Judges

Up the road in Trani today a judge Angela Schiralli will give her decision on whether to remand a group of named executives of Standard and Poor and Fitch rating agency accused of manipulating the markets thereby causing the Sovereign Country of Italy financial suffering and cost . Their “crime” was to, in 2011, lower Italy’s rating from A to BBB+.

This move meant Italy had to pay more for borrowing money. Given that in 2011 the EU removed Silvio Berlusconi from power and replaced him with a bureaucrat in response to the worsening debt of the country seems to have been forgotten. These companies downgraded many countries during that period including the UK as we went through the great recession. Only Italian judges have singled out personnel from these companies and prosecuted them.

I am often amazed at the casualness with which some expats approach laws in Italy. Maybe the dolce vita and seemingly nonchalant attitude some Italians have to laws lulls them into a false sense of security . But the powers of Italy’s prosecuting judges petrify me: one should  live in daily fear of the knock on the door, because Italy’s terrifying bureaucracy and labyrinthine laws mean that we are all guilty of something — and even if we are not it does not matter.

These judges have the capacity to spy on you at will, they can and do lock people up for months on end while they seek evidence against you for a trial that might never happen but even if it doesn’t you will have been inside and will have had huge costs defending yourself . It it does go to trial in Italy you will have three trials before a judgement is finally made taking years. In the UK you are innocent until proven guilty. In Italy, on the other hand, you are, in reality, guilty until proven innocent.

We all got a good laugh at Silvio Berlusconi and his Bunga Bunga trial until you look more closely at it. Never mind that this is a 76 year old survivor of prostate cancer the basic fact is there was no evidence that would hold sway in most countries as to whether he had sex for money with a minor. In Italy the age of consent is 14 years old but the age of a girl you pay for sex must 18 and Ruby was 17. The only piece of evidence was a text from Ruby to a friend saying she was going to the party that night and was going to have sex with Silvio.  (which incidentally would not have been allowed as evidence in the UK)

She said it was a joke text he was 76 for christ sakes. She denied having sex, he denied having sex and there were no witnesses to the act anyway. No one has denied she and 30 others were paid to go to parties . Silvio paid them €3,000 each to attend and drape themselves about the place.

However he was found guilty and sentenced to 6 years in jail and because he was found guilty the girls had therefore committed perjury and all face trial now. As Alessandro Sallusti, the editor of Berlusconi’s daily Il Giornale, said when this was announced, it’s ‘reminiscent, very reminiscent, of those emitted by Stalinist and Nazi tribunals against their adversaries: any witness who dared to raise a finger in defence of the poor defendant of the day in turn was charged with being a worm, condemned as an accomplice and a liar, punished and re-educated. Permit me to say that if I had even the slightest suspicion that il Presidente had molested a woman even once in his life I wouldn’t be here writing these words. We are talking about a gentleman, a bit of a buffoon, but with far more moral integrity than his accusers and judges.’

It is really important to realise when you live here that  Italy’s judges are not like Britain’s judges. They are a profession quite separate from solicitors and barristers, and like every organisation in Italy, including the Round Table, are highly politicised. Given that and their awesome powers breaking  or avoiding laws in Italy is not for the feint hearted !

The trial won’t be like Monty Python

 

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Il Rottamatore

Nicholas Farrell is an English writer who lives in Rome and has written a book about Mussolini and is busy on another one discussing how a left wing socialist became a fascist dictator. he also writes for La Voce di Romagna and The Spectator in the UK.

He is rightly banging on about the need for Italy to wake up and smell the coffee as the Americans would say. I hadn’t hear Renzi’s nickname Il Rottamatore the demolition man before but he is unconvinced that Renzi really has the will to get to grips with the reforms that he talks about.

I love some of the examples he uses in his well researched article. Did you know there are 28,000 forestry police in Sicily ? That is more than in the whole of Canada. I must find out how many there are in Puglia . There are 950 ambulance drivers there with no ambulances to drive but they still draw a gold plated salary and will look forward to a pension paid by the tax payer of about 80% of their final salary. They can also retire after 20 years of “working”.

Italian M.P.s are, we know, the best paid in the world but as most are also men there are barbers employed by the State to shave the M.Ps when they want and to trim their hair. The salary of these barbers? €136,120 a year gross !!!

