Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cda vs. Italy

BBC World’s “Clic” programme (it deals with high-tech stuff) reported on February 18th that someone had “tweeted” an employee of the Toronto’s Transit Commission (TTC), a ticket collector, who was sleeping on the job. Apparently, Torontonians, who had just had their fares raised according to Clic, were somewhat p.offed that the guy was sleeping, instead of working. Some TTC folks, apparently taken aback by the commotion of the “tweet”, tried justifying the fellow’s temporary “absence” from this world by stating that he perhaps could have been ill, or who knows, perhaps even dead.

That was obviously not the case as the poor old chap, a 30-year veteran of the TTC, was in fact caught sleeping.

I chuckled when I read this because this for me signified the basic, and I say basic, difference between Canada and Italy. Some 15 years ago, when I used to take the subway in Rome to go to and from work (6 subway stops actually), on several occasions I caught the ticket collectors, and at 8 am in the morning during rush-hour, sleeping (they were far from being dead too!). Not only were they sleeping in their small and air-less booths, but seeing that I’m only 1m90 tall, one day I pass by, peered inside and saw one collector in a rather pensive mood. I figured he must have been thinking about something related to his job. Au contraire! Guess what he was doing? He was trying to figure out the results to that weekend’s soccer lottery! Yes, would his beloved Roma win, tie or lose against mighty Milan? And on yet other occasions, the collectors who were supposed to be in the booth were either on the public payphone right next to the booth or totally absent. And NOT for 5 minutes either! Some would disappear for more than 30 minutes.

So, what did this all mean? Did it mean a wave of human protests from subway travellers as in Toronto’s case? Of course not (I still recall that I sent the local dailies an e-mail protesting these episodes, but I certainly must have been the only” fool” to do so, but that was because I came from another culture)! It meant that in a land, Italy, where “furfantismo” (being coy and ripping off the system) and dishonesty reign SUPREME and is an integral part of an Italian’s DNA, no-one checking a traveller’s ticket meant what? That you got to travel for free (which I did on COUNTLESS occasions, something that I could NEVER get away with when I used to take the metro to go to work in downtown Montréal. Had I tried I would have probably ended up being whizzed off to a Guantanamo-type of Canadian prison), what else!

That, essentially, is the difference between the two countries: that pure lawlessness in Canada is NOT tolerated whereas it is in Italy (a friend in the Toronto area sent me the news that many Canadian politicians in Ottawa have been arrested, I say arrested, for a variety of crimes. We have sitting in the Italian parliament former terrorists, and they calmly govern some 58 million Italians, and they’re certainly NOT in any Italian jail!).

I conclude my analysis with what happened to me, always some 15 years ago in Rome. I “mysteriously” had my car stolen (the thieves apparently used a tow-truck on the street adjacent to my apartment to take it away, probably for used parts as it was a 10 year-old Citroen). We went a few metres from our place to report the theft to the Carabinieri, Italy’s equivalent of the RCMP. The wife, saddened obviously that we were now without wheels (the car was mine by the way), said to the young officer: “But can’t you do something about all these car thefts (n.b. Only 135 per day are stolen in Rome!)”? He looked at us and told us the entertaining story of how one day a young chap was caught shoplifting in Rome in the equivalent of Canada’s The Bay. The cops arrived and he was promptly arrested. It turned out that the kid was the son of some powerful political minister. Was the cop who arrested him rewarded for his outstanding work and contribution to maintaining law and order in Rome? Of course not! The poor sod was shipped some 3 years in the outback of the island of Sardinia as a “reward”. And no doubt the poor guy was probably demoted too.

The young officer looked at my wife as he was typing the report, as though to say: “Hey lady, you want ME to arrest a car thief, and then maybe end up like my colleague? No thanks”! As taxpayers, that’s certainly NOT the response we wanted to hear. And I doubt that the average Canadian taxpayer in Canada would want to hear the same thing from Toronto’s finest.

The funny, or sad, thing is that I shall never forget that in exactly the same period Jack Straw’s son (Straw 15 years ago was Blair’s Foreign Secretary) was caught smoking a few harmless joints. And what did the British public opinion demand? The head of Straw Sr. (as though our parents are ALWAYS responsible for what we do as kids)! That back then, like the TTC case, said it all: the main difference between a society which is NOT awash with corruption (like the British one) and one like Italy’s which together with Poland is by far one of THE most corrupt societies in all of Europe!

On a very final note, 20 years ago I’d take the subway to go to work in downtown Montréal (I lived in that fine city 3 years). I’d either show the ticket controller my monthly pass or I’d slip my ticket into the electronic reader (the same system I noticed was in Paris’s subway system, back in 1993 when I went there for a short visit. Funny too that many of the trains were identical to the ones used in Montréal, seeing that they were manufactured by Canada’s Bombardier company, the same makers of the Canadair if I’m not mistaken). If the ticket was expired, the turnstile wouldn’t open, and I’d get one mean look from the ticket controller, as though to say: “Not trying to rip-off the system, are ya”? Well, when did they FINALLY get the same system up and running in Rome’s subway? Only about 2-3 years ago, which means that practically since the birth of the Rome subway (commenced I believe under Mussolini himself), you could practically travel with the same (used) ticket all day, and hardly any ticket controller would ever stop you. “When in Rome…”, as they say!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Berlusconi vs. breasts!

Our “Great Leader”, Berlusconi, is always prone to shooting his mouth off, especially when it comes to foreign leaders and women.

Recently, Albania’s prime minister, Sali Berisha, came to meet good’ol Silvio in Rome. During the press conference, Berlusconi made a comment on the “landing in Italy of beautiful Albanian women”!

Now, many people might not find anything terribly wrong with that comment, especially the average Italian male-chauvinist who enjoys Berlusconi’s “puns”. But in the past (and even now actually), many of these so-called “beautiful Albanian women” have sadly ended up on Italy’s shores as prostitutes, not exactly one of their ultimate goals of living the so-called Italian “Dolce Vita”. This has been because of rather poor economic and social conditions in Albania as well as illegal immigration that has stemmed from that nearby Adriatic country. Many of these women have been the victims of ruthless pimps, members in countless cases of the Albanian mafia (and not only the Albanian one). Many have also died in an atrocious manner at the hands of both their “Johns” and pimps. Joking on the plight of these poor women is not at all funny, except when it comes to Berlusconi naturally.

The Albanian press back home was up-in-arms over Berlusconi’s comment and even hinted at diplomatic sanctions against the Italian government. Berisha though calmed everyone present at the press conference by stating that his good’ol friend Silvio was only making a reference to some of the beautiful Albanian female journalists who were present that day. Diplomacy at it’s best, I guess…

Berlusconi isn’t new to these kinds of “sexual” escapades, both verbal as well as physical (according to some young ladies who have frequented on more than one occasion the prime minister’s official Rome residence, Palazzo Grazioli). The bottom line is that these so-called “hilarious” puns and anecdotes rarely go unnoticed by other countries: take for example Germany. Cologne’s carnival was apparently followed by 1 million people, and Silvio’s presence was indeed rather amusing, as one can see by the attached picture: his head is surrounded by various female breasts!

While Gordon Brown or Canada’s Stephen Harper may not be loved by all Brits or Canadians, I doubt very much that the average German would present the two foreign leaders in the same way as they did with our beloved “Great Leader”!

Italians, especially those who have lived abroad (as in my case), have to constantly put up with jokes and quite often even racist remarks on the mafia, spaghetti and pizza. All that they now need is to be constantly associated with Latin lovers à-la-Berlusconi!