Tag Archives: Italy

Crowded lands – Lost lands

Less ‘sexy’ but no tourists and an important link to myself, our view from my cousin’s house in Riva Trigoso

This trip is many things. One is to show my partner a bit of Italy that she didn’t see last time. While churches and museums are a great attraction, she wanted a bit more of nature than the trip we did 15 years ago. Partly is to go to areas of meaning to me. Fortunately the ‘Levante’ (eastern) coast of Liguria can do this.

One of this was to do the ‘Cinque Terre’. This part of Italy was well knowns to Italians, but has become a bit of the tourist mecca to foreign tourists over the past ten years or so.  I’ve seen the ‘Traveller’ section of ‘The Age’ doing an edition about it, so expect that this woild have been replicated in many parts of the world.

Last time my partner and I were in the Cinque Terre was just in the town of Vernazza was last time, when perhaps it wasn’t so famous (I know that in Australia it wasn’t) and also on a cool sunny day in February.  This time it was a warm late September day and Vernazza was overrun by American, German and French tourists. I can’t really complain,as I was a tourist too. But the charm of my memories of an empty wintry Vernazza created a much better picture.

We did most of the track. About 1/3 of it was closed as two years ago the whole area suffered floods and mudslides. Evidence of the disaster were in evidence as parts of the track were obvioulsy rebuilt, and in one case half a house was left with the other part in the creek below that still had the walls that the torrent took during the floods.  Fortunately the breathtaking views were still there.

Both in the Sentiero degli Dei and the Cinque Terre I was surprised how lackadaisical the approach to walkers’ fitness levels was. These are fairly demanding walks, and I saw unfit middle aged men redfaced and wheezing while climbing the paths. The parth was rocky and not easy to walk in parts, and I saw women in ballet shoes and thongs. In Australia you’d have warnings and signs everywhere warning you about the dangers here and dangers there.

But this part of the trip was significant for another reason. Near the Cinque Terre there is a town called Riva Trigoso, and this place has a huge meaning for me and my family. This is a place where the the person that married my uncle, my mother’s brother, was born. Her mother had an hotel in the town, and there I’ve spent my first summers of my life. I still have super 8 movies of myself as a three months old baby in a pram in the café of the hotel.  Also it is probably the place where I was conceived. I was born in May, and my parents were on holiday there in August, not difficult to count the months. 

My cousin still has a house there that he very kindly let us stay.  A sense of belonging, instead of feeling an alien in an hotel.

As I was walking in this town, I thought that my mind was experiencing flashes of memory. Maybe they were just illusions. But the memories were in unexpected places. The pattern of the tiles in the footpaths. The severe building of the ship building offices near the hotel. The little park in the next block.

The thing about living in Australia is that these links are broken. Riva Trigoso remains in my memory, and now I have a current image. But even that will be outdated as I go back home not knowing when I will go back the link stay broken.

A bit like the hotel. It closed down long time ago. And later it was demolished and replaced by a block of flats.  I went to a tabaccheria in the backblocks of the town and I was quite surprised to find old postcards of the beach which showed the hotel from the beach. So I took this photo.

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Il Grand Tour – Positano and environs

One of the best things about travelling is not only spotting the differences from the place where you live, but also the similarities.  Having been away from so long from Italy, my mind created this virtual Italy when everything, everything was different.

Of course it is, you expect that. But the similarities are the things that surprise you more. Having always come to Italy in the north, and in winter, I always experienced the cold and soft light of the mid latitudes. Now I am in the south, and while the height of summer is past, we are in its echoes. September is like March in Melbourne. And like Melbourne it is still warm. Temperatures in the high 20’s, and it feels like summer. The light is reminiscent of a Melbourne summer. White and bright.

Yesterday I did something I wanted to do for decades. I swam in the Mediterranean. Something I haven’t done since 1974 when I spent my last few weeks in my last Italian summer coincidentally not far from where I am now at Vietri sul mare.

We avoided the beach at Positano, being crowded and busy with boats and people and we took the bus to Praiano who has much less tourist allure, but this allowed us to get access to a small beach with a few people who were all locals.

It was not only nice to bathe again in the Mediterranean, but to do so with my partner. Swimming in Australia, especially in the surf is not a gentle relaxing affair. The waves themselves do not allow that in the first place. You have to be wary of them, and be careful you stay between the flags. There are body surfers, boogie boards etc.  It is fun, but can be exhausting. In most of the Mediterranean the water is flat, but it is also more salty allowing you to float much more easily.