This is just the tip of the iceberg of course almost every writer uncovers amazing facts about the waste in Italy and the profligacy of the State and the Regional councils.

Everyone knows the solution but Italy lacks the political will and Renzi alone can do little as the position of PM here is severely curtailed by the Constitution which for fear of dictatorship gives the prime minister little executive power to act. We all know that the euphoria of the passing of a bill to do away with Article 18 that prevents people being fired from their jobs will over the next three years as it moves through parliament become unrecognisable as the bill being lorded today.

What would be a start is for the government to follow the lead set by the Rome Opera House a few weeks ago. The musicians are of course State employees. They work less than 28 hours a week and over half of that is given over to “study” . Like most State employees they receive not 12 months salary a year but 16 months and if they have to perform in the open air they receive double pay because the union considers it a health risk ! They also spend much of their time on strike and this summer on several occasions the conductor found himself about to perform la Boheme at the Opera House with just a pianist present as the musicians had called yet another lightening strike.

Apt really for the musicians if they were performing outside at the moment. Your tiny hand is frozen

 

A couple of weeks ago the opera house board did something that is completely amazing in Italy. They fired all 200 of them ( 200 strong orchestra the mind boggles !!) and closed the place down to start again next year. Enough finally was enough.

Would that il rottamottore would do the same and start to get Italy back on it’s feet again. The debt is now €2.2 trillion or 135% of GDP  despite the last three leaders promising to bring it down ( 2011 it was 128% ) .

I still can’t get over 200 musicians trying to squeeze into the Rome Opera house ! I found a fun band today that plays todays hits in a style of a certain decade. They are rather fun and have 4.4 million hits on youtube which can’t be bad.

Who needs two hundred musicians !!

 

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Gli Espatriati

I am reading a book by David Nicholls called Starter For Ten which for the Brits amongst you will ring bells as the way each round of the quiz University Challenge starts. The book is a humorous look at a young university student who indeed aspires to go on the programme. On the train heading for his fresher term he imagines himself sitting in his room surrounded by intelligent students and using long words all of which I had to use Kindle dictionary to understand.

One such word was solipsism which in case you don’t know means being self centred and selfish. Further research on the word led me to expatriate solipsism .

Expatriate solipsism is defined as arriving in a foreign destination one had hoped was undiscovered only to find many people there just like oneself and peevishly refusing to talk to the self same people !

It is more difficult to define expatriates ( gli espatriati ) . My own is a person that lives in an area where the local supermarket or shop doesn’t sell marmite. Such deprivation instantly confers upon you the title an expatriate. Places where one can buy marmite easily  people should not refer to themselves as expatriates but merely  persons who are living in a little Britain away from home. For the Americans reading this I guess maybe peanut butter  would be the same ? But maybe not.

Living in Puglia would therefore qualify a person to refer to himself on trips back to the mother country and when chatting to tourists visiting Puglia as an expat.

Purists however might believe that a real expat title is only conferred on people facing daunting deprivation and would raise the bar to a place where the local shop doesn’t sell Digestive biscuits . Under this scenario everyone in Puglia loses their title as probably would much of the world. I would years ago have said to the American readers think Oreo cookies but I think they are now everywhere aren’t they?

The reason I have been missing in action from this blog for a week or so is because I am researching British European Airways for an idea I have had about writing about BEA and British Airways based on the stories my father told me of the early days of BEA and my own later experiences of BEA and British Airways. The books about these two airlines that I have seen are as dry as say rye crisp bread ( maybe another definition for expatriate one who cannot buy Ryvita) . They miss the humour and the endless funny stories that the airlines generated.

I am busy with the Vickers Viscount at the moment which my old man did a great deal of proving flights on. He also raced one in the Greatest Air Race ever the London to Christchurch New Zealand air race this month in 1953. His Viscount took 40 hrs 40mins to complete the journey.

Viscount_700_G-AMAV_NZ_Air_Race

He was one of the three pilots and also on board for the BBC was Raymond Baxter who filed radio reports for the BBC  plus the UK minister for Aviation no less, John Profumo later to star in the Christine Keeler affair

CKeeler1

that bought down the government. He sportingly agreed to be the chef/steward on the flight as there could be no passengers .

