Friday, July 28, 2006

The usual chaos...

As my bio page indicates, I’ve been living in Italy non-stop since 1989. Quite honestly (and quite frankly), I can’t really say that in all these years I’ve learned anything from the Italians vis-à-vis the work ethic. I may be the only person in Italy who has worked for three different governments so far but WITHOUT being part of the diplomatic career of any of the three: I’ve worked at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, at the Canadian Embassy in Rome and at Palazzo Chigi (seat of the Italian government) and at the Farnesina, also known as the Italian Foreign Ministry. The most organised are the Americans. The least? The Italians. I’ve worked at some major events, such as World Cups, G8 Summits and other things. About the only thing I have learned is how to coach. How to coach soccer that is. I’ve taken 7 coaching courses so far in Italy (plus 1 from the English FA). When it comes to soccer (just witness Italy’s recent 4th World Cup victory), Italians are probably second to none, perhaps just behind the Brazilians. I’ve learned discipline and above-all how to be organised when it comes to running a practise and planning a game. But for the rest, forget it. The latest comes from the recent Middle East conference held in Rome with the Lebanese, Americans, Italians and UN secretary-general Kofi Annan. The title of “La Repubblica” on the organisation of the concluding press conference was: “Press conference amid chaos, the Farnesina becomes a campground”. Some 800 reporters and cameramen were squeezed into a small area without air conditioning. At one point, as Rice and the others came in, they were told to sit down. Not on chairs but on the floor! A Russian journalist had a tough time following orders as she was wearing a mini-skirt! Some older foreign correspondents complained of weak knee joints while the Farnesina’s press office described the scene as being worthy of a “Woodstock concert”! The Egyptian correspondent of the “Middle East News Agency” asked instead where the air conditioning was whereas the Swiss, always precise like their clocks and watches, asked if there was no better place in which to organise such an important press conference. Rice instead was bothered for most of the time by a pesky fly which just wouldn’t go away (and the fly was probably THE happiest living creature in that room as at least it wasn’t mobbed by fellow flies)!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Never again?

A friend of mine asked me one day, “Why do you go visit all these concentration camps”? I’ve been so far to:
-Dachau (twice)
-Mauthausen (twice)
-the Risiera di San Sabba in Trieste (twice, the only Nazi-run concentration camp in Italy)

I go to see not only how many millions of people suffered in these place, not only to see how my uncle suffered and died in a POW near Leipzig but also to see the hypocricy of man: many of these concentration camps show pictures of how 60 years ago millions of people were displaced and had to leave their homes. In the year 2006, in the era of iPods and what not, still more people (the Lebanese) are being displaced. A “welcome” sign in the courtyard of Dachau says, “Never again”. Useless words I’d say…

Monday, July 24, 2006

Guilty or not guilty?

Some pics from an outdoor theatre at the Basilica of Massenzio in downtown Rome. The play, 90 minutes long and free, was a hypothetical court hearing on whether Julius Caesar was or wasn’t guilty. There were two “lawyers”, one for the accused and one for the defence (the crowd voted not guilty). It couldn’t get any better because the Basilica overlooks the Roman Forum and where Caesar worked at the central government. On March 15th, 44 BC, he took a short walk from his “office” to Largo Argentina, about 1 km away, where he was knifed to death by conspirators. His assassins later all died, but not of natural causes. The next play is a court hearing against Nero, in the same location (all pics by M. Rimati).

Sunday, July 16, 2006


More Stones (picture by M. Rimati. All pics taken with a Nikon D70 digital camera with a 300 m zoom from about 200 metres away in San Siro's 2nd ring).

