Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Radar traps on Italian ski slopes?

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone on what currently happens on Canadian and/or American ski slopes. Here’s what happens instead in Italy.

This recent Christmas holiday period has seen more than one death on the Italian ski slopes due to ultra-fast skiers and kids without protective helmets (skiers under 14 in Italy must wear helmets). One Israeli 12 year-old on holiday with his parents died as he hit a pylon while another 9 year-old who lost control of her skis hit a tree and is now in coma, even though she was wearing a helmet. Speed was the cause of that accident. A 50 year-old in the meantime went off course and died as he was probably trying to imitate James Bond on the slopes (more for that below).

Each year about 40 people die on the ski slopes in Italy with a “mere” 30,000 injured. Many accidents apparently are also caused by new and more sophisticated artificial snow-making machines, not to mention high-tech skis and snowboards (much adored by the younger generation).

If driving on Italian highways is any indication, unless something drastic is done, I quite personally (who only learned to cross-country ski on the Prairies back in Canada) foresee weekend “disasters” similar to the death and destruction which we regularly see on Italian highways (and where the speed limit of 130 km/hour is still NOT observed). Generally speaking, Italians not only DON’T know how to drive if their lives depended on it, they don’t know how to keep the distance from one car to another and they also drive at the same speed in pouring rain—with the excuse that their cars have ABS brakes—and in fog. The result is quite often cars that are so mangled around trees that you can’t even make out the carmaker!

Another example of poor driving habits? When it rains in Rome (but not necessarily a Monsoon) you’ll read the following day in the papers of “70 accidents with 3 deaths”! I say to myself, “For a few drops of rain there are actually deaths”? I don’t recall the same in Winnipeg (and there I also went through Siberian-style snow blizzards). Add to all this also cellular phone use which is not only illegal while driving but which is still used by many, many “law-abiding” Italians. No doubt there’s probably more than one idiot skier out there who is travelling down the slopes while talking on his cellular phone (Italians adore the darn things. There are close to 40 million devices out there out of a population of approx. 58 million people!). One odd scene I saw just awhile ago was in Udine: a woman was calmly talking on her cellular phone while riding her bike…and with her kid seated right behind her! She was only using one hand to ride the bike while she was using the other one to talk on the phone. One can only imagine the tragic scenario in an accident.

Velocity is in the DNA of Italians, and their quite often atrocious driving habits are now carried over to the ski tracks (quite comical actually to see Carabinieri officers on skis telling skiers to slow down). Television ads don’t help either. Years ago for the promotion of Fiat’s “Stilo” car it showed Michael Schumacher in a Stilo having it out against Rubens Barrichello on a race track. Just imagine what goes through the mind of an 18 year-old punk who dreams of getting his hands on his first-ever car! Speed is the equivalent in Italy of being “cool”, a macho thing. Add to all this booze—and there is a LOT of mighty fine wine out there in Italy—and one can only imagine the industrial strength number of road accidents (some 8,000 deaths in Italy each year, way below what the Brits have managed to do by bringing down road deaths). As tragic as it may sound, I found it rather comical awhile back when in the Udine area a poor fellow died in his car: it literally flew in the air and landed on the balcony of a 1st-floor apartment! The poor sod was certainly NOT going at 60 km/hour in order to fly in the air. Now, I always grew up knowing that cars usually fly in James Bond movies (one in particular with Roger Moore), but not in real life.

So, my question is: what will we soon see on Italian ski slopes, radar traps, breathalysers and perhaps even points taken off one’s ski pass (as what already happens with one’s driver license)?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

‘Tis the season to be gay and merry?

Indeed never a dull moment in Italian politics: the halls of Italy’s parliament, Montecitorio, has had for years the Nativity scene. Nothing terribly wrong with that expect that this year two politicians, in order to be “politically correct”, stuck four extra dolls in the scene when no one was looking. Joseph’s brother? Mary’s cousin? No, two Barbie dolls hugging each other and with a sign around their necks stating: “Gay marriages also in Italy, just like in Zapatero’s Spain”! Next to them were two Ken dolls, also hugging each other and with a similar sign around their necks.

The above shouldn’t be all that surprising: the Neapolitans are (in)famous for their Nativity scene characters. In true soccer spirit, three have been included this year—Zidane head-butting Materazzi and Cannavaro, a home-grown Neapolitan boy himself, who is raising the World Cup!
Buon Natale a tutti!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

St. Peter vs. Ronaldinho?

Well, just when you thought you saw just about everything in the wild and crazy world of Italian soccer (years ago at Milan’s San Siro stadium fans actually threw a scooter from one stadium ring down to another!), along comes the Secretary of State of Vatican City, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (no. 2 after Pope Ratzinger in the Vatican’s hierarchy), who has proposed organising a men’s professional soccer team which will one day be able to compete against the likes of Inter, Juventus, Milan and Roma!

Yes, as religiously zany as it may sound, Bertone, an avid (Juventus) soccer fan himself, has seriously contemplated fielding a men’s team with the traditional white and yellow colours of Vatican City, the world’s smallest state (with some 300 employees or so).

Bertone is certainly no novice to the game. When he was archbishop of Genoa he was at the stadium doing television play-by-play commentary for the Genoa and Sampdoria games (the city’s two teams). But the Vatican isn’t completely new to the world of sports. Behind Vatican walls priests not only play volleyball and 5-a-side soccer but former Pope John Paul II had been a fairly good soccer goalkeeper in his youth, not to mention also an avid skier, mountain climber, canoeist and also swimmer (and according to my own personal source—the former spokesman of His Holiness, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls—a Roma fan too!). Portuguese cardinal José Saraiva Martins not only had been an aspiring winger in his youth for club Benfica (Eusebio’s former club) but he’s also been a die-hard Lazio fan for the last 40 years. Before entering the priesthood he apparently had also kicked a ball around with the late, great Brazilian forward Garrincha (who just happened in the 50s and 60s to have played with Pele’ for Brazil). Another avid soccer fan is cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini who quite often does the play-by-play commentary of the Serie A for Radio Vatican.

But where to find these future “holy” players in order to battle it out with the likes of Totti and Buffon? “No problem”, says Bertone,” Just think of all the Brazilian players who are also currently studying in our Pontifical universities. We’d be able to field a magnificent team with these players”! Bertone also recalls that 42 players that had taken part in the 1990 World Cup in Italy had played at one point in their lives in oratories and seminaries.

