header i-Italy

Articles by: Judith Harris

  • Op-Eds

    Collision Course: Civil Unions Demo vs. Family Day

    Among the the European Union's 28 members, all but Italy and a handful of East European countries do not yet recognize civil unions, and the EU has been prodding Italy toward taking action. Finally, on Thursday the Italian Parliament begins debate on a bill that would make civil unions fully legal. The latest to accept: Greece, where Parliament passed a bill on Dec.23 and the first civil union ceremony was conducted in the City Hall in Athens this week. 

    As the formal debate approaches, sentiment has polarized, and all over Italy demonstrations are being held for and against the proposed law.

    Last Saturday, pro-civil union demonstrations brought out what the organizers claimed were one million Italians in dozens of cities. The demonstration slogan was "Wake up Italians", and hundreds waved alarm clocks. 

    In some cities, including Rome and Milan, civil unions are already regularly celebrated in city hall and widely publicized. Speaking Jan. 23 to an estimated 5,000 jammed into Piazza della Scala, Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia said proudly, "Milan is the capital of civil rights, thanks to our regular registration and transcriptions of civil unions and same-sex couples. It's time to call a halt to discriminations -- no more citizens of Series A and Series B." 

    Not everyone wants to be awakened, however. From a tall building overlooking the square where Pisapia spoke, lights suddenly flashed on spelling out the words, writ large, "FAMILY DAY," a reference to the notable support for the family honored by Italian tradition as well as by the Catholic Church.

    Behind the light show was, it is believed, another Milanese politician, Roberto Maroni, a founding father of the Lombard League, former Interior Minister and today President of the Lombard Region. The reference to "Family Day" is because this Saturday those opposing the civil unions bill will demonstrate against it throughout Italy. In Paris a million people turned out for a similar Family Day protest, but in the end their bill passed despite Catholic objections. Will this happen here? Very likely, partly because the vote will be a secret ballot.

    The controversial law is known as the Cirinnà Bill, for its author, Senator Monica Cirinnà, 53, a member of Premier Matteo Renzi 's Partito Democratico (PD). Born in Rome, she was a law graduate from Rome University, where she became an assistant professor for a decade before entering politics. In 1993 she was first elected to the Rome city council, and re-elected four times, gradually becoming involved in women's rights and gender issues. In the Senate since 2013, she serves on the Justice Commission, "a very tough but passionately interesting" task. 

    The law she drafted extends to "de facto couples" (unwed heterosexual couples). Her goal:  "I want to take this battle all the way so as to give our country a modern, advanced legislation, which reflects people's needs, and which recognizes the full legitimacy and dignity of the many forms of 'family' that exist in our society." The law would extend to the civil union partner access to public health care and the right to a late partner's pension.

    In a pointed homily last week Pope Francis said that civil unions and marriage should not be confused with each other. "The family founded upon marriage cannot be dissolved," he said on the opening of the Sacra Rota tribunal judiciary year. "The Church has indicated to the world that there can be no confusion between the family wanted by God and every other type of union." At the same time, while defending traditional Church teaching, he suggested last week that it is best to stay out of politics even though last December the pontiff also said, "Let us not lose our faith in the family" as an institution.

    Not surprisingly, spokesmen for the Catholic Church in Italy have not hesitated to attack the proposed law more harshly than the pontiff himself, in defense of the traditional family of one man and one woman. But even here, as some commentators here point out, the Italian Church is not blasting away with the same loud broadsides as during the battles over divorce and abortion during the Seventies, when both became legal despite Catholic Church opposition. Indeed, last Spring the time necessary to obtain a divorce shrank from three years to just six months, in what is seen as a waning of Church influence over family matters.

    Still, a host of amendments have been tacked onto the Cirinnà Bill to water it down. Stepchild adoption, which would allow a gay partner to adopt the other's child, is hotly contested. Another major issue is the bill's extension of the possibility of in vitro fertilization and surrogate motherhood.

    Like civil unions, in vitro has been legally available in regularly authorized centers since the highly contested referendum of 2004. However, the existing law excludes in vitro fertilization for singles and for homosexual couples. Indeed, one nasty amendment would have those who travel abroad to arrange for babies through isurrogate motherhood prosecuted. 

    On both these hot button issues the PD party itself is sharply divided. Other opponents are, besides the Northern League, Forza Italia (the party created by Silvio Berlusconi) and, in a spirit of opposition to Renzi for its own sake, possibly Beppe Grillo even though many in his Movimento 5 Stelle support the bill.

  • Op-Eds

    Migrants Make Headlines (and the News Isn't All Bad)

    The temperature had dropped below freezing. Howling in pain, a homeless migrant from Romania was giving birth in the shadow of Bernini's colonnade in front of the Vatican. Hearing her sobs, a policewoman rushed to help, stripped off her jacket and covered the woman, just as the baby arrived. The grateful mother said that without the policewoman's help, she and the baby would both have died. 

    Elsewhere this week two migrants from Senegal attacked an Italian policewoman ferociously in a subway station in Rome after she asked to see their documents. "In our country women are whores," yelled one, spitting at her feet, while his buddy tried to wrench away her weapon. Fortunately she was not alone, and police arrested both men. 

    These two incidents illustrate the problems in dealing with migrants, even though their numbers are limited in Italy when compared with other European nations.

    Whereas France provides hospitality for 3.5 migrants for every 1,000 of its citizens, and Sweden, 11 per 1,000, Italy's share is officially estimated at about 1 every 1,000.

