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The Moka. The "real" Italian coffee pot
Oct 23, 2012 at 02:04 PM

The Moka in various sizes
The gurgle  comes from the kitchen and is unmistakable, as is the smell of freshly-brewed Italian coffee that permeates the air.

Amidst the proliferation of at home electric espresso machines that use ready-made capsules and which now account for some 3.5 % of the market, there is a whole other Italian coffee scene of which most foreigners are not aware. The Moka! That (non-electric) grey, aluminum coffee pot, or caffettiera that is a fixture in most Italian households and used by some 70% of the Italian population (according to a recent article in the Turin newspaper La Stampa).

Espresso, you might be surprised to learn, is an extra for the majority of Italians, a tiny beverage you drink mid-morning or, in any event, once you have left the house. Espresso (unless you are like me and have it lungo which means with extra water added) allows you only a few sips, while with Moka coffee you can happily fill your cup.

The Moka in pieces
The Moka is a three-piece coffee machine with pressure valves inside. The water is put in the bottom part, the coffee is put in the middle part, called the filtro, or filter, and must NOT be tamped down, and the top part is then screwed back on and the whole thing is put on a low flame. What happens next? According to Italian coffee lore, as soon as the coffee starts spurting into the top part, you must open the lid, and lower the flame. Remove the pot from the fire as soon as it is filled; you do not want it boiling. Some people stir the coffee before pouring it out.

Here are some additional coffee facts regarding the Moka and Italy: the major producer of the classic Moka, Bialetti, has sold, worldwide, some 270 million caffettieri. But there are many other manufacturers - seven million pots are produced every year - and most Italian households own at least two (one cup, two cups etc).

The average Italian (per capita annual consumption is 5.7 kilos of coffee) has a cup of coffee as soon as he or she wakes up. Almost 70% of the total amount of coffee sold in Italy (about 320,000 tons a year) is consumed at home, on one's house, and 57% of that is drunk in the morning at breakfast, or as it is called here, colazione.

There are dozens of brands of packaged coffee for Moka coffee, the best known being Illy and Lavazza, although personally I prefer a brand named Kimbo. But many Italians prefer to have their coffee ground at the local  torrefazione, although these days reportedly there are only about 700 in the country.

Caffettiera napoletana
The Moka has also been made in ceramic, copper, steel, silver and brass, but experts say coffee made with those will taste differently than when made in aluminum. Of course some Italians prefer another type of pot, the napolitana (see picture) which at the end of the process has to be turned upside down. But that, too, is used at home and is - like Moka coffee - still not espresso.

P.S. Just this morning, I answered the phone and the caller was a representative of Lavazza offering a purchase arrangement for a Lavazza home espresso pot. "No thanks", I said. "I use the Moka". "Va bene", she said, "thank you for your time.

Italians in for rough economic ride
Sep 27, 2012 at 12:30 PM


Mario Monti, Italy's premier, yesterday told the United Nations' General Assembly that from a financial point of view, Italy is out of danger. Let's hope he is right but the fact is that the economic situation here is not good and could get worse.

Admittedly, the crisis, la crisi as it is called here, is generally not visible to the casual observer, or even to the not so casual observer, at least here in Rome where I live. Restaurants seem full (although many patrons could be visiting tourists, who are EVERYWHERE!!!), beggars, who for the most part appear to be gypsies or Slavs, seem to be about the same number as before, andyou are not seeing boarded up store fronts or even the same number of empty stores that you now see in Athens. But the statistics tell another story, and it is not a happy one.

The fact is that, says the Consumers' organization, Codacons, that Italians are feeling the pinch to the point that currently they are spending the same amount on food as they did 33 years ago. The decline in per capita consumption by more than three percent "is the worst in the history of the Italian Republic", the organization said on Tuesday, describing the situation as "tragic". It added that the fact that the only supermarkets that are making as much money as they did in 2011 are discount stores, means that many Italians are hungry or at least are being forced to choose cheaper products and to stop buying the leading brands that have always played an important role in keeping the Italian economy going.

The decline in consumption began in 2007 and has continued to slip, now arriving at the levels of 1979. If austerity measures continue - some pensions are being curtailed, or at least there is talk of such a development, and the government has also suggested cutting salaries in the public sector and gas prices are still rising, then things could easily get worse. Add to this the fact that the growth rate of the Italian economy has been stagnant since 2002....

