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Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Life & People

    Cappuccino Connoisseur, and Proud of It

    ROME - Little represents American city life better than the painting—you know it well—of a grimly illuminated diner. In it a lone and lonely man wearing a hat, like the one my father always wore, sits wretchedly on a stool as he nurses a midnight cup of coffee.

    This is not Italy. Italy is the café, and what is consumed there. For me, this is the Italian cappuccino. Calculating a minimum of 320 daily presences in Italy per year, with one cappuccino at 8 o’clock in the morning and another at 11, in the past six years or so I have sipped, and occasionally spat out, 2,560 cappuccini.
     
    To make a proper cappuccino is a tricky business. The foam cap must have precisely the right, creamy consistency, for it keeps the cappuccino warm. A foam overdose—where you can actually see bubbles—will cool down the cappuccino. And at any self-respecting café, the barman or woman lets the steamed milk rest a moment, then bangs the metal pan on the counter to remove the unwanted big bubbles.
    I begin the day with a cornetto as well (alas, increasingly, made from mass-produced frozen dough). A few at the café will dip the cornetto into the cappuccino; in the Sixties a popular Italian version of candid camera TV had an entertainer dip his into the cappuccino of another man, unaware of being filmed.
    As everyone knows, ordering a cappuccino at the end of a meal, or, heaven forbid, in the middle of the afternoon, is un’americanata, pronounced with a sneeringly nasal “ata” at the end. This refers to a style or action so vulgar that only us Americans will do it. Needless to say, the word is often spoken by an Italian decked out in blue jeans, dock shoes, oxford-cloth button-down and loafers made in Italy.
     

    A cappuccino is relished most in the right café. Too much shiny marble is the café equivalent of bling and in certain cases can intimate dodgy ownership, as in money recycling. The bling cafés have their place, but the most interesting cafés come in unexpected places, and are often dark. During my six years of work at the U.S. Embassy, just off Via Veneto in Rome, I would steal away from its august halls to sip a cappuccino in the bleakly serious in-house coffee bar of the Communist-dominated General Confederation of Italian Labor (CGIL), where my Marxist cappuccino was antidote to a certain narrowness of perspective. I have also found hospitable cafés inside hospital lobbies, where patients toss a raincoat or bathrobe over their gowns and stand by the counter to chat with anyone who will listen about their operation or new baby.
     
    By contrast, the Italian café, especially in the morning fray, is a scene of wild movement. As the crush of customers heaves and shoves and elbows toward the front of the bar, jockeying for space and attention, the barman (still usually a man, for this is man’s work, though encroached by women, these days from East Europe) must somehow remember the orders and then, out of the chaos, create order by matching the fare to be served with the face he may see for the first time. Many before me have made the list of orders:
     
    “Un caffè.” (Don’t fool with it. This is serious.)
    “Un caffè macchiato.” (Dash of milk. I’m the fancy type.)
    “Un caffè corretto.” (Corrected with a good strong dollop of brandy. Favored by street people and serious blue-collar workers.)
    “Un ristretto.” (Especially concentrated, for those with strong appetites.)
    “All’americano.” (Thinned down with water into a timid broth.)
    “Doppio.” (Double dose, for those in dire morning distress.)
    “Freddo.” (Cold.)
    “Scecherato. (“Shakered,” or coffee-milk in a blender with ice.) And so on.
     
    The cappuccino variations begin with whether it is to be served the old-fashioned way, in a glass (nel bicchiere or in vetro), or in a thick pottery cup (in tazza). From there the consumer proceeds to specify how much or little foam is desirable (poco schiuma, senza schiuma).
    Over the noise the barman in his black cummerbund shouts the order down the counter to his colleague manning the coffee machine, then slams a saucer in front of each customer—larger if for cappuccino, smaller if for caffè—and places a spoon onto the saucer in a specific position: one o’clock, three o’clock, six o’clock. Like the knots in strings made by the Incas, each spoon position tells a story, as I learned when I once absently shifted my spoon and found myself being shouted at.
     
    Other conventions must be respected. When a customer requested a glob of whipped cream for his cappuccino in a seaside coffee bar last August, the barman objected. The whipped cream was there and visible, a luscious Mount Everest in a glass bowl. But the barman pointed out that this was high summer, the whipped cream was for gelato cones only, and anyway the morning too hot to think about adding whipped cream to a cappuccino. Instead of stammering a lame apology, the customer said stubbornly that in his cappuccino he liked whipped cream all year round, every day.
    From the little knot of habitués came snickers. They knew what the barman’s response would be. They watched as, performing for his audience, the barman scornfully filled the cappuccino to the brim and topped it with a giant dollop of whipped cream—filled it until it spilled over, making a brown puddle in the saucer of the poor customer, who had no choice but to drink it all up while ignoring the guffaws, even as dribbles from the cup slopped down the front of his nicely ironed shirt with its fancy label.
     
    I sympathized, for as a connoisseur I too have special requirements, which are in fact demands. No matter how hot the temperature outdoors or in, I order my cappuccino bollente (boiling), although many Italians prefer theirs tepid. For the barman to steam the milk until it is hot takes him extra time. He gives in, but sometimes with a grumbled, “Me, I couldn’t drink it that hot.” Occasionally a die-hard fixes me with a spiteful stare that says, “I’ll fix her,” and then makes it as fiery hot as he can—a foretaste of hell.
    These are the same barmen, needless to say, who ignore their customers to trot out from behind the counter to feed a customer’s dog a tasty morsel from one of the sandwiches behind the glass counter.
     
    A special challenge is to get a look, for free, at the morning newspaper. Usually found atop an ice cream freezer, it is usually stained, with the sports pages curled up and scarred brown from others’ beverages. In Rome, the paper is usually Il Messaggero, and getting at it requires ingenuity in the daily battle with the regulars, who want to pour endlessly over the soccer reports. Few tifosi (fans) are about to be put off by a woman, uninterested in sports and a foreigner to boot.
    The trick, then, is to walk inside, and immediately check to see if the paper is free, then pin it down, set up your beachhead, and, while simultaneously ordering, start reading; otherwise someone else will arrive and grab the paper, and there it goes, for ten minutes you hear nothing but disgust at what la Juve did to la Roma or il Lazio.
    Still, three days out of four, I get to the newspaper first—though not without a fight. And perhaps that is part of the fun.
     