One of the dry airline books also reports my fathers first and only Viscount crash at Blackbushe Airport when on take off for a training flight the entire control column jammed and the plane went on through the perimeter fence and into a field instead of leaping into the air. It doesn’t record the fact that the three flight crew evacuated the aircraft as the fire service arrived to put out the fire that had started and who feared the full tanks of fuel would go up but fought their way back past the protesting firemen and onto the flight deck again to retrieve their raincoats that they had forgotten. Raincoats were the only article of the uniform that pilots had to buy themselves  in those days

It is amazing what you can find out on the web these days. The Raymond Baxter recordings apparently still exist and are in the BBC archives and the aircraft in the photo was  cut into two sections at Wisley, Surrey, England 1961. The rear section was transferred to Weybridge, Surrey, England for BAC One-Eleven engine installation trials in 1961. The front fuselage section was transferred to the Ministry of Aviation Fire fighting School at Stansted Airport, Essex, England in August 1963.

The front fuselage section was later broken up for scrap. The rear fuselage section was  in the middle of Weybridge airfield joined to a hut that had a BAC One-Eleven nose at one end and the Viscount rear section at the other. The tail section was used for BAC One-Eleven APU trials in 1975. Only the BAC One-Eleven nose section was attached to the hut in June 1976 so the Viscount rear fuselage section had presumably been scrapped before then.

 

 

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Attila e Arrivato

You have to say that the Italian weather guys have a wry sense of humour. Our leader Renzi jets off to Brussels to do battle with Frau Merkel over Italy’s need for looser financial constraints and the boys in the weather bureau name the cold depression that has arrived from Northern Europe Attila the Hun . Attila of course never did managed to take Rome and the Romans defeated him in a couple of decisive battles. Matteo will be hoping to repeat that feat over the next few days.

” Conversing about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” so said Oscar Wilde. Mind you he came from Ireland where  it is either about to rain, has rained, or is raining so there ain’t much to talk about anyway.

4C last night in Martina Franca and 11C today feeling like 6C with the wind chill. It is not surprising that British expats in Italy will still get their winter fuel allowance from the UK government. It is also sound advice for would be purchasers of property in Southern Italy to try it in the winter months. This is just October remember. But when the wind comes from the north boy does it get chilly. Bob Dylan’s line from Subterranean Homesick Blues always comes to mind when I am out walking in a northerly wind in Puglia ” You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows “.

I swear there are days when I can smell the reindeer herds up in Lapland on the wind but maybe my neighbour Giovanni’s septic tank just needs cleaning.

When Silvio Berlusconi was leader he tried to revitalise the Italian economy ( since him the unelected leaders have also tried and failed) by changing the zoning law that restricted the size of the house you could build on a plot of land. He wanted to raise the percentage from 3% to 10%  as he felt it would encourage people to build larger homes, extend existing ones or build second homes on the plot they had. The law was ratified by all the provinces bar one dear old Puglia who rejected it. Our local leader was by then too busy selling land to the mafia to build wind and solar plants to worry about changing zoning rules.

To be fair I’m not sure whether it worked elsewhere but it does mean that the countryside has stayed in Puglia almost untouched by bulldozers and cement lorries. The zoning laws are in the main rigorously upheld as are the rules for doing up old trulli though the goal posts do get moved rather frequently. The vexed issue of swimming pools never goes away and despite the good old wheeze of claiming that the pool is just a cisterna ( water tank) with a few sun loungers  and a rather nice patio around it has worked for a few, getting permission for a pool can be problematical in many areas.

The old adage never fall out with your neighbour which is a hard and fast rule in Puglia came to mind a few months ago when I was in the barber’s shop. There was a Brit there who had a large house here. He had bought the place off a drug baron who had fled the country. The drug baron had a certain influence and the water board had run a pipe from the main road to the guys house some 3 kms down the road. No one else down that road had water but the baron’s next door neighbour asked if he might tap into the new water supply with a pipe to his place. The drug baron agreed and a meter was placed before the extension as well as a removable tap on the neighbour’s pipe. . The baron never bothered charging his neighbour for water. I guess when you’re into drugs it is not even chump change is it.

