The Essence of Romans

There has been a Roman controversy on social media going on over the past couple of weeks. I have been passively witnessing it, and I have decided that these three images perfectly summarize the essence of Rome, and Romans.

It all started with street art. Those of you who have visited Rome but did not venture far from the tourist hotspots might not know this, but Rome is overrun with graffiti. It is everywhere, and most of it is stupid tagging. However, there is also a decent amount of street art, and this most recent mural by the artist known as Maupal is no exception.

[Read more…]

Elephant in the Room Part II: And It Happens In Italy

and I am deeply disgusted with my country.

Many of you will be familiar by now with the story of Savita, who died of sepsis in Ireland when she was miscarrying and medical staff refused to cure her due to the fact that they could still detect a foetal heartbeat. Her death understandably sparked worldwide outrage and a national debate, centered around the fact that it is still, to this day, illegal to obtain an abortion in Ireland.

Despite also being a predominantly Catholic country, Italy legalized abortion back in the 1970s. For the first three months, a woman can seek an abortion for whichever reason, and she can get the procedure done in a state hospital. After three months, abortion is legal for medical reasons. While on its face the law provides Italian women with more reproductive rights than in Ireland, it is not true that Catholicism has not left its mark upon it.

Italian law allows for doctors to be obiettori di coscienza, or conscientious objectors. This means that no doctor in Italy is forced to perform abortions contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. While most Italian states require doctors to register as conscientious objectors, thereby making sure that there is at least one doctor per hospital who will perform abortions, this regulation is not very well enforced and women in more conservative parts of the country can find themselves falling through the cracks.

The results, of course, are predictable.

[Read more…]

Cultural Differences: The Pride in Rebellion

I come from a long line of left wingers and political dissenters, on both the Italian and the American sides of my family. My American ancestors were were part of the Underground Railroad which helped slaves make their way to Canada, my mother’s aunt was very vocal during the Civil Rights Era, and my own mother was as anti-Vietnam war as it was possible to be. My mother loves to talk about this, to the point in which I’m pretty sure she’s exaggerating. The fact of the matter is, she takes pride in being on the right side of history. She’s not the only one, you see can see many American public figures playing up their part in the political dissent that wound up making history. There is a satisfaction in being able to say that my family and I were not sheep. We did not buy into the propaganda of the day, or the lazy mindset of the politically uninformed, we took the unpopular but ultimately morally correct position!

The way that my Italian family discusses these things, however, is worlds apart.

[Read more…]

First The Good News, Or The Bad News?

Ah Italy. Behind the times in so many ways. While you may be in the forefront when it comes to high-end fashion, the cultural fashions that sweep the privileged world are always late in arriving to your shores. You might think that, given the tardiness you would be more inclined to look them over and sort out the good ones from the bad, but sadly they all eventually seem to make it over.

In this case, I am referring to the anti-vaccination fad that has been spreading, and killing, ever since the notorious Andrew Wakefield paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine. While there were anti-vaxxers before then, that was when the idea really got put on (organic and gluten-free, I’m sure) steroids. That was 1998, but it has only been in the past few years that the movement really started to gain traction in Italy as well.

Italian culture is a very hypochondriac one, so the issue of people not getting their kids vaccinated was never really raised until now. Some vaccines are obligatory by law, others are “highly recommended” but can be obligatory in some schools, though no one really knew the difference or made a fuss about it. When my mother moved here she was not told which were absolutely obligatory and which she could get away with not giving me, she was simply told that kids in Italy had to get all their vaccinations and that’s that.

But as I said fads, even the dangerous ones, eventually make it over here as well. So, the bad news, or the good news first?

[Read more…]

Slut Shaming Has Claimed Another Life

Yesterday, a 31-year old woman identified as Tiziana C. committed suicide in her mother’s home outside Naples. For the past year, she had been in a fierce legal battle to have explicit content of herself removed from the internet, all the while suffering a deluge of social media hate for daring to be sexually active.

According to reports, it all started out as a bit of a joke. Tiziana took some sexually explicit videos of herself, and shared them with a couple of her friends. One of them betrayed her trust and sent the video to someone, who sent it to someone else, until eventually it ended up on the internet, on various porn sites complete with her full name.

And so followed the inevitable slut shaming – cyberbullying – victim blaming pipeline. What a slut for having taken those videos of herself! She should have been modest, secretive, and properly ashamed of her sexuality. Let’s all gang up and tell her what a horrible disgusting person she is! Then, let’s justify our actions, because it’s all her fault of course. She shouldn’t have ever done anything sexual in front of a camera, or shown any other living soul if she had. She wanted it. She deserved it.

She was forced to leave her job. She moved to a different region, changed her name, tried to get the courts to remove the content from the internet, but eventually she fell into a deep depression which inevitably claimed her life. Even after her death, the justifications continue to roll in.

