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Stand-up Comedy in Rome with Marsha De Salvatore and Rome’s Comedy Club

3 Dec


If you’ve never heard of Rome’s Comedy Club, it’s high time you remedied that right now, and I’m here to help.

Marsha De Salvatore is a force of nature to reckon with, in the best possible way.

Before Marsha, Rome had no stand-up comedy in English. Consider that for a moment. One woman who blazed a trail, with the odds stacked against her.

Marsha co-founded Rome’s Comedy Club with Stephanie Tyrell, who she met while they were both performing with Gaby Ford’s English Theatre of Rome. Now RCC is in its 8th season and continues to produce top-notch stand-up shows in Rome on a monthly basis. To get notifications of their show dates, send an email to romescomedyclub -at- gmail -dot- com.

Marsha is an intelligent, sensitive, boundary-breaking woman and she deserves a lot more exposure than she currently gets, so I took a moment to throw some questions her way. You can jump to her full bio here.

But first, a little bit of Marsha magic:

S: Marsha, it’s been nearly nine years now since you started Rome’s Comedy Club in 2009. This September you kicked off your 8th season with your – wait for it – SEVENTY-THIRD, yes, 73rd show – and fifth venue. Whew! Give us an overview of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced and how things have evolved since the beginning.

M: I think the hardest thing has been finding the right venue. The stand-up scene has just surfaced in Italy, and the venues are either super-loud and busy pubs with no real stage, or informal theaters. It hasn’t been easy to find the right fit for a comedy show where you want people drinking and sitting so the performers can connect with the audience.

The second problem is with the venue owners. Italians have a different way of dealing with business. Nothing is ever written or confirmed and there’s often a “we will see” mentality. I am American and that is NOT how we roll, which is why I have been ripped off by venues over money. They have also treated my audience in unfair ways and not followed through with what was decided.

The third challenge is to always guarantee a good show. Comedy is subjective, so not everyone is going to like every comic or every show. Plus, I throw in some new virgin comics in the mix, and sometimes that can create a few moments of not the strongest stand-up pieces. I don’t like disappointing people, so when I hear things like “I can’t stand that comic” or “That show wasn’t one of the best,” it is hurtful. I have had to learn that we have to take in critiques and just move on.

dm555 cover

S: Our society is going through a sort of watershed moment right now in terms of women’s empowerment regarding sexual harassment, and comedy is definitely a male-dominated field. This was particularly highlighted recently when the New York Times broke the story about sexual misconduct by comic Louis CK. Aside from the misconduct allegations, what struck me about that piece was just how much the power structure surrounding comedy seems to be totally fortressed by an army of powerful men, who promote and support other men both powerful and just coming up in the field, where women who even manage to break through still struggle to get taken seriously.

That was made even more evident in a recent op-ed by a one of my favorite female performers, writer Lindy West. I want to share a passage of that piece, “Why Men Aren’t Funny,” with you:

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form. Straight male comedians, bookers and club owners have always been the gatekeepers of upward mobility in stand-up, an industry where “women aren’t funny” was considered conventional wisdom until just a few years ago.”

Marsha, what are your thoughts on Lindy’s comments here? Do they reflect your experiences as a women in the comedy field?

M: Sooooooo very true in my little experience here in Rome. I have an ex-comedian friend, Kissy Dugan, who was a working comic in the the States, but then met her Roman husband and gave it up to live here. She has been my guru in my journey doing and producing comedy. When I complain to her about these things, she often says that we are living in a small bubble compared to what it is like in the comedy scene in the US.

Italy is a VERY male dominated and sexist country—just turn on the TV. All the venue owners been male, which doesn’t help if you’re a woman and a foreigner here. That has led to many of my problems in the above question. The comedy circle is ALL men. They are not helpful and don’t share their comedy nights with me. Also, when I have asked in the past for suggestions in advancing my career with agents, they are tight-lipped, closed and NOT welcoming. Of course, they are the first ones to charm me into giving them stage time in my show—which I have—and they have gone off to become professional comics in the UK and around Europe.