  • Life & People

    Italy: Immigration Politics in a Land of (Former) Emigrants


     ROME.  Visitors to Genoa this summer have delighted in the exhibition "La Merica! Da Genova ad Ellis Island". Opened last June, it is now a huge permanent installation in the Galata Museo del Mare (Museum of the Sea). The curators have used letters, diaries, taped accounts, film sequences and imaginative multi-medial techniques to illustrate the voyages of the millions of Italian migrants who sailed from Genoa between 1892 and 1914, when the outbreak of World War I interrupted the flood.   

     
    For the new installation, the old maritime station at Ponte Federico Guglielmo (today's Ponte del Mille) has been recreated, so that the museum visitor—armed with passport and ticket—can board the ship and visit sleeping quarters, latrines, infirmary (one doctor per ship), and dining hall. Real time would require two weeks at sea, but today's time traveler speedily arrives at a reconstructed Ellis Island reception point, where he or she disembarks to get in line for questioning and inspection for disease.
     
    Until 1905, when norms to protect passengers were first established, the ships in use were simply adapted from whatever freighters were to hand. Fatal illnesses were frequent, especially pneumonia and typhoid.
    Many arrived nevertheless. A youth from Genoa recounts that, at Ellis Island, he was amazed to hear for the first time people speaking a Babel of languages. Fearing that no one would come to find him, he waited, panicky, until a young man came up and demanded, "Where are you from?" The boy gave the name of his town. "I'm your brother," cried the older youth. This was their first meeting.
     
    Then there was Carlo Fagetti, age 23, who wrote his mother on May 25, 1907, "Dear Mamma, I had a pretty poor trip, 27 days at sea, always suffering from hunger. We disembarked and then after three days on the train we arrived in losangelo."
     
    Last week on Capri this reporter, in real time, met a charming Italian of sixty or so selling trinkets at beachside —postcards, necklaces, bracelets, seashells—to tourists. With his profits over the years this pleasant, good humored gentleman had funded his son's chic new restaurant in Chelsea. This man's son, like my own, is one of the new Italian migrants into Nuova York, remote from the stinking holds of steamships and Ellis Island.
     
    Today, immigration into their country is among Italy's most perplexing problems.  This was recognized late last month by Pope Benedict XVI, when he spoke specifically of his "grief" at the "massacre at sea of immigrants fleeing from war, hunger and disease…an open sore that poses a question of conscience to all men of good will." He referred specifically to the 71 who had just drown off Sicily, and called for "new policies for receiving" migrants in Europe. 
     
    Coincidentally (well, not quite a coincidence), the Vatican sponsored a conference on the Roma [Gypsy] question, held last month in Friesing, in the pope's home region of Bavaria. "In the EU country racist and xenophobic attitudes towards nomads [Gypsies] and immigrants is on the rise," warned Mons. Agostino Marchetto, heads of the Pontifical Commission on Migrants and Itinerants.
    Coincidentally (again, not quite), Kevin Appleby, speaking for the U.S. bishops conference, warned both Republican and Democratic candidates that a 700-mile wall will not stop illegal immigration, encouraged by overly restrictive laws. What we need, he said, are "less rigid laws that will encourage work and opportunities for everyone, and compassion."
    As Adriano Sofri wrote in "La Repubblica": "And weren't we the Gypsies back then?" Probably, he added, in fifty years or so these migrants to Italy will be touring a museum installation showing all the horrors they lived through.
     
    Mindful of their own past, Italians have traditionally done a good job of respecting new arrivals, but have been caught short by the sheer numbers of arrivals today. The Roma have taken the brunt, and this writer is among the many complaining about the Interior Ministry's decision to fingerprint Roma children. It is only fair to say, therefore, that in Rome at least this has evolved into a census-taking operation in official Roma camps, conducted by the Red Cross. So far this census has shown that one of five Roma children has never been vaccinated, nor attended school.
    On the other hand it also shows that four out of five have been vaccinated and go to school, at least in the legal camps.
     
    Anti-immigrant feeling is still strongest in the North, where populist Northern League leader Umberto Bossi is on record suggesting that Italy shoot cannon balls at the incoming boatloads. Short of this, how much can we sympathize with the anti-immigrant Italians?
    With a huge legal immigrant population, 12% out a total population of 360,000, Verona is a case in point. Since the Middle Ages, when it vaunted one of Europe's greatest animal fairs with attendant entertainment, the city has been a crucial East-West, North-South crossroads, including today for TIR traffic from East Europe. Today, says Mayor Flavio Tosi, things have gone too far.
    In an interview with Enrico Bonerandi, Tosi dismissed the Bossi solution ("only verbal cannonballs") but also the pontiff's plea for more compassionate policies, saying that the pope had not been speaking of Italy, but of Spain and Greece. Anyway, the tragedies at sea "are hardly the fault of the Italians," which is true enough in its own way.
     
    On the other hand, Tosi praised Premier Silvio Berlusconi for signing a treaty with Libya last month that includes proposals aimed at reducing the pressure of migrants—the working words here are "aimed at"—landing on the beaches at the island of Lampedusa, whose medical and housing facilities have been overwhelmed by the hordes of arrivals, from 30 to 100 a day, during this long summer of good weather.

     "There is a limit, and we have reached it," says Tosi firmly.
    Dear Mr. Mayor, The only response to this is: I don't think so. No less than global business, the escape from global poverty will not be stopped. All praise to Benedict XVI for offering wiser counsel than the politics of the cannonball.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Does Misery Love Company? Italy’s Roma

    ROME – Misery may love company, but it is not a two-way street. Few are more miserable these days than the Roma, or Gypsies, in Italy, whose camps are being bulldozed by officials, whose  shacks are being firebombed at night by self-styled vigilantes, and whose children now risk being fingerprinted.

    The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, has an unsavory past of  neo-Fascist youth stunts that twice brought him police trouble. Those of us who believe in second chances have been slow to attack him for the idiocies of teenagerdom: after all, Fabrizio Cicchitto was a Marxist-Leninist in his youth and then a member of the P2, and this has not stopped Premier Silvio Berlusconi from making Cicchitto his third-in-command, after Gianni Leta.

