Stories by Barbie Nadeau

  • Italy: Dreams of La Dolce Vita

    If you read about Italy in the financial press, you might be excused for thinking that the days of la dolce vita, literally the sweet life, have gone very sour. The numbers are terrible: zero growth, record deficits and staggering unemployment. The main issue raised by challenger Romano Prodi against incumbent Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in this month's elections was this woeful record. (Never mind that Berlusconi is a self-made man worth billions; many of the other corporate titans in Italy concluded he was bad for business.) Yet--Berlusconi very nearly won. The Italian supreme court ruled last week that he fell short of controlling the lower house of Parliament by a mere 25,000 votes out of 38 million. Which shows that half of Italy voted for him, and suggests that many of those same people concluded that life in la bella Italia is still sweet.Are they drinking too much limoncello--or Kool-Aid--or what? Can the euro zone put up with a nation largely populated by delusional...
  • The Curse of Approval

    In 1240, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II built his military fortress, Castel del Monte, on a lonely hill in central Puglia, where he had a perfect view of approaching enemies. He probably never envisioned it would become a major destination--or that the enemies might be tourists. But these days, the old castle has been polished clean, and hundreds of multicolored Pullman buses snake up the winding roads to its grounds, now scattered with T-shirt stands, Coca-Cola signs and a 200-car parking lot. In fact, all over this usually desolate part of southern Italy, tourists scurry between such stops as the conical trullo houses in Alberobello and the cave ruins of Matera in nearby Basilicata--all sites few would have heard of if not for the fact that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has christened them World Heritage destinations.Officially, UNESCO bestows the honor on places that exemplify an area's ancestry, with the purpose of ensuring...
  • Rome: A Whole New Beginning

    Rome has been built, pillaged, burned and buried so many times that archaeological treasures are commonplace. However, last month new finds impressed even jaded Romans. Archaeologists uncovered the first treasures ever from the period prior to Rome's mythical founding in 753 B.C.E. by Romulus and Remus. In the necropolis, archaeologists found a funeral urn and seven terra-cotta vases filled with bronze miniatures of weapons of the era. And in Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, just outside the city, workers unearthed a monumental staircase with 15 steps and a headless sphinx. Archaeologists will now have to rethink Rome's beginnings, which are much older than historians have been teaching us, and put some flesh on these old bones.
  • Volcano Fatigue

    While Giuseppe D'Emilio is drawing down cappuccinos at the Ercolaneo coffee bar, Mount Vesuvius may be on the verge of erupting beneath his feet. D'Emilio, though, doesn't look like a man who is worried. He has no plans to leave the mountain, despite the Italian government's offer of aid. "You can't live your life like that," he says. "What if I leave and the volcano never erupts? Think of all I would have lost."But what if it does erupt? In a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, geologists put the chance of an eruption by the end of this calendar year at a whopping one in two. What does D'Emilio think about that?"I'll worry about that when I have to," he says. "Want another cappuccino?"This penchant for taking difficult news in stride, which seems to be a national trait, is giving geologists and the Italian authorities agita . Surely, Italians are particularly comfortable living with risk. This, after all, is a society that has yet to embrace such...
  • O, SILVIO!

    I promise! From now on, two months of absolute sexual abstinence!" Like an athlete saving himself for the big game, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made the ultimate campaign promise recently by vowing celibacy until the country's April 9 elections. That earned him the on-air blessing of Italy's popular television evangelist, Massimiliano Pusceddu, who thanked the P.M. for opposing gay marriage and upholding family values. Three days later, Mr. B was back. "Just joking," he told another TV interviewer. "I don't [abstain] at all!"Welcome to the Silvio Berlusconi show. Whether farce or smart politics, scarcely a day passes without another installment. He's a guest on talk shows. He calls into gardening programs, bemoaning aphids in the flower beds of his Sardinian villa. Recently he made a cameo appearance during a traffic report, blasting opposition involvement in a banking scandal.So far, the blitz seems to be working. Once trailing far behind his opponent, Romano Prodi,...
  • Can Rocca Rev up Torino?