There are still heaps of tourists here. I’ve heard as much English being spoken as Italian, and while I use Italian because it is easier anyone here from the hotel owner and the bus drivers can understand and communicate in basic English.  I am experiencing a reverse explanation experience. In Australian for 35 years I got the ‘but you don’t look like an Italian’ observation. Here I get ‘you speak Italian very well for a foreigner’ which is understandable as they would have heard me speaking English to Pene first. Then I go in to a 10 second recap of my life to explain my bilingualism. The locals are telling me that the largest group they are getting in this late summer are Australians. Thanks to our relatively strong Dollar no doubt.

I was also very pleasently surprised how nice the locals are to the tourists. There can be a wariness towards them in high tourist areas, especially in big tourists places such as Rome, Florence or Venice where indifference borders on rudeness. But here Positano most people have been quite nice.  Perhaps this may be partly due to the fact that I am scrupulously polite when I deal with people.

Going back to the similarities going up and down the hundreds of steps of Positano I am struck by the way the veggie plots are arranged. Apart from the steep terraces and the stunning view, they are are almost like they are bits of backyards of Italians in Thornbury and Coburg. And this is something that shows an Australia that I like. When I went to eat at the faux bedouin camp in Dubai I encountered food that was familiar to me, Tabbouleh, hummous. And now the Positano veggie patches. This is an aspect of Australia that I love. Something that Abbott and his anglosphere triumphalists cannot take away.

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Accused Italian scientists. The whole picture.

As an Italian speaker I have been reading reports from Italy on the case of  the Italian court’s judgement that six scientists and a government official are guilty of manslaughter for failing to predict an earthquake accurately.

When I heard this news I was outraged.  Knowing the basics of seismology I know that predicting an earthquake is impossible.  I tweeted my disapproval and dismay.  Of course being fluent in Italian I read a few reports and articles on this sentence, and I realised that what has been reported in the English speaking press is not the whole story.

The issue is not that they didn’t predict an earthquake.  They were part of an organisation that was responsible to advise citizens on likely risks of natural disasters.   Just before the devastating earthquake (there have been plenty of little earthquakes before then) they assured the population that they had nothing to worry about and literally said ‘you can safely sleep in your beds’.  In a highly seismic part of Italy, where there have been shocks for months that statement was very unwise.  It was like saying to people in a high bushfire area on a extreme hot high fire risk day to keep on doing what they wanted and don’t worry about the risks.  If they said that there was always a degree of risk (which is the truth) and be prepared they would not have been accused. Their inaccuracy wasn’t that they didn’t predict the earthquake on that day in that hour.  Was that as persons charged in giving as a clear picture of the situation they failed in their duties.

Saying that a prison sentence is ridiculous.  Perhaps being sacked from their positions would be more appropriate.

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The Italy Eurozone crisis – Part 3. Germany doesn’t want to be the Lombardy of Europe.

When I used to work at the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, in the halcyon days even when the Federal Liberals liked to talk about multiculturalism, my boss used to say: ‘behind any stereotype there is a grain of truth’. It has been a factor in my life that stereotypes were always somewhere. Being born in ‘cosmopolitan’ Milan but living amongst provincials in Bergamo. Being from the north of Italy and hearing lots of prejudice for the southerners.   Living in Australia and hearing Europeans generally believing of Australia as a pleasant place to live but without culture and racist. And of course plenty of stereotype in Australia about Italy.

I remember talking about this to a psychologist who told me that our brains are wired to stereotype. Our brains like order. And allocating characteristics to certain people create some sort of order. Often stereotypes also makes those holding them superior, so it makes us feel better.

As I mentioned before the euro-crisis allowed the stereotypes to run wild with impunity. The age old belief that people living below the Alps, Pyrenees or in the Mediterranean generally were lazy, and were on some sort euro gravy train being sustained by hard working northern Europeans was wildly mentioned. Even by people that I thought had a bit more sophistication in economic knowledge, or at least were on the ‘left’ and while would be aghast in stereotyping gays or women, were very happy to label Greeks and Italians with all type of negative attributes.

At this point I will say that Italy is may main area of interest. Other Europeans I can’t vouch for. And I also won’t be blithely blind at the shortcomings of successive Italian governments, and a large part of the electorate that has allowed them to make decisions that have positioned Italy in the situation it finds itself at the moment. But the issue here is that if you want to criticise Italy, at least try to look at the issues. A glib statement of ‘Italians are lazy’ or statement of the kind really are ignorant ones.

