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.


How the mighty do fall but……don’t count him out yet!
Oct 08, 2013 at 08:08 PM
ImageFormer Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has had a few very bad days, and things may soon be getting worse. Last week Berlusconi's attempt to bring down the coalition government in which his conservative party, the PdL, shares power with the left-of-center Democratic Party and another small right-of-center group failed miserably because of a mutiny led by his hand-picked number two, Angelino Alfano. Then, despite three months of bullying and threats of dire consequences by his party, a majority of the members of a Senate commission went ahead and voted to deprive him of his Senate seat. And now, the 77-year old communications magnate and politician is reportedly resigned to asking to serve his coming one-year sentence for tax fraud by performing socially useful activities or some other kind of community service under the supervision of a branch of the Italian judiciary. The alternative, given his age, would be house detention. But the rules of that kind of regime would severely limit the freedom of movement of a man who has dominated political life here for the last 20 years and who surely, in his heart of hearts,has no intention of giving up.
Brava Italia! (and friends)
Sep 18, 2013 at 10:12 AM

ImageAn international group of experts led by an Italian engineering team and Italy's civil protection agency yesterday successfully righted the Costa Concordia giant cruise ship in the first step of a complex project that will lead to its removal from the waters near the Italian island of Giglio, probably early next spring.

Ships' horns sounded and bystanders cheered at 4 a.m after a complicated, and potentially dangerous, 19 hour operation, which had been broadcast live, was happily concluded. The ship, which had been lying on its side on reefs since it sank on January 13, 2012, was rotated and lifted, by the use of inflatable tanks, onto an underwater platform with commands being issued remotely by a control center on shore.

The success of the first and most crucial stage of the Parbuckling Project as the plan devised by US and Italian companies (Titan Salvage is an American-owned specialist marine salvage and wreck removal company, part of the Crowley Group, and is a world leader in its field, Micoperi is a well-known Italian marine contractor with a long history as a specialist in underwater construction and engineering) will allow inspectors to search for the remains of two drowning victims (a total of 32 died) whose bodies were never recovered and, in later stages, to empty the 950 foot long ship, tow it and consign it to salvage.

Civil protection chief Franco Gabrielli said the side of the ship that had been underwater since the shipwreck was heavily damaged but possibly less so than had been thought. And Costa Cruise's project manager, Franco Porcellacchia, said that as far as could be seen, there was no evidence, "so far" of any environmental damage, one of the biggest fears before any action had been taken. Most of the fuel had been drained out of the ship months ago but there was concern that chemicals and other remaining substances could leak into the coastal waters.

The Italians, who handled the engineering parts of the multi-million dollar plan, were understandably proud of yesterday's success since the fatal shipwreck and the despicable behavior of its captain, Francesco Schettino (who goes on trial later this fall on charges of multiple manslaughter) had been considered a major embarrassment.



The Unending Silvio Berlusconi Show
Sep 14, 2013 at 10:31 PM

Image"Convicted felon holds an entire town hostage." Since "paese", the word for country in Italian, is often used to signify "town", when I read the above it was hard not to think of one those horrid events in the United States, when one or more gun-toting individuals take hostages and terrorize an entire area.

Instead, the headline, in a left-leaning Italian daily, was referring to the current situation here, one in which the political debate continues to revolve primarily around the future of only one man, former premier Silvio Berlusconi. Recently convicted by a court of last resort of tax fraud and he is destined, sooner or later, to lose his seat in the Senate. However, not a day goes by that Berlusconi and one or more of his party cohorts threaten to bring down the coalition government in which they currently share power with the left of center Democratic Party, unless some kind of solution can be found to ease their leader's inevitable exit from politics.

And this regardless of the fact that the Italian economy, despite a few encouraging signs for the near future, is still terribly weak and that there are myriad other burning issues to deal with, including a new electoral law and related constitutional reforms, taxation and tax evasion, reorganization of the justice system and a renewed wave of boat people, this time mostly from Syria, reportedly more than 3000 in the last week alone.

