Articles by: Maria rita Latto

  • Facts & Stories

    The Israeli Question: Sparks Fly At Turin's Book Fair


    The decision to select Israel as guest of honor at the International Book Fair in Turin, held from the 8th to 12th of May, has aroused a vivacious debate among Italian, Israeli and Arab authors and intellectuals. Even months earlier, when the communication that Israel—this year celebrating its 60th anniversary as a nation—had been chosen as the Book Fair’s guest of honor, the protests started. Those opposing the Israeli presence made calls to boycott the event, which is Italy’s largest annual gathering of the publishing world. The motivation for the protests is Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.


    “The aim of culture and literature is not to build barriers among people, but to open up to others,”: these are the words of  novelist and playwright A. B. Yehoshua, who tried to respond and create a dialogue with opponents of the initiative. Since the date of the announcement, many Italian intellectuals and artists sent a letter to the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, asking him to preside over the opening of the fair and to speak out “against any discrimination and blind intolerance towards the citizens and culture of Israel.”


    The book fair, established 21 years ago, had never stirred so many polemics in its history, and Rolando Picchioni, president of the Foundation for Books, Music and Culture, which runs the fair, reminded: “Some years ago we honored Catalonian writers, and they essentially presented themselves as an independent state, but Spain didn’t protest.” Vincenzo Chieppa, a local leader of the Italian Communist Party, raised the objection that a “prestigious event like the book fair can't pretend it doesn't know what's happening in that part of the Middle East,” and that it would have been positive to ask the Palestinian Authority to send some authors, and become a second special guest. “It would be good to use the fair as an opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation between the culture of Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Chieppa said. The organizers, however, disagreed. “A country has to be able to come to the fair without being counterbalanced by another country,” Mr. Picchioni said. “What’s next? If we honor Russia, do we also have to invite Chechnya? Or what about China? Do we bring in Tibet?”


    It appears evident that when the facts focus on Middle Eastern conflicts, everything inevitably becomes “politics”, and even a cultural event, such as a book fair, has deeper ramifications that go beyond mere culture. 


    Through the months, small groups of protesters connected with local pro-Palestinian organizations, stormed the book fair offices in Turin, asking that the invitation to Israel be rescinded. Their statement of protest was clearly explained in a pamphlet distributed during the demonstrations: “We are appalled to see the world of culture take the side of those who methodically operate to annihilate Palestine and the Palestinians.” After the refusal of the Foundation to rescind the invitation, the protesters pre-announced acts of disturbance at the fair.


    The disputes endured until the event’s opening day, but reached their lowest point on May 1st, when, during a rally held at Turin’s San Carlo Square, a group of Italian youngsters and members of a pro-Palestinian movement set Israeli and American flags on fire. Of course the incident was strongly condemned by leaders of Italy's Jewish community, while the protesters said: “We realize that our act was harsh, but what is even harsher is the daily killing of Palestinian civilians.”


    Italian President Giorgio Napolitano inaugurated the Turin fair by saying: “No dialogue is possible if there is a refusal to recognize Israel.” The new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said that Italians are closer to Israel than any other people, saying protesters who targeted the fair earlier in the week represented "0.00 percent" of the population.


    The demonstrators were supported by Italy's 1997 Nobel Prize winner for literature, playwright and director Dario Fo, for having “raised the problem of the absence of the Palestinian question at the fair”. Fo criticized the organizers for not having invited Palestinian authors.


    The Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan observed that Napolitano was the first head of state to open the fair since its foundation, making it “a political and not a cultural event.” Award-winning Israeli writer, playwright and poet Nava Semel said of the controversy: “I never boycott my enemies because I want to know them. Ignorance breeds fear.”


    President Napolitano arrived in Turin for the inauguration by helicopter along with Israeli novelist Abraham B. Yehoshua. Among the other featured Israeli authors, were David Grossman, Amos Oz, Aaron Appelfeld and Meir Shalev.


    During the five-day expo, several Muslim writers, intellectuals and artists as well as the Free Palestine association, staged a two-day protest seminar at the University of Turin titled “Western Democracies and Ethnic Cleansing in Palestine.”


