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[Review] The Italians by John Hooper

3 Feb

I’m often solicited to review books regarding Italy before they’re released, and to be perfectly honest, I almost always politely decline because—and granted, I do realize I’m making a sweeping and unfair generalization here, but so it is—I can’t stomach any more books about restoring old farmhouses or finding the love of your life on the back of a Vespa.

And so, I was unexpectedly pleased and surprised when I was contacted by Viking to preview journalist John Hooper’s new release The Italians.

Rome hosts a number of truly world-class international correspondents working at the very pinnacle of their craft, and Hooper is among them. I’ve been aware of and admired John’s work for some time, as I follow several of the locally-based English-speaking foreign correspondents here in Rome on social media and their respective mastheads online. To hear that he was finally throwing his hat into the ring of Italian compendiums was welcome news.

If you’re looking for the typical “foreigner romanticizing Italy” tome or, on the other end of the spectrum, a work condemning the perennially-dubbed “country with no future,” look elsewhere, as this book does well to defy easy categorization in tackling the absolutely impossible-to-categorize bel paese.

Rather, if I had to try to succinctly categorize this book, I’d say it’s a broad-based yet in-depth sociological study of modern Italy filled with anecdotes about the amusing and often baffling ins and outs of daily life, customs, and culture. The book is refreshingly comprehensive, with an academic and fact-based authority owing in large part to Hooper’s long service as Italy correspondent for The Economist and southern Europe editor for The Guardian and The Observer.

And yet thankfully, it also achieves the difficult task of presenting both story and history in an unembellished yet compelling way that warmly engages the reader to join in and bravely venture into the labyrinth of contradictions and impossibilities that comprise Italy, both past and present.

The first clue that you’re about to delve into something that stands out from the pack is this: as you crack the spine and turn to the beginning of the book, you’re greeted with not one—but two—maps of Italy.

The first wisely delineates “Italy After 1815,” an important distinction given that Italy’s technical unification, which most scholars agree began in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna and the end of Napoleonic rule, is a tactical date that doesn’t necessarily reflect unified feelings in citizens who are to this day largely tied to their own individual provinces and towns.

The second map shows modern Italy and its various regions, a helpful geographical primer that anyone approaching the famed “boot” should have as a point of reference, as north-south divisions and regional politics shape and frame much of what goes on culturally.

With those maps as both preamble and passport, Hooper guides his readers skillfully through Italy’s culturally diverse history, building a backdrop that sets the foundational context to modern-day questions and challenges. Italy’s history, like its politics, is wildly complicated, yet thankfully here Hooper gives a well thought-out narrative of the geographic and cultural changes that have taken place over recent centuries. The last paragraph of Chapter 2, in fact, is quite possibly my favorite quip of the book. It reveals Hooper’s enjoyable wry wit and sharp eye for historical detail and context shaping modern Italy:

Almost fourteen centuries elapsed between the deposing of the last Roman emperor in the West and the unification that followed the breaching of the Aurelian Wall near Porta Pia in 1870: sixty generations, more or less, of disunity and vulnerability to the whim of foreign rulers and the might of foreign armies. Such things leave their mark on a people.

But now, let’s get down to business: truth be told, when I read a book on modern-day Italy, I’m a bit of a tough customer. Having lived in Rome for 14 years, and having immersed myself fully into the culture in these years to become a *wee* bit of a cultural authority myself, I’m not reading a book on Italy to get tips about how to order an espresso or to admire the author’s stealth in finding the “perfect” antique table for outdoor lunches at the country house in Tuscany.

No—I’m looking for clues, insights, stories, and facts to help me understand topics that, despite my imbedded status in this culture and country, I still struggle to grasp.

Before I started reading, I made a list of topics in which I hoped to glean something new:

Politics – has always been a tangled and inapproachable mess for me

Mafia – are they really Goodfellas who have taken over government of the country?

Women – their status, treatment, and cultural norms surrounding them in the country that The Economist once called “the land that feminism forgot”

The Italian Male – is he really a forever hopeless Peter Pan/mamma’s boy? 

