Monday, March 31, 2014

At School with Renzi--a visit from the Prime Minister

Carabinieri at the Scalea Middle School secure the area for Renzi's visit-- (where we normally have Italian lessons)

The new, 39 year old Prime Minister of Italy (Presidente del Consiglio), Matteo Renzi, made a visit to Scalea where a number of local activists were planning to  greet him with an anti-mafia rally. It was to be quite a colorful day of speeches, various flags and banners, and quite a bit of waiting around-- all done peacefully and respectfully.

We arrived at 10:30 not knowing how the schedule worked. Renzi arrived within 5 minutes in a small car convoy. We learned later that he flew by helicopter from Napoli and used the landing pad at the now mostly closed hospital in nearby Praia a Mare. He entered the Scuola Media and we, and many others, proceeded to wait 2.5 hours until he came outside for his speech.

The fancy guards are members of the National Police – Carabinieri. If you watched news broadcasts of Obama leaving Rome last week, you would have seen two of these guards saluting the American president has he went to board his plane.





There were a couple dozen mayors from around Calabria attending the indoor meeting with Renzi, but the host city of Scalea was not represented that way because that mayor and 31 others are still in jail after the big mafia sweep last July!



Di and our teacher Carmelina celebrate the nicer surroundings of the elementary school
The day prior to Renzi's visit, our Italian language class was moved into the elementary building so they could clean and set up for the politicians over at the middle school. We were surprised at how much nicer these elementary classrooms were--just next door to the middle school--also a bit mystified by it.


Renzi is an energetic speaker who worked the crowd well with humor. At one point, while a local woman was speaking about local issues, he pulled a camera from his pocket and snapped a photo of some local high school students in the front row. For you foreign readers, Renzi was appointed Prime Minister or Premier just recently as a slight change in the coalition government was made. He had been the Sindico di Firenze – the mayor of Florence. Bringing in a new national leader without an election is a little “foreign” to Americans. Americans may also notice a physical resemblance to John Edwards. We did.

Renzi’s speech was not too different than one from any politician around the world. Some Calabrians  think he just talks too much and has no idea how to change anything for the better. We all know how much coordination (and approval) must be leveraged from the European Union.  Being red-blooded Democrats from America, we do not support the EU austerity measures that have done more harm than good.



Doug managed to survive the long wait by leaning on the platform used by the RAI television camera crew and that is where he saved a spot for the speech. Doug’s estimate is that the crowd was between 3-4000 people. Di was able to move around during it all and noted that the people closest to the stage were enthusiastic with applause for Renzi, while those behind us often didn’t applaud for anything spoken! We guess they came to just listen or didn’t like what they heard.




At one point, speaking to the youth, Renzi said that our area is just beautiful and that it is a shame kids cannot attend school here, then find good jobs in the area. Historically, Calabrese have had to go north for real jobs. Today, going north may not be to Milano or Torino, but Germany where about 60,000 Italians have gone in recent years seeking work. He also said something that reminded Di of Obama's campaign speeches. He said a lot of reforms will depend on Calabrians. Essentially reminding us that politicians can't do it all. The People have to abandon apathy and strive for a better country. Obama said that and nobody remembered. We all expected him to do it all. An old story. Maybe somewhere, sometime, a happy ending to it?


Monday, March 10, 2014

International Day of the Woman 2014

Every Gorgeous Sunset (and rainy day) changes us...slowly, almost imperceptibly
In 2012, I wrote a post on La Festa Della Donna after our Italian Language teacher asked us to read its history. It's actually La Giornata Internazionale Della Donna or the International Day of the Woman--commonly known as the Festa Della Donna in Italy. I did OK on the history (hope so, I had just read it).

What I found interesting re-reading that post, though, was that my entire perspective had changed in two years and that it was living here rather than in the U.S. that caused this change. I am now more conscious of the fact that the your perspective not only changes as the years go by, but that it also changes according to where you live--so slowly you don't realize it unless you have the luxury of reviewing things you wrote in the past--letters, emails, blog posts. I don't the negate the influence of the march of history. It's a combination of time and place.