    A new sport has taken hold in Italy ahead of the Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off in Torino on Feb. 10. Dubbed "block the torch" by locals, it pits Italy's ardent anarchists against Olympic organizers trying to generate excitement by relaying the Olympic torch across the country. So far Olympic spirit is losing. In late December, anarchists in Genoa actually blew out the flame for 20 minutes during a protest against Coca-Cola as an Olympic sponsor. On Jan. 17, environmental protesters in Venice nearly sunk the gondola carrying the eternal flame. And last week, for the 33rd time since it began winding its way to Torino from Rome on Dec. 8, the torch was not just blocked, but actually stolen in the northern town of Trento. Italian track star Eleanora Berlanda, whose turn it was to carry the torch, tussled with brutish protesters until she finally had to give up the burning bastion of Olympic spirit. "I tried to hold on to the torch but they were pulling on it, twisting my...
  • Travel: A Golden Getaway

    Tickets are still available to the Winter Olympics, which opens in Torino, Italy, on Feb. 10. Here's how to book a last-minute trip. The cheapest way to get there is through a do-it-yourself itinerary. A flight from New York to Paris or London should cost about $350; then fly the last leg on a low-cost carrier ( ryanair.com or easyjet.com) for about $9 each way. Find a hotel at www.jumbograndieventi.it (from $175 a night) or montagnedoc.it for mountainside accommodations near the bobsled or luge events. As for the actual Games, lots of seats are still vacant--only 60 percent have been sold so far. You can buy tickets at cosport.com, but you'll get better deals at the official Olympics site torino2006.ticketone.it. The only catch: you must provide a European address. Time to call on your friends abroad.
  • Relighting the Olympic Fire

    Alberto Tomba is unquestionably Italy's greatest skiing legend. The 39-year-old has won five Olympic medals and more than 50 World Cup skiing events during his 15-year professional career. Since retiring in 1998, the charismatic Tomba has been peddling Olympic spirit as Samsung's "Global Athlete Ambassador"; he's also an ambassador for the Torino Organizing Committee (TOROC). And thanks to a flair for pageantry that earned him the nickname "Tomba la Bomba" during his glory days, he has become the personality of the upcoming Torino Winter Olympics, which will open on Feb. 10. A front runner to light the Olympic Flame (an honor kept secret until the opening ceremonies), Tomba has vowed to add his charismatic spark to what has so far been lackluster Olympic spirit ahead of the 20th Winter Games. NEWSWEEK's Barbie Nadeau spoke with La Bomba last week. Excerpts: ...
  • Monuments And Money

    In A.D. 64 Nero built his palatial golden palace, the Domus Aurea, sparing no expense in the most elaborate display of decadence Rome had ever seen. Frescoes adorned the walls of its 150 rooms, inlaid with precious gems and exotic seashells. The ceilings were of carved ivory, and guests who attended his orgiastic feasts were showered with rose petals and misted with perfume. After Nero took his life in 68, Romans pillaged its riches. The famed Colosseum and the palaces of succeeding emperors arose on its ruins. But to this day, the remnants of the Domus Aurea have epitomized the excesses--and glories--of the Eternal City.Lately, they've also come to symbolize the shortcomings of modern Rome. On Dec. 13, the ruins of the Domus Aurea were closed after authorities discovered that a neglected water leak had so undermined the structure's foundations as to endanger the entire edifice. Italy's Culture minister, Rocco Buttiglione, pointed an accusatory finger. The Italian government's...
  • Fashion: The Pope Wears Prada

    He may never make the best-dressed lists, but Pope Benedict XVI is nothing short of a religious-fashion icon, riding in the Popemobile with red Prada loafers under his cassock and Gucci shades. But his penchant for designer wear and a move to ditch the papal tailors who have dressed popes for more than 200 years are causing new wrinkles in the Vatican.Benedict has favored his tailor from his days as cardinal, Alessandro Cattaneo, and the 20-year-old religious-fashion house of Raniero Mancinelli, which has provided the pope with dazzling new vestments (some with shimmering, sequinlike details). At risk of losing the papal-dress contract are the Annibale Gammarelli tailors, who have made papal wear since 1792. But they blundered when Benedict had to make his debut blessing in a cassock that was too short, ending just above his ankles. Subsequent celebratory vestments made by Gammarelli are reported to have made the pope uncomfortable.The Vatican won't comment on papal attire, and...
  • The Devil in Pictures