In the journalistic world, I have been slammed with being a woman with (Italian daily) Il Messaggero writing a full article on me, but then using one of the RCC Italian male comics in the main photo.

Or another example: Brussels Airline contacted me for a piece on a local comic doing stand up in Rome, but the very next day they said they were no longer interested in interviewing me because they were going to go with the MALE local comic instead. That male comic is the same one with his photo on my Il Messaggero article.

It has been bad, but I would think as Kissy said, working on the road full-time in comedy in the US is probably much worse.

S: So, with all the hurdles you have had to face, some of which you fiercely managed to overcome and some which remain incredibly challenging, what keeps you going?

M: Laughter. I love doing stand up. The most challenging thing for anyone: all alone, raw, stressful—BUT once you get that first laugh, you soar to the high heavens. It’s the best feeling in the world when you feel you have connected with a room full of strangers.

S: What advice would you give a woman who wants to break into comedy, or a woman in any field where men have a “rigidly patriarchal hierarchy”? What have you learned and what has helped you?

M: To never ever stop or give up. If you stop, you risk getting comfortable and secure, which could cause you never to get back out there. If you give up, you will regret it, and I am a firm believer that life is too short so NO regrets.

I have gotten through it by screaming, venting and having an amazing support system. And to literally say FUCK IT and keep going.

S: So what new projects are you working on right now? How can we help you to promote them?

M: At the moment I am getting ready to go back to the States for the holidays. But in the new year, you will find Rome’s Comedy Club monthly shows at the Makai Surf and Tiki Bar (January 27th is the next show).

There will be some dates (TBA, in 2018 in Rome) of my second one-woman show, Marsha’s So-Called Life. It talks about the toil and trouble in the life of a Calabrese-Ohioan gal living in Rome.

My first one-woman show, DM55: You Can’t Get Blood from a Stone, will be going on tour for three shows in February. Written/directed by Kissy, in both English and Italian, the message is about my life as a thalassemia major patient and on the importance of blood donating. It has gone from the north of Italy to the south, with interviews on a popular nationwide morning show called Uno Mattina. It was also produced at one of Italy’s most famous comedy stages in Milan, Zelig.

But to help me promote: my show is always available for schools, theaters, conferences and can be adapted to the situation in both English and Italian. I can do comedy therapy workshops, DM55 for educational purposes, perform my one woman stand-up show or organize a few comics to go to any location for a show.


S: What’s your vision for Rome’s Comedy Club in the near future and the long-term future?

M: The near future vision is to keep going as is, because it is an amazing project. Long-term, I want more and more people to know what has been created by one FEMALE person on her own, with drive, determination and a passion for making people laugh.

 S: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

M: So much to share.

The first: life is hard, and as my father says: “You got two ways to deal with it—you can hit your head against the wall and it’s gonna hurt like hell, and you lose blood, which is no good for you. Or you can suck it up, laugh, and go get ’em, tiger.”

So, world—ladies—go get ’em, tiger.

And finally: I had a show the other month where a male comedian broke down during his set because he had a bad day because his girlfriend left him. The audience was so shocked and understanding. That same evening, we had a mostly female lineup that rocked the house. High-energy, kick-ass ladies.

It was funny, and yet ironic, to see that the women rocked the house, and the sole man had a hard time because he was emotional. In a male-dominated time, whatta strange situation.

MY point in this babble is, it shouldn’t be strange. It should be a normal situation, where a person was having a hard time, and not a male/female thing.

Like everything we do in this world.

Marsha De Salvatore, with a name like that, is clearly from Ohio. To make things interesting, her parents are both from Calabria. She came to Italy in 2000 to find herself,  but got lost and found herself teaching English to pay off her fashion-college debt. She stumbled into acting while she was at it.

