Tag Archives: Italy

The Earth Shakes

Yes, I am close (anywhere from 55 to 100 km) to the epicentres of several “aftershocks” and/or quakes that have been happening here (central Italy). Yes, one can feel some of these events rather strongly. Yes, I am scared. However, all the locals seem convinced we aren’t in any danger here and that is what I choose to believe. (Positive thoughts, vibes and prayers are most welcome.)

Don Matteo

I’m afraid I became far too emotionally invested in season 10 of the Italian series Don Matteo. The finale aired this past week, and while it is probably not worth reading a lot into it, I have to wonder what it says about Italians that apparently most of the show’s fans/viewers were happy with the ending. (I make this judgment based on reading online reviews and social media critiques of the series, for whatever that is worth.) Basically, this season revolved around a love triangle in which a truly horrible, trashy girl (Lia) wins over the heart of a police captain (Giulio) who is set to marry a sweet, beautiful woman (Margherita) who writes children’s books.

Now, the trashy girl is pregnant by someone other than the police captain and asks him to pretend he’s the kid’s father because, you know, she just didn’t really like the guy by whom she got pregnant. This is just for starters. As the season developed, she did the following: quit her job and moved in with her 60-something aunt and uncle, expecting them to pay for everything and look after her and her baby; pretended to be friends with her rival so that she could sabotage her wedding plans; poisoned her rival; threw herself repeatedly — and in a slutty manner — at the police captain even after he had announced his engagement; was spiteful and resentful that everyone liked the police captain’s fiancée and sulked and pouted about it; made scenes and just generally behaved like a drama queen when she didn’t get her way or when someone displeased her; manipulated and lied about any number of things in virtually every episode in which she was featured (far too many); asked the police captain to be in the delivery room with her regardless of how inappropriate such a demand was, given that a) he had a girlfriend and b) there were countless other people she could have asked; spied on the police captain and his fiancée via a closed-circuit camera (of which they were unaware) when they were on a romantic date, and…more. There was more.

Lia was just the worst. Una stronza.

And yet…she is insanely popular with viewers of the show. When Lia won over Giulio and he humiliated Margherita at the altar, a majority of viewers were happy! Why? I have no clue, but it’s a sorry reflection on Italian TV viewers.

All of this was aggravated by two other factors: 1) Lia’s character is the cousin of Giulio’s dead wife. In other words, he is marrying his dead wife’s cousin. Ew. And the dead wife was terrific — I have no clue why the show’s writers killed her off after Season 8. 2) The actress who plays Lia — Nadir Caselli — has what Italians call a voce di ochetta (roughly translated, a goose voice, a bimbo voice, a screechy, whiny, profoundly grating voice). I found her fastidiosa, una lagna, una stronza, egoista and cattiva. Of course, one of the reasons I watch Italian TV is to keep my level of Italian up, so I guess my contempt for Lia served a purpose. Lagna, for example, was a new word for me.

Further, the show’s title character behaved in an appalling way in the finale. Don Matteo is a priest who spends virtually every episode lecturing everyone and sticking his nose in where it doesn’t belong, but also being kind and empathetic, even with murderers and rapists and thieves.  And yet, in this last episode, when Giulio dumps Margherita at the altar to run away with trashy Lia, Don Matteo smiles and seems, like, really happy! And then, outside the church, when Margherita is clearly suffering, he doesn’t so much as offer her a kind word or a shoulder to cry on or an invitation to come and talk to him at the church (where he usually helps people in their moments of woe). He just talks about her behind her back with some of the guests. Huh? Gosh, very compassionate and priestly.

So that is my rant – I got far too upset and invested in the series this season. I’ve seen every season now (though not all of them in real time), but I honestly don’t think I will watch if there is a Season 11. I don’t think I can bear Lia’s voce di ochetta for another three months.

A(nother) great Nick Cohen Column

The column in question is ostensibly about why we should all become Jews. Of course, Cohen isn’t really suggesting we should, although Significant Other and I often say that we will have to join the Israel Army one of these days…if they would have two middle-aged out of shape folks.

It’s a column about the pathology of anti-Semitism and how far it is spreading, in particular its grip on much of the political left.

But consider how many leftwing activists, institutions or academics would agree with a politer version [of blatant anti-Semitism].

Western governments are the main source of the ills of the world. The “Israel lobby” controls western foreign policy. Israel itself is the “root cause” of all the terrors of the Middle East, from the Iraq war to Islamic State. Polite racism turns the Jews, once again, into demons with the supernatural power to manipulate and destroy nations. Or as the Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallström, who sees herself as a feminist rather than a racial conspiracist, explained recently, Islamist attacks in Paris were the fault of Israeli occupiers in the West Bank.

(Oh man, I know so many people — some to whom I am related — who buy such nonsense. Depressing. As my late brother used to say, “the ’60s have a lot for which to answer.”)

Cohen writes of his own experiences (his father was Jewish, not his mother) growing up with a Jewish name and in particular of the temptation — which he resisted — to become a self-loathing Jew.