In 2012 I was worried about women in Italy and today I'm worried about all the women of the world and realize that the women in Italy, even here in old Calabria will be just fine. I know more of them now and I know they will be. World events such as the horror of Syria and the courage of Malala Yousafzai have broadened my perspective on a day like the Festa Della Donna but I think it also matters that I have been watching world events on Euronews, CNN International, and local Italian news stations and talking to Europeans about it rather than only seeing it on CNN in the US or Fox "News". 


Antonella--I love this picture of her at work at the computer next to mimosa
It's also kinda funny how the day turned out. I thought I'd be spending it with only my marito who kindly remembered the traditional mimosa tribute to women and helped me recall that not all men are totally poisoned by testosterone. I ended up spending the day in a more Italian way with other women. These women were working, though. They put their heart into their restaurant-by-the-sea, La Perla del Tirreno and we loved their food and I loved spending a bit of time with them.
Guido's Astice (lobster) I had the other half with rice--molto buono
Antonella's daughter Federica--they insisted on pictures do I look skeptical?




Antonella and Federica made me feel very welcome with the warm southern Italian hospitality that we never take for granted. They invited me to come and help Federica with her English while I get better conversing in Italian. They made me think it could actually work out.





Guido's most tangible Contribution to a lovely day

Another Independent female we know






All in all, life here is always interesting but if you approach it with your eyes always open, it can also be touching in ways you don't expect.









Monday, February 24, 2014

Festa degli Alberi

We were very flattered to receive a hand-made invitation from the local primary school kids to attend the “Festa degli Alberi” (festival of the trees). This event was a celebration of environmental education held in the local woods. A number of people in the village know that we both worked for the National Forest Service in the USA. Plenty of adults were on-hand to applaud the bambini and the presentation which culminated in a symbolic tree planting. The kids put a lot of effort into the whole thing including nifty posters. They presented a “skit” wherein each child spoke a line of text about the forest and trees. Some had very long lines to remember! They sang, also, a couple songs. The kids' presentations were at a level of Italian we could understand well! Both primary and middle school kids contributed to the program.
I bambini della Scuola Primaria, Santa Domenica Talao
We believe the school program is excellent and they are taking strides to teach the kids new values that are needed in Calabria – respect for the land; values about not littering; learning that allowing or causing fires is not good. We have reported how littering is a problem throughout Southern Italy, as are the arsonists that start fires in the hills each summer. 

The Protezione Civile Nazionale is made up of volunteers who help fight small fires, provide first aid and ambulance services, etc. The agency operates the Canadair “fire planes” that do 95% of the fire fighting.


Fire prevention
The middle school kids brought some entertainment. In addition to these boys, the others brought their “harmonica” instruments that have a simple keyboard and a hose to blow into.





The Corpo Forestale dello Stato is a police agency that enforces natural resource laws. They arrested two men last year for arson nearby. Doug shared with the officer pictured here that he used to have a similar job.  







The Associazione Nazionale Forestali is, as best as we can tell, a non-profit organization that promotes protection and stewardship of the parks and forests of the country much as similar organizations do in the US.




Pre-schoolers want to help plant the trees!

The Italian agencies with responsibility for environmental affairs are different than in the US where vast tracts of land are owned by the national government. Here, much of the land is private, but the agencies control what people can do on their land such as logging or even cutting down a tree for firewood. Our entire village of Santa Domenica Talao is inside the Pollino National Park – the largest in the Italian park system that was started in the 1990’s to protect a native species of pine from extirpation. 


To My Friend the Tree

“Hold tight to this land
Grow more free than in a greenhouse
Touch the sky, bring it to us
Hold your dreams as high as you can
And if someone wants to rip you away
Give me a call”

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