Being bilingual, she has worked the stage in both English and Italian.  She started her acting journey with Gaby Ford’s ‘English Theater of Rome’. where she performed in various plays from To Kill a Mockingbird to monologue shows.

After failing in her attempt to be convincing in drama pieces and coming across as funny, she thought to try stand up. In 2009, she got it together and brought her crazy life experiences to the stage. As a wise friend once told her, if you want to perform it then create it! Thus, Rome’s Comedy Club was born!

Rome’s Comedy Club is in its 8th season and keeps on growing with Marsha also going to Second City in Chicago to improve her improv and writing skills. She performs at Rome’s Comedy Club but also for various university and corporate events in Rome.

Additionally, she is actively involved in the world of medicine. Periodically she organizes blood drives to help the never-ending issue of blood shortages in Rome. Drawing from the work of Patch Adams, she has been formally trained in comedy therapy and has volunteered in the cancer ward of Bambino Gesu of Rome with La Carovanna dei Sorrisi.

She is also a speaker on comedy therapy and how using some basic principals of Improv can help everyday life. An example of her lecture is this recent link from the American University of Rome.

Here’s how you can keep up with Marsha and the gang at RCC:

SUBSCRIBE to Rome’s Comedy Club YouTube channel
LIKE Rome’s Comedy Club Facebook page: @RomesComedyClub


Teatro Argentina and Giuseppe Albanese

28 Feb

Folks, frankly, he had me at the curly hair.

Yes, I love me some curly-haired Italian men. Always dreamed that my destiny would be to fall in love and be swept away by a charming Latin lover with said curly hair. Alas, this was not, in fact, to be. However, I still got to see Giuseppe Albanese make his Roman debut recently in one of the loveliest and oldest theaters in the city for just 10 euro. Which brings me quite close to my dream.

Albanese is touted as the “pianist with the magnetic hands.” I will not cheaply stoop to any double entendre to continue with my dream man metaphor (not even sure if magnetic hands in that metaphor would be a positive or a negative). In any case, this, in piano-people-speak, means he knows what he’s doing when his hands meet up with the piano keys.

He was brilliant, and this concert was something I treated myself to. I opened the door to my little balcony booth. Good thing they had this warning or I might have been tempted …

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Living on the edge, so to speak. Oh! Stop me already!

Look how pretty the wooden painted ceiling is with its super fancy chandelier:

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If you’re an art snob who’s offended by the fact that I referred to this work of art as a wooden painted ceiling and super fancy chandelier, my first question to you is: what the hell are you doing reading my blog? You’re right. And then I would give you this link as a peace offering. (Wait…what?! Seriously? This theater was inaugurated in 1732? Holy crap, right?)

More super fanciness: (Fancyness?)

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In the words of Julia Roberts, it was so good I almost peed my pants! (Shelley means she she liked it better than Pirates of Penzance.)

And, Giuseppe? Oh ye of the magnetic hands? Please come back to Rome soon. I have fallen madly in love with you and your curly hair.

Chez Dede and Shelley Super Chic

22 Jun

Clicca qui per l’italiano

Every once in a while in Rome, I get to pretend I’m super fabulous. I pretend I’m a character you never met in “Sex in the City,” like Carrie’s little sister who comes to the big city for a visit. Nine times out of ten, I can attribute this ability to my super fabulous best friend here in Rome. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you may remember her from one of her art shows. Besides having been in my wedding, and seen me through my worst times as well, she is an artist extraordinaire and an all-around lovely person. Which brings me to how I became super chic last night, like Cinderella who gets to dress up for the ball and then goes back to changing dirty diapers by day. It’s all good. Life is like that!

Do you think I enjoy when my friends take me out on the town? The answer would be yes.



The event was for Chez Dede, a line of bags designed by an artist team and colleague of Ele’s. Oh my gosh get a load of how gorgeous Ele is with Andrea, half of the design team behind Chez Dede.


Mother of a three-month-old beautiful baby boy, would you believe it?

