Monday, June 25, 2007

But will he beat people over the head?

Anyone out there remember the (disastrous) 2001 G8 Economic Summit in Genoa? I certainly do because I worked at it as an official note taker. The Black Bloc protesters’ group had ravaged the city, inching dangerously close to the “red zone” where the leaders of the G8 countries were meeting. One young protester, Carlo Giuliani, became a martyr as he was shot dead by a very terrified and entrapped Carabinieri officer (Giuliani was wielding a fire extinguisher over his head and was apparently wanting to smash it over the poor officer’s head).

Mass beatings also took place at a high school by Italian police during the Summit. The head of Italy’s national police force (unlike in North America, the chief of the entire police force sits in Rome) was a fellow by the name of Gianni De Gennaro. De Gennaro had also worked closely with anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone who had been blown up by the mob. De Gennaro has now been implicated in those beatings and has been forced to resign. In his place comes Antonio Manganelli, which translated into English (his last name) means: "truncheons", like the one's used by the police! Indeed a most appropriate name for Italy’s new and powerful chief of police.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Who, Arena of Verona, June 11, 2007

Freddy (Mercury) would indeed be extremely proud of Roger Daltrey (who?). Daltrey is none other than the lead singer of one of the world’s all-time great rock bands of the 60s, 70s and also 80s: The Who. And why would Queen’s former lead singer be proud? Because Daltrey held true to Freddy’s words, “The show must go on”!

In Verona’s ancient Roman Arena your correspondent took in probably one of the most surreal concerts of his life (now at 152 concerts): The Who’s performance under a torrential rainfall (the first time for me). Surreal because poor Daltrey, supported by his long-time companion and formidable guitarist, Pete Townshend (the only two surviving members of that band, the other two being bass guitarist John Entwistle and that mad drummer Keith Moon), virtually had no voice left by the end of the concert.
After only five songs into the concert and after a tremendous start, the concert was suspended for one hour as we were all hit by a violent thunderstorm and with some rather menacing thunderbolts. I was personally optimistic that the show would go on. And it did but with one hitch: Daltrey's voice, as he himself admitted it, had become "cold" because of the long pause and the humidity provoked by the downpour. His voice literally cracked on certain songs and he was seen to be extremely frustrated and even argued with Townshend as he wanted to literally throw in the towel. The great professionals that they are, they decided, once the roadies worked to clear the stage of all the water, to continue with the show.

They started the concert with “Can’t Explain” and continued with some of their epic songs such as “My Generation”, “The Kids Are Alright”, “Baba O’Riley”, “Magic Bus” and “Pinball Wizard”, a song made famous also by Sir Elton John. But the best was yet to come as everyone in the Arena anxiously waited for perhaps their most famous song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again", a song that was wanted by Michael Moore for his movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11" (but which was diplomatically refused by Townshend). Their fantastic performance of this song at the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley shows Daltrey reaching an incredible peak with his voice towards the end of the song. I personally thought, given the tragic condition of his vocal cords, that Daltrey would miss that peak. Instead, for the immense joy of all those present, Daltrey, no doubt totally exhausted, came through! No encores, no more songs as Townshend hugged his old chum as though to say, “We did it”! Indeed a moving moment for us all as I would say 99% of us truly appreciated Daltrey's incredible effort. And not doubt also Freddy approved from rock and roll heaven.

On a final note, another treat unfolded before our eyes as on drums was none other Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr's son! This was the second time for me seeing Zak beating away on the drum skins as I had seen him a few years ago playing for Oasis. How ironic: it was Zak that once said that he didn't think that his father was a great drummer, but instead thought that Moon was much better! And here, almost 30 years after Moon's death, Zak ponded away at those drums in an impressive manner, a manner that also Moon would have appreciated. For me another special moment: it was 30 years ago that I saw the entire Who band perform in Canada, and 30 years ago I had been in the same Arena for another great band: Chicago. Quite the (wet) night (all pics by M. Rimati)!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Oh Canada, how lucky you are!

A recent Italian report (May 31st) came out with the world “peace” ranking. Peace in the sense of which countries are the most tranquil out there.

