30 April, 2008

LSD - obit

Albert Hofmann, the Swiss chemist who discovered the hallucinogenic drug LSD, has died aged 102.

Doesn't seem to have done him any harm.

29 April, 2008

The Mwa-Mwa

I’ve done a lot of social kissing recently (Italian wedding, still recovering) and I pass on this interesting exposé from a female friend.

When they started trying to sell perfume to men, in the 60s and 70s, they were afraid the men would find it a bit feminine and embarrassing, so they called it aftershave, as if it were some skin treatment rather than just perfume. Accordingly the men put it on their cheeks, and still do, whereas a woman puts perfume on her neck, behind her ears and on her arms.

So when my friend goes to a party and does the Mwa-Mwa which convention requires, she ends up with ten different sorts of perfume on her face, making her smell like a cheap hooker (she didn’t say that last bit).

We men should copy the ladies and put it on discreetly.

28 April, 2008


Berlusconi's party has won Rome, the first centre right party to do so since the war (and the one before the war wasn't exactly centre right). Must say I didn't think he'd do it but well done Mr Allemanno (now can we have the cobble stones outside our flat fixed?)

27 April, 2008

St Joanna

There is a campaign in the Independent promoted by Joanna Lumley against battery eggs, with Good Egg awards to people and businesses she likes and Rotten Eggs (Watch out!) for people she doesn’t.

Much though I like the idea of supporting something with Miss Lovely on board I can’t help wondering how this is going to resonate outside the rarefied atmosphere of the Independent. We must use eggs from more humane systems, and watch out for cakes, flans and custards: ‘hidden eggs are easy to miss!’, admonishes Nanny Joanna.

And this is the point, isn’t it? She wants more humane systems but hens aren’t humans, are they, Joanna darling? And free range eggs are too expensive for poor people, didn’t you know? And the idea that, while Britain is increasing taxes on the poor and there is no petrol, we should go chasing round supermarkets asking how the eggs in Bird’s Custard were produced, is detached from reality. Which is what rich actresses tend to be.

And, sorry to say this Jo-lovey, but I am getting a little bit fed up with celebrities telling me how to lead a better life, particularly after we found out that Sting and his rather peculiar wife, while lecturing us on being greener and better, think nothing of jumping on a plane whenever it suits them, because it is supposed to be me, not them, who saves the planet.

A plague on the lot of them, Sting, Lumley and the ghastly self-important Bono. Stick to what you do best, which isn’t being normal.


'When a great man dies we are all diminished' - said, if I recall correctly, of a largely useless but fabulously wealthy aristocrat, the Duke of Newcastle. But it is not often one can say reading the obits that someone's death will affect you for the worse. Such however is the case with Humphrey Littleton, whose unique broadcasting style was the voice tinged with regret that he had ever had anything to do with it.

End of an era.

26 April, 2008

Italian News: Liberation Special

25th April was Liberation Day, the 63rd anniversary of the liberation of Italy from the Germans, marking the end of the Resistance War between September 1943 and April 1945.

Liberazione is one of only three Civil Public Holidays in Italy, the others being Festival of Work (when no one works) on 1st May and Republic Day on 2nd June. There are a further eight religious or semi religious official national holidays making a total of 11, compared to 8 in the UK

With the May Day holiday (Festa di Lavoro) next week some 5.25 million Italians are expected to make a ‘ponte’ or bridge through to Monday 5th May. Most go to the seaside; 25% of those travelling stay in their own holiday home. Italians will spend an average of 329 euros a day on the 10 day break.

Liberation Day was also the occasion of Beppe Grillo’s V-2 Day (F*** off Day 2). He held a rally of 45,000 in Turin and in 400 other locations throughout Italy it is thought that 140,000 have signed his referendum petitions against ‘information fascism’.

There are three referendum petitions: for cancelling the Gasparri Law which regulates the media and permits Berlusconi to control TV channels; abolishing the state controlled union of journalists; stopping state funding of the press, believed to be 1 billion euros a year.

With perhaps a hint of tautology, Grillo described his movement as the ''start of a new Renaissance''. Grillo has been banned from the airwaves since 1987 for upsetting the then leader Bettino Craxi - six years before the late Socialist leader's downfall for corruption.

