The Corona Virus Hits Italy

As you no doubt know, the Corona Virus has hit Italy hard and the country is currently in lock down.

In Rome this all started three or so months ago when a Chinese couple staying at a hotel down the street from me tested positive for the virus. Since then it’s been a blur. Since Italy is a Mecca for tourists and business people world-wide It’s impossible to know how much the current epidemic has to do with those first two people in Rome.

Fast forward to April 19th. Italy now has 107771 people who have tested positive for the virus, 23227 are dead (mostly elderly) and 44927 have been cured. I’ve heard from an old friend whose son has tested positive.

First some background.

The Italian government reacted brutally though well in my opinion. Seeing as how there is a two week gestation period after an initial exposure during which time one is contagious and can pass the virus on, they decided to quarantine THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, (about 60 million people) for two weeks. This brutal approach was really the only way forward since there is no known cure or vaccine. There are now voices going around that this period of quarantine will be expanded. NB. The quarantine period has recently been extended through May 3 and I’m sure the country won’t open entirely by then. We haven’t left the house except for food and meds since March 10th.

All schools have been closed and the gathering of all groups has been forbidden. This means that all sporting events, concerts, church services and weddings are now forbidden. They have also shut down all flights and train service to and from the country. For a country that exists primarily on tourism this has been a major economic blow.

Here’s an idea of what it’s like here.

The only exceptions to self quarantine are: to get to work (essential activities only), to shop for food, to go to the pharmacy, in case of medical emergencies and in case of family emergencies. Other than those exceptions the entire population is expected to quarantine themselves at home. Food stores, pharmacies and doctors offices are open till 6pm after which a curfew falls into place until 6am the following morning. Anyone caught out after curfew will be fined €200.00.
The government has made forms available for the use of anyone leaving their house for any of the above mentioned reasons. On that form you must put your name and phone number, your ID number, the reason that you’re leaving home (shopping, doctors appointment etc.) and the address and phone number of the place you are going. (If you’re stopped he police will call to make sure you are expected or are a regular client), and the time when you expect to return home. No clothes shopping is allowed and people can’t shop together.
If you’re found out on the street without a completed travel form you risk being arrested and will have to pay the 200 Euro fine.

As of this writing the rest of the world, for the most part, is following Italy’s example. In the United States, Germany and France entire cities are closed down. The entire State of California is on quarantine as are the cities of Dallas, New York City, New Orleans and Chicago. Germany is quarantining her citizens. France and England are bound to follow. In America, although the cities of New York, New Orleans, Dallas and Phoenix are on lock down unfortunately not all cities or states have mandated lockdowns.

In general Americans aren’t taking this as seriously as the Italians are. I hear from American friends and relations that they think nothing of jumping in their cars to drive to parks to exercise or to have dinner at friend’s houses. That would land you another €200 fine here.

The Italian government has long since ordered all nonessential businesses to close their doors. That means no clothes shopping or going to the gym. All Cafes and restaurants are closed.

Luckily the Italians are dealing with this well. They’re staying at home, not panic buying and not gathering in groups.

March 20 2020-Today I stuck my head out of the front door. The street was empty, no Italians, no tourists, no garbage men, NO ONE except a few policemen.

For as long as I remember I’ve been going out to one of several neighbourhood cafes for my morning espresso and a chat. I haven’t been able to do that since March 10th, and for some reason this upsets me more than anything I’m having to endure. I haven’t been face to face with anyone except my wife Judy, the Bangladeshi fruit and veg guys (who deliver), the butcher, Walter (occasionally) and my sister-in-law Karen who got caught over here with us for 2 months. She has recently returned to the States.

At 69 years-of-age I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never been involved in a global pandemic before. This is all new.

March 30 2020 The Italian food stores are now starting to deliver. It only took a government decree that people had to stay at home to bring this change about. The supermarket on Via Cavour delivers when it can, the Bangladeshi fruit and veg store up the street delivers (but they were doing that already) and the pharmacy delivers too. Alessandro, The guy who delivers for the pharmacy comes to the front door dressed in coveralls, goggles, gloves and a mask. I’m not sure if he’s delivering or if he’s a terrorist.

I’m in touch with my sister and many friends daily. I get lots of email and what’s-apps. Needless to say work has completely dried up. The bands I played with have called off all rehearsals and concerts. My great grandnieces, who live a short way out of town, are off school and my niece Erica is now caring for them at home full time. My oldest grandniece Emma (4 years old) couldn’t have her birthday this year. That took some explaining, but we had a really cool What’s app party attended by about 15 people.

And life goes on. We stay indoors and wait for things to be delivered. We wash our hands constantly and I dream of the day that I’ll be able to go out for my morning coffee once again.

April 4, 2020 Yesterday we cleaned house. I got out of bed ready to go. After about 4 weeks in quarantine I was ready to get out the vacuum cleaner and have at it. But Judy wasn’t moving as fast as I was.

“Paul, let me at least put it together for you.” She’s afraid I’m going to break the vacuum.

Judy has parcelled up responsibilities for the appliances. The vacuum is hers. The heater/hot water heater is mine. The oven is hers. The computer is mine.

She assembles the vacuum and goes upstairs for a bath. I turn on the vacuum. The whirring/whooshing wakes up the cat who looks at me askance. She’s never seen me use the vacuum cleaner before.

Being mostly blind I have to vacuum v e r y c a r e f u l l y. There is furniture in the way and if I vacuum up the cat I’ll never hear the end of it.

By the time I finish Judy is back downstairs to mop the floor in the kitchen and the
tiles in the living room.

Then she goes into the kitchen and pulls out a huge chicken. Roast chicken for dinner!

April 7, 2020 I had to go to the pharmacy to replenish our meds. The pharmacy delivers but Alessandro is stretched to the breaking point. Besides the pharmacy is one of the only places I can go to without risking a €200.00 fine.

Farmacia Savelli is located on Via Cavour, an up hill walk from Via Urbana, a right on Via Santa Maria Maggiore then left up Via Cavour.

I fill out my “movement certification.” If stopped I’ll have to produce this form. If I didn’t have it’s it’s another €200.00 fine.

The police are out checking these forms but in my area they’re all local policemen whom I’ve known for years. They say hi to me and wave me on without checking anything. If I went out of my neighbourhood I’d be stopped constantly.

I put on my surgical gloves, grab my sunglasses and cane, put on my mask and head out the door. Judy yells at me to be careful.

I walk up Via Urbana and turn right on Via Santa Maria Maggiore. As I head for Via Cavour I walk past Bar Simo one of the regular bars I’ve frequented for years for my morning coffee. Alas, since people gather in bars they’ve all been closed. (In Italy most stand up cafes are called “bars.” It took me years to get used to this.) As I walked by, the owners husband, Riccardo, called to me from inside. Bar Simo sells cigarettes and even though the bar is closed they are allowed to sell cigarettes. Why this is considered an essential service is a mystery to me.

“Paul, Vai in farmacia?” (“Paul, are you going to the pharmacy?”) Ricardo asks me.

“Ciao Riccardo. Si ci sto andando.” (Yes Riccardo. That’s where I’m headed.)

“Ti displace ritirare delle medicine che Simona ha ordinate l’altro giorno?” (“Do you mind picking up some meds that Simona (his wife and the inspiration for the name of Bar Simo) (“called in?”)