    Aaron Appelfeld, who is a Holocaust survivor, was asked by some journalists whether he represented Israel. He replied: “I cannot represent a state, I can only represent my thoughts.”


    Yehoshua said, for his part: “The aim of a writer is to create personalities and landscapes, but the other side of my writing is about the Jewish identity in relationship to the Palestinians.”


    On the 10th of May, two days after the inauguration, there was another protest against Israel and, luckily, apart from the usual slogans the situation was held under control by the police and there were no incidents. Similar protests happened during the March book fair in Paris, which also honored Israeli writers.


    At the end of the Book Fair in Turin, the organizers expressed their exasperation at the rumors that had started months ago and that cast a shadow over such a meaningful cultural event. They remarked on the irony of the situation, that a book fair is meant to broaden horizons, not build barriers. Their feelings are well represented by the front-page editorial cartoon in the Corriere della Sera, depicting books that form a Star of David, each with a slogan: “Reading is Freedom.”


  • Facts & Stories

    Terrorism. President Napolitano Takes a Pause for Remembrance

    Last year on May 9, “Memorial Day” was celebrated for the first time in Italy. It was instituted by Parliament thirty years after the murder of Aldo Moro, the President of the Christian Democratic Party. The day chosen for the memorial is the anniversary of Moro’s death, a choice made “in order to remember all national and international victims of terrorism and of the attacks by terrorists.”


    The President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, in a speech that was lauded by all political parties, reminded us of the climate that all Italians lived in those years, the so-called “Anni di Piombo,” when almost every day, on the radio and television, we heard news of attacks, injuries, and murders of university professors, judges, lawyers, journalists, local administrators, leaders of companies, political militants, and policemen. A war declared on the Italian State by the “Brigate Rosse,” was a war fought according to the ideal of social equality but by the worst method to pursue it: innocent people were targeted and condemned to death because of their work in the State apparatus or simply because they were wearing a uniform. It was a war fought not facing the “enemy” in a clear and open way, but one that chose victims clandestinely, unexpectedly striking them during their daily routines, many times, for example, while they were waiting for the bus to go to work, after having dropped off their children at school. Though, it is necessary to make a distinction between terrorism and the bombs in Piazza Fontana and at the station in Bologna, even if still today in both cases there are many shadows and lingering questions that need to be answered, especially with regard to the role of the secret service in our country. 


    In his speech, the President of the Republic expressed the feelings of solidarity that Italians have felt and still feel towards the victims’ relatives, mothers, fathers, wives, and children whose lives since then have been inexorably changed. Giorgio Napolitano also stated that the victims must be remembered. May 9 was not chosen casually as a date; it refers to May 9, 1978, the day in which the fight against terrorism of the State reached its highest level, with the murder of a man who symbolized an entire generation of politicians—politicians who marked the beginning of a new era in Italy, after the end of Fascism and the tragic conclusion to the Second World War, and the Italy’s passing from a monarchy to a republic. Aldo Moro’s sacrifice represents the hundreds of sacrifices that must not be forgotten, and it is necessary to remind younger generations who were born after that bloody season in recent Italian history. The Italian President also criticized the visibility given to former terrorists who frequently appear in the media and are interviewed about their pasts. Napolitano was referring in particular to an interview with a terrorist who killed journalist Carlo Casalegno and expressed his “sorrow” for the relatives of the man he killed years ago. The “sorrow,” in Napolitano’s opinion, does not express real remorse for his actions, but a rather mild repentance. Furthermore, similar statements, together with the attitude of “idealizing” the terrorists who are often seen as dreamers fighting for a better world (an attitude that is clearly visible during some interviews) does not help the victims’ families to feel protected and supported by the State. The President stated in his speech that it is time to stop allowing former terrorists to have their say and occupy a space in the media that they do not deserve, while it is also time to pay an appropriate tribute to all those who were killed by terrorists and died in the name of the State. Anyone who has killed and has paid his debt has the right to enter society again, though according to Napolitano, this should be done with discreet behavior and most importantly by “never forgetting his moral responsibilities,” and not “by looking for media attention in order to justify acts of violence.”


