News & Politics
"Our Paesani" is a column written by Francesca Di Meglio. Its purpose is to help bridge the gap between Italians in Italy and Italians throughout the world.
3 Profiles in Italian Courage
If you look closely, you will notice people acting courageously in all sorts of ways just going about their everyday lives - from the little girl who sings and dances in public without embarrassment to the woman who helps a stranger change his flat tire on the side of the highway. Then, there are some people who will take your breath away with their valor. Courage has been on the brain lately, thanks to the latest headlines to come out of Italy. Here are three stories that merit respect - and should inspire bravery.
American Girl Faces Murder Charges in Italy
For more than a year now, Italians have been obsessing over a young American woman, Amanda Knox, who got to know the country as a study-abroad student at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. By now, you've probably heard about Knox, too. She remains in Italy. But these days she only gets to observe the culture from behind bars in a private prison in Perugia. She's there as she stands trial for murder.
There was a time when morning in my house meant listening to the refreshing sounds of Luciano Pavarotti's smooth tenor voice belting out pop classics with stars such as Ricky Martin and Jon Bon Jovi. The beautiful, unexpected blend on the "Pavarotti and Friends" CDs kept my parents singing and dancing through breakfast - and some of the proceeds went to charities. On this Sunday morning, however, the world is eerily silent. The great Pavarotti - who matched his singing talent with charm and vivaciousness - passed away September 6 after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. Now, Heaven can boast having one of the world's great performers on its stage.
Crisis from an Islander's Perspective
This is an interesting time in history to be in Italy. While most Italians are looking for an exit plan, my husband and I returned to Italy for at least nine months. We didn't even decide to live in a major city, where the financial crisis and political turmoil might have less impact. No, we decided to take our chances on Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples that is home to my ancestors and my husband. In fact, my own family ran away from the place in the 1950s and 1960s, just before tourism took off here, because the opportunities for young people amounted to zilch.
Debate: Has the Crucifix Become Italy's Cross To Bear?
As Pope John Paul II celebrated his silver anniversary, we discovered the waning faith of Italians. Fewer people are going to church every Sunday, and many are ignoring the Pope's directions to ban birth control and procreate. But just a week after those reports, a young judge, who ruled against keeping a crucifix hung in a classroom in Ofena, about 90 miles northeast of Roma, has set off a firestorm of debate in modern Italia.
Earthquakes Devastate Italy
Italians have been wracked with sadness and fear as two earthquakes left a path of destruction in northeastern Italy. They are glued to the TV checking in on the residents of the region, most of whom are now living in tents, getting updates on aftershocks, listening to stories of tragedy and survival, and wondering how all this property damage is going to weigh into an already difficult and growing economic crisis.
From Italy with Love
Readers of this column know that I am working from Ischia, Italy, home of my ancestors, while I plan my upcoming wedding to Antonio, a native who I got to know through my cousin Fausto. My main goal with "Our Paesani" is to bridge the gap between Italians and their fellow countrymen spread out in the rest of the world - from Argentina to Africa, from the United States to Australia. Now, that I am in Italy for a bit, I thought I would fill you in on what is going on in the motherland.
The Future: 6 Barriers to Italy's Success
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was out of the spotlight for a month reportedly recovering from a facelift, returned with the hope of giving his Forza Italia political party a lift, as well. But his critics were quick to point out his noticeable absence, the faltering economy and his blatant vanity. This led many to wonder, "What is next for Italia?" Here are a few of the obstacles that Berlusconi, his party and all of Italy are up against as they plan for the future:
Gays in Italy Seek Fairness
I have news for Italians. Gay people exist, even in Italy. In the predominantly Roman Catholic country, homosexuals have suffered from prejudice and injustice for years. But this week, the group witnessed a small victory of sorts - a stretch of 325 yards in Roma was labeled a safe zone for gays.
Hot in Italy
The biggest news out of Italy this week is the scorching summer sun's relentless grip on the nation. In Ischia and Naples, where much of my family resides, the temperatures reached in the hundreds (F) last week. June and July were just as bad, even in northern Italy, where summers tend to be milder. The heat is on - and it's causing our world to be topsy-turvy.
How Can You Undo Stereotypes about Italians?
I think the true-life bad guys give us Italians (in the Motherland and abroad) a worse name than the brilliant performances by James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano) and his pals on HBO. Regardless of which is worse, I thought it would be more productive to reflect on the many ways you can undo stereotypes or misperceptions about our culture.