    For the first 22 years of her life, Anneliese Michel was an unremarkable young woman--a teacher in training and part of a devout Roman Catholic family in Germany. She also happened to be an epileptic, and prone to the seizures that often accompany that condition. Somehow, though, her parents convinced themselves that Satan had gotten hold of her soul. They called two local priests, who spent 10 months trying to exorcise the young woman's demons. To avoid interfering with the exorcism, the parents even halted her treatment for epilepsy. Michel finally died, in 1975, at the age of 23, withered and weakened to just 31 kilos from being denied food and water during the exorcism. If the story sounds familiar, that's because it is the premise of Hollywood feature "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," which made its European debut in Italy on Oct. 7. In the real-life case, all four participants in the exorcism were found guilty of negligent homicide, and Michel has been a posthumous European cult...
  • Poor, Poorer, Poorest

    The ruins of Matera in Italy's southern region of Basilicata are a grim reminder of how desperate life has been for the region's poor. Generations of families once lived here in squalid, windowless caves cut out of the steep ravines, often sleeping alongside their pigs, chickens and goats. Malaria was rampant and few babies survived to see their first birthday. Finally, in 1960, a public outcry across Europe prompted the Italian government to evacuate the entire impoverished population of 15,000 up the hill to government housing. Now the area is a UNESCO World Heritage site and many of the abandoned caves are being transformed into tony wine bars and four-star hotels for curious tourists. Mel Gibson even filmed a segment of "The Passion" here--fittingly, the gruesome Crucifixion scene.Matera and other picturesque southern Italian villages may be enjoying a relative renaissance, thanks to tourism. And Italy itself has become Europe's fourth largest economy, with dynamic growth over...
  • Private Lies, Public Figures

    Antonio Fazio is not the type of man most Italians associate with corruption. Governor of the Bank of Italy, the 69-year-old father of five is the very picture of civic rectitude, with a loving wife and a reputation for fairness and scrupulous honesty. Or is he? When a transcript of an illicit midnight telephone call landed on the front pages of the country's newspapers last month, Italians couldn't get enough. Eavesdropping on Italy's powerful elite has become a national pastime, and Fazio's late-night call was script-perfect:"Did I wake you?""No, no," said Gianpierro Fiorani, chief of Banca Popolare Italiana."I've just signed it," said Fazio, referring to a legal document that, with his imprimatur, could be used to thwart a Dutch takeover of one of Italy's largest financial institutes, Banca Antonveneta.Fiorani was delighted. "Ah, Tonino," he glowed. "I'm overcome with emotion. Thank you. Thank you. I have goose bumps. Tonino, I'd like to kiss your forehead."With the Dutch...
  • A Funeral Like No Other

    By Wednesday afternoon in Vatican City, the weekend quiet of prayer and contemplation was gone as Italian police corralled the faithful into clusters separated by gaps of open space--a tactic to avoid the fatal crush of a stampede. The wait time to see Pope John Paul II's body was more than 24 hours. The crowd stood up to 20 abreast, many using umbrellas to shelter themselves from the unseasonably warm sun.When President George W. Bush arrived around 10 p.m., the gridlock got worse. By the time his 50-car convoy arrived through a special Vatican entrance, those close enough to see the giant screens that flanked the long queues faced almost an hour delay while the president viewed the Holy Father's body. President Bush, his father and former president Bill Clinton were among an expected 200 heads of state and dignitaries who are descending on Rome for the Friday funeral of the pontiff. Not only were security forces extended to protect the leaders, but diplomats were in full force to...
  • LAND OF RUINS

    The reopening of Rome's magnificent Palazzo delle Esposizioni this month was to be the premier social event of the year. Romans proudly called it "our MoMA," destined to become one of the most prominent cultural centers in Europe. City fathers touted its flawless restoration, costing nearly 20 million euros. The building would have been stupendous--if the ceiling hadn't fallen in two months ago, plunging eight workers onto a pile of sharp rubble and narrowly missing a group of building inspectors who had just left the room below. With a criminal investigation underway, work has stopped and Italians are shrugging off the incident as a bizarre but isolated incident.Bizarre, yes. Isolated? Hardly. Italy is no stranger to crumbling architecture-- UNESCO has rated 35 percent of Italy's World Heritage Sites as "at risk," not from environmental factors or natural disasters but from "neglect, pollution and indifference." But these days the decay isn't confined to historic ruins. Full city...
  • UNDER THE VOLCANO II