    During his speech the President had to stop at various times, moved to tears.


    The memorial occurs at a deeply significant moment for Italy, ushering in a new season for reflection on our history. It is a moment that has been years in the making and coincidentally arrives at the same time as the inauguration of the new Berlusconi government. It will hopefully bring a sense of reconciliation to a country that for many years has been torn apart by terrorism, by bombs without a clear sender, and more recently, by useless political polemics which result in confusion and erode the trust of most Italians.  

    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)

  • Facts & Stories

    US Press & Pope Benedict XVI’s Trip to the U.S.

    It was a visit full of expectations, mainly because of the sex abuse scandal which has created a deep wound in the American Catholic Church. There was also the curiosity to get to know the apparently “cold” Pontiff who is much more distant than his predecessor John Paul II.


    At the end of this trip it was time for the reaction of the American press, which gave ample coverage of Pope Ratzinger’s visit.


    David Van Biema and Jeff Israely, in the April 18 daily report of the Pope’s visit on Time magazine’s website, express their perplexity about Benedict XVI’s speech at UN. The title is rather direct, “The Pope’s Quiet Case for the UN,” and the two journalists give their opinion on this event: “Anyone expecting the Pope to pull off the Fisherman’s shoe and bang the lectern, as Nikita Khrushchev did in United Nations legend, was disappointed. As is becoming typical of Benedict XVI’s American visit — in which impromptu remarks to the press aboard his plane and during a private meeting with sex-abuse victims have routinely outshone speeches previously billed as ‘important’ — the Pope talk at the U.N. billed as ‘watershed,’ was somewhat low-key.” Van Biema and Israely see that during the Pope’s trip “big, unexpected gestures that make headlines today alternate with more subdued lectures that may educate us in his subtleties long after he is back in Rome. The U.N. speech would be one of the latter.” And the bulk of his talk essentially lauded the UN, and more specifically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights it adopted three years after its founding, whose 60th anniversary was one of the official reasons for the Papal trip.


    In the April 21 issue of Newsweek, Lisa Miller tries to explain “why this Pope doesn’t connect,” why he has done “little to appeal to an American flock that is in need of a serious spiritual catharsis.” Miller sees that the American Catholics are in the most critical moment in their history because of the sex abuse scandal. “Ever since the Second Vatican Council,” according to Newsweek, “the gap between what the church teaches and what the American laity practices has been growing ever wider. According to a 2005 survey by Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio and his colleagues, 58 percent of American Catholics believe you can be a ‘good’ Catholic and disregard the church's teachings on abortion. Sixty-six percent believe you can ignore its position on divorce and remarriage. Seventy-five percent believe you can disregard the ban on birth control. Seventy-six percent think you don’t have to go to church every week.” For Lisa Miller the American Catholics want to “ feel something, a catharsis, a connection to their tradition, a sense that their leaders see and hear how difficult it can be to be a Catholic in this imperfect and chaotic world. Benedict is not the man for this job.”



    An editorial in the Washington Post on April 18 notices that Benedict XVI “opted to speak not only to the Catholics who claim him as their spiritual leader. He spoke to all Americans. His words were a positive reminder of our national character and its potential to do great good; they should serve as a challenge that we hope will outlast the memories of his visit.” This visit was the occasion to meet a pope who has the image of a stern and guarded person, especially when compared to his predecessor, John Paul II. Though, contrary to the expectations of some, Pope Benedict “did not scold, but tried to inspire.”


    For example, in his messages he also acknowledged failures: “No recounting of the American story is complete without mention of the injustices done to Native Americans or to those brought here as slaves.” The pope reserved some of his harshest words for the church’s own failings in dealing with those priests accused of pedophilia who victimized thousands of children entrusted to the church’s care.