The Immigrant Factor in Italy: What Will the Word "Italian" Mean in the Future?
The country once known for its fleeing southerners is now a favored destination of refugees from Africa and the Middle East. The Italy our forefathers left behind is long forgotten. Today it is a relatively stable country with a relatively stable economy. It symbolizes hope and potential prosperity for 2.5 million immigrants already living there - and scores of others who dream of making the trek. But is Italy ready to become a melting pot?
An Important Year for Italy: 10 Highlights from 2003
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.
Inside the Parmalat Scandal: What You Need to Know?
DECEMBER 28, 2004 - For Christmas this year, Italians certainly got a surprise: The country's eighth-largest industrial group, Parmalat, filed for bankruptcy in light of an Enron-like accounting scandal. Parmalat, a food group famous all over the world for its long-lasting milk products, employs 35,000 people in 30 different countries. The news of cooked books or creative accounting has erupted into a full-fledge investigation into the company's practices - and will have long-lasting ramifications on Italian business and politics.
Ischia Crisis Is World's Crisis
Italy, or at least my family's native Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples, Italy - is in crisis. There are few tourists, people are out of work, and if things don't improve over the next few months, some hotels and tourism-related businesses may shutter. Or at least that's what friends and family are reporting to me in our weekly or so phone calls.
Italian EU Nominee Criticizes Single Moms
Rocco Buttiglione is many things: An ambitious politician, Italy's European affairs minister, a conservative Catholic, a father of four, a dear friend and counselor to Pope John Paul II, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's political party, an author, a professor of political science - and an unlikely nominee for the European Union's new commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security. Last week Buttiglione, who already caused controversy when he referred to homosexuality as a "sin," stirred the pot some more by suggesting that single mothers weren't good people. It's all Europe has been talking about. Not only does this latest row beg the question, "Should Buttiglione become an EU commissioner?" but it also puts the spotlight on Europe's evolving definition of family.
Italian Hostages Are Released and Set Off Wave of Controversy
This week the world celebrated the release of the "two Simonas," Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, 29-year-old Italian women who were kidnapped by terrorists while volunteering to help children in Iraq on September 7. Nowhere was the joy louder than in the Simonas' home country of Italy. But hours later the satisfaction of having the women, who were working for the humanitarian group Bridge to Baghdad, out of harm's way turned to doubt as many questioned whether the Italian government or some other group had paid ransom for the release. Paying off kidnappers is a practice that CNN reports is becoming more widespread as the insurgency in the Middle East continues and more civilians are taken captive.
Italian Lingerie Makes a Splash
Something about being in Italy makes women feel prettier than ever. That sometimes gives them - or the men pursuing them - the motivation to purchase sexy lingerie. If you're among these shoppers, you are likely to turn to Intimissimi, a retailer of women's lingerie and men's underwear in Italy.
Italian Politics Becomes a Circus
With general elections set for April 9 to 10 in Italy, politics of late has turned into a three-ring circus. At a time of zero economic growth and growing dissatisfaction in Italy, pitting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi against center-left leader Romano Prodi is offering more than Italians bargained for. On the program: Scandal, riots, and old men trying to be forever young. Here is what you need to know.
Italian Terrorists Generate Fear in Europe
As the world battles Osama bin Laden and his followers, Italy and the rest of the European Union have another fight on their hands: finally eliminating the Red Brigade terrorist group. After appearing to be wiped out in the mid-1980s, the Marxist-Leninist radicals appear to be making a comeback.
Italian Voters Lack Their Usual Oomph
Today Italians headed to the polls to finally choose a new government. Billionaire and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is facing off against former mayor of Rome Walter Veltroni. The air is thick - and the Italians, like most of the world, are sick and tired of politicians, government, bureaucracy, and economic turmoil. They want to know who is going to finally step in and start solving some of the big problems, but they're pretty convinced that no one is up to the task. Who can blame them?
Italians Confront Bird Flu
Italians are always careful and choosy about what they eat - but now some feel it's become a matter of life and death. With discoveries of Avian or bird flu in poultry in nearby Romania, Croatia and Turkey, Italians are on high alert. Poultry consumption is down 30 to 40 percent this month, according to the Italian Farmers' Association as reported by Reuters. The authorities are taking action to protect Italy from an outbreak even though there's ongoing debate about whether the disease is likely to infect humans in Europe like it has in Asia. Here's what you need to know.