In 2005, American magazine Time named Grillo one of its European heroes of the year.

The comedian received a bad press in the traditional media, il Giornale running an exposé of his sex life. Il Giornale is owned by Berlusconi’s brother. ‘The sewer rats are leaving the sinking ship’ he said. ‘To find the truth, look at the foreign media and the internet.’ Grillo’s blog is one of the 20 most read in the world.

San Giovanni Rotondo, Puglia: more than 700,000 people have already registered to shuffle past the exhumed and embalmed body of Padre Pio, who died 40 years ago and was canonised in 2002. Padre Pio is even now an enormously popular figure in Italy; his image is displayed in homes, shops, garages, vehicles and piazzas throughout the country. He was said to have stigmata on his hands and feet, although these are apparently not visible on the corpse, to be able to tell the future and to appear in two places at the same time.

Padre Pio is big business in Puglia, worth perhaps 100 million euros per year, employing 7,000 people and involving 140 buildings to receive the 7 million faithful who visit his tomb each year.

‘This is not state aid’, said a spokesman as he confirmed that the State had aided Alitalia by granting it a 300 million euro loan, when its banks refused to lend any more. Ryan Air have made a formal complaint to the EU

Silvio Berlusconi is to resign as the president of Milan next month when he begins his third spell as prime minister of Italy.

He has nearly picked the names of his cabinet, two weeks after the election.

A severed horse’s head and two bullets had been left on the staircase of the office of Vincenzo Pomes, deputy mayor of Ostuni, Puglia. He said he could not explain why such a thing could happen..

The final run off to the elections for Rome’s mayor takes place this Sunday and Monday. In the primary election the centre left candidate Francesco Rutelli (nicknamed ‘Cicciobello’, the name of a popular baby doll) had a modest lead over the Centre Right candidate Gianni Allemanno but insufficient to prevent a second contest. If Alemanno wins it will be the first tie since the war that Rome has not had a left-wing government.

The priceless marble head of Roman Empress Faustina the Elder, adoptive mother of Marcus Aurelius, is among pieces that went on show in Rome on Thursday as part of an annual exhibition dedicated to stolen works recovered by Italian art police. Around 100 valuable paintings, statues and manuscripts including a letter by 19th-century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and a drawing by Vincent Van Gogh are on display at Castel Sant'Angelo.

A series of graffiti portraits of fugitive Mafia head Matteo Messina Denaro have appeared on a back wall of Palermo cathedral. The four portraits were in the style of Andy Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe.

The Isle of Capri will host its first Cow Parade exhibition of contemporary art. A total of 26 life-sized fibreglass cows will be strategically placed by emerging artists, especially from the Campania region.

Scientists hunting ‘dark matter’, an invisible substance that holds galaxies together, claim to have found it underneath the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy, together with the rest of Berlusconi’s cabinet.

25 April, 2008

Liberation Day

Today is the Festa della Liberazione and with warm weather forecast many will be making a long weekend of it with more than 10 million cars on the roads.

Millions of people are forecast to be in the streets in protest for Beppe Grillo's V-2 day, which this year concentrates on the desire for a free press. Grillo has come under heavy attack in il Giornale, which is run by the new prime minister's brother.

More details in 'Italian News' on this blog tomorrow morning.

24 April, 2008

Star Wars

According to reports, Barney Jones and his cousin Michael have set up on the island of Anglesey a Jedi Church, worshipping the characters in the Star Wars films, with a congregation of 30.

While practising with their light sabres, presumably a religious ritual, in the garden of their home, one Arwel Wynne Hughes, 27, from Holyhead, dressed in a black bin bag and shouting ‘Darth Vader’ jumped over the garden wall and attacked them, interestingly with a crutch, hitting one over the head and causing a headache and the other on the thigh, causing a bruise. He has been charged with assault, and has said he was drunk at the time.

It is a thing I should have been pleased to do have done sober. This blog does not condone crime, oh no, but I can’t help hoping we see rather more of Mr Hughes in the future, and rather less of the Jones cousins.