    Admittedly, clandestine presences raise that figure, and it is believed that in 2015 Italy was home to 5.8 million migrants, an increase of 2.7% over 2014, for almost 10% of the total Italian population of 60.8 million, according to a report by the Ismu Foundation published in L'Espresso in December.

    The good news is that, following the era's most dramatic year of migration, Italy is successfully spearheadeding the European Union toward revision of its ruling that obliges migrants who are persecuted for political or religious reasons to apply for asylum solely in their country of first entry. Some Italian officials tended to ignore the law, on grounds that it was unjust when migrants could show they had relatives waiting for them in other nations. The ruling is part of the Treaty of Dublin, which dates from the Nineties. 

    Debate on this crucial revision may begin as early as March. If the revision passes, responsibility for migrants into Europe will be divided among the 28 member states of the EU. The change is backed by both Germany and France, but less enthusiastically by Spain, recipient of relatively fewer migrants. In 2014, some 130,000  foreigners acquired Italian citizenship, but that same year 150,000 Italians migrated abroad. Meantime the birth rate continues to drop:  in 2014 Italy had almost 600,000 deaths and just over 500,000 births. The trend continued in 2015.

    Italy now has 14 centers providing immediate help for new migrants and 1,861 structures for temporary housing, plus -- as a result of overcrowding elsewhere -- a newer network of 430 additional help centers. Scattered throughout Italy are, in addition, five centers for identifying and eventually expelling mIgrants (CIE). The running costs were estimated for 2015 at nearly $100 million, 15% more than the previous year. Most of this is provided by the EU. 

    So what happens to the migrants after they arrive? Like the two aggressive Senegalese in Rome, some bring cultural and other problems, but a goodly number are notably successful. During the first half of 2015, 50,000 more had found work than in the same period of 2014. A few are outstanding, such as  Moulaye Niang, 40, who left his native Dakar in Senegal for Venice, where he became passionately interested in making glass, especially beads. 

    "For me, glass was love at first sight," he told reporter Nicolo' Polesello of the Venetian magazine Il Rodotto. After years of studying on Murano, "Muranero" (his nickname) has his own shop, but also returns regularly to Africa, where he teaches glass bead-making in a school for street kids. He objects that imitation "Venetian" glassware made elsewhere iis for sale in the lagoon city.

    And here are a few other successful stories:

    -- After reaching Italy by boat across the Mediterranean, Suleman Diara, 29, of Mali, came to Italy hoping to earn enough to take money home to buy farm tools. But after finding work on a farm north of Rome, he set up his own yogurt production coop. "I never got to attend school in Africa," he says, "but I am proud  that as an adult in Italy I learned to read and write." His start-up was a $35 loan from friends, which helped him buy his first 15 liters of milk. 

    -- Gustavo Aguerrevengoa, 35, from Argentina, works as a mechanic by day and, by night, creates sculptures from cast-off metal bits from Ferrari sports cars. 

    - Liliam Altuntas, 37, born in a Brazilian slum, is a successful baker and cake designer in Turin.

    -- Reza Paya, software designer, is a graduate of the Sapienza Rome University in informatics, and co-founder and CTo at ARMNet, which helps start-up's.

  • Facts & Stories

    A Tale of Two Cities

    The match in Milan’s San Siro stadium, Italy’s largest, was slated for Halloween day, Oct. 31. It pitted the giallorossi of the Roman soccer team, Roma, so called for its yellow and red uniforms, against A.C. Milan, pronounced MEE-lahn. Entering the playing field, Roma held every advantage, for it far bested Milan with its recent average of 2.5 goals per game. But as 59,200 spectators watched, Milan’s defensive midfielder Gary Alexis Medel Soto, 38, of Chile, scored, blocking the Roman team 1 - 0. His lone goal was Medel’s first after 45 games, moreover.

    No less importantly, that game took place unmarred by any nasty incident in the bleachers.
    Rome and Milan may be rivals, but despite their long and diverse histories, they are also comrades. On the other hand, the two cities remain rivals in other, gravely serious spheres. Writing in the leftist daily il Manifesto Oct.30, literature professor Alberto Asor Rosa, 82, assailed Rome as “the immoral capital” of Italy, thanks to the wave of scandals nicknamed “Mafia Capital,” which has sent dozens of City Hall politicians and ranking bureaucrats to jail.

    A police chief to babysit Rome
    The irony, concluded Asor Rosa, is that Rome, world capital of the cultural heritage, is so corrupt that its mayor, Ignazio Marino, albeit himself innocent of serious charges, was forced from office and replaced by a prefect not from Rome, but from Milan, Francesco Paolo Tronca, 63. Tronca, named special commissioner to babysit Rome until new elections next June, was chief of police in Milan and security overseer at Expo in Milan.

    Similarly, Italy’s national anti-corruption overseer Raffaele Cantone recently dubbed Milan the “moral capital of Italy” at Rome’s expense. Rome, Cantone added, lacks the antibodies required for the Jubilee Year called by Pope Francis, which begins Dec. 8. Rome’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano agrees: “The Jubilee Year must function as well as Expo did.” Is Milan truly the moral capital of Italy and Rome its immoral capital? The comparative histories of the two cities are widely divergent. Rome, population 2.63 million, is and always has been a Mediterranean capital, its leaders of church and state cosseted by both those from all over Italy and the far corners of the world.

