Tag Archives: Italy

For those not living in Italy what’s at stake in the coming election

23 Feb

For my friends not living in Italy, this weekend marks another national election. With the country mired in a seemly hopeless financial crisis, it’s an important one. And believe me, the day to day effects of the crisis in the USA and Canada pale in comparison to what people experience here. Italians are hurting.

And although it seems inconceivable to anyone outside of Italy, Berlusconi’s party is running a convincing campaign, promising to alleviate the austerity measures – like the much resented property tax increases implemented by Monte – that have in fact caused recent suffering & dissent here.

However, while the charismatic and successful entrepreneur Berlusconi was in power in the 2000s, the only countries that had worse economic growth during that period were Zimbabwe and Haiti (The Man Who Screwed an Entire Country) And of course it’s hard to believe that your prime minister has his focus on the well being of the country when his attention is captivated by “bunga bunga” parties and boasts of sleeping with 8 women in one night.

Beppe Grillo is one of the intriguing upstarts of Italian politics – a comedian who started out making jokes about politicians that increasingly started to look more like reality. Initially blocked by the mainstream media – much of it controlled by Berlusconi, Grillo has become a formidable contender in Italy by virtue of the Internet and town hall style rallies.

“You can’t ask an Italian, an entrepreneur, a family to make sacrifices when the presidency costs about 240 million euros a year. Our president earns three times as much as (U.S. President Barack Obama). An Italian ambassador earns 20,000 euros per month. Merkel earns 9,000 a month. You cannot expect sacrifices right now, because we should all make sacrifices right now or no one will.”

Full article

Sadly, there is a sense that no matter what happens in the elections, nothing will change. “Berlusconi is just another actor in the same play,” says my partner Alessandro. And I understand. What Italy desperately needs is not just new leadership but a new, innovative and creative way to look at solving its significant problems.

It’s true that Italian politicians are vast in their ranks. There are inconceivable layers of government and bureaucracy here, all of them making far more than their counterparts in the rest of the world, while salaries in other all areas – research, teaching, finance, business, etc. are a fraction of what the rest of the western world earns.

But when I comment that Italy would be healthier if it pruned away much of this over bloated government corp that seems to spend most of their time figuring out ways to entrench their power, Italians fret about the fate of the army of support staff…drivers, secretaries, etc. What would happen to the little people if the admittedly useless ranks of government were thinned out?

Many countries have restructured and reinvested funds saved from stagnant industries into development that will benefit the entire country. Italy has promising potential for solar power generation, for instance. What if former support staff of redundant government officials were retrained and deployed in a nascent solar power sector, developing Italy’s clout in alternative energy, while decreasing its energy dependence.

It’s my hope that italians will use their legendary creative genius to look toward the future instead of lamenting the lost glories of the past.


The most evocative Italian words, according to me

14 Jan

Personally, I have no doubt that Italian is the most beautiful & affectionate language in the world.  I’ve heard, and actually maybe just read this in “Eat, Pray, Love” (which may or may not be a definitive source), that the evolution of Italian into the national language was no accident.  While many countries had competing regional dialects, the “lingua franca” of most countries was naturally shaped by the language of the primary financial center. So, “Paris-ian” overtook all regional dialects to become the language of France, “London-ian” became the language of England, and so on.

Invecce (instead), Italian was the dialect chosen by a panel from a region of Tuscany to be the official language of Italy, because it was the most beautiful dialect.

Actually this whimsical story makes sense. I am continually surprised at how vitally important “beauty” is to Italians.  It’s part of the fabric of society – you can see how the aesthetic of style is infused into even children (I am still not as style conscious as the average 8 year old here). A speech is not referred to as good or bad, but bella (beautiful) or brutta (ugly). It’s part of what makes Italy as charming as it is, although sometimes you wish less emphasis were put on superficial beauty and more on actual substance.  If you live here you know what I mean, yes? 😉

Anyway, on to a few of my favourite Italian words:

“La Zanzara” – it sounds like it would be an exotic beauty treatment involving spices and asses milk that Cleopatra would indulge in before greeting Mark Anthony.  Instead, it means “mosquito”!

“Lamentare” – this to me is the perfect word to sum up the Italian cultural identity.  In English it just means “to complain”.  But to simply complain is tedious, unimaginative, uninspired.  Not Lamentare! We are talking about a tragedy of epic proportions.  There is love, passion, angst and fire all wrapped up in how you can express your opposition even to, say, someone choosing the wrong combination of gelato flavours or using an inappropriate shape of pasta with any given sauce.

“Fastidioso” – In English this means someone who is slavishly particular to standards, or having a meticulous attitude.  In Italian, it means to bother the hell out of someone, i.e. “David, stop fastidioso-ing your sister while I am driving!” It implies the kind of action when you pinch someone’s triceps repeatedly until they punch you in the face. Which is kind of what fastidiousness makes me want to do. 🙂

“Il Culetto” – What do we call the end of a loaf of bread in English?  The “heel.”  Ho-hum.  In Italian, it’s the “little bum,” proving once and for all that everything in Italy is just so damn sexy.