Wealthy Italy

The issue that people forget is that Italians are not lazier than others. Quite the opposite. We in Australia have seen literally thousands of examples of Italians who faced with little prospect decided to leave their country of birth, and their families and travel on the other side of the world to work hard in the cane fields of Queensland, or the building sites of Sydney and Melbourne to re-build their lives. But many parts of Italy are extremely wealthy. Just look at this map which shows the gross domestic product per inhabitant in purchasing power. This maps show the Europe of regions rather than states, and you can see that regions like Lombardy and Emilia Romagna are as wealthy as many Landers in Germany and the London area. In fact, apart from the south Italy is not that bad. We see Germany and France having all these talks. But Italy is the third largest economy. You don’t become that by taking many siestas. But the problem with Italy, is that the wealth is concentrated in the north (as the map shows) but also the disparity between wealthy and poor people is one of the highest in Europe.

Germany is right. They don’t want to become the Lombardy of Europe

Over the years the north’s wealth has been used in well meaning measures initially to develop the south. Unfortunately by the 80’s many of these funds were misused for politicians to buy votes and in worst cases assist local organised crime. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Second Italian Republic with the dissolved of the Christian Democrats – Communist Party blocks resentment grew in the North and this gave rise of the Northern League a party that nominally is working towards secession for the Northern regions from Italy. I do wonder whether Merkel is against the idea of providing bailouts funds not only because of the inflation issue, but also because she doesn’t want what happened in Italy to happen in the whole of Europe, that is a ‘German Northern League’ because of resentment of Germans in paying for others in the Union. The Italian journalist Gabrio Casati makes a similar argument in an article (in Italian).

In essence the German position is very simple: Solidarity doesn’t exist without responsibility. It is not possible, because it is not fair that we all share something that hasn’t been produced together without allowing those who are paying to have some control to those who spend. Does this remind you of something? It should (for Italians at least) because in reality Berlin is saying one thing: We will do whatever is necessary to save the Euro, 50 years of integration (and our exports) but we will be never become the Lombardy of Europe. We will not sign blank cheques for failing economies

On the other hand if Italy uses 10 years of imposts at 2% to finance a current unproductive expenditure from its southern regions, instead of lowering the debt in the first place, she has as a country no legitimately ask for assistance. If anything it should be Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna that should ask some return for the money successive Italian government threw to the wind by to keep votes in the south. But no one, including the Northern League that supposedly was supposed to look after the more productive parts of Italy (but instead became ally of  Berlusconi) did anything. They didn’t make a parallel to how Milan was the Berlin of Italy, something that would have made the politicians perhaps realise to change its financial responsibilities, and change the politics that discourage growth, and is destabilising the whole continent.

So where to now

I have read many left commentary about the measures taken by the Monti Government (such as those of the Purple People for instance). I may disagree with those measures as well. But Italy decided to be part of a currency and a system that is marked influenced and capitalist. If you take that path you dance to the tunes of the banks, markets, and rating agencies. If you don’t they will punish you and that’s what happened to Italy. In my opinion there is no choice in the immediate future than take these measures and cop it. Because otherwise you go bankrupt and discussions about merits of the Eurozone etc. go out of the window as people scramble to save the furniture. But is there a different path?

A de-facto pre-unification Italy?

While many may think Italy as being an old country, in fact it is relatively new one being unified in 1861. Before that the north of Italy was part of Spain, France and at the end the Austro-Hungarian empire. A famous Italian journalist Gianni Riotta who tweeted “Born Italian, grew up American, then European, will die German”. Many commentators are writing that Merkel is being resistant in providing money to struggling economies because she wants other eurozone countries to copy Germany’s budget discipline, so that their borrowing is kept under control. So are we going to have a new Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina of Austria, Empress of Mantua, Milan, Parma and Grand Duchess of Tuscany?

Well of course not, I am being facetious. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Italians would take orders from the north.  Germany doesn’t want to be the Lombardy of Europe. But I am sure Lombardy doesn’t want to be in the Empire of the Euro dictated by other governments.

If Italy doesn’t want to be part of a more austere financial system I think that’s fine. Go it alone. But I hope the divorce is amicable.


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Italians, let’s give the French and the Germans the arse (translated from Gianni Greco’s blog)

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I have been reading a lot about Italy and the European financial crisis, mainly from financial journals and mainstream papers, both in English and in Italian.  But what Italians that are not strictly ‘journalists’ think of this issue?  I came across this blog called “L’ombra del dubbio” where the author, Gianni Greco, writes about it taking no prisoners.  I have translated the post to the best of my abilities.  Even if I don’t agree with it (I suspect it is also what we Australians call a ‘stir’) I wonder whether these sentiments come close to what many Italians think.