They're still the world's greatest rock'n'roll band

So how many places on the face of the planet can you say that you’ve seen and done the following? Staying directly behind the hotel of the world’s greatest rock and roll band. You then get to see the world’s greatest rock and roll band in one of the world’s “temples” of soccer. You see the world’s greatest rock and roll band in a temple of soccer together with two (very) recent World Cup champions. And you see all this together with the 5 penalty kicks during the Italy-France World Cup final. You see all this in Milan’s San Siro stadium (home to Milan and Inter) during the Rolling Stones’s only Italian gig on July 11th. The champions? Marco “I’m no saint either” Materazzi and Alex Del Piero. After their last concert in the very same venue 3 years ago (I was there for that one too, perhaps a slightly better performance than this time round) the Stones again returned to Milan and ironically, 24 years later after Italy’s 3rd World Cup victory (back then Jagger came out wearing Paolo Rossi’s t-shirt).
Indeed quite the 5 days for Dani and I: last Friday we were in Lucca to see Clapton (tonight Lucca will host both Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Nick Mason on drums). On Saturday we took in the 3rd place match plus getting psyched up for the Italy-France final. On Sunday we joined some 300,000 people at the Circus Maximus to watch the final on 3 large screens. We then took to the streets of Rome for the massive celebrations. On Monday Rome was again inundated by celebrations as 1 million people again packed the C.M. for the arrival of the Italian national team. And then on Tuesday the Stones’s concert.
And how were Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood? Great as ever. Three years ago—on the eve of his 60th—I had said that Jagger had more agility on stage than Totti on a soccer pitch. This time, at age 63, Jagger had MORE energy on stage than the entire Italian team! Two hours of non-stop r&r. Three years ago they opened with “Start Me Up”. This time the three screens showed the cosmos, in clear reference to their “Bigger Bang” album, their latest work and the name of their new world tour (its European leg kicked off in Milan). The Milan concert was supposed to have taken place on June 22nd but given Richards’s head injury (in perfect Italian, Jagger said that both Richards and Materazzi had “heads” as a common denominator!), it was postponed to July 11th. With a very loud bang, the Stones broke out in a very explosive r&r song, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”. Jagger then welcomed the 60,000+ people in Italian: “Ciao Milano, ciao Italia, campioni del mondo”! We all naturally went crazy (Jagger is a soccer fan and was in Milan watching the final. Drummer Watts instead is a cricket lover but was “forced” by Jagger to watch some of the games). This followed with “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)”. This time though there was no “Angie” nor “Like A Rolling Stone”. Richards? In splendid form and as “rockier” as ever. He sang a few of his own songs (his favourite welcoming line is the following: “I’m happy to be here. In fact, I’m happy to be anywhere”! Indeed a nice outlook on life).
The stage? There are three rings to San Siro stadium. Their stage almost reached the height of the 2nd ring (lucky some ticket holders: you could sit high up on stage overlooking the entire show/band). Ronnie Wood seemed somewhat subdued, perhaps due to his recent alcohol rehabilitation. Watts? Calm, cool and perfect on drums as ever. They played most of their hits, including a song which in the 60s on the Ed Sullivan show had been subjected to some modifications: “Let’s Spend The Night Together” (Jagger then had to say “Time” instead of “Night” because it wasn’t deemed appropriate for a younger viewing audience), “Midnight Rambler”, a great blues song, “Honky Tonk Women”, “Brown Sugar” (with once again Texan Bobby Keys on sax who once played the original part in that song), “Sympathy For The Devil” (with a very, very red stage and lighting), “I Can’t Get No (Satisfaction”), some songs from their new album such as “Streets of Love” plus “As Tears Go By” (sung entirely by Mick in Italian, a nice homage to Italians!). And speaking of homage, the Stones played an old Ray Charles song. Jagger was joined by Lisa, their eternal (and only female) singer. Quite the performance by the two. Before their last song, “Satisfaction”, the main central screen showed Italy’s 5 successful pk goals. They were followed by all of us with a (very) loud “Ole’”. San Siro naturally went wild with Grosso’s winning pk. After the song, Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood took their usual bow. At that point, they were joined on stage by both Materazzi and Del Piero! Again, 60,000 people went wild. Materazzi complimented the 4 “true champions” on stage and then proceeded to poke fun at the French. The temperature as we headed into San Siro at 7 pm was 40 degrees Celsius. Once the concert and all the fireworks went off during the concert, the temperature certainly rose to 45 degrees, if not more. We made it back to our hotel by midnight and waited outside the Stones’s hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the 4 rockers. Sure enough, at 1:30 am there came out from the hotel front door Sir Mick with his wife (who towers over Mick) on his way to who knows where. We were about 40 metres away from him (quite the skinny fellow too). His car went whizzing under my nose but no pics as his windows were completely “tainted black”. What I did manage to do before he headed out was to take a pic of his limo with on the dashboard the following simple sign: “MJ”. I looked at Dani and chuckled: “Here we’re going to bed at 1.30 while Mick, after 2 hours of non-stop fantastic singing in sweltering heat in front of 60,000 screaming fans STILL at 63 years of age has enough energy to go out and party”! Indeed, what a life he and the other three have had since 1962 when they formed the band (I have this suspicion though that Watts was comfortably snoozing away in bed). Quite the day in Milan. On the train back to Rome I said to myself: “In 2012 not only will London be hosting the summer Olympics but it’ll also be the Stones’s 50th anniversary. Wouldn’t it be great if they played at the closing ceremonies”!