    Many articles, inevitably, stress the differences between Benedict XVI and John Paul II, whose canonization is imminent. “Yet,” writes Daniel Johnson in the New York Sun on April 17, “Benedict XVI has swept Americans off their feet, by the simple fact of his transparent, radiant integrity. Here is a figure who, more than any person now alive, represents the conscience of mankind. President Bush was right to greet Pope Benedict XVI as a foe of fanaticism, contrasting those who ‘evoke the name of God to justify acts of terror’ with his ‘message that God is love.’” Johnson observes that in an age of “of moral evasiveness, of equivocation, hypocrisy, and hype, Pope Benedict stands in uncompromising opposition to all that and much more. He faces up to accusations bravely.” Johnson is particularly impressed by the words of the Pope on the airplane to the United States, words expressed to the journalists without any fear: “I am profoundly ashamed. Pedophiles will be completely excluded from the priesthood. It is more important to have good priests than many priests.” These are not the words of “a man who is indifferent to the suffering of the victims. It was important that the pontiff should personally draw a line under what has been a long and traumatic ordeal for American Catholics.” The NYS thinks that the pope still has to fulfill the promise of his pontificate, but this visit to America could represent a crucial step toward doing so. Until now, in Johnson’s opinion, Joseph Ratzinger has seemed a very Eurocentric pope, though in this trip he has reached “the world’s largest and wealthiest Catholic community — wealthy, that is, not only in financial but in intellectual resources.” This richness lies mainly in that America not only has more Catholic universities than the rest of the world, but it also has more impressive Catholic writers and thinkers such as Michael Novak, George Weigel, and Richard John Neuhaus, who have few, if any, equivalents in Europe.



    On April 21, on the Washington Post’s website, Eric Gorski tries to take stock of Pope Benedict XVI’s U.S. visit: “He left behind the impression of a compassionate and candid leader who has made a successful transition from professor to pope. But it’s uncertain whether the pontiff’s six-day pilgrimage, which ended Sunday, will make a lasting imprint on a country he obviously admires.” Gorski notices what other columnists in the United States, and indeed not only there, have already remarked after the speech at the UN: “Benedict did not come to make provocative political statements, opting for measured tones. He spoke of keeping immigrant families together but not specific policy prescriptions. He called for peace but did not publicly address the war in Iraq. He took an unusual journey into the personal, recalling the struggles of his youth in Nazi Germany living under a ‘sinister’ regime.”


    This visit will be remembered for the Pope’s courage in reiterating, beginning with the flight to the United States, the Catholic Church’s shame for the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and for unforgettable moments such as the prayer at Ground Zero. Though, there is also the sense of something missing, such as clearly addressing the situation in Iraq, or statements on the issue of dialog with Islam, this latter issue which characterized previous trips abroad. And there was no condemnation of the death penalty, especially after the Supreme Court’s verdict. These elements all cast a shadow over a visit that otherwise could have been really memorable.


    (Edited by Giulia Prestia)


  • Facts & Stories

    International Press: Italy, a Country Full of Confusion

    Once again the international press dedicated several articles and analysis to the Italian elections. What is really discouraging is that the Italy facing the electoral campaign appears to be a country full of confusion, not aware of the serious crisis affecting it.


    In the April 6 issue  the New York Times Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni are seen by Rachel Donadio as “the usual suspects in a political landscape nearly incomprehensible to outsiders, where the same politicians fade in and out, promising reform and delivering stasis if not decline.” It is a rather depressing scenario, showing a country appearently fitting to a movie or an operetta, with the center-right leader Berlusconi depicted as a “charismatic billionaire” and Veltroni as a “rock ’n’ roll-loving baby boomer who just stepped down as mayor of Rome.” Anyway, there is “a fringe candidate who is different.” Donadio is referring to Giuliano Ferrara, “a Communist turned conservative who is Italy’s most operatic and most mercurial intellectual provocateur. A newspaper editor and former government minister, Mr. Ferrara is best known here as a television talk-show host.”


    According to the New York Times, “Italy’s political life has always been absurd, but Mr. Ferrara’s recent theatrics touch on something deeper. He is a cultural barometer, highly attuned to the desperation of the national mood. More than the real-politiking of the mainstream candidates, Mr. Ferrara, with his insistence on ideas, taps into Italian anxieties about the future of Europe, the loosening of national identities, the rise of immigration, the decline of Christian belief.”