When these stories come out, I keep hearing people using these kinds of tragedies as cautionary tales. This should teach us all not to ever film anything sexually explicit! The internet is sooo complicated, it’s just so very hard to draft laws to prevent this kind of thing!

I don’t understand why it is complicated at all. Here’s an idea: no sexually explicit content can be uploaded to the internet without a signed form of consent as to the distribution of that content by the person or persons present in the video in question. There. That’s all it takes. If you find a video of yourself on the internet, and you never gave permission to distribute that video, you can prosecute the person who uploaded the video. That, at least, will be a start in deterring things like revenge porn. It doesn’t matter if you consented to being filmed, there is no watching the sex tape to try to figure out if the person in it knows there is a camera present, because they never consented to having the video distributed in the first place. I mean for Thor’s sake, copyright law seems to have kept up with the internet. People can get fined and prosecuted for uploading and sharing songs, and movies, but somehow we all wring our hands in despair when it comes to amateur porn?

As for the “let’s teach everyone to not every do anything sexy in front of a camera ever”, that’s another form of useless victim blaming. People are sexual creatures, and sexy pictures and videos have been made since the invention of cameras. What needs to happen is a cultural shift in which these kinds of things are just not a big deal anymore.

I remember when I was in high school, and there was a certain boy who really didn’t like me. That was fine, I didn’t much like him either. Except this boy decided to “get me” by spreading a rumor that I was a lesbian with my best friend. Do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing.

The rumor spread. Some people believed it, most people didn’t, but the most important thing was that no one gave a shit. I heard about it by accident a year after it started, and upon questioning some of my peers they all invariably said “oh yea, haha, I heard that rumor from him, I didn’t really believe it, but even if it is true, I really couldn’t care less”. No one teased me, or bullied me, or gave me any kind of heat about it whatsoever, because being gay or being straight was no big deal, and not worth anyone’s time or attention. If I had gone to high school some 20 years earlier, I’m sure that story would have ended very differently.

It would be so great if sex could get to that point. If the conversation could be “Hey! I saw a sexy video of Tiziana on the internet!” “Yea? OK. So what. Anyway, did you watch the match last night?”. No bullying, no jeering, no loss of job or life, and eventually when Tiziana found out about it she could simply walk down to the police station and have them arrest the person who distributed her images without her consent.

Admittedly, we have a long way to go before we reach that point. However, in many places we have when it comes to being gay, and no one ever thought that would be possible. Perhaps I can still hope that, one day, no one will care enough to harass someone online just because a sexy image or video of them leaked onto the internet.

Another Devastating Earthquake Hits

The news on the 6.0 earthquake that hit central Italy and completely levelled the town of Amatrice keeps rolling in. By the last count, 159 people are dead, many of them children. This earthquake comes 7 years after the earthquake in the very nearby l’Aquila, which was approximately the same magnitude, also killing hundreds of people and levelling thousands of buildings. The images emerging from the quake are both heartbreaking to see and terribly familiar.

This time around, I was lucky to be in a part of Italy which was far enough away to be unaffected, though I have been in a few earthquakes before. Many others were definitely not so lucky.

The quake is too recent for there to be much in terms of a concrete way to help the victims from afar. Those near the epicenter are volunteering of course, but for now the rest of us are just helplessly watching the news.

In a bizzare coincidence, another earthquake, this time 6.8, hit Myanmar just a few hours after the quake in Italy. While there seem to have been fewer lives lost, many ancient temples have been damaged or destroyed as well.

What a day.

Holidays With Crys: We Have One More Year

My whole life, I have been going to the beach in Fregene, a small seaside town outside of Rome. In the 40s, this area was nothing but swamp. In the 60s it was abandonded beach, and the Italian government allowed for a sort of stewardship of Italy’s beaches to take place. People who were willing to pay a very healthy yearly fee to the government were allowed to claim a section of beach, take care of it, clean it, and sell food or rent sunbeds to people who wished to visit it. That is how Italy’s beach clubs were born and, as they got more popular, people started building restaurants, bars, pools, houses, and even hotels on or near the beach. Those restaurants got passed down the generations, or sold to others, and some have become vertiable institutions of the seaside towns. There was no Fregene before Mastino, or Glauco, or Cigno, and Cigno in particular is sought out by people living all around Rome for having some truly excellent fish. I spent my childhood summers there, I worked and met my current boyfriend there, and Fregene itself would not be what it is without those historical beach clubs and restaurants.

But soon, those beach clubs will be no more. Despite the fact that those owners have continued to pay the yearly government fee, and if they don’t their property can and will be seized, the EU has decreed that passing down those restaurants across the generations is illegal. The Italian government tried to extend their stay by four years, at least to allow people who just bought a beach club to make back their investment, but the EU courts have declared that to be illegal too. It has now been decided that all of them, both the old institutions and the newly purchased clubs, will have to tear down everything that has been built, houses and restaurants alike at their own cost, and return the beaches as they found them 50 years ago. Then, the beaches will go up for auction. Anyone with the money and an idea will be able to petition the government with their plans and take stewardship of their piece of beach for a certain number of years, and then tear everything down again, vacate it again, and allow for someone else with a better idea to take their place.