Jobs – and why on Earth there never seem to be enough to go around

Raccomandazioni – the uniquely Italian-style spoils system

I found new insights in each of the categories. I would love to reveal them to you, but, that would be an unfair spoiler.

I will say that as to women, we get an entire chapter, number 10. That was lovely and unexpected. Same goes for the mafia, 16. Mamma’s boys, go directly to page 164, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

As to the rest, well…you’ll just have to trust me on this one. If I learned something(s) new, you will, too, even if you’re a seasoned veteran expat like me, or just a cynic, or both. Each chapter is written to flow into and introduce the next.

Oh, and also? This book actually has an index.

An index, people!

So, I happily endorse this work, but with one important caveat that I’m sure my readers will be pleased to hear (intelligent and curious and all-around superior as they are) — this book is actually something I’d classify as intellectual.

Not dull or dry intellectual, mind you. But: it isn’t fluff.

You’ll walk away enriched and enlightened. [Read: you’ll learn quite a bit more than how to buy an antique table for your Tuscan farmhouse.]

You’ve been forewarned!

The Italians by John Hooper

From Amazon.com:

Knitting Shops in Rome: Vanità di Filati

12 Jun

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That’s one of my baby girls there in purple checking out the yarn.

I made a lovely new discovery yesterday in my on-going catalog of yarn stores here in Rome.

This one is in my very own neighborhood so my joy knows no bounds. I made friends with the owner and I am in LOVE, LOVE, LOVE with this store.

The store is well-stocked, the owners themselves have the projects they’re working on out on the counter (one of my “go-to” checkpoints when deciding whether a knitting store is legit or not—do the owners knit? Will they be able to help me with a thorny question if I need it?), and there is a range of accessories and supplies in addition to the many balls of yarn (i.e., wide wide selection of buttons, needles, etc.) Ah, one-stop-shopping!

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I went on Yelp to do a review of this place and discovered another American girl living in Rome had given it a terrible one-star review. I had an absolutely different experience. So, who knows. Let me say this: if you tell them that “Un’americana a Roma” sent you, I feel fairly confident that they’ll treat you nicely. I mean, they were nothing but spectacularly kind and helpful with me.

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The owners are Patrizia (pictured) and Maria. Both of them alternatively asked me what project I was buying for, and how they could help me find what I needed. They had an excellent range of colors and let me touch all the different yarns without any weirdness which can sometimes occur here in Rome. (Yarn shopping can sometimes feel akin to fruit shopping at the market: look but don’t touch. Which, as any knitter will tell you, is totally counterintuitive and goes against our very grain!) Patrizia has most of her yarn out in cubbies and when I said how awesome that was, because it allows the customer to get up close and examine the yarns, she just smiled. So it wasn’t like “Oh you’re not supposed to touch it.”

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Anyhoo, folks, this place gets my enthusiastic two thumbs up. I already started my project (thank you Ravelry and Audrey Wilson at The Design Studio) and I can’t wait to have another one to go back.

Getting here is a bit out of the way, especially if you’re on holiday and staying in the center. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, by any means. It’s just not walking distance. You can either take the Metro B Line to Basilica di San Paolo and then walk from there or take bus 769 or 766 to Via Aristide Leonori and walk from there (5 mins). Or, from the center take bus 714 (depot at Termini) to Cristoforo Colombo/Vedana and walk from there (5 mins).

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It’s approved by twin four-year-old Roman American girls. So, you know, that’s an endorsement you can trust.

Vanità di Filati – Il Fiocco di Maria e Patrizia

Via della Badia di Cava 88
00142 Roma

Tel: 06/5409883

The Fall of Roman Civilization

28 Apr

I’ve been wanting to tackle this issue for quite some time, not really sure how to go about it. Last Wednesday, I took my annual birthday trip to see my best friend in Amsterdam, and as I left my neighborhood, this is what was happening, just a block from my son’s elementary school:

If those scenes of an urban war zone aren’t bad enough on their own, then this video shows the violence that later erupted, when riot police started beating activists with batons.