    In his latest incarnation,” continues Rachel Donadio, “Mr. Ferrara is running for Parliament on a small slate devoted to a single issue: ‘pro-life,’ which he defines loosely. An avowed atheist and nonbeliever, he has called for a ‘moratorium,’ but not a ban, on abortion, to call attention to the value of life.” Giuliano Ferrara, is seen as a “longtime player in Italy’s political tragicomedy,” not a particularly nice definition of the present situation in the Belpaese! Then there is the history of Ferrara’s political career, beginning as a Communist militant, passing through his faith in Socialism, and arriving at the conservative side: a personal trajectory that, according to the New York Times, “could be possible only in Italy, where the lines between politics and journalism, ideas and showmanship, appearance and reality, are ever blurred. To his supporters, Mr. Ferrara has admirably undergone transformations his country has been unable to achieve; they applaud him for trying to introduce ideas into a Machiavellian realm of pure politics. To his critics,” continues Donadio, “he is an opportunist, a consigliere ever in search of a new prince, a misogynist meddler trying to draw Catholic votes away from the left.” The conclusion of the article is a merciless portrait of Italy, a country where “a quick look at the major candidates can explain the impulse for radical theatrical gestures, if not perhaps for Mr. Ferrara’s ideas themselves.” In this panorama, in a pre-electoral atmosphere defined as “surreal,” lacking interest, monotonous, Giuliano Ferrara’s “campaign seems a cry for life in a country steeped in death and decline.”

    The April 6 issue of the Washington Post also devotes space to the Italian electoral campaign  In an article with a rather clear title, “Never Say Ciao,” there is a list of quotations without a comment that create a dramatic comparison between Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi. The introduction of the article gives a view of the Italian situation: “’The past isn’t dead,’ wrote William Faulkner. ‘It isn’t even past.’ He wasn’t talking about Italy, but as the country heads to the polls next weekend to usher in its 62nd government since World War II, he certainly could have been. Back on the ballot is former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the country’s richest man and the second longest-serving prime minister since the fall of fascist dictatorBenito Mussolini. Berlusconi was only 8 years old when partisans strung up Il Duce by his feet in Piazzale Loreto in 1945. But from the sound of the debate, you’d think Mussolini were his running mate. In spirit, anyway.” Then, there is a series of quotations by Berlusconi; for example, when he was lamenting the checks on his authority as a prime minister: “Only one man had power, and that’s Mussolini. All the others . . . only had trouble.” Or, conjuring images of the March on Rome by fascist thugs that propelled Mussolini to power in 1922, after the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi collapsed last January: “If we don’t get an election, I think millions of people will go to Rome to demand one.” The quotations of the Washington Post involve Berlusconi’s allies, too. So, there is Giuseppe Ciarrapico, candidate for the Senate in Berlusconi’s coalition, giving a sincere explanation of the reason why portraits of Mussolini hang in the newsroom of the local papers he owns: “It’s a beautiful thing.” Or Daniela Santanchè, hard-right candidate, reminding Alessandra Mussolini, Benito’s granddaughter and Berlusconi’s supporter, that “without Mussolini there would have been no fixed salaries, no national insurance, no rights for women . . . no great architecture and the clearing of the swamps.” The Washington Post gives its readers the image of Italy almost obsessed with the ghost of Mussolini who, after a half a century, is still present in the Italian politics!


    Jeff Israely in a Time magazine article from April 2 entitled “Italian Elections: All Is Not Lost” , gives a hint of hope, reporting from the town of Amendolara in Calabria, a place where there is the attempt to go against the stereotype of Italy’s social topography, with the efficient and prosperous north and “the south beset by poverty, mobsters and bad governance.” Amendolara, like many southern resorts, has serious problems, even though “the mob holds no sway here, and the coastline has so far not been marred by ugly construction projects. This quiet town both defies and embodies the deepest problems of the south — and of Italy as a whole. And it is places like Amendolara, neither blazing northern successes nor clichéd horrors of the south, that are most likely to chart the country’s future.” According to Israely, “the race between former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni comes at one of the lowest moments in post-war Italian history. With the country locked in a vicious cycle of public cynicism and economic malaise, the election does not bode well. Many pundits think the best-case scenario might be a failure by both Berlusconi and Veltroni to win a ruling majority — an outcome that would lead to the formation of a caretaker grand coalition. It is a sad day indeed for democracy when smart people start pulling for both sides to lose.”