Clapton is definitely (still) God!

Eric Clapton, Lucca, July 7th, 2006
The wife and I travelled some 700 kms (there and back) to the small walled-in town of Lucca (the only one apparently with standing walls), not too far from Pisa, to see “Mr. Slowhand” himself, Eric Clapton. He began on time at 9:30 pm and played for 2 hours non-stop with one encore. He began with “Pretending” which is one of my favourite. Clapton was backed up by 11 members, including some pretty young guitarists who could have even been his kids (what an honour for them to play next to him!). I saw him in 1995 in Rome. He began that concert by saying, “If you’ve come to hear my old hits, forget it as I’m only going to play blues”. Which he did. In Lucca instead (a very, very nice town by the way) he played some old and new hits, such as “So Tired” and everyone’s fav, Cocaine and Layla. His opening act was Robert Cray. Cray joined him at the end for a few tunes, including “Crossroads”. While staring at this phenomenal artist, I kept on thinking about his long relation with friend George Harrison, especially on the song “Layla” which was named in honour of George’s first wife, model Patti Harrison (who then joined Clapton). So great was their friendship that they remained good friends with Clapton rendering George honour one year after his death at the Royal Albert Hall with the “Concert For George” concert. I also kept on thinking about the concert for Bangladesh. Harrison organised that event in 1971 in New York’s Madison Square Garden to also help his mentor (on the sitar), Ravi Shankar. He got some good friends involved, such as Bob Dylan and Clapton. Harrison’s aids would go to JFK to see the arrival of the plane from England with Eric onboard. But he wasn’t there. So they’d go back. And he still wasn’t there. He finally showed up but was in pretty bad shape as he was going through a rather bad period with drugs (Dylan on the other hand was extremely nervous to be on stage again). But there he was on stage playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Clapton played about 20 songs in Lucca. Someone in the 70s had written on a wall “Clapton is God”! Slowhand’s performance in Lucca still confirmed that statement (pictures by M. Rimati).

Mafia anyone?

Southern Italy has been for decades plagued by the mafias (there are four down there). One would think that many Sicilians, Calabrians and others would be embarrassed by what some of their fellow citizens have done (killing women, judges and what-not). The latest news is that t-shirts with the following: “Mafia, Made in Italy”, are selling like hotcakes! Only in Italy…

Monday, July 10, 2006


Quite the evening last nite! We headed for the Circus Maximus. The city had set up 3 large screens there. In days of old they used to pack the place with some 300,000 people for the chariot races. That was probably the number last nite. I managed to film the pk shootout. We then went to Piazza Venezia, the Fori Imperiali up to the Coliseum and then back home. From the Coliseum to Piazza Venezia there was a human wave of people. It almost looked as though all of Italy was on a long march to where Mussolini 60 yrs ago used to address the crowds. Pandemonium broke out also with cars and scooters. The usual coy Italians: one must wonder just what on earth Materazzi must have said about Zidane’s mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, great-grandmother, etc. While that does not in any way justify Zizou’s gesture, few outside of Italy know that Materazzi is NO saint in the Serie A, let us say a Gattuso multiplied by 2 (or 3), and on more than one occasion has been red-carded. But, in the long run, there are no saints in world football, and the most cleaver prevail (someone remembers Maradona’s hand goal in 1986?). A pity that Zizou had to exist the national team in that manner. I went to bed at about 2 am. Tonite it’s back to the Circus Maximus as the national team arrives for their party there. Tomorrow instead it’s off to Milan’s San Siro stadium for the Stones’s concert. In 1982 at their concert in Torino, Jagger came out wearing a Paolo Rossi t-shirt. Whose t-shirt will he be wearing this time?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thanks mate!