The idea sounds like a good one and may actually help bring some tranquillity to Italian stadia which are on a weekly basis “infected” by the scourge of hooliganism, but I quite personally would have some serious questions related to the Vatican fielding a soccer team. To begin with, would one start off the match (just prior to the ref’s whistle) with a prayer or a blessing? And what about fouls? If Father Sarducci were to say tackle Totti from behind, instead of being yellow-carded, would he be sent to purgatory? And if Padre Ramirez where to be the last man on defence and he were to viscously foul Paolo Maldini in his own penalty area, would he be sent to hell or would he be excommunicated? And better yet, if the Vatican boys were to win the Champions’ League, would the team captain raise the Holy Grail and would the entire team be sent directly to paradise as a reward? Water bottles along the pitch: would they contain holy water? At the end of the match, would Vatican players give everyone the host and a chalice of wine (after all, games in Italy are usually played on Sundays)? The head coach: a tricky question indeed for sports theologians: would he be a Jesuit, a Capuchin monk, a Franciscan friar or a Benedictine (like Ratzinger’s order)? And what to do about crucifixes which usually hang from the necks of both priests and nuns?
Would they be considered dangerous and therefore banned? And if a coach must be named from outside the Vatican walls, can he be an atheistic? An agnostic? What about a Marxist-Leninist? The dressing rooms: will there also be confessionals so that the Vatican Boys can pray for their sins in case they lose (the coach: “Padre Francesco, now why on EARTH did miss that all-important penalty-kick? You made us lose the final! Ten Hail Marys for you”!)? And if a Vatican player would REALLY get upset at being fouled, would he be able to swear say in Latin? Indeed pressing issues for Serie A organisers. One final point, seeing that the world is going more and more towards being politically correct “à-la-americana”, would we for equality purposes also see one day a Vatican women’s soccer team comprised of nuns (they are usually the pope’s personal attendants) competing in say FIFA’s Women’s World Cup?

On a final note, if the Vatican Boys were to face either Roma or Lazio in the “derby of derbies”, would Pope Ratzinger also be present with a scarf around his neck and a horn in his hand, cheering on his team? Would the pope also take part in the “ola”? Could his cardinals quite possibly become fervent religious “hooligans” to the point of actually chanting “Hail Marys” non-stop during the entire match (as Argentine fans usually do by beating their drums non-stop for 90 minutes which drives others crazy)? And at the beginning of each soccer season, would Pope Ratzinger actually give the official kick-off (like the president of the US does with the start of the baseball season)? What would the pope have on underneath his robe, shorts and Nike cleats? Stay tuned for more… (in the picture by ANSA: Cardinal Taricisio Bertone during a match).

PS The latest is that UEFA has actually approved Bertone’s idea!

Friday, December 15, 2006

“To pee or not to pee (part II)”

Soccer aficionados out there who have lived in Italy know that each season fans in some Italian cities get geared up for the “Mother Of All Games”—the city derby. Now, for those non-soccer fans out there who know nothing about the “beautiful game”, the derby takes place between two teams from the same city. The three most important derbies in Italy are: Torino-Juventus, Milan-Inter and the so-called “Derby of Italy”, Roma-Lazio.

The Eternal City derby in particular attracts the “crème-de-la-crème” of the Italian cinema (Rome is also the capital of Italian cinema with the Cinecitta’ film studios, the same where Ben Hur and other films have been shot), music and television world. The derby also attracts the nation’s most important politicians and businesspeople who are either “romanisti” or “laziali” (Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, is an exception as he’s a Juventus fan). It is said that Mussolini was a Roma fan even though deep down he was actually a Lazio fan (while others say that he didn’t even like soccer but preferred tennis).

The Roma-Lazio derby is rather old, going back now close to 90 years (the Lazio sports club was founded in 1900 with the Roma club coming along a few decades after). Unlike what goes on amongst fans in North American stadia, or better, what DOESN’T go on, the Rome derby is usually plagued with violence “à-la-Gaza Strip”: cars gutted (the Sicilian mafia wanted to also trigger off years ago a car bomb to nail Italian police but the remote-control trigger failed), fans of both teams seriously knifed (almost to death), police officers who are maimed, vulgar banners (the Lazio fans traditionally belong to the far right. One banner years ago read the following: “Auschwitz is your nation, the ovens your home”! Rome’s Jewish community instead has traditionally backed Roma whose fans have always belonged to the left) and even live missiles! Yes, missiles (one had crossed the entire length of the stadium decades ago during a Rome derby. It landed straight in the eye of a Lazio fan, killing him instantly). Security is so tight that if the game takes place on Sunday night the Olympic stadium (site also of the 1960 Rome Olympics) will be lit up the ENTIRE evening on Saturday night as a way to prevent rowdy fans from sneaking in and hiding bats, knives, chains, etc. (just think of the electricity bills). You’d actually think that a political debate between Hamas and the Israelis is going to take place at the stadium, and not a mere soccer match!

Last Sunday’s Lazio-Roma derby instead brought an odd truce between opposing fans: no violence, no vulgar banners nor any taunting chants. For once, outside the stadium after the match you could even hear a ball drop, that’s how tranquil the situation really was. Indeed an oddity for such a high-level derby. Lazio won the derby hands down 3-0. Its head coach, Delio Rossi, had promised “Suor Paola”, a die-hard Lazio fan (who is also a nun. Yes, religion is also a intricate part of Italian soccer), that if Lazio won the derby, he’d take a dive after the match into the “Fontanone” (Big Fountain) located on the Gianicolo hill which overlooks all of Rome (the large fountain is located also directly in front of the Spanish Embassy to the Holy See. The temperature these days in Rome hovers around 8 degrees Celsius during the night). Nevertheless, the gentleman that he is, Rossi kept his promise and with only his underwear on, dove straight into the fountain, much to the joy of Sister Paola who watched the event live. The dive was supposed to have been kept a tight secret but apparently Roma fans were tipped off shortly before Rossi’s “aquatic escapade”. About 40 of them showed up prior to Rossi’s arrival, went to the edge of the fountain, unzipped their pants and proceeded to pee directly into the fountain!

Weather it has now become an urban legend or not, the “Romanista” magazine (Roma’s official fanzine) has promised—in order to dispel the hideous crime—that an “anti-doping” test will be performed on the fountain’s water. Head coach Rossi took it in great diplomatic stride and said that the guilty pee is after all “holy water and that it’s natural”. Police authorities were content with the dive as it has been one of the lesser crimes ever committed in Rome during a derby. And weather or not Interpol will also be called into the picture (now also investigating the case of the dead former KGB agent in London) remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure: the return Roma-Lazio derby will be in 2007. God only knows what the Lazio fans will have in store for Luciano Spalletti, (Roma’s head coach) if Roma were to win that derby!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Greece/Italy tag-team against J. Paul Getty?

After “Il Duce” (Mussolini) and his (in)famous words of how during World War II Italy was going to “break Greece’s back”!, 60 years later the Greeks and Italians join forces in trying to get back what rightfully belongs to them: stolen works of art.