Having had a former incarnation as a “creative” myself (I used to be a copywriter in an ad agency, so I got to surround myself with brilliant, eccentric people and pretend to be cool like them for a while), I soak up these environments like a dry, thirsty sponge. I could have sat in that room for hours just people watching and silently taking fashion tips. In fact, that is basically what I did. Between glasses of wine and –JELLO SHOTS–?? Yes, folks. Didn’t you know it’s chic nowadays to eat orange jello spiked with alcohol from a dainty little plastic cup? No, I didn’t either. But I say, go with it.


As always, I am willing to go out on a limb and try new things for you, my dear readers. I figured it wasn’t very chic of me to be photographing my own hand, hence the blur. You’ll forgive, I’m sure.

So this event was held in a male beauty salon, for lack of a better term, called Wonderfool. Yes, I am loving the “fool” part because that is exactly how an Italian would pronounce wonderful. Subtitled “wellbeing and style.” They also have “pink time” where they dedicate the salon to the ladies, the ladies. Ohhh, folks, it was so chic! SSSHEEEEEKKKK let me tell you. Bathrobes as wall art? Yes, please!


Sigh, alas. Now, just mere hours later, I find myself back in my Roxy t-shirt, ratty jeans and Old Navy flip flops. This must be how Cinderella felt when her carriage turned back into a pumpkin. Oh well. A girl can wear the glass slippers every once in a while, can’t she?

Jump to comments

Ogni tanto a Roma, ho l’opportunita’ di fare finta che sono favolosissima. Faccio finta che io sono un personaggio che non avete mai incontrato su “Sex and the City,” tipo la sorella piu’ piccola di Carrie, che viene in citta’ a trovarla per una sera. Nove volte su dieci, quest’opportunita’ mi viene data grazie alla mia migliore amica qui, che e’ una donna favolosissima con degli amici favolosissimi (ecco, allora, vuol dire forse che pure io c’entro?). Se avete letto il mio blog in passato, allora la conoscete da una delle sue mostre d’arte, questa a Castel Sant’Angelo. A parte che e’ stata testimone al mio matrimonio, e poi c’e’ stata nei miei momenti anche piu’ tragici, e’ un’artista straordinaria e semplicemente una persona squisita. E cosi’ arriviamo alla storia di come io, ogni tanto, divento pure io semi-favolosa, sentendomi un po’ come Cenerentola che si veste per il ballo prima di tornare la mattina successiva a cambiare i pannolini sporchi. Insomma, va bene. La mia vita e’ cosi’!

Macche’, pensate forse che io mi godo quando i miei amici mi tolgono il guinzaglio e mi portono a spasso? La risposta sara’ un “si'” molto decisiva.



L’evento era per Chez Dede, una linea di borse disegnate da una coppia di artisti e un collega di Ele. Guardate un po’ quant’e’ bella la mia amichetta con il suo collega, meta’ della coppia che ha ideato queste borse.


Mamma di un bambino bellissimo di tre mesi, ma voi direste?

Comunque, avendo fatto pure io un’altra incarnazione come “creativa” (ho lavorato per un po’ in un’agenzia pubblicitaria’ in cui facevo la cosidetta “copy” e quindi mi circondavo di persone favolose e super eccentriche, facendo finta io di essere superfica come loro, per un po’), allora io bevo la “favolosita'” di questi ambienti un po’ come una spugna secca e super assetata. Sarei potuta stare li’ in quel salone per ore e ore solo a guardare la gente, silenziosamente notando come potrei migliorare come mi vesto io, se solo avessi piu’ soldi e piu’ eventi cosi’ nella mia vita. Infatti, e’ piu’ o meno quello che ho fatto, fra un salto e l’altro a prendere i bicchieri di vino e —SHOTTINI DI GELATINA!— E si, eh! Chi avrebbe mai detto che un’usanza americana per ubriacarsi con piu’ coatezza si era fatta trasformare in una “chicheria”? Non sapevate che nel giorno di oggi fa fico mangiare la spritz di gelatina arancione da un mini-bicchiere del tutto fashion? No, neanch’io. Ma io dico, fatelo! Cosi’ l’ho fatto io.


