Friday, March 31, 2006

Minimal Entry for a Minimal Day

Not much happened today it seems, except that work was not followed by gym and that might continue as such for a while for reasons that shall not be disclosed. Also, the plans for the evening, an international happy hour in Testaccio organized by the WFP, had to be forfeited as my host there, Liesbeth, changed her mind and decided not to go. Ah well, it's ok, I shall stay home and watch ROME with my father, it has been a while we sat together and that's something I'm missing, so, it's ok.

This week-end will be crowded in Rome, as the celebration for the first anniversary of Pope John Paul the II will take place and pilgrims are already flocking in from everywhere, but specially Poland. I'm thinking about going to Saint peter too, I don't know. I was in Vilnius when the Pope's funeral took place and saw the churches there full of candles lit around his pictures, which is probably against the canon (you aren't supposed to show such devotion to someone who has not been canonized), but incredibly moving.

Speaking of people coming to Rome, it seems that from the 4th april a delegation of ELSA Stockholm will be in town for a bilateral exchange and I was enlisted to give them an introductory tour of the city. It's a routine by now, as I've done it over and over and over in the last 7 years, but I still remember the stage-panic attack I got the first time I showed around the first 20 ELSA people explaining them, and in english at that, the history of the monasteries in Rome turned barracks by the Italian King in the middle of the Invader Italian Kingdom and the Pope, or of the 7 talking statues of Rome (Yes, statues talk in Rome, don't you know?) or... ok, all the rest.

Should be fun, if a bit tiresome. We'll see.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Of Clothes, Friends and Sushi

A while before Christmas, I was in need of a simple cotton long-sleeved t-shirt. Black one. Now if you think that finding something so apparently plain is easy, you are possibly right, but the trick was that, after having seen the shops' windows, I swore to myself I would had never paid 15 euros (the lowest price I got at the time) for 200 grams of cotton industrially shaped into a human torso. More, that I would had bought that if and only if I would had found it under 10 euros. Now, that can be technically as hard as finding the Holy Grail as at least you wouldn't have to pay the holder of the Grail, once found.

I looked around for weeks, then I simply gave up as I didn't need that so urgently anymore, after all. But I kept looking and yesterday, at lunch break, almost 4 months later, I found them. Plain, cotton, nothing fancy, for 8.99 euros each (which is still an absurdity, but such are the times). The long waiting got to my head tho, as I ended up buying three of them, black, white and red. Thinking of which, Santa's colors, a celebration of the start of the finally fulfilled quest.

Later that day, after gym, I met up with Liesbeth, who I had not met since I helped her moving a month ago, in front of the Metropolitan cinema to see "The Constant Gardner". Wow... quite a movie I shall say and it ends really bad (which usually is a plus). Interesting thing is that Liesbeth currently is interning in one UN agency and in the movie is shown one of the agency's relief food drops. Maybe that's why she was so taken by the movie (no, ok, it's that it is the classic "tears will roll" movie). Anyway, given we had a lot of catch up to do, we headed to the usual place in Campo dei Fiori (Aristocampo) and spent almost 3 hours chatting of various subjects (mostly one, tho), eating this and that and... drinking red wine. The fact I ended up sending a sms in german (well, my german, anyway) to Susanne says a lot, I think. At some point the base of my glass decided to break for no apparent reason and I was inundated by wine on my favourite black suit and of course my favourite florentine tie. Murphy's Law rules the universe. Ended up in bed at 2, so much for having to recover lost sleep.

Today at lunch break I discovered (yes, lunch breaks are usually moments of discovery here, what do you think, that italians just eat at lunch breaks?) there is a little, but quite intriguing, japanese restaurant at 5 minutes walk from my office called Kisso. Given my sushi (I love sushi) appetite was awoken in London (well, London airport, but still counts as London) I decided to give it a try. it's small, very japanese (in the sense that you could take the food by mistake from your neighbor's dish so much people are tight) and.. full of japanese people. Really. Which I supposes is a good testament for the food's quality, but also has some bad sides... if you do not know, japanese people slurps loudly when they eat, something that is considered among the worst things you can do at the table here. Anyway, I had a Kaiten lunch (meaning, taking things off a conveyor belt which brings trays with all the various sushi) that didn't cost me a fortune, even if unfortunately they do not take my "tickets", so I'm happy. Will have to get back, and tell a couple of friends of mine too.

Oh, Ok, "tickets" you say? Let me explain. Public and semi-public offices in Italy (I do work in one) by contract have to provide lunch to their employees (I think it came about at the moment, no more than 30 years ago, the working hours for public offices got to include the afternoon... I still remember my father coming back home at lunch time when I was a kid). Given that, especially in the city, offices have a hard time having a canteen, the thing is solved by giving the employees what essentially are "food voucher" to spend in the restaurants around the office. It might sound odd, I suppose, but it's handy. End of the 5 minutes of enlightenment on Italian Costumes.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Movies - V for Vendetta

As a wrote a few posts back, just days before leaving to London, I went to see "V for Vendetta" and I've twisted feelings about it. The plot is interesting if not overly original (an authoritarian government in a futuristic, but not too distant, United Kingdon is toppled by the hero of
the day, helped by the beautiful female co-hero), the victorian flavor of the main charachter and scenography are more so and has to be said that the movie comes from a comic.

Said that, I'm left dubious about a movie that in these times brings forward the idea that terrorist actions as blowing up things and
people are acceptable things, actually meritorious ones. Not to mention a movie showing the destruction of some of the most important buildings of a city that not even a year ago suffered a major real terror attack with bombs blasting in the underground and on the buses.