Inflation and the Teachers

I haven’t seen this explanation anywhere else so perhaps it’s worth looking at. With heavy increases in government spending when he was Chancellor Gordon Brown obviously caused some inflation. What he did to circumvent it was to fiddle the index.

Inflation is measured as a rise in the price of a basket of goods and services and obviously you can have different things in the basket. When Brown was getting worried he changed the index, from RPI (retail price index) which included mortgage payments, council tax and other things, to CPI (consumer price index) which didn’t. Suddenly inflation was lower! Brilliant economics by the Iron Chancellor!

No, trickery. This is where the teachers come in. Their salaries were reviewed 'independently' according to the CPI and they were given 2.5% but their costs go up with the RPI which is 4%. One teacher interviewed on Sky said her student loan was being repaid in accordance with RPI but her salary had gone up with the lower CPI. All in the same paycheck!

My gut reaction to a teacher’s strike is to condemn it: our children are suffering enough with the appalling education system without being cheated from their schooling by bolshie teachers.

But actually the teachers have a point. To make it they should withdraw from the political levy for the Labour Party and vote for anyone else, Conservative, Liberal, UKIP whatever. They have been shafted to make Brown look good, just as the 10p tax payers have. That's how to make the point.

23 April, 2008

Europe madness

The Mail and the Sun have a story that Brussels is going to divide Europe up into regions, including an Atlantic one stretching from NW Scotland down to Portugal, and a Channel one with Kent and Sussex and a part of Belgium.

Now, I am as eurosceptic as the next man, but this has just a whiff of the April Fool to me, and that not being the date (in fact it’s St George’s Day) I suspect this is a leak designed to embarrass fervent anti-Europeans by tempting them into apoplexy.

The W Midlands doesn’t seem to get into anyone’s region at all, lucky chaps

22 April, 2008

Education and Labour

Many of the blogsites, particularly Guido, have been amusing on this. Labour's election site is headlined 'Excellance (sic) for all'.

Which pretty well sums up the whole damn thing.


News that AirFrance has pulled out of their Alitalia bid must surely start people wondering whether Italy needs an airline at all. It has always had union troubles (it used to be that all the staff had to live in Rome, and were flown up to Milan and back every day!) and indeed failure to obtain union assurances was one of AF-KLM’s reasons. But there are others.

Alitalia loses money, its planes are out of date, the baggage handling is awful and it is impossible to use it for business because its timekeeping is so erratic.

It is being kept going as a matter of pride, but it is a pride that Italy can no longer afford.

21 April, 2008

Happy Birthday Rome

Rome celebrates its 2,761st birthday today.

Italians sing Happy Birthday to you to the same tune as the British, their words being 'Tanti auguri a te'.

In fact the date was calculated roughly using estimated times for the kings to have reigned before the founding of the Republic, then the historian Varro in the 1st century AD plucked a date out of thin air, but it got imperial approval so must have been right.

In fact there are traces of settlements in the area as much as 10,000 years old.

19 April, 2008

Italian News - Post Election Fever!

The election was comprehensively won by Silvio Berlusconi with substantial majorities in both houses. Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord, part of the Berlusconi coalition, did well with 8% of the vote.

Extreme parties from left and right were eliminated, giving Italy effectively a two party system for the first time in its history.

Jostling for ministries has begun, but Berlusconi is out of contact at his Sardinian villa with Vladimir Putin.

Berlusconi has made his position on women clear. The women of the right are more attractive than those of the left. His Spanish counterpart Zapatero has too many women in his administration making it impossible to govern. He will have four women out of twelve top posts. Tipped for promotion are the lawyer Giulia Buongiorno and the former Miss Italy contestant Mara Carfagna.

The timetable from here is not frantic: two weeks after the election, on April 29th will be the first session of Parliament. At this time MPs elected in more than one constituency must decide which they intend to represent. Then there’s the May Day holiday and a couple of extra days off. After that, on May 5, Government consultations begin. Given this time frame, Italy should have a new government raring to go by the middle of May.

The election for Rome’s mayor will go to a run-off between Francesco Rutelli of the left and Gianni Allemanno of the Right.

Former health minister Girolamo Sirchia, the man behind Italy's smoking ban, has been convicted of accepting kickbacks in a trial into corruption at a hospital in Milan.