    But now Alemanno proposes fingerprinting Roma children. The outcry has been so strong that the Prefect of the city of Rome, whose bailiwick includes the plight of the Roma, is cautiously backing off, saying that, well, the EU allows children over six to be legally  fingerprinted. The problem here, of course, is that the EU directive would refer to all children, not to a specially selected group of undesirables.

    Some 150,000 Roma live in Italy, and an estimated 15,000 in Rome alone. Some have lived in Italy for generations, and even a good many recent arrivals are fully legal. However, an unknown number—many flooding in from that recent arrival to the EU, Romania—live  in perhaps twenty illegal camps in and around Rome, some totally without running water or electricity. For these there is no easy solution. Italy, like all traditional societies challenged by a massive arrival of immigrants from other cultures, is baffled.

    Tullia Zevi, for fifteen years president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities in Italy (UCEI), makes the point that, “A country’s minorities are a sort of thermometer indicating, from the way they live and their conditions, the degree of democracy in that country. I’ve always had a strong sense of solidarity with the Roma and their problems because their destiny has been similar to that of the Jews, and this is an injustice which is only rarely remembered.

    “The current wave of anti-Roma feeling in Italy is a challenge that our times offer us, and which we have to face. In part we are doing this: we are becoming ever more European, more a part of the rest of the world, thanks to improved communications and shifts in population…. But we also see extreme right-wing racist ideologies rooted in a lack of culture and in frustrations.”

    In Milan graffiti proclaimed, “Zero Roma Camps,” and in a dawn attack on a camp in the Bovisasca suburb police made a number of arrests. Roman Catholic Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi protested, saying that the Roma living in Bovisasca were being treated beneath the minimal level of respect for human dignity. “And just what kind of benefit do such methods achieve?” the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan said. “The dignity of individuals must always be respected.”

    The problem is intractable, as anyone can see. At midday recently in Naples, that crime-ridden city drowning in its own rubbish, the thermometer stood at around 100 degrees inside the crammed car of the little Circonvesuviano train, when the strains of an accordion could be heard. A rough-looking teenage Rom walked down the aisle through the crowd of passengers and tunelessly played a song. Stumbling before him, struggling to stay upright as the train swayed, was a tow-headed, dirty-faced boy of perhaps five holding a can in front of him to collect coins. But no coins were proffered, and indeed no one paid the least attention either to sullen teenager or child, whose face was a mask of misery.

    I was outraged. If the child had been Italian, I thought, people would have protested. Well, I would, and did. Seeking out the train conductor, I informed him as forcefully as possible that such exploitation of a child should not be allowed.

    Giving me the briefest of glances, the conductor shrugged. “I’m not a policeman.” So much for my protest. Alert to my fussing and fuming, the Rom and his tiny ward had meantime slipped off the train at the next stop.

    That was not the end of the story. At ten pm that same evening, seated over wine and pizza at a cheery outdoor restaurant at the lovely Piazza Dante of Naples, my heart sank when I heard music—that same music of so many hours before. The Rom teenager was back, and still circulating with the same Zombie-like child, staggering blankly from fatigue. I could think of nothing better than to write as withering a letter of protest as possible to the Naples daily, Il Mattino, for which I had occasionally written opinion pieces. My letter pleading for social welfare workers to help Roma children was duly published, and duly ignored—until one day when I was buying a ticket to enter a museum in Naples, the woman in the ticket booth said, “I know you.”

        “What?”
        “I was on the train that day—I saw the boy, and I saw you go for the conductor. Then I read your letter. But nothing happened.” She looked at me with, I thought, pity.

    I was puzzled. This obviously rather kind Neapolitan woman had felt no need herself to take action of any kind, or to protest. But then, as I immediately realized, she knew, before I did, that protest was obviously futile. Her pity was as much for herself as for the suffering child, for she understood her own sense of powerlessness.

    Others are reacting, however. At a school in Rome, where 22 elementary schoolchildren are in a class with several Roma children, the parents are fighting to protect the Roma students’ right to remain in the school despite blinkered bureaucrats who would send them away. Food, showers, laundry—the parents are doing all they can because, said one, “they are spitting on the Roma children, who are at risk.”

    In Milan, where a priest managed to get a large group of children into a school, the teachers are refusing to put them all in the same classroom which would become a ghetto. For their pains the teachers are being accused of racism, but are not backing down.

    And there are other bright spots. In a flash flood in a low-lying area outside Rome two weeks ago, a family trapped inside a car in which water was rising inside included a handicapped child unable to walk and an elderly man. Desperately knocking on the car windows, unable to open the doors, those trapped were ignored by passersby and even by Carabinieri, until an anonymous Roma man appeared, forced open the doors, and carried all to safety. Then the Roma slipped away.

    Newspapers have appealed to know his identity, but to date he remains unknown, an authentic accidental hero.
     

  • Facts & Stories

    Ancient Roman Slave Cemetery Found at Ostia Antica


    ROME - The little community of slaves laboring at the port at Ancient Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber River, was desperately poor, but when the eight-year-old boy died, they endowed his tomb with a delicate necklace of tiny seashells and worked beads of bone and imported amber. The boy’s skeleton marked him as the youngest of the 270 individuals buried in what Italian archaeologists are hailing as a unique, 2000-year-old port-side slave cemetery which covered 3,000 sq. m.   

     

    The skeletons themselves and the poverty of the burials testify that this was a slave cemetery. Seventy-two percent were males, mostly between the ages of twenty and forty, whereas in another urban cemetery, fully half the skeletons were of women. Forensic scientists say that numerous skeletons were deformed and bent from extremely heavy fatigue. Fractured limbs and numerous lesions in the vertebrae, as if from carrying hod, were common. Two-thirds of the bodies had been wrapped in a tight shroud and the sepulcher topped with wood planks or with two or three of the large flat roof tiles common in early Christian catacombs. The dead were placed flat on the back with the exceptions of one found lying face down and two who had been cremated.

     

    The modest necklace found with the boy was the most opulent of the objects found in the tombs. Only one out of three had a symbolic tomb dowry, such as a coin in the mouth to help the dead on the voyage to the nether world.

