Woman in Coma for a Year is Fired - Union Protests

From il Corriere della Sera:


An unfortunate woman who has been in a coma for more than a year, and is, sadly, described as being in a "vegetative state" recently received a letter notifying her of the termination of her work contract, seeing as how she had not been to work in more than a year.  Perhaps not the most tactful way of handling the situation, but I think her employer's position is pretty clear.

What's more, the CGIL union is apparently working with the family to fight her firing, or ask that she be reinstated.

I can understand the debate about workers' rights, but... a brain dead person?   I thought their career possibilities were mostly limited to politics, rather than private sector jobs.

Published on Wed, 13 Jul 2011 18:11

Crazy Science in Italy

Being from the US, hearing weird explanations for things from religious crazies is something that's not entirely out of the ordinary, unfortunately.

However, that sort of thing is generally rarer in Europe, and even in Italy, where the presence of the Catholic church is strong, they tend to limit themselves to politics and morality, rather that making bizarre statements along the lines of Jerry Falwell's blaming the September 11th terrorist attacks on "sinful behavior".

An exception to that rule has popped up from an odd place, though: Roberto de Mattei is a Vice President of the Italian CNR, or Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (National Research Council), which is an Italian public organization set up to support scientific and technological research, and lately he's been saying some very odd things:

Here, he's saying that Messina was "punished by god for atheism" in a massive earthquake in 1908 that killed in the neighborhood of 100,000 people: http://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2011/04/22/news/de_mattei_insiste-15267235/?ref=HREC1-1

Recently, he went on record that the earthquake in Japan happened for similar reasons.

While this sort of inanity is hardly acceptable from anyone, it is especially appalling that it comes from someone in a leadership position at an institution for scientific research.  In a country that underspends on research, where many promising young scientists must go abroad if they have any hope of continuing their careers, that someone with such barbaric views is kept on the payroll is an outrage.

Published on Sat, 23 Apr 2011 15:02

Italian legislator caught looking at 'naughty' web sites while parliament in session

Alla Camera consulta le foto delle escort

The ex mayor of Bari, one of Berlusconi's supporters in the Italian parliament, was caught looking at web sites of several prostitues in parliament on his iPad.

Here's the original article and some of the incriminating photos:


He was "just curious" he says.  Uh huh.

Published on Tue, 01 Feb 2011 21:00

Cold by decree

I bumped into an odd regulation the other day:


Basically, the meat of it is that between April 15th, and October 15th, you may not use your heater for more than 7 hours a day, unless by special permission from the town government.  And even those 7 hours a day are dependant on "climatic conditions".  During the dates the government has decreed to be cold, it is possible to operate one's heater for no more than 14 hours a day, between the hours of 5:00 and 23:00.  The temperature may not exceed 20C (68F).  Fines range from 500 Euro to 3000 Euro.

I wonder how they can possibly hope to enforce this.  Do they have the heater police going around with some kind of infrared telescope device aimed at people's houses?  I wonder if they have to obtain some kind of warrant in order to test your home for heating violations?

Theoretically, the law is to limit pollution, which heating contributes to because it uses a lot of energy.  However, it seems like a silly way of going about it.  Maybe someone lives in a tiny, well-insulated apartment, and likes to keep it at 25C.  They probably waste less energy than someone who lives in a huge, poorly insulated place.  More or less unenforceable laws like that also contribute to the widespread disdain for rules because flouting them is easy and is not really viewed as a bad thing.

Published on Fri, 15 Oct 2010 22:08

Spring in Padova

Spring is my favorite time of year, and in Padova, it has its own unique sights, sounds and smells.

Whereas fall clings to the last bits of light and heat that slowly drain away, spring is full of promise, and even if it's not that warm out yet, after a long, cold winter, those first days where the sun's strength shines through are wonderful.

In my home town of Eugene, in Oregon, spring is a fairly drawn out affair. It starts with a few warmish days as early as February, and my recollection is that the last day of drizzle is usually the 4th of July. In between, you slowly trade gray and rain for more and more sunny days, and warmer temperatures, until at last you arrive at summer, which in Oregon is pretty much perfect: warm days, blue skies, no humidity. The only problem is that it's altogether too brief and inevitably ends before you've done everything you hoped to during the nice weather. The evergreen forests also contribute to the gradual feel to spring: they are of course green throughout the winter, and while they start growing again in the spring, the change is a slow one that's not very flashy.