Several Italian papers published a picture which purported to show a friend of Miuccia Prada, the head of the fashion house and left wing supporter, unable to reach the steps of her private plane, getting his bodyguard to lie on the ground and stepping on him. The tale was strongly denied by a Prada spokesman.

A man from Lecco has been sentenced to ten days in prison and fined 40 euros for ogling a woman on a train. She claims his looks were offensive, he claims he could not help looking at her because they were in the same compartment.

Every newspaper in Italy is given a subsidy by the State, which costs a total of 1 billion euros per year

Guinness World Records have confirmed that an American health food supermarket has entered the record books for the largest number of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels cracked open simultaneously, 270. The Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium decrees that the cheeses should be prised open rather than cut, and that five different knives are used in the process. Shortest time taken was 81 seconds. The cheeses weigh around 40 kilos.

The most recent figures also show that 20% of all smokers in Italy are aged between 15 and 24, numbering more than 1.2 million in total.

The Court of Cassation said living together outside wedlock offended none of society's rules or customs and broke no Italian law. Nearly half of all young couples setting up home for the first time have not yet taken their vows and have no immediate plans to do so.

There were 250,000 weddings in 2005 compared to 419,000 in 1972. This may be due to the high cost of marriage, which has increased by 40% in the last seven years to an average of 27,000 euros.

Further development of Rome’s newest underground line has been halted by the discovery of an ancient marble staircase underneath the Piazza Venezia, the square where Benito Mussolini gave his speeches.

Vincenzo Di Costanzo, a former church custodian of Forli’ is on trial for faking an incident in which a statue of the Virgin Mary wept tears of blood in the city's Santa Lucia Church in March 2006. Police say Di Costanzo dripped his own blood onto the face of the statue in an attempt to simulate a miracle.

There has been a number of such attempts in recent years including one couple who tried to charge people to see a weeping statue in their garden.

Only 43% of businesses and 34% of households regularly use the internet in Italy, putting it 4th from bottom in the EU tables, ahead only of Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. The number of schools connected was however higher than the EU average.

In 1970 30% of university teachers were over 45; today that figure is 70%.

Both Japan and China have lifted their bans on Mozzarella.

The Palazzo Guinigi in Lucca is staging an exhibition ‘The Greatest Italian Comic Artists’ but have been reminded the election was last week.

18 April, 2008


The Daily Mail points out that food costs are rising by 15% while inflation is under 3%. This is happening all over Europe. The reason is that the inflation index includes lots of electronic products made in China which have fallen in price, keeping the average low, whilst the Chinese have to eat, pushing food process up.

I once wrote to the Telegraph suggesting they should publish, jointly with an accountancy firm, a number of inflation indices according to what different types of people spent their money on – middle class retired, young families on benefits etc. They talked the idea up for a while (claiming it as their own, natch) then did nothing. It would be interesting reading.

Unfortunately 3% inflation is already too high, and since Central Banks have to target headline rates, they raise (or don’t sufficiently lower) interest rates. Thus while the amount households have available to spend is falling (by £2,000 a year, some estimates say) governments impose a restrictive, deflationary regime on the economy, just when we don’t need it!

The solution? The Chinese should start growing food, and stop making plastic toys.

Mr Brown

Amidst all the talk about Gordon Brown it is worth remembering that it can’t be easy being a long-serving deputy. You have supported your predecessor through thick and thin, and when the time comes to take over you find it difficult to look like something new. And you are, in part, responsible for whatever mire the country is in.

The last fifty years have thrown up four dominant figures in British politics: Macmillan, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair, all succeeded by weak administrations: Eden, Callaghan, Major and Brown. And each long serving Prime Minister, succeeded by a weak deputy, has given way to a long serving one from the other side.

Good omen for Mr Cameron?


Watching a thunder sorm, I reflected that as a child I was told to count the seconds affter the lightning and when you heard the thunder that was how many miles away the storm was. Utter tosh, I now find.

For our purposes the speed of light, at 300,000 km per second is infinite. Sound (thunder) travels at 344 metres a second, so it is about a mile for every 5 seconds.

Apologies if you knew this already

16 April, 2008

Mr Brown visits America

This is what we know about Gordon Brown's trip to the US.

