Monday, December 21, 2009

Will Italians ever change?

The epitome of what it is to be Italian (latest figures state that tax evasion, THE national sport for Italians--and not soccer--stands at a whopping 30 billion euros)!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silvio, it’s (finally) time to say addio!

These are naturally my own thoughts, the thoughts of a) someone who’s been living in the country of Machiavelli and the Borgias now for 20 years; b) someone who also happens to have a master’s degree in sociology and c) who yes, does have an inkling at times to see conspiracies where perhaps there are none in the first place (this brings to my mind though the words of Mel Gibson in the movie “Conspiracy”: “Some of the greatest conspiracies in the world are often those who don’t have an answer”!).

Regarding Silvio Berlusconi’s recent facial attack in Milan on December 13th, 2009, the immediate words that came out from the Italian press, which was immediately picked up by the international one, was that his assailant, Massimo Tartaglia, is a “squilibrato”, someone who’s slightly off-balance, in other words, a nut-case. But is he really a nut-case?

The reason I have my doubts is for a variety of reasons, to begin with, as I’ve stated above, the fact that I currently live in a country that gave the world not only Machiavelli (and Italian papers a few months ago did describe Italian politics as being “Machiavellian” in nature) but also the mighty and nasty Borgia family, not to mention the delicate and often “cloak and dagger” dealings of the Vatican (I’m thinking right now of Dan Brown’s book, “Angels and Demons”….). The thing that came to my mind in the Berlusconi case is what happened some 7 years ago (almost 8 now) at the 2002 soccer World Cup in Korea/Japan. At one point in Italy’s match against the South Korean’s, the Ecuadorian referee, a fellow by the name of Byron Moreno, red-carded Roma captain and national team player Francesco Totti. The foul seemed rather silly, but Italy not only lost that match but was eventually thrown out of that event. On the pitch that day was the Korean captain Hong Bo, who happened to also have been part of the Korean national team when it played its matches in Udine during the 1990 World Cup.

What did the Italian press begin hammering into the heads of nearly 58 million Italians right after that episode? That Moreno was “il cattivo”, bad. The adjective when discussing that episode still sticks to this day. But let us go back to Italia’90 and the final match of that group in Udine between South Korea and two-time world champions Uruguay (yours truly was Korea’s interpreter during that period). To make a very long story short, at one point, the referee of that match, Italy’s Tullio Lanese (gosh, what a coincidence: he’s just been charged the other day with illicit doings in the famous 2006 scandal which rocked Italian soccer, including more than one referee and several Juventus managers!), yellow-carded player “X”. “X” then proceeded with the match, only to be red-carded by Lanese for one of the silliest fouls that exist in international, national or regional soccer: he took too much time taking the goal-kick (Korea’s regular keeper was injured at the beginning of the tournament and was replaced with one who couldn’t kick goal-kicks if his life depended on it!)! The Koreans were 10 against 11 Uruguayans, including one of the best of the game, Ugo Francescoli, and Ruben Sosa, who just happened to be playing back then with Rome’s Lazio club. The clock is ticking away. Who wins comes down to a packed Olympic stadium in Rome to play against 3-time world champs Italy. Who loses goes back home. Around the 93rd minute of the game, Fonseca shoots a missile from outside the Korean penalty area, and scores! It shall indeed be Uruguay to fill the stadium against Italy while the Koreans pack their bags for Seoul.

It had been slightly evident to me and to those who had worked closely with the poor Koreans (such as the cops who were running security for the Koreans) that they had been “screwed” not only by Lanese but also by FIFA: there was probably NO hope in hell that this South Korea was going to fill up the Olympic stadium (going twice per day to see their practises near Udine, trust me, they were the equivalent of a 3rd division team!). And seeing that FIFA’s SOLE purpose in life is to a) diffuse soccer even on Mars and b) to make a zillion bucks out of it, they certainly WEREN’T going to do it with the poor Koreans. In fact, I was also on hand for the Italy-Uruguay match and the capacity was almost 80,000 screaming Italian fans!

So it is to this day that Moreno is always regarded as “il cattivo”, yet no one ever mentions what Lanese had done to the poor Koreans 12 years before (what’s the holy saying? “Don’t do onto others…”!). It’s been basically 7-8 years, especially after Henry’s recent handball-goal against the poor Irish in Paris, that the Italian press will dig up Moreno’s name and call him “il cattivo”. It’s basically a form of collective brainwashing (even the kids who I coach will refer to him as “il cattivo”, and they're 10 years old!).