Come sempre, mi metto a vostra disposizione per provare delle cose nuove, e a volte spaventose, tutto per voi, cari lettori. Pero’ poi, siccome mi sono resa conto che forse non e’ una cosa molto chic fotografarsi la mano, allora, foto sfogata. Mi perdonerete, pero’, vero?

Allora, quest’evento si e’ tenuto in una specie di beauty farm per uomini, per mancanza di un termine piu’ specifico e adatto, che si chiama Wonderfool. Si’, fantastico questo nome ‘Wonderful’ pronunciato un po’ all’italiana. Hanno pure il “pink time” dedicata alla bellezza delle donne. Ragazzi, favolosita’! Gli accappatoi come arte per la parete? Si’, grazie!


Sospiro, pero’—ahime’. Poche ore dopo, eccomi di nuovo a voi, vestita davanti al mio computer con un t-shirt Roxy da surfista, jeans con i buchi, e sandali infradito di plastica rosa. Sicuramente si sentiva cosi’ Cenerentola quando la carrozza brillante si e’ ritrasformata in zucca. Ma forse se vado a vedere nel mio armadio, trovero’ magari una scarpa di cristallo? Chissa’!? Conoscendo me stessa, l’avro’ gia’ rotta con la mia imbranatura. E’ cosi’ la mia vita!

When Rome Becomes a Ghost Town

7 Nov

It happens sometimes. I’d say the top three times it happens are: 1) August; 2) When there’s a Thursday holiday meaning long weekend and people go out of town; and the topic of today’s post, 3) The Hallowed and Revered Event Known as The Derby.

Not Derby like Kentucky Derby. Repeat after me: EEL DARE – BEE.

Yes, the good ol’ dare-bee. If you live in Rome and aren’t aware of the dare-bee, you should come out from under that rock once in a while.

You may know that Rome has two rival soccer teams, Roma and Lazio. Twice a season they play each other, and this, my friends, is the Derby.

It happened just last week and, as always, turned Rome into a bit of a frenzy of traffic and mayhem shortly before the start of the game—everyone either rushing to the stadium or to a friend’s house or to a pizzeria or to a pub, all to watch the match. Then, shortly before the game starts, an eerie silence descends upon the city.

If you were to sit in a silent house nearly anywhere in the city, you could most likely still be able to tell the score. All you’d have to do is wait to hear the screams. Every time a goal is scored, you can hear the city screaming. I’m not kidding. There’s such a silence in the city that if you sit in your house, you’ll generally hear other people in your building or in other buildings on your street start yelling and screaming when someone scores. The same might hold true for a missed goal, a foul, or something along those lines.

Last week’s Derby didn’t go too well for Lazio—they’re having a tough season this year. I know this because my Laziale fan husband subjects me to soccer talk radio just about every time we ride in the car together. You did know that there are radio stations here in Rome that devote their entire week’s programming to discussing one soccer team, did you not? Yes, it’s quite the entertainment, let me tell you. Guido De Angelis, one of Lazio’s most devoted radio talk show hosts, has thus become a household name for me. His show comes on right after Emanuele Artibani’s, the one I had the pleasure of being a guest on in March, so you can only imagine how excited Ale was to know that not only was I in the studio before GUIDO’S show, but that I had actually SEEN Guido in the studio.

Thankfully, the Rome fans didn’t flaunt last week’s victory too much and I managed to get some sleep after the match-up.

When I used to teach English as a Second Language, I always had to be super informed about when there was going to be a derby. It was essential to know who had won the night before, so that the next day when you went into class, you could manage the bickering between your Romanisti and Laziali fans, as well as understand why some students were so cranky and others so happy. Talk about the derby lasts at least the entire day after the game.

I spotted this newspaper in a bar the day after last week’s derby:

Better luck next time, Lazio.