Overall, I liked it, but left some kind of funny, not totally pleasant, aftertaset in my mouth.

Best line, obviously, the monologue using which the masked hero, V, introduces himself to the just about saved future co-heroine: "This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin van-guarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V."

Not to mention the answer to it: "Are you like a crazy person?"

Books VIII - Beggars Banquet

In the meanwhile, I'm reading in parallel the book I bought mostly as a mean to spend the time of the travel back home, Beggars Banquet. Pretty good one too, and has the advantage of being a collection of very short tales, the longest so far maybe 30 pages long, so readable at any moment in the side time.

The very interesting thing is that the tales, mostly taking place in a border-line criminal environment in Edinburgh, usually end up in an unexpected twist and a surprise. Appraently, Ian Rankin is pretty famous in UK as a crime story writer, cretor of the charachter of inspector Rebus (ok, not an impressive show of imagination for a riddle-solving charachter, but anyway) who also made several appearances among the tales, but have to confess I had never heard of him before. A pleasant discovery.

Books VII - The Fort at River's Bent

So, on my way to London I practically started and swallowed in a single gulp "The Saxon Shore", the 4th chapter of the Camulod's Chronicles books by Jack Whyte. The book was enjoyable, even if one can't but wonder how many times can Merlyn possibly fall ill, be wounded and generally bump and stumble on every possibility of incident along the way in a mere few hundreds pages.

But all in all, it was good, especially the political sub-plots. So, even if I said I wouldn't have probably continued the series right away, I bought "The Fort at River's Bent" (which in italian comes in a very poor, yet more costly, paperback edition of an awful orange color, see left) and I'm already one fourth through it. And if the author started the previous book with a vivid imagine of Camulod in ruin, this time goes further and the very first thing is King Arthur's death in Merlyn's arms... apparently he loves to have the reader remember at all times that, no matter what, it will end badly.

London Tales - Part IV (and my views on Painting)

Now that it's more than 24 hours I'm back in Rome and I finally managed to sleep 12 short, but precious hours over two nights, it's time to close the London parenthesis.

Have to say, London as a whole didn't impress me favourably. Maybe it's too huge to be appreciated in a matter of 6 days, maybe the fact I like more easily understandable cities (Paris of Saint Petersburg, for instance, one artificially and the other originally laid down with at least a general plan, or Venice, practically immutable in the centuries), maybe the climate, and surely the lack of squares, so common in anglosaxon cities and so crucial in continental ones. Fact is that, while I undoubtly appreciate the single wonderous things it offers, I actually don't like London as London.

There will be other chances, I hope, for me to visit again and maybe revise my statement. In the meanwhile I'll have, when I'll find the time, work on a few things as a follow up of my visits to the British Museum - does the name Jhon Dee ring a bell? - and the National Gallery, as I have to find more about two artists precedently, shame on me, totally unknown to me, Giovan Battista Moroni (above) and Girolamo Savoldo (right).

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention that I was impressed by the quantity of middle age ivories at the British Museum. I always liked the ivory caskets and I had never seen so many and of such a great quality all together. Those, and the immense quantity of jewels from all ages (I really like jewels) were among the most notable things I remember.

Also, I've been asked during the week why I do like paintings so much. I gave an answer, as the fact that I like to see new things and to make parallels between artists I know and see if I can find links between them, not to mention to see how a given story that maybe I knew since childhood (mostly classical myths) has been depicted by a given artist. It's all true, of course, but the question must have been one of those that went to my mind's background to be worked further upon as yesterday I suddenly got a better answer: I like to see other people's vision of the world.

I think that even the most naturalistic painter, the one who strives the most to paint exactly what he sees, yet places his own point of view in his work. Leonardo's balance of composition and lights shows, I believe, his belief of the universe having an underlying perfect armony made of rules that are just there to be discovered, while so many things could be assumed from Van Gogh's crazy colors and brush strokes. And that's probably the reason why I don't like abstract paintings at all, where, even admitting there is a meaning to be found, it's usually unrepairably lost or overthrown by our own interpretation.

In a way, I think I like to imagine what was in the artist's mind just as I like to understand what passes in the mind of the people around me (much to their frustration, I might add, especially a given someone who simply hates when I ask things like "So what are you thinking of?"). What can I do, I'm a curious person.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I bet it happens to everyone, sooner or later, to do something in perfect good faith to please someone else, to show appreciation and esteem, and something went so terribly wrong that whatever it did ended up causing distress and pain for everyone involved.

It might be anything: the comment on how a given new shirt makes your girlfriend looks more slender that causes a "So you think I'm fat" tantrum rather than the expected smile, the flowers that causes an allergic reaction and consequent "You should know I've problems with it" instead of a kiss, the comparison and parallel that rather than being taken as flattering as it was meant is received in the most unexpected way and turned upside down to become, if lucky, a grey spot in your day and at worst a permanent casus belli.

The worst is is when you admit to someone you are thinking about her and she, rather than smile even more than she already was, turns all serious and looking at you with an expression that is a cocktail made of 2 parts of suspicion, 1 of sadness and 1 of that undefined thing that you know it's on the girls' faces only when you are in trouble, comes up with a "Now why are you doing it? Strange, there is something up, what is it?". What are you supposed to do, then?