“Certo.” (Of Course.)

He gives me some money and I continue on my way.

On my way home I give him his bag of meds.

“Grazie Paul. Aspetta un attimo. (Thanks Paul. Hold on a second.”) He pulls out an index card, writes PAUL across the top and underneath writes “ cafe piu cornetto (a coffee and a breakfast roll). This is his way of thanking me for this small service, but since the bar is closed he wrote this “IOU” on an index card and filed it away.

Oh Boy! By the time this pandemic is over I’ll have a few free breakfasts waiting for me!

I headed home to deal with the garbage which had been piling up for a few days. I could no longer take it out after dinner because of the curfew.

Taking out the garbage has become challenging for another reason. In Rome everyone takes their garbage out and throws it into plastic garbage tips. These tips had been in the same places for years but now with Covid they were constantly moving around. It took me a while to figure this out but I finally got it. Because of the lockdown lots of garbage workers are at home and the garbage company didn’t have enough people to provide their normal service. They are therefore moving the tips around to give everybody some garbage service. Sounded good but it meant that no one was sure where the tips were going to be on any given day. In the past there were normally 5 places where I could find several tips. Today there were no tips at 4 of them. By this time I was pretty tired from pulling my garbage laden wheelie behind me so I called our garage which is located on Piazza della Suburra, the last possible location where there could be a tip or two set out. The Romanian day guy Vioril tells me that there were no tips there but that the garage was accepting bagged up garage from their clients. Once or twice a week they would load up the van and take it to the garbage dump.

Garbage problem solved.

Yesterday I went to Walter the butcher for some meat. Walter had just taken delivery of a super complicated meat refrigerator but the instructions were in English and he couldn’t understand them. I sat down with him and translated the first section devoted to setting up the machine He gave me a dozen eggs. In a few days I’ll go back and translate the second section. He’ll give me another dozen eggs. By the time I’m done translating I’ll probably have earned a few dozen eggs.

Covid has brought barter economy back to Italy.

April 12, 2020- It’s Easter and it’s the most different Easter I can remember. These feast days are normally days for family and friends to get together, have a meal and catch up on each others lives. Being arguably the most important day on the religious calendar the Pope always held several Masses attended by at least 200,000 people each in Piazza San Pietro, the huge square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday the Pope traditionally walks The Stations of the Cross (The Via Crucis) which is attended by hundreds of thousands more from all over the world). All of these celebrations were cancelled this year, the first time I believe this has ever happened.

Easter Monday is traditionally a day to climb into the car and head out of town for lunch in the country. This Easter a lot of Carabinieri are out making sure no one is out and about. They’re even stopping cars and handing out fines like Easter cards.

21/4/2020- It’s time to deal with garbage again but my friend Tony tells me that there are always tips on Via Cavour at Via delle Vasche. That’s right around the corner so I’ll try there after lunch.

Being stuck at home without being able to go to a bar for a cup of coffee or to a restaurant for an occasional meal has some side effects. One is that food becomes a bit of a fixation. My wife Judy, who is a fantastic cook, makes this fixation hard to resist for both of us, for her because she loves to cook, for me because I love to eat what she cooks. For lunch today she made Spaghetti alla Bolognese and right now I’m sitting at the computer typing with one hand and eating a chocolate chip cookie with the other. Everyone I know here is going through this. My friend Alan in Portugal is baking brownies and eating candy bars and my friend Heidi, who has sold baked goods over the Internet for years, has been turning out a never-ending stream of cakes, cupcakes and coffee cakes.

More news as it happens. Everyone please be safe.

Rome 22/04/2020

©Paul Adam Goldfield 2020

paulgoldfield@gmail.com

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An Argument at the Pharmacy

My first 3 decades in Italy were spent fighting for service since standing patiently on line was not something Italians did naturally. In order to get service at the post office (where bills are paid), at the bank, at the market or at a taxi stand I was never confronted with a line but rather with a throng of pushing, shoving, yelling humanity. I had to learn to deal with this. I learned to push and shove back and yell at people trying to cut in front of me.

Although extremely inconvenient (and at time upsetting) this was actually kind of liberating: I could give vent to my snidest, my most cutting insults. I could let my my worst impulses out as long as I tempered them a bit.

“Signora, Lei non vede che c’è una fila qua?” (“Hey lady, can’t you see there’s a line here?”) or “Ei,, Pensi che siamo tutti qua per la nostra salute? Mettiti in fila!” (Hey bud, do you think we’re all here for our health? Get in line!)

Often insults weren’t enough. In those cases yelling was called for. “SPOSTATI! CI STO IO QUA!” (BACK OFF! I’M STANDING HERE!)

But cursing in Italian required walking a fine line. If I was too boorish the yelling increased yet if I was too polite I found myself forever at the end of the line. It took a certain panache to be good at this. I remember once telling a man to “go fart in talcum powder,” eliciting mumbles of appreciation from those around me.

In the 1990s things changed. Post offices instituted “take a number” schemes and banks added extra tellers. Begrudgingly people learned to line up and things became more civilised.

But every once in a while I still come across someone (usually an older person who remembers those times) and I find myself in a shrieking match. This happened the other day at the pharmacy.

I’d been to the butcher shop’s and had a bag full of meat with me. I walked across the street to the pharmacy to get something for my wife Judy. Inside there were several people waiting to be served, one of whom was a lady in her 70s. She’d obviously been at the Vet next door since she had her dog transporter taking up an enormous amount of space. She’d taken her dog out of the case on a leash. This is not allowed in pharmacies, but no one cared about that.

The dog smelled the meat and sidled up to me. I scratched him behind the ears and he licked my hand hoping for a hand out.

The dog’s owner went ballistic.

“COME SI PERMETTA A TOCCARE MIO CANE?” (HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY DOG!)

“Signora! Si calmi! Non sto facendo niente al suo cane! Lui e venuto da me!” (Ma’am, calm down. I’m not doing anything to your dog. He came up to me!)

“QUANTO MI DA FASTIDIO QUANDO LA GENTE TOCCA MIO CANE! LEI E UN MAL EDUCATO!” (NOTHING BOTHERS ME MORE THAN STRANGERS TOUCHING MY DOG. YOU’RE AN UNEDUCATED BOOR!)

Being called a boor made me angry. My voice rose. “SE LE DA TANTO FASTIDIO QUANDO LA GENTE ACCAREZA SUO CANE FORSE SAREBBE MEGLIO LASCIARLO A CASA INVECE DI SCOMODARE GLI ALTRI NEI NEGOZI!” (IF IT BOTHERS YOU WHEN PEOPLE PET YOUR DOG MAYBE YOU SHOULD LEAVE HIM AT HOME INSTEAD OF INCONVENIENCING OTHERS BY BRINGING HIM INTO SHOPS!)

Soon everybody was weighing in. The pharmacists know me well and took my side. This made the lady angrier. A young lady with a baby in a baby sling slung across her back (who had nothing to do with any of this) was trying to get out of the place but she was blocked by the dog and the dog carrier).

“Per favore, signora si sposti suo cane e questa gabbia enorme che sta bloccando tutti!” said the young mother. (Please Signora, move your dog and his cage. You’re blocking everyone!)