The merchants' association had announced earlier the same day that consumer spending would fall over 3% in 2012. It said that in terms of sales only the phone, computer and supermarket-discount sectors would hold up this year.

Crisis keeping Italians at home? We'll see.
Aug 04, 2012 at 05:32 PM

The Exodus (Italian style)
Today is one of those days that they say you shouldn't travel by car: Bollino Nero (black marker) is what the Italians dub it, reminding you that the roads are likely to be jammed with the cars of all those hundreds of thousands who are leaving for the traditional August vacation, heading either to the seashore (68%) or the mountains (15.4%), depending on one's preferences.

However, although the esodo (exodus) is taking place as usual - by road, train and plane - it appears that fewer people are travelling and yesterday, in fact, the autostrade were not quite as crowded as usual. Indeed, it would seem that la crisi, the economic crisis, is making itself felt if vacation-happy Italians are keeping their plans in check - shorter holidays or cheaper ones - or even staying home. According to the federation of Italian hotels, Federalberghi, this year 6 out of ten Italians, or 51%, will be staying put. Departures, they say, are down 29% compared to last year, and the hotel business will earn 22% less, with likely unhappy consequences for the nearly one million people employed by the sector.

Is this true? Who knows? The statistics tell you the situation is bad but as is the case every year, for the last two months everyone you meet has only one question for you: ferie? Holidays, they query when they meet you in a shop, on the street, or when they call you on the phone. Furthermore, other indications are that despite the well-known economic problems - high unemployment, especially among the young, higher taxes (ouch, me too!) and overall stagnation, things  may not be all that bad. It's hard to judge but the fact is that most restaurants in my neighbourhood, Trastevere, seem packed in the evenings, and the diners are by no means only tourists. Furthermore, the hair dressers, manicurists and masseurs whom I know say business is booming. Cristina, who does my nails but also provides her clients with other beauty treatments such as waxing, spray tanning and massaging, says in recent weeks she's had to open her store in the Testaccio neighbourhood of Rome at 7 a.m. to handle the crowd of women wanting to be in shape for the summer. When I was there the other day I was particularly struck by the enormous overflowing can of discarded waxing papers. Apparently, these days hair everywhere (and I mean everywhere) is considered follicle non grata! And no economic crisis is going to keep an Italian woman from getting rid of hers.




Two Italians are among Europe's ten richest people, but France has even more.
Aug 03, 2012 at 05:51 PM

Europe's richest person, Ortega Gaona
According to a survey carried out by Wealth-X for the U.S. TV station, CNBC, the ten richest people in Europe are headed by a Spaniard, Amancio Ortega Gaona, whose $40 billion company, Inditex, controls, among other things, the Zara chain of department stores. But despite the problems troubling the Italian economy, it still can boast a fair number of business genius'.

Michele Ferrero, head of the confectionary company that produces both the gold foil-wrapped Ferrero Rocher chocolates and Nutella (which is to Italy as peanut butter is to our own country) is number five on the list with a company worth $16.4 billion. Leonardo Del Vecchio, the founder and owner of the eye-glass company, Luxottica, figures seventh on the same list with a personal estate of $13.6 billion.

France's four Rockefellers are Liliane Bettencourt (L'Oreal et al) with $23.8 billion who is in third place, Bernard Arnault, ($23.7 billion), in fourth place and whose holdings include Louis Vuitton e Moët & Chandon, Givenchy, Dior, Fendi, Tag Heuer, and Donna Karan. In sixth place is Francois Pinault ($14,2 billion) the head of PPR which contols, among others, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta , Alexander McQueen, Artemis wines, the Christie's auction house and Palazzo Grassi, the prestigious Venice museum. Serge Dassault ($11.5 billion) of the aviation group of the same name is number eight.

The list also includes three Germans. Karl Hans Albrecht, number two, who is a co-owner of the Aldi supermarket chain that is present in 17 European countries, and his two nephews , Berthold e Theo Albrecht, who are ninth and tenth on the list, each being worth each worth something like just over $11 billion.

Italy’s most vulgar politician undone (or so it appears) by scandal
Apr 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Umberto Bossi in his favorite attire
Umberto Bossi, the (to my mind, despicable) founder and leader of the often xenophobic and autonomist Northern League, resigned from his post as party leader last weekend following the publication of wiretaps implicating members of his immediate family in the misuse of public funds. The recent allegations are part of an ongoing investigation into the activities of the Northern League's former treasurer, Francesco Belsito, who is believed to have used party funds (most of which come from electoral subsidies) to carry out laundering activities for the Calabrian Mafia, the ‘Ndrangheta.