1 In trouble at home he decides to look the world statesman and copy Tony Blair’s shtik about being a bridge between Europe and America. Assumes neither Bush nor Merkel have a 'phone.

2 Neither the Foreign Office (which used to be described as the Rolls Royce of civil service) nor the hordes of highly paid minions Brown-nosing the PM have realised that this is the time of the Pope’s visit to the US, a guy who can draw crowds in the millions.

3 There is no plane, not even a British Airways one, so they hire something which seems to have both the setting sun and half the European flag painted on it

4 Arriving he makes a speech saying he wants America to show the sort of world leadership it showed after the war. Calculated (or more probably clumsy) insult to Bush. As one US website said, ‘Expect Bush to respond by paying a lot more attention to the Pope.’

Mr Brown made p12 of the Washington Post. How do you feel about this man representing you?

Italy's Election Results

Italy’s Election Results

It’s worth having a look at the scale of Berlusconi’s success, if only because it doesn’t seem to be understood by much of the foreign media. He said yesterday that Italy could function like a proper Western democracy, with one large party in government and one large party in opposition. Let’s see.

At the last election, in the House of Deputies 37 parties stood, and 13 achieved some representation. This time 30 stood and 7 are represented. The extreme right and the extreme left have been obliterated, the communists without a seat for the first time since the war.

Berlusconi’s dominance is clear. Whilst Michael Moore writes in today’s Telegraph ‘Silvio Berlusconi knows he cannot govern without Bossi's support’ the picture is much more in the PM’s favour. In the House, Berlusconi’s PdL and the tiny MpA have 280 seats. He will not need Bossi’s Lega Nord’s 60 seats to beat the others: the PD, IdV and others can total only 277. In the Senate the story is the same. Berlusconi without Bossi can muster 143 seats whereas the others between them make 133.

Only Bossi voting with the left is going to upset Berlusconi. But he won’t do that. Silvio is safely in.

15 April, 2008

Spring is springing

Bursting out all over, here in Umbria. The pictures show sangiovese vines (ie Chianti, Brunello) coming into leaf and a vineyard which needs ploughing.
Something I have seen nowhere other than Italy is wild asparagus, which is in season now. Thinner and with a stronger flavour than the cultivated, it grows on the edge of woodland and whole families go out hunting it. A local farmer brought me a large bunch with some fresh eggs to make an omelette, frittata degli asparagi selvatici; food for the Gods!
For more about gardens and agriculture in Italy see http://giardinoumbro.blogspot.com/

A big win for Silvio

Whilst everyone had been saying that he might fluke a win in the lower house but that the electoral system would never permit someone a clear majority to govern, Silvio Berlusconi has confounded them all. A clear majority in both houses, the far left wiped out.

We must hope he uses this majority to do something for Italy, this time.

13 April, 2008

Labour elections?

The Sunday papers are full of who might succeed Gordon Brown. Nonsense is what I say.

Replacing him would have to be done in October. In the meantime even the working up of a stalking horse will drag Labour through the mire in the press. Don’t forget Murdoch likes to back winners. Then the scrabbling for candidacy to let the public see the sheer staggering mediocrity of the competition: Harriet Harman, Blinky Balls, the peculiar Milliband, Jacqui Smith, the chap who used to be a postman; then the election itself (don’t expect Gordon Brown to say ‘well, actually I am a bit of a prat’ and withdraw) with speeches against each other and backbench MPs making heartfelt deliberations on the pages of the Rotherham Evening Argus; then someone emerges blinking into the sunlight as the new leader having upset all the other big beasts. It is the end of 2008 and he or she has one year before another general election has to be called, to capture the public mood, turn policy around and get a war chest together.

I am sure the Labour rank and file doesn’t have the stomach – or, by the way the money – for this fight. And they have too much good sense. They will duck it and reluctantly play the cards they have dealt themselves. And it isn’t too strong a hand.

12 April, 2008

Italian News Election Special

Ballot boxes at 61,225 voting stations across the country will be open from 8am on Sunday to 3pm on Monday April 14. Of Italy's 58.2 million population, 47.3 million are entitled to vote for the House and 43.3 million for the Senate (for which you have to be over 25). They cannot vote for a candidate, but for a grouping or a party within a grouping.