The Brit when he bought the house built a magnificent swimming pool

but forgot to tell anyone about it. A few months later the water bill arrived and as the Brit had filled the pool by truck and had been out of Italy for the entire time he took the bill to his new neighbour and asked for the money. To his surprise the Italian took umbrage at this and refused to pay . He had never been asked before and he wasn’t going to start paying now. The Brit therefore turned off the extension water supply and thought no more of it.

A month or so later up the driveway came the Forestry Police. They had a summons to serve on him for building an illegal pool and a court date. Before that court date came the cement truck to fill the pool in. At the court case he was bound over to keep the peace ( not get so much as a speeding fine) for three years or he would go to jail ( they take these laws seriously here) for a year.

When I saw him in the barber’s shop he was still in a state of shock “I just don’t know who would have told the authorities about my pool ” he said to me as we parted. I think I could take a guess !

What a difference here in Cyprus where it seems any piece of land that a house could have been built on has been and within days of completing one house they would then build a house right in front of it taking away any view the house had. I feel pleased that at least in the countryside around us in Martina Franca they do enforce the rules.

 

 

 

 

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Some Like it Hot

It is National Curry Week this week in Britain and people are urged to go out and have a curry. not that many need urging. Isn’t chicken tikka massala the favourite dish in the UK now though unheard of in the Subcontinent ? If you click on the link above you will see the top 10 curry restaurants in the UK with number 1 in Alva Scotland so thank god they voted no or we would need a passport to get there.

Amazingly the first curry house opened in the UK in 1809 when Sahe Mohamet opened one in George Street off Portman Square in what is now London’s West End. Little did he know what he was starting as there are now 9,500 in the UK employing over 100,000 people.

There can’t be many places around the world where there isn’t an Indian restaurant these days. In India it is a standing joke that there are no bends in the roads in Gujarat State as otherwise someone would open a shop there and it must be true that any corner attracts a Bangladeshi to open an Indian restaurant.

However there is one province in Italy that doesn’t have a curry house and that is Puglia where I live. I guess there are just not enough expats and the locals are not big on trying new things. People in Martina Franca will tell you the food eaten in Ceglie 6 kms down the road is not as good as theirs so they are hardly likely to try food from the other side of the world and they don’t. Sometimes this is a good thing. Puglia must be one of the few places in the world where MacDonalds had to close a restaurant due to a lack of customers.  However for me a lack of a curry place is a disaster.

After 3 years living in Bombay I need a curry fix at least once a week . Luckily showing huge foresight before we left Bombay Geraldine asked our housekeeper Josephine ( she was baptised into the Catholic faith having been born of a lower caste) to teach her how to make about 6 of our favourite curries . That well worn notebook she has since carried around the world with us.

But the million dollar question is can you get the ingredients to make a great curry in Puglia. The answer is if you have a Dico supermarket nearby you can. They sell ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and cayenne pepper, the basic ingredients for a chicken curry. What there are plenty of in Puglia is hot chilli peppers or peperoncino . You buy them in huge bunches in September and freeze them to give you a years supply. I actually grow my own during the summer  but like so may things in Puglia when there is a glut as there is each year it is cheaper to buy in the market than grow your own by buying the plants in April. Ginger is widely available and we buy ours from Auchen supermarket. What is impossible to find is fresh coriander and so we bring seeds from the UK and grow our own.

I have a playlist on iTunes to go with the curry night each week The Top 40 Bollywood Songs.

Bollywood films have come a long way from just showing wet saris !!

One of my first curries was in a curry shop in Eton High Street not far from where I lived. I went with a couple of friends after an evening in Windsor in various pubs. One guy Jeremy asked the waiter for the hottest curry they could make. They duly obliged and even the cook came out to watch him manfully attempt the last few mouthfuls with sweat pouring down his face and a rather green look about the gills. The next day I was walking in the village and saw him go past in his old Land Rover. On the seat was a roll of toilet paper and I found out later that his father had banned him from the house loo and he was having to use the public one in the village car park.

Eating curry late at night is normal in Bombay where parties might officially start at 8.30 in the evening but people arrive until midnight and early arrivals have to try to limited the amount of Black Label whiskey they throw down their throats. At just after midnight a buffet of different curries is laid out for the guests to help themselves to and once you have eaten you are expected to leave immediately. You stagger home full of Black Label and curry to try to sleep at 1 a.m. No wonder most businesses there start at about 10 a.m.  though everyone then works till 8 p.m. at least each evening.

