"Buon Giorno!" Welcome to the only newsletter whose news staff must insist to all our readers to not believe anything Romans say. Michelangelo is not buried in Rome! "Only In Italy!"
Porca Miseria, as you say, what can be next?
I know the Italians love their cell phones, but there has to be a limit. Perhaps Rudolfo Valentino could have been a greater lover if he had access to a cell phone. Let's get more contests like the mosquito hunt going. How about counting the number of peppercorns in a loaf of peppercorn cheese. Saluti a tutti, Geraldo
Thanks for the letter, Geraldo!
Si, it's true Italians have this mental love affair with their cell phones however, we don't think Rudolfo would have scored with more women if he had one. We think women were so mesmerized with the wacky outfits he wore that they had to find out what he was packing underneath.
And as far as mosquito hunts go, read on and you'll find out why Italy loves its mosquitoes.
Enjoy the issue, keep writing and grazie!
Rome - June 13, 2004 - The Asian tiger mosquito has spread to North America and Europe.
From the peaks of the Alps in the north to the arid plains of the Mezzogiorno in the south, the daily life of Italians is said to be under threat from an invader from South-East Asia.
You can tell that summer has arrived in Italy when the new shoe shops start to open. In the small Italian town where I live, there are over 30 shoe shops. But clearly, Reggio Emilia needed one more, and it has just opened opposite my office.
Almost every shoe in the windows is a brilliant shade - lime green, scarlet or pink, like the roses that exploded into bloom in early May and now lie everywhere, caked with dust, like impoverished aristocrats forced to walk the streets.
As a recent arrival I have to take the locals' word for it that summer came late this year.
At last, people can lounge at the pavement cafe tables that have appeared absolutely everywhere. They can eat ice cream every day.
So it is ironic, with all this reclaiming of the outdoors, that a predator has just begun to stalk this land, an enemy so invincible, people tell me with profound bitterness that it is keeping them in their houses.
It is a small enough enemy - an insect that first arrived in Genoa from south-east Asia in a consignment of second-hand car tires.
And it is easy to recognize: it has strong white stripes across its body.
The tiger mosquito, which appears at the start of June, is silent, incredibly persistent, and unlike most of its species, which cling to shadows or emerge only at dusk, the tiger is around all day long.
The tiger mosquito is bad news for Italy's tourism industry, and incidentally, it is a species that is an effective transmitter of disease.
This region of the north, the vast flood plain around the River Po, has much reclaimed land - prime, moist, farmland where water sits in irrigation channels all year long.
Towns have set up teams to fight the infestation - but everybody seems to agree that the tiger mosquito is here to stay.
Surfing the Internet, I came across the website of an American town that, by a judicious campaign of civic spraying and public mobilization, has completely eliminated the pest.
I had this in mind when, last week, our local team of tiger hunters arrived on my front door step.
The man and woman, very friendly, wandered round my garden for half an hour explaining that standing water of any kind - and even damp grass - is enough for the mosquitoes to breed.
"So what's the town doing to eliminate them?" I asked.
They gave exaggerated Italian shrugs. "There's very little we can do," they replied.
So I mentioned the town I had read about where the tiger mosquito has been eliminated.
"Oh, but that's America," they told me, "it would never work in Italy."
"But why ever not?" I asked.
"Oh, because we're not well enough organized," they said, as though Italy was some banana republic that could only dream about north American efficiency.
Seeing the confusion on my face, they added that as in the matter of paying taxes, or observing road signs, Italians never do anything they are told to - it would be enough for the government to order everyone to spray their gardens for most people to decide to do nothing of the kind.
They gave another resigned shrug, and wished me a very good day.
Last Sunday, the first tiger mosquito appeared - silent and stealthy - as I was drinking a coffee on the front porch at 11 am.
It is going to be a long summer.
HELP WANTED: PEST CONTROL
If there are any exterminators among our lovely subscribers can you please fly over to Italy and help us solve this problem? Please take advantage of this banana republic's laziness and ignorance. We guarantee you'll be able to retire comfortably in 6-8 years!
But, then again, any garden spraying could cause further damage to our mental health. The fumes might cause our craniums to grow thicker and force us to do more stupid and lazy things like refusing to stop at red lights and returning to fascism.
In the meantime, remember to bring your mosquito nets when you come visit our infested republic this summer.