Even though Italy is wracked by the four different mafias and tax evasion is quite often THE national sport (and not soccer!), it is refreshing to know that Italy’s para-military police, the Carabinieri (the closest you can get to Canada’s RCMP) are considered by many, including the Greeks, perhaps THE world’s best when it comes to recovering stolen art. In fact, the Carabinieri for years have had in place s special unit dedicated just for recovering stolen and priceless artefacts. With the so-called 40% (some say even 50%) of the world’s historical art located in Italy, many ancient artefacts are extremely appealing to art thieves. Not too far away from Rome where the Etruscans once lived (in the Cerveteri and Tarquinia areas for example) ancient tombs for decades have been ransacked by real, live tomb raiders. Much of this stolen art has ended up abroad, even in famous museums such as the Getty in Los Angeles and Malibu.

But enough is enough. The Greek culture minister, in New York on an official visit (shortly after the visit of Francesco Rutelli, Italy’s culture minister), has planned to forge a formal alliance with Italy in order to pursue the return of ancient artefacts from museums in the US and also Europe, according to a December 11, 2006 International Herald Tribune article. No doubt Minister George Voulgarakis’s words were sweet music to his Italian counterpart Rutelli: “The Italians are very well organised—very, very well-organised”.

Greek investigations into stolen artefacts are also aiding Italian authorities in their case against Marion True, the former antiquities curator at the Getty, who is standing trial in Rome on Italian charges of having conspired to import looted artefacts. The Greeks would also like to get their hands on True because of two stolen works from Greece, a 4th century B.C. gold funerary wreath and a 6th century B.C. marble kore, or statue of a woman. The US Embassy in Rome in the past has also undertaken “M.O.U.s” (Memoranda Of Understanding”) with the Italian Foreign and Culture Ministries on stolen art as well as Italian art which is lent to US museums, a lucrative business for American museum owners for visitors who flock to see ancient Italian artefacts (one statue of the Venus by the sculptor Giambologna sits in the main hall of the US Embassy. It can even be seen from the street. It’s apparently the only Venus of its kind which was sculpted by Giambologna. Years ago the wife was involved in the temporary transfer of the Venus to the US for an exhibit).

With some positive news vis-à-vis the work that the Italians are doing in getting stolen art work back to Italy, the Greeks now want to do a “full-court press” on the British: the famous Elgin Marbles which were removed from Athens’s Parthenon in the 19th century by the diplomatic emissary Elgin. They have been sitting in the British Museum ever since. The Greeks would like the marbles back as next year Athens will see the inauguration of the new Acropolis Museum which has been specially designed to house the marbles with other Parthenon sculptures.

On international art theft, the Greek culture minister sums it up in the following manner: “The Mona Lisa is cut up into pieces. Imagine if you have the face in Sweden, one hand in the United States, the breasts in Japan, and the other hand in Italy. What kind of Gioconda is that”? The IHT concluded its article by adding the following regarding the Minister’s observation: “He did not mention that the Mona Lisa, fully intact, is in France, not in Italy, where it was originally created”.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pacentro and the “Madonna”

A weekend drive in the Abruzzo region of Italy and to the town of Sulmona (home of the Latin poet Ovidio). Only 10 kilometres away from Sulmona lies a very small town called Pacentro. As one can see from the pictures, it lies at the foot of the mountains. For me at least, the name didn’t ring a bell (and probably even less for many readers). I did some research and the town is famous for one particular reason: probably at the turn of the 20th century, an Italian couple, tired of a life that was going “nowhere fast”, decided to make the big jump across the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S. together with millions of fellow compatriots. The couple would have a son (a bar owner told us that the son was actually born in Pacentro and went to the U.S. with together his folks) who would end up living and working in Bay City, Michigan. He himself would have a family one day (six children) with a daughter who would become adventurous, just like her grandparents (was it bound to also be in her DNA?). The man? Silvio P. “Tony” Ciccone. The daughter? Madonna Louise Ciccone, better known to the entire world simply as Madonna!

Things haven’t changed terribly since the day that the Ciccone family decided to leave Pacentro. While we were taking a look around the town (practically everyone who goes by you says “hello”!) one fellow, when we asked for directions, complained by saying that “nothing seems to get done in this town”! Evidently, Madonna’s family thought the same thing when they left Pacentro.

It is said that young Madonna one fine day decided to leave her home in the Detroit suburb where she grew up and to try to make it in the Big Apple. The first time on a plane, the first time away from her native Michigan and with only 35 dollars in her pocket, for quite awhile Madonna lived in total squalor and didn’t ask anyone for financial help. She has now sold more than 200 million records and, like her or not, is unquestionably THE world’s most famous female performer (and around the world, who HASN’T heard of her?). An honour for us as we saw her on August 6th, 2006 in Rome’s Olympic stadium (see month of August for write-up). Quite the show indeed and quite the performer.

As we walked around Pacentro (which dates back to around the 8th century, although archaeological ruins have dated further back then that. The three castles are still standing and have been recently renovated. The Santa Maria Maggiore Church was built around the sixteenth century and St. Marcello's church, founded in 1047, was restored in 1166. Also, the famous Dutch graphic artist M.C. Echer lived in Italy from 1922 to 1937. He travelled to the Abruzzo region where he was attracted by the scenery which also became part of his many particular drawings), I was wondering if at one point Madonna’s father, when faced with the fact that his daughter wanted to finally “fly the coop”, didn’t oppose his young daughter’s wish as perhaps many parents do when confronted with the same dilemma, knowing very well that his own folks, probably at the same age as his daughter, gambled their future on moving to America to try to “make it”.

It’s also probably impossible to say it now but had Madonna’s family not made the move, perhaps she wouldn’t have become the international star that she has. With the exception of Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren, many Italian singers aren’t that famous abroad as their American and British counterparts. And has Madonna ever visited Pacentro? “No”, was the somewhat sad response by the bar owner. Looking at the winding road that leads up to the town, it’s perhaps better that she doesn’t show up: thanks to her presence there would probably be major chaos in a radius of at least 30 kilometres (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Monday, December 04, 2006

No doubt a fun wedding for Mr. Cruise and Ms. Holmes!

We decided to go for a nice Sunday drive to Bracciano, located just 37 kms north of Rome, to visit the town’s castle. This comes just a few weeks after the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes marriage there. We had lunch first of all on the lake front and then went inside the castle for the tour, 6 euros per person. No doubt the wedding has had some positive spin-off effects vis-à-vis tourism as most want to see “up close” where the Hollywood couple got married. There were about 30 of us for the tour.

The castle was built around 1470 and was owned by the Orsini family. They went bankrupt one day and the castle was eventually bought in 1696 by a powerful banking family, the Odescalchi. Unlike the Orsinis though, the Odescalchi weren’t part of nobility, until one of the members became a pope (or something to that effect). The princess Odescalchi still lives there and no doubt commanded a hefty sum for the Cruise-Holmes marriage (some say up to $1.5 million!). The view of Lake Bracciano is also very nice. And no, the tour guide didn’t say anything about the wedding until I asked, “Where are Tom and Katie”?, at which point she naturally laughed as I wasn’t probably the only one to bring up the topic.