    Smaller Milan, with 1.25 million inhabitants, is a crossroads reaching across northern Italy and into North Europe. Milan’s Celtic origin and Roman conquest Its history is generally less well known than Rome’s. In the 6th century BC, Celts crossed down through the Alps to seize control near the Po River of a settlement they named Medhelan, from medhe (middle or center) and elanon (sanctuary). Later, as scholars know only now, the city came under Etruscan dominion, as Livy wrote, but was not believed. The Roman conquest followed in 222 BC, and the name Mediolanum.

    Ancient Roman towers dating from the 1st to the 3d Centuries AD still survive in the heart of town. In 569, the Scandinavian-Germanic Lombards seized Milan, sacking it and ousting the Romans before pushing southward, to Umbria. Rome remained outside their reach for two centuries, but even then papal Rome fell only briefly. After the wars of the 1600s and 1700s Austria ruled, leaving a signal imprint upon the whole Lombard region surrounding Milan. The church ruled Rome as an absolute monarchy, during which the Baroque arts conquered all Europe. In Milan Habsburg rule was secular: its economy prospered, the local bureaucracy grew more efficient.

    The advances in the arts were spurred by Rome, however. With the French revolution Napoleon controlled Milan, but this ended in 1815 with a return to Austrian rule, which lasted until unification of Italy. Ruling Celts, Germanic Scandinavians, Lombards, Austrians, French— no cultural comparison can be made with Rome. Even Italian unification in 1870, given Milan’s geographical location, continued to foster the city as Italy’s economic center. Milan and Rome in WWII In 1919 the Italian Fascist Movement was founded in Milan, with grievous results. My late friend Camilla Cederna, a courageous investigative reporter from Milan (though she called herself an “amateur”), once told me of standing outside her family’s apartment building there to watch, aghast, as flames from a bomb blast spread from P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

    Room to room, now her bedroom, now the kitchen. And it was later in Milan’s Piazzale Loreto that Benito Mussolini was hanged upside down in August 1944. In June of that same year, 1944, the Allies had entered Rome, until then the famous “open city,” where men and women, including Allied servicemen hunted by the occupying Nazis, found refuge in the officially neutral Vatican City.

    That same year Pope Pius XII, albeit much criticized later for not being more outspoken, had appealed to the government of Hungary to stop deporting Jews. As capital of unified Italy, Rome and its bureaucracy have ruled the nation since 1870, making it particularly subject to efforts from all over the rest of the nation, and abroad, to trade favors for money; that some in the Catholic church participated is well documented. Milan meanwhile expanded its role in commerce, finance, communications and fashion. In surveys Milan’s Bocconi University is still named tops of all Italian universities and, among business schools, one of the top 10 universities in all Europe. But albeit the most recent Milan mayor, the retiring Giuliano Pisapia, 66—a lawyer and an exponent of a local left-leaning coalition—is admired as exemplary, the city also has its less moral recent political history. Silvio Berlusconi helped significantly to wither away idealism when he was the dominant political figure in Rome for two decades.

    Now hounded by magistrates for corruption, Berlusconi grew his media empire in Milan, thanks to his close association with Bettino Craxi, then head of the Socialist party (PSI), whose brother was Milan mayor. Their sly creation of Berlusconi’s national TV network is well documented. Kickbacks were the norm, and the judicial investigation into corruption called Operation Clean Hands (Mani Pulite), which began in Milan, led to Craxi’s prosecution in 1994, and his flight to Tunis to escape jail.

    Towering figures What unites both cities is, however, love for their country. Two emblematic figures illustrate this. Camilla Cederna’s brother, the late Antonio, was an archaeologist from Milan who died in 1996. Cederna was the pioneering environmentalist of his time, working with all his might and intelligence for the preservation of the arts, culture and landscape of Italy. He fought indifference: “If the Colosseum trembles, everyone writes about it while the dangers to Italy, ancient and modern, are born in silence, and kept locked inside offices.” What he wanted was for all citizens to be taught to understand and to care for their country.

    Working in Rome in the same era was the towering figure Federico Zeri, who died in 1998. Art historian Zeri, for a time a functionary in the Culture Ministry and then director of Rome’s Galleria Spada museum, was a connoisseur who resigned from the board of the Getty Villa because he objected to the purchase of an ancient statue he recognized as a forgery. A professor at the University of Rome, former visiting professor to Harvard and Columbia Universities, Zeri bequeathed his entire personal collection to the University of Bologna. In his words, “Only those who are modern respect the ancient, and only those who respect the ancient are ready to understand the necessities of modern civilization.”

    * Rome-based American expat Judith Harris has worked for major American, English and Italian newspapers, TV and radio stations for forty years. She has written a weekly column for i-Italy.org since its inception.

  • Op-Eds

    Italy Coming of Age in 2016

    ROME -- Traditionalism is among the delights of Italy, where family and social customs that date back centuries continue to be honored. But even the most traditional society changes over time, and in 2016 we are seeing an Italy that is coming of age in many respects, from civil unions to migrants and mascara. 

    An indication came from Italian President Sergio Mattarella's touching mention, in his annual speech welcoming in the New Year, of the outstanding woman athlete Nicole Orlando, 22. Racing in the IAADS world cup competition held in South Africa in November, Orlando had set a new world record in the triathlon (long jump, 100-meter race, weight toss). IAADS is the International Athletic Association for Persons with Down Syndrome, from which she suffers. In a New Year's Day interview back home in Bielmonte, near Biella, Nicole said that she had been watching TV when she suddenly heard the President describe her as one of three "emblematic figures" for Italy.