Fast-forward to poor Silvio. Is Tartaglia really a screwball, or did Berlusconi’s henchmen use Tartaglia in order to finally put a lid on ALL his kazillion problems? Let us not forget that he’s been attacked left, right and centre by the Italian media as well as the international one (two articles in the December 5th edition of The Economist read the following: “Time to say addio (the caption over the title reads sarcastically: “Our favourite prime minister”!). The other title within the magazine itself says: “Under attack from all sides”. It shows a cartoon of the word “NO” and Silvio standing in the middle of the “O” with underneath a saw sawing away at the flooring. In the background there are three individuals: a judge (given all his judicial problems), a hooker (given all his “lady” ties”) and, what else, a Mafioso carrying a piece of luggage which no doubt contains bundles and bundles of kick-back money (given his supposed-mafia ties). And anyone who reads The Economist knows that for several years now the prestigious British magazine has by FAR been tender with good’ol Silvio (its most famous cover a few years ago showed Silvio with the caption: “Why this man is unfit to govern Italy”!).

Is the supposed attack a way for Berlusconi to finally put a lid on all the political and media attacks (well, not all of them as he controls many tv networks, magazine and newspapers), as a way of saying: “Ok, you folks of the left, including paper editors, hookers, journalists and what not, have REALLY broken my balls, so once and for all I’m going to damn well bury you all”! Far-fetched is my reasoning?

Another piece of history: 2005, the very last days of Pope JPII’s life. Apparently, his personal spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls (whom years ago I actually had the pleasure of meeting in Rome) said that Wojtyla’s very last words were: “Amen”!, just as he was about to join St. Peter and his buddies in heaven. Is that true or was the poor Pole so out of it that he was “snuffed” by the Vatican itself (again, let us think of Dan Brown…). I mean, let’s face it, could the Vatican really have a totally disabled pope in power and have an elected one too? Not really. And could the Vatican really allow for euthanasia to be alive and kicking on its own turf (a wee bit of hypocrisy nevertheless when it comes to death and the Vatican. Few know that Franz Stangl, who had run the Treblinka death camp near Warsaw where “only” 900,000 people were killed, second only to Auschwitz-Birkenau and its 1.1 million dead, snuck down to Rome after the war where he made contact with Bishop Alois Hudal, a fellow Austrian compatriot, who had basically helped Stangl—with a Red Cross passport—to flee to Brazil. Hudal was in charge of the Vatican’s German Catholic community)? I take as an example the last dying days of my mother who was totally out of it due to Alzheimer’s disease. There was no way in hell that I could get a word out of her as she was completely out of it.

Fast-forward again to what Berlusconi’s personal spokesman said the evening of the attack: “As we were driving to the political rally (n.b. prior to the attack itself) we had remarked on the ever-growing violence in Italian politics”! And wadda ya know, shortly after came the attack! Is that what they REALLY spoke about, or did they actually speak about how to further screw Italians or how to save Silvio’s ass from the “pentiti”, the mafia turncoats who were coming out these days by saying that yes, Silvio had EVEN ordered some Italian judges to be blown up by the Mafia??? Just as one said this, Italy's cops arrested two major Mafiosi as a way of showing Italians: "See, I, the great Berlusconi am ACTUALLY fighting the Mafia, and NOT helping it"! The great sociologist Max Weber would have indeed been proud to have had Silvio as a Phd student...

I add to all this Berlusconi’s almost “Messiah”-style behaviour with Italians (he apparently stated from his hospital bed right after the attack the following: “Why do so many people hate me”?). Ah yes, Silvio, out of nearly 60 million Italians, do you REALLY think that we all love you (including Omaba whom you had called “That tanned one” right after his presidential victory)? He was also very, very coy in that as he was attacked, instead of climbing quickly into his car to be taken to the hospital, he insisted on climbing almost on top of the car’s roof (even several journalists found that rather odd). Some journalists instead said that he wanted to see who his assailant was, or was it really a way of showing his faithful followers that: “Look, I’m a modern-day Lazarus! They’ve just knocked me to the ground and I’m all bloody and what not, but they’ll NEVER be able to get rid of me”! And soccer stadium-like cheers then came up from his adoring followers who indeed wanted to see if the “Great Leader” was still alive and kicking!

He also stated that “Love prevails over hate” as he was just about to be released from hospital (on December 17th). Crazy as all this may seem, but let us remember the words of someone in the U.S. some 19 years ago, when poor John Lennon was killed by some “nut” called Mark David Chapman: “Gosh, but where did he get the gun”? In the U.S., a country that out of 300 million people “only” has more than 200 million handguns? Really?

