We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making heads or tails of the Italian election

And the winner is......

No, it wasn't Oscar night here in Italy. Even though I waited up until 1am, there was no announcement of who the winner was. Turns out, there is no winner. This is mind boggling to someone like me whose experiences with elections comes from the American two party system.

I sat glued to the TV all night, listening carefully to all of the political analysis and waiting along with the rest of Italy as the election results came in from all regions.  I struggled a little bit attempting to understand the sometimes complex Italian language, however what was more complex was trying to make comprehend the electoral rules of this country. With one ear tuned to the TV for updates, I searched the internet for information that would help me get a better handle on how the Italian parliamentary system works and what the election results all meant.

As I wrote in my last post - it's complex. On Monday night, the final reported results were Bersani's coalition had won the Chamber of Delegates by a very thin margin, trailed very closely by Berlusconi's coalition, and then Beppe Grillo's 5 Star Movement. Monte was way back in the pack with about 10%.
Mr. Berlusconi, miraculously, won the Senate by a small margin over Bersani, and again Beppe Grillo's party had a very strong showing. Since both sides of Parliament were not won by the same party/coalition, no one clear winner of Prime Minister is the end result.

The newspaper headlines Tuesday morning included " Miracolo Berlusconi", "Terremoto Grillo", and "Ingovernabili".  Love the word ingovernabili. Ungovernable. I love how it swirls around on my tongue when I pronounce it. It became my new vocabulary word of the week. Berlusconi surfacing again, and with such big number results, is - and there is no other word for it- miraculous.  I am convinced that the only reason he got votes was because his campaign promise was to repeal the new property tax and refund payments. He even did a late in the game mass mailing to Italians to make sure they knew his proposal right before going to the polls. At a time when Italy is facing an economic crisis ( you hear crisi every where you turn nowadays), Berlusconi's promise probably sounded pretty darned good. Good enough to forget all of Berlusconi's other faults long enough to get through checking off the X on the ballot.

So what happens now?  There will be some period of time where the Bersani, Berlusconi and Grillo, perhaps with Monte thrown into the mix, will jockey about trying to work some partnership in hopes of some government of some kind formed. Most likely, if this does come to pass, whatever government is formed will fall on it's face in short order. And that will mean Italians go back to the election booths for another round.

Until further notice, all of Italy is scratching their heads.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Italian Election

In all of the larger campos in Venice you will find these metal placards holding political campaign posters. Ugly buggers, but at least it keeps the posters off of buildings and trees. They won't be eyesores for very long, as shortly after the election workers will begin deconstructing them. Packing them away until the next election.

Today and tomorrow all over the country, Italians will be voting in the 2013 parliamentary election, where not only senate and delegates will be elected, but also a new Prime Minister.  The former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned in 2011. Mario Monti took over the role as an interim government.

Italian politics are complicated. Candidates don't run, a party or coalition runs. The entire parliament is voted on at the same time, both Chamber of Delegates and the Senate. Whichever coalition gets the most popular vote nationwide receives 54% of the seats in the Chamber. The second highest coalition regionally gets 55% of the seats in the Senate for that region. things get trickier after this, there is no way I can give an adequate explanation of the process, I don't fully understand it myself.

To make things even more complex, there are over 20 different coalitions and parties participating in this election. Only three coalitions are the main competition, with a few other smaller parties also in the mix. Who are the contenders?

In order of the recnet poles, the three top contenders are :

Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the Democratic Party (PD)

Silvio Berlusconi, head of the People of Freedom

Mario Monti, head of Scelta Civica (Civic Choice)

 Beppe Grillo, head of the 5 Star Movement

 It's just too hard to believe that Berlusconi is running again, and even harder to comprehend that he is running very closely behind Bersani. So closely that Berlusconi could actually become Prime Minister for a fourth term. Yes, even after all of his scandals and legal entanglements.  His campaign promises of repealing  the property tax law that was enacted under Monti and refunding those taxes paid in 2012 is a very popular topic with Italians. This could possibly get him the votes.

It seems Bersani's only claim to fame is that he has been in politics forever. Hmm. The lesser of 4 evils??

Monti has done an adequate job of handling his interim post. But is that enough?

And, if there could possibly be anything even more comical than that, there actually is. Beppe Grillo, a comedian, has been running very high in the current polls, and could potentially be the winner.

It's anybody's guess what the outcome will be. We'll know that tomorrow night.  It's an important vote for Italy. Let's just hope we get it right.