Recently they have kicked us in the balls with this fucking Europe telling us what we have to do and not to do which pisses us off and humiliate us with sarcastic smiles and they dragging us along like a ball of shit at their feet.

‘Italy like Greece’ they say disparingligly. But we are proud of it! Us Italians, and Greeks have given you civilization, you ugly smelly barbarians! We have given you art that you pilllaged and more enough culture to bury you all. What do you have? Let’s see the Gioconda? Oh really?

Yes, OK, we italians can be dickheads. Distracted, disorganised a bit uncouth and shitty, but this comes from our creativity that is within us since Caligola made his horse Senator, or earlier, when Romulus and Remus a she-wolf found them and suckled them or even earlier when the Etruscan entertained themselves by reading livers. But what we can compare this? Some idiots with horns on a hat?

Now you think you are the Gods of the old continent only because you fuck Carla Bruni and you have the ‘Bunds”? If we come back to our Lira, the good old inflationated Lira with which we could buy so many things. If we start to print it again by ourselves we can regain our pride trumpled by your banks, and we can start again do things by ourselves instead of being dictated by you,  and finally we can all give you the arse.

They tell us that if we got out of the Euro wold be a tragedy, but what more of a tragedy would be that what we are in at the moment? Should we have a go? C’mon let’s be a bit reckless! Yes, but who will tell Mario Monti Well…I always wrote to Monti, and he always responded….by saying nothing.

So Italians! we are pissed off! Tell the French and Germans they can stick their measures!

Ah…Ten thousand lire…. beautiful.

The original post in Italian can be found here: http://lombradeldubbio.blogspot.com/2011/11/ma-tornare-alla-lira-e-andare-in-culo.html


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The Italy Eurozone crisis part 2 – We may not agree with it – but Italy’s new government is legitimate.

The Italian political system, mixed with the Byzantine machinations that characterise it baffles people living in less complicated democracies.  For instance, reading English speaking papers it seemed that Italy under Berlusconi was in a virtual dictatorship. Yes he had conflicts of interest big as three continents being the owner of the major TV network and also being the leader of the  government who runs the other most watched network.  But the state owned TV and Radio did criticise the government, many times and mercilessly.

Now it’s happening again.  Some English speaking commentators (mainly left leaning it seems) have now portrayed the new ‘technocrat’ government as some sort of coup d’etat where unelected officials are now running the country.

However this is not the case.  What happened in Italy is exactly what the constitution states it should happen.

Prime Minister Berlusconi lost the confidence of the lower house and therefore didn’t have the numbers to govern and therefore resigned.  Then the constitution places the responsibility of creating a new government to the President.  Article 92 of the Italian constitution specifically states that it is up to the President to appoint a Prime Minister.

In previous occasions there would be long and protracted negotiations amongst all parties to finally arrive at a majority.  But as the markets were tearing Italy apart and there was a risk that Italy would default, President, Giorgio Napolitano acted quickly.  Again under the Italian constitution the President has the right to appoint five Senators .  This is usually because of their contribution to Italian society (a bit like the House of Lords in England) but as the interest rates to repay the recurrent debt was rising astronomically every minute,  Napolitano made Senator  (and consequently made him eligible to become Prime Minister) someone who he thought could stabilise the situation which was Mario Monti.

The other reason why this move is not undemocratic is that according to section 94 of the Constitution “a government must have the confidence of both houses of parliament”.  Therefore ultimately it is up to the representatives both in the House of Deputies and the Senate that decide whether this technocrat government will be supported.  In fact the Northern League has already stated that they will not support this new government.

So, we may not like the fact that this government is made up of bankers and financiers, that , like the rest of the EU, Italy was forced to this because it has to dance to the tune of the markets and its capitalist rules.  But it is not a dictatorship or undemocratic.



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The Italy Eurozone crisis part 1 – Introduction and latent prejudice

Certainly it’s not fun times for those who possibly will be affected if (as some doomsayers are stating) Italy will be responsible for the end of the financial system as we know it.  However for someone like me with an Italian background, who knows the language, is interested in politics and is so far relatively secure in the economic haven of Australia, it is fascinating times.