Do you have a story of anything similar that happens where you live? Have you ever been to a soccer match in Rome (or Italy in general), or to the ultimate, a derby?

Valentino, Ara Pacis, and Lots of Glam Gowns

12 Sep

If you’ll be in Rome between now and the end of October, this is a great show to check out. If not, you can live vicariously through this post.

Let’s start with the Ara Pacis. I’d never seen it until its unveiling last year, because for the first five years I was here, it was undergoing a remodel. But incredibly enough, the remodel project was awarded way back in 1995 (!). I don’t know why the project dragged on for so long. Why don’t we just say it was due to the artistic genius of architect Richard Meier. Without getting into too many specifics, let me tell you that people were not all that pleased when the final product was unveiled after eleven long years of waiting. I’m not going to beat around the bush: most people I talked to said it was downright ugly, and doesn’t do justice to the beauty that is housed inside. Click on this link to judge for yourself.

Well, I don’t know a better way to beautify an eyesore than to drape it in 45 years of Valentino creations. FAHBULOUS, dahling! I’d been intrigued by the gowns on display in the windows every time we drove by on Lungotevere, and had been wanting to go and get a closer look. The other day I decided to plunk down my €6,50 (well worth it) and see what was going on inside. Behold:

OMG, can you tell that I got just a *wee* bit snap-happy in there? Hey, when they told me photos without flash were permitted (and with all that natural light, who needs a flash?) I took them up on their offer.

So, yes—gowns. Loads and loads and loads of them. Gorgeous, original, and probably from Valentino’s vast storehouses somewhere over at his big fashion headquarters. But, for all you non-glam junkies out there, let’s not forget the actual, ahem, monument that’s lurking around all those fancy dresses!

Look, there’s even toga-wear for toddlers!

See the genius in this exhibition, folks? It’s ancient fashion meets modern!

Oh, stop me now… but I can’t resist showing you some more stuff I found when we went underground.

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I found what seemed like an entire city block of sketch after sketch after glorious, original sketch, starting from the beginning of Valentino-dom and going up until now. This one from the mid-sixties I love, because it was one of the few with notes in English: “This dress—perhaps you should leave the hem unfinished—I can get it sewn here—as if you make it too short, it will show if I let it down…” Ah! The sheer curiosity! Who wrote the note? Where is “here”? The suspense! The price tag!! I took a ton of other shots of sketches like this; if you want to see them, click on the one above to go to my Flickr pool.

Celebrity trivia: who wore this vintage Valentino to the 2001 Oscars?


Here’s the Wiki on Valentino. Keeping to his dramatic style, he announced that he is bowing out of the fashion world next year. Did you see the photo in that article? What would he look like without that perpetual tan, I wonder? Well, call him what you will, but after seeing this show, there’s no denying that the man is a fashion genius.

Ara Pacis Museum, Lungotevere in Augusta
Valentino a Roma. 45 Years of Style, runs through October 28, 2007

V-Day and Corruption

7 Sep

Folks, if there’s something that Italians really seem to love, I’d have to say that “manefestazioni” is pretty high up on the list. Demonstrations. Oooh, how they love their mass demonstrations in public squares. So much so that on numerous occasions I’ve heard the expression “scendere in piazza” (go down into the square) used as a generic way to say “get angry about” or “do something about.” In Rome we experience them all the time, and to be honest I often wonder if they ever spark any real change. They usually make the news and get press if there’s a large crowd that gathers, and they are generally peaceful. Often they are organized by labor unions or political parties.

The latest in “piazza” demonstrations is planned for tomorrow, and caught my interest due to its grassroots online nature. Usually the manefestazioni are to protest some government initiative, and you learn about them through posters hastily glued all over the city. This one, V-Day, is the brainchild of Italian blogosphere superstar and political comic Beppe Grillo, whose blog is ranked among the most popular on the web. (At the time of writing it was ranked #12 on Technorati.) I actually don’t read Grillo’s blog, but I received an email telling me about V-Day from a former Italian teacher of mine who is Roman but has lived in the States for more than 10 years and is now a US citizen.

