Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Rome safe for democracy?

Been there, done that. I've just come back to Rome and London in comparison is the tidiest corner of paradise. A visit in Rome implies getting stuck in traffic, it's a rule, mandatory, no way out. After waiting for the 70 bus in Via Giolitti for half an hour, I decided I couldn't waste more time and, since everybody was leaving in the look-out of other travel options, I went to Piazza dei Cinquecento, just outside Rome's main train station, Termini, and took the 40 Express.
I later found out that mine was a very unhappy choice. After an hour we were still in Piazza Venezia. Whoever has been in Rome knows that Termini station from Piazza Venezia is about 10-15 minutes walking.
The traffic in Via Nazionale, just down Termini, was mad, nobody was moving, all cars, buses, motorbikes were still. As we got down a bit and finally ended up in Piazza Venezia, the driver directly switched off the engine, as it appeared obvious that we were not going to move for a while. As stuck as we were, with literally no space for even a needle, two "blue cars" with inside some politician arrived following two police patrol cars that, with sirens blaring, ordered the other drivers to give way. The reason? Nothing serious, maybe a soirée in the beautiful Palazzo Venezia Museum where later I found out was full of penguins all spruced up ready for partying.

This, in a normal country, would be considered at least as abuse of power, but Italian people know and suck up abuse of power every day, from the national political class, the local political class, the boss at work, or even the landlord if they happen to be tenants. It's so embedded in the mentality that it's becoming reason of national praise.
Of course the abuse of power can assume different features. One of the most popular at the moment is the public security. If an alien goes to Italy now he will have the impression that it's theatre of war. And if this alien talks to any policeman, he will have his impression confirmed.

I can't even stop for five minutes near a patrol car (in a perfectly public space, precisely under the Vatican Walls) to digit a text message that the most professional 'Carabiniere' dismisses me with a grumpy: "Move away." Now with the fake emergency of fake international terrorism and criminality brought about by immigration it seems that the most fascist representatives within the Italian government found their way to ruthless security policies with the only consequence of further restricting civil liberties.
The beautiful Rome is one of the best place in Italy where you can have the honour to experience first-hand phenomenon like abuse of power, bad administration and how important is to be well-connected, and witness the arrogance of local and national political class.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sardinia, lost in travel

I come from a very small village in Sardinia, Ghilarza, with a fascinating history and captivating traditions. Unfortunately, if someone has ever heard about Sardinia, they’ll only know the Emerald Coast, which is admittedly beautiful, but it doesn’t have much of Sardinia anymore, as it had been bought by a well-heeled Arabic businessman who recently sold it to an American tourism company. In Sardinia there are some of the most underrated places on earth.
It’s interesting however, to acknowledge how tourists get lost in this corner of peace or at least can’t manage to appreciate every aspect of primordial life.

The whole region is far from being the well-organized touristic attraction and, although this can be frustrating for tourists, it’s what makes the place wild, unique and authentic. It’s undoubtedly a challenge for new visitors and, admittedly, not an easy one. It requires a thourough research before arriving, a good deal of spirit of adaptation and, last but not least, a lot of patience. Don’t expect a well organized network of trains, buses and trams. At this juncture, I feel compelled to issue some warnings: if you ever take the unhappy decision to trust the public transportation service instead of renting a car straight away at the airport, be careful not to miss the only one bus a day that could bring you home after a day out; go to the coach stop always a bit earlier, not because the coach come earlier but because you’ll need to identify the stop, usually a conventional place that only local people know and without any public sign.
Beside that, you’ll enjoy the place. If you get lost, I wouldn’t worry too much, people are wonderful and the selfish spirit of a hard-core individualism hasn’t still reached such godforsaken amenities.

Recently a friend of mine told me about her sister’s trip to Sardinia in rather disappointing terms: “beautiful landscape, but not much to see.” At the beginning I was surprised that such comments could be made about an Italian region as everywhere you go in Italy has their own attractions, be it historical, artistic or simply for social gathering. And to be honest, Sardinia is very rich in all of them. But then, thinking about it again, I realized that the fault is actually of the island’s administration and political class that not only neglects to improve the region’s connection system, but also doesn’t care to positively advertise the countless heritage sites.
Close to where I used to live, for example, there is the sacred Well of Saint Christine, in the prehistorical village with the same name, dating back to the IX-XI century B.C. Obviously, I have visited the prehistorical heritage site many times and only now I realize how underestimated it is, not by tourists, but by the same people living around, who don’t do anything to make the site a proper attraction. The actual water well is fascinating, for its history, the purpose it was built for and the fact that it’s extremely well kept.

My small village, Ghilarza, counts around 5,000 souls and is certainly not touristic. However, the old and complicated historical events intertwined with the generous natural resources make it an interesting spot to visit. All around the little town there are the so-called “novenari,” tiny groups of houses populated only once a year during religious festivals, when Ghilarza’s inhabitants move there to celebrate three saints of the Catholic calendar. One of these small built-up areas, devoted to Saint Micheal, has very ancient origins, as it was a village named “Urri” whose population was almost entirely wiped out by an epidemic plague around 1400 a.C.
As for Ghilarza, this little town, situated in the heart of sunny Sardinia, is one of the few places in the world where the primordial spirit of mutual help is still intact, and here you can literally leave your car unlocked without any doubt that you’ll find it exactly where you parked it.

However, in the whole island, there is the legend that Ghilarza’s inhabitants are inhospitable. This comes from the history of both the village and the whole district in which it’s situated. As a very active built-up area already in the nineteenth century, base for the main council offices, markets, medical centers and, later on, the hospital, Ghilarza attracted every day hundreds of people from the nearby villages who, in the very local spirit, expected to receive accomodation in their friends’ houses. When the “Ghilarzesi” proved literally unable to give hospitality to such a crowd of “istranzoso” (strangers), the legend started spreading all over the island territory. The truth is that my hometown’s inhabitants are open-handed as well as very friendly, to the extent that the random tourists are astonished when children naturally wave to them with a spontaneous “Ciao!”
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