The events that are now involving Italy have made me think of a number of issues.  And of course this has lead me in thinking about the blog.  However the choice was writing about everything that I am thinking in a huge blog that no one would read or write a series of shorter blogs, so I am going to the latter.  In this first blog I am writing about something that has somewhat irked me.  Especially from supposedly ‘left wing’ commentators that I thought should have known better.

Latent prejudice – the stereotype of the lazy Southern European vs the virtuous Northern one.

The circles where I roam are of my kind. Pinko latte sipping inner suburban left. And in the main I feel comfortable with that.

Still there is deep inside some of them an undisclosed sense of anglo prejudice that like a type of original sin cannot be erased.

I have encountered this on a number of occasions. One common example is when people hearing my accent ask me ‘where I am from’. After my response many exclaim “But you don’t look like an Italian” (I am 6’1″ had fair hair – now mostly white – and have green/blue eyes). So if I feel mischievous I ask “How does an Italian look like” and watch them wrestle with the realisation that their progressive mind set had actually a stereotype of Italians being all short and dark.

And now with the European Crisis, some of the commentary coming out of some left leaning commentators are leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth.

It was an article by John Weeks in the Social Europe Journal that echoed my thoughts succinctly. He writes that much of the commentary, including from centre left newspapers such as BBC Business Reporter Laurence Knight recognised this fact.

The Italian government’s debt, at 118% of GDP (annual economic output) is certainly high, even by European standards.

But dig a little deeper, and the picture changes.

Unlike their counterparts in Spain or the Irish Republic, ordinary Italians have not run up huge mortgages, and generally have very little debt.

That means that according to the Bank of International Settlements Italy as a country – not just a government – is not actually terribly indebted compared with other big economies such as France, Canada or the UK.

Moreover, the large debts of the Italian government are nothing new. It has got by just fine with a debt ratio over 100% of its GDP ever since 1991.

The main reason is because – unlike Greece – Italy is actually quite financially prudent.

The government spends less on providing public services and benefits to its people than it earns in taxes, and has been doing so every year since 1992, except for the recession year of 2009.

So all this lazy analysis of lumping Italy and Greece is just inaccurate. Instead Knight properly analyses the situation. The economy is so weak. And Italy is plagued by poor regulation, vested business interests, an ageing population, and weak investment, all of which have conspired to limit the country’s ability to increase production. Not a great picture but at least accurate.

A more direct attack on the Lazy Italian stereotype was given by John Weeks writing  in the Social Europe Journal He states that the narrative has been that…

Italy is in trouble because of greedy, lazy and over-paid workers, and the pay they have been awarding themselves ill suits their southernly station in life (and the European Union).  In the context of this feckless working class behavior, one would expect to go to the statistics and discover that wage costs in Italy have “over the past 10 years” been rising faster and above those in Germany, the home of hard work and employee discipline.

Alas, one would be disappointed, as the table below shows.  In 1997 unit labor costs in Italy stood at about eighty percent of those in Germany, and ten years later, they were, well, about eighty percent.  Through the late 1990s and early 2000s the ratio actually declined, before returning to slightly above four-fifths.

But, of course, even if Italians were not paid more, they should not have been because they were “doing less work”.  Again, the statistics disappoint, because Eurostat (the EU database) reports that in 2009-2011 Italians in full time employment, public and private, worked a lazy average of 38 hours per week, compared to a robust 35.7 for the industrious Germans

Of course all this perception has been fuelled by Berlusconi extravagant lifestyle that will be remembered for years after he has departed the scene. His behaviour just confirm the stereotype of Italians being only interested in hedonist pursuit and not being really serious.  Berlusconi was portrayed in the Angloshere as a sex mad corrupt PM. Why would Italians vote for him?

One of the great benefits of the web is that we can now read stuff written elsewhere that wouldn’t be seen on a daily in Australia.  Two of the best journalists that can explain Italy to the Anglosphere are Gianni Riotta and Beppe Servegnini as both have lived, studied and worked in the USA and the UK for a considerable amount of time (you can follow them on twitter: @riotta; @beppesevergnini) Riotta writes :

Voters were captivated by Berlusconi’s anti-establishment war cry: “I am a self-made man, not a politician!” They loved his unbridled optimism, his populist style…..Berlusconi’s lifestyle was frivolous and excessive. The leftist papers regularly trashed him and his sex parties. (Indeed, it was how the world came to learn the meaning of “bunga bunga.”) There were the groupies, the prostitutes, the shiny dancing poles in his villas. The scandals never impressed his supporters, but they did not hurt him, either. At last count, Berlusconi and his staunch ally, Umberto Bossis Northern League, enjoyed 35 percent support in the polls — not bad after a 20-year run.