Sari's new e-book on living (and loving) in Rome
Aug 01, 2013 at 10:34 PM

ImageI just wanted to let Stranitalia readers know that I have finally put on line, at Amazon's Kindle Store, a book I have been working on for some time now. The title is: "My Home Sweet Rome: Living (and Loving) in the Eternal City. The link is:

It's about my experiences in Rome as a woman, an American and a foreigner. So while it will tell you a lot about me (maybe even more than you wanted to know), the book's main purpose is to give readers a really good look at Italy. Not just the place that's so nice to visit, but a place where putting down roots can also be a real challenge. Life in Italy is not easy and often Italians who themselves are fed up with many aspects of life here say to me: What? You gave up New York to move to Rome? Why ever would you do that? Actually, there were  -- and are -- many good reasons for doing that. So read the book and find out!


Berlusconi conviction upheld!
Aug 01, 2013 at 08:31 PM

Judge Antonio Esposito reading the sentence
After weeks of waiting that had brought political activity here almost to a standstill, Italy's highest court today confirmed an appeal court's conviction of Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud and his four-year jail sentence, although the 76-year old politician and entrepreneur is not expected to go to prison but, because of his age, will most probably serve his time (three years of which will be forgiven because of a recent amnesty) under house arrest or, should he prefer,  doing socially-acceptable work for the prison system's social services department. In contrast, the court rejected a second sentence, that of a five-year interdiction from public office, and ordered a Milan appeals court to re-examine the session.

Observers said the high court's decision was a sharp blow for Berlusconi who has always bragged that despite all the trials in which he was a defendant he had never  actually been convicted of a crime. However, the ruling also means that for the time being, and unless a parliamentary commission rules against him. Berlusconi can retain his seat in the Senate and still participate, even if at a distance, in politics. What is not clear is what kind of an effect today's even will have on the stability of the current coalition government in which Berlusconi's party, the right-of-center PdL shares power with the center-left opposition, the PD.

There should, of course, be no connection whatsoever between the judicial and the political; as in most of the world's democracies, there is a clear separation of powers in Italy keeping the judicial, the executive and the legislative parts of government separate from one another. Nevertheless, some of the most radical of Berlusconi's supporters have said repeatedly that if his conviction were upheld they would resign their positions in the current cabinet and therefore bring down the government. Berlusconi himself has said this would not happen, but his words rarely can be taken to have any lasting value.

On the other hand, the re-affirmation of the sentence may also make the more anti-Berlusconi group within the PD less willing to share power with a group whose leader is a convicted tax evader. In other words, at the moment there is no way to tell what will happen and it is useless to speculate. The main problem is that Italy's drastic economic situation - sky-high unemployment, rampant business failures, growing poverty - means that more than anything it needs a working government capable of making important and possibly painful decisions.


Milan Court Convicts Berlusconi (again)
Jun 24, 2013 at 10:53 PM

Image A Milan court today convicted former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on charges of prostitution with a minor and for abuse of office for successfully seeking to suborn the decision of a magistrate regarding the minor, sentencing him to seven years in jail and a permanent interdiction to public office.

Lawyers for Mr. Berlusconi, who was not in court and who decried the ruling as an act of political persecution, said they would appeal the decision. The conviction and the sentence will become final only at the final stage of Italy's three-level court system which goes from the regular criminal court, to the Appeals court, and - should one or both of the parties request it - on to the Court of Cassation, the Italian supreme court. In the meantime, the Milan tribunal of three judges, all women by the way, has announced it will be seeking perjury charges against a significant number of people who testified in Mr. Berlusconi's favor, this group reportedly including a number of young women who attended the parties in question and may have been offered financial inducement to alter their testimony.