The police vans, first 5, then upwards of 10, came out on April 16 to remove squatters who had broken into and illegally occupied an empty government building nine days prior. My neighborhood is generally unknown to most, as it is well out of the historic center, and yet it took center stage last week as the violence broke out. By the time I had landed in Amsterdam, I had 56 messages on my phone from the mom’s group on Whatsapp that is usually used for asking questions about what homework pages have been assigned. This time it was filled with anxiety-ridden exchanges from moms deciding whether or not to take their kids out of school early, should the situation escalate. Luckily, it didn’t affect the nearby businesses or schools, other than the road blocks and general commotion. Once the squatters were removed, however, they MOVED IN to the MUNICIPAL building across the street and next door to the elementary school.

I was told that this was a move by the municipal president (Municipio VIII, ex-XI) who was hosting them. I haven’t researched that. It’s irrelevant now, because the squatters then moved to an abandoned building in nearby via di Tor Carbone once the municipal offices had to open back up to the public on April 23. According to this article from La Repubblica Roma online, there were about 200 families in all.

Two days prior to the police raid, I took the photo below and posted it on Twitter. In retrospect, it’s embarrassing to me to think that I sent out a plea to Rome’s mayor via social media. In fact, Marino has been battling with the AMA (waste collection company) problems for a while now, especially brutal during the holidays, when a photo of a pig eating garbage in the Boccea neighborhood (inside the ring road, not in the middle of nowhere) showed unequivocally just how bad the situation had become. But you see, the question is, who in the world can citizens turn to when their city is becoming a toxic waste zone and seems to be quickly sliding more and more into total chaos?

As those of you who follow my blog know, I truly love this city, and in my writing I do my best to try to make light of the difficult situations around here. But lately, even I am reaching my limit. I thought maybe I was just imagining things, or having a particularly difficult “culture shock” coming back after a week in Amsterdam, where things are so civilized, but it’s not just me.

This article by Der Spiegel‘s Walter Mayr is absolutely, positively, a must-read for anyone who cares about Rome at all. It’s excellently written and covers this topic from a number of perspectives.

Mayr’s piece also helped me to understand the person behind one of the sites that I have been wondering about for quite some time now: Roma Fa Schifo, translated loosely as “Rome Sucks.” The blog, founded in 2008, is a hub for sharing everything that is filthy, corrupt, and shameful about daily life in Rome. The corresponding Facebook page has a following of nearly 34,000 at the time of writing.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Roma Fa Schifo for some time, because I thought it was simply another way to collectively complain about this city. But after reading Mr. Mayr’s article, I came away with the understanding that the blogger behind the page, 35-year-old Massimiliano Tonelli, is aiming to create awareness as a catalyst for change. Tonelli manages another blog called Cartellopoli, which documents the illegal sign-posting that goes on and creates untold mountains of litter throughout the city.

A bit more research on Tonelli revealed this recent interview with the free daily Leggo, in which he describes a new type of citizen referred to as “Roman 2.0,” a social activist who documents the problems of the city online. In fact, Mayr’s article says that Mayor Ignazio Marino keeps a file of certain posts from Roma Fa Schifo, so in that sense it certainly is working as a vehicle for awareness.

The Roma Fa Schifo blog inspired a bit of an online movement that’s sprung up in recent years, with a network of sites loosely known as the “Coordination of Anti-Deterioration Blogs.” These sites, such as Degrado Esquilino and Riprendiamoci Roma (Let’s Take Back Rome), document the current deterioration of Rome.

The question Mayr poses in his article: “Can a New Mayor Stop the City’s Decline?” is left unanswered. He mentions that Marino bikes to work, and Marino himself explains that his personal wealth and outsider status (he’s not a Rome native) mean that he can make unpopular decisions.

