Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Hey buddy, know where I can catch a plane?

Italy is only 33 times smaller than Canada (and my old home province, Manitoba, is only 3 times larger than ALL of Italy, a country of some 58 million people), and yet the country “only” has a record 101 airports, 41 of them for commercial use! Roughly speaking, that’s an airport every 70 kms or so.

With the disastrous Alitalia financial situation (the quasi belly-up national airline company which was once one of the best in Europe) which has made the companyt lose a whopping 4 billion euros in the last few years, or roughly 3 million euros per day, the airport situation in Italy, along with the garbage in Naples, ain’t one of the best in Europe! Upon entering the new government, Silvio Berlusconi has asked his predecessor, Romano Prodi, for 300 million euros in order to still keep the company in the air until someone comes along to save it (Air France/KLM and Aeroflot have pulled out of the deal, no doubt due to strong pressure from the powerful trade unions). The astounding thing is that the money should be returned by December 31st of this year (yeah, sure)!

More red-tape-Italian-style bureaucracy can be found in Rome’s second major airport, Ciampino (which is also used by the Italian air force). Ciampino, unlike Fiumicino, is used primarily by low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair. The advantage of Ciampino is that it’s located closer to downtown Rome, and this is very convenient to the Irish airline company, but unfortunately is also located basically in a residential area. This means that flights that should arrive at say 11.30 pm can eventually arrive even at 2 in the morning due to delays. The positive thing for Ciampino is that passengers are up now to 5 million per year. The negative thing is for the health and sanity of residents, they want the airport moved. But where? Some have come up with the idea of Viterbo, the so-called town of the “popes”, located just 100 km from the Eternal City. Ryanair wants no part of that deal and threatens to sue the Italians. The problem with Viterbo is that the runway would have to be extended by approximately 1 km in order to accommodate large aircraft and trains are rather antiquated and bulging with daily commuters to Rome. Some experts suspect that the airport will no doubt be completed…in about 10 years’ time!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Help, is there a “dottore” in the house?

For those who lived in Italy (and for those who have never lived in the Bel Paese), they know that Italians absolutely adore titles! If you have a simple degree, let’s say the equivalent of a BA, well, here they’ll almost DEMAND that you call them “Dottore”, Doctor (and they’ll get highly offended if you call them Mr. or Ms. too!). If you’re an accountant, they’ll call you “Ragioniere”, or the abbreviated version, “Rag.”

And as we all know living in North America or in the UK, only if you have your Phd. can you be called a “doctor”, or if naturally you’re a medical doctor. But just how many Italian university graduates are truly full-blooded “dottori”? I ask because there have been several cases of students buying their degrees, or of cases where they’re not even “dottori”, but expect you to call them by their (illegal) title. This happens more in southern Italy. Or in many cases, students either cheat like hell (I had the pleasure years ago of having taught English in Rome’s “European Economic School”. We gave out an exam. Well, the exam had to be re-done because there was not ONE single student who HADN’T cheated on the final exam. Not one! It also goes to show you why the average Italian speaks English sooooo terribly too) or buy their exam results.

This recently happened at the University of Bari, located in southern Italy, a university notorious for also having in just one faculty nine members all from the SAME family (gosh, they must have obtained their teaching positions because they’re good, eh?). Math results in the Faculty of Commerce & Economics were sold to students, many of them foreigners, by two professors and their assistants. Some of the fees went from 700 to a whopping 3,000 euros. Some students were even “coerced” into attending private lessons for “only” 3,500 euros! The culprits were nabbed, but seeing that we’re in Italy, I doubt many things will change…

Yours truly only studied 8 years in two different universities in Canada. I admit that at high school, a true dunce in maths and physics, I’d (occasionally) copy exams from my brainer classmates, but quite honestly, not ONCE did I dare copy at university, for the simple reason that I would have blown the entire academic year, and with that also the money that my poor folks had dished out for so many years for my BA and subsequent Master’s degree. And in those 8 years I can perhaps count on one hand (and on just a few fingers) the students that we’d hear about that got straight As in ALL their courses. You had to be some type of nerd who never frequented people and who basically just studied all day and night to get those grades. Ah, but not so in Italy where the “110 lode”, the toppest of all grades awarded to university students, is handed out with a certain amount of ease. In North America, you had to be MORE intelligent than both Bill Gates AND Henry Kissinger put together in order to get the equivalent of the 110 lode.

That brings me to a perplexing question: if Italy is populated by sooooo many geniuses, how come it’s run sooooo badly (ie, just look at the disastrous situation vis-à-vis the economic situation with Italy’s national airline company, Alitalia)? It’s not perhaps that the odd manager out there, a “dottore”, actually bought his degree somewhere, perhaps in Bari? Naw….