For those sceptics out there vis-à-vis Berlusconi, let us not forget that awhile ago a movie called “The U.S. versus John Lennon” came out, basically referring to poor John as a “public enemy” for the U.S. (Nixon had wanted him thrown out of the country). Few remember or know that in the 1960s at the Montréal General Hospital a certain Dr. Cameron had performed, with the backing of the CIA, psychedelic experiments on 6 Canadian patients (one I think was actually from my hometown, Winnipeg). The poor Canucks eventually sued the CIA for a paltry 100,000 dollars (each).

Take Chapman, pump him up with drugs, brainwash the poor guy like the CIA did with the poor Canucks in Montréal and repeat over and over and over again: “John Lennon is your enemy”! The result is that Chapman is holed up for life in a prison (as might be the case with poor Tartaglia) and rarely have we heard a word from him on what really happened that night in the foyer of the Dakota building.

For those who may think that I may be slightly off in my analysis, and for those who have actually lived in Italy, don’t forget that this is the country who the would-be assassin of Pope JPII has never actually been clearly established (was it really Turkey’s Ali Agca’ , or was it the Bulgarian-Soviet secret services, or the CIA* or perhaps even the Vatican itself?), or that there are over 30 political tragedies in Italy that STILL to this day have no guilty party (one memorable episode was the Bologna train station bombing of the 1980s. Left and right terrorists have been blamed for Italy’s greatest post-war massacre of innocent victims. Then one fine day along came “The Jackal” himself, Carlos, the international terrorist who’s been for years now in a French jail. Evidently, a former terrorist probably knows things that the average Joe on the street certainly doesn’t. His explanation for the Bologna massacre? Well, Italy in the 1970s had become too “pro” PLO, so in order to put it back on “track”, the CIA and Mossad placed the bomb. Out of his mind, or perhaps he knows something we don’t????).

*The name has been withheld but one of the wife’s former bosses at the U.S. Embassy in Rome one fine day, a few days before JPII’s assassination attempt, showed up in the office and blurted out: “Hey, did you hear, they shot the Pope”? Usually back then people didn’t go around and take shots and popes. Sure enough, a few days later Agca’ shot the JPII. The wife’s convinced that her boss was also the Embassy’s CIA station chief…

Thursday, October 15, 2009

“I may not know much about art, but I know what I like”!

The above words belong to the great John Cleese, one of the six members of perhaps my all-time favourite comedy group (together with the Marx Bros.), Monty Python’s Flying Circus (a coincidence I mention them because on October 5th, 1969, their first show appeared on BBC tv)! They’re taken from a skit he and Eric Idle did many, many years ago at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which is also part of that live video. The scene shows Cleese dressed up as the Pope talking to Michelangelo. He doesn’t quite understand his conception of art and why in a Last Supper scene he painted in several Christs and about 32 apostles, and concludes the sketch by saying, “I may not know much about art, but I know what Iike”!

I actually used this line on me better-half many years ago and she laughed. I still use it to this day, especially every time I take in Venice’s Biennale art exhibit, as we did just a few weeks ago (during one exhibit a few years ago, there was an enormous chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It was made entirely of Tampax tampons!). And in my case, I (certainly) may not know much about art, but at the Biennale I ALWAYS have a great time figuring out just exactly what art is (or isn’t)!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

“It was 20 years ago today…”

Yes, as the opening words to a rather famous song by four young lads from Liverpool once said back in 1967, “It was 20 years ago today...”, September 13, 1989, that I actually stepped foot in the Bel Paese.

And what are my thoughts on these last 20 years of Italian life? Rather mixed I must say: I`m very happy to be living in Europe, a little less though in Italy. It`s first of all a country with TOO many political parties (rather difficult for all of them to agree easily on just one thing) and with too many problems, beginning with the ever-ending problem of the mafia and how it basically infiltrates practically every facet of Italian living, not to mention appalling bureaucracy and the usual and perpetual acts of totally absurd violence in Italy`s soccer stadia (never saw violence in 30 years of sports in North America).

The labour market, as defined years ago by The Economist, is rather “archaic and Byzantine” in nature, and this is even worse as one “ages” (contrary to most “civilized” countries out there, they put age limits in Italian job ads). The work mentality, from what I`ve seen having also worked with Italians, is, well, at times less-than professional in nature. This is perhaps one of THE most astounding and contradictory things given that Italians count sooooo much on the so-called “bella figura” (the “nice impression”) and above-all on the dress code. For a country which has managed to give the world the precision and beauty of a Ferrari or an Armani shirt, it can be (literally) quite astounding to see just how unprofessional Italians can be when it comes to working (the list of the things that have happened to me in 20 years would fill several blogs, including being taken for a ride more than once when it comes to be paid for one`s work!).