Friday, February 22, 2013

More controversy on the Calatrava bridge

The Calatrava bridge is making headlines once more in Venice. This time it's the delay in the scheduled inauguration on Saturday of the "Ovovia"  (translation=gondola)  which has been installed on the side of the bridge to transport handicapped people from one side to the other. The problem is the ovovia has not yet passed all of  it's functional  tests. What's absolutely laughable about this is this Pod-like thing has been in the works for around 2 years already, and is estimated to be around 80 percent over budget, according to local papers.


This bridge, also known as the Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge) opened to the public on September 11, 2008 amidst massive controversy. Firstly, the bridge was not constructed for handicap accessibility. Secondly, many felt this bridge was not necessary as it is so closely located to the existing Ponte degli Scalzi. Thirdly, the bridge's very contemporary design is not in keeping with any of Venice's architecture. All three of these issues get my dander up.

I would love to know what these bridge designers were thinking when they came up with this pod as a solution for handling wheelchairs. The pod hangs over the side of the bridge. What handicapped person in their right mind would get into this contraption for a ride hanging over the Grand Canal???? It's  more like an amusement park ride. Seriously. Who is going to get in it?  And then there is the question of whether the pod will be accessible 24/7.  Do they have to hire Pod operators who are specially trained to run the thing?  Seems to me they could have hired a whole staff of porters to push anyone in a wheelchair across the bridge for a whole lot less than constructing this non-functional pod.

Not withstanding this new pod thing and the issues surrounding it's viability and costs, the bridge has other issues. In cold weather, ice forms on the steps which make it hazardous and barely passable.  On normal days, the steps themselves are dangerous because of the abnormal height and length of the each one. It's impossible to walk over the bridge using a normal gait, thus if you aren't extremely careful you will trip and fall down.  And, this one is the best in my opinion, the steps that are made of glass are broken frequently.  Why have glass steps when you have to cover them up with temporary metal sheets ?  I wonder how much each glass step costs to replace?

My "quasi" Venetian-ness rears it's ugly head whenever I think about this bridge.  Venice has many other critical issues to deal with, probably most important is the problem of rapidly declining population.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Post Carnevale- Snow!

Last week, at the very tail end of the Carnevale season, the weather forecasts were so dire it was all we could think about. All the costumes and masks were forgotten. Snow and exceptional aqua alta were on the way.  And we did get it. In my little corner of the world the snow stayed on the ground for 3 days- almost unheard of for Venice. Very fortunately for everyone, the predicted 160 cm of water only turned out to be 143 cm, thanks to a sudden shifting of the winds. Who are we kidding! 143 cm of water is high enough. I can't even imagine what 160 cm would have been like.

Snow in Sant'Elena

The forecast for the next 2 days is more snow. Based on how cold yesterday and today have been, I believe we will definitely get it.  We'll  have to wait and see just how much actually comes down.  I'll be at my position at the window waiting and watching. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day- Venice Style

Beginning with our first cappuccino at a local cafe this morning, we were feeling the love, Venice Style!

We set off in search of a particular local legend very much related to a love story- the heart shaped stone. We'd been to this spot years ago, it was time to revisit it. And what better day than today. 

Most of the stories you read about this spot in Castello say simply that if you are here as a couple and both touch the stone, your love will last forever. If you are alone and make a wish about love while touching the stone, then that wish will come true within a year. 

We've read another version of this legend that goes like this: 

 A young Venetian  fisherman who fished in the waters at Malamocca heard a voice calling to him one night while he was out fishing. He heard a girl begging to be freed, and then he saw a beautiful girl, however she was a mermaid.  They fell in love and she agreed to marry him, on the condition that he not come to see her ever on a Saturday.  He promised, but after a short while could not keep his promise, he went to see her on a Saturday, but all he found was a large serpent in the water. The snake said she had told him not to come, that because of a curse she was condemned to be a serpent every Saturday. However, if he married her, she would always be as beautiful as he had seen her. 

They did get married and had 3 children. The beautiful girl got very sick and died, and the young man returned her body to the sea as she had asked. The young father with 3 small children was very distressed, not sure he could manage a job and the children himself. Every day upon returning home from work he found the house spotlessly clean. One day he came home earlier than usual and discovered a serpent in the house. He killed the snake,  and from that time on, the house was no longer cleaned. He realized the snake he killed had to have been his beautiful wife. 

In remembrance of this love story the brick heart was placed at their house at the Sotoportego dei Preti in Castello. 

Next time you find yourself in Castello, find the heart shaped stone and make your own wish. It doesn't have to be on San Valentino day.

Friday, February 8, 2013

More Carnevale photos

Bright sun, blue skies- perfect ingredients for my mission of the day - get some more Carnevale costume photos. I was not disappointed!!  I came home with over 100 fantastic shots, and just couldn't decide how to pare that down to just a few for a blog post today.

Join me as I stroll through St. Mark's....