By recent experience, I suggest to contact the closest office of the French Foreign Legion and asking about the opening hours of the recruitment office. Marching for 12 hours under the scorching sun of the Sahara or crawling on your belly in the muddy equatorial jungle between poisonous snakes and attack helicopter-sized mosquitoes is nothing compared to the torture of first trying to understand what is that possibly was triggered by your comment in the person in front of you and then, supposing you guessed and you guessed right (because if you guessed wrong you will have not one, but two discussion lined up ahead of you), to talk yourself out of the tar pit you have fallen into when you expected a bed of flowers.

The truth is that while the best of men think in a single (what you are saying) or at most double dimension (what you are saying and what else could be inferred on what you are saying) when saying something, and only the top of the notch of us think in three dimensions (adding the "what is indirectly connected to what I'm saying" level), every woman thinks in at least five dimensions and most of them are the living proof the euclidean geometry is but a tiny parcel of the known universe. No man will ever consider the possible implication of a compliment, he will just be satisfied by it or reject it. Girls, on the other hand, may do that as well or just as likely start a psychological analysis absolutely beyond any man's comprehension and come out with the fact that the compliment is indeed the manifestation of an inner unbalance their men have suffered in past relationships that is keeping haunting them, demonstrating that they are not only not over with their previous relationships since high school but that they will never be. As a direct consequence, girls fully believe they have the right to feel hurt and to make you pay for it.

So, my male readers who have read so far and are still so lucky to believe that a compliment, or an act that you do with the sole intent of pleasing your girl is just that, learn the principles of the quantum mechanics, parallel universes, chaos theory and their interaction with female psycology before doing either of those again.

Monday, March 27, 2006

London Tales - Part III

You know when you are tired, really tired, so extremely exhausted that your only wish, your ultimate goal, the very meaning of life becomes closing your eyes and sleeping... and your body refuses to? That's precisely what happened to me last night.

But let's go in order and move back on Friday. Location: London. As the original plan of going in good company first to the Tower of London and then to the London Eye had been wrecked by forces beyond my control, I found myself wandering aimlessly around the city. I first got to the metro at Russel Square and reached the Tower, wishing to at least see it if not visiting it alone, then walked over the Tower Bridge, turned back to see the very odd contrast of William the Conqueror's tower and the "cucumber skyscraper" behind it, and from there, proceeding along the Thames, I was surprised to find a whole philharmonic orchestra on an improvised stage playing near the HMS Belfast, next to what I presumed (and presume still, haven't checked out yet) being the ultra modern London City Hall. I stayed there for a while, listening until the end of the concert, than I kept on moving, walking towards the closest underground stop, while thinking about what to do next.

Suddenly, I found myself in front of some sort of museum about London during the WWII. Checking my faithful Lonely Planet guide I discovered that there was a much more serious museum about the subject, but way too far away to reach, so I gave up the idea. Walking randomly for a while I happened to come across a HUGE queue in front of what appeared to be a third rate horror tunnel and that I discovered to be the (apparently) renown London Dungeon... not that I ever thought about entering.

Finally, I decided I had enough of culture and exhibitions and decided that it was time to go to the exact opposite direction, so Harrods it was. The Mecca of the western consumistic lyfestyle (I do not know who labeled the store this way, but surely it's an appropriate definition, especially if you have in mind the human waves going around the Kaaba) is an immense maze of shops over 5 or 6 levels and I have to admit it made me quickly nauseous with the huge amount of people apparently wandering around without a goal, just merchandise-drunk. Before surrendering to the very same feeling, I headed to the food hall and got some English tea for the family (everyone in my family drinks tea excepts me) and a little something for Susanne and almost ran out from a side exit, finding out that Harrods had two new "Grande Punto"s (obviously with the driver's seat to the right) on display.

A bit of wandering around among the shops of South Kensington and then I thought to get to the internet and check my mail. I headed to a internet cafe highlighted by my faithful guide, that this time betrayed me as, under a rain becoming heavier by the minute, I found out that the place, near Victoria station, if it ever was there in 2004 (guide's publishing year) had been replaced by a travel agency. It was not all bad tho, as on the way back to the underground I stopped to buy something to eat and discovered something called "Cornish Traditional Beef pastry" and found it delicious, definitely the best thing I did eat in London. To be noted that it came in 3 sizes, little, medium and large and while I was more than satisfied with a little one, i kept wondering who could ever get and finish a three times larger piece.

Then, I suddenly realized I needed something to read on my way back to Rome the day after and that realization was soon followed by the thought that in days of going around in the city I hadn't seen a single bookshop. A quick look at my guide, another underground excursion and there I was in Soho where I failed, in one of the apparently largest bookshops of London, to get the 5th installment of the Chronicles of Camulod (I found only a way too expensive hardcover edition... anyway, I just bought it today at lunch break) and out of desperation, in an used books shop, I picked something almost at random. Turned out to be quite good stuff, but more about it in the next "Books" entry. Finally, on the way back to the hostel, I accidentally (but how else you can find something, if you are going around without a real plan?) found a internet cafe with a rate of 1 pound for 2 hours against the usual 20 minutes. There I wrote saturday's entry and I was astonishing at seeing a clochard, ragged clothes and everything, entering and sitting at a computer as if it was the most normal thing ever. London.

The night was, shall we say, eventful, between assisting ill friends, witnessing bags being prepared and getting new perspectives, and maybe closures. I also happened to discover that a friend of mine had surprisingly failed to be elected as President of ELSA International and that the Check Republic's candidature of Prague had much less surprisingly beaten the ill-prepared Italian one of Catania as ICM host for fall 2007.