The old lady, who was still busy screaming at me ignored this young lady completely so the young mother pushed the dog carrier out of the way with her toe. That brought her to the attention of the screaming witch.

The young mother tried to be nice. She repeated herself calmly.

“Mi scusi signora, ma lei sta bloccando tutti qui dentro. Potrebbe sportare la gabbia del cane per favore. (Excuse me ma’am, you’re blocking everyone in here. Could you move your dog cage please?)

“A, PURE LEI?,” said the yelling lady suddenly aware of this new opponent. “SIETE TUTTI UNA MASSA DI BURINI QUA DENTRO! NON AVETE IL BUON SENSO DI LASCIAR STARE LE COSE DEGLI ALTRI?” (YOU TOO? YOU’RE ALL A BUNCH OF HICKS IN HERE! DO NONE OF YOU HAVE THE GOOD SENSE TO LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE’S BELONGINGS ALONE?) And she reached out and punched the young mother on the shoulder.

In all fairness the blow fell nowhere near the child, but any form of physicality is looked down on in this country.

The young mother took things to another level.

“LEI STA MINACCIANDO LA MIA BAMBINA SIGNORA? BRUTTA STREGA! IO TIRO FUORI UN COLTELLO E LA AMAZZO QUI DAVANTI A TUTTI!” CHIAMATE LA POLIZIA! (ARE YOU THREATENING MY LITTLE GIRL YOU UGLY WITCH? I’LL PULL OUT A KNIFE AND KILL YOU RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF EVERYONE! SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE!)

All the pharmacists were now looking in my direction with their hands across their mouths warning me to shut up and back off, which is exactly what I’d done as soon as talk of knives and killings had come up.

By now the pharmacy was a total madhouse. One gentleman took a stance in front of the young mother protecting her helpless daughter from the crazy old lady. The baby was screaming at the top of her lungs. Another lady was dialling the police and everyone was yelling at the old lady.

And then as fast as it had begun it was over. The head pharmacist ushered the crazy old lady out of the store and told her never to come back. Others accompanied the young mother to Dottoressa Giovanna next store who pronounced the baby to be unharmed.

This scene was the main topic of conversation for the next few days on Via Urbana. They discussed how “Signor Paul” had done nothing but go shopping for meat, How “Signora Elena” (the young mother whose name I hadn’t known till now) had defended her daughter, how Lucia (the head pharmacist) had kicked the witch out and banned her from the pharmacy.

In true Italian fashion this was a brief but intense moment of passion which brought the neighbourhood closer. I now say hello to Signora Elena when I see her at Luca’s and I’ve learned that her daughter’s name is Adriana. Even Valter, the butcher (who wasn’t even there at the time) brings it up when ever I come in. After all, his meat started the whole thing.

And I’ve learned to always ask permission before petting someone else’s dog.

Rome, August 19, 2019

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Una Denuncia

A denuncia is basically a declaration made to an officer of the law. If your home is broken into you go to the police and make a denuncia declaring everything that was stolen and any evidence of a break in. Likewise if someone cheats you out of money, a denuncia is also in order.

But most denuncie are done for other reasons, usually to declare lost documents: a credit card, a passport, an identity card. When you’re done with your denuncia, you’re given a copy which you must often present when asking for a replacement passport, drivers license etc.. In reality, Italian agents of the law spend more time typing up denuncie than they do fighting crime. It’s a good thing that most Italians are non-violent, law-abiding citizens.

This story illustrates how denuncie are a common part of everyday life in Italy, and just what a pain in the ass they can be. It will also illustrate how obsessive Italians can be about pieces of paper.

Our tiny old Ford Ka was falling apart so we began looking for a replacement.

Living as we do in the centre of Rome we had to think carefully about which car to buy because in many Italian urban centers cars are subject to restrictions. For example, If you buy a diesel automobile you’ll probably have to get rid of it in the next few years since it’s expected that the City of Rome will soon forbid such cars from circulating at all. Older gasoline powered vehicles often find that they’re restricted to driving only half the time. Some days only cars with even-numbered license plates can circulate, on others it’s the turn of cars with odd-numbered plates.

The only way to get around these restrictions is if you drive an electric or hybrid car.

I would have loved an electric car, but Rome is not yet ready for them. The problem is keeping them charged: there are no public charging stations. It is possible to request a charging station be installed in your private garage but most people don’t have private garage space. We have a spot in a garage that is used by about 50 other cars. The owners of the garage can’t insure that I’ll always be able to park next to my charging station.

So we were going to buy a hybrid.

Strangely enough most European car makers don’t yet offer a good selection of hybrids, as a matter of fact only Toyota offers all of their models in gasoline and hybrid formats.

We climbed into our ageing Ka and made our way to Motor City Toyota, Alfa Romeo and Jeep. My sister-in-law Karen was with us. Since I can no longer drive, this was going to be Judy’s car. I was literally along for the ride.

We lucked out. The salesman (Signor Butanelli) showed us a low mileage Prius plus, a car easily 3 times the size of our dying Ka. At first I thought the Prius wildly impractical: it would be almost impossible to park along the tight streets of Rome. But the more I thought about it I realised the practicality of this car. Even our teeny Ka was impossible to park in the city. We used to leave it in the garage for months at a time and take taxis everywhere.

This larger car would never be driven around Rome. We’d use it to get out-of-town and down to Sant’Agata see my sister. Since our niece Erica has an expanding family, the seven seater Prius Plus would fit everyone nicely! We could all pile in and head out for a week at the beach or a jaunt in the country.

Judy loved the car. I tried to trade in the Ka but Signor Butanelli just shook his head. If we wanted he would take the Ka and, for a fee, have it scrapped.

We struck a deal and he drove the Prius into the garage where it would be thoroughly gone over. We’d be contacted in a week and told when we could pick up the “new” car and leave the Ka for destruction.

While we waited to be called, I went through the car papers to make sure we had everything we needed.

I won’t go into the quantity of papers that go along with owning a car in this country. Suffice it to say that we had a large plastic satchel stuffed full with road tax receipts, insurance documents, various permissions to do various things and LOTS of anonymous bits of paper testifying to yearly check ups and tire and battery sales.

I sat down with Pino, the gentleman who rents us garage space, and he showed me what we’d need to give to the dealership.

3 days later we drove out the Via Aurelia to another Motor City branch where our “new” car awaited us. The sales agent there sat us down and we filled out the paper work for the new car. We finally got down to abandoning our crusty old Ka to its demise. We pulled out all the old papers and gave them to the agent to sort through.

You know what’s coming.

Everything was in order EXCEPT… we were missing something called the Foglio Complementare, a paper that I had never seen and that I had never been asked for in the 12 years we’d been driving the Ka.

The phrase “foglio complementare” is true Italian beaurocratese. It roughly translates as “the extra page,” which gave me no clue what it was for. Our transaction ground to a halt.

We were told we had to go and make a denuncia at the local police station declaring the loss of this all-important piece of paper.

Dai!”, I said to the agent, “questa machina non vedra’ piu’ la strada! E morta! Sara’ distrutta! Il Foglio Complementare non importa a nessuno!” (“Come on! This car will never see the road again! It’s dead! It will be scrapped! No one cares about il foglio complementare!”

Since I was getting irate, the agent tag-teamed us off on another lady in the office who looked at our documentation gravely and said the same thing as her buddy did.