A total of 32 candidates are standing for premier, among whom

Silvio Berlusconi who has said he will introduce sanity tests for judges.

Self-professed Fascist Daniela Santanche' who believes the 71-year-old Berlusconi has an ''obsession'' with her. She has told her supporters, however, that she will never give herself to him. So no luck, there, Silvio.

Giuliano Ferrara, 58, a former communist, standing on an atheist, anti-abortion ticket. In Bologna, Ferrara was pelted with eggs and fruit and had to be rescued by police.

Renzo Rabellino, whose party is The List of the Talking Cricket-No Euro. This refers to the insect, otherwise it would receive this blog’s undiluted endorsement. He also campaigns to reopen brothels and bring back military service.

The Leader of the Green Party and former Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio is under investigation for corruption after allegedly accepting free trips and hotel rooms.

Milly d’Abbraccio (literally Milly of the embrace, her real name is Emilia Cucciniello) a 44 year old surgically enhanced porn star who is standing for the Socialists in Rome has adopted for her posters the catchphrase ‘Enough of these Bum-Heads’ accompanied by a picture of her bottom.

In Other News,

The dish of Linguine ai datteri (sea dates), banned ten years ago because the molluscs bury into the sea-floor which is then destroyed by explosives in order to harvest them, is back on the menu. Fishermen have encouraged them to burrow into newly laid cement which can therefore be destroyed with impunity.

Caterina Annarumma, from Naples, conducted a 30-year affair with a married man and secretly bore him 12 children, selling them for £250 each to wealthy couples. She has now confessed to police.

Gambero Rosso, the restaurant review, conducted a competition for the best carbonara (pasta, eggs, pecorino cheese and cured pig cheek). The winner was Nabil Hadj Hassen, a Tunisian, of Antico Forno Roscioli; second was an Indian.

Italy consumes 48,000 tonnes of garlic a year, which equates to a small clove a day for every man, woman and child.

Investigators have discovered 70 million litres of illegal wine for sale at 70 euro cents (56p) per litre. It contained only 20-40% wine with the rest made up of water, sugar, fertilizers, manure and acids. No reports as to how it tasted.

Italian confectionery giant Ferrero has won a long-running case against a Chinese producer that copied its Ferrero Rocher chocolates, incredibly.

South Korea has lifted its ban on the import and sale of buffalo milk Mozzarella from Italy

Luca Luciani, general manager of Telecom Italia, told sales staff to take Napoleon as their role model, in particular l’Empereur’s performance at the Battle of Waterloo. ‘Everybody thought Napoleon had had it, beaten by the supremacy of his adversaries.’ runs the You Tube capture, ‘He had five great nations against him... but with strategy, clear ideas, determination and strength, Napoleon made Waterloo his masterpiece’. He finished with ‘Go ahead and score like Napoleon at Waterloo’. TI sales are reported to be flat, except in Elba.

A thief in Bologna smashed a car window, reached in and snatched the watch from the wrist of a 73-year-old man, but realising it wasn't a Rolex he threw it back and rode off.

Professor Aldo Di Carlo of Rome's Tor Vergata University is leading a drive to produce medical and security scanning waves that could be a better and safer alternative to X-rays. Teraherz-waves could scan an entire airport lobby without causing tissue damage to the people.

Devil worshippers have stolen at least 30 black cats to use in Black Masses in Pisa.

Mussolini's grandson is trying to have Il Duce’s execution declared illegal, while Alessandra, a granddaughter, is standing for parliament again, as a Fascist.

57% of Italians would sacrifice some pay if this meant they had more time to read, according to a poll.

Harry’s Bar in Venice is offering a 20% discount to Americans, making a dry martini as cheap as a car.

There was a minor earthquake in Rome this morning, making a contrast to the dull election campaign.

11 April, 2008

Vote Italy!