Positive points? Well, for one thing, coming from perhaps THE coldest city in the entire world, Winnipeg, I certainly DON`T miss Canadian winters! In fact, one can ask my better-half Daniela that VERY rarely do I plead with her in the winter to go skiing in the Alps (in 20 years we`ve been together not ONCE have we gone skiing or in the mountains during the winter)! The weather in Italy, which in normal winter conditions doesn`t go below 0 degrees Celsius, is simply wonderful, so wonderful that all winter I can play soccer with the boys wearing shorts, something that in January in Winnipeg was completely unthinkable. Ditto for the summers, nice and hot and not terribly humid (at least not in Rome).

Culturally-speaking, well, it`s hard to beat places like Venice (my all-time favourite city anywhere in the world!), Florence, Rome and the many towns of Sicily, not to mention also places like Siena and the Udine area where I currently live. Also, it still to this day totally blows my mind that in about 2 hours I can board a plane and be on a spectacular little Greek island swimming in crystal blue water, or with a 4-hour car ride from Udine I can be standing literally in front of a crematorium at Dachau`s concentration camp near Munich (incredible the history that hits you directly in the face when you`re in one of these dreaded camps). And where did I get to go if I travelled south 100 kms from Winnipeg? Wow, to Fargo, North Dakota, where we`d actually go to buy blue jeans when the Canadian dollar used to be stronger than the American one!

And what about the food and vino (by the way, I arrived in Italy 20 years weighing about 90 kilos. Twenty years later I weigh about 100, only 5 kilos per 10 years, not a bad record if you also throw in a persisting herniated disc which has been plaguing me for about 15 years now)? I personally think that only in France does one eat better than in Italy (they say that you would have to live some 300 years or so to be able to eat ALL of the regional dishes in Italy!). And the coffees? Again, I don`t think that there`s a nation out there that knows how to make a simply GREAT cappuccino like the Italians (no offence but certainly NOT the Americans/Canadians)!

Another fine aspect of living in Italy is the concert scene. For those that know me I probably haven`t taken in so many rock concerts as in my 20 years in Italy, beginning with THE most spectacular and unique one of them all: Sir Paul McCartney INSIDE the Colosseum in May, 2003 (not to mention Oasis just a few months ago near Udine, one of the last times we`ll see Liam and Noel Gallagher together?). Sir Paul singing “Yesterday” will be forever etched in my mind (and his repeat performance the day after OUTSIDE the Colosseum in front of more than 400,000 people is also a memorable one!).

Finally, I must add some of the people I`ve met in these 20 years in Italy, beginning with me better-half, Daniela, THE only woman (after me poor and sweet mamma`) who has been able to put up with someone like me for 20 years now (and counting); my good friends Walt Bianchi who took me under his wings back in February, 1990 on a soccer pitch in Rome when I hardly knew anyone in Rome; my former colleagues at the U.S. Embassy in Rome who also took me under their wings when I was quite often totally clued out as to what to do in my new job and city (nicknamed by me the “Eternally Chaotic City”!); Bett Povoledo with whom I share great memories of growing up in Winnipeg, not to mention some 43 years of friendship now; Bill and Stephanie Hamm, the proud parents of the former great soccer player Mia, whom I met while working at the U.S. Embassy, and who thanks to them I got from Italy to take in THE Greatest sporting event of my life so far: the final of the 1999 Women`s World Cup in Los Angeles and where I also got to meet at the same event a fellow by the name of Aaron Heifetz, the press officer of the U.S. women`s national team and someone who`s given me the

best-ever compliment (“Every soccer federation should have a Mario Rimati”!); and Derek White, a fellow Crazy Canuck whom I met in less-than opportune circumstances at the Canadian Embassy in Rome many, many moons ago but who turned out to be a great friend and a person with whom I shared more than a great laugh or two (not to mention our common love for AC/DC and the Monty Python boys!). I certainly hope now that Derek is the proud father of three young lads that he shall continue to enjoy the many things we enjoyed together during his 4-year stay in Rome!

There are many others out there, but alas few as I`ve noticed—and this is obviously my own personal observation—that the average, and I say “average” Italian, unlike the average American/Canadian, has the tendency of watching out over his/her own “garden” BEFORE taking an interest in others. Is “selfish” the word I`m trying to find? Perhaps yes…

All-in-all, would I, at age 50, do this all over again knowing NOW what I (didn`t) know 20 years ago when at the ripe young age of 30 I moved from Montreal directly to Rome? Probably not, for the simple reason that I don’t think I would have any room left anymore on my head. “And why is that pray tell”, you may very well ask? Because in these 20 years I`ve bumped my head against the wall soooo many times with all the utterly crazy and zany things that I`ve seen and gone through in Italy that I don`t have any room left anymore for any other bumps!