    The view from Mount Vesuvius is one of Italy's finest. The Bay of Naples shimmers beyond lush olive groves and vineyards that cascade down the mountain's flanks. The ruins of ancient Pompeii remind tourists and locals alike of the volcano's dangerous past. And those who venture near are indeed in danger. These days, it's not an eruption that threatens--but a man-made environmental disaster.The whole Campania, as the picturesque hinterlands of Naples are known, has become a toxic-waste dump--and the mafia is to blame. A full third of Italy's refuse is disposed of illegally; much of it ends up here, thanks to "eco-mobsters" who have turned legitimate waste management into a lucrative criminal enterprise. Indeed, they're hauling in so much trash from elsewhere that there's little room left in the landfills for the garbage now piling up on city streets. Some toxins, even those supposedly too lethal to dump, fuel bonfires that illuminate nights on Vesuvius. Health professionals have...
  • DON'T YOU HATE SUVS?

    Even for the quick and the nimble, driving in Rome has never been anything but a chore. At the best of times, it's a smog-choked labyrinth of buzzing mopeds, toddling grannies and chugging Fiats vying for cobblestone space. Add in a penchant for stopping dead in the middle of an impassable street to make a delivery or exchange pleasantries with passersby, no matter how many cars may be impatiently honking, and you have the very picture of automotive chaos.Now a new nemesis has come to town: the SUV, or soove. For a sense of what the arrival of these behemoths portends for the city, imagine one of these monsters negotiating the twisting, narrow streets in the ancient neighborhood of Trastevere--the via dei Salumi, say. This particular passageway is a challenge even for a mini Fiat 500, for it features a series of very sharp turns around the unforgiving stone foundations of some of Rome's oldest buildings--gaily colored by the paint from scraped fenders. Along the way lies da Enzo...
  • THE BUZZING SOUND OF SUMMER

    The telltale sound of summer in Rome used to be the clapping of plastic tables on the cobblestone streets as restaurants prepared to serve dinner under the stars. Now there's also the whine of buzzing mosquitoes. Those patrons intrepid enough to venture outside these days have to gobble down their bucatini before the insects--specifically, the Asian tiger mosquito--eat them alive. The bug arrived three years ago at the port of Genoa in a boatload of secondhand tires from Southeast Asia and apparently took to Italy's hot, humid climate--it's since spread as far south as Naples.The mosquitoes are so aggressive--one can bite 10 times in succession, leaving large swollen welts that sometimes require lancing--that they're endangering the Italian al fresco tradition. Restaurants now brag about their use of pesticides on the cobblestones and shrubbery. People are putting up screens over their windows or, if they can afford it, buying air conditioners (sales have nearly doubled in the past...
  • DUELING BILLBOARDS

    Rome's Spanish steps have always been a seductive spot, but never quite like this. On the facade of the church sitting at the top, a billboard featuring huge glossy lips advertises Glam Shine lipstick--maker of such colors as Diva and Siren. Now the Pantheon is looking for a piece of the action: it is among 50 well-placed historical sites whose aging facades are up for grabs to the highest advertising bidder.The ads are part of a campaign by Rome's city planners to raise funds for critical renovations to historical monuments. Because the billboards are placed on scaffolding and therefore considered temporary structures, they are allowed under Italy's longstanding ban on out-door billboards in the city center. The initiative--which began several years ago as a modest attempt to balance the city budget--has been a huge financial success. Even temporary city-center posters can go for hundreds of thousands of euros--more than enough to pay for a major renovation. The rotating ads that...
  • HIGHER CALLING