    In South Africa she had been photographed with a tear-strained face on the victor's podium because, she explained, her beloved grandmother had been expected to accompany her to South Africa, but had died shortly before they were to leave. "Still, I'm one happy girl. I get to do the things I like best -- not every 22-year-old gets to travel and to win. My parents, both athletes, had me in a swimming pool when I was one, and a love of sports took me by the hand." Now she must continue her intensive training, including for table tennis, but also find the time to respond to all the messages of congratulations she has received. (See the relay race the Italians won at Bloemfountein, South Africa, at: >>)
    On another level, Premier Matteo Renzi, head of the government for 22 months to date, has promised that he will soon begin to press for approval of a pending bill, much urged by Italy's European Union partners, which would allow civil unions. Proposed back in 2012 and known as the Leopolda Bill, this is slated to come before the Senate within the next month or two. "I recognize that there are many for and against it in my own Partito Democratico as well as in Forza Italia -- it is a divisive issue."  Still, we have to deal with it, he continued, "and I will do all I can so that the forthcoming Senate debate will be as serious and honest as possible."

    Perhaps hindering its passage is the article in the Leopolda Bill that would allow so-called "stepchild adoption," which would gay partners to adopt children. Supporters of the bill fear Renzi may strip off this section so as to ease support for the rest. However, there is already some support for stepchild adoption. Melita Cavallo, 70, is now retiring as President of the Minors Tribunal of Rome. In six separate cases, Judge Cavallo has already allowed child adoption by female partners. "Article 44 of Law 184 of 1983 permits this," she insists. Asked if she would agree to similar adoption in the case of a male gay couple, she responded, "If it were in the interest of the children, why not? It is the bonds of affection that count." She has, in fact, not allowed adoption in a few cases where these bonds were obviously lacking. As for surrogate mothers, "If I can donate a kidney to a relative or friend, who will in this way survive, where is the scandal in having a child born in the uterus of another?"

    Needless to say, the Catholic Church in Italy does not favor this biil. If the stepchild adoption article is stripped off so as to ease approval of the civil unions bill,  said one of its supporters in Parliament, "This will mean that the clergy front wins, and Renzy will have bowed to the dictates of the right, to [his number two in government Angelino] Alfano and to [the arch-conservative Catholic] Roberto Formigoni."

    Another pressing issue is the flood of migrants into Italy, engorged by the relatively calm weather through Jan. 2. However difficult the migrants and their families are to absorb into society, many here are urging Italians to continue to be of help. On New Year's day former Premier Romano Prodi and his wife, Flavia, joined Bologna Archbishop Mons. Matteo Zuppi in a pro-migrant peace march on New Year's Day through the town center. Promoted by the Bologna church Pope John XXIII Community, this novel peace (and peaceful) march  brought together 34 other organizations representing the homeless, Protestant churches, Muslims, migrants and refugees. At least 1,000 turned out; one local paper gave the figure at 2,000. "Fear and ignorance make us think we understand but instead they deform reality," Zuppi told the crowd. "Fear makes us believe that peace is impossible, and that love is ingenuous. It is exactly the opposite: it is unrealistic to build walls and believe that we are secure because our gates and our eyes are shut."

    On a less solemn (but still telling) note, this is a country where heavy and expensive makeup is the order of the day, and the cosmetics market is estimated at almost $500 million, third in Europe only to Germany and France. But even here a few hints of change are in the air: the latest news on the cosmetics front is that women are turning their backs on the old ways and  beginning to seek out low-cost, bio-friendly cosmetics (NOC, short for natural and organic cosmetics), especially to avoid eye makeup containing such chemical ingredients as silicone.


  • If There's a Presepi, It's Christmas Time

    Babbo Natale aka Santa Claus is obiquitous, lying atop apartment rooftops, dangling from balconies and, in animated doll form, dancing in front of cafes. But the authentic, made-in-Italy Italian Christmas creche, the "presepe," is alive and well throughout the land. We know that Christmas is at hand when we see the men from our village, one hour north of Rome, depositing the tall logs in the square by the lake front. These logs become the framework for a labyrinthine "presepe" as big as, or bigger than, many of the hillside cottages of the town. Inside, when it is finished, there is a manger scene with life-sized figures of Mary and Joseph, beautifully outfitted in Biblical attire, and baby Jesus in a manger. And there will be ample space for the animals, all of them alive: sheep, a donkey, an ox.   

    And this is only one of our presepi, for a half dozen others are scattered throughout the old walled town of Trevignano Romano, whose origins are 7th century Etruscan. The same is true of other town nearby, such as the similarly ancient Sutri, a few miles distant. There too the townspeople have erected another half dozen creche scenes. Each is prettier than the last, and almost amazingly elaborate.

    But they are also more typical than special: throughout all of Rome, and for that matter the rest of Italy, every holiday season its historic churches turn over an entire side chapel to a nativity scene, often with moving parts and lights. Other important creche scenes are on view in churches in cities like Assisi and Urbino. Of the many towns where the multitude of figurines for these presepi are created, Naples is the most famous, and its nativity figures are sold all year round.

    These traditional Christmas nativity scenes were inspired by the Biblical words by St. Luke, who recorded that Mary gave birth to her child and placed him in a manger. This inspired such early descriptions of the birth of Christ as in the "Grotto of the Savior," in the words of St. Jerome, a place for pilgrims to  visit. The popularity of the creche gres in the Middle Ages, and, most importantly, in 1223 St. Francis is said to have organized a "presepio" at Greccio in Assisi, in a tradition which continued, until it reached its apex in the l8th Century.