The big question of most people's minds this afternoon was, therefore, what - if any - effect the case's outcome might have on the stability of the three-month old Italian government, composed of cabinet ministers from both the center-left Partito Democratico (PD) and the center-right Popolo della Libertà. Mr. Berlusconi's party PdL). However, should the latter, which insists most of Milan's judges are politically-biased left-wingers, withdraw its support from the government at a time when urgent economic measures to deal with the country's ongoing recession are under consideration, it would leave itself open to charges that it is putting the interests of its leaders ahead of that of the country as a whole. And furthermore, it would change nothing. Several weeks ago, Mr Berlusconi was also convicted (and sentenced to four years reclusion) by another Milan court on corruption charges and the government did not collapse at that time.

Although Mr. Berlusconi insisted this afternoon that he had expected to be acquitted, the conviction had been widely anticipated by most people here. Although there appears to be some doubt that the Italian political leader actually had sexual relations with Karima El Mahroug (known as Ruby), a Moroccan exotic dancer who was 17 at the time she participated in a series of parties at Berlusconi's mansion, there appears to be little doubt that when she was arrested for theft in May 2010, the then premier telephoned a minor child tribunal magistrate who had decided to entrust her to the custody of an approved lodging for minor children and pressured her into releasing her into the custody of a regional parliamentarian who also is believed to have had sexual relations with Mr. Berlusconi and who is currently under investigation for encouraging prostitution. At the time, Mr. Berlusconi reportedly told the magistrate that the young woman was a relative of then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarek. He claims that he truly believed that; others insist he knew full well that was not the case.

It is hard to know exactly where the truth lies but there is little doubt that Mr. Berlusconi's careless and cavalier management of his private life repeatedly has jeopardized his political reputation and besmirched his country's standing.

Rome has a new mayor
Jun 16, 2013 at 10:17 PM

New Rome mayor Ignazio Marino
 As of Monday, June 10. Rome has a new mayor, Ignazio Marino, a former transplant surgeon at a major Pittsburgh hospital and a representative of the left-of-center Partito Democratico (PD). In a run-off election with the former right-of-center mayor, Gianni Alemanno, Marino won by a more than respectable 63.9 of the vote to the outgoing mayor's 36.07%. He had also led in the first round two weeks earlier.

Marino's victory was part of what appears to be an overall comeback by the PD, which in fact won in all 11 major cities where the mayor's post was up for re-election. At present, the PD is in a national emergency coalition with the PdL, Alemanno's party and that headed by former premier Silvio Berlusconi, 

Alemanno being consoled by a friend
 but the results of the election appear less to be an endorsement of the party's national policies than hope that the new mayor will be willing and able to improve the overall inadequate living conditions in Rome's capital, currently afflicted by streets and sidewalks that are dirty, badly-paved and filled with potholes, graffiti everywhere, even on centuries-old buildings and monuments neighborhoods afflicted by rats along with unchecked late-night noise by young drinkers run amok, neglected monuments and so on and so forth.

Of course, running a major urban conglomeration anywhere is hardly easy, but there is a special responsibility when you are dealing with a city with 3000 years of history to protect. And so far Rome's governors have been doing a pretty bad job. I just got back from ten days in Paris, a city with about the same number of people as Rome in its downtown area, and the streets were much cleaner than those in Rome and I did not see one illegal street vendor while I was there, whereas my neighborhood in Rome, Trastevere, is full of them. I am sure that anyone living in Paris full time sees many more defects than a visitor would and probably has much more to complain about. But even visitors to Rome notice the dirt and the graffiti, and maybe other things as well.

In the weeks separating the first election from the run-off, the city government finally got around to repaving the first 150 years of my street, Via della Scala, 

Ignazio Marino in bici
 where the cobblestones were in such bad shape that breaking a leg, or the front wheel of any two-wheel vehicle, was more likely than not. If it was a last ditch election-ploy by the Alemanno administration, it did no good.. But probably, it was just coincidence. Anyway, good wishes to Marino who turned up at the Campidoglio to greet cheering sell-wishers on a red bicycle and whose first efforts will be dedicated to putting together a good team. The big problem, however, may turn out to be figuring out how to get the wheels of Roman bureaucracy - and this includes the local police -- turning faster than in the past. 