Italians Ignore Silvio Berlusconi's Sex Scandal
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is embroiled in a major sex scandal, but Italians seem completely unaware of his alleged escapades. Maybe it's because they've become accustomed to his sometimes deplorable behavior. Maybe it's because it's August and the Italians are more interested in their upcoming summer vacation than the sex life of their prime minister. My worst fear, however, is that they either don't care or they approve of his morally questionable, allegedly illegal conduct.
Italy: A Country with No Leader
Italy is without a government at the moment. Last week, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned after his 20-month government lost a confidence vote. Now, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano will meet with political leaders on Monday and Tuesday to determine how the country will proceed, according to news reports from around the world. Here are answers to some questions that are probably percolating in your mind about Italy's current, wild political system.
Italy Faces Bad News
This wasn't the best week for Italy. For starters, practically the whole country is suffering from the flu including the Pope and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. And their timing couldn't be worse. Italy - and frankly the world - needs such leaders to be fit and in form right now. Two headlines, in particular, are making it hard for Italians to sleep at night. Here's what's happening.
Italy Frees Inmates
The Italian government's decision to release about 12,000 people from the country's prison system sparks debate. Imagine a prison population bursting at it seams with four or five inmates to one tiny cell and worse conditions than some third-world countries. That's how some experts have described Italy's prisons.
Italy Holds Its Breath for U.S. Election Results
As Americans head to the polls on Tuesday, Italians will be waiting breathlessly to find out if incumbent George W. Bush manages to beat Democratic opponent Senator John Kerry. So far, the race has been neck and neck and things got even more dramatic over the weekend, when a new Osama bin Laden tape addressing the U.S. election surfaced, causing worry that bin Laden might be signaling another terrorist attack.
Italy in 2009: What Can You Expect?
My father, who immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago, always says that when the United States is suffering, Italy is suffering more. Recently, my father hasn't always been right. The American dollar was weak compared to Italy's euro. Thanks to its place in the European Union, Italians who visited the United States were benefiting from the exchange, whereas Americans - those who had the cash anyway - went to Italy and could barely afford eating. Today, things are bad for everyone. Everyone is wondering what next year is going to bring.
Italy Keeps Its Tough Anti-Fertility Treatment Laws - But Should It?
Last week Italians heeded the Catholic Church's advice and many of them abstained from voting on a referendum to lift highly conservative laws on the use of embryos for research and fertility treatments. Once lauded for its efforts to help women get pregnant, Italy in recent years passed a law that restricts embryonic research, limits the number of eggs that can be artificially inseminated to three and prohibits any of them from being frozen. It also bars third-party egg or sperm donors.
Italy on the Anniversary of War
This weekend marked the first anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, a time to reflect on a year full of tragedy despite the capture of dictator Saddam Hussein. The United States has lost more than 570 troops in Iraq since last March. Suicide bombers in Nasiriyah killed 19 Italian military peacekeepers in November. Just last week Europe experienced its 9-11 when at least 200 people were killed and 1,500 injured in coordinated bomb attacks linked to Al Qaeda on trains in Madrid. Before the attack on Spain, Italy already was receiving terror threats. Now, the dangers seem more imminent than ever.
Italy Recovers from Worst Earthquake in 30 Years
A 6.3 magnitude earthquake shook the medieval town of L'Aquila and caused damage in the mountainous Abruzzo region north of Rome on April 6, 2009. Some of my friends and family all the way on the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples felt the earthquake in the middle of the night.
Italy Roots for Obama
Wherever I went in Italy last month, I talked about the upcoming presidential election in the United States. It was all anyone wanted to discuss with me, an American, who can speak Italian fluently. The majority of Italians with whom I spoke are hoping Barack Obama is the next president of the United States. They want change, and they want it now.
Italy Should Just Say No to Ban on Stringent Anti-Doping Laws
As Americans contemplate the use of steroids in baseball, Italy is deciding what to do about its stringent anti-doping laws ahead of the 2006 Olympic winter games in Torino. In Italy, when an athlete is caught taking drugs, he or she is committing a criminal act. The police get involved and the people administering or providing the athlete with the drugs end up in jail. This was all fine before Italy was hosting the winter games. But now the country has to answer to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a group that wants the law to be less stringent.