    Among the mose popular today is the so-called "presepe vivente", or "living" creche, named because the figures and animals represented are living local people. Of all these, that  at tiny Greccio near the Assisi associated with St. Francis is the most beloved of all at Christmas time. As the first (so they believe) to recreate a nativity, the Greccesi call their town "the new Bethlehem". Each year they put on, almost every evening from Dec. 24 through Jan. 6,  a playlet in six scenes, with music, lights and settings, in which actors are dressed in medieval costumes. The Greccio presepe is intended to evoke the Franciscan monks who, after toiling in the fields, recreated that first nativity scene 20 years after the death of St. Francis.

    Another Umbrian town, Rasiglia, puts is living presepe on view from Dec. 26 through Jan. 6 every evening from 4 to 8 pm. The speciality their is to illustrate not only the Christmas story, but also the historical background of the local ancient crafts: carpentry, inn keeping, weaving, sewing clothes. A blacksmith makes horse shoes, and a chimney sweep passes with his long broom. For Rasiglia, this is "our way to involve the new generations with their parents and grandparents, and offer them a glance into the past of our historical, cultural and environmental heritage. The point is to bring back the enjoyment and pride in our roots."

    (For a photo panorama of 16 Christmas creches from all over Italy, go to >>>)

  • Nella redazione di Effe. Gabriella Parca, Danielle Lantin, Grazia Francescato, Adele Cambria, Agnese de Donato, Lara Foletti.

    Italy's Women Making History

    ROME - Italian women have come a long way. Back in the autumn of 1973, as a reporter I attended the first meetings in Rome of the first women's movement not connected to a political party. That Dec. 10 the movement had made sufficient progress that it could launch publication of a courageous weekly magazine "effe." The goal, according to the original voluntary reporters, was for the magazine to be a "weekly of women's counter-information."

    The 52-year-old movement is celebrated this week in Rome's international women's building

    on Via della Lungara with an exhibition and publication of a brand new online version of "effe". The new magazine, first hypothesized by Franco Zeri, offers a digital archive of the content of 83 issues -- photographs as well as articles -- created by graphic designer Cristina Chiappini, who teaches multimedia design at the University La Sapienza in Rome. (See it at >>.)

    Working with Chiappini were two of the original editors of Effe, Daniela Colombo, president of AIDOS, and Professor Donata Francescato. "The goal was not only to keep the memory of the heritage of ideas and the stuggles of feminism, which many in the younger generation see in a distoted form, but also to supply documentation for scholars and researchers," said journalist Grazia Francescato.

    As World War II came to an end, Italian women were able to vote, and an aggressive women's movement linked to the Italian Communist party (PCI) worked hard on behalf of all women. With that movement came the annual celebration in Rome, beginning in 1944, of international women's day March 8, which continues, less politicized, to this day with a parade. The "8 marzo" fete had been, at least in part, inspired by the deaths of 146 men and women in a fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, shirt-makers -- in fact both men and women -- who had been locked into the  Triangle Waist Factory.

    How far have Italian women come since then? Certainly the feminists in Italy of the Seventies, and those men who supported their cause, brought progress, including the introduction of divorce in 1970 followed in 1974 by a successful national referendum ratifying the bill. In other areas, a women's soccer team won the European championship in 1969. By 1991 the Italian women's soccer team placed in the quarter finals of hte world cup. But their participation became official only in 1984.

    Employment of women between the ages of 20 and 64 has surged up to 50.9% in the first quarter this year, a figure only rarely encountered in this country, and well above the recession years triggered in 2008. Curiously, the increase has involved mostly women over 55 while youth unemployment, at over 40%, takes its toll on young women as well as young men. Moreover, according to a spokesman for the official statistics-gathering body ISTAT, in addressing a hearing in Parliament on Oct. 18 this year, the median income for male workers between the ages of 58 and 63 is of 32,102 Euros per year.

    By comparison, women with similar academic backgrounds to the men, in the study cited above, are earning considerably less, or around 25,000 Euros a year. Women -- 30% of those with children -- also tend to remain at home more than do the men, rather than continue to work, in order to care for the family. The latest statistics indicate the almost one out of five new mothers leaves her job voluntarily or is fired. By comparison, only 3% of men elect family care over career.
    Male employment between 20 and 64 years of age remains far higher, at 70.5%. And whereas women comprise a majority of old-age pensioners, or 53%, they receive only 44% of pension funds. Men's retirement pensions are often three times that women are receiving, according to official statistics.

    Violence against women continues to be a problem. Again, citing ISTAT figures of June 2015, in Italy 6,788,000 women have reported having been subject to physical or sexual violence. One out of five has been a victim of physical violence and, again, one out of five, of sexual violence. A total of 652,000 have reported being raped while almost 750,000, attempted rape; of these, 10.6% were under the age of 16. The majroity are foreign residents in Italy, particularly from East Europe (Moldavia, Ukrainian, Romanian). On the plus side the situation is slightly improved over five years ago, or 2% fewer than in 2010, presumably because women are less reluctant to quit a violent relationship.

  • Op-Eds

    Part II: Italian Women. La Mamma, But not Only

    The debate in the U.S. over women's roles in career vs (or with) raising a family continues here. It was triggered two years back by Sheryl Sandberg in her book "Lean In", which sold a million copies. In it Sandberg argued that family-minded women can also enjoy professional success.

