Italy Love it or Leave it

Italy love it or leave it

I just discovered this great docu-film about two young Italians who are faced with a difficult decision: to stay in the homeland and fight for a better Italy or leave and chase the promise of a better future, following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Italians, like Greeks The film ends with the title of my TED talk: “La vita è troppo breve per non essere italiani” (“Life’s too short not to be Italian”).

It is a dilemma I too find myself confronted with, even as an expat. In the words of one fo the interviewees: “Fa più rumore un’albero che cade che una foresta che cresce” (“A falling tree makes more noise than a growing forest”). An important reminder that no matter where we go there will be pros and cons and sometimes we have more to gain from staying and fighting than running away.

Official Trailer

Holocaust Remembrance Day in Turin

Today, to my shame, I forgot what day it was. I remembered only when a colleague called me up to ask me to see if any Vatican sources had published articles about it. 27 January 2016: International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Soviet troops. But the author of the article I read at the link below, is right: Forgetting is not the worst enemy of remembrance. Manipulation of the facts, superficiality, confusion and excessive obsession are. As I was reminded when I watched “Labyrinth of Lies” this evening. A dear friend of mine – who was also oblivious to what day it was as well as to how perfect her choice of film was – invited me to watch this film by Italian actor and producer Giulio Ricciarelli. The real test for any writer, director, artist etc.,  when so much food for thought has already been given on a subject, even on an event as horrific as the Holocaust, is to move an ordinary person like me to tears when they have not lived that event themselves. Better still if it inspires them to take action! This film certainly moved me. And it confirmed something which the abovementioned article says: The starting point for not turning the commemoration of the Holocaust into something banal or letting Holocaust Remembrance Day gradually transform into a merely rhetorical and superficially celebrated date, is perhaps reflecting on the price that is paid for remembering. And by that I mean the pain that it causes, not just the sense of shame the film talks about. It is only by listening to the personal story of each individual, by letting their voice guide us through the door of memory and into their experience, it is only by seeking out the details, as the article writer says that we ensure our memory of the Holocaust never dies. This day is not only important as a remembrance of the past and a time to honour the dead but also as a lesson for the present and the future. The Holocaust is a strong reminder of what we are capable of as humans no matter what age we are born into and of how discrimination can lead to hatred and obsession and this in turn to coldblooded killing, ISIS being one of today’s prime examples. The challenge we face when remembering a painful event like the Holocaust is finding a balance between ensuring that the respect we feel for the pain suffered by millions of men and women never fizzles out and not becoming caught up in an obsessive frenzy for revenge. As the neuropsychiatrist Gabriel Levi wrote: “Memory can only guide us toward freedom if this memory is not trapped in a prison of painful repetitiveness”.

This time last year I stood up in front of a large audience at Turin’s Teatro Agnelli and took part in a collective reading of one of Erri De Luca’s books, “Il Torto del Soldato”, about a war criminal who slipped back into ordinary everyday life when World War II ended, believing that the only thing there was to feel ashamed about was losing the war. I accepted the task at the last minute, knowing pitifully little about the plot. As I stood on the stage and began to read his beautiful words I realised what I wonderful thing I had agreed to do. Remembering the tragedy of the Holocaust should make us realise how lucky we are for the gift of life and freedom.

Il prezzo della memoria

Labyrinth of Lies

Venice Gay Pride: Mayor Brugnaro ‘wants to ban parade’

 Luigi Brugnaro (Photo by AP)

Luigi Brugnaro (Photo by AP)

BBC News

The mayor of Venice has been quoted as saying that he will try to ban Gay Pride parades in the city, provoking fury from gay rights activists.

“There will be no gay pride in my Venice,” Luigi Brugnaro told La Repubblica newspaper, describing the event as farcical and kitsch.

However, he said he was not homophobic, insisting he had friends who were gay.

The head of an Italian gay rights group criticised the mayor and invited him to join the next Pride parade in Venice.

“We will be back next year and we invite the mayor to march at the head of the parade with us,” Flavio Romani, from the Arcigay group, told AFP news agency. “That way he will see what a Gay Pride really is.”

He accused the mayor of trying to impose his views on a “cosmopolitan city”.

In the interview with La Repubblica newspaper (in Italian), Mr Brugnaro said he firmly opposed hosting the parade in Venice.

“Let them go and do it in Milan, or in front of their own homes,” he was quoted as saying.

Mr Brugnaro earlier provoked controversy by withdrawing books that depicted same-sex families from Venice’s nurseries and primary schools.

The British pop star Elton John was among those who condemned the move, calling the mayor “boorishly bigoted” in an Instagram post.

Mr Brugnaro responded on Twitter by accusing the singer of arrogance.

The businessman was elected as mayor in June on a centre-right platform.