The two love-birds unquestionably had a great time in such a nice castle and no doubt Ms. Holmes/Cruise will remember her wedding for quite some time to come as castles like the ones in Bracciano (or for that matter, in the rest of Europe) you don’t readily find in places like Los Angeles or New York (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

O poor Canada!

They used to ask me in Canada the following question: “So what sport do you play”? I’d say, “Soccer”. They’d say, “Oh, the sport for sissies”!
I went on November 25, 2006 not too far away from Udine to see the Italy-Canada Jaguar Test rugby match, the last of the series. Italy trounced Canada 41-6. It was a nice occasion for me because it was the first time in 17 years that I’ve been living in Italy that I got to hear at a public event O Canada (the organisers of the match were very nice, they had the words to both anthems in the official program). This is perhaps my fourth rugby match so far after the other three in Rome.

When I came home I watched the DVD that I have on the All-Blacks. I’ve gotten to the point of having become totally nauseated with soccer (especially after this summer’s soccer scandal in Italy). I find rugby much more stimulating and more of a “man’s” sport than soccer, even though I don’t understand perfectly the rules (and the fans are terrific too: they cheer the other teams touche as well as substitutions. Italian soccer at least is simply plagued with idiotic fans). I also find rugby, along with many other sports, one of the few, unlike soccer, which you DON’T try to win based on deceit (such as going for goal in soccer and accidentally “tripping” in the penalty area, or provoking other players as Materazzi did in Germany).

I remember in Winnipeg that I had contemplated playing rugby until I saw a bumper sticker which read, “Give blood, play rugby”! I also recall a friend showing up at high school one day. He had a broken wrist. I asked what happened. He said, “Oh, I smashed a guy’s head during a rugby match”. I said, “But didn’t it hurt”? He: “Yeah, but I gave the guy 10 stitches”! A pity I didn’t play. I think I would have been rather good at the sport.

After having watched the All-Blacks and yesterday’s Italy-Canada match, I can only agree with the observation on sissies…(all pics by M. Rimati)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Mr. Top Gun makes it three!

Yes, Mr. Top Gun himself, Tom Cruise, is about to get married for the third time to actress Katie Holmes, but not in Los Angeles or New York, but rather in the small town (pop. 12,000) of Bracciano, located about 35 kms north of Rome.

The town of Bracciano is located next to a lake and the two will be getting married (on November 18th, 2006) in the medieval Odescalchi Castle located in the centre of the town. Last night, November 16th, the couple hosted a dinner in a downtown restaurant in Rome. Some of the guests included Jennifer Lopez, Will Smith, Brooke Shields and Canada’s very own Jim Carrey. Some of the other guests who will be arriving for the wedding will include David and Posh Beckham, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Russell Crowe, John Travolta (flying his own jet by the way) and heart-throb George Clooney, voted just today as THE world’s sexiest man. One guest who won’t be invited (and I don’t personally know why he should in the first place) is U.S. Ambassador to Italy, Ronald Spogli.

Legend has it that Cruise-Holmes had a romantic “interlude” in Bracciano during a take or two of “Mission Impossible 3”, which was partly shot also in Rome. Bracciano’s castle isn’t new to these type of weddings. Previous newlyweds have also included: CNN’s envoy Christiane Amanpour and James Rubin (Madeleine Albright’s former spokesman), Roman singer Eros Ramazzotti and Michelle Hunzinker and Isabella Rossellini and Martin Scorsese (that marriage only lasted four years. Scorsese’s best man was Robert De Niro).

The folks in Bracciano are naturally getting rather excited to see Tom “Cruiz” (Italians are rather pitiful when it comes to pronouncing foreign names. Few can seem to pronounce his correctly. One banner in the town even reads the following: “A big cheers for a big event”!). The mayor of the town, Ms. Patrizia Riccioni, in order to offset the costs of having to pay the town cops their overtime wages during the extraordinary event, has rented a room in city hall (with a view on the motorcade) for 1,000 euros (for just three days). CNN, ABC, CBS and Sky News will all be there, as is every Tom, Dick and Antonio of the world of paparazzis. The “Ave Maria” will be instead sung by Italy’s very own Andrea Bocelli.

The castle itself has been rented to Mr. Cruise and his future missus for a cool 1.5 million euros. Mayor Riccioni, who has given the ok for the wedding to take place, has not though been invited herself to the event, but nevertheless is very, very happy for the incredible business that the Cruise-Holmes circus is bringing to her small town (30,000 fans are expected to descend upon Bracciano tomorrow and stores are loaded with every Cruise paraphernalia around). The mayor is also happy as her town beat out the Lake Como area in northern Italy for the wedding. Why pray tell? Because that’s not only where Mr. Clooney has his villa but rumours said that Cruise-Holmes would actually get married there instead of Bracciano.

The feudal castle is one of the nicest of Europe and dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. There’s a wee bit of mystery and suspense surrounding the old castle: Isabella dei Medici, of the same famous Tuscan family, was murdered there when she was only 34 years of age by her husband, Paolo Giordano Orsini of Bracciano (he had fallen in love with another woman). Ghost experts say that Isabella still roams the halls of the castle! Hopefully, ghost Isabella will have pity for the newlyweds (Holmes’s father has worked out a deal that if the two divorce, his daughter will get a cool 30 million bucks!).

I have very fond memories of Bracciano as shortly after arriving in Rome at the end of 1989, I became good friends with an Italo-American by the name of Walt Bianchi. Walt’s folks had a really nice villa in Bracciano, and Walt would invite me over to do some swimming in the villa’s pool or a couple of rounds of tennis on the private court. I think I also stayed and slept there. Many a fine “brewskies” were drunk between me and Walt at his villa in Bracciano, contemplating by the poolside everything from life, women and the World Cup which took place in Italy during the summer of 1990 (Walt and I not only took in the opener in Milan between Argentina and Cameroon but also the final in Rome between W. Germany and Argentina). A toast therefore to the Cruises!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Paella beats Pizza?

Five years ago we travelled to Spain, for me the second time. We landed in Barcelona, rented a car and then drove to Valencia, Seville, Cordoba, Granada, Toledo (I now know where the term “Holy Toledo” comes from!) and then to Madrid. We flew back to Rome from Madrid five days before 9/11. I saw all the landing procedure at Rome’s Fiumicino airport with the plane’s cockpit door wide open. So much for security back then.