So, who the Hell will have the money to go through all of this? Certainly not the current owners of the beach clubs, especially after they have to pay to tear down their own restaurants. One group is the mafia, who have in recent years invaded the legitimate restaurant business market in Italy (more on that later). The second (and this is the EU’s real intention) is the foreigners, the Germans and the French and the Dutch, who according to the EU should all be allowed in on that Italian beaches action. As my father said thank god for Brexit, as this current situation would have caused the anti-EU muttering going on now to turn into a request for some serious action, if it wasn’t for the clear Brexit consequences fresh in everyone’s minds.

My point is: are the seaside restaurants in Italy something you always wanted to try? Have you always wanted to experience the traditional Italian beach clubs? You have one year left. 2017 is the last year which is guaranteed to those restaurant owners. After that, any year could be the one that they force them to tear it all down, pack up and go… well, not home, but somewhere else. I also find them forcing everyone to tear everything down as a giant waste of time and resources, but no one cares about my opinion.

So, if the Italian seaside dinner and beach lounging was on your bucket list, make it a priority in 2017, cause you might not get a second chance. As for me, I’ll keep coming back here so long as it remains Fregene, but I’ll start looking into other seaside destinations for the future. I’m thinking Greece, perhaps.

More Vegan Controversy Out Of Italy

Given the recent news regarding the potential criminalization of vegan parenting in Italy, I was hoping to get my father’s take on the whole thing when he called me last night. “By the way Dad”, I said, “Have you heard about this controversy in Italy about veganism?”

“Oh”, he replied, “So you heard about the thing with the dogs in Maccarese?”

Uhm, no. What?

So it turns out, there is another, entirely different vegan controversy going on in my country, and at the small beach town right outside of Rome where I usually spend my holidays at that. Apparently, the owner of a certain dog-friendly beach club is in a battle with the local animal rights group. The reason is he is a devout vegan, and he is so convinced in his veganism that he is also feeding his dogs an entirely vegan diet. The animal rights group says no, you can’t do that, and are trying to either convince him to start feeding his dogs properly, or to take them away from him. If your lifestyle, they say, makes it impossible to properly take care of your pet, whether because you live in a tiny apartment in the city, don’t have the money or time to care for them, or because you can’t bring yourself to purchase any animal products, you lose your right to care for that animal.

So, putting aside the sending vegan parents to jail for a minute, can we all at least agree on no vegan cats or dogs?

It is true that dogs have evolved a lot alongside humans, and thus have picked up a few mutations that have allowed them to shift from a carnivorous diet to a more omnivorous one compared to wolves. This means that dogs will survive longer on a vegan diet than cats will, who have remained obligate carnivores. However, dogs are still carnivores. They still have a very high protein requirement, a very low coefficient of fermentation (i.e. the indicator of how well they can digest plant matter), and they require nutrients which are not found in plant matter like our old favorite vitamin B12. Dogs fed on a vegan diet will be lethargic, develop fur problems, and will not survive long without very careful and artificial tinkering with their food, and even then they will likely not live healthily. A kitten fed on a vegan diet will die before adulthood. Animal abuse is punishable by law in Italy, and people who do not care for their pets appropriately will have them removed from their custody and, if the abuse is severe, they will face criminal charges. Once again, this animal rights group is seeking to demonstrate that malnutrition qualifies as animal neglect and thus are trying to remove this man’s dogs from him.

Personally, I find his position extremely ironic. Killing animals is wrong, for any reason, no matter how humanely. In fact, humans are capable of killing animals in a far more humane way than any predator will, which usually terrifies and disembowels its prey before eating it. But the slow torture of his “beloved” pets? That’s fine. That’s not unethical.

If you can’t bring yourself to contribute to the meat, egg or dairy industry in any way, get a rabbit. Or a guinea pig perhaps. I think that owning a pet is a privilege, not a right, and no one should keep any animal if they are not capable of giving them the comfort they deserve. I adore pigmy marmosets, for example, but I would never keep them as pets, because I cannot provide them with the quality of life that they would have in the wild. I also love dogs, but I do not have the space, time or home life stability necessary to ensure their happiness. I do not contribute to the seahorse pet trade either, despite their beauty. I find it incredibly selfish when humans try to twist their pets into something they are not just to satisfy their own egos, whether it is the creation of severely unhealthy breeds of dogs, ripping the claws and canines out of kittens because you don’t want them to scratch up your precious furniture (also illegal in Italy, by the way), chop off the tail and ears from your pitbull because fashion, keep a boa constrictor in a tiny tank because you’re so macho, or feeding carnivores a freaking vegan diet.