    Taking the opposite tack was Anne-Marie Slaughter, in her "Why Women Still Can't Have It all." Slaughter had been teaching at Princeton University and working for Hillary Clinton, when she quit to spend more time with family.

    Her article on the theme, published by The Atlantic magazine, was seen by one million readers. And in Italy? Italian Ministry of Labor statistics show that fewer than one out of two women are in the work force (46.1%), well below the European median of 58.2%. By contrast, almost two-thirds of the women in Sweden and Denmark (70%) hold jobs. 

    Elena Ferrante, who was born in Naples in 1943, is among Italy's most famous authors, right up therewith Umberto Eco. Google her name, and up pop the covers of some of her books translated into English, with titles like "The Story of the Lost Child" (2014), "Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay" (2013), "The Story of a New Name" (2012), and so on for six more novels, two of which have been made into movies. Elena Ferrante, however, is a pen name: she is secretive, gives no interviews, and it is an accepted convention that no one knows exactly who she is. Is she even a woman? According to a New Yorker magazine writer who corresponded with her, probably yes, for she refers to herself as a mother.

    Federica Mogherini is exactly the opposite, with an incredibly high profile and towering responsibilities as High Representative and Vice President of the European Union -- that is, the secretary of state for the EU. Born in 1973, she took office just 13 months ago, in the heels of Emma Bonino.

    For the eight previous months this pretty young mother had been Italian Foreign Minister in the cabinet of Premier Matteo Renzi. A graduate of La Sapienza University of Rome, she entered Parliament in 2008. She is married to Matteo Rebasani, who works for Save the Children. The couple have two daughters.

    Miuccia Prada was born in Milan in 1949 and, in her student days, was a member of the Italian Communist party. She is today perhaps Italy's best-known fashion designer -- a business woman and designer who kited the Prada firm, founded by her grandfather, Mario, into a 2.7 billion-dollar company. She went to work there in 1978, when she was 29, and there she met her future husband Patrizio Bertelli. Fashion experts praise her for "blazing her own trail" in the company with innovation, taste and courage. The woman named by Forbes magazine as "fashion royalty" has two children.

    Silvia Candiani is one of the many noted Italian women managers. Director of Marketing and Operations for Microsoft Italia, she is also General Manager for the Consumer Channel Group for Central and East Europe. Family matters as well as her progress in the technological innovation sector; we are told that she has two children, enjoys family life and skiing and sail boating.

    Emma Marcegaglia, born in Mantua in 1965 and a graduate of the Bocconi University in Milan, surged to worldwide fame in 2008 when she became the first woman to head Confindustria, the Italian national association of manufacturers. Since leaving Confindustria in November 2014, she has served as chairman of the board of the state-owned oil company Eni. A wife and mother, she has been awarded the French Legion of Honor by President Sarkozy.

    The late Marisa Bellisario, born in 1935, died of cancer in 1988, but still holds a special role as Italy's first and most famous high-flying woman manager. After receiving her degree in economics from the University of Turin, she went to work for Olivetti, then transferred in 1965 to the U.S., becoming head of the Olivetti Corp. of America. Asked the secret of her success, she responded, "Work, work, work." Elsewhere she said that, "For a woman to be successful is more difficult [than for a man], but much more amusing." A foundation was created in her name as well as a prize, awarded annually to the women most distinguished for managerial skills.

    To consult the Italian Labor Ministry charts, see  >>> 

  • Op-Eds

    Part I: Moira Orfei and Other Brilliant Italian Women

    LOS ANGELES -- On Nov. 15 beautiful Moira Orfei died in Brescia at age 84, plunging many Italians into a special kind of nostalgic mourning. Her family owned the famous Circus Orfei, beloved of Italians since it was created in 1960, and a part of the childhood of countless Italians. She grew up in it, a circus kid who learned to dominate elephants, fly on a trapeze, ride horseback in a ring, train birds and enchant everyone.

    She wore her signature bold, gaudy makeup on stage and in both real and reel life; she appeared in no fewer than 34 films, with titles like the famous "Scent of a Woman" (1974) and her last, "Natale in India" (2003). She was taken ill with a stroke in 2006 and never recovered. Her funeral was an Italian event.

    Despite her busy career, Moira Orfei raised her two children. Even in the U.S. the challenge of women's lives, caught between family and career, is still a surprisingly hot button issue, debated almost daily in the press as top women argue over why they just can't manage (so don't bother) and why and how they must. An October Pew Research public opinion poll of US women illuminates their continuing battle to balance work and family. Only 12% said that working full time is an "ideal situation" for a mother. Almost half  (47%) agreed that part-time work was the acceptable solution for a mother with young chidren. And one out of three ( 33%) said not to work at all if you have children.

    Italy has always loomed large as a bastion of "la mamma" -- that pasta-cooking, gossipping, loving and forceful woman exemplified by the aging mother-teacher in Nanni Moretti's recent movie, "Mia Madre." But there is more to the story than that -- a lot more. Here are just a few fascinating, successful Italian career women, among them a scientist, a politician, a chef, an author and more. Some of these are famous names, others will be new to most readers.

    Elena Cattaneo, born in 1962 in Milan, is a specialist in research into neurodegenerativediseases, particularly the Huntington chorea. After working at MIT she moved on to the University of Lund in Sweden and then returned to Milan, where she taught at the state university. In 2001 she received the gold medal of the Italian president for her studies on the Huntington chorea and stem cells. More prizes followed, and she was made a lifetime member of the Italian Senate in 2013.