I’ve learned long ago that arguing about this silly stuff does no good in this country. They had us bang to rights. A piece of paper was missing!

I resigned myself to being hopelessly inconvenienced for the next 2 hours. I asked the agent for the address of the nearest police station. No one knew the address but they told us approximately where it was. Since Judy didn’t know the area and I can’t see, this was going to be a big problem. If we had known the address we could have called a taxi.

We walked to the front desk where maybe the nice lady could look up the address in the phonebook. She was dealing with a constantly ringing phone and a word processing program.

I offered to pay someone to take us to the police station and back. No one was available.

We sat down in the waiting area to figure out our next move. Our only option seemed to be to get a taxi home and come back out tomorrow and start over.

Suddenly a big man sat down with us and introduced himself. He was the manager of the dealership and he very kindly offered his services. I sensed that he was dying to get away from the office for a while.

We got into his brand new Jeep and he took off.

The police station was about 20 minutes away and our saviour was fortunate enough to find parking right outside the cop shop.

Making a denuncia is a two-step process. We first told the receptionist what our problem was, presented documents and signed pieces of paper. We were then told to follow the signs to the “Sala Denuncie” and await our turn.

Judy took me by the arm and led me to the stairs to the basement.

Entering the Sala Denuncie in many ways was like returning to the Italy of the 1960s. Chaos reigned. The place was filled to the gills. There were only 6 chairs to accommodate this crush of humanity and everyone was sharing their tale of woe with anyone who would listen. At the far end of the room there was a door leading to the office where one actually made one’s denuncia. In the office sat a single police officer typing into a computer and a middle aged fellow who was reporting his lost driver’s license.

The place was full to bursting with people in various levels of distress. One banged up couple had just arrived from the hospital. They were there to swear out a denuncia against an unknown person who had driven away after burning a red light and striking them while they were still in the intersection. There was an entire Philippine family speaking loudly in Tagalog. There were mothers with kids, elderly ladies with shopping baskets, businessmen with brief cases and a few confused tourists who weren’t sure what they were supposed to do.

Since there was no machine to “take a number” I walked to the centre of the room and yelled “CHI E L’ULTIMO?” (“Who’s the last to arrive?”) An elderly gent raised his hand.

“Va bene. Allora sto dopo di lei.” (“OK. I’m after you.”)

As annoying as they are, these situations are intensely Italian. The experience of being in a bureaucratic black hole binds people together. Some were yelling, others were laughing, others were falling asleep on their feet but we were all being supportive of each other trapped as we were in this ridiculous situation.

A nice lady eyed my cane and offered me her seat but I refused. That was a sure way to miss my turn.

The old gent in front of me was named Osvaldo. He told me his story.

“Dio! L’Italia non e piu’ quello che conoscevo Io! Stavo dal fruttarrolo. Ho rimesso il portafoglio in tasca dopo aver pagato, ma quando sono uscito dal negozio, il portafoglio non c’era piu’! Qualcuno mi ha rubato il porta foglio con tutti i documenti! La carta sanitaria, la tessera del ordine dei giornalisti, la carta d’identità, tutti rubati!” (My God! Italy is no longer the place where I grew up! I was at the fruit merchant. I put my wallet back in my pocket after paying but when I got out of the store my wallet was gone! Someone stole my wallet with all my documents! My health card, my press card, my identity card all stolen!)

The longer I listened the calmer he got. When it was his turn to make his denuncia he asked the policeman if I could come in with him.

“Certo, si accomodi.” (Sure, have a seat.) The officer motioned me to an empty chair.

Osvaldo threw himself into his story, his voice rising, his hands gesturing. Now that “the law” was listening. He threw in a few embellishments. There was a suspicious character standing in the back of the store that he’d never seen before in the neighbourhood. How he almost fell when he couldn’t find his wallet. That he had pictures of his grandchildren in his wallet. All the officer wanted was a list of documents he’d lost but he listened patiently. At this point the officer had been doing this for 6 hours and expected to do at least another 2 to 4 hours more before going home. All in a days work. He also realised that it was important for Osvaldo to say it all, to get it all out. When he started to wind down, the officer read the denuncia back and asked him if that was everything.

At this point Osvaldo felt better. Two people had listened to him and he’d done his civic duty. The officer thanked me as Osvaldo walked out of his office with his copy of his denuncia.

It was our turn. I called Judy in. It took us 20 minutes to declare our lost Foglio Complementare. I also declared the loss of the ownership transfer sticker that I had never received either. The officer printed out 2 copies, we shook hands and we walked out of the still packed waiting room and out of the police office.

The kind manager of the dealership had left us to get back to work long ago so we called a taxi and found our way back to the dealership.

Our agent took our denuncia, put it together with our other documents, gave us our keys and accompanied us to the garage to introduce us to our car.

Operation New Car had been completed. It had taken an extra 2 hours but I guess a nice hybrid Prius Plus was worth it.

 

Rome February 2, 2019

©Paul Adam Goldfield 2019

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Republican Paranoia

by Paul Goldfield

I don’t have a lot of respect for politicians be they Republican or Democrat. I find that, once elected, they’re mostly interested in getting re-elected rather than doing what’s right for the country and those who elected them.

I also think that there’s precious little they can do on their own besides lead the country in a positive direction and we’re seeing precious little of that these days.

Politicians by themselves are not going to put an end to racism or bring America together or preserve the world for our children and grandchildren. All of that is up to us as citizens.

That said I do believe politicians can create an atmosphere in which it is easier for us to achieve these goals.

And although I’m not crazy about politicians in general, I feel that the way the Republican Party has been hijacked by an unethical, lying, know nothing, self-absorbed narcissist puts me on the side of the Democrats at this point in time.

Here’s how I think our political parties see the world.

REPUBLICAN PARANOIA

Republicans are paranoid. This Republican paranoia was born in the 1960s when the “Counter Culture” fought the “Silent Majority” for the soul of America. It was a time when the young forced the United States to withdraw from Viet Nam, when Civil Rights broke the back of White Supremacy (kind of), when women began to demand equality, when students began protesting and when an awareness of the fragility of our environment was born. As if in an attempt to “make up for lost time” every one of these “counter cultural beliefs” are now being attacked by the Right.

This state of paranoia leads Republicans to use fear to get elected and stay in power and this I don’t appreciate at all. If Republicans want to worry about something, they should worry about the crazy person who hijacked their political party.

For those of you who didn’t live in the America of the 1950s and 60s let me give you a brief, totally personal overview.

The America of the 50s and 60s was monolithic. We all did pretty much the same things. Dad worked from 9 to 5 while most Moms took care of the children, friends, families and neighbours got together over the weekend to barbecue. No one got divorced, there were no gays (that is to say none who were open about their sexuality), all telephones were connected by wire to the phone system, cars were huge gas guzzling monsters (the Volkswagen Beetle was a rarity on American roads in the 1950s) and gas cost 15 cents per gallon. America had just been victorious over Germany and Japan and those who had fought WWII wanted to put that horror behind them and grow a family.

There were 3 television networks, no streaming. Communism was evil, the middle class was what everyone aspired to, no one had a computer, everyone had similar haircuts and bought their clothes in small stores. There was no birth control, no abortion, no health food and no one had seat belts in their car.