     

    “These poor bones will help us to learn more about life in the little community of workers in the capital of the Empire, when Rome at its peak between the First and Second Centuries AD,” Angelo Bottini, 59, superintendent of archaeology for Rome, told a press conference here June 9.

     

    One aspect still being studied is the skull of a man around thirty who suffered from a rare disease that blocks the jaw. To help him to eat, his fellow slaves removed two of his teeth, an action which the Roman archaeologists working the site say would never have been performed by a slave owner. “Here we are seeing a poor community that did what it could to save the life of another person, permitting him to eat and to breathe again,” said Professor Bottini.

     

    The workmen were presumably employed at the salt works near the mouth of the Tiber, in loading and unloading boats, and in the reconstruction of the port itself, under the emperors Claudius and Trajan.

     

    The finding of the cemetery at Ponte Galeria came about thanks to some slick detective work. In a raid at the home of a suspected tomb robber, Finance Guards (fiscal police) headed by Capt. Marco La Malfa found a funeral lamp. The lamp led to a cache of other objects looted from the site and then to the site itself. The year-long excavation was completed this month, and the cemetery will be reburied shortly.

     

    Population figures for antiquity are difficult, but it is estimated that at that time Rome had over one million inhabitants. Normally the slave population is calculated at 10% of the total, according to archaeologists attending a symposium on slavery in antiquity held at the British School in Rome.

     

     

     

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Naples Walks Alone, on Burning and Bloodied Sidewalks

    ROME –The vicious attacks by the professional crime clans of Naples, which amount to attacks upon the Italian nation, are a rerun of the orgy of violence of Sicily in the Eighties, when the Faustian bargain of protection, promotion and murder was struck. Just as in Sicily at that time, in the Campania Region around Naples today industrialists on the one hand make regular pay-off’s to racketeers and on the other hand pad the wallets of selected politicians and corrupt bureaucrats.

    Even as dioxin-emissions from smoking rubbish continue, and soldiers were turned out to combat protesters from all walks of life, including but not only criminal, on Sunday, June 2, businessman Michele Orsi, 47, was summoned to a meeting in a café in the main piazza at Casale di Principe, near Caserta outside of Naples, and gunned down in broad daylight by at least 18 shots fired from two pistols. Investigators here say that the Casalesi, as the powerful local clan at Casale di Principe is called, believe that Orsi had turned state’s witness in the ongoing appeals trial in Naples known as the Spartacus Trial.

    The presiding judge at the first trial, Raffaello Magi, told former magistrate Giuseppe D’Avanzo that, unusual for Naples, the Casalesi are organized in similar fashion to the Sicilian Corleonesi: “The territory is divided into fiefs; leadership is turned over to a capozona (local boss); membership is expanded through blood ties; and they show an extraordinary capacity to exploit links with local entrepreneurs….

    “Unlike the Neapolitan gangsters who live off cocaine dealing or extortion, the Casalesi exploit intensively their territory in every area of economic potential. They do the dumping of the toxic refuse, they hold the monopoly on the cement market, they control the distribution of various essential products. They mediate the consensus at election time and are the social mediators when the institutions collapse, such as now, with the garbage. They offer protection and market opportunities to a fragile business world in need of protection and support. They condition the politics of the administrations, large and small.”

    All this was what Orsi, a businessmen who seems to have been trapped between the devil and the deeply polluted political sea, was confiding to investigators, according to press reports. His lawyer yesterday acknowledged that Orsi’s company paid E. 15,000 monthly for four years for “protection.” Because bullets had been fired at Orsi’s home in late March as a warning, an investigation into the police failure to provide adequate protection has been opened even though Orsi himself said, in an interview, “I am not a pentito, I have nothing to repent.” Investigators confirmed that in the strictest sense he was not, but that he had contributed valuable information to investigators.

    Just two days before Orsi’s murder a 25-year-old woman, whose aunt had turned state’s witness, was shot but not killed. But in a series of presumably related murders over the past two months, the relatives of two other businessmen cooperating with the authorities have been eliminated in what are called here "transversal killings." Interviewed yesterday by RAI TV, journalist Roberto Saviano said that, “It’s nearing the end of the Spartacus trial, and this is behind the Casalesi raising the stakes….Orsi was killed because he was talking about the relationship between the clan and the Casalesi.” This trial, “inexplicably ignored by the Italian media,” is the equivalent of the Maxi-trial in Palermo, he added.

    Saviano should know, and the murder of Orsi appeared an uncomfortable case of life imitating art. The way Orsi was attracted to the café where killers were in wait appears borrowed from a key incident in the hit movie Gomorra, which won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Directed by Matteo Garrrone, this stunning movie, which together with Il Divo, literally relaunches Italian cinema, was based on the book of the same name by Saviano, the heroic young Neapolitan reporter who will spend the next few decades, if he is lucky, continuing to live under police protection.

    Saviano’s book and Garrone’s film are dramatic testimonials to the dumping of illegal waste, which experts here believe earns the Camorra, or Gamorra, in local dialect, an estimated $3.5 billion annually. At least half a million tons of rubbish slip “under the carpet” every year, in the words of the new high commissioner on rubbish Guido Bertolaso, speaking one year ago.

    The movie is currently on view in 23 movie houses in Rome alone while the book, translated into 24 languages, has sold three million copies. This is welcome news, for it pits the skills of a young director and young writer (Saviano is 28) against the relative indifference of the outside world, which delights in the photos of the rubbish pile-up, but skimps on reporting and analysis. By contrast, the fact that the heroin processed in Sicily ended up on the streets of New York and Paris attracted worldwide media and governmental attention; Time magazine alone dispatched a photographer and two reporters, including myself, to cover the so-called Maxi-trial conviction of 360 Sicilian Mafia mobsters in December, 1987.

    This indifference has changed, thanks to Saviano, who has however become the Salmon Rushdie of Italy—indeed, at a writer’s conference in New York last month the two men met and compared notes. Exactly like Rushdie, Saviano lives under permanent threat and permanent protection, and at the Cannes Film Festival, where Saviano arrived as a celebrity, he was unable, for his own protection, to make a public entrance.He had hoped to buy an apartment in Naples, but the condominium rejected his application; subsequently other Neapolitans wrote him a letter offering him hospitality, however.