Link to original article:

Berlusconi wants you

Last week I started noticing some rather threatening looking posters around Turin, picturing a stern-faced man pointing his finger at me and telling me “I want you!” After thinking to myself: “No thanks, I’d rather not!” I looked closer to see what it was about and saw that it was one of Mediaset Premium’s attempts to lure customers into signing up by promoting its coverage of the 2014-2015 football season. It’s slogan: ‘Premium. Vero calcio per veri tifosi’ (“Premium. Real football for real fans”). Its testimonials: Filippo Inzaghi and Carlos Tevez (the scary-looking, gorilla-like man I had been turning my nose up whilst on the number 16 on my way to work). Yes, Mediaset’s poster was in fact inspired by Alfred Leete’s famous wartime illustration of the stern-eyed Lord Kitchener. Or more likely by the Uncle Sam version. Tevez probably does a better job at imitating Lord Kitchener than feeble-faced Inzaghi does, but that’s by the by! The Italians got their marketing strategy bang on if they intended the launch of the campaign to closely coincide with the WWI centenary commemorations – I wonder if it was deliberate. The BBC informs that the WWI poster was in fact initially intended only as a front cover design for the London Opinion magazine on 5 September 1914. But in the minds of most it still remains a symbol of Britain’s WWI recruiting campaign. Lord Kitchener was seen as a great symbol of army and empire. Do your duty for King and country was the crux of it. Mediaset too is a great symbol of an empire: the Berlusconi media empire. I cannot help but point out the irony of the comparison between the wartime slogan (1) and this modern-day marketing interpretation (2); between the emotional blackmail of 1’s patriotic call for men to enlist and the emotional blackmail of 2 which plays with the Italian public’s consumerist pride and calls into question their worthiness and loyalty as football fans: “Real football for real fans”. This is where the “dark heart of Italy” reveals itself but only behind an opaque curtain – though not quite so opaque to the foreign observer. Not only is it covertly recruiting people to fund and protect Berlusconi’s TV empire, it is the umpteenth example of how he has sought to shape or rather manipulate Italy’s vision of “reality” by imposing his own “values” and viewpoint. “Eighty per cent of Italians use television as their main source of information,” according to Swedish-Italian director Erik Gandini who directed the award-winning film “Videocracy” about the power of celebrity culture in Italy and the role of Berlusconi’s media empire. Many Italians are ironically funding their own lifelong course of Berlusconian brainwashing. A more serious example of this was when he was put on trial for prostitution and abuse of office back in 2011 (remember Ruby the Heart Stealer?). The New York Times quotes Aldo Grasso (a television critic for top Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera) saying Berlusconi called a meeting with the directors of Mediaset’s news programmes and editors of newspapers he owns and co-owns to talk about how the scandal and the trial was going to be covered. When the ex scandal was uncovered, Berlusconi yet again accused Italian prosecutors of a “judiciary coup” – he and Mediaset do seem to be rather fond of war imagery!
Thankfully I don’t own a television here in Italy.

Maurizio Gasparri’s insult-o-mathon


Source: LaPresse

Rather paradoxically, the endless string of insults which Maurizio Gasparri fired at the English like machine gun bullets Saturday, could almost have put Shakespeare to shame. In terms of inventiveness and speed that is. Certainly not wit. In fact had William still been with us today, he may have even taken his hat off to Gasparri for his mastery of the art of insulting, were said insults not aimed at his own kind.

I am referring, of course, to the offensive comments which the former Communications Minister under Silvio Berlusconi’s government and current deputy speaker of the Italian Senate, launched against the English people after Italy’s World Cup victory over England on Sunday.


The comments were posted on his Twitter account @gasparripdl and attracted criticism from numerous Italians, who were not spared the wrath of this verbal serial killer either. Here is a taster:


“Fa piacere mandare a fare …. gli inglesi, boriosi e coglioni” : “It’s always a pleasure to say go “f*** y*********” to the English, pretentious pricks.”


His attack targeted the English as a whole, the Queen included. In an ironic reference to Corrado Guzzanti’s parody of Antonello Venditti’s song Sul Grande Raccordo Anulare (the remake is written in Roman dialect, which often used by Italians to make fun of something/someone – see Queen photo and comment below).

“E che ie faiii aa murtaa aa regina…. Gran raccordo anulare, qualcuno ricorda Guzzanti-Venditti?”


“Fantastici, tutti bloccati, cespugli di imbecilli, un modo ottimo di mettere sterco in discarica” : “Fantastic, blocked all of you, bunch of morons, this is a great way to dump shit.”


Gasparri’s audacity extended to praising those who agreed with him: “Beh se lo fa la shampista lo puoi fare pure te”: “You can be foreign minister, if that shampoo girl can,” he said in an insulting reference to current minister Federica Mogherini, who has been the target of sexist remarks from Gasparri before.


“Ottimo e di soddisfazione poter bloccare qualche decina di stupidi, rifiuti in discarica…” : “Excellent, it’s so satisfying to be able to block a dozen or so imbeciles, garbage in a rubbish dump…”


“Demented” and “pathetic” were among some of the other adjectives the senator used against those who spoke out against his comments on Twitter.


Wired Italy wrote: “Togliete Twitter a Gasparri (è per il suo bene)” : Take Twitter out of Gasparri’s hands (for his own good)”.