We also did things at pretty much the same time. Dad got into his car every morning and drove to work. He’d be back home at 5:30. Mom got the kids up, dressed and fed in the morning, then waited with them for the school bus along with the other neighbourhood moms and their kids. At three PM they would all do the same thing in reverse. After school we kids would play together unsupervised or watch TV till dinner, which everyone ate at 6pm. The concepts of bullying, molestation, abuse, mass murder in schools and the like were unknown to most. Everyone went to church on Sunday and Dad went bowling or played cards once a week. The entire country sat in front of the TV at the same time to watch The Honeymooners and The Ed Sullivan Show and there was only an hour of news (national and local) per night.

Republicans remember that time as a Golden Age, but by the end of the 60s their buttoned down, 2-kids-and-a-dog world had changed.

The war in Vietnam divided America. Hippies were preaching “make love, not war,” moms and dads watched in horror as their children were mowed down by the National Guard at Kent State just because they were protesting the war in Viet Nam, there were people walking around with painted faces, birth control became available and abortion commonplace. Timothy Leary was advising people to “turn on, tune in and drop out,” youngsters became sexually active in their teens and we could suddenly sleep with whomever we wanted without fear of unwanted children.

As far as conservatives were concerned things were totally out of control. Cats were sleeping with dogs, everyone was taking drugs, Satan was running the schools and EVERYTHING had gone to hell in a hand basket. Conservatives were freaked out from about 1965 till, well… they still are.

And they vowed that this behaviour would never happen again. The fact that it was all over in time for the new millennium didn’t sink in. The extreme Right organised and eventually took over the Republican Party. They planned to make America conform to their much beloved Golden Age once again.

But unfortunately, you can’t turn back the clock no matter how much you believe in God, no matter how much money or political power you have. Their efforts to return America to it’s Puritan roots was bound to fail.

Then at some point White Conservatives woke up to the realisation that, because Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Latinos had used birth control less than they themselves had, suddenly White people were heading toward minority status. This added to a resurgence of racism and anti-immigrant sentiment. At the same time, since there were fewer Whites (as a percentage of the total population) than at any other time in American history, there was more need for immigrants and minorities than ever before. This fed a movement of Nativism as White conservatives fought to maintain their hold over American culture.

As far as conservatives are concerned, the 1960s (or something similar) was never going to happen again. The Religious Right has become a political power and they stand against abortion and birth control, the Tea Party was founded and they shut down the government in protest of (what they called) the profligate spending of the Left. The Right is against gay rights and (until recently) deficit spending. They are so dead set against anything progressive that they would rather align themselves with Vladimir Putin than listen to anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Unfortunately this attitude embodies the end of prosperity and the end of American leadership in the world. Despite what Donald Trump thinks, Vladimir Putin wants nothing good for America.

Which brings us to our president, Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is merely riding the wave of Right Wing paranoia so imperfectly described above. He has tapped into the desperation and white rage rampant in parts of America and he has convinced his supporters that they are being mistreated by “the elites” and that their voices have been ignored. Although they have a point about being ignored, they must also share some of the blame for the problems they are now facing.

Trump would have them believe that none of what’s happening is their fault, that it’s all being caused by outsiders, immigrants, ISIS, China, NATO, Iran, Europe and that a strong leader can indeed turn back the clock to a time when we all shared in American prosperity.

I’m sure of three things: 1) that Americans can become prosperous again. 2) that you can’t turn back the clock and 3) that it’s going to take everyone working together to improve our lot. The coal miners, auto makers, nut tighteners and washer counters who used to earn a decent wage doing things that robots now do better and faster have to go back to school to learn skills for the jobs of the future.

Sorry, this is going to be difficult.
Coal is going to lose out to natural gas, solar and wind power. No matter what Donald Trump says about returning miners to the coal mines, those jobs and other jobs of the past are destined for extinction. Instead of using the power of his office to retrain us he’s cynically harvesting our votes by telling stories of outside forces that are keeping us down while inflating tales of his prowess as a negotiator. Somehow these negotiating skills never seem to bear fruit.

Nothing is to blame for our loss of solvency except the inevitable march of time, and only by working together can we turn things around.

Next time: Democrats, the Party of Optics.

Sept. 1 2018

©2018 by Paul Adam Goldfield

Posted in US Politics | 1 Comment

Russia and her Search for a Warm Water Port

One of the most pressing economic problems Russia faces is that her ports are all located to the north of the country near the arctic circle. These ports are iced in for much of the year. One of Russia’s highest priorities is to obtain a warm water port through which she can import and export goods year round. This is one of the reasons that Russia is in Syria. True, Syria it’s too far from Russia to be of much use, but it’s better than nothing.

Russia looks at the large ports of America and Europe with envy. Container ships, cargo transports, oil tankers and other vessels, which are part of the life blood of other countries, simply can not be accommodated at Russia’s iced in ports and this is keeping Russia from participating in the world economy. The only commodities Russia can easily export are her oil and natural gas which are transported by pipeline.

In the late 1980s Russia became involved in the Kosovo conflict in the then country of Yugoslavia with the aim of gaining this all important warm weather port. Russia backed the anti-muslim Serbian regime of Slobodan Milossevic because the Serbs were next door to Croatia which had a coast line along the Adriatic sea. Unfortunately for Russia, this attempt failed when NATO became involved in the conflict

Russia then turned her gaze to The Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula which bordered the Black Sea and had access to the Mediterranean by way of Istanbul. This occupation brought the port of Sebastopol within the Russian sphere of influence.

While Sebastopol is indeed a warm water port it is, unfortunately only a military port, not a commercial port. Access to the port is difficult and it was never going to be big enough to be the huge commercial port Russia needed.

Montenegro, on the other hand, is a deepwater port located next door to Albania. Russia now cast her gaze longingly in her direction. Montenegro, realising that she was vulnerable to a Russian takeover, joined NATO (along with Serbia) in 2017.

Russia’s two strongest possibilities for a warm water port were now out of reach.

Russia was upset.

On July 16th 2018 Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a summit in Helsinki, Finland. This meeting took place after a contentious meeting of NATO at which Trump insisted the NATO double their commitments for their own defence and during which his bullying tactics angered other NATO members. It was generally believed that this meeting weakened NATO.

We don’t know what these two world leaders discussed at their summit because they met alone with only translators present. The joint press conference after the summit (in which Trump declared that he believed Putin did not interfere in the 2016 Presidential election over the reports of his own intelligence experts) was a major news story around the world.

But Trump, who neither appreciates nor understands diplomacy and who has a strange habit of telegraphing his intentions made a comment later in the day that I found intriguing. He asked why he should be required to come to the defence of Montenegro despite NATO’s mutual defence pact.

Did our president, behind closed doors, agree to stand by and let Russia take the warm water port she so desperately needs by force?

I wonder… Is this the price Russia is going to extract in order to loosen the screws on whatever it is that they’re holding over Trumps head?

Rome July 23, 2018
©Paul Adam Goldfield 2018

paulgoldfield@gmail.com

Posted in Ask Paul: Cultures in Collision., Uncategorized, US Politics | 3 Comments

A Spring Day at the Cemetery

My mother and father are buried in one of the most beautiful places in Rome, the Cimitero Acattolico also known as the Protestant Cemetery. Keats, Shelly, Gregory Corso and other nonCatholics are interred here.