When I was in Madrid I had the sense that not only was the city very vibrant but also the that mentality was somewhat opposite to the Italian one. Sure enough, I walked by a newsstand and there I saw an official poster of Madrid being a candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympics, eleven years before the event! I said to myself, “Unthinkable such a thing in Italy”. And one night in Madrid while attending a classical flamenco show, I chatted with a Spaniard next to me. He summed up the difference between Italy and Spain in the following manner: that Spaniards are more “Prussian” mentality-wise than Italians who are much more “Mediterranean”. In fact, Spain’s south is much more developed than Italy’s “Mezzogiorno” which is basically plagued by problems related to the mafia (the south of Italy could live just on tourism alone if it got its act together, but in certain parts of Sicily—I’ve been there twice—they don’t even have running water in the summertime!).

Sure enough, in the November 4th, 2006 edition of The Economist (my so-called “Bible”. I’ve been subscribing to the “best magazine written in the English language” for the last 15 years or so), there’s an article on Spain vs. Italy and how the former is slowly beating out the latter economically and politically-speaking (the article says that Spain’s economy is already as big as Canada’s—which together with Italy is also part of the G8). The article also goes on to say that Spain, “Overall, however, the economic success has produced a change in the public temperament of a country comparable only with that of Germany after the second world war…Now Spain has self-confidence on steroids…Its emergence as an equal to Italy and even France will give it a seat at the top table. If there is ever a core Europe or a pioneer group, Spain will be in it”. Conclusion: if Spain keeps up at this pace and if Italy does not get its act together (in a previous issue The Economist said that Italy’s recent growth rate has been “pathetic”) the flamenco will surely one day beat the tarantella!

Friday, November 10, 2006

See Naples, and (literally) die!

If I’m not mistaken, the above saying pertains to Naples. I’ve been there on several occasions, the first time going as far back as 1981. I was about to conclude my first-ever backpacking tour of Europe (I had started in Spain, went up to France and then down to Italy). I was with my then girlfriend Jennifer. We were both coming from Winnipeg to Europe. After Rome, we headed down to Naples and nearby Pompeii (for the very first time in my life I actually slept outside, but not in a tent but rather on the ground in a sleeping bag near the ruins. We did this because we couldn’t find a hotel/pension. I’ll never forget the name of the campground either, “Spartacus” (a very appropriate name for the area, indeed!), nor being eaten alive by the mosquitoes that night). Pompeii was really nice and evoked memories of Pink Floyd’s concert there. If my memory doesn’t fail me, we even went to the island of Capri, or “Capri’” with an accent on the “i” as Americans quite often mispronounce it. In order to do that, we had to go to Naples’ port, and, as everyone knows, most ports around the world are rather seedy in nature. I was somewhat worried until we saw a group of US marines coming towards us. Some looked like linebackers for the Green Bay Packers! As soon as they saw the Canadian flags on our backpacks though, they cheered us on. I certainly felt protected. Why on earth did they cheer us on? Because shortly before Canada’s Ambassador Ken Taylor (with the support of the CIA), had helped sneak out of Iran six US citizens during the hostage crisis in Tehran. To thank Canada for that gesture, many billboards in the US thanked the “Great White North” publicly. As someone had stated back then: “What the US couldn’t do with brawn (the helicopter pilots killed in the desert of Iran in the botched-up rescue attempt of the hostages by Jimmy Carter), the Canucks did with brains”!

The other time in Naples was when on July 3rd, 1990, I was sitting DIRECTLY behind the penalty shootout goal at the San Paolo stadium. I was there for the semi-final match between Italy and Maradona’s Argentina. Argentina managed to eliminate Italy from the 1990 World Cup that night. It was also one of THE saddest days of my life (once back in Rome for two days I didn’t leave my house, that’s just how depressed I really was!).

I’ve also been to Naples in more recent times and again to Capri. I’ve always enjoyed the city and its people who are more open and jovial than Romans in general. I’ve never had major problems either, even though I’ve never driven down (I’ve always taken the train) and nor have I walked around with massive and expensive watches on my wrist (Rolexes are hot stuff in Naples. They’ll rip them off your wrist as they whiz by you on their scooters when your sitting in your car at a red light). I recall that Oliviero Toscani, Benetton’s former photographer, once did a reportage on the city about 10 years ago. His conclusion? That nothing in the city works. This same sentiment has been recently evoked by one of Italy’s foremost authors, Giorgio Bocca. The title of one of his recent books is: “We are Naples”. But the Neapolitans nevertheless do seem to have a very “Carpe Diem” approach to life, even though many recently have been (literally) dropping like flies in the Camorra (one of Italy’s four mafias, the others being: Cosa Nostra, the ‘Ndrangheta and the Sacra Corona Unita) gang-land wars. High unemployment is one of the major causes as most young people can’t find good and honest jobs, so they gravitate to the Camorra which pays rather well for pushing drugs or wiping out opponents.

A good Italo-American friend of mine used to work there for a major American bank. He told me that he’d work late and would come out to still find his car in the garage with the keys in the ignition plus the car radio, something totally unthinkable in Naples. The garage owner though was nowhere to be seen as he had gone home. How could this be possible? Because the garage owner was also a member of the Camorra, and if you truly loved life, you didn’t bother stealing the car of a customer of a Camorra member! On another occasion, while playing soccer on Sunday, my good friend had a young kid, clad in his Sunday-best clothes, advising him that someone had just stolen his spare tire from the trunk of his car. My friend was indeed most bewildered, checked out the trunk of his car and indeed the tire was gone. The kid looked at him and said, “But for 25 bucks I know how you can get it back”! My friend paid and got the tire back. It was as simple as that. Another interesting anecdote of the rather contorted way of thinking in Naples concerns a fellow who had his car radio stolen. He left a note on the car dashboard saying, “Please, spare me, they’ve just stolen my car radio”! He returned to find a piece of paper on the ground where his car once stood. The note read: “We’ve used your car to get your radio back”! Prime Minister Romano Prodi has been urged to send down to Naples the army in order to bring justice to the town. Apparently, there are parts of Naples where not only US military personnel are prohibited from entering (the NATO base is not too far away from Naples, in Bagnoli) but Italian law enforcement officials are also discouraged going there.