  • Facts & Stories

    Garbage, Gypsies, "Gamorra", Girls and Gays: Waiting for Mr. Berlusconi

    NAPLES -  Not since the 1970’s and the Years of Lead has Italian society been confronted with such an onslaught of problems, all at the same time, and all on ghastly display here in Naples, where neo-Premier Silvio Berlusoni and his ministers will hold their very first cabinet meeting Wednesday.

    Will the cabinet see any of these problems and, if so, will they care to look? Berlusconi will fly in and then be whisked through downtown Naples to the Prefettura building, which houses the chief of police. To make sure he can actually get there, rubbish collectors worked feverishly through blustery storms and heavy rain today, to clear a way through the garbage pile-ups. The point was less to spare the Premier and his ministers the unsightly mess that is Naples these days than to ensure that the official cortege can pass on the roads. The heavy rain helped by putting out the multitude of garbage fires set by angry citizens, who have been throwing stones at the firemen who plough through the garbage-strewn streets to try to put out these fires, dangerous because they release dioxin into the air.

    I would have liked Mr. Berlusconi to have been bundled into a car riding on the Vesuvius road yesterday, where other irate citizens had, like the French at the Bastille, built a mountainous roadblock to draw attention to their plight, but made of garbage rather than sticks and paving stones. Or perhaps Mr. Berlusconi could have walked a couple of miles with me around the outlying town of Castellamare di Stabia. Every 15 or so yards garbage of all kinds was piled up to eye level, and fear of rats together with the noxious stink of both ripe and burning rubbish—undifferentiated medicine containers, plastic bottles, used diapers, tin cans, household waste—obliged walking in the streets, at risk of being run down. The financial loss to the Neapolitan tourism industry is horrendous, with hotel cancellations the order of the day. Health concerns are growing, with doctors issuing warnings, and the U.S. officials tracking an unusual rise in illness among American military based here.

    To be helpful, today’s Il Mattino, a Neapolitan daily, offers hints to help the public deal with today’s 5,000 tons of piled-up rubbish:

    -    Children are not to play in the streets and should wash hands and remove their shoes upon entering their homes.
    -    Pregnant women are to take special care as the dioxin released from the burning rubbish piles can cause deformed foetuses.
    -    The elderly, who are unsteady on their feet, would do well to stay home altogether so as not to slip.

    In addition, a call center has been created.
    What has not been created is a solution to the problem, nor is anyone teaching the Neapolitans how to reduce the amount of garbage they produce daily. Everyone is blaming everyone else, and the Neapolitan mayor Rosa Russo Jervolino is on record saying, “I will do anything I can to help except to be a scapegoat.” She has hinted that one planned toxic waste disposal plant is being sabotaged by investors wanting to construct a vast apartment building complex on that very site, which is all too possible.

    After garbage comes the no less tractable problem of the gypsies, or Roma people, as they are correctly known. The influx of Romanian-born Roma has brought an upsurge of pitiful child beggars, violent rapes and household thefts attributed to Roma. Yesterday in Naples a European Union inspector toured a Roma (gypsy) camp, which she described as worse than any seen in Albania. The situation was aggravated in Naples after a 16-year-old girl broke into a Neapolitan apartment building and apparently tried to make off with a baby, perhaps to ask a ransom payment. The young Roma was nearly lynched, and her fellow Roma, blamed collectively, now live in terror of self-appointed punishment squads who continue with fire bombings and other harassments of those living in the Roma camps. Even in Rome itself, frightened Roma have organized night vigilantes squads to watch for fire bombers.

    After garbage and gypsies comes problem number three, the Gamorra, as everyone now calls it since publication of Roberto Saviano’s book on the Camorra. The Camorra-style murders continue, and yesterday an industrialist who presumably declined to pay the pizzo (protection) was gunned down. TV security cameras installed at considerable expense might have shown the killers, but had never been switched on; whether by ineptitude or by intention is unknown. Saviano lives under permanent police escort, thanks to writing a best-seller translated into 42 languages and, now, a film acclaimed at Cannes.

    Let’s turn the clock back just two years to the family-friendly government of Romano Prodi, then in Berlusconi’s shoes as neo-Premier. Prodi represented a heterodox Center-left coalition ranging from Roman Catholics to reborn Communists, and his listing the ying-yang of future government projects included these: a family-geared tax policy, but at the same time legal recognition of gay partnerships;  tax breaks for young couples trying to buy a home, but at the same time fiscal responsibility and the shoring up of Italy’s indebtedness. Oh, yes, and there was the doubling of the number of day-care centers for the very young.

    Looking back, such a modest program seems a pipe dream, all cuddly and comfy—a lost reverie, akin to Mr. Blandings getting his dream house. As we know, Prodi and these modest plans, which totally ignored the gigantic problems looming ahead, were wiped out in less than twenty-four months by what Umberto Eco laconically called “friendly fire” from his sniper-allies.

    Further to the Camorra front, a rather striking woman has been arrested in the Secondigliano quarter in Naples by alert police, who noticed that, hanging on a wash line of an apartment balcony was attractive girlie lingerie. Checking housing titles, they discovered the flat belonged to an old geezer: what was that fancy lingerie doing on his wash line?  And indeed further in-depth investigation revealed that Ms. Fortuna Liguori was in that flat, consorting with and cooking for a notorious boss named Paolo Di Lauro, implicated in a battle between his own Di Lauro clan and a splinter group whose vendetta killings left 56 corpses.

    Funny as it all is, there is nothing, but nothing, funny about this situation.

    Our fourth reality check continues with girls. The new cabinet includes four young ladies, so to speak, including three who are particularly fetching and one with—as the boys down at Remo’s Café put it when the workmen and cops gathered around their photo—unfortunate thighs. “Chick mins,” these lady ministers are being called, and on the day his government sought its first vote of confidence Berlusconi sent one pretty lass a note saying that, if she had a date (“appuntamento galante,” was his arch term), she had his permission not to hang around just for a silly old vote of confidence. So much for respect for the institutions of government.