    When you walk through the doors of St. Peter's Basilica these days, you might just catch the glow of a laptop or wireless PDA through the smoky haze of burning incense. The distant hum of Gregorian chants may even be interrupted by the bleep of a mobile phone or the ping of a text message. Vatican City joined the tech revolution in Christmas 1995, when Pope John Paul II launched the Vatican's Web site (vatican.va) with the text of his annual Urbi et Orbi address. Now it's taking advantage of wireless technology to spread the Word even farther. "When we came up with the idea that the Vatican go online, the holy father said, 'Yes, try it right away'," says Sister Judith Zoebelein, the technical director of the Vatican Internet Office. "But we had no idea how popular it would be."The Vatican Web site, which is published in six languages, receives more than 2 million daily hits. Spurred by this success, the Roman Catholic Church is engaging in bolder experiments. Last year the Vatican...
  • BAD DAYS FOR IL CAVALIERE

    It's only January, and 2004 is already looking like a bad year for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The cancerous Parmalat scandal has roiled the Italian economy, and prosecutors warn they'll soon finger a handful of "high-ranking politicians" for suspected complicity in the case. The governing coalition is fracturing; Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini recently blasted his boss's opinions for being "as extreme in rhetoric as they are baseless in fact." Staggering transport strikes over the past two weeks have crippled cities, bringing thousands of anti-Berlusconi protesters into piazzas across the country.Now comes news that the prime minister is no longer immune from prosecution--meaning that he will soon be back in a Milan courtroom facing corruption charges he thought he had escaped. (He stands accused of bribing judges to influence the sale of SME, then the state-owned food giant, in the 1980s. He's denied the charges.)Last week's decision by Italy's constitutional...
  • Opposites Attract

    They call him "La Mortadella," after the pink, bland sausage from his hometown of Bologna. As prime minister, Romano Prodi preferred commuter trains to limos and famously ran his 1996 election campaign out of a secondhand schoolbus that he often drove himself. And now? He's president of the stodgy European Commission, the citadel of rules, red tape and "Eurocracy." Snore.Contrast this to the man he beat--Italy's current P.M., Silvio Berlusconi, who travels in a fleet of chauffeur-driven luxury cars and buzzes around Europe in a private jet. No matter what he does--from insulting German tourists to rewriting Italian law to his personal benefit--Berlusconi bedazzles his countrymen. Allegations of corruption, bribery and illegal bookkeeping? They are every bit as grave as those lodged against, say, Enron officials in the United States. But far from shocking the nation, they've served only to burnish his almost cult standing. According to political polls, the only modern Italian...
  • Doggone It: A Dangerous Decree

    Admittedly, I've never been a big fan of dogs. But a recent wave of pit-bull attacks in Italy has so frightened me that I've become uncomfortable about living in Rome. The attacks are chilling: a 43-year-old woman loses her leg while jogging; two men in their 80s out for a stroll are mauled to death. Worst, especially for me, is the 4-year-old boy in Turin who encountered a lone pit bull while out with his babysitter, who tried unsuccessfully to protect him. Within seconds, the beast literally gnawed off the youngster's face. Its owner, Vittoria Cavallaro, 67, showed up moments later with the leash. A little late.We live on the same street as the owner of a pit bull, near Porta Latina. He walks his dog (or it walks him) down our block every morning. Our babysitter will take our children out only after 9:30 a.m., when he and his "pet" have passed. She loves dogs but is terrified of this one. And even I, usually more insouciant, will walk blocks out of my way just to avoid sharing the...
  • Technology: Back To School Guide

    Heading back to school used to mean weeks of wardrobe preparation. Nowadays most kids would rather spend their hard-earned summer-job money on high technology than high fashion. There's plenty out there to choose from--whether for the brainy, the musical or those who just want to impress their friends with a fancy piece of cutting-edge electronic equipment. Here are some tips on school-year high-tech gear from various locales around the globe:1. Portable Pen and Paper Logitech Note-taking has never been easier. Just write on the special pad and your pen records and uploads the notes and even rough diagrams to the desktop computer back in the dorm. You can even handwrite your papers and avoid all that time-consuming work typing up your brilliant thoughts. $230, logitech.com2. 3300 Mobile Phone Nokia Mobile phones are ideal for making calls between classes. Why not get one that you can listen to music on, too? This model has a built-in MP3 player and an FM radio. $360, nokia.com.3. EZ...
  • Market Watch