Bossi, a former cabinet minister, gained influence back in the late 1980's in part because of his anti-corruption stance ("Roma ladrona", Rome, a nest of thieves, was one of his favorite slogans). Subsequently, his federalist, anti-immigration platform won him enough votes to allow him to become the principal ally - for almost 18 years - of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

As is well known, Berlusconi resigned late last fall to make way for a "technicians" government capable of dealing with the current economic and financial crisis. He had gradually been weakened by the cumulative affect of scandals and tax evasion, bribery and corruption charges. But Bossi's disgrace is due to even more petty allegations. Party money reportedly was used to renovate the family villa, to buy an unearned university degree for his son Renzo, ridiculously nicknamed "the trout", to provide the latter with spending money and cars, and to help finance a private kindergarten run by Umberto Bossi's wife, Manuela.

Yesterday, the ruling council of the Northern League party expelled both Belsito and a close Bossi ally, union organizer Rosy Mauro, another extremely vulgar character who somehow has ended up as deputy speaker of the Italian Senate. She, too, is alleged to have used party funds to pay for doctors' bills and also, for university degrees for both herself and her singer boyfriend whose most popular song is Kooly Noody which when pronounced sounds the same as the words in Italian for "bare asses". Very refined.

The scandal, which appears likely to sharply weaken the Northen League at this May's local elections, has set off a renewed debate (nothing in Italian politics is ever really new) about whether or not political parties should receive public funding and whether, since they do, whether there should be more control of how that money is spent.

But aside from the enormous embarrassment of the League's other leaders (the next party secretary is expected to be the far more respectable former interior minister, Roberto Maroni), the latest developments make it crystal clear (although we all knew this) that 20 years after the massive Tangentopoli scandal that saw hundreds jailed for corruption, caused the suicides of several major business leaders and led to the self-exile of former Sociaist prime miniter Bettino Craxi, absolutely nothing has changed. Corruption is so widespread here that most people simply take it for granted.

Centurions addio?
Apr 06, 2012 at 02:32 PM

Image Tourists pose for pictures with them, for which they are usually asked to pay some amount of euros, others point them out with delight and snap away, offering a handful of change, and yet others, those who are a bit more familiar with Roman history, think it's pretty stupid to see a bunch of grown men (most of whom are probably unemployed) dressed up in rented or purchased centurions' costumes and wandering around the outskirts of the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. But if the Rome city government and the Lazio region have their way, the counterfei centurions may have to find other jobs.
Once upon a time, back in the mid-nineties, some of those dressing up today as Roman soldiers had permits as "street artists" but those authorizations have not been renewed since 2000 and the Roman police, not known for their commitment to the rule of law, have long tolerated the would-be warriors' presence around some of the capital's most important antiquities.
What's different now? Who knows? On March 26, the Region of Lazio, the region that surrounds the city of Rome, issued a decree forbidding people masquerading in historical costumes, street actors, and musicians from performing in this area. In addition, the city government is considering a ruling that would forbid, street actors, painters, acrobats, mimes, jugglers and other mountebanks from exhibitions in the city's piazzas for more than two hours at a time, only between ten a.m. and one p.m. and between 4 pm and 8 pm, and at at least ten meters distance from any church or place of worship. This seems pretty reasonable to me but let's see what happens. This city is well known for passing rules and then not instructing the people who work for them - for example the city police -- to enforce them.

Miracles DO happen
Mar 01, 2012 at 10:44 PM
All this and MUCH MUCH more
Yes, Virginia, there can be a genuinely Italian secular government.  In an unusual and unprecedented move, the technocratic government headed by economist Mario Monti announced last week that it plans to change the law in a way that would require the Catholic Church here to pay taxes on real estate property that is used for commercial purposes. This would efectively put an end to decades of across-the-board tax exemptions for church property and make Italy more progressive than our own country where, surprsingly enough, most church property is generally tax exempt, some sources claiming that the value of untaxed church property in the U.S. may amount to as much as $100 billion dollars.