    Yesterday one of these same chick mins, the prettiest, Mara Carfagna, Minister for Equal Opportunity, made a major pronouncement on the issue of the annual gay pride parade in Rome. This has been one big bone of contention (no pun intended) because Rome’s new mayor Gianni Alemanno had announced that he wanted no show-off, boisterous, unseemly, colorful parade. Yesterday Carfagna chimed in finally, saying that the parade was not  even necessary since there is no discrimination against gays.

    If the most photographed and most reported new minister says it’s true, it just may be. But there may be room for doubt.
     

  • Facts & Stories

    Aldo Moro Anniversary: Between Memory and Art


    ROME - The wooden box in the photograph, with a light inside and an open door, is an art installation--a political art work, explains the artist, 30-year-old Francesco Arena, born in Brindisi. Arena has reconstructed the prison cell on Via Montalcino where Aldo Moro was hidden in Rome for 55 days, or until his murder thirty years ago. The room is accurate down to the exact size and interior decor, with gray linoleum on the floor and a plywood divider creating two claustrophobic cells. Inside also are a chemical toilet and toilet paper, pen and a ream of paper, a bottle of mineral water, a fan, a tiny bed, a little table.

     

    The disquieting installation is on view in a chic new Roman art gallery on Via Somalia owned by the Nomas Foundation, set up by an art collector couple, Stefano Sciarretta, 47, and his wife Raffaella Frascarelli, 43. In the installation, called "3.24 sq. m.", "the spectator is always an accomplice," writes critic Stefano Chiodi.

     

    Arena's container evokes the myriad mysteries still surrounding this whole event, whose full workings are only now being understood. Moro was en route just 30 years ago today to Parliament for the swearing-in of his new government, which was tugging the old Communist party into respectability, meaning further away from Moscow control and at the same time tugging Italy's Catholic party, the Christian Democrats (DC), away from the early postwar era of Catholic Church and U.S. hegemony, including financial funding. Moro's new government would have confirmed for Italy that political shift already visible in the legalization of divorce and the adoption of a "workers' bill of rights" (Statuto dei lavoratori).

     

    The political maneuver, sponsored by Moro and by the Communist party leader Enrico Berlinguer, was opposed by many conservatives in Italy. It also made both the Soviet Union and Italy's NATO partners, beginning with the U.S., exeedingly nervous. As an American diplomat told me at the time, "If we lose our naval base at Naples, we have nowhere to go in the Mediterranean but back to the US coast."

     

    May 9 this year ijas been dedicated to the memories of all victims of terrorism. However, magistrate Guido Salvini wrote in an article published today, "The day should record both moments of reconciliation and a commitment to the truth, but where there have been half- or fuzzy truths, reconciliation is not possible." Giovanni Pellegrino, the former president of the Commissione Stragi, the Parliamentary commission investigating the various terrorism attacks, is now calling for an independent 'Truth Commission" to include not only of members of Parliament but also judges, historians and others in an attempt to make a full reconstruction of the difficult past--that past evoked in the reconstructed prison cell in the photo.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Aldo Moro Anniversary: Time To Tell the Truth

    ROME - Bologna, April 2, 1978, a gray Sunday afternoon in a country house near Bologna. A dozen friends, mostly professors and their wives, had just enjoyed lunch, but rain had set in, and with it, tedium. As children play in the background the grownups’ talk turned to the missing Aldo Moro. The president of the Christian Democratic party had been kidnapped 17 days previously by Red Brigades, among whom was one highly skilled marksman who efficiently dispatched five bodyguards in two cars. Untouched by gunfire, thanks to this marksman’s skill, Moro was spirited away. Now all Italy was asking where he was being kept.

    Seated before a Ouija Board the group began four hours of contacts with the spirit world. These spirits were politically progressive, for they included—so said the players—the late founder of Moro’s own party, Don Luigi Sturzo, and the late reformist Catholic mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pirra. Eventually the Ouija spat out the word “Gradoli” and the numbers 6 and 11. Gradoli, the group excitedly reasoned—maybe that is where Moro is being held.

    Francesco Cossiga, the Interior Minister chairing the government’s ad hoc Crisis Committee, was informed of the séance via its participant Romano Prodi, today the acting premier. Cossiga ordered 450 military to search the town of Gradoli north of Rome, but to no avail. Moro was never found until his body was dumped on a street in downtown Rome just thirty years ago this May 9.

    Official documents of the fishy séance appear in the appendix of Doveva Morire (He had to Die), by judge Ferdinando Imposimato, the investigating magistrate who wrote the first indictments for the trial of the Red Brigades convicted for the murder of Moro and his bodyguards,  and veteran journalist Sandro Provvisionato. The book is the most important of a spate of new publications and films timed to coincide with the anniversary of Moro’s death in 1978.

    A new docudrama called La Verità Negata (Truth Denied) similarly challenges the official versions that have survived for three decades, however shabby. A miniscule example: as film writer/director Carlo Infanti points out that, whereas twelve people had testified about the rainy day séance, it had not even rained in or near Bologna that day. “I checked with the aeronautics weather office,” Infanti said at a press conference.

    Some believe in séances, of course. Market research for future programming on Britain’s Living TV showed that, of 1,000 people interviewed, 67% claimed belief in paranormal phenomena, but these believers tended to be adolescents and youth influenced by reading Harry Potter and his ilk. Indeed, in the West Midlands 78% admitted believing in psychic powers.

    One hundred percent of the members of the Aldo Moro Crisis Committee, meeting in the Interior Ministry in Rome, chose to believe. Acting on the tip from the dearly departed in Bologna, they dispatched 450 military to the little medieval town of Gradoli north of Rome. TV newscasts showed the town being searched stem to stern, even though Gradoli authorities interviewed on camera by Infanti say their town was never ransacked. “I guess some soldiers poked around a few abandoned farmhouses,” said the deputy mayor, speaking to camera. The massive door-to-door search shown in the newscast (presumably stock footage) and reported in just two newspapers seems never to have taken place.

    Above all, no Red Brigades den was found.     

    Meanwhile, Aldo Moro’s wife Eleonora was asking if perhaps a Via Gradoli was intended. Interior Minister Francesco Cossiga, chairman of the Crisis Committee, responded that, no, there was no such street.

    And so there was no contact with the farther shores of reason via a Ouija Board, no rain, not much of a search, and supposedly no Via Gradoli. What was going on?

