Brazil, where several jailed terrorists died under mysterious circumstances, in Italy they have been treated fairly but forced to pay their debt to society, he said in an interview in the Messaggero newspaper on January 31st.

After years of hiding in France, where the government of Francois Mitterand tended to see other countries' terrorists as freedom fighters, Battisti, fled to Brazil and was arrested in Copacabana in 2007 on an international arrest warrant. For now he remains in jail, but in Brazil is seen in Brazil as a victim of persecution. The Italians are so mad they have recalled their ambassador and have filed to present a case before the Brazilian Supreme Court. Some have said that the friendly Italy-Brazil soccer match should be cancelled, but this is unlikely to happen.

Why all ths sympathy for Battisti? Is it because he's smart, because he's become a writer, or because he now has a family? Who knows, but it's ridiculous.  Fact is, although he claims to be innocent, he was convicted of the murders of a policeman, a prison guard, a butcher and a jeweller, all in the Italian North. And while the Italian justice system has many, many flaws (whose doesn't?) this is not Pinochet's Chile. It is a democracy with a functioning legal system.

Julius Caesar returns to Rome
Dec 27, 2008 at 10:01 PM


The Chiostro del Bramante in Rome's medieval historic center has inaugurated a series of exhibitions on the great protagonists of Roman history. And who better with whom to begin this journey then Julius Caesar (BC 100 to 44),  himself, "the man, his accomplishments, his legend". A brilliant military commander, a man of culture and an unquestioned man odf eminence who many see as Italy's greatest leader and others as its first dictator, he was the architect of what was soon thereafter to become the Roman Empire, an extensive realm of which his adopted son, Ottaviano (later the Emperor Augustus), was to become the unquestioned ruler.

Even in those ancient times, Caesar was media-savvy enough to begin constructing his myth in his own lifetime. He presented himself as a descendent of the goddess Venus and therefore of the hero Aeneas, who the poet Virgil describes as the founder of Rome.

The exhibit, which lasts until May, 2009, and which is open every day but Monday from 10 a.m. to 8pm (9pm on Saturdays and Sundays), for the first time brings together archaeological documents of great beauty and importance belonging to the major Italian and foreign museums as well as plaster of paris models designed to reconstruct various aspects of Caesar's Rome. A vast assortment of art works have been assembled to illustrate the myth of Caesar from the Middle Ages to our own times.

Chiostro del Bramante
Via della Pace




Roman blights: cigarette stubs and litterers
Dec 27, 2008 at 02:28 PM
ImageAnyone who has lived in Italy for a while knows that a major problem for efficient government - more or less an oxymoron here - is the enormous gap between expressed intentions and reality.
Example: The other day, I read that the city of Rome has decided to "wage war" on the thousands, possibly millions, of cigarette butts which have been clogging the cobblestone streets of "old Rome" ever since the no smoking law banning smoking in cafes, bars, restaurants and stores went into effect in January 2002 and which defy the sanitation department's human or mechanical sweepers. Sounds easy, right? But this is Italy.
So much for the (lack of) Christmas spirit!
Dec 23, 2008 at 10:54 PM

Fiumicino in chaos
With all the problems that Alitalia has had, the last thing the airline needed was a wildcat strike in the run-up to Christmas that has screwed the travel plans of thousands of travellers who had planned to depart for other shores from Rome's Fiumicino airport. This time it wasn't the pilots or the flight attendants, the groups that refused to sign the accord  with the airline's new owner, CAI. No, these were ground crew workers belonging to the confederal unions that did sign the accord but who now say CAI has reneged on part of their original agreement.

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