The night never ended. A visit to King's Cross train station at 5.30 was followed, once back at the hostel, by a talk I would had gladly avoided, both for the hour and the subject, and when I finally, at 7.00 am, got to my newly acquired (but with no changed beddings since its last owner) bed, I found out that the Portuguese snoring monster had already started his symphony and I gave up every hope for sleep. Then it was breakfast and physical exhaustion started to make everything around me blurred, so much that I do not recall who I managed to say goodbye to and who I forgot, and it was time to catch a bus to the airport.

But even there, disaster was only nearly avoided. In fact, I joined a fellow Italian who had to leave several hours before me and we decided to take the coach to the airport together. At Hyde Park, tho, a very kind underground guardian sent us to a very wrong place for catching the coach, in the meanwhile having us walking around a good kilometers with our heavy bags. Out of desperation, we got a cab and ran to Victoria Station, finally catching the last available (for my friend, I had hours ahead of me before taking off, but since I had been the one suggesting sharing the couch, I felt responsible and I shared the stress) coach. At that point, I was literally seeing stars out of a deadly mix of lack of sleep (all thro the week, but particularly in the last 40 hours at that point) and physical efforts (marches around the city and bags carrying, mine and others').

The ordeal was not over tho. As I met another friend at the airport and discovered that we would had shared the flight, we were also informed that our flight would had been delayed. Eventually (and slightly refreshed by some Sushi, the first I had in a long time), we took off almost a hour late. At arrival, my dad picked us up and delivered me home by eleven pm. Susanne was online and quite evidently happy to see me back, I might add, which somehow refreshed me way more than the food, so much that for almost a hour, as we exchanged a few online words until midnight, I didn't feel as fainting or, more appropriately, as a 40 tons armoured tank had just rolled over me.

And that bring us back to the beginning: You know when you are tired, really tired, so extremely exhausted that your only wish, your ultimate goal, the very meaning of life becomes closing your eyes and sleeping... and your body refuses to? That's precisely what happened to me last night.

So, roughly 70 hours since I last closed my eyes, here I am, obviously unable to catch up with work and yet determined to go to gym in 2 hours after 2 weeks of absence. If I shall survive, it's yet to be seen.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

London Tales - Part II

So it's already saturday afternoon and I've left less than 24 hours to spend in London before getting back home... and I can't wait for that, for once. Sure I did, saw and experienced lots of things in the last 3 days. Wednesday was the first day at the National Gallery, Thursday was British Museum Part I and National gallery Part II and yesterday most of the day was spent again at the British Museum. Now that I'm at an incredibly expensive internet cafe, i shall have to be brief, but I shall give a few impressions, while the rest will have to wait for after my return home, I suppose.

1) I found out an amazing thing. In a city where all is terrificly expensive and you almost wait for someone collecting a tax for your very breathing air... the museums are for free! Whoa. After having spent 10 pounds for seeing the inside of Westminster Abbey, I was expecting, and resigned to, at least a 15 pounds ticket for the British or the National Gallery, and instead... nada. Or rather a free donation to be left at the entrance. I confess... I have left the suggested donation the first time I entered both museums, but not the second ones as by Thursday morning I am practically broke.

2) The National Gallery is quite good. The paintings are neatly divided in periods and geographical areas, the descriptions making also cross references to other paintings in the gallery and all is well laid. The first painting you find yourself facing is a Leonardo's "Virgin of the Rocks" (on the left, click to enlarge) and, no kidding, when I arrived there were two people with Dan Brown's "The da Vinci Code" making parallels (But, if I remember correctly, the one described in the book is the one at the Louvre, which is similar but different...). There are free tours given and I was lucky enough to spot and join one of the conference talks, which means people sitting in front of painting (with chairs provided by the museum) and a volunteer going into a 30 mins detailed explanation (in this case, a "Battle of the Laphits and the Centaurs" by Piero di Cosimo, below, click to enlarge). It was interesting and even funny as the volunteer at some point started to call the centaurs "minotaurs", to most of the audience's puzzlement. Anyway, I managed to see three fourth of the gallery over 2 days, as I was too exhausted at the end of Thursday to see the 1700-1900 section. Pity, but will be for the next time.

3) the British Museum is also Impressive, but chaotic. The rooms don't follow a logic an straightforward plan, so that it happens having to walk again back two room to follow the numbering. Many objects aren't were they should be, some on a loan, some being photographed, some... who knows. I tried to take part to one of the guided tours 9called "eyeopeners"), the one about middle age Europe, but it had been canceled. I then noted for the one starting one hour later about the classical world, but it had been canceled too. Just because I really wanted to see how they were done, I resolved for the one about the Far East and this time I was lucky, as a middle aged, very English looking woman, explained a little group of people (which grew smaller as the explanation went on) things about Buddhism in India.

Funny moment at the Museum cafeteria where I found myself sitting next two women from Northern Italy, the classic "rich, snobbish and we are so cool" kind who were discussing with a condescending tone frequently mixed English expression (that is part of the "we are oh so cool" style) about the Chinese restaurant in Rome and about how tears came to their eyes when they just thought about Michelangelo. Amazing thing about the British is the "hands on" moments, when you are actually allowed to touch some pieces of the museums' collection.. i would had loved to have in my hand a roman coin or a middle age sword, but I had to make myself content with a 6.000 years old human little statue... it still gave quite a thrill, have to say.