I personally don’t know how the situation will be resolved because the Neapolitan mentality goes back a few centuries (the mentality in northern Italy is completely the opposite from what it is in Naples. Things that happen there are totally unthinkable in a town like Udine). All I do know is that it must have been totally amazing for a certain Diego Armando Maradona to have lived and played for Naples for eight years! Only someone with his kind of personality could have lasted in that type of environment, and only that type of environment could have allowed Maradona to do what he miraculously was able to do with Naples (two national titles plus a UEFA Cup victory). Club Naples, has he himself said, also helped him to become world champion in 1986. Marco Van Basten won his three Golden Ball awards while playing for AC Milan in the north. Ditto for the great Michel Platini when he played for Turin’s Juventus. I just couldn’t see the two surviving in Naples’ environment like I couldn’t have seen Maradona do the same in the somewhat “sterile” environments of both Milan and Turin, sterile compared to the chaotic atmosphere in Naples (former national goalkeeper and Fiorentina, Naples and Milan goalkeeper Giovanni Galli once told me that Maradona wouldn’t even bother showing up for practises, and yet he’d play and would play magnificently! That’s just how great he really was). So great was Maradona’s charisma on Neapolitans that some people in their homes would replace the effigy of the city’s patron saint, San Gennaro, with that of Don Diego. And one evening, when Naples won its first national “scudetto” title (the very first in 60 years!), kicking in the process both Milan and Juventus in the ass, someone had written the following on the outside wall of a Naples cemetery (directed obviously to those unfortunate laying inside): “You don’t know what you’ve just missed”! In conclusion, the following perhaps best sums up that “Carpe Diem” nature which is soooo embedded in the Neapolitan DNA. A fellow one day gets on a bus while smoking a cigarette. The bus driver looks at him and says, “Sir, can’t you see it’s forbidden to smoke on the bus”! The fellow looks at him rather startled and says: “But I’ve just had a coffee”! The driver: “Ah, sorry sir….”.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"You don't scare me"!

The cat does not look terribly perturbed by the Jack-O-Lantern! (pic by M. Rimati)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Highway To Hell!

That's me, always on a highway to hell! (pic by M. Rimati)

“To pee or not to pee, that is the question”!

Ahh, if only other countries around the world, including Iraq and North Korea, had the grave problems that Italy has, especially regarding urinals. Urinals? Yes, urinals, in Italy’s parliament of all places. It looks like the (less-than) very honourable Vladimir Luxuria, a “transgender” politician (as he/she likes to call him/herself), had some urinary problems the other day, so he/she calmly walked into the women’s washroom at Montecitorio (the name of the seat of the Italian government in Rome). But good’ol Vladimir wasn’t the only one in the washroom at the time: Elisabetta Gardini, the spokeswoman of the Forza Italia party (the party belonging to former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) was also in the washroom merrily peeing away and thinking that she was in the company of other fellow female parliamentarians. When she exited the washroom stall she was apparently startled and horrified to find the honourable member of the Refounded Communist party doing the same thing. “Heaven forbid”, cried Ms. Gardini, claiming that she had been psychologically “raped” (at which point some of her female colleagues uttered that out there, there are women who are actually raped and face much graver problems than seeing a man/woman peeing). The debate now going on is whether or not to find Ms./Mr. Luxuria his/her own private potty, no doubt at the expense of Italians taxpayers. Now, if only Korea’s Kim had these same problems when facing the Americans at the negotiating table…

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween Italian style?

When I moved to the “Old Europe” (as Donald Rumsfeld once defined it) and Italy in 1989, I thought that I was going to live in a continent/country full of real “culture”, home to such luminaries as Da Vinci (the painter, not Dan Brown’s creation), Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Instead, after nearly 17 years, what do I see? Wrestling on tv, reality shows, McDonald’s restaurants everywhere (followed by American-style fat asses too. The first one opened up in my home town of Winnipeg in 1968. The first McDonald’s which opened up in the tiny town of Udine was at the end of 1999. I give Italians a few generations and they’ll be obese as the Americans) and now, Halloween! Yes, even Halloween in Italy. The trend in Italy goes back to 1997/98. We can also thank the U.S. Embassy in Rome which has a press office that also feeds Italian media news bits if Italians have now jumped on the Halloween bandwagon. Add to this also places like “Rock Hard Café” which not only is conveniently located right in front of the Embassy in Rome but which also does its fair share of promoting anything related to American culture. American schools in Rome (such as John Cabot University and the American University, not to mention the American Overseas School) also are heavily involved in promoting Halloween. We have to also that while Italians in general don’t like America’s death penalty mentality or their foreign affairs (see Iraq for example) they will take anything almost anything from the U.S. hook, line and sinker, so there you have on October 31st Italians slightly going bonkers over a pagan feast (its apparent origins) but which they fail to understand how Halloween properly works. I used to go out for Halloween in Winnipeg when I was 5-6. Inevitably, Halloween coincided also with the very first snowfall and/or blizzard in Winnipeg. So here I was dressed like Frankenstein walking around in knee-high snow and freezing my tush off! This was some 42 years ago. The true concept of Halloween, at least the way I remember it in Canada, had nothing to do with pagan festivities or rites. On the one hand, it had to do with one important thing: going out and getting as much candy and lots of apples (which our mothers would convert into great apple pies! The city cops would also tell us to be careful as some nut would always try to stick razors in our apples so unfortunately we had to chuck them out, indeed a pity!) after we’d spend the entire evening going door-to-door and yelling at the top of our lungs, “Trick or Treat”! (the Italians have gotten the concept backwards and call it “Dolcetto o Scherzetto”—“Treat or Trick”!). The Italians on the other hand haven’t yet made it to going out and knocking on people’s doors. They like getting dressed up but have missed out on the true meaning of Halloween (the other one is just an excuse for university students to get dressed up, to go out and get pissed and to have a great time, like I used to do at university). It’s quite comical, as one can see from the pictures taken of store windows in Udine, how the Italians have jumped on the Halloween bandwagon (and for the last few years the Church inevitably always comes out and thunders against such an obscure festivity which is so foreign to Italian culture. “Experts” on the subject will also describe the way Halloween actually has its roots in Italy. No doubt some Italian in 1492 by the name of “Allo Weeno” kicked-off the entire thing in the New World just after landing with Columbus and the boys). Oh, and by the way, when the Italian media mentions Halloween across the Atlantic, 100% of the time, they’ll always mention the event in the U.S., but never in Canada (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Arrivederci bridge

Under the previous Berlusconi government, Forza Italia had come up with the less-than brilliant idea of finally building a bridge over the Strait of Messina, connecting once and for all the island of Sicily with the Italian mainland, in particular the Calabria region. The zillions of euros would have played directly into the hands of the local mafias (Cosa Nostra and the ‘Ndrangheta). The Prodi government has now apparently put a slab over that project once and for all, but not without a major price: some 150 million euros have now gone up in smoke in 35 years' worth of environmental, engineering and scientific studies. All the paperwork behind the research into the construction of the bridge weighs about 126 kilos! Not only that, but the jobs that would have been created from the project, 40,000 of them, have also gone up in smoke with Prodi’s decision of canning forever the bridge. The entire cost of the bridge would have been more or less 4.6 billion euros, money that no doubt could be better spent by providing Sicilians with running water during the summer months as well as proper highway links (such as the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway which has been under construction for several decades).