    If you're planning to shop in Europe this summer, there are bargains to be had. Be sure to browse through these famous markets:Warsaw Stadium. Warsaw. If you're looking for smuggled vodka, kittens or even hand grenades, this is your place. But you'd better hurry--EU border controls may soon force it out of business.Borough Market. London. The place to try all things gourmet. Feast on juicy ostrich burgers, chorizo-and-rocket rolls--and to-die-for desserts.Marche aux Puces. Paris. Keep away from overpriced Levis and head for the antiques at this 75-acre "attic of the world." Just make sure to ask your dealer for a guarantee of authenticity.Arbat. Moscow. Stroll along this famous street to stock up on Soviet military paraphernalia, fur hats and hand-crocheted scarves. Steer clear of the "amber" jewelry, though.Porta Portese. Rome. Featured in "The Bicycle Thief," this market sells everything from Gucci watch parts to the odd Mussolini bust. One art critic stumbled upon a trove of...
  • Fun For The Kids

    At Porto Pirata on Portugal's scenic coast, a disturbance threatened to destroy the peaceful holiday tableau. A British guy was trying to get behind the wheel of a big green truck parked outside. Two bigger fellows blocked his way. Forget it, they said; it's ours. The authorities rushed to the scene to settle the matter.Another tale of holiday hooliganism in the Algarve? Not quite. The disputants in this particular incident were all under 5. The kid-size truck is a permanent fixture at the entrance to Porto Pirata, a lavish playground complete with swimming pool, auto racetrack, basketball court, miniature-golf course, climbing frames and a Lilliputian restaurant filled with checked tablecloths and tiny picnic tables. The truck-inspired conflict was quickly and calmly resolved by a squad of professional child minders. And the children's parents were none the worse for worry: they were sunning themselves on the beach or out hitting the links.This is a holiday, family style, at...
  • Feeling The Heat

    Imagine this. The president of the European Union is hosting a historic summit. Exhorting fellow ministers to admit Russia to the European Union, he brandishes an emphatic fist in the air--where the lights of the world's assembled TV networks catch his electronic-surveillance bracelet. As if that were not embarrassing enough, the president's military escorts have been replaced by prison guards who stay by his side at all times, making it slightly awkward to schmooze with other leaders. The debates are held at a record clip, too. After all, the president has to be back in his cell by sundown--rules of the prison furlough.It won't really be as bad as all that for Silvio Berlusconi. But Italy's bad-boy prime minister is in another fix--and this time so is Europe. The telegenic billionaire statesman-cum-potential felon is losing ground in his three-year-old bribery trial. A verdict looks likely just as he takes the helm of the European Union in July. If convicted--and he may well be-...
  • Food: Pizza Problems

    To an American, especially one who suffered through this winter, living in southern Italy sounds nice. But for the young men who train in Naples to become pizzaioli--professionals certified to make pizza in the original style of the Neapolitans--staying at home holds little allure. So little, in fact, that they're moving north, or abroad, and abandoning the traditions they learn--or just not learning them in the first place.In Italy, pizzaioli are licensed artisans, and men--women aren't allowed--go through an intense four-week certification. They must know which wood to use in the ovens, and they have to memorize historical details about the way dough is kneaded, mixed and allowed to rise. Modern pizza-making tools used elsewhere make the job much simpler.
  • Pilgrims: Holy Week

    At Easter time, all roads lead to Rome. But just because you're going on a pilgrimage doesn't mean you have to live like a pilgrim. Tip Sheet's advice:Forget staying in a cramped hotel room. Take advantage of the city's abundance of short-term lets. Apartments in central Rome go for as low as 600 euros a week (compared with 200 euros a night in a hotel). Try domusconnect.com.Skip the taxis and take advantage of the city's public transit (ATAC) service. A one-week unlimited-use pass--good for all buses and subways--costs 12.40 euros and is available at vending machines. Or rent a bicycle.Stay away from restaurants offering "tourist menus"; if you can see a major site from your table, it will cost you double. Opt instead for the trattoria, or family-style restaurants, on the tiny side streets in the city center.Don't fight the crowds to watch the pope on a screen in St. Peter's Square. Go to one of the city's 900 smaller churches. Most post multilanguage signs announcing the Holy Week...