Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can We Stranieri Help Italy’s Economy?

An article appeared on the Time.com website this week, and was tweeted by many of my Twitter buddies, a few of whom are young Italians in other countries themselves. An article like this is why I am continuously re-evaluating my desire to move my family to Italy.

The article is called, “Arrivederci, Italia: Why Young Italians Are Leaving”. It is a compelling and disturbing read about what so many of us have suspected in the economy of our beloved Italy.

An excerpt from the article, by Stephan Faris:
In an open letter to his son published last November, Pier Luigi Celli, director general of Rome's LUISS University, wrote, "This country, your country, is no longer a place where it's possible to stay with pride ... That's why, with my heart suffering more than ever, my advice is that you, having finished your studies, take the road abroad. Choose to go where they still value loyalty, respect and the recognition of merit and results."
The letter, published in Italy's La Repubblica newspaper, sparked a session of national hand-wringing. Celli, many agreed, had articulated a growing sense in his son's generation that the best hopes for success lie abroad.

I suppose that this is no surprise. The Italian job boards are slim pickings these days, and every job posting is very specific about what the company are looking for (right down to the age range of the worker, which is standard practice in Italy). Mysteriously, despite the very deep pool of unemployed workers, it seems that many of these positions go unfilled for a long time. This article helps to explain why those jobs sit there so long.

I have a dear friend who is a business owner in Milan, and she and I have spoken often over the years about the exorbitant and prohibitive expenses of employing people – even of hiring an employee in the first place. The Italian business owner is very heavily regulated (you think we have a lot of tax laws in the US? Hah!) and all but penalized for her/his entrepreneurship, initiative and willingness to pay people to produce. Therefore, business owners are not quick to take on new full time employees. Work must stay at a “reasonable” pace so that it can eventually be done by whatever staff they do have. Businesses don’t grow because they can’t afford to take on additional risk of employees that were hired but aren’t performing well, because it is legally difficult to fire the ineffective workers.

Taxes paid by the employer for each employee are astonishingly high – mostly, I speculate, to help the government pay all of those benefits that have been promised to the older generations over the last 70 years. The benefits that the older generations fight tooth and nail to keep, as mentioned in the article, that have almost completely disabled their political system and bankrupted a nation.

The employment laws make it difficult to hire and fire on the merit of the individual. The Italian economy has protected the worker very well – a full time job can be a job for life if you want it, unless you have done something criminally wrong or the business closes. The problem now is getting in the door in the first place, in a job befitting one’s qualifications, for a salary that can help to sustain growth of new families.

So, how can we help fix this? How can we keep Italian talent in Italy where it can help to revive the greatness of the country? Is it up to the foreign entrepreneur that has the gumption to deal with the Italian bureaucracy to open new businesses there and change things from the inside? Or do we have to let things get worse until the government begins to encourage the Italian business owners?

Monday, October 11, 2010

“Visions of Italy” Draws in the Uninitiated

I was amused this weekend when my parents showed me a program that they had recorded off of PBS. It was Visions of Italy – Southern Style. It was amusing because my husband and I have been talking excitedly – OK, perhaps obsessively – about Italy for over ten years now and own an entire shelf-full of beautiful Italy DVDs that we use to satisfy our cravings for the place until we can get back again. We have offered many times over the years to bring DVDs to show particular cities we have visited, but they have not seemed particularly interested. I can certainly understand; I, too, get turned-off when folks insist that I must see some thing or some place. I prefer to discover these gems on my own, and the objects of someone else’s affections seldom live up to the hype.

However, the Visions of Italy– Southern Style program got their attention entirely on its own. The aerial photography was captivating, and it highlighted the grandeur of the sections of Roma and further south that they chose to display. What my parents seemed to enjoy the most was the serene way that this program let the scenery do most of the talking. They understandably have little patience for the incessant chatter of many absurdly lucky travel program hosts, and just wanted to see the pictures and hear the sounds. This program is sparsely narrated by a calm, quiet female voice (Franca Barchiesi) with a lovely accent – a pleasure to listen to, and especially soothing in small, elegantly-scripted doses.

Mom and Dad were so charmed by the Southern Style program that they scheduled their DVR to record the Northern Style program coming up this week on the same station. All of the sudden, the lure of Italy becomes clear and the desire to see more of it comes from inside them – not from their overly-effusive, well-meaning offspring.

To enjoy this spectacular series yourself whenever you wish, I have included a link to the Visions of Italy DVD set below.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Convalida (Validation) Yellow Boxes

When I wrote about Italy Train Travel yesterday, it occurred to me that I should probably make a distinction about the convalida (validation) yellow boxes: the yellow validation boxes for trains are located in different places than the ones for trams and buses.

In a train station, the yellow convalida boxes are typically located where the station pedestrian through-way meets the individual train platform (binario). At Milano Centrale (the Milan Central Train Station), I seem to remember that each platform had its own yellow box, but some other train stations have one box for every two platforms or occasionally even fewer. I also remember that a significant percentage of these boxes have a tendency to be out of order. My advice? Find an operational convalida box (and validate your ticket) well in advance of your train’s departure so you’re not rushing to find one while you run to your train. It’s also useful to note that, if you forget to validate your ticket prior to getting on the train (or didn’t leave yourself enough time to find a working box), you can be fined by the train conductor when he checks the tickets.