A day in court: Dreaming of Judge Judy
May 08, 2013 at 12:56 PM

ImageOver the years, I have covered a lot of Italian criminal cases: Mafia, political murders or kneecappings, papal assassination attempts and international conspiracies such as the so-called Bulgarian Connection that had the KGB behind the unsuccessful attempt to kill John Paul II. Some of these trials, admittedly, have been ludicrous, or at least ludicrous by our terms. Unconscionable delays, Mediterranean drama, flowing black robes (no wigs, fortunately) interminable delays, rules that by our standards seem odd: For instance, witnesses are required by law to swear to tell the whole truth, but defendants are not, that is they are allowed (expected) to lie.

More about this later. As to  my own personal experiences with the legal system, these have been very limited. I have never been charged with anything and until last week, my only experiences with the court system have been: A suit I filed against my former newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore (I won the first round and am now waiting for next month's final hearing in the appeals trial my lawyer and I filed, since our initial victory was only partial); A suit filed by myself and my cleaner after he was seriously injured in a traffic accident when he was riding a motorbike owned by me. The accident was in December, 2009 and the final hearing (we will definitely win) was supposed to be last September but that day Italy's magistrates decided to hold a strike and the case was postponed until April 30, so we are now waiting with baited breath for the final sentence..

But now I've had another frustrating experience, which took place on April 16th when I went to the equivalent of small claims court - done here by the Giudice della Pace, the Justice of the Peace - for a hearing in my suit against a plumber who last summer cheated me out of €600.

Habemus governo!
Apr 28, 2013 at 11:19 PM


Napolitano swown in (again)
As of today, Italy has a new government; a 21-member cabinet led by Democratic Party (PD) deputy leader Enrico Letta but including members of Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PdL), was sworn into office on Sunday, making this government the first ever since 1947 in which right and left have been coalition partners. In 1947, a largely destroyed postwar Italy had just abolished its monarchy, written a new constitution, and had to had to bring all forces (Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats) together until the first national elections on April 18, 1948.

Today, instead, an economically troubled nation has been kept from functioning by an unprecedented political stalemate triggered by the ascendency of a rabble-rousing protest party, the Five Stars Movement, that since electing 163 people to parliament has refused to ally itself with anyone.

The last elections in February were basically a three-way tie among the Democratic Party, the PdL and the Five Star Movement, with the former considered of the three the winner because of several tens of thousands of more votes that gave it a majority in the lower house although not in the Senate. For most people, the logical thing was for the leader of the PD, Pier Luigi Bersani, to form a coalition with the Five Star movement on the basis of a strongly reformist package. But despite Mr. Bersani's pleading and cajoling, the Five Star leader, Beppe Grillo, refused to budge from his purist, noli mi tangere stance. The only alternative was a coalition with Berlusconi's party, an idea that caused a major revolt inside the PD by party members who despise Berlusconi and blame him (rightly so) for the country's current economic disarray. The chaos was such that Mr. Bersani resigned and soon will be succeeded by another party leader, possibly his Letta but Matteo Renzi, the dynamic mayor of Florence who lost to Bersani in the party's primaries last fall, is also a contender.

That was how things stood until it became obvious that in such a context it was proving impossible for the Parliament to elect a successor to President Giorgio Napolitano whose seven-year term was to end this month. Although there is no constitutional bar for the re-election of a sitting Italian president, no Italian president has ever served two terms and Napolitano had said repeatedly that came what may, he would not stand again. He is, after all, 88 years old . But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

 After three days of inconclusive ballots, on April 2oth, a joint PD-PdL delegation went to the Quirinale Palace and begged Mr. Napolitano to reconsider. He gave in, telling them however that they had to put their enmities aside and form a credible government, otherwise he would step down. When he was sworn in last week his speech to the 1000 members of parliament was an angry one telling them to make sure this time they pass the reforms - economic, fiscal, labor-related and structural - that everyone knows the country needs. Mr. Napolitano, who started political life as a Communist party and Marxist has turned into a widely respected political actor and in so doing has given the Italian presidency more oomph than it has had in years.

