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 CafĂ©” 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).