As we all know, Rome is famous for many things. One of them is the Coliseum. A few years ago, thanks to film director Ridley Scott, Rome and its “Flavian Amphitheatre” (the Coliseum’s real name) became even more famous around the world thanks to “Gladiator” with Russell Crowe, who, if I’m not mistaken, won the Oscar as best actor for that film. Awhile ago, former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler decided to have a private film showing at his residence (the residence, Villa Taverna, has a swimming pool, tennis courts, catacombs and even an 80-seat movie theatre) of “A Beautiful Mind” with Crowe. At the same time theatres in Rome were going to show the film in Italian and Crowe, the main star of that film, was going to show up for the Italian premier. I had a hunch that perhaps he’d show up at the residence, so I brought my camera along. The Ambassador welcomed us and said: “After the showing there may be a chance that Russell Crowe will come to Villa Taverna”! Sure enough, around 5:30 pm Crowe showed up with his bodyguards on a large scooter wearing sweat pants and sneakers. We were inside the residence and as he came in the door, I looked at him, shook his hand and said, “You’re still THE best gladiator of them all”! He looked at me with a smile and said with his Australian accent, “Thanks mate”! That’s me, the tall one with the glasses standing to the left of Crowe in the picture (the women naturally all kissed him!).

Bets on breasts, anyone?

Italian women often complain that they’re under-represented in politics. A case in point is the fairly new Prodi government. Italy’s new Prime Minister had promised a hefty number of women in his new government but the number has been nowhere near that of Zapatero (Spain) or Bachelet’s (Chile) governments. And quite often, women in Italy—in the year 2006—are still represented as (sexual) objects in advertisement, both in newspapers and especially on tv (a Renault ad shows women’s rear-ends for the entire duration of the ad. What do asses have to do with cars is beyond me!). A case in point is the picture in Rome’s subway. What on earth does a woman’s cleavage have to do with betting (picture by M. Rimati)?


Some good’ol Italian patriotism…(picture by M. Rimati)

Bus stop?

It’s always a lot of fun trying to take a bus in Rome and making out the signs (picture by M. Rimati)!

John Belushi for Senator?

Kind of hard to understand what the late, great John Belushi has to do with local Roman politics. Can you imagine him standing up in the Italian senate and yelling out, "Food fight" (picture by M. Rimati)!


A relief in the EUR neighbourhood featuring Mussolini and his so-called conquests (picture by M. Rimati).

Celebrating in Rome!

Some of the celebrations the other day after Italy’s match against the Aussies. The building in the picture is Palazzo Venezia and the balcony is where “Il Duce”, Mussolini, used to address the crowds some 60 years ago (Pictures by M. Rimati).

Big nose!

The fountain in the picture is affectionately called “nasone” in Italian, big nose. These are fountains which can be found all around Rome. The fresh, clean, drinkable water (it’s great for when you go jogging around the town) spews out water 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The sign instead loosely translates into: “Water is your wealth. Don’t waste it”! It’s an ad by Acea, Rome’s main water provider. Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, has gone several times (with Rome’s taxpayers’ euros) to some African countries to inaugurate new water wells thanks to Italian funding. I wonder what many thirsty Africans—many who must walk miles and miles to water wells every day—must think about the utterly incredible waste of water in Rome? (Pictures by M. Rimati).

Mourning for the poor Germans (Italian style)!

And still more...

And more...



Some pictures from after the Italy-Germany July 4th, 2006 match in the streets of Rome (the fellow with the pillow and the colours of the German flag indicate a period of mourning in Italy. The Chinese riding in their car are immigrants waving the Italian flag. Talk about social integration!). All pictures by M. Rimati.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mayhem in Rome!

While watching the Germany-Italy semi-final match last night, I said to myself: “Watch that with 30 seconds to go Ballack will score”. I still, the day after the match, can’t believe that Italy won! It's as though I were shell-shocked from the victory. I immediately ran out of the house with my video cam and digital camera to take some pics of the neighbourhood and streets of Rome. At one point, it seemed as though Italy had actually won the World Cup! Even Chinese immigrants were out with their cars and waving the Italian national flag! I can’t imagine what’ll happen Sunday, July 9th, if Italy wins. We'll most likely go to the Circus Maximus to watch the final on the large screen which they set up for the semi-final match. And all this comes just 2 days before the Rolling Stones’s concert in Milan (I was there 3 years ago for their concert). Back in 1982 when Italy won its last and 3rd world title, the Stones played in Torino. Jagger came out wearing a Paolo Rossi top after becoming the hero of that World Cup in Spain. If Italy wins, will Jagger come out wearing a Totti jersey?