Perhaps it’s true what Marino, a surgeon by trade, says in the article: “Removing the abscess is the easiest part. After that you need to get everything patched up and then get the organism going again. I was left with a city full of potholes, a school system that is falling apart and poverty that is rising dramatically. Add to that €14 billion in existing debt, some of which is still left over from Rome’s preparations for hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 1960.”

Rome is not in a good way right now. As much as I try to show this city in its most positive light, the fact of the matter is that things are definitely going downhill, as far as I see it, especially when I have to walk my 6-year-old son past riot police to take him to his 1st grade classroom. I’m not complaining or trying to play the victim, but I’m starting to seriously question what kind of activism a citizen of this city can take part in, to try to make a system that is so profoundly broken, get up and working again. We are lucky to have a tourism economy that keeps things moving, and tourists who continue to come and enjoy the open-air museum that is the Eternal City. But for those of us who choose to live here for any length of time, the situation continues to become more trying. As Mayr says in his article, “Seasoned Romans are heroic when it comes to getting through daily life,” and as he quotes 91-year-old Roman novelist Raffaelle La Capria, “We’re all disappointed and a little depressed to see Italy’s decline before our very eyes.”

Indeed.

How to Know When Bathing Suit Season is Approaching in Italy

27 Apr

[Partial nudity warning: this post contains a full-on wardrobe malfunction. This may or may not interest you to know.]

Holy crap, people. This is a no-brainer. The other day I was walking to pick my son up from school (this appears to be a fruitful practice for generating blog post material) and I kid you not, within a one-block (ONE BLOCK!) radius, all of a sudden I got hit over the head like a sledgehammer by the sudden realization that OHMYGODINHEAVEN it must be bathing suit season in a matter of … well, in a matter of soon.

Why, you ask?

Oh, allow me. It’s all about how shop windows change.

Remember the pharmacy (ie, place where you go to fill prescriptions for blood pressure meds and allergies and certified clinical illnesses?) that promoted this? Well, their windows of late have changed as a harbinger of warm weather to come. Witness:

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Oh, where to start, where to start? How about with the name: CELLU DESTOCK. 14 days! (exclamation point added for emphasis) I think if you just throw “cellu” into the product, it automatically communicates “this cream will banish cellulite forever” or something thereabouts.

Clearly the awesome derrière needs no additional commentary, except for my astute observation that I don’t honestly think that Cellu Destock had anything to do with that. However, let’s read what the ad copywriters have to say about it:

TODAY I CAN
SHOW OFF (everything)
FEEL GOOD (in my body)
WEAR (what I want)

I might add: Oh, ladies! All in a little cream!

But hell, don’t take it from me or the ad geniuses behind this miracle product. Just read the reviews:

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I love the contrast here. “Girls this thing is working! It took me a while to make a decision on buying this cream.” (really?) to “Haven’t seen any dramatic changes or improvement in the appearance of cellulite on my thighs and hips.”

Um, no. That’s because dramatic improvements in cellulite are not possible. But don’t tell reviewer #1’s husband. He said, and here I quote: “Did you do something with your legs? They look different.”

(I will not dignify that with any additional commentary, it is just too great all on its own.)

But, again: the idea that you can’t improve cellulite? GASP! THE HORROR! Take it away, Dr. Garry S. Brody, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California (a place where they know a thing or two about body image):

Women who believe that they can eliminate cellulite through creams, or even weight loss, are likely to be disappointed, said Dr. Garry S. Brody, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California. “So-called cellulite is the natural anatomic contour characteristic of many women’s thighs and buttocks,” Brody said. “It is unrelated to weight gain or loss. There is absolutely no surgical or medical solution to women’s dislike of this appearance except for the psychological self-deception of wanting to believe the ads.” [source]

Ok, ok, you’re thinking: but I’m not convinced. Psychological self-deception—pshaw! you say. Show me more!

Your wish is my command:

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What about if we frame our formerly-cottage-cheese-laden-thighs with our hands to show how effective the product is, and we put a big ol’ headline that says:

Cellulite is a sickness.
To cure it you have to act on the causes.
Somatoline cures cellulite and helps prevent it from returning.

