Stet by Ria Bacon

Friday, April 29, 2005

Barf out!

If you're in Birmingham, UK, this Sunday, why not try ... competitive eating?

Gag me with a spoon!

Check out the "Bib sheet" of champion speed eater Sonya Thomas.
"I can eat anything I want and never seem to gain a pound!" she giggles.

Word of the day: bulimia


I had an orgiastic 36 hours in Paris last weekend and spent much of the time enjoying sloooww eating, at Le Connetable, Montparnasse 1900 and the Taghit, in my old stomping ground.

More frenzied was our stop at FNAC, grabbing hard-to-P2P CDs with both hands
Kirikou et la sorcière

Great African children's story

Dimanche à Bamako
Amadou & Mariam
Bonga Angola
Seu Jorge
Calypso @ Dirty Jim's
Calypso gets the Buena Vista treatment

Thursday, April 28, 2005

60 years since the fall of Salò

The roads round the office are closed today and tomorrow while soldiers square-bash in the sports ground next door. Piano! Piano!! (Softly! Softly!!) screams the drill master through his megaphone, while the incessant thump of the drums bounces off our walls. All this in preparation for the Festa dell'Esercito Italiano (Celebration of the Italian Army) next week.

The sound of things martial reminded me that 60 years ago today, Mussolini met his end and was then strung up like a chicken in Piazzale Loreto, Milan, on the same spot where 15 partisans had been executed two years earlier.

The infamous photo is attributed to the father of former Benetton enfant provocateur, Oliviero Toscani.

For a superb personal account of the times, read A Childhood in Nazi-Occupied Italy.

On a lighter note, it feels like summer is well on its way with glorious cerulean skies and the first sightings of sunblistered tourists.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Bye-bye I'm back

In many languages, the same word can be used to say hello and goodbye (aloha, salut, shalom or dag, for example). In Italian, ciao has a similar double-ended function. Curiously, the word originates from Venetian and used to form part of the longer expression, "I am your slave". These days, it is the easiest word that everyone knows, and every phone call seems to end the same way:

Ciao-ciao ciao
Si mamma ciao
Si ciao

After his recent drubbing at the polls, Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, resigned yesterday ... and immediately began the horse-trading negotiations with his coalition partners to form a new government. Confused? Don't worry, it's normal. By national law, the government must fall before any reshuffle can take place. This is one of the reasons why there have been 59 governments since the Second World War and why this Mr B's coalition is the longest in power since Mussolini.

Continuing the theme of repetition, I have a funny anecdote for you.

My parents lost 150 Euros to a pair of confidence tricksters two days ago in the park behind the Colosseum. One little old guy came up to them with a big map and mumbled a question about getting to Castel Sant'Angelo. Immediately after, a second, burlier man approached and flashed his "police badge".

"Don't listen to this man," the policeman warned my parents, "He's a crook".

The "policeman" demanded the first man's ID and checked his wallet before shooing him away. He then asked for my parents' ID and wallet (?), checked them briefly and handed them back. It only took a second and my father swore he was watching him carefully, but after they went on their way, they double-checked their money and saw 150 Euros had gone.

So far, not funny at all.

The following day, my parents were waiting for me near our house when lo and behold the same little old man approached them with his big map. As the accomplice approached, my father shouted, "Oi!! I want my 150 Euros back!" The con men suddenly remembered ("Merda!!!") and ran off.

We imagined other ways it could have ended, but this was perhaps the simplest and the funniest.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Lest we forget

JPII at the Pearly Gates by Zapiro

Cartoon by the ever-sharp Zapiro, originally published in the Sowetan (Web site inexplicably suspended at time of posting).

At night all cats are black

The sound of the bell last night found me on my hands and knees with Mr B in the kitchen, mopping up the water pouring out of the dishwasher. Bathos is the word here, I think.

Apparently, the television pictures around the world showed the smoke for ten minutes without comment - against the gloaming sky, the colour was unclear: CNN called it black, while ANSA, the Italian news agency, called it white. People in St Peter's Square alternately cheered and stood silently in confusion. The bell ringing was one of JPII's posthumous wishes, to resolve this ambiguity. When habemus papum was announced an hour later, the response was also ambiguous, a mix of joy and disappointment, even anger. Although he wasn't a favourite at the bookies, his recent high profile speeches might have tipped us off, for example, his repetition of the the words, "Follow me" at JPII's funeral. His pre-conclave sermon about the "dictatorship of relativism" was also a reminder of why one of his nicknames is "The Enforcer". Who knows what went on in the Sistine Chapel.

The best I've heard this morning is that he's a transitional Pope, that the next one will be a non-European. It sounds like me talking to my kids: "I promise you can wear your summer dress soon". Of course, the likelihood of hot weather in Rome is pretty certain and pretty soon. I can't say the same for the next Pope.

Does the Pope shit in the woods?

You bet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Place your bets @

The odds-on favourite for a papacy prophecy double: Francis Arinze (Nigeria) will choose the name Benedict. For a long shot, try Cardinal Polycarp Pengo will choose the name D'Wayne, oh not on the list. Damian, then, at 100-1.