My World Cup

BBC presently has an e-mail forum called "myworldcup". You can send them an e-mail with your thoughts on the event. Here's what I've sent them.

Dear BBC,
What does this World Cup mean to me? Well, in 1986 while I was living in Canada and as I was watching the W.Germany-Argentina final of that World Cup, your CBC colleagues, as the final whistle blew, said: “So, it’s “adios” from Mexico City and “ci vediamo a Roma”! I was completely taken off-guard as I didn’t know back then that the next World Cup would indeed be held in Italy. So I said to myself that I would have 4 years to find a job in Italy, which I did in September, 1989 as I went to work in Rome. Not only, but I also worked at Italia’90 as Korea’s interpreter in Udine. Not only, but I was also at the opener Argentina-Cameroon at San Siro (right behind Argentina’s goal when Oman Byk scored!), then down to Rome for Italy-Uruguay, then Italy-Ireland then down to Naples and the San Paolo stadium for Italy-Argentina (I was RIGHT behind the goal of the penalty shootout when Don Maradona eliminated Italy from that event!), and then back in Rome for the final (I had waited 14 hours all night outside a Rome bank for the tickets for the final). The semi-final match in Naples was on July 3rd. I was working at the time at the US Embassy in Rome. July 4th was Independence Day so the embassy was closed. Sooooo depressed was I about Italy’s loss that I stayed in all day, pretty well crying. The day after, STILL depressed, I called in sick and again stayed in all day (a friend asked me to play soccer. I said no. He said, “If Mario DOESN’T want to play soccer, you KNOW that he’s depressed”!)!
Come this Sunday, I am desperately waiting that “San Francesco” (Totti) will perform some kind of miracle so that I may be “vindicated” for July 3rd, 1990 in Naples, so far without a doubt THE saddest day of my (entire) life!Forza Italia!

Mario Rimati
Rome, Italy

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

No more pizza in Germany?

Things are really getting heated up only hours away from tonight’s big semi-final match between Germany and Italy, both three-time winners of the World Cup. After that Germany’s player Torsten Frings was suspended by FIFA for one game after having thrown a punch at Argentina’s Cruz just after Germany’s victory over the South Americans, the Germans, in particular the press, suspect that behind Frings’s suspension is the hand of the Italians, who naturally and obviously deny any involvement in the matter. Frings’s duty tonight would have been that of defending and following Francesco Totti around the pitch like his shadow. Instead he won’t be there. The Germans in the meantime accuse the Italian media for having requested Frings’s suspension. As a form of retaliation, they’re demanding a nationwide boycott of….pizzas! No doubt that’ll really scare the hell out of Italians living in Germany! I’d hate to see what’ll happen if Italy does in fact beat Germany tonight and make it to the final in their place. Will big, German, blonde and blue-eyed males also boycott those sensual, voluptuous and big-busted topless Italian goddesses who populate Italy’s many beaches every summer (which by the way are often frequented by hordes and hordes of German male tourists) if Italy were indeed to win the World Cup for a fourth time?

Saturday, July 01, 2006


I was in tiny Udine when Italy beat the Ukraine in the quarter-finals of the World Cup. It’s now time to face the mighty Germans in Tuesday’s semi-final match. That match will take place on July 4th and at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Rome there’ll be the big Independence Day party. The wife works there so we hope that they’ll install a large screen otherwise those 3,500 guests, mostly Italians, who have been invited will most likely come up with an excuse to not show up. Living in Rome I’m naturally hoping for the Italy-Brazil final, a vindication of the 1970 and 1994 finals. If Italy were to win I can’t imagine what the city will be like nor the entire country. It’ll be especially nice for me as I was in Rome in 1990 during that World Cup and I was SURE that Italy would be in the final. Instead, in Naples it got eliminated by Maradona’s Argentina, who in turn was eliminated in Rome by West Germany (coincidentally, some two months before the unification of the two Germanys. In fact, there was NO pk for Germany and two Argentine players were red-carded). I lived in Winnipeg during Italy’s last World Cup victory in 1982. I still remember packing the car and driving downtown with other Italians and Italo-Canadians and waving the Italian flag. I still remember driving through the Portuguese neighbourhood and listening to all the insults (they were jealous because Italy had won and they weren’t even in the World Cup to begin with!). Yes, it’d certainly be nice to re-live those magical moments again.