The new regulation, onced passed by Parliament, will mean that for the first time, the extensive properties owned by the Vatican in Rome or by the CEI, the Italian Bishops, Conference, throughout Italy  - and which include hotels, pensions, restaurants, shops, hostels, convents that accept paying guests and so on- will no longer be exempt from taxes. Previously, this was the case just so long as one part of  a Church-owned building had a religious function. In other words, set aside a room for a chapel, and there you are, ipso facto, not exempt from taxation. Churches, themselves, will not be affected if they are used exclusively for religious purposes and private Catholic schools, the existence of which is said by some to save the Italian State close to five billion euros a year, will also be exempt as long as any profits they accrue are poured back into the institution's didactic activities.

The change in the law was called for by the European Commission which in 2010 charged that tax exemption for the church could be considered  illegal state aid that could skewer competition. Interetingly enough, when Monti was a European Commissioner  from 1995 to 2005,  he was in charge of anti-trust issues. Estimates say that the new taxes could bring in revenues of  as much as $2.5 billion annually. The problem now is exactly to whom these monies will be given. A previous real estate tax known as ICI (from which most Church properties were exempt)  went to municipalities. The proceeds of the latest version of ICI, which is called IMU, will be divided between a municipality and the national govenment. The Monti government has apparently registered the degreeto which most Italians, now facing growing unemployment, and higher taxes, are increasingly fed up with privileges, of any sort, by politicians and prelates alike. In December, 130,000 people signed an online petition calling on the government to revoke the church's tax-exempt status.


Italian government trying to bring Italy into 21st century
Jan 29, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Rome Registry office on a bad day

The government headed by Italian prime minister Mario Monti, this week continued its battle to bring Italy into the modern age by issuing a third major decree that hopefully will make life easier for the country's often frustrated citizens. The "simplify-Italy" package follows the controversial "liberalization" reform that is leading to protests from several high-visibility special interest groups  such as taxi drivers, lawyers and notaries, and is the third major undertaking  - the first being the Save Italy austerity plan) by the government of technocrats that took office following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi in November. A fourth major reform, on the labor market (good luck with that Mario) is expected in March.

"Take the bus", Italian government tells officials
Jan 16, 2012 at 01:10 PM
And what with the price of gas...

The new Italian government headed by economist Mario Monti is training its sights on one of Italians' major pet peeves, the dark-blue state-owned sedans -many of which have been bullet-proofed -- that are a (costly) sign of prestige for all top Italian public-sector bigwigs. The so-called "auto blu" are estimated to number between 50,000 andd 70,000 if all levels of government -- central government, regions, provinces and municipalities - are included and come complete with salaried drivers who often alternate in shifts. A decree-law presented by Filippo Patroni-Griffi, the current minister of the Public Function (that is, the civil service) says that wherever possible, government functionaries should use public transport, which ostensibly could include taxis.

The decree says that when used government limousines - generally large, luxury sedans - it should be because it is a necessity and not to confer prestige. In other words, except for the highest-level officials, the cars should no longer be assigned to a particular person but to an office. All too often, politicians or sometimes other officials have been known to use these cars for private use, such as taking their wives shopping or getting to the stadium on time.

A census is now underway and if data is not yet complete, so far it would appear that the two regions with the highest number of "auto-blu" are Liguria and Tuscany (both traditionally governed by the moralizing center-left. On the central level, the cars are generally bought by individual ministries or other state offices. The ministry of Defence is reported to have had a "parco macchine" - a fleet - of around 1700 cars but recently purchased 4000 Maserati luxury sedans. I don't know how many the Interior (police) ministry has, but it should be remembered that hundreds of Italian officials have been assigned police escorts that generally include at least two cars, both of which probably bullet-proofed.

One can only imagine the expense involved, collectively, in running all these cars. But if savings would account for only a small percentage of Italy's mammoth debt, limiting their use would send an important signal to a population being called upon to pay more and higher taxes.

Italians angered by political pay scales
Jan 08, 2012 at 04:58 PM

Senate personnel is very highly paid

It's hard to gauge exactly what kind of approval rating the new Italian government has, but it seems obvious that its popularity (or lack thereof) among ordinary Italians may depend on whether or not it is prepare to challenge some of the country's powerful lobbies, including Italy's overpaid MPs and the people who work for them. At a time when people here are going to have to pay higher real estate taxes, receive lower pensions or be forced to continue working for more years than he or she thought, there is a great desire to see cuts imposed on the pay checks, indemnities, and privileges enjoyed by those working - in one capacity or another - in the political sector. And I believe that if this government can create a groundswell of popular support behind it, that it will be difficult for Italy's parties to unseat it before regularly scheduled elections in spring, 2013. Otherwise, they may get antsy at being left on the outside.

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