Hold on! Haven't any of the Cardinals seen The Omen??!

Of course, as Paddy Power points out,
According to prophecies, we are in the days of the end of the Papacy and the Catholic Church.
In which case, all bets will be declared null and void, they should add.

While the Cardinals discuss the role of the Church in a material world with its "dictatorship of relativism" (Ratzinger), you can pass the time with this:

A solid bet

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sexy :: Saintly

I didn't manage to get a photo of these two posters side-by-side in our street before they peeled off and fell to the ground in a soggy mush.

It was quite a striking juxtaposition.

Still, by the "miracle" of Photoshop ...

Be SexyBe saintly

Thank goodness they never met wearing the same outfit.

FYI the original and far more impressive photo of the Pope, by AFP photographer Gabriel Bouys, can be found here, with the story behind the image.

Is it over?

busy busy busy! no time to post ...

The rumourmongers and naysayers (moi?) were proved wrong last Friday when Rome did not crumble and disappear under the crush of four million pilgrims for the Pope's funeral. It helped that there were far fewer visitors than predicted (less than two million, certainly). I live just down from Circo Massimo, which had been kitted out as a campsite with a giant videoscreen, and barely noticed any change from usual. I passed a dozen Poles by the Metro and the traffic was slightly lighter (despite a TOTAL BAN on vehicles in the area!). Heh, everyone wants inflated figures in this instance - the Vatican (See! We are still relevant!) and the media (a neverending human tide of the faithful swamps news channels - "Whose turn is it for the Rome junket?").

As an eyewitness, I estimate there were only a few thousand at Circo Massimo, and most of them were Papaboys.

I found the ceremony itself quite dignified although I cringed at Cardinal Ratzinger's cheesy theatrics, pointing to the window from where the Pope used to give his blessing,
We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us.
Perhaps, strike that, I know I'm a cynic in these matters, but it was cheesy because it was artificial. It looked as if he was reading someone else's words and only remembered to raise his hand to point when he saw it written in the script.

Kudos maximus (ahem) to the Civil Protection agency. They managed the crowds superbly and gave lie to the oxymoron Italian organization.

One of their novel ideas was to send text messages to every mobile phone, warning them not to go near the Vatican (see previous post). The day after the funeral, I overheard a Roman grumbling that it had been a cunning plan to allow the Poles to get the best places. (Mamma mia!)

The crowds at the Vatican were certainly not all Polish, given the number of huge banners demanding Santo subito! (immediate sainthood) for the Pope. I had already anticipated a rash of miracles attributed to JPII within a few days, but apparently they had already started being reported before he died.
Father Maksymilian knew a woman in Ukraine with a battered television set which hadn't worked for two years. When the Pope visited the country, she was desperate to witness it on television, but was too scared to ask her Russian Orthodox neighbours to let her watch their set - religious rivalries run deep in Ukraine. Suddenly, just as the Pope was arriving in the country, her broken-down TV whirred into life. It continued to work for his entire stay, then died again. "Really, the set was garbage," says Father Maksymilian, concluding his case.
Whirred into life? Perhaps she had just forgotten to wind it up.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

We've got red states too

Overheard while waiting in the queue to see the Pope lying in state:

Bush: Hey Silvio, way to go! You got red states just like me back home!

Berlusconi: *cough* Idiot! *cough*

We've got red states too

Read Reuters' report.

Lock down

While millions are heading towards Rome, many Romans are heading out before the city is locked down tomorrow with the closure of both airports and many major roads out of town. Judging by the ease with which I managed to find a parking space this morning, many have already left. In our office, tomorrow has been declared a "non-working day", which seems like grudging euphemism for a day off. It's our daughter's sixth birthday, so we're ecstatic to be able to spend the whole day with her. We moved her party from Friday to Saturday because of the anticipated chaos.

Other signs of impending social collapse include the convoy of Red Cross ambulances from Palermo that I got stuck in this morning. I felt like I'd cut into a funeral cortège - that's a big no-no, isn't it?

The night was filled with wailing sirens ripping through the darkness at high speed. The single sirens were ambulances; the multiple ones were convoys bringing the 200 "big", as the local press calls them, to the Vatican, i.e. Bush and Co.

There is a constant stream of stories coming out about the faint rate in the queues, or how long people have been waiting with small children.
"These people are a living witness to the theology of sacrifice," he said. "They are showing John Paul with their bodies that they understood."
Rev. Jonathan Morris, an American priest working in Rome

The doors to the Basilica were closed at 22:00 last night.

I've also been receiving mysterious sms (text messages) from "Protezione civile" warning me about what clothing to wear during the day and at night. The latest message says the centre is closed to all traffic, that St Peter's Piazza is full and that there are giant screens in other piazzas and in Tor Vergata. Somehow I don't think the two million Poles will be content with watching a video screen at a university campus in a godforsaken suburb stuck outside the city limits.

