Monday, May 28, 2007

Radars for Rolexes!

Most of the (civilised) world was utterly shocked at the recent university shootings in the state of Virginia. Italians too were shocked, especially those who love to take the U.S. hook, line and sinker (with the latest fads or movies) but at the same time totally abhor America’s philosophy on guns and also the death penalty. I believe some 35 people were killed by a rather deranged student in the Virginia tragedy.

But just how different are things in Italy? Not too different actually. Up to the time of writing, about 50 people have been gunned down so far in the Naples area because of Camorra-gang wars (the Camorra being the 4th mafia in Italy after the ‘Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra and the Sacra Corona Unita). The year isn’t even half over and 50 people, some even innocent, have been mowed down by organised crime members in Naples.

Muggings are also a big thing in Naples. The latest incident occurred to an American gentleman from Connecticut who was going for a walk with his wife and some friends after dinner. Muggers in Naples have radars instead of eyes: a 17 year-old Neapolitan managed to spot the tourists expensive Rolex, and proceeded to obtain it through less-than legal means. A fight ensued as the poor American naturally didn’t want to depart with his watch. The mugger got the best of things as he ran off with the tourist’s watch. The poor American instead fell backwards and hit his head on the rather hard cement. And nearly died with a split skull.

As he was whisked off to a local hospital, young Neapolitan punks, who had nothing to do with the mugging, hurled rocks at the hospital in a show of clear defiance to doctors and police authorities. While this may sound shocking to readers, it’s not as surreal as what happened to cops in Naples just around the same period as the mugging: 200 people stoned police cars as five officers attempted to arrest three drug pushers in a mini urban guerrilla war in a neighbourhood of Naples. Some of the “weapons” used were cans filled with liquids that were taken from home freezers by some of the women who participated in the raid! Rocks were also used during the “bombardment” of the police cars. But it didn’t end there: some of the women also went down into the street to face the cops with bats and steel bars. Four police cars were trashed with five cops injured.
Naples is not new to this kind of violence nor to muggings. In 1999 a 77 year-old Japanese tourist was beaten to death during a mugging. That was followed in 2006 by the death of a Canadian diplomat at the hands of a Nigerian mugger (the Canadian’s body was found in a sewer hole). Another American tourist, again in 2006, had his camera stolen. Police caught the muggers but the crowds instead protected the muggers instead of protecting the poor American. And again in 2006 a Norwegian couple were mugged and beaten, luckily not to death, at the train station in Naples.

I personally have been several times to Naples and luckily have never encountered the same problems, probably because I don’t own a Rolex nor would I go around with one if I ever did own one to begin with. I’ve also been to the port of Naples to take the ferry boat to the isle of Capri, and I’ve never had any problems. Some tourists, especially in Rome, stand out like a sore thumb, merrily swinging their digital cameras and what not. It’s just an open invitation to every Tom, Dick and Antonio to rip them off.

Virginia was shocking? I’d say that 200 people, mostly women, attacking cops who are (trying) to do their jobs by ridding the streets of drug pushers, is probably even MORE shocking. Or isn’t it? And the funny thing is that many Italians in the rest of Italy aren't even all that moved by what happens daily in Naples: it's just become common practise. But what happens in a university campus in the States, now that's REALLY shocking!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The honesty of the Americans (and the dishonesty of the Italians?)

From an editorial called “Bonsai” by Sebastiano Messina of La Repubblica, May 20, 2007 (my translation):

The resignation

“Every so often we receive news that makes us understand the difference between Italy and the rest of the world. One recent bit of news is the resignation of Paul Wolfowitz as the president of the World Bank. He was the head of probably the most powerful financial institution on the face of the planet. Bush's former "architect" in Iraq was forced to leave his position after he had transferred his lover from one position to another in the bank and with one hefty pay-raise too (she was already a consultant at the same bank and would have eventually even given the bank's president advice).

Now, for us Italians a story such as this one is totally incomprehensible. It’s incomprehensible for the simple fact that our powers-that-be have always had the sacred right of placing their wives, kids, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces where they feel like it: in the parliament, in regional councils, at the RAI (the state-run tv network) or even in Strasbourg. And above-all, these very same people never resign: I'm not talking about on suspicious grounds, I'm talking about resigning after a definitive condemnation to six years in jail. No, not even that.

The real fault that Wolfowitz has had is that of being an American. Here in Italy, someone like him would still be firmly in his place. He'd be criticised for something or the other, but for a totally different reason: for a pay-raise, and that's about it”.

