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  • An Important Year for Italy: 10 Highlights from 2003
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    This last year was perhaps one of the most poignant in Italy's recent history. From the historical all-Italian Champions League final that featured an A.C. Milan victory over Juventus to the tragic loss of 18 Italian carabinieri in Iraq, 2003 was full of news that we won't soon forget. Here, some of the more memorable moments from the world of sports, music, entertainment, politics -- and, oh yeah, the real world the rest of us live in:

    Morandi in Mutande: Way back at the start of the year, Italians were glued to their television sets every Saturday night for the latest installment of Uno di Noi, a variety show with comedy, music and two pretty women, Lorella Cuccarini and Paola Cortellesi. But the real star power came from host Gianni Morandi, a sixtysomething who can still belt out a tune -- and drop his drawers -- the way he did when he was a mere teen idol. That's right. He pulled down his pants in a comedy skit and that's all anyone could talk about for weeks. Morandi was prancing in his panties on the cover of every Italian newspaper and magazine. You can probably still find the photos, which showed off a surprisingly fit body for a man of his age, floating on the Internet. Che sexy!

    Beautiful, Blonde -- and Italian: Serena Autieri, co-star of the soap opera Vento di Ponente, multiplied her fame this year after co-hosting the nation's annual San Remo Festival, the exalted music competition, with the legendary Pippo Baudo and Claudia Gerini. The Italian public found her song and dance routines, lovely curly blonde locks and coy flirtation with male guests simply irresistible. Autieri's star certainly is on the rise.

    Silvio, Silvio, Silvio! Italian politics always offers an abundance of characters, who turn out for a drama you couldn't make up if you tried. This year was no different -- from the handsome Francesco Rutelli of Italy's left to Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission. But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi still takes the cake for being the most controversial, most combative, most talked about, most annoying, most charming of them all. He stubbornly argued with Germany after intimating a German member of the European Parliament was a nazi, continued to fight off criticism that he made business deals with the mafia and that he passes laws to help his own media empire and was a featured player in the European Union's never-ending debate about its constitution. Without Berlusconi, political pundits would have virtually nothing to say.

    Maldini Mania: Czech and Juventus star Pavel Nedved may have won the Golden Ball, but Italy was always rooting for soccer legend and fellow Golden Ball-nominee Paolo Maldini to win. 2003 was a great year for Maldini, the A.C. Milan captain, who raised the European Champions League trophy in May just as his father had done in 1963. (This time Milan beat Torino rivals Juventus in a heart-stopping penalty-kick shootout.) The Champions League cup put an exclamation point on a career that already had spanned more than 20 years and included grave disappointments - from watching the World Cup slip through Italy's fingers to a heartbreaking loss in the final moments of the European Cup in 2000. Maldini, often referred to as the best defender in the world, never seemed to have any luck. But, finally, there is justice.

    Ai Chihuahua: The Booming People's silly English single called simply "Chihuahua" rivaled Alex Britti's "7000 Caffe`" for Italy's most played out song of the year. Anytime you turned on a radio in the spring or even the summer, you were likely to hear one of these - and you had no choice but to sing along. Both have great beats and you can dance to 'em - entertaining additions to the soundtrack of 2003.

    Is God sending a message? Sure, the snow is falling heavily in Italy now, and even the south is facing an unusually cold winter. But less than six months ago, the nation -- and much of Western Europe -- faced one of the hottest summers on record. Global warming was blamed for the extreme summer temperatures. And the heat itself was blamed for as many as 7,000 deaths of the elderly in Italy alone. The ensuing drought forced an early grape harvest and left some farmers with little for revenue, which means the price of produce skyrocketed. Mother Nature, Mamma Mia!

    The Crucifix Debate: In the fall, an Islamic father wanted his 6-year-old son's elementary school in Ofena, right outside Roma, to take down a cross that hung in the classroom. He brought his case to court, and Judge Mario Montanaro sided with him. The decision set off a firestorm of debate across the Catholic country. Despite the apparent waning faith of Italians, the court's decision was taken as an affront against Italian culture at a time when more and more immigrants are coming to Italy for a better life. Surely, in the new year, we will continue to witness Italy's struggle to balance its historic cultural traditions with the new and ever-changing face of its people.

    Speed Wizard: Despite the Fé dé ration Internationale de l'Automobile's restructured points system, designed to keep one team from monopolizing all the glory as was the case in 2002, Casa Ferrari managed to score a record-breaking sixth consecutive world championship thanks to German Formula One driver Michael Shumacher. Shumacher, at almost 35 years old, is among the highest paid athletes in the world. However, he did lose at least once this year in early December when his Ferrari F2003-GA faced the Eurofighter Typhoon, an Italian Air Force fighter jet at a much-hyped event that was broadcast on Italian state television. It was proof that even the best of us can be beat.

    Aquabomber: At least a dozen people, including a few small children, fell ill early in December after someone contaminated bottles of mineral water with bleach and acetone in northern Italy. Police believe that the "aquabomber" is injecting the poison into the bottles with a syringe, according to the United Kingdom's Telegraph. There have also been reports of milk tampering. And fear is spreading throughout the country.

    Italy Cries: In November, 18 Italian carabinieri - on a peace-keeping mission - were killed by a suicide bomber in Nasiriya, Iraq. A wave of sadness and the reality that war was far from over washed over Italy - and the world. Hundreds of thousands turned out in Roma to pay condolences.

    Alfio Ragazzi, 39, was among the heroes who lost their lives in the name of peace. His final letter home was printed in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera and BBC.com. I'm choosing to leave 2003 with Ragazzi's last words to his family in mind: "Being true Italians, with our 'football-spaghetti' policy, we have immediately managed to win everybody over. Wherever we go, we are met with sympathy and esteem…Time goes by and the days before we can meet again are fewer and fewer and go by increasingly faster. I urge you not to worry too much."

    There are so many things that I'm missing. What moments in Italian news do you remember from 2003? Tell me about them now. Fdimeg10@aol.com

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