Italy Takes on Terrorists
In the wake of terrorist attacks to commuter subways and one bus in London earlier this week, the Italian government is stepping up its security. Terrorist groups have posted online messages threatening that Italy will be the next target because of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's staunch support of U.S. efforts in Iraq. Here is what you need to know about the motherland in this time of crisis.
Italy: Time to Take Out the Trash
The city's landfills and garbage dumps are all full, and trash has been piling up. Reportedly, the garbage stands six feet tall in some places. News photos show mothers pushing bags of trash out of the way to make way for carriages carrying their children. Worst of all, the protestors demanding the government do something about this smelly, disgusting, tragic problem are burning the garbage.
Italy Welcomes New President - Sort Of
Some people say incoming president Giorgio Napolitano is the best thing to happen to Italy since pizza, and others wouldn't even cast a vote in protest of his nomination. What do you think?
Italy's Economy Is in Trouble
One Wall Street Journal writer from Italy described frantic, middle-of-the-night phone calls from friends and relatives who wanted to know what to do with their financial portfolio in light of the dramatic news. While the near future is anything but bright for Italy's economy, the experts are not quite throwing in the towel yet. And those Italians in the United States had lots of say about how the country could get back on its feet. Here are some of the suggestions I heard from friends and family.
Italy's Skies Stay Friendly
Despite the recent terrorist plot, Italians are still traveling to their heart's content – but they're taking precautions and tolerating the inevitable inconveniences.
It's Not Easy Being Green
The whole world is going green and trying to combat global climate change and other environmental enemies. Politicians who once ignored these issues are forced to take a stand now – except in Italy. Global climate change, reported the Washington Post in October, is not a major political issue in Italy despite being ultra important to others in the European Union (EU).
It's the Economy, Stupido
Money might actually start to circulate in Italy. Liberalization of the economy might finally be upon us after years of trailing the rest of Europe. We can't count our uovi yet, but Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's center-left coalition is taking up the task of abolishing red tape, rules that establish a non-competitive marketplace where monopolies can easily form, and other laws that interfere with productivity. If a freer marketplace actually becomes a reality in Italy, it will be good news for Italians and anyone who has any money or property invested in Italy, which includes many Italian Americans, Italian Canadians, Italian Argentines, Italian Australians, etc. In other words, this bit o' news could very well personally affect you.
The Mentally Ill in Italy
The world spent the last week tuned into and horrified by the tragedy at Virginia Tech, where an undergraduate student killed 32 people and then himself in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Reports quickly surfaced that the shooter, Seung Hui Cho, had been a troubled individual for some time. A medical institution in Virginia reported in 2005 that he was mentally ill and posed an imminent threat to himself and others. Mental illness - once a taboo subject - became the focus of major media outlets, universities, and the public. While their focus was on the United States, I decided to investigate what Italy is doing for its mentally ill.
Mounting Pressure on Berlusconi
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is walking a tight rope right now. Specifically, he is trying to maintain support for his 2006 re-election campaign while saving face with the United States amid mounting obstacles in diplomacy. This comes as he continues to revive his government after resigning from the top spot for a moment in April, a reaction to mounting criticism over Italy's sluggish economy and its support of U.S. efforts in Iraq.
No More Abuse
It's time the world's Catholics, starting with those in Italy, who are nearest to the Vatican, stand up for believers everywhere and demand a stop to child abuse in the Church.
A Plea to Italians Everywhere
Learn about how the sex scandal facing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi speaks to a whole set of problems with modern-day Italians and those who label themselves as Italian.
A Pillar of Strength is Lost
Italy - and the world - lost one of the few remaining broads. Some might say "broad" is a negative word that you should never bestow on someone you admire, especially once she's passed away. But it's the right word and it's written here with nothing but the utmost respect. The broad I'm talking about - and missing even though I never knew her personally - is Italian-born writer and activist Oriana Fallaci. She died at age 77 on September 14 in her native Florence, where she was being treated for lung cancer.
Romano Prodi: 4 Must-Know Facts
For Italian Americans the weeklong debacle about who really won the Italian election for prime minister is déjà vu. As Silvio Berlusconi demanded a recount, we all shuddered at the memory of George W. Bush's debatable win against Al Gore in 2000. Just like Gore, Berlusconi was asked yesterday to concede defeat after an appeals court confirmed a two-seat Senate majority for incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
Round up: Wacky News from Italy
Every time I pick up an Italian newspaper or magazine lately, I find myself saying, “Only in Italy!” The abbondanza of outlandish news stories to come out of the homeland is sometimes amusing, often heartwarming and always a credit to the creativity and charm of Italians.