Whoa! SICKNESS! CURES! Who knew?

But before we leave this (pharmacy) window, let’s look at ALL the products on offer, shall we?

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This is maybe my favorite because it combines two things that people want: more sleep, and getting thin. Look at the headline on this puppy: “Get thin in 10 nights*.”

How much am I loving that asterisk?

The tag line says: Somatoline Cosmetic. It works.

I guess being fat isn’t a sickness. You can just sleep it off with this cream. 10 nights, folks!

Let’s cross the street to the profumeria, where they sell makeup and skin care products (non-pharmaceutical, obvs). Hello, window shopping!

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Add a neon green line to the profile of the beautiful buttocks. Then show your whole entire line-up of miracle anticellulite products. And see, ironically, this is the one place where we see pills to cure cellulite. The subhead is “Special Perfect Body” line.

Collistar-Anticellulite-Capsules

They contain caffeine. Like, you know, that other thing called espresso that they drink around here.

And for those of you growing anxious to see boobies, or rather, booby, as promised—fine. Here:

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For the low, low price of €9,90, you too can have a cream that, I kid you not, is called Breast Firming and Volumizing* Cream. Volumizing! According to Dictionary.com (the venerable Merriam-Webster doesn’t even have ‘volumizing’ as an entry):

Main Entry:  volumize
Part of Speech:  v
Definition:  to add volume to, as the hair; to enhance the thickness or body of
Etymology:  1991

Etymology 1991, that’s awesome, you know that was ALL Pantene Pro-Vitamin B Complex.

Anyways, whatevs. If you want boobies with more body, buy this cream. SOS! Save Our Ship! Sinking Boobies!

What about the esthetician, right? Italy is big on these shops that do all sorts of things to save everything that’s sinking on a human body. Check out these signs in the window:

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10 anti-cellulite massages cost €300. But the best part for me is the sexy woman running on a track, advertising the “Weight Loss Fitness Program” that encompasses something called a “Hypertonic Program” that inclues something called an “Electric Sculpure Massage” for €350. That scares the holy bejeezus right out of me, but I am reassured by the underlying print: “Personal trainer on request.” Oh folks, I couldn’t make this shite up if I tried.

Electric sculpture massage? Is that even legal?

A bit of cursory research into the world of electro-sculpure massage reveals that they use things like this device named “Sculpturelle,” that look like this, and say “Professional beauty equipments” on the bottom.

sculpturelle

I don’t know about y’all, but if I was subjected to the use of an electric device applied to my body by a company that didn’t even take the time to appropriately translate the words on the device, well—hmm. But, the caduceus is the sure sign of it being an officially-sanctioned medical device. Not that the RMS people even know the meaning of caduceus, but that’s beside the point: this is professional beauty equipments, people!

Oh, sigh. So, you know. This is Italy and we need to get ready for the beach. No exercising, we have electro-sculpture and anti-cellulite pills and booby volumizing cream! This is almost getting exhausting, but I feel I must be exhaustive in my research, to offer you the full range of options. So, let’s not forget the “tummy and hips” cream:

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€49,50 and it’s going to “help reduce circumference in 4 weeks” ASTERISK.

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My 4-year old daughter saw this one and goes, “Look mommy! She’s standing on her toe!” and I was like, right you are, little one! Don’t try this at home!

This one is “Leg Thinning and Draining Cream, Ice Effect Formula.” This one promises to “Thin legs in 2 weeks” ASTERISK. [Are you loving these time ranges? Very important. This means I can start using it just a couple weeks before I plan to wear my bathing suit, no? But I have to be strategic with my hip and ab cream and my 10-night cream too.]

And, menopausal women? Don’t think you’re off the hook, eh? The pressure to be Photoshopped beautiful continues into post-menopausal age. Just look at your typical post-menopausal woman here:

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Sorry this one is so blurry. I think quite possibly my hands were shaking from the realization that the post-menopausal woman on the box has a body that looks better than mine did at 18 years old when I was a high school cheerleader. No matter: the National Institute on Aging tells us that the average age for menopause onset is 51. So, maybe what happens is that starting now, around my current age of 37, my body starts to magically transform (perhaps with the aid of all these costly creams in the window) into a better-than-teenage body by the age of 51. Priced to move at €54 (that’s $75 for my American-dollar-carrying friends).