Another mystery is the reported jump in Lotto ticket sales, up 20% in Naples. Whenever there is a significant event, people get twitchy about the twilight zone, or in this case, that great Italian tradition of getting money without having to work for it. The numbers they're playing? 21-37-48

Can you guess what they represent?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Cover up or rip off?

A good man
I was out early on Sunday morning to buy cornetti at the corner café. I noticed a new wall of posters by the tramlines. I didn't recognize the huge close up of an old man.

Left support
I first thought it was the Pope, but when I saw the name and logo in the corner (Executive Committee of the Democratic Left), I dismissed the idea and guessed it must be some union leader or anti-fascist partisan.

Shortly after I realized that my first intuition had been correct. Why had I hesitated? First because it is such an unusual photo of the Pope - just the gentle face of an old man, without any indication of office or any religious symbols. Second, because I didn't imagine the Left putting up such an image, the first "street" acknowledgement of the Pope's death.

Cover upDuring the following night, every single poster was vandalized. Most had a white band stuck on the bottom, to cover the association with the Left; others had the offending corner crudely ripped off. What organization! Who could have done it? Radical leftists disgusted by their Executive? Officials enforcing an obscure law on exploiting religion on election day? (Sunday was the regional election.) Or anti-leftists who were outraged that the first ones to pay tribute to the Pope were non-believers?

Whatever the case, the following days have seen a profusion of new posters, each outdoing the other in images of piety and devotion, for example, the Pope at prayer beneath a glowing Christ raising three fingers or as a shrunken figure in his huge golden pontifical robes.

Shrunk in robes

Bad timing

I can imagine the frustration among the editors of tabloid magazines such as Chi and Gente (read Hello! and People): the Pope, Prince Rainier of Monaco and Saul Bellow all dead the same week.

Look out for the full-page blurry photo op of the Nobel laureate in next week's issue.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

An unfortunate juxtaposition

On the way to work yesterday, I picked up one of the free "newspapers" that are the main source of written information for most commuters. The paper, Leggo, was once recommended to me as being the most newsworthy of the freebies.

Here's the breakdown of yesterday's paper: ten of the 24 pages are ads; four pages are about the Pope; one page of "news" (e.g. Stoccardo man dismembered by samurai sword); three pages of Entertainment & Society; one of games and horoscopes; four pages of sports; and one of TV schedules.

Italians are not great readers.

In response, I've heard Italians say, "The British read so much, they sometimes forget to wash."

My coworker, R2OB1, just reminded me how difficult it is to find current Italian literature. One of the first books she read in Italian was presented as a Bridget Jones-type novel and came with a bookmark from Nescafé. Every few pages, the characters would stop for a ... Nescafé, and all the places they went to in Milan were marked on a fold-out map at the end of the book: "Where to find Nescafé in Milan".

In all fairness to Italy, however, reading stats are pretty grim for other countries too (US, UK and Italy). By coincidence, the European regional meeting on literacy ends today (link).

What got me started on this post were two bizarre examples of English from the free paper yesterday. The first was the headline,
Mega camping per i Papa Boys
about hosting the anticipated masses of youth (boys only?) heading for Rome this week. The odd choice of words would set off alarm bells in English-speaking countries.

The other bizarre example was this unfortunate juxtaposition of words and image.

Awkward juxtaposition

The eyes have it

Italian regional election results

** Lazio (my region): Francesco Storace (centre right) 47,4%, Piero Marrazzo (centre left) 50,7% (Reuters)

For my regular reader(s), Storace was eligible candidate #1 and Marrazzo was #2 in my image election.

(Country voting graphic to follow)

Monday, April 04, 2005

I had a dream

Last night I had one of those long, extraordinarily vivid dreams, where I can go off on tangents within the dream (the fabric of her robes and how she addressed the Ambassador), but I can always return to the strong central narrative. As often happens, the details began to fade as soon as I awoke.

However, I can remember the main idea. The new Pope was a woman. She was of French nationality but of north African origin. Her election was unchallenged and popular with non-Catholics. In her first speech, to dignitaries, she singled out the (also female) Ambassador of a communist or non-Catholic African country (the details blur here). I enjoyed the dream a lot. It was only when I woke up that I remembered she couldn't be elected because there aren't any female cardinals. Oh wait, there aren't any female priests either. Duh.

It reminded me of a joke, originally about Jesse Jackson.

An African nun praying.
- Oh Lord, how long before we have an African Pope?
-Not in your lifetime
, replies God.
-And how long before we have a female Pope?
-Not in my lifetime.

Mush to mush

The final post about election posters. Previous posts:
  1. I'm a patriot, you're a nationalist, he's a terrorist ...
  2. Tits 'n' bums, kids 'n' mums
  3. Mug shots
  4. No pictures please

As I had predicted, the posters were stuck on top of each other, dozens of them, and the edges started to peel. They then fell to the ground in a crumpled mess and turned to mush in the rain.

Peeling posters2
Posters crumpled
Poster mush