Another good analysis of Berlusconi’s popularity was very well explained by the English historian Paul Ginsborg  who now lives and teaches in Florence (This is the Italian article translated from the original German) where he explains that :
In a country, where small business is a very large proportion of the economy, Berlusconi represents tha self made man, someone to be admired, someone that started his raise from the lowest steps. The small business person, even the most insignificant is typical of Italy. In their eyes the state is an ‘enemy’ that prevents them to make money.  Then there are many women working at home that sit in front of the TV more than three hours a day and tend to vote en masse for Berlusconi.  And in the north is not only small business people that vote for him, but also factory workers and employees of micro firms. Then there also conservative Catholics that while don’t like his moral indiscretions, vote for him because they see him ‘better than the Communists’.
So ti conclude there are a complex series of reasons why Italy is in the current situation.  And not because of a glib stereotypical idea of  Mediterranean southern Europeans. Now THAT’S lazy.

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Col sistema australiano Pisapia sarebbe già sindaco.

In alcuni casi ho cercato di spiegare il sistema preferenziale per eleggere rappresentanti in Australia a persone italiane, ma spesso non sono riuscito a spiagare bene come funziona.  Per curiositá ho deciso di guardare i risultati ufficiali delle elezioni per sindaco di Milano.  Gli elettori milanesi sono andati alle urne il 15 e 16 di maggio, ma dato che nessun candidato è riuscito a raggiungere una maggiorità assoluta devono ritornare ancora per un ballottaggio tra i due candidati che hanno preso piú voti il 29 e 30 maggio.  Come australiano, la cosa che vedo subito è che con un sistema preferenziale tipo usato in Australia la cosa si potrebbe risolvere in colpo solo.

Allora come funziona il sistema australiano?  Nella scheda ci sono tutti i candidati.  Gli elettori devono semplicemente indicare la loro preferenza da uno in poi.

Facciamo uin esempio con le elezioni milanesi.  La scheda sarebbe cosíL’ordine dei candidati viene deciso da un sorteggio prima di stampare le schede.  L’elettore esprime in ordine di preferenza i candidati, con uno il più favorito poi due, tre e cosí via.  Un candidato di centro sinistra probabilmente avrebbe votato cosí (ovviamente non essendo in Italia, o a Milano potrei essermi sbagliato delle preferenze di un votante di centro sinistra, mi scuso se ho fatto delle preferenze sbagliate).

Vedendo i risultati delle elezioni a Milano potrei dire che il 48,04% di elettori avrebbero messo il numero uno accanto il nome di Pisapia.

Ma vediamo cosa avrebbe potuto fare un’elettore che ha messo come preferenza il movimento di Beppe Grillo (che immagino sia piú a sinistra)

Calise ha preso 3,22% del voto, perció si potrebbe dedurre che questa percentuale di coloro che hanno preferito questo candidato avrebbe messo uno nella sua casella.  Ma con il sistema preferenziale all’australiana, questo voto non viene messo a parte.  Dato che Calise non ha preso più del 50% dei voti (e perció non ha avuto la maggioranza assoluta), questo voto viene assegnato al candidato che ha ottenuto la seconda preferenza (cioè il ‘2’) che sarebbe Pisapia.  Mettiamo il caso che tutti coloro che hanno messo Calise come prima preferenza, hanno poi dato Pisapia la loro seconda preferenza succederebbe che il 3,22% di questi voti vadano al candidato del centro sinistra.

Perció 48,04 + 3.22 = 51.26%.  Pisapia ha la maggioranza e viene eletto sindaco.

Nelle elezioni australiane tutte le pereferenze vengono distribuite.  Perció (anche qui facciamo delle premesse, ma è per fare un esempio) la Moratti probabilmente prenderebbe preferenze da coloro che hanno votato Pagliarini (0,64%) o Mantovani (0,35 ). Non so bene dove i voti di Palmeri (5,54%) sarebbero andati (dato che sono di centro)  ma mettiamo il caso peggiore che siano andati tutti alla Moratti, non sarebbero stati sufficienti per farla eleggere sindaco (41,58 + 5,54 + 0,64 + 0,35) = 48.11%.

La Commissione Elettorale Australiana ha fatto un filmetto su come funziona questo sistema visualmente.