So, shelving the jail time for vegan parents for a moment. Can we all agree on this, for the time being? Stop feeding carnivores a vegan diet?

Vegan Parenting and an Italian Controversy

I don’t think there is any way to post about this subject, and my thoughts on it, without getting into trouble in the comments. Oh well, here goes.

Recently, an member of the very conservative Forza Italia party proposed a law that would sentence parents to 1-2 years in jail for not providing a balanced diet to children under 16. As the article I found written in English phrases it:

Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party wants to see parents who feed children under 16 a vegan diet jailed for up to a year.

That sounds both hilarious, and a little extreme. So, I went in search of a more detailed article from Italian news outlets, and found a decent article on the subject in La Reppublica. I feel that a little clarification is needed before I comment on the topic.

First of all, the law does not specifically mention veganism. The wording of the proposal is as follows:

[la legge] rende penalmente perseguibile chi “impone o adotta nei confronti di un minore degli anni 16, sottoposto alla sua responsabilità genitoriale o a lui affidato per ragione di educazione, istruzione, cura, vigilanza o custodia, una dieta alimentare priva di elementi essenziali per la crescita sana ed equilibrata del minore stesso”

Translation: [the law would] render punishable by law those who “impose or adopt for a minor under 16, who is under their parental responsibility or to them entrusted for reasons of education, instruction, care, vigilance or custody, a diet lacking in essential nutrients for the healthy and balanced growth of that same minor”.

While the law itself does not refer to veganism in particular, but rather to any diet which would lead to malnourishment, it is clear that the politician in question has her sights set on veganism. When asked about it, she talks about “radicalized” parents who impose diets which are far too restrictive to the healthy growth and cognitive development of their children, and mentions the essential nutrients often lacking in a vegan diet as her prime example. While she has no objection to informed adults making their own decisions, she says, it is a different matter entirely when those decisions impact the health and safety of children.

This attitude also does not come out of the blue. Veganism is definitely on the rise in Italy, and with it there have been many children hospitalized for malnutrition. One pediatrician in Rome saw three babies hospitalized for severe B12 deficiency in the past year alone. A two year old in Belluno was hospitalized for severe malnutrition, including calcium and B12 deficiency. A three year old girl in Genova had to be resuscitated after she was hospitalized, once again, for a severe B12 deficiency. I personally know someone who’s child almost died from a B12 deficiency. Of course, veganism is not the only kind of diet that can lead to such a severe impact on the health of children, but it is certainly something that is causing a lot of talk in Italy, given that the vegan fad is such a new arrival to the country.

So, here’s what I think about it. I have a controversial statement to make on the topic. As hard as it may seem to accept, the fact of the matter is, veganism is not the ultimate healthy diet. I’ll say it again.

Veganism is not the healthiest diet for humans

[Read more…]

Where Cops Go To Jail

With the recent discussions about police brutality and murder raging in the United States, I was shocked to discover that, in my home country, cops can actually get sent to prison for causing the death of a citizen. Reading further into the article about it (in Italian), I was even more surprised by the details of this precise case.

In 2014, a man named Riccardo Magherini was found wandering around in Florence. He was agitated, in the midst of a panic attack. When he was accosted by the Carabinieri, they forcefully threw him to the ground and handcuffed him as he was screaming. They held him on the ground and, when he started to have difficulty breathing, an ambulance was called but they were not able to save him. It was later determined that he also had a significant amount of cocaine in his system and that, combined with his treatment at the hands of the cops, caused cardiac arrest. Protests about his death began in Florence, the family demanded justice and hired a lawyer to pursue it.

Now, three of the four cops present have been sentenced to 7-8 months in jail, for what roughly translates to a negligent homicide charge. The judge determined that, once handcuffed, they should not have continued to hold the man to the ground, and that they unnecessarily exacerbated his condition by putting pressure on his chest and thus restricting his breathing. They bore partial responsibility for his death in doing this, and thus they will now go to prison.

He was not shot, he was high on cocaine and agitated, but the cops still went to jail. As well they should, in my opinion, but when one is immersed in the current news coming out of the US, I almost can’t believe that these cops were even prosecuted at all.

Furthermore, Italians are outraged at the sentence, saying it is far too light and that a uniform allows the Carabinieri to commit murder with just a slap on the wrist. Given my current awareness of how cops around the world are treated by the justice system, I don’t even know how to comment on it. Maybe it is too light. Maybe it’s depressing that I can be relieved that this amount of justice was meted out in this case, because it at least means that there is some accountability going on.

I just don’t know anymore. The only thing I can say for certain is somethings gotta give. Civilized societies cannot continue to progress with an ever growing (and evermore justified) fear and hatred of government and those who enforce the law.