Well, what can I say? Please don’t tell the Italians that next week I’m embarking on this program. It requires clean eating and lifting weights, in an actual gym, where you—GASP—sweat.

Shh! If they find out, they might shame me into buying a booby-volumizing cream.

 

[UPDATE] Link to contribute to Gabriele Camelo’s Crowdfunding Campaign

11 Apr

Many of you saw my interview the other day with filmmaker Gabriele Camelo, whose camera equipment was recently stolen in Palermo where he currently resides and works. He produces social-awareness videos and also more spontaneous videos that show Italy in a positive light, and although he is a former professional in the television industry, the videos he produces on his own time are born from his passion and desire to create social awareness, and don’t produce any income for him.

As I explained in my post, he decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to repurchase the equipment he needs to continue his work. At the time of my interview there wasn’t any additional information available, he simply told us about how he’s going around Palermo on the street and explaining his dilemma, engaging with local residents to try to collect contributions.

Now, however, you can also contribute! Below is a video that explains the campaign, and how to contribute:

[If you’d like to support his crowdfunding initiative, please click here to learn more and contribute. Just click “Contribuisci” and then “Invia Denaro” and it will take you to a Paypal payment page where you can pay securely with Paypal.]

What’s Wrong With This Search?

11 Apr

I was doing some writing/research and needed a picture of parmesan cheese, so I typed into Google’s image search engine “parmigiano reggiano.”

I leave it to you to deduce what is horribly, terribly wrong with Google’s algorithm on this one. (Look closely. If you’re American, you should be able to spot it fairly easily.)

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Interview with Gabriele Camelo

9 Apr

If you want to dig right into the interview, click above. I’ll give you a heads-up that it’s all in Italian. Otherwise, if you only speak English, read on!

A couple weeks ago, I ran across a video that made me smile, showing people dancing in the streets of Rome to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” Little did I know (as I am completely devoid of most pop culture references post-2008) that this was a sort of trend that had started after the original music video was released. Here in Rome, the video was made by Gabriele Camelo, who in fact also made a similar video in Palermo that went viral.

I got so intrigued by someone who tried to show a positive side to Rome, a city that takes quite a beating on a daily basis by people who complain about all the endless problems around here, that I absolutely had to find out more about who this person was.

Luckily I found a Facebook page (you can find it here and “Like” it right now… go ahead, click! LIKE! … I’ll wait!) and was able to get in touch directly with Gabriele and ask him if he was up for an interview. He was game, and so this morning we had a Skype video chat that I recorded. Only thing, folks: it’s in Italian. (For those of you who don’t speak Italian, cue epic fail horn, and I’m sorry, truly I am. But my life the way it is absolutely doesn’t permit me the budget of time or money for subtitling or transcripting in English. Find me minions, then we’ll talk. Stephen Faris has first dibs on the minions though because he already asked on Twitter a while back.)

What I will say is that I was pleased and delighted to have found a kindred spirit, someone who tries to find the beauty in all things and in all people, even those who are marginalized by society. Let me tell y’all, it warmed my little social worker’s heart, yes it did.

Gabriele is 32, Roman, and as you’ll see on his Facebook page (which I know you’ve already Liked by now), he is a man who wears many hats: videographer, television producer, documentary filmmaker, entertainer, street artist, tour leader, psychologist, elementary school teacher, and might I add: hello, Renaissance man!

During our interview, Gabriele explained how he sees Rome with a quote: “Rome is like a beautiful woman, sensual, seductive — but with a shitty personality.” Well. Yes. I can see that. The “personality” could be worked on a bit. So he said that the “Happy” Rome video was his way of trying to challenge himself to find the positive side of this city.