Anyway, have to say that although impressive, I expected more. the ultra-famous Parthenon marbles are outstanding, but I was much more struck by the Pergamon Altar in Berlin. The Persia section can't rival with the same at the Louvre and probably is inferior to the one in Berlin. The Roman section is poorer than I expected (but several rooms were closed). The middle age section, even if small, was quite interesting and rich, while I found disconcerting the rooms given to the clocks... I knew Englishmen had an obsession about clocks, but two full rooms? If one manages to fend the crowds in front of the Rosetta's Stone, the Egyptian section is indeed interesting (especially the room at the second floor... gee, how many stairs). Quite funnily, I saw some of the most interesting things almost by mistake when at the every last moment I entered in the "Enlightenment Gallery".

Well, what I did today will be for the next installment (it's time to give the computer back and return to hell, aka the hostel, where, btw, this morning they dislodged me from my room without giving me yet a new one.. I might possibly end up sleeping in the parlor...), as today was really hectic and mostly a wandering without a precise goal, but I shall just say that I did the unexpected and, among the rest, went at Harrods where I couldn't help but buying some tea for my mom and something else for somebody else...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

London Tales - Part I

So, on Monday night, 23.30 pm, I did land at London Stansted. First impression of London, the 25 minutes queue at the passport check, and three cheers for European Union. Then a coach (the A6) until Baker Street and then... a 3 kms march with the luggage (the Nobel prize at the inventor of the trolleys, please, for the great service he did to the whole human kind) in the cold and the rain. And for the ones who say that there is always a "black cab" around in London, I must say that at 2 am they are few and unavoidably taken.

Anyway, managed to the hostel (The Generator Hostel - avoid it!) at 2.30 and I was astonished to find the worst place I've ever been into: 4 places in 2 2-stores beds in a room that would not be considered worthy to be a storeroom in any European hotel and even hostel I've been in, bathroom (1) shared for the whole floor and three showers. I'll live, I suppose, I've always been flexible in the approach of life. What is instead worrying is that London is way more expensive than my already wild imagination. Coach ticket: 15 pounds, tube week ticket: 22 pounds, entrance fee for Westminster (a CHURCH for the Almighty's sake!) 10 pounds, a European/stupid-English plug power converter: 5 pounds, a really not pretentious dinner: 18 pounds. Seriously, in a matter of 24 hours I did burn up 150 euros and I'm still wondering how.

But... London is cool. The "all the world is here" atmosphere is something really special. Not like Rome, where also we do have people from around the world, because there they are evidently tourists: they dress, look around, act and behave like tourists. Here, you can see a given common ground, even in the difference of colors, dresses and accents. In a way, I think ancient Rome, at the imperial time, might have felt like this.

Trafalgar square is much much smaller than I thought it would had been, just like Nelson's column, but Westminster Abbey is impressive in its own way (even if the mass of the people stationing in front of Newton's memorial looking for the things described in "The Da Vinci's Code" makes me wonder about the human intelligence) and I found it oddly moving the fact that Kipling and Dickens memorials, two simple burial stones in the poet's corner, lie one next to the other, or that Laurence Olivier's one is at the feet of Shakespeare's memorial. I did spend maybe two hours wandering between the burial places of forgotten captains sunk with their ships in the glorious days of the English Navy and the one of more or less renown English sovereigns. I did linger a moment longer in front of Richard the II's place, wondering what he would had thought of having been made immortal by a poet narrating his evil deeds... and then of course remembering that the bad one was Richard the Third. From mistake to mistake, I admit I looked for Henry the IV's grave, only to discover, thanks to a very kind priest who took the time to look at a huge list, that he's at Canterbury. Henry the VII's room and especially it's roof is simply magnificent, while the so renown chapter's house is very unimpressive.

Out of Westminster Abbey, the Parliament house stands proud and huge, with the Big Ben. Objectively impressive, but oddly I prefer the Hungarian Parliament to this, that was its model. Funny thing, I managed to get in by mixing myself with a group of people entering, only to discover they were workers there and to be thrown out (with dignified horror) by the police (and I'm afraid the guard at the main entrance will have some bad times because of us). Anyway, the parliament house can be visited only in august, when the parliament is not in session. Funny thing is that just a few days before coming here, I went to see "V for Vendetta" (more about it when I will have time) and the last scene is exactly the parliament house being blew up.

What else what else.... I had that unpretentious dinner and had the experience of the most uncourteous waitress I've ever met, only slightly worse that the tube guy that first opened a gate for me after my Oyster ticket failed and than, as it closed suddenly on my arm (yes, it did hurt) rather than opening it right away, he put his hands in his (sparse) hair and protested about tourist being so terrible.

I'm leaning towards changing something that I thought would had been an unchangeable belief of mine: the most annoying people do not reside in Paris, but in London. But also pretty kind ones, to be honest. A very busy-looking man I had to stop for directions spent a good 5 minutes to explain me (5 times) how to get to the nearest underground station... it made me feel midway between a baby and an idiot, but was nice.

And I finally experienced London's cabs yesterday returning from a party at past 2 am and I found them great and quite inexpensive, compared to everything else... which I suppose means that taxis in Rome are furiously expensive, being more expensive than their English counterparts. Not a surprise.

Not sure if I'll manage to write another London entry while I'll be here (ah, I forgot: internet time at the internet cafes goes for 1 pound for 20 minutes and I did check three different places), as right now I'm using the London South Bank University's computer lab, but I do not know if I'll get the chance again... besides, I should be out there exploring, not inside here typing.

