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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Meet the Sacchetti Family

12 Apr
Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

Palazzo Sacchetti, seen from Lungotevere dei Sangallo

One of the lovely surprises of indulging in my passion for writing about Rome is that sometimes my work gets noticed and I am able to take part in activities I never would have been invited to had I not started my blog. My tour today of Palazzo Sacchetti on Via Giulia, a historic noble family’s residence even to this day, was one such event. The tour was graciously offered and hosted by Italian Ways, an online Italian lifestyle and arts magazine. About 15 local bloggers and Instagrammers were invited to join in the tour of the palazzo, which isn’t open to the public and within which photos aren’t normally permitted.

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This group photo was shot at the end of our tour in the Nymphaeum, the garden that was added in 1660, and stands just inside the facade on Lungotevere dei Sangallo.

Palazzo Sacchetti is featured in the Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty), as the home where the character Viola lived with her mentally ill son. Designed by famous architect Antonio da Sangallo, construction started in 1542 and the building was completed in 1546. The Sacchetti family, who left their native Florence for Rome in the 16th century to escape persecution by the Medici, bought the palazzo in 1648, and the same family owns the palazzo and lives there to this very day. Private visits are available by special request.

The Sacchetti family was a very important noble family in Rome—so important, in fact, that they became one of only a handful of families to be named marchesi di baldacchinoA baldacchino is called a baldachin in English, and is a ceremonial canopy over an altar or throne. The marquis of the baldachin were an exceptional class of nobility between princes and inferior nobility, and they had to have the following characteristics:

      • Historical and social importance of the family
      • Registered as Roman nobility. Instated by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746 in his bolla (official letter) Urbem Romam, the registry commonly came to be known as the Libro d’Oro or “the golden book.” The original copy was burned by the Jacobins in 1799 during the first Roman Republic. A new Libro d’Oro was compiled between 1839 and 1847 and is kept to this day in the City of Rome Historical Archives. A paperback reproduction is available on Amazon. Look how cool, the archive website has the entire book indexed and available for viewing online (I AM AMAZED AND DELIGHTED) and here is the Sacchetti family’s page in the book:
    • SacchettiPossession of feudal property
    • Having had Cardinals in the family
    • Matrimonial alliances with royal families (principality, duchy)
    • Hereditary office holder within the Papal Court, known as the Roman Curia of the Holy See (the administrative branch of the Vatican)

This last qualification was modified in 1968, when Pope Paul VI abolished the Papal Court and modified it into what is now known as the Pontifical Household. The Sacchetti family role was called Foriere Maggiore prior to the reform, and is now Hereditary Quartermaster General of the Sacred Apostolic Palace. In terms of what they actually do, from what I gather I think it more or less involves receiving heads of State for the Pope and leading ceremonial processions. Here’s a picture of Giulio Sacchetti on the cover of the book he wrote called Segreti Romani (Roman Secrets):

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And as far as the heads of State/ceremonial thing goes, in one room we saw some “family photos” on top of a table:

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The baldachin is still there in the entrance hall of the palazzo. Only the noble families of the baldachin (the ones that fit the criteria above) had them, and there were very few of these families; in my various research I found four of them listed: Patrizzi, Serlupi, Sacchetti and Teodoli. The baldachin was placed in the entrance hall for receiving the pope during a visit, and included kneeling cushions for dignitaries who would come before the pope.

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On the baldachin you can see the family crest: silver with three black stripes. The family crest was everywhere within the palazzo, from the ceilings:

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to the windows in one hallway:

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even down to the plant pots in the garden:

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Although the artistic treasures in the palazzo were incredible, and I will share those photos in a future post, I must say the most touching aspect for me, because it lent a very human feel to such a majestic place, was seeing the framed family photos on the side tables in the “living room”:

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To learn more about Palazzo Sacchetti and the Sacchetti family:

[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.)

Image

Italian Postal Logic

10 Apr

Poor Poste Italiane. No one likes them.

Every time I write anything about the good ol’ PT, I inevitably get a random Italian commenter who hasn’t ever read my blog before (and thus has no idea how adoring I truly am of my adopted country), but somehow landed on that one post where I get all complainy, and tries to defend the PT in the comments by suggesting in some creative and colorful form that if I don’t like it I can go back to my own damn country.

Ok, maybe not every time. But lots of times, anyways.

Maybe it was calling this post “Italian Postal Service I Hate You With All My Heart” that made some readers think I’m bitter and cynical. A bit over the top? I dunno. Perhaps.

Maybe it was the one called No stamps, this is the post office.

Maybe people just don’t appreciate quality sarcasm anymore. We’ve become so jaded, haven’t we? It’s too bad all our days can’t be filled with delightful post office banter like this.

Well, as you might already know, the Italian postal service (and here I use the term “service” very loosely) is a never-ending font of things to both ridicule and belittle.

And yet, today I don’t have any complaints to add, but rather a quiz (or as they say here in Italy, “queets”) question for you.

I need your help, as a matter of fact, because no matter how I try to wrap my brain around this one, it just keeps getting tied up in knots.

Please observe Exhibit A:

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Besides the fact that this is an exceedingly rare moment in that there seems to be NO ONE in the post office (I promise you there were 10 people just a couple minutes later), have a look at “What’s Wrong in This Picture?”