According to Transparency International, Italy, along with Poland, is one of THE most corrupt nations in Europe. I can honestly attest to the fact that after 18 years of living in Italy, something like Paul Wolfowitz happening in the upper echelons of Italian politics and finance is TOTALLY unthinkable. In fact, a famous Italian author once said: "Who in Italy ever goes to jail" (only poor sods like African or Albanian drug-pushers, but that’s about it)?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The world’s longest bridge (in Venice?)

Yes, the world’s longest bridge exists, in of all places, Venice! “Venice”?, you might very well say? “But wait a minute, I’ve been to Venice and I haven’t seen the world’s longest bridge”!, you may rightly add. Ahh, but you haven’t looked closely.

Yes, there are only 400 bridges that connect the small islands of what I personally consider to be THE world’s most beautiful city (at least the most unique one, that’s for sure) and there are three that span the Grand Canal. The world’s longest bridge will be the fourth one that will cross the same canal, but it’s not necessarily the length that one must look at. It’s the time. The time? Yes, because that bridge was only begun 11 years ago and it now risks falling down even before being put in place!

The bridge was commissioned by the City of Venice. The architect is Santiago Calatrava, the very same architect that designed the Olympic stadium in Athens (with materials from an engineering company located not too far away from Udine). Engineering experts have come to the conclusion that if the 94 metre bridge will be laid down from bank-to-bank, the pressure exerted from the central point of the bridge (some 52 tons) will be the equivalent on both banks to approximately 75 semi trucks, each one that exerts a pressure of 40 tons!

The “catastrophic” result might be that the banks will cave in, therefore sending the uncompleted bridge into the waters of the Grand Canal (including tourists too). Few know that Venice itself is built on approximately 1 million stilts, and through the centuries with constant flooding, many of these stilts have worn away. Adding a 94 ton bridge on the fragile borders of the Grand Canal certainly won’t help matters much either.

Cost-wise, in 11 years’ time the project has not doubled in cost but tripled: it has now ballooned to a whopping 10 million Euros (an astronomical figure in dollars too)! One solution many years ago was also that of building a tunnel under the Grand Canal, but I personally don’t know if that’s crazier than Calatrava’s project.

Venice is certainly NOT new to these far-fetched architectural follies. For the last 20 years or so Venice has been fiddling around with the “Mose” project, a portable-like dike set-off in Venice’s lagoon in order to combat the constant high tides that damage the former Venetian republic. But as we all know (or at least for those who know Italy well enough), the call of the day is the usual political blah-blah-blah. One can only imagine that other “folly”: Berlusconi’s less-than brilliant idea a while ago of constructing a bridge to connect Messina and Reggio Calabria in the Strait of Messina! That project would have played DIRECTLY into the hands of the local mafias.

I wonder if there’s some way of importing some Scandinavian DNA into the bloodstream of Italians: my memory may fail me, but I believe that some years ago the Swedes and Norwegians built a rather long bridge to connect the two nations. The bridge still stands and was completed in record time. Sort of like Calatrava’s “utopic” bridge!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

You can’t always believe what you see (or hear)!

Lately, the Italian media has “ganged up” (again) on Canada because of the yearly seal hunt. They inevitably show brutal images of hunters beating poor defenceless seals to death. And brutal as it may sounds, there’s another version to that which the Italians don’t bother mentioning. Ever.

It comes from the April 7th edition of The Economist and the article, “Canada’s seal hunt. On thin ice. Global warning endangers a grisly ritual”. Apparently, “…in Newfoundland, the province most involved, it (the hunt) benefits only 6,000 people…”. Also, the killing of fluffy white pelts, as The Economist calls them, has been banned for 20 years. But the Italians don’t mention that when they scold Canada on the seal hunt. Nor do they tell us that Canada’s “slaughter” of the seals makes it sound as though they’re endangered, when in fact the seal population has, according the British magazine, tripled since the 1970s! And this year, due to the high mortality among pups in the south, Canada’s Department of Fisheries has reduced their quotas for the hunt to 270,000 seals, from 335,000 last year. Hunting has also dropped due to a lack of ice, and for that we don’t have to thank Canadian hunters but I guess ALL of us, including Italians: it’s due to climate change and global warming.

And when the Italians scold Canadians and their seals, rarely will they say that each bloody summer Italians abandon up to 100,000 pets before going on holiday (in three months’ time too). Who then should throw the first stone?