Who Was Your Mary?

In Italy in 2003, a song was released which touched a generation of teenagers and young adults. It was a rap ballad (as odd as that musical category might sound, you’ll see what I mean if you play the video), but it talked about something that we just didn’t talk about until then. This was no melodramatic song of undying love, or of heartbreak. It was called Mary, and it was a song about a reality that many young people in Italy lived through, though many of them thought they were alone.

Mary is about a girl who runs away from home. In the chorus, it talks about people seeing her running, crying, and then she disappears. In the first verse you understand why, Mary runs away because her father is beating her and abusing her. Her mother knows, sees the bruises and the signs, but says nothing. It is the shameful secret of the family. Mary has enough, and she runs.

But the song is not without triumph. In the second verse, Mary comes back. She is a grown woman, and the people in the town remark how she seems to be at peace. She has a man in her life and a beautiful daughter, and she was able, despite her childhood, to grow up and be happy. She returned to the town because she has discovered that her father had died, but she has no tears to shed over his grave.

This song, in a style of music meant to appeal to teenagers and young adults, sparked a national conversation. There was a time in which it was playing in every house all over the country. Teenagers started talking to each other about it, opening up about it, and it finally dawned on everyone that they all knew a Mary. While the country was very cognisant of the possibility of child abuse, and telephone hotlines were available and advertised on TV constantly, there was a gap when it came to the abuse of teenagers. They were considered almost adults, willful, and any seemingly excessive discipline on the part of a parent was between them, surely the teenager is extremely difficult and the parent is desperate, that’s not abuse, we all know how teenagers can be, amirite? This cultural mentality seeped into the younger generation, and anything short of sexual abuse was not considered something outside of a parent’s right to raise their child.

My Mary’s name was Maddalena.

I was 12 and she was almost 16, as were the other girls I hung out with when I was in the country on weekends. I felt so lucky to be included in a group of older girls, proper teenagers, but Maddalena was my favorite. She wasn’t conservative and staid like the other girls, she was bold, she smoked cigarettes and crept out of her bedroom to come and find me and we’d wander around at night, sneaking desserts from the kitchens of a local restaurant, smoking, listening to rock music and chatting about life and the universe and the amazing expanse of the great wide world around us, and how we were going to fit into it. I adored her, and she knew it.

Maddalena loved her Mom, but she wasn’t around. She had been institutionalized, though for what mental disorder it was hard for me to understand, I doubt Maddalena really knew herself. Her mousy little father had remarried, a big stocky and horrible woman who constantly tried to bend Maddalena to her will and get her to accept her as the authority in the house. One day I was in Maddalena’s bedroom and her step mother, who had been perfectly nice to me when I had come over, burst into the room in a temper. She drank, and she must have remembered a cheeky response Maddalena had flung at her earlier. She towered over Maddalena and started wailing on her with a ferocity I had never witnessed before. I knew she hit Maddalena. I had even been shown the mark on the wall made by the ring on her fist when Maddalena had ducked in just the right moment. But this was different. This was brutality.

I stood there, frozen and shocked. After a few moments that seemed like an eternity, her stepmother realized that I was still in the room. She turned towards me, and by her sheer bulk forced me out of the door, saying that in this family we do not allow people to disrespect us, and slammed the door in my face. Moments later I heard Maddalena start screaming and crying in earnest. I ran.

I ran, tears streaming down my face, and found the other teenage girls we used to hang out with. I started shouting at them to do something! Do something! Call someone, anyone, their dads, the cops, someone we have to go back there and help her! She is screaming can’t you hear her? We have to do something!

They just stared at me and sighed. They told me I was a naive little girl. It was nobody’s business. nobody’s. Their parents wouldn’t help, the cops wont care. Surely Maddalena brought this down on herself. We all know she’s rebellious, she sneaks out, she smokes, and she is rude to her stepmother. Sometimes people scream to get attention, but surely she’s being disciplined no more harshly than is normal. I tried to argue, to say no, that’s not it, but their united assurance that I was being silly and childish, that I’d know better when I was 16, made me falter in my resolve. Was I being stupid, and naive? Was this normal? I didn’t know.

I crept back to Maddalena’s house, hours later. I could hear her whimpering and crying through her bedroom window. I was too ashamed to tap on it and talk to her, too afraid that her step mother would hear me and fly into another temper. The next day, her mother had someone come over and fit bars over her bedroom window, so no more late night wanderings around the town with Maddalena. I came over again, to see if I could devise a way to loosen the bars so that she could get out, but then be able to slide them back in so that her step mother would be none the wiser. She shooed me away. I left, so ashamed. I had seen it, and I had not helped her. I knew that her “discipline” was abuse, I knew what she was going through, but I had left her there. A part of me never forgave myself for that.

