Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who me, a mafioso?

In 30 years that I lived in Canada, from about the age of 7 or 8 when I began to understand what it meant to be the son of Italian immigrants, I was constantly bombarded with jokes and puns on typical Italian things, such as pizza, spaghetti and the mafia. Having also THE most Italian-sounding name around, Mario, didn’t also help things much (the inevitable question would be: “Hmm, Mario, are you Italian? Bet your old man is a mafioso, eh”? or one of my favourites: “Bet you eat spaghetti every day, eh”?).

I used to get the jokes from ignorami all the way to the “intellectuals”. One just happened to be the head of the consular section at the U.S. Consulate-General in MontrĂ©al (this guy had hanging in his office a picture where he's shaking hands with the Shah of Iran, well before the U.S. hostage crisis there). Having worked with the odd diplomat here and there, many I must say are rather “cultured”, well-travelled, have a few degrees in their pockets and also speak several languages. I had had an in-house promotion one day at the Consulate and I was going to be working for this diplomat. I'll never forget on Monday morning as I showed up for my first day of work as he was going out for coffee. We crossed paths. He looked at me and said and with a big laugh said, “Here comes Mario the Mafioso. Now we can feel protected”! Unfortunately, I couldn’t very well tell him to piss-off as he was going to be my new boss, and so I had to simply chuckle at his wonderful pun.

But Italy’s image at home (and abroad) also doesn’t help matters much. On the one hand, the International Herald Tribune ran an editorial on November 21st by Yossi Alpher, the former special assistant to Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Here’s how Alpher describes Syria’s Assad: “Assad may resemble a Mafia chief, but unlike Abbas, he can deliver”. On the other hand, the November 10th edition of The Economist (which I’ve been subscribing to for the last 15 years or so), ran two articles on Italy, and both were rather negative. One was on the death of a Roman woman in a seedy neighbourhood of Rome at the hands of a gypsy punk. Flip the page and there’s an article on the arrest of a high-profile mafia boss in Sicily, Toto' Lo Piccolo. On page 69 of the same issue there’s instead an article on corruption in Bangladesh. The article starts off in the following manner: “The problem is that the mafia in Bangladesh were the political parties"...

Another article the other day mentioned the fact that Italian politicians aren’t seen in a very positive manner abroad (Bush seems to have a high esteem of Germany’s Merkel and France’s Sarkozy, but not of Italy’s Prodi). Some things concerning Italians, even after 18 years that I’ve left Canada, never seem to change…

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Piggie in the middle?

Yes, it’s indeed a rough life these days if you’re a pig in Italy. In Padova (aka as Padua), where St. Anthony also lived the last days of his life, the “Lega Nord”, the somewhat xenophobic “Northern League”, has come up with a rather "novel" idea of impeding the construction of a new mosque in that city: a handful of NL members have created a "Pig Day" in which they march around dragging a (live) pig on a leash over the construction site of where the mosque should be erected! By doing so (and hoping that the pig’s prostate is weak too), they hope that the area will be desecrated and therefore local Muslims will be so disgusted as to not want to construct their new mosque there.

Politics comes into the picture (no, really, in Italy?) as the NL members in Padova have stated that thanks to the left who gave the plot of land to the Muslim community in the first place, they have triumphantly marched with their small swine and “blessed” the land under their feet and under those of the Muslim community. Naturally, the left-wing mayor of the city is disgusted by the NL’s peculiar gesture and feels that his fellow citizens are too. The tiny piglet’s official title by the way is “the anti-mosque pig” (no official uniform though has been given to the swine).

Once all the hoopla will be over with and the pig’s work is no longer needed, I wonder just how many slices of fine prosciutto will end up on the tables of NL members (washed down naturally with some fine Italian red wine)?

Monday, November 05, 2007

I found the “G”!

I won’t dwell too much in this posting on the recent polemic surrounding the tragic death of a 47 year-old Roman woman at the hands of a 24 year-old Romanian gypsy criminal as the immigration issue has now become a hot “potato” pretty well all over the world, including Italy (and cases like the recent one in Rome’s somewhat run-down Tor Di Quinto neighborhood unfortunately WON'T be the last will see either).

What I will instead talk about is what our illustrious former “Great Leader”, Silvio Berlusconi, said the other day while strolling in an Italian town. It was in reference to a part of a woman’s anatomy which is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Silvio, not one new to certain “faux pas” (as Prime Minister years ago he had gone on a visit to Wall Street. In order to attract more American investments to Italy, he came out with the less-than brilliant comment: "We also have beautiful secretaries"! No doubt, this comment probably didn't go down very well with businesswomen such as Meg Whitman, Ms. e-Bay herself!), said the following: “I’ve found the woman’s G spot. It's located in the last letter of the word “shopping”!

Oh, I can hardy wait for the day that he becomes (again) Italy’s Prime Minister…