Ovviamente non tutti gli elettori seguono un ordine di preferenza politicamente costante.  É possibile che un’elettore che mette come prima preferenza il  Partito Comunista dei Lavoratori poi mette la Lega come seconda preferenza.  Ma con questo sistema nessun voto viene sprecato.  Elimina ballottaggi dato che gli elettori devono esprimere una preferenza una volta sola, non al secondo turno, e nella maggior parte dei casi elegge un candidato con i maggior consensi degli elettori.

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Eat, Pray, Love and please go somewhere else.

Never knew that eating ice creams next to nuns was 'exotic'.


If you have been to the movies lately you may have seen the trailer for a new movie called Eat, Pray, Love starring Julia Roberts.  This movie is taken from a book of the same name written by American author Elisabeth Gilbert.

Now if I was a professional reviewer I would read the book and see the movie.  Fortunately because I am not and this blog is a hobby, I don’t have to, and I can slag these as much as I like to, because really I sort of know where this types of books are lead to.

There is nothing wrong with escapist literature.  There are lots of people who live lives which may be boring and repetitive, filled with anxiety or be emotionally unfulfilled.  A book that deals of a woman who escaped these constraints can be a relief on the bus on the way to work where the drudgery is soon to begin.

What I immediately irk though is when Italy comes to play.  Italy has been some sort of romantic escapist archetype since the Grand Tours made by the British male gentry since 1660.  Where wealthy men would travel south to experience continental culture and shag freely before going back to England and be respectable.  Then we had the Hollywood fantasies of the 1950’s with movies such Roman Holiday, or September Affair.  Lately we had a spate of book about wealthy Americans escaping to Tuscany, which of course Frances Mayes has been the pioneer, traveling back to San Francisco so she could find that door handle she just couldn’t find in Italy.

We also had Australians getting on the act.  One example is George Negus with his book  ‘The World From Italy Football, Food and Politics‘ which I did read and it’s OK, a bit tongue in cheek, and just hot off the press is Kate Holden’s ‘The Romantic: Italian Nights‘ where the author goes to Rome in search of four things: Rome, the Romantic poets, romance and herself.  Again we have Italy as the destination to ‘find yourself’.  What is about Italy and this archetype of romanticism and opportunity for self discovery for English speakers?  Don’t get me wrong. Italy can be a magical place, but I do believe that some of these writers assume that what they lacking in their lives (affection, romance, adventure) is found in Italy.  Italy while unique, I don’t think possesses these magical powers.

I am thinking myself when I retire to go back to Italy and write a book about it.  But my plan was to go to write about places like Dalmine in Lombardy where is flat, bleak, industrial and winters are cold and the fog enters into your bones, and people leave in the dark in minus Celsius temperatures  to go to work in steel factories in the morning. But somehow I don’t think that there will be much of a market for it.

Enrica Brocardo (who is currently living in New York working for Vanity Fair) writes in her blog (in Italian) about the book and the movie:

Immediately after she arrives in Rome, Elizabeth rents a house from a short plump woman, with an apron and mustache.  Then she eats ice cream besides two nuns, then meets a group of macho guys, then she dives into pasta matriciana and pizza and learn to say “sweet doing nothing” (which apparently is the preferred activity of Italians) then she meets the mother of a friend that reiterate the stereotype of the Italian mother with the added touch of the stereotype of a Jewish one.  Then finally she goes to India and Bali to piss off the cinema goers from those places.

Some weeks ago I did interview Elizabeth Gilbert, and I found her brilliant and intelligent.  During the interview I did mention the problem of reading a book set in your own country written by an outsider.  In ‘Committed‘ (the book she wrote after Eat, Pray, Love) for instance, Gilbert writes that in Rome boys declare their love by singing under girls’ windows trite songs like “Roma, nun fa’ la stupida stasera”.  “Nice image’, I told her, “but not true I am afraid”.  But she insisted, so I let it go.  There was the risk of going on to the next stereotype “Italian men are not what they were”.

So Italy will remain the romantic stereotype in many minds (I suspect frustrated American Mid-west women, mainly)  pity that it doesn’t reflect the truth, the same way that (as many mid west American I suspect may believe) Australia is not full of Crocodile Dundee wildlife wrestlers.  As I said somewhere else stereotypes may help us believe there is order in the world and that perhaps there is a better place somewhere else where we could escape.  Just don’t try to go there for real.


Filed under Italy, Musings

The Vatican as a state? Non Italians confused.

Pope Benedict XVI certainly knows Latin, so he would know the meaning of the term: persona non grata, because that’s certainly seems to be the case with him regarding his forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom.