Surely soon one of the many Bangladeshi illegals passing through Bari and Brindisi on their way north to the UK will pause and rather than finding part time work in the market think ” I could open a restaurant in Martina Franca ” he would have two customers straight away.

 

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At Last

According to Corriere Della Sera this morning ( I know the paper is called Courier of the Evening but hey you can’t be picky here)  ENI have announced that fuel prices are to go down by 1 cent for diesel and 1.5 cents for unleaded petrol. They are the first and the others have yet to follow suit. However as winter is coming LPG will go up by 1 cent.

Apart from Holland, Italy has the highest fuel prices in the EU driven by the highest excise duty and 22% VAT which is why the central government is so disinterested in the cost of fuel.  The price of a barrel of Brent crude is now the same as it was in 2011. Average fuel prices yesterday before the ENI announcement were €1.81 for petrol and €1.71 for diesel.

How does that compare to 2011 well Diesel was at €1.51 and petrol at €1.65 so seemingly we have a long way to go to actually get the fuel price down to 2011 levels. Will they return there, don’t hold your breath only the poor consumer is really interested in lower prices and the consumer as we know has no voice in Italy at all.  I am reading a book by Tom Brewer called Branson: Behind the Mask and one chapter describes his travails with Virgin Mobile in Australia, Canada and USA . His advertising falls foul of the regulators for over promising and hiding charges. Oh to have a regulator in Italy for mobile phones or fuel prices or electricity prices ( has anyone ever figured out an Enel bill ?).

Italy imports almost all of it’s fuel and spends €62 billion doing so each year. Our leader is determined to reduce that figure as part of his need to reduce the deficit to please young Angela in Berlin. He hopes to reduce it by at least €14 billion by 2020 and to do so has repealed articles 36,37,38 to allow drilling for oil both on and off shore ( Italy has the third largest known oil reserves in Europe and it is expected that a load more can be found off shore).

Yesterday the Puglia Regional Council called on him to re-instate the articles and to go further by calling on the EU to ban any oil exploration or drilling in the whole of the Mediterranean Sea .

The council claim that Puglia has borne the brunt of the drive for solar power farms, wind turbines and the like which is a bit rich to be fair as many of the self same politicians are under investigation for fiddling the land deals and possibly accepting ( could it be true) bribes. No not an Italian politician surely.

The council is worried that off shore drilling could ruin Puglia’s beaches which is a worthy cause I’m sure though these are the same fellows that have allowed huge oil refineries to be built in Taranto and Brindisi and have done little to monitor the effect they might have on the population.

The cynic in me therefore starts to look at the real reason these eager wind and solar farm enthusiasts don’t want off shore drilling. Maybe we need look no further than down the road in Basilica where drilling is happening a pace in the big oil field there. Under the Renzi repeal  he has sweetened the pie for regions that find oil. More money stays in the Region for ” development” and politicians here love those loose terms. Industry Minister Flavio Zanonato last fall described the move to spend more locally as having a “dual objective:” to reduce unemployment in the regions and build consensus in favour of increased production.

The Val d’Agri field has already created a mini boom for Basilicata. Between 2008 and 2012, Eni and Shell paid the region almost €500 million in royalties.

The Basilica oil is being piped to Puglia but all the extra dough stays in Basilica. Off shore oil would similarly be merely piped or bought by tanker to Puglia and still no  “development lolly” .

Put a bit of pressure on the boys in Rome and who knows what concessions you might get from them ! No no I know the Council has merely gone green on the issue, of course they have.

I’m not sure anyone has told Cyprus that 6 regions in Italy want the government to lead the crusade to prevent any oil development in the Mediterranean Sea as yet. Here the papers are full of the terrible Turks who have announced they are to do seismic blasts in an area the Cypriot Greeks are already testing.  Here the Greek Cypriots are always searching for the next money spinner that will solve the problems that they could easily solve themselves . First it was the Brits buying houses by the thousand, when that dried up it was the Russians and now that has dried up all the property ads are in Chinese. However the oil and gas reserves promise to give them wealth to live like sheikhs in Saudi Arabia they think and I don’t think Puglia regional council is going to dissuade them in a hurry.

 

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