Well, frankly, I hadn’t noticed it. But as I was waiting in line, the one line that was formed because the number machine was broken, I overheard a woman loudly say to an elderly lady approaching the counter: “You see?! There was a reason why they turned the chairs around!”

At which point, obviously, I look at the row of chairs and discover, in fact, that they are all facing with their backs to the “service” windows, when usually they are facing the windows. The usual chair configuration does actually make sense, really, when you take into consideration that if you have your back to the NUMERICAL DISPLAY you won’t be very likely to see YOUR NUMBER when it’s called. So, you know, number machine broken, maybe chairs must be turned around? Unless, well, ok, perhaps it could stay that way even when the number machine works, maybe if you were to hold up a compact mirror over your shoulder, and/or you are a single mom of three children under age ten like I am, at which point you would certainly have at least two, if not more, eyes in the back of your head like I do.

Anyways, herefore cometh O Wise Explanation to aforementioned conundrum, according to postal patron number one. However, before the big reveal, I’d like you to take a moment and try to guess why, using your own common sense and logic, according to postal patron number one (who I assumed received this pearl of wisdom directly from the postal clerk), the postal people decided it was a good idea to turn all those chairs around.

You got it? You got your guess ready? OK. So here’s what the woman said:

“You see, since there aren’t any numbers because the number machine is broken, and since we all have to form one line starting over there, well, the chairs are turned around so that way, if the line gets long, people can sit down in these chairs, like so.”

The old woman nodded, as if that somehow made perfect sense to her.

Perfect sense.

In my mind, a comment like that deserves only one thing, and that one thing is known in my world as the hashtag #WTF.

But, this is not my world, you see. Oh no, make no mistake about it: this is the Italian postal “service’s” world. I only live in it, occasionally stand in it for long periods of time, and most certainly never sit in it with my back to the service windows, even if they do make the effort to helpfully position the chairs in a way in which I could comfortably do so.

But why stop there, I ask myself. No, dear reader, bonus: I’d also like to let you know, that if you so desire, you can get dental insurance through the post office. Will you just look at how happy that toothpaste smiley-face man is about this proposition?

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Dental Postalprotection: Smiling has never been so simple. (I want to kiss the copywriter who came up with that one, really, I do.)

But wait! There’s more!

There’s an entire CATALOG of randomness that you can buy through your post office. It’s even seasonal. This one is Spring 2014. That means there are four a year, people! YAY! Look how happy the family is, sitting as they are in front of a soccer match! You can even buy a flag! Weee!

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Stamps? Pshaw, you silly! But a “Dual Motor Relax Recliner”? Oh now hellll yes. Now that we have, at the low, low price of just €449,90. (Postal geniuses, you’re not fooling anyone by taking 10 cents off. We’re totally onto you and your reclining chair scheming.)

relax

That is, unless you prefer the collar massager for 10 cents short of €55.

We’ll even make it super easy for you with a loan on one of our pre-paid debit cards: “The loan that recharges your desire for shopping.” Yes. Because we’re the post office. That’s what we do, you see.

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You know what though? Shit. I’m usually not one of those “Americans Do It Better” kind of girls, but in this particular instance, I just have to get on out there and say it loud, say it proud: when it comes to useless products, AIN’T NOBODY like us here Americans.

Don’t believe it? Just try me:

(If I had been drinking milk I am fairly certain it would have come out of my nostrils from laughter at 2:15. Nice perm, BTW.)

Ok, fine. I hear you though. You’re saying, “Oh Shelley, PT is such an easy target. Move on already.” Which makes me think of an Italian phrase that I simply adore. It goes like this: “E’ come sparare sulla Croce Rossa.” We Americans say something like, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” (naturally, of course, because all Americans carry at least one gun on their person at ALL TIMES), but the Italians say, “It’s like shooting at the Red Cross.” God I love that phrase. [And, by the way and just so you know, Mythbusters confirmed that shooting fish in a barrel is, in fact, easy to do.]

And before you dismiss my humble blog as pulp fodder for the ignorant masses, I’ll have you know that this dude at Yahoo questions wanted to know “Why do they say it’s like shooting at the Red Cross?” and some benevolent soul took the time to respond that the GENEVA CONVENTION prevents shooting at health workers in war zones, so it’s like attacking someone who’s defenseless and can’t fight back. Another helpful know-it-all says that it was common to bomb Red Cross encampments in war zones in all the wars post-1864 (when the Red Cross was founded). In any case, if you need a real-life, in-context textual/visual demonstration of this expression, I direct you here. I will not, can not, put a picture of Britney Spears’s buttocks on my blog. Not gan do it, not at this juncture, wun’t be prudent…

Today I had to go to the post office to pay a bill (naturally) so I decided it would also be a good occasion to mail a letter I needed to mail. A real, honest-to-God, thank you card, from a box of US stationery I had sent over from Papyrus via my ex-husband’s luggage with a real, honest-to-God stamp on it. I kid you not when I tell you that I went to the tobacconist before the post office, so I could purchase a real stamp. As I hand over the card, I am careful to bring to the clerk’s attention: “It already has a stamp on it.”

The guy behind the counter takes my letter, stares at it, turns it over a few times in his hands, marveling. (He was marveling, I swear to you, it was unmistakable.)

I was like: “What? It’s a letter.”

And he goes: “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Indeed, my friend, it is. Indeed it is.

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*)

To subscribe to Gabriele’s Youtube channel, click here

To “Like” his Facebook page, click here