Naples - May 27, 2004 - The headless corpse of a candidate in upcoming local elections in southern Italy has been found two days after he disappeared on his way to work.
Carlo Cirillo, 43, was running for a seat on Pompeii's city council in elections to be held on 12-13 June.
Police, who are still searching for his head, are not ruling out any lead.
But some officials said a Naples-area Mafia known as the Camorra could be behind it and are calling for the council election to be suspended.
Mr. Cirillo, who was married with two children, was last seen when he set off for work on Monday.
When he failed to turn up, his wife plastered posters with his photograph around the local area in the hope someone knew where he was.
His body was found near a road on Wednesday night, Italian television reported. It appeared his head had been cut off with an axe or hatchet.
Mr. Cirillo was running as part of a coalition of parties from the left and center in Pompeii, the modern town that has grown up near its ancient namesake buried by the Mount Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.
Italian news reports said there was no immediate indication that his murder was linked to organized crime.
But some politicians were quick to blame the Camorra crime syndicate.
"The horrible assassination of this candidate is the tip of the iceberg of Camorra groups which work to influence the electorate," Michele Florino, a senator from the National Alliance party declared.
The Pompeii council has in the past been suspended because of suspicions that Camorra mobsters had infiltrated its ranks.
With all due respect to the family that had to suffer this atrocious tragedy, our country has been governed by headless politicians since the fall of Mark Anthony.
Let me tell you a Sicilian folk tale about a notorious mayor who once governed the Sicilian sea town of Sciacca:
One day, a group of fishermen had fished a body out of the Mediterranean Sea that was dead from the neck up and elected him as their mayor.
After 5 years of bribes, kickbacks, denied Mafia associations and selling off a third of the town, his mandate expired and was thrown back in the sea. The fishermen were scorned and shunned for life.
Rome - May 19, 2004 - A Mafia hit man who strangled a young boy and dissolved his body in acid has been released and put under house arrest after five years in prison.
The decision, taken because the killer collaborated with investigations that led to the arrests of dozens of Mafiosi, was met with both disbelief and resignation, and revived doubts in Italy about the benefits bestowed on turncoats.
Giuseppe Monticciolo and two other hit men killed 13-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in 1996 and dissolved his body in an acid bath in revenge against the boy's father, who had implicated mob bosses in the killing of a top anti-Mafia judge.
Monticciolo, a member of Sicily's notorious Cosa Nostra, confessed to the crime after he was arrested. He managed to escape to Kenya during the trial, but police convinced him to return to Italy where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
But on Tuesday, a judge granted the hit man house arrest after serving just a quarter of the sentence, thanks to his cooperation with investigators.
"Dissolves a boy in acid, and now returns home" read the headline of Il Giornale daily on Wednesday, adding that "the news landed like a bomb in Palermo".
Monticciolo, now 35, was the third person involved in the killing of Di Matteo to be released into house custody. As a detainee under house arrest, he will eventually be allowed to go outdoors a few hours a day.
"It's the price that has to be paid to beat the Mafia," said Palermo's chief prosecutor Pietro Grasso.
"I'm not going to talk about the judge's decision, but the law was made that way in order to get Mafiosi to collaborate with the State," he told Avvenire daily.
The favorable treatment of Mafia turncoats has caused controversy for years. Many prosecutors argue that they provide vital evidence that would otherwise be unobtainable from the Mafia, famed for their silence imposed by a "code of honor".
But critics say the so-called "pentiti" are unreliable witnesses.
No! It's the Italian government that is unreliable!
Here's a short but frightening list of how Italy protects the Mafia:
1.) The substantial abolition of "Article 41 bis" - This law prohibited any type of communication between jailed Mafia convicts and the outside world. Now, they can freely communicate and, rest assure, they're not exchanging ricotta cheesecake recipes.
2.) A revision of penal code procedures which eventually brought strict limits to the use of prosecuting accusations - Defending lawyers can almost object anything public prosecutors say in court including, "Buon Giorno".
3.) No more state protection for witnesses who testify in Mafia trials - In other words, suicide.
4.) Blocked initiative to thoroughly check suspicious bank accounts and deposits - Little old innocent farmers will not have to worry about their multi-million dollar portfolios.
5.) An anti-mafia judge cannot serve more than nine years in the same Attorney General's Office - And if you do a great job, you'll be working for traffic court cases in one-horse towns.