Silvio Berlusconi: Will his business genius ever carry over into politics?
Il Signore certainly gave Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi the right combination of intelligence, charm, good looks, ingenuity and bravado to become the world's richest politician, with an estimated net worth of more than $10 billion, mostly off his media empire.
A Sympathy Card: Overcoming the Attack on Italians in Iraq
Italians and Americans were moved by the sudden loss of innocent young men, another attack on our freedom to live in peace and the physical devastation in Nasiriyah and its surrounding area. It was the deadliest attack on the Italian military since World War II. The images of black smoke and fire brought us back to September 11, 2001, the nightclub in Bali, the Saudi Arabian bombings from a week before and, unfortunately, the list could go on and on.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi is in a bit of a pickle. His eclectic government, which includes everyone from staunch communists to reform-minded centrists, bickers constantly and is leading to record lows in the administration's popularity. That's not even the worst of it. By now, everyone knows that Prodi famously increased taxes when he took over in 2006, which outraged many Italians. After promising to cut taxes in 2007, he and his coalition are back peddling about whether it will be possible.
Terrorists Get in the Way of Love
The plot to blow up American airliners heading back to the United States from the U.K. is disrupting my relationship with my Italian man and Italy.
A Timeless Immigrant Story: Sonia Gandhi Turns Down Chance to be Indian Prime Minister
Sonia Gandhi, who was born in Lusiana near Vicenza about 57 years ago, has spent the last few weeks captivating the public as she unexpectedly won the election to become India's first foreign-born prime minister. Then, she unexpectedly turned down the offer and passed the honor to Manmohan Singh, the founder of India's economic reform program and a Gandhi ally. Indians - and the rest of the world - are left wondering what made Sonia Gandhi change her mind.
TomKat Weds in Italy
Sometimes, I have a hard time coming up with a topic for this column. When that happens I start scanning the headlines to see what news is coming out of Italy. I did just that this weekend. Without a doubt, the biggest story today is Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' lavish wedding, which took place yesterday in Bracciano, Italy, a lakeside town just outside of Rome. The whole thing has me disappointed in Italy - and myself.
Too Much News to Fit
There's so much going on in Italy right now that I'm not sure where to begin with this column. In the last week, Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government collapsed and was put back together, the country broke ratings records when tuning into the annual Sanremo music festival, and Inter put itself into position to actually win the scudetto. I guess I should just try and give you the highlights of each bit o' news.
When There's Smoke There's Fire: Italy Faces Smoking Ban
When I used to walk into a bar or discothèque in Italy, I felt as though I was taking a nicotine shower as a film of dense smoke layered itself on my clothes, skin, and hair. That's why as a non-smoker who travels to Italy often, I was thrilled that the new year heralded a smoking ban in all of Italy's closed public spaces including restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. The question remains whether most of Italy is celebrating with me.
Why Are Italians Unafraid of Going Naked in Public?
Italians and other Europeans are laughing at Americans as they continue to watch the many aftershocks of Janet Jackson baring her breast during the Super Bowl halftime show nearly a month ago. Much more comfortable with sexuality and the human form, Italians don't mind a little nudity now and then. Here are the top 5 reasons why.
Why Do Italians Want to Honor Actor Robert De Niro?
As of last week, Italian Americans and Italians in Italy were at odds over whether the Italian government should bestow honorary citizenship on Italian American actor Robert De Niro. About 600,000 members of the Order Sons of Italy in America asked Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to deny the actor dual citizenship because “he has damaged the image [of Italians] by constantly playing criminal roles that tarnish their reputation.” In my own small way, I try to get to know Italians in Italy better to break down the cultural divide between them and us, Italians living in other parts of the world. Therefore, it is my duty to explain Italy's position. Here are the reasons I think Italians want to recognize De Niro.
Your Letters: Reader Reaction to Robert De Niro's Honorary Italian Citizenship
Recently I wrote a column about the Italian government's controversial decision to honor Italian American entertainers Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese with honorary Italian citizenship at this month's Venice Film Festival. After my article about the raging debate ran on ItaliansRus, I received a bunch of letters from those on both sides of the issue. Here, the readers react.
War Is Un-Italian
Italy's pacifist nature is striking as the world watches destruction and terror unfold in the Middle East.