Confusing problems with symptoms

The Italian voter has heard enough about Italy’s problems – they’ve been all over the press and, he is aware, the foreign media, for years. Organised crime, a collapsed legal system, the bloated public sector with its concomitant soaring debt, most people can recite them. And they see little for all that public expenditure: Italy has low growth, high unemployment but no unemployment benefit. Wages and pensions are low. Prices are rising. To all this, a range of solutions is offered the voter each time he goes to the polls. This to an extent was what Prodi’s outgoing government was about: with little political baggage he wanted to put himself across as a technocrat who could solve the problems, one by one. And indeed a couple of reforms were implemented. But it was tinkering. You can now have a haircut on a Monday.

But the laundry list of problems has been known about for years; nothing ever seems to be done about them. Are we perhaps confusing problems with symptoms? Are they the result of some more basic malaise? Is the root of it all much deeper? This, I think, is the stage of reasoning that the Italian voter has reached. No further, regrettably, but it is a start. The first, delicate whiff of change is in the air.

Last year there emerged a new movement on the Italian political scene. It was started by a man who had had enough and was prepared to say so. His name is Beppe Grillo, a popular comedian, and he called the movement ‘Vaffanculo’ which means more or less F*** Off. The movement is an expression of rage, often more lucid than the title suggests, against Italy’s bloated, corrupt political institutions. Grillo will not field any candidates but will not endorse, for example, anyone who has been convicted of a serious crime (at least 10% of MPs have).

If it has taken a comic to instigate the climate of change in Italy, a country which has traditionally had an unhealthy respect for its rulers, others are joining. A book by two journalists ‘La Casta’, describing in excruciating detail countless examples of the dishonesty and venality of Italy’s ruling caste, its political elite, became a best seller overnight. Stories started to emerge, such as that of the senator who demanded free ice cream to help him think. Clemente Mastella, Justice Minister and head of a small party in the Prodi coalition, was found to have taken his nephew to a football match at the taxpayers expense using the presidential plane and helicopter. After an investigation into his affairs (which included those of his wife) he was forced to resign and brought the government down.

The outgoing Prodi administration is now seen as having been a function of the problem. It was a rag-tag coalition, which never really agreed on anything and therefore had no policies. It owed its existence to horsetrading and was doomed to failure, as, with hindsight, most Italian governments have been: part of the system, not a solution to it.

The present election begins in this novel political climate. Two new, larger parties are slugging it out and both quickly latched on to the new mood. Both promise a reduction in government, moving it closer to the people. This is the right talk, but who will the voters believe? Walter Veltroni, the uncharismatic but honest looking former communist youth leader, latterly mayor of Rome, or Silvio Berlusconi the billionaire property and media mogul suspected of mafia links and a regular in the courts?

Much of the foreign press, wrongly in my view, sees Berlusconi’s lead in the polls as Italy choosing the soft option: falling for the knockabout charm, hoping that the man who made billions for himself can magic up a result for them. The foreign media will be publicly outraged if he wins (although privately pleased because he is at least good copy) and will suggest Italy has become some sort of pariah. In Britain or Germany a short, slightly vulgar right wing billionaire, who sometimes seemed more of a comic turn than a serious act and did nothing in his last term except keep himself out of prison, would be an unlikely candidate. He would certainly not have the youth vote sewn up. And yet this, incredibly, is what Berlusconi has managed, and what most of Europe can’t grasp.

Young people in Italy see Veltroni as an insider, the sort of politician Italy has produced for years. Worthy, perhaps, but almost whatever he says he cannot be seen as the herald of the change they want. Against that, Berlusconi might be just like he was last time: he might talk a lot and change nothing. But, then again, he just might. He just might.

08 April, 2008


Reduced to typing with one hand at the moment due to illness, just wondered if anyone could help me with this. The Olympic torch comes to London and the eyes of the world are on us and everyone knows that Londoners travel in big red buses and the policemen wear tall blue helmets. OK I know the buses have gone. But our boys appear in poofy white designer cycle helmets. Why?

And that’s aside from the question of why police from another country were let in to muscle the citizens about. Were they armed? Who took the decision to allow it? The Home Secretary?

05 April, 2008

Italian News 5th April

No opinion polls in the run up to the April 13th election but Berlusconi’s party People of Freedom is widely reported to be ahead, albeit by varying margins. There is a rumour however that the Church is withdrawing its support in favour of Pier Ferdinando Casini’s UDC party.