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bruce Springsteen Villa Manin, Udine 04/10/06

The Boss came, he sang and he conquered all of us! What to say about Bruce Springsteen’s concert at the Villa Manin, located a mere 15 kms or so from Udine? Simply fantastic! Out of the 148 concerts I’ve seen so far I’d this performance in the top 10. Indeed a tremendous honour for the folks in Udine and Friuli to have hosted such a magnificent performer. Menacing clouds the day before and the day of the concert threatened those 10,000 fans with a good downpour. Instead, Bruce’s great charisma spared us all the rain as the stars even came out for the concert. Bruce was joined on stage by “only” 17 terrific musicians, including his wife Patti Scialfa who has also been part of Bruce’s legendary E Street Band (which, in total honesty, I did not personally miss last night as his “Seeger Session Band” was simply superb) and violinist Soozie Tyrell who was part of his 2003 world tour. After his “Born in the USA” concert in 1984 in Toronto and his epic world tour 3 years ago in Florence (3.5 hour concert with a record 3 encores), The Boss ONCE again outdid himself with a wonderful performance of old tunes by Pete Seeger. He began at 9 pm on the dot and ended at 11.30 pm with about 20 songs or so, including “The River” and “My City of Ruin” in honour of 9/11 plus naturally songs from his latest work with the Seeger Band, in particular “Jacob’s Ladder”. Forget hearing “Born in the USA” or “Born to Run”, this was Springsteen singing perhaps the roots of his own music (mixed in with some old Irish ballads). One of the concluding songs was everyone’s favourite (even for Italians), “When the saints come marching in”. His band members? You name it, he had them: banjo, tuba, horns, fiddles, drums and even washboards! I had stated publicly that when you go see a Tina Turner or Springsteen concert and you’ve spent a lot of bucks/euros, you come away very, very satisfied for the money you’ve spent. This is once again confirmed with Bruce’s performance last nite. And oh, another thing, both he and Paul McCartney REALLY know how to work an audience (Bruce is now 57 years old). At one point he yelled out in perfect Italian: “Udine e’ anche famosa per la grappa, ma dov’e’”? He repeated this about 3 or 4 times. Finally, after the 5th time he repeated the same phrase, a roadie came out on stage with a bottle of grappa and glasses! Seeing that in this part of Italy they make some mighty fine grappa, the crowd naturally went wild. And there was Bruce serving grappa to all his band members. Upon conclusion of the concert, I said to some friends: “Gee, I wonder if the grappa he had was the Nonino version”? Just as I said it, Mrs. Gianola Nonino, of the same grappa distillery, passed right under my nose with her husband. I only presume that The Boss, no doubt a drinker in his life of some fine Jack Daniel’s whiskey, no doubt probably appreciated a crate or two of Nonino grappa, considered by many one of the finest grappas in all of Italy (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Ara Pacis

Some pics of Rome’s newly-renovated “Ara Pacis Augustae” museum. The museum is actually an altar which was dedicated to peace by Augustus in 9 ad. The museum is located in an area of Rome known as the “Campo Marzio”. The monument is known as a marvel of Roman architecture and represents one of the most significant works of art of the Augustea period. It was intended to symbolise the “Roman Peace” obtained under Augustus upon his return from three years spent in Spain. After seven years of work, American architect Richard Meier was responsible for the restructuring of the building which, in true Roman/Italian style, was and still is awash in controversy (a recent International Herald Tribune article reported on the heavy criticism which Meier’s work has been subjected to by Italian art critics and the likes). The museum was inaugurated on April 21, 2006, which just also happens to be the date when Rome was first founded (all pics by M. Rimati).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Gone shootin'?

Shootings part II: yesterday I had reported in my blog that there is no doubt the odd Italian (and American) who has probably now said that Canada is becoming more and more like the States after the shooting in Montréal (even though I suspect that the one main difference with the US is after this shooting the Canadians will clamp down even harder on weapons). Well, the latest comes from Naples, just yesterday. A 43 year-old engineer from Québec who’s based in Algeria was walking around the city centre with his missus after a nice day spent in Capri when he (thought) heard firecrackers going off. He noticed a burning sensation in his leg, and then fell to the ground. What he thought was a firecracker was in reality a stray bullet that had landed in his leg: he had been yet another victim (he survived though) of stray fire between Camorra gang members. On more than one occasion innocent bystanders have been killed, including children. The last major incident involving Canadians occurred just a few months ago with a Canadian diplomat stationed in Vienna: he was robbed at the Naples train station, murdered and dumped in a sewer. The honorary consul in Naples now wants to put online a warning to Canadian tourists to be cautious when visiting Naples (a few weeks ago a poor American tourist fought off some muggers only to find the family members of the muggers come not to HIS rescue but to the muggers’ rescue!). Giorgio Bocca, one of Italy’s senior authors, recently came out with a book called, “Napoli siamo noi”. In one episode, he tells of a journalist who called the police because there was ruckus going on in her street and she couldn’t sleep. The cops never came. So she called again. They finally came. Well, as a punishment, the day after, local Camorra members literally “devastated” all the cars parked on her street!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Oh, Canada!

It’s funny, or should I say sad, that the Italian media usually talks about Canada in a negative sense: I’m referring to the American-style shooting in a college in Montréal on September 13, 2006. If it’s not that the Italian media will talk about the yearly seal hunt in eastern Canada! Very rarely though will we read up on the virtues of Canada.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ciao mom!

It’s 3.57 in the morning, Saturday, August 19th. I don’t feel like sleeping much (for obvious reasons). I’m in the splendid little town of Udine. On Aug. 7th, the day after Madonna’s concert in Rome, I came up to Udine to see how my mother was. Udine had been hit by an incredible heat wave (on July 21st it was 39 degrees Celcius). My father would pass me the phone talk to my mother. We didn’t chat about Lebanon or things like that because for the last 3 or 4 years she was in the phase of senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. At one pt though, her voice sounded like it came from the grave. I asked my dad what was wrong. He said she was tired. I thought that it was more than just being tired. Dani and I were to have gone on the 20th to Greece on vacation. I thought that it would be a good idea to come up first to check things out. Glad I did. She was in pitiful condition. Thanks to a cousin doctor of mine, we rushed her to the emergency ward. From there, she was transferred to another ward.
My father in the meantime was hit my a severe case of sciatica. This impeded him from being able to go to the hospital to see my mother, which I gladly did twice per day. She basically lost between 6 to 7 litres of water, or 6-7 kilos of water. Her sodium level was at around 176 when for anyone normal it’s around 145. Instead of blood in her veins she basically had molasses. The dehydration was quite a lot for someone who had turned 80 in July (three yrs ago 15,000 elderly people died in France due to the massive heat wave that hit Europe). On Friday he finally managed, with great difficulty, to come to the hospital to see his wife. My mother was on intravenous, as well as being fed that way (she had gotten too weak to be fed via the mouth). She wasn’t doing that well. I had decided Friday nite, alone (Dani was taking care of her step-mother near Rome) to go catch an outdoor movie, just to wind down a bit. As I watching a Korean thriller, I kept on looking at the stars above, thinking for some strange reason that my mother wouldn’t come out of this all that well. I came home, spoke with Dani on the phone, and was reading when around midnight the phone rang. At first, I thought it was Dani. Instead, it was the hospital, advising me that the situation had gotten worse. I rushed out, again alone at 1 am in the morning, to find my mother on oxygen and with a fever of 38.2. The doctor, an Argentine immigrant with whom I got to speak Spanish with, told me that the situation had plummeted substantially. I was holding her hand, also whispering in her ear that “Com’on mom, you’ve survived the bombings over Udine 60 yrs ago not to mention German occupation and two (yes two) tumours (colon and breast), you’re not going to let a little water kill you”! At 1.41 am, with the doctor and three very professional nurses by her side, my mother left us. I don’t know exactly how to describe being physically next to someone as they (literally) breathe their last breath. It comes at greater and greater intervals. The doctor at one pt removed the oxygen, knowing I guess very well that there was little that could be done for her. One nurse said that she reacted in some way when I showed up. I guess she was happy that her "Marietto" (as I had been called for many yrs) was there for her. It was the least I could do after 12 days of going back and forth to feed her and to check up on her. I was glad that the day before my dad had managed—after 50 yrs of marriage—to have seen her and kissed her. While driving back to the hospital with the clothes necessary for her funeral, I thought how odd and ironic life really can be: she had been there 47 yrs ago when she brought me into this world and I, 47 yrs later, was with her when she left this world.
She had been an oustanding mother and wife (me with my mother in slightly better times).
Ciao mom,