The report, called the “Global Peace Index”, was compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the analytical branch of the world-famous British magazine, The Economist. An Australian philanthropist, Steve Killelea, who is interested in encouraging international peace, proposed the report. The factors which were taken into consideration were: the state of war in various countries, crime rate, religion, level of democracy, welfare, etc. The Index analysed 121 countries, pretty well from A to Z.

The most peaceful country in the world? Not too surprising, Norway. The Norwegians are followed by New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, Japan and Finland. Canada? It came after Sweden, which came after the Finns. The most dangerous or least peaceful country in the world is currently—and this shouldn’t be too surprising—Iraq. The U.S.? It came in 96th, just before one of its greatest enemies, Iran. Putin’s beloved Russia? Position no. 118. And what about the Bel Paese, the country of opera, Ferraris, Verdi, fine wine and women and the Vatican, one of the so-called greatest promoters of peace and brotherhood in the world (I say so-called because it is a known fact that just after World War II the Vatican assisted many ex Nazis to escape to South America. One of the most famous was a fellow by the name of Adolf Eichmann who had been given a false passport by a Franciscan monk in Genoa in order to flee to Argentina)? Oh, it came in 33rd.

Mao vs. Marco Polo

The Chinese student community of Italy ain’t too happy with the country which hosts them. An Italian university professor did some blog surfing and came out with some interesting facts by young Chinese students who live and study in Italy. One of the things that the Chinese have noticed is the level of English of Italian university professors. Their conclusion? “They’re level of English basically sucks!”, was the less-than eloquent analysis of Mao’s descendents.

Many also feel that if they want “culture” it’s better to go off to France. Debatable this last observation but one that no doubt would make Mr. Sarkozy extremely happy.

Another interesting observation was the petty crime rate in Italy. Some Chinese students noticed the following odd thing which I personally have noticed for years now: how for example at the Termini train station in Rome (the main one and Italy’s largest) Italians at times will warn foreigners and/or tourists to be careful of pickpockets. The Chinese noted: “Well, if you know who they are, why don’t you do something about it then”! This is very common in Rome’s subway where train personnel will actually warn passengers via the PA system that as they approach the stations there are pickpockets ready to pounce on them. Another case which was noticed by some Chinese students was an Italian fellow who had helped them purchase stamps from an automated machine. Indeed very kind was the fellow, but from the Chinese he wanted 5 euros for his precious “assistance”!

And naturally, the Chinese have criticised Italy’s obnoxious sense of bureaucracy where one spends loads and loads of time filling out endless forms and what not for some of the simplest things in life. As a friend of mine noted recently upon his arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, it took him about 1 hour to rent a car. The reason? Well, the computer had run out of paper…I can only imagine how Joe Blow would react to the same thing happening at the Avis counter at JFK.

This brings to my mind what had occurred many years ago at Porta Portese, the weekly Sunday flea market in Rome. American tourists boarded a tram. The driver warned passengers that there were also pickpockets on board. The Americans asked themselves the same question as the Chinese (and me): “Well, if you know they’re on board, why don’t you do something about it”? But nothing is ever done and several tourists per day in Rome end up losing their wallets and/or passports. I would say in 90% of the cases many go away saying, “Never again in Rome” (I’ve personally had to do with foreign tourists who have been ripped off and have uttered the very same statement)! Not the greatest way to promote the Eternally (Chaotic) City, nor the country itself.

And while perhaps the Chinese are not THE most organised people in the world, it is after all a Chinese university that compiles each year the world’s top 500 universities. Harvard is naturally no. 1. The first Italian university comes in at around position no. 72 and is Rome’s La Sapienza (with some 200,000 students). The University of Toronto is in the top 30. My three universities are all there: Manitoba, Queen’s and Leicester. The university where I’m currently teaching English (and where many profs DON’T know English if their lives depended on it) isn’t even on the list.

So perhaps the Chinese know a thing or two about what they’re talking about. After all, their history is ”only” 5,000 years old, some 3,000 years older than Italy’s…