    The Time article ends with a wish that is shared by most Italians who are tired of the decline of the Belpaese, highly upset with the “Casta,” and hoping for a rebirth: “Italy needs more leaders willing to err in the pursuit of the public good, and citizens who learn to discard — and not recycle — those whose sole ambition is to cling to power.”



  • Facts & Stories

    Should Italians Abroad Vote? Views from Italy

    One of the country’s most famous columnists, former ambassador Sergio Romano, has always allowed his point of view to be known in his articles, even before the 2006 elections had taken place and long before it had even been possible to gage the effects of such unusual legislation in Italian Parliament. In a column for the Corriere della Sera , written a few days before the past vote (March 31 2006), Romano expressed misgivings on the Tremaglia Law. His title left no room for doubt: “The comedy of the foreign members in Italian Parliament” and the content dealt mainly with the independent candidate from Argentina, Luigi Pallaro, who had made clear “without blushing, that in the Italian Parliament he would vote with the majority”. The reason for his declaration had to be explained by the fact that, coming from Argentina, Pallaro’s central objective was to satisfy the needs of his electors abroad, not to solve the problems of the Italian people. The article ended on a cutting note: “no Italian political party, in the next legislature, should harbour under the illusion that it can count on the representatives of Italians abroad, even when they have been elected in a regular list”.


    Following the elections Sergio Romano dedicated several other articles to the Tremaglia Law. It is interesting to note his response, published in the Corriere, to a letter sent to him last March by an Italian woman living in Argentina. In her letter the sender maintained it was important to have representatives who are capable of transcending the ideologies and attitudes typical of the parties, and who prioritize preserving a link with Italy. Romano once expressed his stance in unequivocal terms: “The task of the Italian Parliament is, above all else, to pass laws in the service of the national community that has to follow them and suffer their consequences. The goals described by the reader could be accomplished by a Council of Italians Abroad having propositional and advisory functions; that would be enough”. The last intervention by Romano on this subject was in the Corriere on March 20th of last year, where he defined the Law allowing Italians abroad to vote for their own representatives as an “awful law”, for a number of reasons. For example no one was able to understand that “the representatives from abroad in reality represent no one” and that once they have settled in the Montecitorio (the deputies’ headquarters) or in Palazzo Madama (where the senate meets), their only aim would be to get re-elected and to consider only the interests of their electors abroad and not those of the Italian nation. Another columnist who has never masked his disdain for the Tremaglia Law is Christian Rocca, a correspondent for Il Foglio living in the United States. In his blog last February Rocca had made an appeal to Silvio Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni to abolish the Tremaglia Law because he believed it to be falsely premised on the idea of “representation without taxation”.


    And let’s not speak of the opinions of some colleagues at Parliament. For instance, Massimo Polledri, representative of the Lega, when talking about the financing of 41 millions of euros given to Senator Pallaro & co., created the nickname “Alì Babà and the 5 Italians from abroad” making a joke on the fairy tale of “Alì Babà and the Forty Robbers”. Not exactly high praise for the Italian representatives elected abroad!