Last note about books: on the way to London I basically started (I was still at page 50) and finished the 4th installment of the Camulod's Chronicles. More about it later, but I need to buy something to read on the way back...

Friday, March 17, 2006

Being International and Being Away

Yesterday my blog was visited by 26 people, and that alone makes me wonder why so many people could be curious to know what I'm writing. The interesting thing is that among those 26 there were people connecting from Italy, United States, Russia, Hungary, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom and Sweden. Which is not so strange as the people who in the past day have connected from Indi and Malaysia. I'm becoming internationally famous, it seems...

Anyway, sad having to leave right when popularity is on the raise and stardom gates are starting to opening for me. Fact is, I shall probably out of Rome for the week-end and I shall be back only to catch a plane to London, where I shall be the whole next week, returning sunday night, the 26th. So... this is quite possibly the last post of mine for the next 10 days. Have a good 2 week-ends, all of you!

(And yes all those talks about being famous and stardom were self-irony, you can't tell...).

Thursday, March 16, 2006

On Housing in Rome and Italians Staying at their Parents'

Prompted by a comment at my previous' entry and a few emails I got from a mail I sent to the VCN-Rome mailing list, I thought about writing a little bit about the problems related on finding a house. Mind you, it will be a venting article.

So, why a 30 years old, working, reasonably independant, internationally minded man (not boy, please, boyhood ends when you finish studying, despite what the age-horrified mass media says) still resides with his own parents in Italy? The answer is simple: he cannot afford to buy an apartment, however little, for himself and renting one is prohibitive as well. And note that being in the 20-25.000 euros/year income range, I'm supposedly a pretty well doing person for my age.

Let's get right to the point: houses prices and rents have skyrocketed, basically going up from 200% to 400% between 2001 and now. Why? Euro introduction and the 1.000 liras to 1 euros change that has taken place in many realities, from grocery stores to real estate (despite the idiocies that statistical centres keep repeating that there was no more than a 3% inflation rate). If renting a house did cost 5 years ago 1.000.000 liras/month, today the same place costs at least 1.500 euros/month, roughly three times more. At the same time, the salary were correctly converted using the 1.936 liras to 1 euros ratio and basically stayed as they were 5 years ago, corrected, when it happened, with the official 1.5/35 official inflation rate.

Don't believe me? Ok, another example. Renting a single room for a student in a shared apartment in 2001 did cost around 250-300.000 liras/month, now (if you can find it) it's at least 350 euros/month (but more like 400/500, plus expenses), more than three times that.

The result is that if statistically italians used to leave their parents' place at the moment they got their first job or married (usually the two things being the same) and that happened at 26/30, now they can do it only when they get married and both the members of the couple works and that happens in the 28/35 range. And I will let aside the fact that 1/3 of the population in that age range lives with works that are paid under 1.000 euros a month and are "flexible", meaning they can be lost one month to the other and give no projectual horizont at all. And they wonder why Italians have one of the lowest (if not the lowest) birth rate in the world.

Now, I'm no exception to the rule. I do work a stable job (which I'm looking to change, btw, anyone has some proposal?) and from the day after I got it, 2 years ago, I also started looking for a place on my own. Unsuccesfully. The truth is that with my salary I could get a mortgage of maybe 150.000 € over 30 years and for that sum, in Rome, you do not get a 30 square meters apartment (or you do, if you accept to live in a former garage that is still a garage for the land register but that is sold as a "loft" or "mini-apartment" by the...shall we say voracious? Owner). Just to make an example, a 60 square meters apartment in a no particularly well connected area of the city as the one I'm going to move to (in my parent's new apartment) goes for 350.000 euros. Note that the area is much closer to the external highway ring of the city than it is to the centre.

So the solution would be either to use between a third and half of my incomes to rent a room in a shared apartment (with all the inconveniences of that and with the rest of my moneny disappearing to pay for bills and self-sustainment) or to stay with my parents, save half my incomes every year (the other half goes for travels, especially this year, clothes and.. well everything else but food) and... what?

Because the problem is exactly that: then what? Can you stay with your parents, no matter how liberal and unintrusive they are, all your life? Of course you can't and for how much I love the idea of extended family in general and the two of them in particular, it's becoming more and more heavy as the months pass by, coupled with a frustration feeling that is mine and of most of my generation.

Ok, you could say, you could move out of the actual city. Good point. The problem with it is that Rome has a tremendously poor public transport system. The fact that the whole 3 millions people city has only two, short, underground lines is mirrored by the fact that the infrastructure network connecting the city to the suburban area is, at best, a joke.

I'm sure in Paris, Berlin (ah, how I tremendously love the undergrounds of Berlin) and probably London (I will see in a week) one can actually go and live 20-30 kms away from downtown and still, relying on the metrò or S+U-bahn systems (respectively, the picture to the left and right, while the comparingly pitiful roman one is below Paris' one... click to enlarge), be able to work there and even "live" there in the week-ends, but in Rome, as soon as you get out of the 10 kms radius (the "scooter" range), the house-work-house commute times jumps from 1 hour to 3 and the parking problem becomes unsolvable. Hence the astronomical prices of the houses in the city.