Monday, August 14, 2006

Madonna rocks the Olimpico!

Italy’s largest disco was by far in Rome on August 6th! That’s what the mood was like for Ms. Ciccone’s concert at Rome’s Olympic stadium. Some 70,000 people where there, including Puff Daddy (or P. Diddy or P. Whiffy or whatever the man’s name is), Lenny Kravitz, Pedro Almodovar and even Penelope Cruz (with my binoculars I managed to see the first three people as they came into the VIP stands). The stage was set up horizontally in the south curve. We were on the opposite side in the north curve. The pics were taken with a Nikon D70 digital camera and with a 70-300 mm zoom with no flash and no tripod. The evening opened with a well-known DJ who really got the house rocking. Nice to see the kids going crazy. I thought of two things: how Elvis would have been proud (kids just wanna have fun and dance to good music) and how the poor Lebanese kids would have wanted to be present that night rather than hiding from the bombs. He played for an hour. Madonna came on around 9:45 or so and played for two hours. No encores though and no good-byes, that’s apparently how she ends every show. She must have changed about 5 times and had some great dancers with her. And yes, she did come out on a crucifix and wearing a crown made up of spines. No doubt the Vatican probably didn’t appreciate the gesture (her press officer even went as far as to invite Pope Ratzinger to the concert! American-style freedom of the press taken a wee bit too far!). The screen behind her showed images of Africans and their plight with Aids. She sang one of my favourites, “Ray of Light”, and others such as “Music”, “La Isla Bonita” and “Live to Tell”. She actually opened with a Donna Summers hit, “I Feel Love”. The concert ended with “Hung Up”. On the eve of her 48th on August 16th, I must say Madonna was in splendid shape. Unlike Tina Turner, Madonna’s show was more “theatrical” in nature. Turner I think has a much better voice than Madonna. Nevertheless, a young Ciccone left Michigan one fine day on a plane for New York. The first time away from home, the first time in NY and the first time on a plane. She arrived with only 35 dollars in her pocket and lived for a period in misery without asking anyone for help. She’s now sold some 250 million records and is by far THE best female performer in the world. What is also amazing is the following day I had to take a train. I went to the Termini station to buy my newspapers. The main ones were all sold-out. I asked why? “The Madonna effect”!, was the answer from the news seller. Seems like everyone wanted to see the commentaries on her “crucifixion" (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Borghese Gallery

Some pictures of the Borghese museum gallery in Rome. At the time of writing, the gallery is host to a collection of Raphael paintings from museums around the world (Florence, the US and the Louvre). The gallery itself is quite amazing, perhaps one of the finest in Europe, with works by Bernini, Caravaggio and Canova (all pics by M. Rimati).

Friday, August 04, 2006

Walkabout Rome

A Sunday walk around downtown Rome. A changing of the guard at the Quirinale Palace, home to Italy’s president (and a former papal palace). The Italian wave flagging up high on the left indicates that the president is at home. The equestrian statue is located right in front of the Quirinale (all pics by M. Rimati).

It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there!

Italians have the (very) nasty habit of usually abandoning each summer before going on vacation up to 100,000 cats, dogs, serpents, birds, you name it. The last publicity regards abandoning dogs. The ad says: “Abandon only the city”, with a dog clearly visible in the rear view mirror. And then Italians break Canadians’ balls over the yearly seal hunt (pic by M. Rimati)?

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Blues in a castle

Pics from small town located about 150 km north of Rome. We went there for a small blues festival. The town only has 450 people, including a castle too (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Bryan Adams and Billy Joel rock the Coliseum!

An Italian journalist was in Vienna a few weeks ago covering the Billy Joel concert there. He said his performance was fantastic. I agree whole heartedly with his observation: Joel was simply great at Telecom Italia’s 4th free concert right in front of Rome’s Coliseum (after Paul McCartney, Simon&Garfunkel and Elton John) on July 31st. But Joel wasn’t the only treat: Canada’s Bryan Adams got things rolling with a 50 minute performance right in front of a multi-colored Coliseum. He opened up with “So Far So Good” and followed with “I Need Somebody”, “Run To You”, “18 Till I Die”, “Looks Good On Me” and “Summer of ‘69” which nearly brought down the ancient Flavian Amphitheatre (the Coliseum’s real name). Adams was in a great mood as he practically dove into the crowd under the stage, taking pictures of himself on a small digital camera amongst fluttering Canadian flags.
Joel? Put it this way, what song DIDN’T he play? You name it, he played it: “Angry Young Man”, “My Life”, “Love You Just The Way You Are”, “The Entertainer”, “Honesty”, “Zanzibar”, “New York State Of Mind”, “Uptown Girl”, “Innocent Man”, “Big Shot”, “In The Middle Of The Night”, “Only The Good Die Young” and “Italian Restaurant”. He played for nearly 2 hours. Another treat for the over 300,000 people present was the duet for his encore with Adams. They alternated one hit each, Joel’s “You May Be Right” and perhaps my favourite Adams song, “Cuts Like A Knife”! The grand finale was left up to Joel for his one and only last encore, “Piano Man”. It was an indeed “hot” night again at the Coliseum, and not just because of the humidity and 30+ Celsius temperatures, but because of two wonderful performers on stage. As we all began to exist the area and the roadies began dismantling the huge stage poised right in front of the Coliseum, the soundtrack to “Gladiator” began blaring out. Indeed a most appropriate sound for the particular atmosphere (all pics by M. Rimati).