But apart from the issues of child abuse, gay rights, contraception etc. that are beleaguering the Catholic Church there is another one which is particularly linked to Italian history. A letter written by British luminaries states:

“We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican,”

The fact is that the Vatican is a quirk of Italian history. Often in the anglosphere media whatever the Pope states is said is from ‘Rome’ but that’s not strictly correct. While Vatican City is within the metropolitan area of Rome it is a separate entity from it and from Italy as well. People visiting St. Peter Basilica may not realise that once they enter Saint Peter’s Square they have actually left Italy and are in a different country.

Check Vatican City’s website: http://www.vaticanstate.va/EN/homepage.htm. You can even see that it even has its own country code ‘va’ and not ‘it’ if it was in Italy.

So how this came into being?  When the Catholic Church started, it was outlawed (when followers were fed to lions or killed in the usual horrible ways that ancient Romans seems to be very inventive about).  So any church or anything connected to the Church was privately owned by followers.  Once Constantine made the church legal, and the popularity of Christianity grew, this trend continued.  Other donations soon followed, and the Church held all of these lands as a private landowner.

As the Roman empire fell, the Italian peninsula was invaded by a variety of hordes. For instance the Lombards (where the name Lombardy comes from) the Byzantines invaded from the south.  But the Byzantines based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) couldn’t hold to the territory very well and the biggest landowner, the Church, began by default to take on much of the ruling authority that Byzantines were unable to project to the area around the city of Rome.  So while technically the people around there were under the Byzantine empire it was really the Bishop of Rome who called the shots.

Anyway lots of argy bargy occurred between the Pope, the Byzantines and the Lombards over time.  A number of Popes were able to play their ‘religious authority’ card to ensure that a number of potential invaders would not pillage the areas which were under their de facto control.  In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the Pope would be temporal sovereign.  At its greatest extent, in the 18th century, the Papal States included most of Central Italy.    Napoleon messed the place a bit, but crunch time arrived when nationalist movements (Garibaldi etc.) wanted to unite Italy.  On September 10, 1870, the Piedmontese declared war on the Papal States, and its Army, commanded by General Raffaele Cadorna, crossed the frontier of the then remaining papal territory on 11 September and advanced slowly toward Rome. The Piedmontese reached the Aurelian Walls on 19 September and placed Rome under a state of siege. Although the pope’s tiny army was incapable of defending the city, Pius IX ordered it to put up at least a token resistance to emphasize that Italy was acquiring Rome by force and not consent.  The Army entered Rome through a  Breach of Porta Pia,  an episode still evoked by Italians nowadays as they bemoan the insidious and pernicious influence of the Vatican in Italian domestic affairs.  The city was captured on September 20, 1870.

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But did the Pope and subsequent Popes agreed to be under Italian rule?  Not at all.  Strategically they maintained control of the immediate area around St. Peters.  They also went into some sort of sulk stating that they were Prisoners in the Vatican (some prison!).  They confined themselves to the Apostolic Palace and adjacent buildings in the loop of the ancient fortifications known as the Leonine City, on Vatican Hill. From there it maintained a number of features pertaining to sovereignty, such as diplomatic relations, since in canon law these were inherent in the papacy.

It was in fact Mussolini that made a formal pact with Pope Pius IX to settle the situation with the Lateran Treaty.  A political treaty recognizing the full sovereignty of the Holy See in the State of Vatican City, which was thereby established, thus in effect a separate state where the Pope was sovereign.

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So I can understand why many in a very secular non-Catholic state like the United Kingdom are miffed when the Pope arrives under the guise of a head of state.  But instead of doing what head of states usually do when visiting another country such as discussing trade, going to lunches, laying wreaths, inspecting parades etc. they offer a Mass.  There are those such as Australian lawyer Geoffrey Robertson believes that Vatican City is in fact not a state.  In an article last Saturday in The Guardian, Terry Eagleton writes that In fact, Robertson argues that  the Vatican’s claim to statehood is bogus. He believes that the treaty between Mussolini and the Holy See  has no basis in international law. The Vatican has no permanent population, which is a legal requirement of being a state. In fact, since almost all its inhabitants are celibate, it cannot propagate citizens at all other than by unfortunate accident. It is not really a territory, has no jurisdiction over crimes committed in its precincts and depends for all its essential services on the neighbouring nation of Italy.

Perhaps the Pope should stick to visiting places like the Philippines and Brazil.  And while they are at it couldn’t he move in places like those?  Italy would benefit politically from having the Pope as far as possible.

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Filed under Politics and Current Affairs