So, what the heck is V-Day, anyways? Well, it’s not-so-subtle title stands for “Vaffanculo Day” (a.k.a. F-You Day) and here’s what the official V-Day website has to say about it:

Una via di mezzo tra il D-Day dello sbarco in Normandia e V come Vendetta. Si terrà sabato otto settembre nelle piazze d’Italia, per ricordare che dal 1943 non è cambiato niente. Ieri il re in fuga e la Nazione allo sbando, oggi politici blindati nei palazzi immersi in problemi “culturali”. Il V-Day sarà un giorno di informazione e di partecipazione popolare.

“V-Day is a cross between D-Day (Normandy) and V as in “revenge.” [Vendetta in Italian.] It’s taking place September 8 in public squares across Italy, to recognize the fact that since 1943 nothing has changed. Back then the King was exiled and the nation was in chaos, today we have politicians holed up in huge historic palaces immersed in “cultural” problems. V-Day will be a day for information and public demonstration.”

What’s more, there’s a flyer that calls for a law called “Clean Parliament,” with three initiatives:

1. No to convicted criminals in Parliament. (It states that there are currently 25 parliamentarians serving who have been convicted of crimes.)

2. Two terms. (Currently there are parliamentarians who have been in office 20-30 years. This would call for a two-term limit.)

3. Direct elections. (Currently parliamentarians are chosen by political party secretaries. This would allow for direct election by citizens.)

Normally I avoid Italian politics altogether. I’m not a particularly political person myself, and the system here, with its endless number of political parties and complicated election system, simply boggles the mind. But I found this initiative interesting because just a couple nights ago, at a dinner with some friends, the conversation turned for over an hour to talk of corruption in Italy. Since almost all of the eight people at the table were lawyers, talk was mostly about corruption in the justice system and courts. Everyone was complaining about how corrupt the system is and how it’s getting worse, how easy it’s becoming for judges to be bribed and paid off (apparently the going rate is between €5,000 to €10,000), making it impossible to have a fair trial here in Italy and making it mortifying for an honest lawyer to try to represent clients and make a living. 30-year old lawyers see 60-year old lawyers battling the same problems, waiting in the same five-hour lines to file a simple legal brief in the courthouse, because only one employee is working and even then perhaps will decide when you get to the window that your request is impossible, and send you on a wild goose chase claiming it’s “not in my job description” to file that type of brief. Most judges in Rome (who are assigned lifetime appointments through a government-sponsored exam and are virtually untouchable in terms of negligence) work one day a week, if that, causing cases to get held up in the system for 5-10 years and initial hearings assigned with 2 to 3 year lead times. In short, it’s demotivating and embarrassing for a lawyer, especially when considering the years and years of study and preparation that go into reaching the ability to practice law (an average of 8-12 between university degree, mandatory unpaid 2-year post-graduate apprenticeship, and bar exam that is only held once annually and in two parts).

The email my friend sent me about V-Day was addressed to Italians living in the States (apparently V-Day is also taking place in Union Square in NYC) and said, “Many of us have been forced to leave Italy due to lack of opportunities and possibilities.”

I don’t think that anyone would dispute Italy’s problem of “brain drain.” Some of the most talented Italians leave for countries that have systems based on meritocracy, to avoid the battle with corruption and nepotism in order to achieve career success. That’s because the path of career growth here is often linked to who you know or who you can pay off. I won’t go into specific examples although I know of many of them, and they are incredibly blatant. It is extremely difficult for a talented person to get an important position on brains and hard work alone–it often requires a significant political or personal connection and/or a pay-off. Which in turn leads to incompetence and lack of accountability, continuing the cycle that tends to keep the public system broken.