    But there was a Via Gradoli, off Via Cassia in a quiet North Rome neighborhood, where numerous apartments owned by the secret services were used as safe houses by Italian and foreign secret agents; indeed this reporter knew two foreign agents living nearby. Residing under a fake name at Via Gradoli 96, apartment 11, was Mario Moretti, considered the top leader of the Brigades. Moretti traveled almost daily to interrogate Moro. If spotted, he could have been tailed to Moro’s prison.

    But he was not spotted even though, on March 18, two weeks before the search of Gradoli township, a busybody neighbor had informed police of three people lingering suspiciously outside number 69 “as if checking who came in and who came out.” Another tenant told police of peculiar noises from Apartment 11, like the tapping of a Morse code; the police report on this disappeared.

    When it became impossible to continue to deny there was a Via Gradoli 69, police were told to search every apartment. They did not search Number 11, however, on grounds that no one had answered the doorbell and that the neighbors had all vouched for the inhabitant, a claim some of the neighbors deny.  In this way the apartment remained undisturbed for two more weeks, or until firemen were called because water was leaking downstairs from Apartment 11. Breaking open the apartment at last, police found a flexible shower nozzle placed on a toilet brush stand, with water directed at a crack in a wall. In the hideout were 1,000 items of incriminating evidence, including the airline uniforms the killers wore during the kidnapping.

    In a questionable decision by police, TV news crews were summoned to film the break-in. Predictably their presence drew crowds. Brigades chief Moretti, returning home on his motorbike, saw the crowds and whizzed away. So was the phony search and the Ouija Board a charade intended to save Moro, or to tip off those living in Number 11 at Via Gradoli 69?

    That is only one of many unanswered questions. Here’s another: in their search of the kidnapping site on Via Fani, police counted 93 bullet casings, of which 49 fired from a single machine gun, presumably that of the man eye witnesses described as highly professional. This marksman slaughtered five bodyguards while leaving Moro himself without a scratch. His skills were a far cry from those of the improvised gunmen of the Red Brigades, four of  whose weapons failed to function, according to trial testimony. Was this professional gunman was even a “Red Brigade?” Even the number of gunmen on the scene ranges from nine to twelve, with missing identities.

    Attending the presentation of scenes from the forthcoming documentary (not the same as the new Channel 5 movie) was Maria Fida Moro. The late statesman’s eldest daughter, now 60,  is among those detecting a connection between her father’s kidnapping and that of  the son of Socialist party leader Francesco De Martino, whose policies of seeking a rapprochement with the PCI were similar to Moro’s. Young Guido De Martino was eventually released upon payment of a handsome ransom sum that created a political scandal. The political life of De Martino—until that moment tipped as Italian president—was at an abrupt end. “My father was very distressed at the De Martino kidnapping,” said Maria Fida Moro. “It worried him.”

    Others agree. “The De Martino kidnapping was definitely a trial run for the Moro kidnapping,” a judge with long experience in Red Brigades terrorism told me.

    Mario Moretti continued to inhabit the Via Gradoli apartment for fourteen days after the widely publicized search of the town, even as every secret service in the West was supposedly searching for Moro, and even as its name and even the apartment number had been revealed in the “séance” or, more probably, by a certain lawyer in Rome—not Bologna— with whom the then Professor Prodi had business dealings. The lawyer, whose name is known, owned an apartment on Via Gradoli.

    The Parliamentary Commission investigating the Moro affair says that it is a not uncommon secret service convention to protect sources by alleging contacts with the spirit world.

    If there was scheming and skullduggery, if Ouija Boards do not communicate between the living and the dead, who was behind Moro’s death? Two entirely opposing theories co-exist today.

    The first is that the sponsor was the supposedly renegade P2 Masonic Lodge backed by operatives (including outside Italy) of Operation Stay Behind. This version leads to the West.

    The second leads the opposite direction, to East European agents acting for the Soviets. In this view, Aldo Moro’s mild opening to the Italian Communists risked luring them further away from the USSR than they already were, and, if Moscow had lost all control over the strongest party in the West, other parties might follow the Italians’ lead. And indeed an infiltrated source traced back to the Stasi of East Germany, presumably through the Red Brigades’ contacts with the German Red Army Faction (RAF), allegedly also slipped the name “Gradoli” to Rome, according to Imposimato.

    Already PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer had declared independence from Moscow, and the prestigious party leader Giancarlo Pajetta had been barred from addressing, as usual, the Communist party congress in Moscow and was sent instead to speak in a gymnasium in an outlying suburb. In addition, an attempt seems to have been made on Berlinguer’s life in 1974 while he was in Bulgaria and covered up until the 1990’s.

    Thirty years have now gone by, and it is time for the participants, including Acting Premier Prodi, the members of the Crisis Committee (they included a young American psychiatrist), the Red Brigades themselves, and the surviving leaders of the Italian Communist party to tell the truth—the whole grownup truth. For, as Moro’s daughter Maria Fida Moro, 60, said, her father’s death was the equivalent of a coup d’état. The full story is waiting to be told.

  • Facts & Stories

    Rome Turns Right


    ROME – Last Sunday and Monday 5.8 million Italians were asked to return to the polls for a second time this month for a run-off among candidates for mayor and administrators in 44 townships and five provinces. Rome was the toughest battleground, where the vote was being viewed as a litmus test of the relative strengths of the two main parties that slogged it out at the polls two weeks ago, Silvio Berlusconi’s victorious Popolo della Libertà, or People’s Liberty party (PDL), and Walter Veltroni’s moderately progressive Democratic party (PD). And in the end, Berlusconi's candidate won, by 53.7% to 46.3%.


    For the past fifteen years Rome has had a center-left government, headed alternately by Francesco Rutelli and Veltroni himself. Especially during the past three years the citizens’ tolerance has been sorely tried by Rom squatter camps, slow and jam-packed public transport, filthy and dangerous commuter train stations, immigrant hawkers and beggars blocking sidewalks, graffiti-sprayed buildings, drunken violence in the downtown historic center by night, and garbage-strewing hordes of tourists by day. Streets in the center are still hand swept daily; shopkeepers literally scrub sidewalks, and cleanup crews wash building walls, but old hands revisiting Rome are shocked at the sheer extent of  il degrado, the degradation of this unique and uniquely beautiful city with its heritage of history, religion and art.