I’ve mentioned this place elsewhere in this blog. The other day I went back for the first time since we buried mom in 2014.

As always, the place struck me. It’s lush and green and lends itself to quiet contemplation. It’s also home to a phalanx of well fed cats.

I walked in the front gate and sat on what I thought was a marble bench. A man ran over to me and asked what I was doing there.

“I’m here to see my mother. She’s buried here” I explained. “I’m just pausing a minute to get my bearings.”

“Allow me to help you. We don’t allow people to sit on the graves.”

I jumped up, apologised and explained my blindness. He kindly took me by the hand and led me to my parent’s grave site.

It was a beautiful spring day so I sat on a nearby bench and pondered my parents grave stone.

Max Goldfield
August 13 1918 – October 3 1969

Edna Friedman
November 7 1924 – July 15 2014

My dad had been an egotistical jerk in life and although willing to share a grave with him, my mother refused to be buried with his name. I wonder if this started an argument someplace in the afterlife. If so I hoped my dad had acquired a gentleness of spirit that he never had in life, if not I hope he’d matured enough to shut the fuck up.

Some tourists asked me the way to Keat’s grave.

“Sure. Just follow the signs indicating “Keats, Shelly.”

Since these two graves are the big draws here these signs are posted all over the place. Does no one read any more?

I sat there for a while. Some cats came over looking for hand outs. Next time I’ll remember to bring some treats. For now they were satisfied with some scratches. The cats are fed by the cemetery staff and are not afraid of people. As long as you let them come to you they allow themselves to be pet.

At one point in the past the place was home to a magnificent African Parrot that someone had left there. He lived there for years until a more suitable home was found for him: his squawking was not amendable to quiet contemplation.

No one has been newly buried here for years since the place is filled to overflowing. If you want to read the story of how my father and mother came to be buried here check out the post ‘His Final Resting Place’ elsewhere on this blog.

Il Cimitero Acattolico
Via Caio Cestio 6
Opened Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5 pm and on Sunday from 9am to 1pm. Be sure to leave a small offering in the box provided.

Rome, April 29, 2018

©Paul Adam Goldfield2018

paulgoldfield@gmail.com

Posted in Italy, Magical Places, Mom | 3 Comments

Italian Elections 2018

Italy just had a national election and I have a few friends in America who are worried for me. They’ve heard stories of everything from a fascist take over to Putin’s buying of the Italian election.

 

They needn’t worry.

The problem with American reporting of Italian elections has always been that just reporting the final tallies and drawing conclusions tell us very little. This year I’ve heard talk of a “revolution of the electorate “ and “a fascist takeover.” Neither of these observations tells the story. Once again, we need to take one of our familiar ‘trips to the past’ to understand.

When I experienced my first Italian election back in the 1960s I thought the circus had come to town. Every political party (and there were at least 10 back then) plastered every available inch of wall space with posters. Competing parties had teams of ‘poster men’ constantly covering up each others posters leaving layers of posters 2 inches thick by the time the election was over. In the 1960s not everyone in Italy had a TV so posters were the only sure way to attract eyeballs. There were also cars driving all over the city fitted with megaphones carrying announcers who were trying to outshout each other.

“VOTATE DEMOCRAZIA CRISTIANA!” (Vote for the Christian Democrats!) “I SOCIALISTI LAVORANO PER VOI!” (The Socialists are working for you!) “VOTATE COMUNISTA!” (Vote Communist!) “VOTATE PER LA MONARCHIA!” (Vote for the Monarchy”) and on and on.

Political parties would hold gatherings in open squares where representatives would shout into microphones for hours. You couldn’t hear yourself think for months.

Now-a-days the megaphones are gone. The political gatherings still take place but no one goes to them because they’re covered on Facebook.

Although there are not as many as in the past, the posters are still with us.

The biggest change in Italian elections in the last few years has been the exponential growth of a new party, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S). More about them in a bit.

In comparison with the American 2 party system, the Italian system is Byzantine and difficult to understand. The rules also change from time to time. I have to get this right in order for you to understand it.

This may be way more than you want to know but HERE GOES.

First of all the results in nice round percentages:

Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) 30%
Partito Democratico (PD) 20%
Parties on the Right
Lega Nord 17%
Forza Italia (Silvio Berlusconi) 17%

The missing 16% goes to smaller parties that we’re not going to worry about

Looks like M5S won, correct?

In order to understand this ‘story’ you have to understand coalition politics and the revolution caused by the way M5S refuses to play the coalition game.

We Americans are used to a 2 party system in which only 1 party wins. It’s pretty digital: on or off, win or lose, Democrat or Republican. But in most Parliamentary systems there are more than two parties. Right now in Italy there are 4 main parties (which are, in reality, coalitions themselves) and some smaller ones. This means that no single party EVER gets 51% of the vote enabling then to govern on their own.

I’ve also heard of reports on how Putin stole the Italian elections. I think this is more related to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 American elections than anything else. Nonetheless Facebook has been alive with this Russian stuff. These days on Facebook it’s hard to know what’s real news and what’s fake news but Russia’s invasion of Facebook is very real. I suggest that you take anything you read on Facebook about Russia or Russian meddling with a large grain of salt. Actually I suggest that you take EVERYTHING you read on Facebook with a large grain of salt. Russia IS attempting to cripple the West and the Italian elections are just another target of opportunity.

The social networks (ie probably the Russians) have been saying for some time that Russia has been backing M5S. If this is true they needn’t have bothered because M5S has been growing steadily as Italians get tired of their ineffectual political system.

Another thing you have to know about these elections is that even though coalitions are the norm in Italian politics, M5S refuses to be involved in the formation of coalition governments. They prefer to vote on each piece of legislation on merit. This is truly revolutionary but it means that M5S has to be big enough to govern on their own. Since the party is growing, voting on merit is becoming a reality but, even though they are now Italy’s largest party, they’re not quite large enough yet to impose their revolution on the rest of the government.

Back to the results.

Since M5S refuses to form a coalition with the PD, the Right effectively has 34% to M5S’s 30%
This means that the right will be asked to form a government. Because the Right (with a relatively small percentage of the vote) is going to form the next government and not M5S (which is Italy’s biggest party) some foreign reporters bemoan this as a “fascist takeover.” This is evidence of how little most outside reporters know of the Italian electoral system because (since neither the PD or M5S will back a right wing coalition government) in effect, we have a hung election.

This is happening because M5S refuses to play the normal corrupt game of Italian politics.

So we should have another election!

The M5S plan is to become large enough to govern without coalition partners. Once they have a real majority they’ll change the electoral laws by changing the constitution enabling direct election of representatives amongst other overdue modernisations. Italy could finally have a modern political system.

Don’t expect this to happen any time soon.

I often read about “the corrupt Italian system” in the press and most people think this has to do with payoffs. Now, although payoffs do happen, the real cause of Italian corruption is considerably more serious because, unfortunately, corruption is endemic to the electoral system. It’s part of the Italian constitution. The above mentioned smaller parties are only useful in forming coalitions which introduces a certain amount of corruption into the system, but most of the corruption comes from the fact that Italians don’t vote for their representatives directly. They vote for a party and it’s the party who then decides who governs.

This strange state of affairs is enshrined in the Italian constitution which was written after the fall of Mussolini. At that time it was decided to place political parties between the people and their representatives to insure that no single leader could ever again rise to power as Mussolini did. Since WWII all Italian elections have been run this way.