So, when you hear of the italians living with their "mamma"s when it is already quite past time for them to be fathers or mothers, don't blame it all on the "italian family" mentality or on the fact our moms are the best cooks and housemaids we'll ever meet( and will always be the one who will pamper us better than anyone else). That is actually the excuse we like to put out rather than admitting we wish to move, but we simply are too poor for.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Futility of Courts, Laws and Agreements

On the Micro-Level

And today I went to an auction for an apartment. But today no apartment was auctioned. Welcome (once again, if you have read my previous article a couple of days ago) to the Italian court system, when you can have a procedure started in 1993 to seize and sell an apartment for unpaid debts and the apartment is not yet sold 13 years later and will not be for at least another year and a half now. What was the reason this time? One of the lawyers of the creditors noticed this morning a little irregularity in the papers. THIS MORNING! The papers had been presented FIVE years ago. In five years, neither the lawyers, nor the judge noticed (if she ever read them) it and the procedure followed untill today, when it was postponed again sine die without even hearing the ones who had convened to take part to it.

Now, besides that I wasted two hours of vacations (having had to be present and therefore needed two hours out of the office that will be escalated from my days off) and 22 euros (1.81 just to get back MY money that I had deposited to be part in an auction that never took place), I wonder... why one should ever repay a debt in Italy, if he can use the goods he bought with the money for 13 years afterwards, even if he hasn't paid back a dime? And more interesting, why would anyone ever give money as a loan, considering it can take more than a decade to seize and sell the goods given as a guarantee?

And the horror of a "court" that was in a simple, overcrowded, room with piles of documents, again, everywhere and where people dressed in questionable way surrounded a judge who could had been a janitor (no, she didn't have her judicial robe as the drawing all) and a chancellor that was really looking like a cheap Christmas tree. Even the auction I managed to see before my own short-lived procedure was astonishingly horrible, with 7 people standing in front of the judge, their overcoats still on, mumbling their offers (incidentally, a two rooms apartment in a pretty slum-side of the city got sold for 197.000 euros).

I dearly love my country and I adore my city, but sometimes I feel so sick and disgusted and ashamed of being a roman living here. Today is one of those times, quite so.

On the Macro-level

Back in 2002, Ahmad Sa'adat, Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), accused by israel of having organized and carried out the murder of Israelian minister Rehavam Zeevi, was arrested by PNA following an agreement between the said PNA, USA, UK an Israel and detained in Jericho, under american and britain custody.

Few weeks ago, Hamas won the election for the PNA and among the first things its future government members said was that they would had not recognized any of the agreements signed by the ANP and Israel, starting from the Oslo agreements and down to the one related to the prisoners in Jericho.

Yesterday, as the day the Hamas goverment will install itself to power draws closer, the american and british soldiers presiding the prison withdrew, complaining that the security measures around the prison, which had never been particularly high, had been deminished even more, and the IDF, the israelian army, surrounded the prison and, after a day of siege, took Sadaat under custody. In the meanwhile, westerners were being kidnapped by palestinians all around Palestine, regardless of their nationalities, and american and british offices (included a British Council Cultural center) were stormed and burned down. Among those kidnapped, the director for gaza of the Red Cross (so much for the "never shoot on the red cross" principle), various workers for international humanitarian organizations (so much for the "do not bite the hands that feeds you" principle) and so on and so forth.

Now, was Israel justified in seizing Sadaat, storming the prison, considering it was reknown that he was going to be set free soon, despite the previous agreements? I'm pondering about it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It's spring

Yes, spring begins the 21st of March with the Equinox. Yes, it's still damn cold (in italian roman terms, meaning we are between 0 and 12 degrees). Yes, it has even been more often cloudy and rainy than not in the last 2 weeks. But apparently Mother nature has other plans.

Spring is coming because, while driving to get to my office this morning, at a given turn I suddenly felt there was something wrong and a red light actually gave me the time to realize what that was. The ornamental trees that are to be found here and there in Rome and whose name I am never able to remember had turned from dead pieces of woods to a bloomig pink boom overnight, changing totally the look of the street. And try to tell them that spring is yet a week to go.

A week or two more and the plane trees that run along the Tiber will come back to life giving green walls to the river to flow within and the wild ivy covering the tower to the right of Porta Pia, one of the gates of the city, will once again cover the immortal walls... unless a mad gardener did cut its roots as it was done 10 years ago.

I must remember to go to the Orange Garden and to the Rose Garden (to the right, click to enlarge the picture) when it will be the blooming period. It has been a few years, and that's a pity, they are both really a sight to be seen. And maybe take a few picture here and there...

Monday, March 13, 2006

How happy I am not to be a lawyer

Today, around lunch time, I got to the civil courthouse of Rome to deposit the money needed to take part to an auction for an apartment. Yes, another attempt at the now 2 years long struggle to get my own place to live in, but that's not the point.

The point is that having seen again a courthouse after almost 2 years since last time, I'm ever so happy I decided years ago I wouldn't had been a lawyer. It was demoralizing... papers everywhere, above and under the tables and simple on the floor, dirt and trash everywhere, people wandering the corridors without an apparent goal and with a look in their eyes as if they were dreaming, or rather having a nightmare.

To whoever wonders how possible it is that an italian civil case can stay even 10 years in a court before getting a first judgment (which will almost surely be brought to a second and third one), I'd just suggest to take a walk in those corridors that have the look of ant colony but lacking its tidiness and order. Too many people, too little space, too many cases and piles, houses, mountains of paper.