    In addition, in past weeks an unaccustomed crescendo of violence attributed to untrammeled immigration—rapes, murders, drunk drivers who kill children and the elderly—has given the Rome campaign a raw edge, heightened by the success of the anti-immigrant Northern League two weeks ago.


    With this as the background, the PD candidate was the acting Culture Minister (and former mayor) Rutelli, who faced off against Gianni Alemanno, representing the Berlusconi alliance. Two weeks ago Rutelli won almost 46% of the vote in Rome as compared with Alemanno’s under 41%, but the positions were reversed when all the votes were counted in the runoff in what was considered an upset victory for the right.


    The Rome result was also a personal victory for Gianfranco Fini, the  former neo-fascist youth leader and head of the modernized "post-fascist" former Alleanza Nazionale (now merged with Berlusconi's PDL), who had turned out personally to campaign for Alemanno.


    Challenging immigrant hawkers in one of Rome’s outdoor markets this week, Fini asked to see their work permits. When those he questioned proved to have their papers in order, and chummily photographed him with their cell phones, Fini grumbled, “They probably bought their papers.”


    Fini himself has been a nudging hawker. On April 14-15 Umberto Bossi’s Northern League walked off with 8.4% of the vote and hence has more clout with Berlusconi than does Fini himself. Alemanno's victory in Rome bolsters the otherwise overshadowed Fini.


    Bossi and Fini  represent diametrically opposed constituencies. Bossi is usually described simplistically as “anti-immigrant,” but today his party has moved from its early rustic populism toward a more sophisticated brand of federalism, especially fiscal federalism, code words for keeping tax money in the regions where levied. If enacted, public funds would less likely flow from the full-employment North down to the troubled Italian South—but that South, and especially the Campania Region around Naples and the Puglie on the Eastern Coast of the peninsula, is just where Fini’s movement is strongest, and also where Fini also risks challenge by the vestiges of the far right associated with the otherwise lame group around Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of the Duce.


    Meanwhile, the right's victory in Rome has some quite fearful. Last night as we walked by the Capitoline Hill, where the mayor has offices and the city council meets, supporters of the Alleanza Nazionale faction of Berlusconi's outfit were feting their victory. Among them was a group of young thuggish far rightists raising arms in Fascist-style salutes and yelling, "Duce, Duce!" as the middle-class Berlusconi backers hushed them and said, "One mustn't do that, the TV cameras are watching." The mood among the losers here is apprehensive. There is also fear in the gay community that there will be bashings to come, fear among the law-abiding immigrants of a harsh clamp-down, and fear in the Jewish community that the Nazi deportation of a thousand Romans will be forgotten or worse. Sign of the new times: on Sunday night a plaque to Auschwitz victims was hacked out of a wall in an Eastern Rome suburb.

     

    This article is an abridged version of a longer piece that appeared on DIRELAND

     

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Italy's Shifting Political Balance


    ROME – The stunning losses of the far left, which ran three parties together as the Sinistra Arcobaleno, are being minutely analyzed. These three included the Verdi (the Green party) of Pecoraro Scannio, which achieved nothing but to “file themselves into the archives,” to borrow a friend’s phrase. Pollsters including Consortium, which works for both RAI and Sky, say that the Verdi dropped 75% of their previous electorate, or three out of four. The toxic waste dumps of Naples should have given them a hand, but that protest vote went elsewhere, and especially to Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori.


    The second in the Arcobaleno trio was Oliviero Diliberto’s Partito dei Comunisti Italiani (PdCI), which lost eight out of ten who had voted for that party only two years ago. Finally, Fausto Bertinotti’s Rifondazione Comunista lost six out of the ten who voted for it in 2008. This decimation showing an out-of-touch and dated far left may be useful, for it paves the way for the growth of a unified moderate left, as commentators like Corrado Augias point out.


    Meantime, the winners are jockeying for position. Pierferdinando Casini’s Unione di Centro, with nearly 6%, is remaining for the moment outside the fray, promising “constructive” help to the government even as he is being actively courted by left, right and center. Although at the outset strong Catholic Church interference was predicted, in point of fact Casini’s  was the closest to a Catholic campaign save for the complete flop by the abortion list run by the ever polemical journalist Giovanni Ferrara. For a future government that 6% may be decisive, but otherwise it suggests that the specific Catholic vote is no longer a factor in Italian politics.


    In the city of Romeo and Juliet at least one out of four voters opted for “il Caroccio,” the Big Cart, as the Northern League is called by its aficionados. The strong showing by Umberto Bossi’s party (8.4% in the Chamber), which is expected to field four ministers, has made Verona its capital and the capital of a certain type of protest vote. This is full employment Italy—wealthy, tidy, hard working. But as a Verona workman who voted the Bossi ticket said, “There are too many foreigners in town who steal and don’t work.” The guessing then is that Bossi stole votes from both blue collar workers and from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà. As a Berlusconi party official acknowledged, “We should have campaigned more like Bossi. The voters just don’t see us as representing them.”


    Among the various local governments holding elections, Rome’s will require a run-off later this month for mayor between the two front-running candidates, Franceso Rutelli of the new Democratic Party and Giovanni Alemanno of the Popolo della Libertà. At the moment his 45.8% of the vote puts Rutelli is handily in the lead over Alemanno, with 40.7%, but no one is taking victory for granted, and Rutelli, hoping for a second round as mayor, is planning on a door-to-door campaign.


    Rutelli, who served as Culture Minister in Romano Prodi’s two-year government, has won kudos for his successful prosecution of foreign museums and private collectors worldwide who had purchased looted Italian antiquities. Whoever wins in Rome will face a mountain of other problems, however, from the graffiti smeared on walls to toxic waste problems (Naples is not alone) and the resettlement and, one  might hope, integration of the thousands upon thousands of Rom living in desperate conditions in illegal camps.


    As a financial footnote addressed to those interested in the public financing of political parties, the eight which won more than one percent of  the vote will automatically receive a reimbursement for their election expenditures, to the tune of 407 million Euros, or over $600 million. All told there were 47,295,978 voters for the Chamber and 43,257,208 for the Senate.

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