    Nadia Santini is the first woman chef to be honored with three Michelin stars and was nominated to be best chef in the world in 2013. Her Ristorante Dal Pescatore at Canneto sull'Oglio in the province of Mantua is a family affair: Nadia herself and her husband Antonio, her sons Alberto and Giovanni with his wife Valentina, and Antonio's mother. This is a cuisine steeped in Valley tradition, but with uncanny elegance for pumpkin tortelli, snails, saffron risotto and capriolo (roe-deer) in a sauce of Cabernet and blueberries, but with a modern elegance. As one reviewer wrote, her cuisine is "a symphony."

    Roberta Pinotti heads Italy's most masculine of government ministries, Defense, and is married and has a daughter. Asked about women serving in the armed forces here, she replied, "Those who take maternity leave and so have to give up an operation can sometimes be penalized, I recognize. But a woman's sensitivity does make a difference. When I was in Afghanistan speaking to our troops there, I mentioned their families. One soldier came up to me later and said that 'this is the first time that we are mentioned as individual people.'" The late Tina Anselmi, WWII partisan fighter and politician, was an inspiration, she says.

    Lina Wertmuller, cinema director, was born in Rome in 1928. Her biographers describe her as a rebellious youngster, expelled from a dozen Roman Catholic schools. In 1962 she worked with Federico Fellini as assistant director on "8-1/2". In 1985 she was awarded the Women in Film prize for her role in boosting women's role in the entertainment industry. Her first film, of 24, was "The Lizards" (1963), her most recent, "Too Much Romance, It's Time for Stuffed Peppers" (2004). She is the widow of art designer Enrico Job, who died in 2008.

    Maria Teresa Salvemini Ristuccia, now retired, was born near Bari and rose to become a professor of economics at the University of Rome La Sapienza, advisor to the Treasury Ministry, president of one of Italy's largest banks, and, from 1986-1989, president of the Istituto di Studi per la Programmazione Economica, a research institute for economic planning. With her late husband Sergio Ristuccia, general secretary of the Adriano Olivetti Foundation, she has three children, one of whom is now a Cambridge don who teaches economics.

    In Part II: Stylist, Internet guru, manager, author and more outstanding Italian women.

  • President Mattarella: "Terrorists Will Not Steal Our Way of life"

    ROME -- In the usually jam-packed St. Peter's square Wednesday, a surprisingly low number, 20,000, less than half the usual number of the faithful and tourists turned out for the pontiff's usual  general audience. This did not escape notice from Pope Francis, who declared that, " We shall not give up and close doors for our security." In these "difficult times," he went on to say, "The Church will have no bullet-proof doors." His words are all the more important in consideration of the Holy Year of Mercy, which begins with the opening of the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica on Dec. 8; of that of St. John Lateran on Dec. 13; St. Mary Major Jan 2 and St. Paul's Outside the Walls Jan 13. Already those attending audiences or entering St. Peter's to visit the Basilica or the Vatican Museums must pass through careful security checks. (See the papal audience at >>)

    On Wednesday Italian President Sergio Mattarella was in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, where he called upon Italians "not to bow to this -- we will not let them [terrorists] steal our way of life and our future.... The terrorists want to change our nature, but the European DNA is an extraordinary blend of culture, humanity, ideas of freedom and social relations. These are all part of the life we are living, and justify our desire to better ourselves. We must keep this in mind when terrorism launches an attack against our Europe, and brings death and the barbaric to one of our cities."

    In concluding, President Mattarella made a special point of saying that civil liberties are not to be whittled away in order to combat terrorism. Instead, he said, we must also "guarantee security to our citizens without renouncing those liberties we enjoy. Let us defend the quality of our civilization and offer these to the world." Speaking at the Meeting at Rimini last August, the Italian President had already warned that, "Terrorism increases the fanatic distortions of faith in God with which they [IS] are trying to introduce the germs of a third world war into the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa."

    As this indicates, although perhaps less vulnerable than France or Belgium, Italy and the independent state of the Vatican are as much at risk of terror attacks as Germany and the United States, as nervous headlines there also show. In Italy itself large and small warning notes tell the story. On Nov. 18 Franco Gabrielli, police chief (Prefect) of Rome since last April, told reporters that security guards will pay special attention to the risk of armed drones overflying the city, particularly after the opening of the Holy Year. The Paris attacks have "refocused us on targets that previously appeared more marginal to us, and so the number of objectives has increased.... The more generalized is the possibility of attack, and the more indiscriminate the target these criminals have set for their actions, the more we must continue to live our lives."

    Premier Matteo Renzi promised further investments in funding for security, but at the same time said that he did not see a direct link between the terror attacks in Paris and the French air attacks in Syria. He reminded Italians that on the day prior to the attacks in Paris Italy had been responsible for the international arrests of 17 alleged terrorists. The investigation across European borders was coordinated by Italian prosecutors together with Carabinieri forces and intelligence agencies here. For Renzi, Russian president Vladimor Putin's proposal for a broad coalition against IS "would be a very positive" move because it would also help to restore the Russians to international cooperation efforts. "If we say, let's go and bomb them, we must first agree upon who we are to bomb because dividing Syria into fragments has already resulted in a series of interventions that have no unified vision."