From our contemporary point of view it’s easy to see the problem, how political parties can game the system. Unfortunately to change this odd state of affairs (as stated several times above) the Italian constitution needs to be changed.

In the meantime we have another Italian election with no clear outcome.

Of course not everyone is behind M5S. Many wonder why they don’t just form a coalition with the PD and get on with the job of governing the country. Government by two parties seems better than the old cobbled-together coalitions of multiple parties. The idea of a single party governing (a sort of ‘Mussolini by Party’) seems by some to hold more possibility for corruption than the current system. I guess this all depends on ones point of view and the amount of trust one is willing to place in a single party.

Italian elections have a way of creating more questions than answers. They are, in many ways, a fairly accurate representation of the Italians themselves. There’s a kind of soap opera feel to the whole thing. “Who will come out on top?” “Will our hero” (the Italian people) “get a government or will the powers of darkness prevail?” In this particular election Berlusconi was so sure he was going to get more votes than the Lega Nord that he agreed that whoever got more votes could choose the Prime Minister. Now with their percentages deadlocked Berlusconi is hemming and hawing. We’ll see how this mini-drama plays out.

We now await another election that will probably, once again, not resolve anything.

The problems in this fantastic country are great and their resolution will take time. As the Italians like to say: Ci vole una Santa Pazienza (one needs the patience of a saint).

For Marjorie who wanted to know.

Rome March 8, 2018

©Paul Adam Goldfield 2018

Posted in Ask Paul: Cultures in Collision., Humor | 3 Comments

Lunch at Lagana’s

Last Saturday Karen and Judy wanted some fish so we went to Lagana’, a restaurant on the Via del Orso run by our old friend Mimmo Lagana’. Mimmo is a stitch.

Mimmo started his career up the street at Orso 80 but being a born restauranteur and showman Mimmo was never going to be happy working for someone else. When he married Cinzia (who knew a good man when she met one), the daughter of the owners/operators of Orso 80, the die was cast. The family (who recognised a real money maker when they saw one) began looking for another place in the neighbourhood for the newlyweds to run.

Aside from operating a great restaurant, Mimmo, Cinzia, their son and daughter and their headwaiter Roberto have become part of our family. We were there when the restaurant opened and have been going back ever since.

We began bringing my niece Erica there regularly when she was about 5 years old and Mimmo would take time to play word games with her.

“Sto pensando ad una parola che inizia con “F,” finisce con “I” e ha 7 lettere. Pensaci.” (I’m thinking of a word that begins with ‘F,’ ends with ‘I’ and has 7 letters. Think about it.)

Erica (who could barely spell at that point) would think about it.

“FETTUCCINE!” she’d yell at him as he ran past seating his guests and taking orders.

“NO!” he’d yell over his shoulder. “Fettuccine finisce in ‘E.’ Pensaci ancora.” (NO! Fettuccine ends in ‘E.’ Think some more.) She’d finally guess ‘fusilli’ and he’d give her cheek a squeeze.

“BRAVA!” (RIGHT!) She’d smile and get ready for her next challenge.

It’s time to bring Erica’s two young daughters Emma and Sofia to meet the clan.

Mimmo’s pricing strategy (at least for us) is odd. We pay the same no mater how much we eat. A plate of pasta and a glass of wine costs as much as a 5 course meal. This is an invitation to overeat.

As we sat down he announced “NON PARLO CON I TURISTI AMERICANI! VADO?”(I DON’T SPEAK WITH AMERICAN TOURISTS! DO YOU TRUST ME?)

This is a BIGGER invitation to overeat.

He brought out HUGE antipasto trays. Tiny fried fish (laterini), fresh salmon carpaccio, baby octopus in tomato sauce, seafood salad, fennel olive salad and rigatoni with sea bass and prawns followed each other in quick succession. When he saw we were slowing down he shouted “CARDIO AL TAVOLO TRE!” (CARDIAC MACHINE TO TABLE THREE!)

For a second course he brought out a whole sea bass cooked under salt that was big enough to feed 5, it’s flesh tender and juicy.

He was upset when we refused desert but he brought melon, clementines, and walnuts anyway.

Lest you think we always eat like this, on Sunday, it was tea, toast and recuperation.

Ristorante Lagana’
Via del Orso 44, Rome
06 68301161

Reservations strongly advised.
During the summer outside tables are available.

Rome February 13, 2018
©Paul Adam Goldfield, 2018
paulgoldfield@yahoo.com

Posted in Food and Restorants, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A refugee and a Stay in the Hospital

Here goes another post about Italian Hospitals. I guess this is one of my areas of expertise.

As I explained elsewhere in this blog, In September 2008 I had a stroke. I was treated and released in October. Later in October I was back in the hospital with epileptic seizures brought on by the swelling of my brain due to my stroke. I was treated for another 2 weeks and released with a new medication, Tegretol to keep the seizures under control.

Tegretol has done it’s job. Unfortunately it’s a barbiturate and so I must have regular blood tests done to check on the level of the drug in my bloodstream. I had the latest of these blood tests in October 2017 and at that time I tested high for barbiturates. My Italian National Health Doctor cut my evening dose in half.

In Italy everyone has several doctors. My National Health Doctor (known as my Medico di Familia) is Dottoressa Giovanna. She writes prescriptions for meds and tests, deals with everyday maladies and oversees my general well-being. I also have my own private doctor (Dr. Vincenzo Bacci) and, since I’ve had a stroke, a neurologist (Professore Gino Bruno) who I see regularly. I also see other specialists from time to time. When these other doctors proscribe medications and tests I take their requests to Dottoressa Giovanna who gives me official prescriptions. With these prescriptions I can get free medicines, testing and further specialist care through the excellent Italian National Health system.

Last Sunday I awoke from my afternoon nap with (according to Judy) a very stricken look on my face talking in loops, much like the epileptic seizures I suffered after my stroke. This understandably freaked Judy and Karen out, so they got me to my home-away-from-home Ospedale Fate Bene Fratelli located on the Isola Tiberina. By then the seizure had passed and the emergency room doctor couldn’t tell what had happened. I was admitted to the hospital for tests. I remember none of this.

Italian healthcare is very good but it’s fairly Spartan. There are no private rooms, no TV, no special facilities for visitors and no phone service. Care is also heavily weighted in favor of the sick meaning that the sicker you are the more resources are devoted to you.

This all makes sense to me.

Since I was no longer in the throes of a seizure I was now fairly low on the totem pole. I spent my first night on a gurney in the cardiac ward in a room with a guy who was scheduled for an ablation the next day.

My roommate snored like a champion. He sounded like someone was strangling polar bear being accompanied by a group of Eskimos whistling “Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News. I stayed up all night recording him on my phone using up all of my storage capacity.

The next day they transferred me to a real bed in the neurology department. They took blood, did an electrocardiogram and an electroencephalogram. My roommate was an elderly gentleman named Mimmo and luckily he didn’t snore. That evening I managed to sleep well.

The Spartan nature of Italian hospitals means that few of the niceties are observed. It’s all part of furnishing high quality single payer medical coverage. If you want a private room with a TV and nurses constantly checking up on you, bringing you tea at all hours, you’re better off at a private hospital where the niceties are observed but, oddly enough, the care isn’t as good. This is because the best doctors work in the public sector and only visit private hospitals as time permits.