So, once again, I'm glad I decided not to become a lawyer. Maybe in a different system I would have really enjoyed it, but the truth is that in Italy the legal profession is made mostly of time-wasting menial tasks, queues to deposit documents to bored and frustrated (and with reasons) state employees who lack the resources and means to do their job properly in a system that has lost it's real objective: to give quick decisions that help solving people's problems. Sometimes, often actually, the juridical procedure becomes an heavier burden than the original conflict that brought the two people to court.

Nah, thank you.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

One, two, three, four times past

Yesterday was a strange day as the past kept making coming backs on all level, both personal and not. But first I have to say that the Fraschetta friday evening was good, with more than 100 people present, but left devastation behind. Stuffed in an overheated coach, after having been sitting for 3 hours in a place where they served us jug after jug of healty, strong red wine, the bumping and turning of the winding road taking us from the hills back to Rome left only a few unaffected, and a big deal more... well, you can imagine.

So, eventually, the whole yesterday was spent recovering (that fact that my brother, for unknown reasons, had the alarm clock set for 8.30 didn't help), even disattending the disco night that was planned for the night, but it turned out to be pretty good in the end.

The Personal Past - Chapter I

So it happened that while I was laying on the coach in the living room, Beatrix (on the right, with her dad) connected on one of the various Internet Messangers I use. Now, I suppose I should start by saying who Beatrix (or Bea, or Trixi) is and I shall say, she's quite a special person. She's Hungarian and she's pretty special to me, having been the very first important relationship of my life, and having managed to put up with me for a whole year and a half (and that's quite something by itself, as most of even my friends would more or less jokingly confirm), but even more, she's the only and single one of my exes (no, there's not so many of them) I still keep in touch with on a regular basis... well, if we do not consider an almost 2 years hiatus right after we did break up.

In a way, Bea is the one I turn to when I either need a suggestion about that unknown and unchartable dimension that is the "female nature" or when I just need to vent my frustration about my experiences confronting with that. She has an incredible insight and at the same time she knows me well enough, I think, not to judge me too harshly when I say or do something absolutely stupid. At the same time, I hope, I can have the same role, in an opposite way, for her, as I sure do care deeply for her.

So it was that yesterday we spent more than a hour talking about things bothering her. Actually, we didn't even talk, if for talking we mean the mutual exchange of informations and point of views, as the whole thing was more me giving my point of views on a given subject which basically confirmed the opinions she already had came up with by herself. But I suppose we all need to be listened to and to be confirmed in our already taken decisions, once in a while, right? I liked being there for her, and hope I could make her day a bit better by that.

Which reminds me, I want to go to Budapest again...

The Historical Past - Chapter I

In May 1968, in France, a whole process started that led to years of tensions, a whole cultural movement in most of the western world and, in several countries included Italy, to fierce political struggles, violent protests, urban guerrilla and terrorism tha did last for years, even a decade, and at least here were known as the "lead years".

In these days, things are happening again in Paris that led many commentors saying that it looked like we were back to those days. The BBC comment, for instance, was "The overnight violence has echoes of the labour and student unrest of 1968 in Paris."

Protesting against a goverment act aimed at bringing more "flexibility" to the labour market of the young ones (who in france suffer a 20% unemloyement rate against the 9% national average data), students occupied 42 of the 80 French universities and most notably the Sorbonne. Here, hundreds of students (but not only) broke windows and forced their entry in the main building of the campus on riday, bringing devastation, and held it untill they were forcefully housted by the police on saturday's dawn.

The Personal Past - Chapter II

Almost one year ago two very important (for me) things happened. The 14th of March my father had a triple bypass heart surgery, complicated by many things, and the day after his mom, my grandmother, died at the age of 84. i always gave it a symbolic meaning, as if my grandmother (who had been seriously ill for years) had died in order for my father to live.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, my grandmother's apartment was finally sold and yesterday it started the quite emotionally troubling job of sorting out things, what to throw away, what to keep, what to donate. Pictures lost for years showing relatives I have never seen and just heard talking about came out, memories of the past and of the family dinners at Christmas, objects which were part of my childhood and which had been forgotten for decades suddenly reappeared, books and music, jewels and that immense amount of objectively unimportant things that yet all mark our life and contribute to give an idea about who we are.

And while I was helping my father, understandably thoughtful and quiet, putting things in boxes, I've decided we have to celebrate the 14th of march in some way. I'll see what I can do, maybe dinner out?

The Historical Past - Chapter II

In a protest totally unrelated to the French one, but that again brought to the mind the every day violent clashes of the 60s and of the lead years, Milan's central area was devastated yesterday by a protest of the most extreme left groups, black blocs and the assorted people that goes here under the general etiquette of "no-global galaxy".

The nice guys destroyed traffic lights, signals, did burn garbage containers did, shattered shops's windows, assaulted a McDonald restourant (picture to the right) where a birthday party was taking place, terrorizing dozens of kids and some had to be taken to hospital.

Then they proceeded in setting ablaze a Nike shop (on the left left) with the risk of burning the whole building the shop was in, burn cars in the middle of the streets and took pleasure in all those activities for which they universally famous in Italy at least since Genoa's G8 meeting included, in the name of democracy, destroying an office of one of the conservative parties.

The thing cause an even greater impact because som of the leaders of these "movements" are currently candidates by the various communist parties in the center-left, Prodi-led, coalition, currently seen as the most likely to win Italy's next political elections, 3 weeks from now. Well, Italy saw centuries of barbaric invasions, I suppose we can have vandals and vilent criminals on our parliament's benches.