Contrast this with Padova, where the temperatures don't rise much through March, and the trees mostly remain bare, until all of a sudden spring explodes. In the space of a month, the trees go from bare to a bright, resplendent green, and the air warms, already carrying a hint of the humidity that will become oppressive during the summer. At first, you see just a few green buds only on close inspection, and then quickly the south sides of hills go green, and then everything is alive with foliage. In the nearby colli euganei, one of the sights in the spring are the "Judah Trees", which stand out with their purple flowers.

The scent of late spring and early summer is also something particular to Italy. Having grown up there, the comparison for me is with western Oregon, where there is none of the light and sharp pine-scented mountain air that you get further up towards the east side of the cascades, but more of a sodden, mouldering fir-needle smell as things gradually dry out, which can take a lot of time in the darkest nooks and crannies of the forest floor, where the heat and sunlight rarely intrude. The contrast is striking: here in Italy, the generally still, humid air is soon laden with sweet flowering smells, as everything blooms at the same time. Granted, that same humidity is no fun later on in the summer, but during late spring, it can feel like walking in a garden. It's a very "alive", uplifting smell, of new growth, that later gives way to the sultry summer.

Spring is, of course, a great time to visit the area: it's pleasant out, and you can still be active without gushing sweat, and naturally, if you love the outdoors like I do, it's a great time to go for a hike in the hills to take in the verdant panorama.

Published on Thu, 19 Aug 2010 09:09

Solidarity on the Road

You've heard the stereotypes about Italian drivers, right? Well, there is more than a grain of truth to them. Many grains. Driving in Italy is not something that this Oregonian is much of a fan of. Of course there are plenty of good drivers, and plenty of people who do not view pedestrians as worth stopping for only to avoid having to wash the car, but suffice it to say that there are a lot of fairly rude individuals plying the Italian roads. Perhaps the problem is that no one ever seems to get in trouble for breaking the law on the roads (or much of anywhere else for that matter)? In any case, after being passed dangerously, cut off, had countless cars ride a meter off my bumper at high speeds, watched people careening around town in their SUV's chattering on their phones and so on, the idea of Italian drivers selflessly helping one another out is a bit odd. They do, however, in one specific case:

Should you ever find people driving in the opposite direction and flashing their brights at you, it's a good idea to slow down, because it means there's probably a police radar trap up ahead. It always seemed remarkable to me that people who are normally so ready to "elbow their way past you" would go out of their way to alert you to the presence of a speed trap. Perhaps the "hatred of a shared enemy" is great enough to cause a feeling of solidarity?

Published on Mon, 05 Apr 2010 21:04

Winter in Padova

Like fall, winter is not particularly a season I care for.  You get sick a lot, and there's less light, and therefore less time for outdoor activities like cycling, which I love.

That said, winter in Padova isn't so bad.  Well, conceptually, at least; if I could skip it, I would.  That said, though, it does have its charms. 

The locals hate it, but I actually like the fog - it may be damp and cold, but at least you can still walk around outdoors, or even go for bike rides, whereas in rainy Oregon, where I grew up, the drizzle more or less forces you indoors.  And to hear people talk, the fog has actually declined recently.  There used to be more of it, more often, and for longer.  In recent years, there has been a bit more rain, but also more cold, clear days, which can be quite pleasant.  Often, if the conditions are right, you can see the snow-capped mountains to the north, stretching in an arc from the Pasubio to Monte Grappa and then points east.

Traditionally, as in many agricultural societies, winter was not a pleasant time in the plains of the Veneto, as it was necessary to subsist on what had been set aside for the winter, which might not have been a great deal if the harvest had not been a good one.

These days, of course, there is plenty to eat, and eat they do.  The most important meal, of course, is at Christmas.  For instance, here is what my in-laws typically fix for lunch:

  • An appetizer, with a white wine to accompany it.
  • Hand-made ravioli, with a couple of sauces (ragu`, and something else, usually).
  • Several kinds of roast meat.
  • Desserts.

And of course there is plenty of good wine to wash it down.  This is all consumed over a matter of hours, so when you're done, you're well and truly stuffed, and could probably go for a week without food.

It doesn't snow much in the plains of the Veneto.  Well, usually.  This year we got a couple of good snow storms, but it didn't stick around for all that long.  However, if you visit during the winter, don't let that fool you: the damp air can make a few degrees above freezing feel very cold indeed.  The moist, cold air "goes straight to your bones" as they say.  That said, even winter can be a nice time to visit, especially if you like to ski: the snow covered mountains are stunning, and, as with many things built by people in Italy, more often than not, the houses and villages are attractive and add to, rather than detract from, the natural beauty.