Gabriele is now living in Palermo. He had been working at RAI, the state television network (in fact on one of the few programs I actually like on Italian TV, Report) but recently his contract wasn’t renewed. So, as we chat about in the interview, he’s moved down to Palermo to live at his mom’s house (where he Skyped from) and is trying to find a foothold financially. [Aside: This is just one example of why we can’t generalize about that old tired stereotype of “Italian men who live with their moms until they’re 40, 50.” If I have to explain one more time about the highly motivated and very non-lazy Italian men I know who live at home or have had to move back home because of financial difficulties that are often part of a profoundly broken system…Anyhoo. That’s a story for another day.]

He told me the story that recently his entire video equipment collection was stolen, a value of over €2,000, and now he is without a camera and can’t even do what he loves to do as a passion, without his equipment. At a certain point in the interview he shows us a box with a camera painted on it, and money inside. He explains that in response to the theft, he decided that he’d try the “crowdfunding” model to get back the money he needs to buy his equipment again, but in addition to an online site like Kickstarter (an Italian site called Kapipal), he is also taking to the street, giving himself a deadline of one month in which to get the money to buy the equipment. He goes around Palermo with a friend who films him, approaches people with the box, explaining what happened to him, and in this way he hopes to get the money back to buy his equipment again. And then in the future there will also be the video to document his challenge.

[If you’d like to support his crowdfunding initiative, please click here to learn more and contribute. Just click “Contribuisci” and then “Invia Denaro” and it will take you to a Paypal payment page where you can pay securely with Paypal.]

He showed me the Palermo sun from his window, and told me that he works right now as a teacher in what I think would be the equivalent in English of a group home (they’re called casa famiglia here in Italy) and his students are boys between the ages of 16-18, and that yesterday instead of doing their work indoors, he told them, grab chairs, we’re going to do our work on the beach. Wow. Can’t say I ever had that experience. God bless him and his positive spirit.

Gabriele for me is really an inspiration, because he’s taking what the average person sits around here and complains endlessly about, and he makes an effort not only to put a positive spin on it, a bit of “leggerezza” which if you know me you know is a concept near and dear to my heart, but also, he’s out there connecting with people. It’s that human connection that seems so lost nowadays. I love that he has the courage to go out, approach people, provoke people to discourse, involvement, and as he said in the interview as one of his key concepts in life: “condivisione,” sharing. Awesome. I love this and I think there are so many people in this country like this, that deserve to be highlighted and supported, especially when the majority of the news coming out is just more of the same old Italy-bashing. He says one of his favorite quotes is Dostoyevsky [via Prince Myshkin in The Idiot]: “Beauty will save the world.”

Speaking of his other video initiatives along these lines, he also did a “free hugs” video both in Palermo and Rome, which I found rather fascinating to watch, especially from a social sciences perspective. Takes a lot of guts and a certain kind of person to go out and approach people holding up a sign that says “Free Hugs.” Granted he admits this wasn’t his original idea as it was an idea that has been done in other cities, but still, I think he’s the only one doing these types of things here in Italy, at least that I know of at the moment.

I always say about Rome: we know this city has problems, but complaining about it is for amateurs. Rome is a cheap shot, so easy to knock because there’s so much here that truly and fundamentally doesn’t work and is possibly irreparably broken. In my opinion the above-average approach is the one that tries to find the hope in the despair, or tries to make a positive contribution using whatever means they have at their disposal. For Gabriele, (and I’d like to think for myself as well), this mode of creative expression comes through video, through writing, through communication. For others it might be a different vehicle. But in the end, what matters is that we can show our shared humanity and take pride in knowing that, as Gabriele says in the interview, “Life is to be enjoyed.”

Amen to that!

(Oh and PS, ladies? Um, yeah, don’t think I wasn’t swooning. It’s super obvious. I mean, hello, major hubba hubba, right? Doesn’t he have like a Robert Downey Jr. sort of thing going? Jaysus. Looks like I need to find me a man with Palermitano blood, eh? *fans self*)

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