“Fango” – It’s not a dance, or new style of stilettos. It’s “mud.” What else do I need to say?

So. What are your favorite Italian words, and why?

Cell phones, compliance & conflict in Italy

12 Jan

It’s been a while friends since I wrote here. But an event last night while landing at Rome’s Fiumicino airport gave me lots to ponder.

First, I fly far more than the average person.  In the last 6 months alone I’ve flown in and out of the following airports (some multiple times):

  • Rome
  • Copenhagen
  • Gothenburg
  • Almaty (Kazakhstan)
  • Istanbul
  • Lyon (which gets my vote as the most beautifully named airport – Saint Exupéry Aéroport)
  • Paris
  • Prague
  • Cannes
  • Berlin
  • Moscow
  • Kiev
  • Boston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • San Francisco
  • Amsterdam
  • Tucson
  • Seattle
  • Munich

I know a thing or 2 about airplane safety and processes, OK?  And I am pretty good about following them.

Imagine my surprise last night when, after landing in Rome and taxing for 5 minutes (well on the way to the gate), I switched on my cell phone and promptly received a call from Alessandro.  I was astonished to the hear the elegant signore — from across the plane bellowing at me, “YOU are NOT allowed to use your mobile on the plane!” I looked at him, shocked by this fantastically outraged accusation.  “We have landed and we are taxiing,” I explained; getting back to my brief conversation.  He was apoplectic, insistent and stood up in his seat to call the flight attendant (a move much more dangerous in my opinion than using the mobile 5 minutes after landing), and continued to bellow at me until, incensed, I hung up the phone and fumed.

First, the practical side:

I concede that I may be speaking from a singularly personal perspective, but in my experience Italians are remarkably cavalier about following most rules (apart from the rigid dictates of cuisine and fashion).  And “cavalier” is the perfect word to use here – in Italian, a “cavaliere” is a knight, and there is a sense of bold nobility in the way that Italians disregard the foolish rules like speed limits, queues and taxation laws.  So that an Italian would so passionately enforce an outdated rule (what was going to happen on the runway, would we crash into our gate?) to the point that he was ready to make a citizen’s arrest, was perplexing to me.

BTW which country is the most fastidioso about airline safety and perhaps safety in general?  I think we can all agree that it is the USA.  And as soon as your plane wheels touch ground, the flight attendants announce that it’s fine to turn on & use your cell phone. And in fact this is the quote from the FAA website:

“FAA guidance does let airlines allow cell phone calls once the plane has landed and is taxiing to the gate.”

Honestly, if electronics were that dangerous to a plane’s operation they would be collected and confiscated at the gate.

Now, the spiritual side:

Goodness, I realized that I extremely attached to being “right” on this issue.  As someone with a commitment to healing, energetic balance and peace, boy was I ever triggered by this.  Have you every received a full-on righteous Italian scolding?  It’s a humiliating experience that is guaranteed to get your blood boiling.  I thought of all the cleverly insulting things I could say to put this blustering bully in his place. And then fumed again that I didn’t have the guts or the wit at the time.

Really, is this me?

No, it’s not.  Why should it matter that complete stranger chooses to voice his (misguided) opinion of my behavior in front a group of complete strangers whom I’ll never see again?  I can look at his behavior as a reaction to frustrations and disappointment in his own life.  It has nothing to do with me. And yet if I were to reflect his behavior back at him in the same way would perpetuate a cycle of  brutta behavior.  One of the things I have learned to deeply appreciate  a society where people are sensitive to each other’s feelings.  And to treat people in a gentle way has a virtuous circle effect.  It’s not always easy in Rome, but I promise to commit to making each encounter in every day a little more peaceful.  Even at the post office.

A little insight into how the Italian work ethic is different

6 Sep

As a Canadian living in Rome, you get several indications that the Italian work ethic is different. For example, just try to get something — anything — done between 12:30 and 3:30; every shop, post office, bank, gas station, tabacchi (to buy metro tickets), etc. will be closed. The markets pack up 15 minutes before closing time, or shopkeeper continues to shut his door as you are walking in.

I used to think it was because Italians in general seem to make much lower salaries than their western counterparts, and were simply unmotivated to be productive (it will forever be a mystery to me how Italians can afford their shoes).

But I think I’ve figured it out – and the secret lies in coffee usage! In North American offices, coffee is a ritual largely of the workplace. Of all the coffee you drink in a day, what percentage of it is consumed at work? For us, coffee is the fuel and lubricant that give us the energy and clarity to get through the work day.

But, I’ve just read in my Italian book that Italians drink 600 cups of espresso or cappuccino a year: 70% at home, 20% at cafes —

Cremina - the perfect sugar for coffee; it's sugar blended with a little coffee until smooth and creamy......

and only 10% at work.

Clearly the caffeine jolt of coffee is being used to fuel personal lives in Italy. Is coffee consumption the reason Italians have developed such a highly evolved “dolce vita?”