Today, the new government was sworn in and has more than one thing going for it. At 46, Mr. Letta, a former leftwing Christian Democrat, is the second youngest prime minister in Italian history and has considerable government experience. A prominent Bank of Italy official is the new economics minister and most of the people in the cabinet are new and younger names. One third of the 21 cabinet ministers are women, two of whom are foreign born and one of these is black, a veritable first for this largely homogenous country. Looming over the government, however, is the shadow of Berlusconi whose protégé, Angelo Alfano, is both interior minister (police) and deputy prime minister. Many observers believe that if Berlusconi does not get his way on certain issues, he may decide to bring down the government which, since Napolitano is bound to make good on his threat to resign, would mean that the coming months may prove to be worse than the last two or three.

Alas, poor Augustus
Apr 06, 2013 at 03:04 PM

Corriere della Sera

ImageGaius Julius Caesar Octavianus Divi Filius Augustus  (lived 63 BC - to 14 AD) who as heir to Julius Caesar went on to become the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, is not getting a fair shake from his modern-day descendents. Over the last 20 years, the city of Rome has been renovated and enhanced in a variety of ways: there are more pedestrian walkways and piazzas, a world-class concert hall complex in full swing, museums that have been modernized and revamped and new exhibition spaces built by internationally-known architects.

But one monument, the mausoleum honoring the man once known as Octavius - you know, the one who defeated Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the sea battle of Actium (Greece) in 31 BC, who conquered Egypt and who ruled the Roman Empire for 41 years beginning in 27 BC - has been more or less abandoned: to stray cats, unmowed grass, dog poo, homeless illegal immigrants, and litterers of any nationality. Even worse, a major 17 million euro renovation and urban redevelopment plan approved by the city government that was to be completed prior to the 2000th anniversary of the Emperor's death (August 19th, 2014) appears to have been put on hold for lack of funds.




The tomb built by the emperor in 28 BC on the Campus Martius in Rome (it is located on the Piazza Augusto Imperatore, near the corner with Via di Ripetta, and just a stone's throw from the Tiber river, the church of San Carlo al Corso and the newly refurbished Museum of the Ara Pacis) has come on hard times before. In 410, during the sack of Rome by Alaric, it was pillaged by the marauding Visigoths. In the Middle Ages the artificial tumulus was fortified as a castle occupied by the noble Colonna family until their (temporary) banishment in 1167. That was when its down-spiraling decline began and it fell into ruin.

The circular mausoleum (the tomb of the Emperor Hadrian, now Castel Sant'Angelo, is also circular in form) is made up of several concentric rings of earth and brick and planted with cypresses on top. Reportedly, it was originally capped with a conical roof and a bronze statue of Augustus. Twin pink granite obelisks flanked the arched entryway. The completed Mausoleum measured 90 m (295 ft) in diameter by 42 m (137 ft) in height. Inside the mausoleum, niches held urns with the ashes of the deceased members, relatives and friends of the imperial family including Augustus, his wife Livia, Germanicus, Augustus' grandnewphew, Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, Claudius and his son Britannicus, Poppaea Sabina, wife of Nero and, finally, Nerva. The ashes no doubt have been scattered and lost but a skilled reconstruction would surely be able to re-create its original décor and arrangement.

It was not until the mid-1930s that the site was opened and given prominence as an archaeological landmark, along with the newly reconstructed Ara Pacis (the "Altar of Augustan Peace" is an altar to Peace, the Roman goddess and was and consecrated in 9 BC by the Roman Senate in celebration of the peace brought to the Empire by Augustus' military victories in Spain and Gaul. The restoration of the mausoleum had a place of prominence featured in Benito Mussolini's ambitious attempts to connect the aspirations of Italian Fascism with the former glories of the Roman Empire. Buildings in the area were demolished to make room for a large, monumental area. But the project only went so far and since the end of World War II little attention has been paid to the site.

Since 2006, and following the refurbishing of the area surrounding the Ara Pacis, the city of Rome has sought to find a solution for the area and an international competition was won by an Italian-German team of archeologists and urbanists. However, since then things have again come to a standstill.

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