    A risk of the fallout is obviously a surge in anti-immigration sentiment, particularly because it seems apparent that one of the Paris terrorists had entered Europe hidden among migrants. "But most of the terrorists use airplanes," Renzi pointed out, "not boats. We shall continue to save human lives. We are not like the terrorists -- we save the lives of children."

    At the same time, a small warning note came in Turin yesterday, when police rushed to remove a tiny but blood-red and nasty silhouette of a Kalashnikov, painted onto the wall of a school.

  • Op-Eds

    Harvest Time for Olives

    The Bible is filled with quotes about olive trees, but perhaps the loveliest is this: “His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.” Who, reading these words in my little church in Bay Village, Ohio, would ever have guessed that I – never having seen an olive tree – would find myself with fifty olive trees, whose fruits we gather for olive oil that lasts us a year? 

    Iinitially we had just twenty-five gnarled elderly olive trees on our acre of land 30 miles north of Rome, but there was ample space for more. Moreover, our south-facing acre of orchard overlooks beautiful Lake Bracciano. With the sunshine and the mineral-rich volcanic soil, the trees would grow well, we figured. So we bought 25 foot-tall treelets, planted and tended them. Now, twenty years later, the trees are mature, and we have enough olives for our own oil to last a year even though the families who help us pick them take at least half the crop.

    Last year no one came to help us, however, for we had no olives at all for the very first time. Italy is the second greatest producer of olives in the world, but, thanks to a turbulent climate and infestation by a nasty bug called the "olive fly" (mosca olearia), during 2014 the olive crop fell by an average of 37% throughout the country. The largest producers are in the South, and were hurt the most grievously. In Puglia, Italy's single largest producer, I 1.1 million tons of olives had been harvested in 2013, but in 2014 production fell by half, to 565,000 tons. Production in Sicily similarly tumbled, from 186,000 tons to 82,500 during the same period while in Calabria production dropped from 186,000 tons of olives to just 99,000.

    The good news is that this year's production has risen by some 30% over last year's, and experts tell us that the quality is excellent, including in our 

    village of Trevignano on Lake Bracciano. Here olive trees are often planted for decoration as well as to produce a crop. In the little park in front of the 18th century town hall – once the stately home of a count – there are now two beautifully gnarled trees, each of which, as decorous small signs explain, are about 250 years old. Elsewhere a file of small olive trees in pots adorns a restaurant courtyard.

    But our own trees are for olives to be consumed. Each year, to capture as much rainwater as possible during the long, hot summer, someone must dig a half-moon shaped basin around each tree. Into this also goes fertilizer – though not too much. Then, at least in theory (I have reservations about spraying trees and do not always do it), before the tree flowers in the spring they are sprayed against insects. By September the flowers have burst into tiny olives, which show whether the crop will be scanty or, as is expected every other year (but not every year), abundant.

    In the meantime every second year each tree must be carefully pruned because otherwise all that natural energy goes into useless shoots and leaves, when it is supposed to go into the olives. Finally, by October or, as this year, in early November, the olives are picked. A net is spread beneath each tree, and either nimble pickers with a big fork rake the fruits from the tree or, more recently, a little hand-held mechanized fork helps do that work.

    At that point we are almost there -- but first you must pluck as many leaves as possible from the twigs, keeping only the olives. Then, loaded into big baskets, they are taken to the “frantoio” (press), where you  have carefully made an appointment. There, the owner must stick close to his olive baskets to ensure that no one swaps them with his (presumably inferior) crop.

    Did I mention the cost? Put it this way: a bottle of our super-refined, 100% extra-virgin olive oil – and I would not have any other kind – easily costs far more than a good bottle of Champagne. But there is also fun, and we have friends in Tuscany who, every year, make the harvest into a reunion of family plus friends, all of whom join in the picking, olive (and wine) tasting and general amusement of it all. One of these friends, who happens to be English, has – gasp! – 1,000 trees.

    A final hint: if you don’t have your own trees, and want Italian olive oil for purposes of health as well as taste, study the label carefully. “Bottled in Tuscany” means just that – that maybe the olives are from the Italian south or from Tunisia or wherever, and sent to Tuscany for bottling. Look for those with olives grown in an Italian region, as well as bottled there. And while you're at it, next time you are in Italy, why not drop in on one or more of the country's six olive museums:

    Museo dell’ Olivo – Fratelli Carli

    Via Garessio, 13

    18100 Oneglia (IM)

    Tél. +39 0183 295762

    Fax : +39 0183 293236

    e-mail : [email protected]


    Μusée de l’huile d’olive de la Sabine

    Via Perelli, 7

    02031 Castelnuovo di Farfa (RI)

    Tél. : +39 0765 36370

    e-mail : [email protected]

    Musée de l’Huile d’Olive – Huilerie Cisano del Garda

    Via Peschiera, 54

    37011 Cisano di Bardolino (VR)

    Τél. : +39 045 6229047

    Fax : +39 045 6229024

    e-mail : [email protected]


    Musée de l’Huile d’Olive Sant’Angelo de Graecis

    Contrada S. Angelo, 5

    72015 Fasano (Br)

    Τél.-Fax : +39 080 4413471

    e-mail : [email protected]

    Musée de la Civilisation de l’Olivier

    Associazione Pro Trevi

    06039 Trevi (PG)

    e-mail : [email protected]


    Μusée de l’Olivier et de l’Huile – Fondation Lungarotti

    Via Garibaldi, 10

    06089 Torgiano (Perugia)

    Tél. : +39 075 9880300

    e-mail : [email protected]