On Italian trams and buses (in the north of Italy, anyway), the yellow box is inside the car. On trams, you can typically find one box in front by the driver and at least one near the back door of the tram (again – expect one of the machines to be out of order and expect to have to maneuver through a moving tram to find and use the yellow box). On city buses, the yellow box placement is usually the same as on the trams.

Safe travels!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jonesing for Train Travel through Italy

As evident in the name of this blog, I’m often thinking of Italy. It has been a little over a year and half since I’ve been back to Italy – far too long for an Italy addict like me. I have been known to take lovely, calming mental vacations in a moment’s time, wandering through memories of my trips there. No bandwidth, DVD player, or plane ticket required.

What I keep coming back to, and what I conjure up when I research budget airfare to surrounding countries to get back to my beloved Italy, is train travel. I remember the idyllic scenery passing by and wanting to get off the train at every stop to look around.

I also remember how much trouble my husband and I had buying our own train tickets and becoming savvy the hard way about Italy train travel. The electronic ticket machines are easier to use these days than they were ten years ago, but they can still confuse a novice non-Italian-speaking traveler. Not knowing how things work on Trenitalia (the Italian train line) can be expensive and uncomfortable. You should definitely learn what the Convalida yellow box is for (validating your ticket before you get on the train), and understand that buying a ticket on a Eurostar train only means that you can get on the train – not that you get a seat (you need a seat reservation for that, at extra cost).

I wish that we had had a web page like this one to read before we went: Tips to Riding Trenitalia

Credits to Italy Inside for posting the article. Now you can gain instant train travel savvy and just enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Breakthrough Italian Learning Tool: iPad

So, I’m back at it again. It is time to rededicate myself to achieving fluency in the Italian language. I have been “studying” Italian for the last eleven years; mostly cramming prior to trips overseas. I also have the unfortunate tendency to back off on the studying when life gets hectic, which has been most of the time for the last couple of years.

I’m determined for this year to be different, though. I invested in a little technology a few months ago in the hopes of surging forward in all of the things I am trying to learn on my own: I bought an iPad.

Of course, the Italophile that I am, I immediately loaded the iPad with Italian language instructional apps – English/Italian Dictionary, Italian Verbs, English to Italian common phrase book, Italiano Spelling Games, l’Unita News, Corriere della Sera News, etc. But I have a clear favorite app: Radio Italia. 255 Italian radio stations all available on my iPad, whenever and wherever I want!

The Radio Italia app is bringing me one of the most critical pieces missing from my study of Italian: immersion (albeit one-sided immersion). Just by having it playing in the background for hours a day on my iPad (and not streaming on my work computer, which would make the Systems Support team at work cranky at me), I am already better able to recognize common phrases and differentiate words in fast-paced conversation. I can jot down words to look up later (on another app on the iPad), and increase my understanding immediately.

I have become a huge fan of station 105 Best 4U (“Cento Cinque Friends!”). They play popular music between friendly comic banter that reminds me of morning zoo-style radio shows from the 80’s and 90’s. I get to hear slang and relaxed casual conversation, like sitting around a dinner table in Milano with friends.

Up until the time of the iPad, I only had Sunday morning RAI USA broadcasts on my local Comcast cable and the occasional ability to watch ten minutes of Italian TV stations on www.BeelineTV.com while I inhaled some lunch at work. I would stare intently at the screen, willing the Italian anchorwoman on the TG2 news program to impart clear understanding of the pictures that flashed across the screen. I just wasn’t up to the task – my listening skills are still underdeveloped, but I think I may have the breakthrough answer now. After all of this time trying to learn from CDs and workbooks, extended access to these real live conversations on Italian radio are the tool I have been waiting for to put it all together.

Now, if I could just find an app that makes me talk back to it in Italian, I’d be all set.
Sounds like an entrepreneurial opportunity to me.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Santa Maria Novella Area in Florence, Italy as Home Base

I'm blushing and excited right now - I won one of the categories of a travel article-writing contest on ArtTrav.com. The article is called Santa Maria Novella Area in Florence as Home Base.

It appears that my choice of angles for this article was a bit of a surprise for the folks at ArtTrav, since the area of Florence, Italy that I wrote about is not one of the more popular or glamorous areas. But, if you are able to appreciate strategic placement for a traveler among the jewel-box treasures that make up Florence, you might be inclined to consider the path that I mention in this article.

If you read the article, I hope you'll leave your comments. Also, I can highly recommend the entire ArtTrav website - they have an entertaining and refreshing perspective on Italy, and the way art is a way of life there.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Florence's Piazza Duomo is Now Pedestrian-Only

This is interesting news coming from the folks at Arttrav - Piazza Duomo in Florence is now pedestrian-only. No more cars. No more Vespas. No more wondering if your travel insurance will cover that sprained ankle from dodging a taxi on the cobblestone streets in front of the baptistry.
It may affect tourists' ability to be dropped off with their luggage right in front of their hotel in this piazza. But once those tourists are checked-in, they will have a much more serene sight-seeing experience.

For more info on the closing of Florence's Piazza Duomo to vehicle traffic, as well as great photos (arttrav is a great resource for current photos of Italy), check out the entire article.