Saturday, August 30, 2008

Primosten, Croatia August, 2008

A nice little vacation spot located on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. Primosten is a small town that goes back some 500 years. It’s located about 500 kms by car from Udine and is surrounded by seven small islands. The water? Crystal clear. The only drawback though is the fact that, unlike Greece, there aren’t many (if any at all) sandy beaches, just rocks (and if there were sandy beaches, the place would be simply packed with tourists from Italy, Austria, Hungary and other eastern European nations). To find the sandy beaches you need a boat in order to get to the small islands. But once you get past the rocks on shore the swimming is great!

The food? Rather good, not too many restaurants mind you, but the ones that are there also serve good, fresh fish. Croatia at the moment isn’t in the European Union (nor in the Euro zone), so some currency conversion is the call of the day. We rented a small motor boat twice while we were there. A 2-hour boat ride ran us about 34 euros, including the gas 8and the young lady renting the boats the first time didn’t even charge us for the extra hour). The hotel (Zara) was rather nice with a GREAT buffet breakfast. The people? Very nice and hospitable I must say (with more than one that speaks an acceptable English) but the Internet connection was pretty bad. We also took a short drive to Split, a port town, but didn’t find it terribly nice (a lot of white high-rise buildings that were reminiscent of the former Yugoslavia).

The odd thing was thinking that some 10 years ago Croatia was involved in a terrible war with its neighbours. Funny to now see how things are “normal” in that part of the world with vacationers from all over the world taking in the sun and the water (all pics by M. Rimati).

Thursday, August 07, 2008

“Awe shucks, even Rodney Dangerfield gets more respect than me”!

As I tell many people, I’ve been reading The Economist now for more than 15 years (I also subscribe to what many call “The greatest magazine written in the English language”!). In all these years you could say I’ve seen a political analysis or two on world leaders, from Bin Laden (there was a recent survey on Al-Qaeda and B.L.) to George Bush Jr. to Tony Blair. I (can’t) even count on two fingers the times I’ve seen the magazine slam Canada’s prime ministers and/or political leaders on the front page, nor have I ever seen them poke fun of Canada’s leaders inside the mag, as The Economist has been doing with our “Great Leader”, Silvio Berlusconi. Is it perhaps that the Brits take Canada just somewhat MORE seriously than the Bel Paese? Naw…

The three pictures were taken from three separate issues. The one regarding Berlusconi’s hair (or loss of it) regards an article from the science and technology section on hair loss, called “Hair today, hair tomorrow”. Now, you’d think that in order to back up their scientific findings, they would have perhaps used the image of some unknown fellow out there. But no, in order to poke fun and to rub in the fact that (many) Italians were just totally out of their minds for having voted for Silvio a record 3rd time (a few years back The Economist had put him on the front cover with the following warning: “Why this man is not fit to govern Italy”! Not even Bush, from what I recall, got nearly the same bad treatment vis-à-vis his invasion of Iraq). Also, The Economist usually has a tendency of depicting him as a clown when he smiles (to show just how seriously the mag and much of the civilized world actually takes the man. Which they really don’t).

Not the greatest publicity for Italy’s prime minister (nor for Italy and for those Italians who voted for him in the first place).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What’s next, the Keystone Cops, John Wayne or the Ghurkhas?

The Berlusconi government, as a way of showing its being super-tough on crime (ie, gypsies, petty crime, pickpocketing and what-not) and would-be terrorist attacks in Italy, has sent 3,000 soldiers in 9 Italian cities in order to give (normal) police authorities a hand with combating crime.

BBC World picked up on the news the other day (as I would imagine also other international television networks have done). The army personnel doesn’t per se have judicial powers, in the sense that they can’t really arrest anyone. That’s left up to the cops. What they can do is just assist the regular police authorities, by handing them over would-be criminals. And in Italy we’ve got a zillion different police units: the state police, the Carabinieri (the para-military police which is equal say to Canada’s RCMP), the city/town vigili (local cops), the Guardia di Finanza (the financial police), the Digos (police investigative unit) plus a myriad of secret services (both military and civilian).

The comical thing about all this is that with ALL the police forces in Italy (prior to the arrival of the army), one would think that the country was safe enough. But no. And quite honestly I’ve never been able to figure that one out yet as I personally (and my folks too) have been victims of crime in early 20 years in Italy, beginning with my Citroen car which was stolen some 15 years ago in Rome (it was probably hauled away by a tow-truck during the night) and then my brand new scooter (which was locked with only 3 chains and a kryptonite lock around a light pole in my apartment courtyard) which disappeared one fine night (the kryptonite lock by the way I found on the street the morning after, conveniently cut in half!).

In 30 years of Canadian life the only thing they ever stole from us was the car battery once from our Gran Torino, and in the summertime we tended to leave all our lawn furniture outside, not to mention the house doors which could be kicked in rather easily! And pickpockets? Never in 30 years in Canada did I ever see or even hear of one being arrested (and I also took the subway in Montréal quite regularly), a fry cry from the incredible number of pick pockets that can be found in one day alone in Rome’s subway (on the infamous no. 64 bus, the one that goes from Rome’s main train station to the Vatican, undercover cops once found on just ONE bus a record 10 pickpockets! The must have been naturally all going to some pick pocket convention…).

Regarding my car (a used one by the way!), we went to the nearby Carabinieri station to report the theft. There, the young officer was typing away my report when the wife naively asked, “But can’t you do anything about all these car thefts, I don’t know, like night rounds or something like that” (n.b. Rome has approximately 135 cars stolen---per day!)? The cop looked up from his old Olivetti typewriter as he was typing away slowly with just two fingers (he wasn’t even using a PC back then!) and said, “Look lady, years ago a young kid was caught shoplifting in a department store in Rome. The kid was the son of some powerful Italian politician. The cop who arrested him ended up in the boondocks on the island of Sardinian for three years” (meaning to say: “YOU want ME to actually do my duty when I may risk arresting the kid of a powerful politician, and then having MY career totally ruined”?)! As a taxpayer, this was naturally NOT the answer I wanted to hear. In fact, just around that period I shall never forget that in jolly ‘ol England, Jack Straw’s son (Straw was at the time Britain’s Foreign Minister) had been nabbed smoking a joint or two. British public opinion didn’t care much about Straw Jr. and his drugs but rather wanted the resignation of Straw Sr. (as though our fathers are ALWAYS responsible for what we kids do in life)! Talk about two completely different worlds…

And the initial results of the army personnel in the streets of cities like Milan and Rome? Well, a rather upset 17 year-old pickpocket was nabbed in one of Rome’s subway stops, by a soldier who handed him over to the cops. This new endeavour by our “Great Leader” will go on for about 6 months. Opposition members are naturally sceptical as this new security operation is costing the state several million euros, money which could be perhaps better spent in supplying regular police with newer cars (some are breaking down, even though recently the state police purchased “only” a shiny new Lamborghini in order to nab drivers on Italian highways. We’re naturally talking about a car which no doubt costs around 200,000 euros (if not more!) and which can “only” go at over 220 km/hr (in 2nd gear!). Not too much waste in public money there, no siree), or photocopiers or other mundane things which they lack because the state has practically run out of money!

Seeing that the other day Italian news has also warned vacationers that pickpockets are now targeting beach areas and sunbathers’ wallets and what not, I’m wondering if just off of Italian beaches we’ll also be seeing mini-submarines or AWACS flying overhead as people are tanning and swimming!

James Bond, where are you when we need you?