    And…what of the common people? How do they judge the behaviors of the elected senators and deputies abroad? I asked some questions in the neighbourhood in Rome where I live. While drinking an espresso at my usual bar, I asked Piera, 43, the owner, her opinion. She is absolutely against all politicians, and in particular, those from abroad: “Those who live outside Italy should not express opinions; this idea of an electorate abroad is a real blunder! Not to mention the frauds connected with the results of these elections…This law has to be changed soon!”. Giorgia, 24, the worker preparing very delicious cappuccini, who has just become the mother of a baby girl, expresses her opinion: “ I don’t think they had the right to vote, even if they contributed to one positive outcome: getting rid of Silvio Berlusconi “. Andrea, 19, a Forza Italia militant, replies: “Watch out! Who was damaged can take advantage of the situation now! We were damaged before, and now it could happen to the Left too!”. I asked him why in his opinion the voters abroad are not trustworthy and he explained to me: “Haven’t they noticed the actions of senator Pallaro? Haven’t they noticed that he has always sided with those who gave him money…Or rather…OUR MONEY?” Massimo, 18, student, two years ago had been in favour of the vote for the residents abroad, but after these two years has changed his mind: “Seeing their attitude I understood that it was a mistake, that their needs are not ours, and that the better part of their votes in Parliament were meant to protect their interests, not ours”. Cinzia, 62, retiree, agrees: “We saw that it was possible to overthrow a government just with one vote more and it is absurd that disinformed minorities like the Italians living abroad could determine politics in Italy. I hope that this law can be modified”. Alfredo, 47, insurance agent, objects: “Yet, according to the Italian Constitution, being Italian, even if living abroad, they have the right to vote”. “Then--Andrea interrupts-- if they have our same rights, can anyone tell me why the Italians voting in Italy cannot express their preference while they can?” Paolo, 51, owner of the newstand in front of the bar, just arrived to have a cappuccino, gives his perspective on the matter: “It’s not right that there are politicians from abroad, even if they are Italians, because it is absurd that a person paying his taxes in Argentina, just to cite an example, should have the possibility to determine my IRPEF tax rate. It’s not right that the decisions regarding the bridge on the Straits of Messina, the TAV and all internal issues can be decided by an Italian having no appropriate knowledge because he doesn’t live here”. “But above all--Virginia, 33, salesclerk in a nearby supermarket says--Italians living abroad should not elect their own representatives for a very simple reason: it is easy to decide the rules and then not livebythem in person. It is easy to vote for a certain law, and afterward stay in a bar at the Habana, sipping a mojito, while, in the meantime, I am here, fighting for a permanent job!”.


    The exotic touch given to the conversation by the last customer was not at all good for cheering everyone up...! And Piera, the owner of the bar, gave the inevitable conclusion: “You know what? At this point I am so envious of these Italians abroad, who don’t have to deal with our problems!”.

  • Life & People

    Living in Italy

    A note from the editors: How do American expatriates find living in Italy? Do they really enjoy la dolce vita there? And, if we ask them, how can we be sure their answer is sincere?

    Our contributing writer Maria Rita Latto, from Rome, found an answer on the web. She went on “spying” on Americans who live in Italy and are chatting about their problems on a web site… The picture that emerges is very distant from the ideal one you can find in many books and movies about living in Italy. It seems that American families, especially those having teenage children, are having a hard time. Read the piece, find out why, and if your experience has been similar or totally different, or if you just don’t agree and want to replay, please do. Actually it would be very interesting f one of our readers tried the opposite experiment: “spying” on a website of Italians living in USA. It could help us to find out what kind of problems Italians living in America are encountering. But first, Let’s start with this…

    * * *

    Living in Italy is becoming more and more of a challenge for Italians, having to deal with daily absurdities like bureaucracy or the behaviors of those governing the country, just to mention the main causes of chronic nervous gastritis in most people.

    But… how is it for expatriates living in the land of La Dolce Vita, who are mainly Americans, who relocate to the Belpaese for different reasons? The answer can easily be found by browsing the Internet for the various groups of expatriates in Italy, such as There is help for anyone in need of support, advice, and bureaucratic information, to organizing groups to share the same language and habits. It is really surprising and often unpleasant to learn how these expatriates in Italy see the Italians. Take Marco for example, a 30-year-old, living in Scotland but with a dream to make the move to Italy. His words are full of enthusiasm, “it’s a dream I have had all my life (my grandmother is Sicilian) and try to build a life and career in Italy, but most importantly, bring my children up with the Italian culture, and good Italian weather, rather than in soggy, stinking boozy Britain!!”