It is thought that perhaps one fifth of Italian voters will vote on religious lines

The Democrazia Cristiana party (DC) which was banned from the election for having a similar symbol to that of the UDC (a white shield with a red cross) has won its right to compete and claimed the election should be postponed to give it its statutory 30 days campaigning. They have now agreed to run a shortened campaign.

The DC is led by a Sig. Giuseppe Pizza.

British Airways is offloading thousands of suitcases to a warehouse in Italy in an attempt to cope with the backlog of 19,000 bags at Terminal Five, perhaps aware that stuffing the suitcases into a warehouse instead of handing them to their owners is an Italian speciality.

To the horror of her relatives, graphic pictures of the dead body of Meredith Kercher, murdered in Perugia last year have been shown on Italian TV

Italian fashion house Prada saw its best year ever in 2007 and is now waiting for the right moment to enter the stock market, CEO Patrizio Bertelli said

The 42nd Vinitaly, Italy's trade fair for wine and grappa, is being held in Verona until 7th April. Over 150,000 visitors from more than 100 countries are expected to attend.

A man shot an illegal dentist in Rome after an operation worsened his toothache. The impersonator, who practised in his ex-wife’s flat, pretended to have been robbed so he could continue his trade. Police have not traced the assailant.

Franco D'Eusanio, a winemaker from the Abruzzo, makes specialist wines for the male, the female and the ''ambiguous''. He says that everyone is not just male or female and that these aspects of their personality can be identified through their sense of taste.

In Turin the local government is expecting to save 30,000 euros in gardeners’ fees by grazing sheep in the city’s parks. Two herds will graze in the parks for two months.

The Supreme Council of Magistrates has given a reprieve to Judge Edi Pinatto, after the Justice Minister requested his immediate suspension. Pinatto allowed Mafia bosses free because he failed to write up their sentence for eight years

Maurizio Prato, chairman of Alitalia, resigned after the collapse of the talks with Air France saying "This airline is cursed. Only an exorcist can save it."

A woman from La Spezia fell for an exorcist during sessions to drive out a demon and made his life hell after he rejected her. When the priest refused to see her again she sent him ''indecent and dangerous'' love letters and threw fits outside his door, sparking protests from his neighbours. He finally reported her to the police when she set fire to his doorbell.

A priest in Florence, together with 13 of his associates, are under investigation for fraud by performing fake exorcisms. Prosecutors said that Father Francesco Saverio Bazzoffi would stage shows at the ‘House of the Sainted Archangels’.

During the events, which regularly attracted crowds of over 400 people, a number of associates would pretend to be possessed by demons and Fr Bazzoffi would ‘exorcise’ them, often chanting in Aramaic.

He would then offer to "heal" members of the audience who were sick, and solicit donations to his organisation. Fr Bazzoffi was found to have 5 million euros in his bank account, more than enough to save Alitalia.

03 April, 2008

Alitalia - the end?

I mentioned on 17th March that the deal between Air France-KLM and Alitalia seemed far from a sure thing and now it seems to have got seriously iffy. Silvio Berlusconi has said he would not support the deal – that is presumably to say that he would not agree to sell the government stake in the airline – and it looks as if he will be Prime Minister within a fortnight. Naturally the purchasers want a little more security than this but it is in part their fault for being so slow. Now the unions have refused to accept the 2,100 redundancies proposed by Air France and the French have pulled out of talks, leaving their offer on the table. The airline has run out of money; it must find a buyer, which would trigger a state funded bridging loan, or go into administration, within days.

This is a country where last minute surprises often emerge from the hat, and Europe has no more skilled prestidigitator than Silvio Berlusconi, but it does seem as if a bitter awakening is taking place here in Italy, this following the news that Spain has overtaken it in GDP per head, the Neapolitan rubbish and mozzarella scandals and so on. On this issue Italy should be pragmatic: if the people wake up one morning to find there is no national airline it will be a blow to their pride, but one that is easily overcome. Life will go on.

The next government must seek to manage expectations, however, because there will be more surprises like this one. I was disappointed to hear some of the rash, unaffordable promises made in the election campaign. Caution is needed right now, not brash posturing. Rude awakenings, if they happen at all, should happen gradually.