Published on Mon, 29 Mar 2010 20:26

Well, that's what they're for...

I think the "ass." stands for "assorted" or something like that, but the end result is pretty funny:

Published on Fri, 26 Feb 2010 18:13

RAI and the case of the missing TV taxes

Italy, like much of western Europe, considers television a "public good" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_good ) and to pay for it, taxes every household with a television to the tune of 100 Euro a year.

No, you don't get ad-free television. And yes, you get plenty of all-singing, all-dancing, celebrity special guest spectaculars, with scantily-clad showgirls and crooners whose heyday was during the Carter administration. Suffice it to say, I'm not a fan. I could probably easily give up the TV were it not for bike racing, which I will admit RAI does a good job of covering. I've often considered officially giving up the television, which apparently involves a fairly entertaining procedure: since they can't actually come and take it away from you, the official procedure is that they show up at your home and put the television in a sack and place an official seal on it. I think it might be worth giving up the TV just to see if they actually turn up and carry out the TV bagging.

Anyway, normally the TV tax is just one more annoyance, but not that big a deal, so you pay it and forget about it.

However, it appears that RAI's computers got it in their heads that we lived in Italy during 2007 and 2008, when we were actually in Austria the entire time, and have now sent our "bill" to a collection agency.

I have slowly been working my way backwards through the various agencies and phone numbers to try and explain that we were not in Italy and thus are not going to pay taxes. The woman I talked to today explained that we should have been the ones to communicate to RAI that we were no longer living in Italy and so we were still responsible for the taxes, unless we can send them a backdated notice explaining that we were indeed living elsewhere, with documents proving said residence abroad. Sent, naturally, via a registered letter with notice of reception. That may be enough to clear us of having to pay the "past due" taxes, which have now ballooned to 300 euro with fees, interest, etc... etc... Presumably, I will not be able to add fees and interest for my own time wasted trying to explain that we did not reside in the country those years.

Published on Thu, 18 Feb 2010 10:24

Fall in Padova

I have never cared much for fall, as seasons go. The last of the warmth and sunshine from summer are slipping away, which means no more big, all-day outdoor adventures, no more relaxing outside without worrying about rain or cold, and the thought of a long winter ahead before it's spring again. Summer is easy and carefree - shorts and a shirt and you're good. Fall is when you start having to select clothes with care in order to avoid overheating or getting cold.

Fall in Padova, however, is, if still not my favorite season, at least one with some distinguishing characteristics that make it more pleasant. Having grown up in Oregon, with its fir and pine trees, you don't notice the changing seasons in the landscape as much - just the transition from warm, clear summer days to murky, gray, wet winters. The nearby "Euganei" hills here in Padova, however, take on a new look with fall. They may not have the brilliant fall colors that the north eastern US is known for, but the crunchy brown leaves do make for pleasant walks, especially on one of the many days when the sun still puts in enough of an appearance to keep things pleasantly tepid. Indeed, the hills fill with people again after the summer season, when the most popular destinations are the beach or other vacation spots. During the fall, many people head out from Padova to gather chestnuts or mushrooms in the hills.

Indeed, it's probably food that best characterizes the fall. During the summer, it's really too hot for the feasts for which Italy is well known, with appetizers, a 'primo', 'secondo' (and sometimes more than one of each), salad, desert, all washed down with lots of wine. But in the fall, everyone's back from vacation, it's cooler outside, and passing the time with friends and family and good food is quite appealing.

Besides roasted chestnuts, one of the other culinary traditions in fall is the 'vino novello', or 'young wine', which is actually a fairly recent creation, but it fits in well with the harvest season. Vino Novello is not wine to keep for years for some special occasion, but to be drink fresh, and indeed, has a very fresh and fruity flavor to it.

Fall is a good time to visit, too: torrid summer days can be very draining if you want to walk around to see the sites, and in August, most of the town's residents have left for vacation in any case, so you won't get a good feel of what life is like. Even later fall, as the sun wanes and gives way to chilly fogs, can be nice if you're prepared for it. Indeed, nearby Venice is beautiful in a less "Disney-esque" way when wreathed in fog. It's nice in the summer with sun and blue skies, but the darker version, with boats sliding out of the thick fog, and the inviting lights of bars where you can get an 'ombra di ross' (a glass of red wine) and something to eat give the city an added depth that its summer raiment does not.

Published on Mon, 11 Jan 2010 08:48