Anyway, this all begins with my stroke way back in September of 2008. I was kept in the hospital for about a month. On being released I was told to stay in bed. In October I began speaking in loops and ended back in the hospital. I was having an epileptic seizure. I was told by one of the emergency room staff that I kept the doctors and nurses in stitches with one liners and twisted observations. I began shouting for my wife Judy and when they let her in I took her hand and told her how much I loved her, how wonderful and beautiful she was, how perfect and understanding thereby embarrassing her immensely and causing the doctors to laugh even more.

I remember none of this either.

It was determined that I’d had an epileptic seizure due to a swelling of the brain inside my cranium. That was when I first began taking Tegretol which totally suppressed these seizures. The only problem is that Tegretol is a barbiturate so I had to have regular blood tests done to determine the level of this med in my blood stream. My last blood test was done in October of 2017 and the results of those blood tests showed a high concentration of Tegretol in my bloodstream. My National Health doctor cut my evening dose from 400 mg. to 200 mg.

Everyone in Italy has several doctors. My National Health doctor (Dottoressa Giovanna) prescribes medications and tests and deals with common maladies. She keeps tabs on my personal well-being. I also have my personal physician (Doctor Vincenzo Bacci, an American trained internist) and a neurologist (Professore Gino Bruno). I also see other specialists from time to time. When these other doctors proscribe meds or tests I take their recommendations to Dottoressa Giovanna who gives me official prescriptions for meds and testing. In this way I get free medical care through the excellent Italian National Health System.

By the time I got to the emergency room the seizure had passed and the doctor couldn’t tell what had happened. He admitted me to the hospital for tests.

Italian hospitals are spartan in comparison with their American counterparts In America everyone gets a private room, TV, phone service and lots of attentive nurses checking constantly and bringing you tea and coffee at all hours of the day or night. In the public hospitals in Italy there are no private rooms, no TV or phone service, no gardens to walk through or special facilities for visitors and family members. They also devote the most attention to the sickest patients. This is all part of good-quality cost-free single-payer health coverage and it makes perfect sense to me.

Since I was no longer in the midst of a seizure I was low on the totem pole as far as medical attention went. I spent my first night on a gurney in the cardiac ward. My room-mate was due for an oblation the next day and he snored like a champion. He sounded like someone strangling polar bear accompanied by a group of Eskimos whistling “It’s Hip to be Square” by Huey Lewis and the News. I couldn’t sleep and spent the entire night recording him on my phone using up all of my storage space.

On January 8th I was transferred to the Neurology ward where I finally had my own bed. My roommate was an elderly gentleman named Mimmo. At least Mimmo didn’t snore so I managed to sleep.

On the 9th Mimmo was released and a tall 6’2” Somalian refugee took his place. There didn’t seem to be much wrong with him, but Since Pope Francis made a strong stand in favour of refugees and since the hospital I was in is run by the church I think he was given a bed there for a few days. I never did get his real name straight, but the Jack Nicholas movie Regarding Schmidt came to mind so I’ll call my new room-mate Ndugu.

Ndugu was agitated. He immediately got up and started yelling “I GO GERMANY, I GO GERMANY and “EAT EAT EAT!” I assumed that he had made the treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean and was making his way towards Germany to start a new life like millions of other African and Middle Easterners who were fleeing war, ISIS and starvation.

The guy was obviously starving. He followed the nurses around shouting “SPAGHETTI, SPAGHETTI, SPAGHETTI!”
Most of the hospital staff was afraid of him because of his size and because he kept running up to them shouting “I GO GERMANY!” And “SPAGHETTI SPAGHETTI SPAGHETTI SPAGHETTI. I talked to him in a normal voice and he calmed down.

He told me he was from Somalia and that he had a lot of goats. He was proud of that.

They brought us dinner. Ndugu wolfed his down and started shouting about spaghetti again. I gave him half of my dinner.

He asked why I was in the hospital. The concept of an epileptic seizure was too much for him so I just told him I had “brain problems.” He perked right up and told me that he’d had brain problems for a long time but that he was better now. I didn’t know if we were bonding or if I was about to die.

NURSE, CHECK PLEASE!

I was the only one who could calm him down. He would get into the janitor’s closet, get a mop and start cleaning the floor. He was trying to pay for his keep in some small way. The nurses would get me to tell him to put the mop away and go lie down.

That night Ndugu slept like a baby while I was up tossing and turning. The thought of a 6’2” mentally defective refugee in the next bed made it difficult to sleep.

The next day I was exhausted having not slept in two of the last three nights.

As I lay in bed Ndugu asked me if I was going to Germany.

“No,” I told him jokingly. “I’m going to Calabria.”

He thought about that for a moment then said “You go Calabria, I go Calabria,” This poor hulking Somalian was looking for protection. I was touched.

Later that day the doctors came for my final interview. They confirmed my own suspicion that the seizure medication was the problem and they increased my evening dose of Tegretol to 300 mg. The MRI was unchanged from the one I’d had after my stroke.

Judy helped me pack my bag. Before leaving I shook Ndugu’s hand.

“I wish you a good life in Germany my friend.”

He told me to take care of my head.

This was my first contact with one of the millions of refugees currently flooding Europe.

 

 

Rome, January 21, 2018

©Paul Adam Goldfield 2018

Posted in Ask Paul: Cultures in Collision., Italy, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Mass Suicide

I can’t help but feel that we’re witnessing the mass suicide (economic and political) of the Republican Party. The only thing that makes sense is that the Republican party, having been bought and paid for by decades of conservative billionaires (the Koch brothers and their ilk), after colluding with Russia in ways that we are only now beginning to understand, that tried to get a child molester elected for mere political expediency, that thinks nothing of throwing millions of Americans off of healthcare and that is now looking down the barrel of a Democratic backlash so complete that it could very possibly keep Republicans in the political wilderness for a generation, has passed this foul tax legislation only to enable them to cash in their chips and live happily ever after once they’re evicted from power.

This is the same Party, who’s leader, our President Donald Trump, evidently told our ambassador to the United Nations, Niki Haley, to threaten the world’s only truly international organisation for world peace because it didn’t agree with his ill thought out recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a resolution totally within the UN’s right to espouse. Apparently our President expects total loyalty from the entire world now.

The Republican Party kidnapped our country and has finally presented its ransom note. We now know what we are expected pay to rid ourselves of their presence, their foul stench and to (hopefully) loosen the power it wields over many of our brethren.

Sounds like a hell (literally) of a deal to me.

And we’ll have to pay the price because we have no choice. It’s the ransom our country must pay for getting into bed with a con man and putting its faith in a political party so corrupt that it turned it’s soul over to a lying ignoramus in the name of some ill-defined personal agenda that has mostly to do with personal greed.

Let’s just hope that the Democratic backlash is so complete that they can undo what has been done.

It will be interesting to see how many Republicans now decide not to stand for reelection in 2018. Many of them think they have “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. The President has set the tone.

The successful con only becomes evident when the con is over.

I’m disgusted but ready to move on. Just give us our country back.

Rome December 24 2017
©Paul Adam Goldfield 2017
paulgoldfield@yahoo.com

Posted in Uncategorized, US Politics | 6 Comments