During my time here in Italy, especially in the beginning, I often used to wonder, “Why don’t they do anything against this?” Why doesn’t the problem just get fixed? Everyone knows it exists! Everyone talks about it! Everyone has examples of injustice and corruption that have negatively affected their lives and growth. Why don’t the public offices work? Why is there such widespread nepotism and lack of opportunities for talented people? Why is the system broken? Just do something about it already!

Most Italians I’ve spoken to have told me, “Yes, of course, it’s awful, and we know that, and we hate it. But, after all, that’s just the way it is.”

This response used to frustrate me. But now, after six years here in Rome and too many stories, I sadly have to say that I have come to that conclusion myself. Rassegnata. Resigned to the fact that the system is the way it is. You either make do, try not to complain too much and do your best, or you leave.

Nevertheless, the manefestazioni continue and Italians keep up their complaints about the system and its problems. The unfortunate part is wondering if there will ever be a way out of a system that has corruption so ingrained into the way it functions that it has become an inherent part of daily life. Where political power and connections are so essential to the average citizen’s quality of life that at times it seems to render one helpless against it. I’m speaking from my experience here in Rome and don’t intend to insinuate that corruption exists absolutely everywhere in Italy; however, at least from what I know in Rome, it is pervasive and detrimental.

I’m curious to see the response to V-Day and what kind of news coverage it will get. In Rome it’s competing with the famous “Notte Bianca,” a city-wide festival with museums and cultural venues open all night with free admission, as well as concerts across the city and shopping open all night, although that doesn’t really start until the evening.

What are your thoughts and experiences with corruption in Italy? Have you directly experienced it or know people who have? Do you think that there will ever be a way to overhaul the system? Are the manefestazioni useful?

What about brain drain? Do you know Italians who have left Italy because of the lack of opportunities?

Rome’s Gay Village

18 Jun

Gay Bears

These little teddy bears are all over the city at the moment, as part of a campaign for this year’s Gay Village.

Started in 2002, Gay Village has by now become an established and popular part of the Estate Romana (Roman Summer), a city-sponsored initiative with a myriad of concerts and events in outdoor spaces throughout the city, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

Gay Village hosts concerts, dance clubs, movies, contests, and shows. Last year there was even dinner theater with drag queens.

Gay Dolls

I’m not exactly sure how tolerant Rome is when compared to other large world capitals, but from what I have seen and heard just from living here, people seem to be generally pretty unfazed and accepting. The Italian parliament here in Rome has Europe’s first openly transgender member, Vladimir Luxuria, who I’ve often seen on political talk shows. And this year’s annual Gay Pride parade, which just took place on Saturday, attracted tens of thousands of people.

Currently the issue of “DICO” (DIritti e doveri delle persone stabilmente COnviventi) is quite a hot button here in Rome. This is proposed legislation that would increase the rights of unmarried couples who live together, including same-sex couples. Included in the legislation are items such as granting stay permits to foreigners in a co-habitating couple (thus cutting down on civil unions in order to obtain a stay permit), and the ability to make decisions in case of a grave illness or death of a partner.

The fact that there is what seems to be a strong gay and lesbian community in Rome stands in stark contrast to the close proximity of the Vatican and the Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, whose doctrine opposes the above legislation and the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

In any case, it seems that Rome is a generally tolerant city, although I would be interested to hear what people with personal experience have found. Elle attended the parade last weekend and wrote a post about it that you can read here. She had a really positive experience.

A few related links:

Mariomieli Circolo di Cultura Omosessuale (in Italian)
Rome’s main cultural and political center for the GLBT community in Rome, Via Efeso 2A

A list of gay and gay-friendly resources, from nightclubs to bookstores to restaurants, can be found here.

Muccassassina, a very well-known gay night held every Friday at one of Rome’s biggest dance clubs, the Alpheus. (Moves to Gay Village during the summer). Via del Commercio 36 (Metro B Piramide)

Gay Village, June 28-September 9, Parco delle Cascate (Via Cristoforo Colombo, Laghetto dell’EUR)