He does suggest one pretend to be Jewish to see how people’s reactions to you change. It’s fascinating, because when I was in Italy in 2014, there was this awful woman who was always very mean to me and I remember one day she asked me if I was Jewish. I just knew that if I answered “yes,” she would have hated me even more, but I thought the fact that she suspected it (as though it were a crime) was revealing.

January 1, 2016

Born on this day in 1449, Lorenzo de Medici, “Il Magnifico.” He wrote — among other things — the following words:

Quant’ e bella giovinezza,

Che si fugge tuttavia!

Chi vuol esser lieto, sia:

di doman non c’e certezza.

If you know any romance languages, you can probably figure that out, but just in case, it says (more or less), “How beautiful is youth (or how beautiful is it to be young)/which nevertheless disappears (runs away)/Be happy all who wish to be/of tomorrow there is no certainty.”

Basically, “enjoy life while you can.”

I am currently reading this book, from which I am learning a good deal. Tim Parks’ non-fiction are always terrific. (Not saying his novels aren’t terrific, I just haven’t read any of them — yet.)

Update: Ok, I just finished the afore-linked Tim Parks book and it includes his translation of the bit of poetry above. His translation is, obviously, better than mine. Here it is: How fine youth is/Though it flee away/Let he who wishes, enjoy/Nothing’s certain tomorrow.

Feast of St. Francis — from the Archives

Very busy these days, folks (understatement). So not able to post as much or about all the stuff I’d like. But I wanted to acknowledge the feast of San Francesco, the man who blessed the birdies and tamed the wolf. In honour, a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

It makes me realize that I miss my kitties immensely, and that I still feel such guilt about their last days, particularly Pushkin’s.

 

Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria

These pics are from when I was in Italy, in April. I went to the Archeological Museum of Umbria, which is full of fascinating history and seemingly endless artifacts — Byzantine earrings and Roman tableware and even the remains of Etruscan aristocrats (in ash form). It was Easter Sunday so entry was free and I spent about four hours there. I didn’t take pics of the exhibits, though I think it was allowed, provided you used no flash. I just wanted to enjoy looking and not worry about capturing. That said, once I left, I — being me — found a cat to photograph, the “official” cat of the museum, it was explained to me. The very kind folks at the ticket booth gave kitty a home, food, veterinary care, and love. (I think she had recently had her spay, hence her shaved belly.)

Official Greeter.

april102015 001

And here is a hideous view from one of the museum’s upper-floor windows.

april102015 004

Umbria — so ugly!

Bastille Day

I have visited France twice in the last year. Those visits came after an absence of 22 years on my part, my last visit having been in 1992, though I had lived, studied and worked in Paris for five years previously (i.e., 1986-1991). I always stayed abreast of French politics, though, and kept my language levels up, and stayed in touch with friends living in Paris and Lyon.

So what was the first thing that struck me in November, 2014, when I got off the plane at Orly? Well, given that I had been in Italy for a couple of months, it struck me that it seemed I had landed in a Protestant country where everyone was whispering and everything was super well-organized. Everything is also relative, of course. And once I adjusted from my “Italian voices/Italian ways” settings, what struck me was how incredibly popular Starbucks had become.

When the first Starbucks opened in France (in Paris) over a decade ago, the doomsayers were out en force, promising an early death. And while Starbucks follows a rocky economic path in Europe, what I saw in Paris indicated that at least with a youthful demographic, it is extremely popular. First of all, most all Starbucks in Paris are often, if not always, bustling…with younger people and yes, some foreigners. For us, there is that sense of familiarity and, of course, the free wifi. Free wifi is more common in France now, but still nothing like in North America.

The crowds (and at certain Starbucks I do mean crowds) of people I saw in Parisian Starbucks were mostly French young people — under 30-year-olds — and in the after-school hours, under 20-year-olds. I think younger French people like feeling cool, like the celebrities they see carrying Starbucks cups on TV and in movies. At some locations the lineups tried one’s patience.

And some locations were right on the much-vaunted Places – the parts of the city where four or five main streets meet and one can find restaurants on almost each corner. When I lived in Paris those spots were always taken by the classic French brasseries with their red awnings, their steak frites and their omelettes or Croque Monsieurs. Now one can get a pricey Starbucks coffee or pastry (as in North America, it ain’t cheap), slightly changed in flavour or name to accommodate the locals.

I may be reading too much into all of this, but I think it is positive and another indication that the French are becoming less parochial. I think it kind of goes hand in hand with something else I noticed both during my last two visits and also from watching a lot of French news in the past decade or so. What I noticed is this: far more integrated French people of Maghrebin background; integrated into jobs where one would not have seen them, say, 25 years ago. For example, news anchors. That might sound silly, but I remember when I came back to Canada in 1991 after five years in France, I found it odd to see so much diversity on news shows. Now one sees that in France.

In fact, when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in the States a few years ago, I made a point of watching French news and what was interesting to me was how many correspondents had Arab last names. It was a refreshing change. One also sees far more French people of North African/Arab/South Asian origin in politics and law, in academia and so forth. Far from being oppressed (as the apologists for the Charlie Hebdo massacre would have you believe), Muslims in France are at home.

I am not convinced Jews are, unfortunately, but that is for another post.

Oh, and on the matter of Starbucks in France, I just found this article.

Happy Bastille Day, French people!