    This idyllic picture is immediately torn into pieces by the replies of other expats already living the Italian experience. Tonia left the U.S.A. to open a Mexican fast food restaurant in Italy. Her words have the effect of a cold shower, “in my opinion the only way to find satisfying work in Italy is to open something on your own but I must warn you that you would be entering into another world of what it means to do business. Nothing is black and white here and you have to learn the system, which basically is built on the fact that the Italian government is ‘furbo’ and therefore expects that the rest of the population is too, and so sets its laws, taxes and regulations based on that assumption. I wish you luck.”

    Horserider, a stockbroker from the United States who relocated to Italy, tried to suggest a good place to live in Italy. “The South is far more appealing and welcoming...i.e. Calabria, Sicilia, Puglia. People strive to maintain the culture…the flavor of what it used to be. The North is FAR too Americanized!! I love the some of the villages one can still find people riding donkeys…it is charming and if I could, I’d lose myself forever in one of those villages and never leave. I lived there for two years.”

    Here is Anne’s story. ”We lived in Italy for almost three years, my husband is half Italian and thought it would be wonderful, but we both agree that it was a mistake. Yes, the country is beautiful, the food is…hmm…well, the food is good but very boring - three years of pizza and pasta takes its toll on you!!!!” Her analysis starts with food but also goes deeper. “I have two children and I wouldn’t have wanted to bring them up in such a closed community. While we were there we didn’t make a single Italian friend because all the women seem to do is cook and clean for their men, it really is a strange culture for a modern one. We now live in Portugal. We have been here for about three months and it’s everything I hoped Italy would be (and more). The weather and food are fantastic; the people are friendly and very helpful. It really is nice.”

    Tony gives an opinion on the economic issue that is rather severe. ”Italy is more like a second world country but the cost of living here has gotten much worse - even exceeding several of the other G-8 countries.”

    Sarah focuses on the possibility to find a job in Italy for an expat. “Unless you speak fluent Italian your only options are teaching English (the worst job on the planet) or working as a guide, maybe some low level pub job as well.” Then she makes a portrait of the Italians making it sound like some sort of verdict. “Italians don’t really have a culture of goals. They are all about finding a contract job where they don’t have to work much and get lots of holidays.” Then, having married an Italian man she gives her personal experience. “My husband’s mother is always trying to get him to get some lame government job so he doesn’t really have to work. Italians are lazy.” Sarah’s opinion on school is low too. “Life is okay here, but I would NEVER put my children in an Italian school. The girls are total sluts, and the boys are no better. 12 years olds wear t-shirts with inappropriate sayings on them, like ‘F*#! me.’ Young people here have no morals. The age of sex is very young, and if you want your children to remain children, don’t put them in a state school here. I guess it starts at home, since Italians watch so much TV and have little culture in their brains, though the most culture in the world...strange...they have nothing to do but sit around and have sex on their Vespas or in cars. There is really no motivation for young people here to do any good for themselves - to develop their minds. School here is all about regurgitating facts, not actually using reason, logic, critical thinking, or artistic skills. If you do come, I suggest private schools for your children.

    Another Sarah gave her opinion on the intellectual level of Italians who “do not spend their days discussing cultural ideals. They watch more TV than any other nation in Europe and it’s awful - game shows, topless women on TV all the time. If any of your children are female, I would certainly not bring them up in Italy where they are taught to be the servants of men basically - wash for them, cook for them and are often ignored and pigeon-holed. They are overly fashion-conscious and spend all their money on clothes and mobile phones with which they are obsessed. They really don’t look to their own history and culture and borrow from English and US culture for all new ideas.” Her analysis of the Italian way of life ends with a sociological conclusion regarding the impossibility to visit national parks; “there are condoms all over the place from these idiots who will never leave their mother’s home and therefore the only option is to have sex outdoors polluting all the natural beauty of Italy.”

    A brilliant suggestion for those intellectuals who analyze the daily Italian reality but had never reached such a simple and yet unexpected explanation…

    Cheri, an American teacher living in Rome, agrees with the other expats, saying that in Italy it is a difficult life. Though, at the end of her statement, there is a little ray of consoling light, not much, indeed, the Italians reading all the expats’ opinions and painfully agreeing with the best part of them. “Of course, there are the absolutely wonderful days and the joy still of passing the Coliseum on the way to work each day and walking along the river in the evenings…”