Everyone has the right to freedom of expression but where does one’s freedom begin and another’s end? A large portion of Italian taxpayers’ money goes to people like him who are supposed to set a good example and promote a positive image of Italy in the world. It seems ridiculous that someone whose former position suggested he was a communications expert should use his position to air his views in such a crass way. Italy may be used to seeing such behaviour from him (for example when Barack Obama was elected President of the US in November 2008, Gasparri told RAI that now Obama is in the White House “al-Qaida is happier”) but to fall into apathy over a kind of behaviour that is far from normal, is hugely risky. In my opinion, it’s a bit like saying that just because we hear about the war in Syria almost every day, losing interest is normal.


There are ways and ways of expressing one’s opinion. Satire for example at least sparks some laughts! Italian McDonalds restaurants are apparently offering free Crispy McBacon burgers to customers whenever Italy wins a World Cup match. In reference to this, someone posted this picture of the Queen with a caption (transcribed in Roman dialect) that reads: “Go choke on those Crispy McBacons!”



Source: Facebook

Violence reared its ugly head on Saturday evening on the occasion of the Italy-England game. A Pakistani friend who went to watch the match at the “Hunstman” pub in Turin with a couple of friends had to run from the pub at the end of the first half because 50-100 people were allegedly planning to beat them up just for cheering English team. But anti-Italian sentiment also got out of hand in the UK, with the Italian flag being set alight and fights breaking out in various parts of the country:

The Telegraph

The Daily Mail


What the British and Italian press wrote about Maurizio Gasparri’s Twitter outburst:

La Stampa

Il Corriere della Sera

Il Fatto Quotidiano

La Repubblica

The Guardian

The Daily Mail


The art of Italian gesticulation

A crash course in Italian hand gestures
Shortcuts Blog Trending Topics and News Analysis (“The Guardian”)

Thought it was easy? Think again! I only got the hang of the f*** *** one this year… apparently I wasn’t getting my hand swing right. Oh, and I wasn’t closing my hand in a fist as I was supposed to (thanks to Martina Tirabassi and Ceci D’Azzo I soon learnt not to dare get that wrong)! Italian versatility goes beyond regions, cuisine, dialects, political manoeuvering, tax swerving strategies and ways to take your coffee. Italians are famous the world over for their creative hand gestures and they are incredibly contagious.

I learnt a new one only the other day and got one of my Italian colleagues from “La Stampa” to illustrate it to me, with the help of a Mexican assistant (I hope to upload the video I have of this soon). Their little act would have put even Louis C.K to shame, that’s how hard I laughed! The meaning of the particular hand gesture they acted out was : “Let’s be off!”

Above are a couple of videos and an article published by The Guardian, which I found particularly entertaining. I hope you do too!

20 ways to slice Europe

20 ways to slice Europe

Although this interpretation of our Continent seems to have been created before the crisis (as image 1 suggests), the depictions/statements are largely true! In Italy’s case, I would say 1, 3 and 20 are highly debatable, things are not as black-and-white as the images suggest. As for images 4, 6, 8,13 and 19: these are some of the reasons why Italy beats the UK any day for me!

And since today is International Worker’s Day, I should say that image 12 is completely mistaken as far as one small team of editors and translators is concerned! Vatican Insider never sleeps!

Top 10 jobs that only exist in Italy

One great thing about Italy is that many trades which have become practically obsolete in many parts of the UK, such as tailors, seamstresses, grocers, butchers etc., are still going strong in this land of small independent businesses.

As I pondered upon how lucky I am to be living in a place that isn’t completely usurped by chain stores and browsing The Local Italy news website I came across an informative and rather entertaining photo gallery of jobs – some odder than others! – (see photo gallery below) that can only be done in Italy and the Vatican (photo No.1): Cheese whisperers, olive oil-sniffing police, elite 5-member vinegar tasting panels, posing Gondoliers, tubby Roman smokers turned tough Roman centurion soldiers for the day … Before my British sarcasm clouds your judgement, these are in fact all legitimate professions in Italy and put together they illustrate perfectly one of the reasons I love this country full of contrasts: Only Italy is able to delight all of one’s senses, through the senses: sound (cheese whispering); smell (olive oil sniffing); taste (vinegar tasting); sight (the Roman centurion and the Gondolier: the importance of looking the part, looking good, looking and looks in general have earned Italy its fashion kingdom status but has also led to unfortunate phenomena such as the Berlusconi hair implant and roughcast face); touch … well come and get a feel for the place yourself!

Naturally, my personal favourite of all these noble occupations – the olive oil sniffing police came a close second – has to be the Latin Translator. Translators spend so much time trying to live up to Lawrence Venuti’s invisibility ideal that we deserve the spotlight once in a while!

“At no point in modern times has the role of Latin Translator been so important as when Pope Benedict XVI resigned in 2013; the news was announced in Latin and the scoop was won by the only journalist fluent in the language.”

Photo: Ken Mayer/Flickr

Photo: Ken Mayer/Flickr

THE PHOTO GALLERY: Top 10 jobs that only exist in Italy