Two years later, Maddalena ran away for good. Her stepmother had no idea where she was, nor did she much care, for years after that. I heard that she is happy now. I ran into her at the beach, hundreds of miles away from where we used to see each other. We recognized each other, and ran to each other in the sea like a slow motion movie scene. She has a daughter. She works in a bar in Rome. She is happy.

Years later, Maddalena came up in conversation. I was with one of those teenage girls who told me I was being foolish, and her mother. In hindsight, they all acknowledged that Maddalena was being abused. Her stepmother had shown her true colors to the town after Maddalena had run away and she had no one to vent her frustration on. The girl did not remember the day I begged them to help and they told me I was being stupid. She blanched at the thought, and painfully tried to remember a time when she didn’t consider what Maddalena was going through abuse. The song Mary came up in that conversation, but the song hadn’t come out yet when I ran to them that day. Rarely has a pop song contributed so much to a shift in cultural mentality as this one has.

For those of you who do not speak Italian and are curious, lyrics and translation are below the fold. In the meantime, look back in your memory. Did you know a Mary growing up? [Read more…]

Parma Goes Pet-Friendly

Anyone who owns a cat or a dog knows that they freak out when fireworks start going off. Not for nothing days like the 4th of July in the States, or New Year’s Eve in Europe, are the days that more pets go missing than on any other day of the year.

So what has Parma done? They have introduced silent fireworks, and banned the noisy, banging kind.

Who knew that the local government of Parma was so liberal as to be so pet-considerate? Well, good on you Parma. I’d like to take a look at these silent firework shows one day, I’m curious to see what they’re like.


Crap! I’ve Been Out Of The Loop

A few days ago, Rome elected it’s first female mayor, Virginia Raggi, and it only just registered in my brain today. Turin also elected Chiara Appendino, and both of these women are in the Movimento 5 Stelle (The Five Star Movement). I’m about to get into a brief history on recent Italian politics now, so be warned. If you could care less, go ahead and jump to the short AJ+ video at the end.

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So… You Want… Less Regulations on GMOs?

What do you even call sending letter bombs nowadays? Does it still qualify as terrorism? Attempted terrorism? Just plain old-fashioned? Well, whatever it is, there was one of those last week in Italy, and regardless of the method, the attempt makes no fucking sense to me whatsoever.

Italian police are trying to figure out who sent a letter containing an explosive powder to Europe’s food safety agency. A bomb squad earlier this week blew up the letter, which was addressed to a scientist who works on genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The identity of the scientist to whom it was addressed was not revealed, but according to the articles I’ve read on the subject so far, he seems to be a consultant who works with the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), to regulate and evaluate the safety of each individual GMO which is proposed to be put on the market.

So, letter bomb sender, you want to target the people who are ensuring the safety of the food you eat? Really?

And it’s not like the EFSA has been green lighting every single GM crop that has crossed their desk, either.

The agency has been a target of anti-GMO demonstrators, but “is neither in favor nor against GMOs. Every case is evaluated singularly,” the EFSA spokesperson says.

The European Union has approved the planting of just one GM crop— a variety of corn known as MON 810. Each member state must also approve planting, however, and in 2013 Italy barred cultivation of MON 810, as well as barring field trials of experimental GM crops.

One. Just one has made it past so far, and each individual country also has to approve it, and Italy hasn’t even approved any so far, having banned the sale of GM products for human consumption in 2013.

I know it’s silly to attempt to reason with people who do such ridiculous and dangerous things as sending letter bombs but… really? Really? You’re targeting the people who are responsible for the regulations and oversight? The very people that anti-GMO protestors say there aren’t enough of?

Well, maybe stop sending them letter bombs, and more people will want to sign up for the job. Jackasses.

Should You Get Unbaptized?

Ever since I met someone whose father was unbaptized, and thus discovered it was a thing, I’ve been toying with the idea. The difficulties of the process and the pros and cons of the decision will vary greatly between the different religions. In my case, it would be getting unbaptized from the Catholic Church*, and so I started doing a little research into how this is done, and why there is an ever growing number of Italians who are doing it.

Of course it is not necessary to be unbaptized to be an atheist. If you don’t believe that baptism is anything other than a few silly words, a splash of water and a party, no piece of paper will undo one of many meaningless experiences in your life. Rather, the reasons for taking the extra step towards unbaptizing yourself are more about a present distancing from the Catholic Church.


*For many religions, unbaptism is not necessary, because your membership to the organization is not based on your baptism, but rather is based on your attendance.

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They Are Saving Each Other

For years before the EU finally decided to recognize and act on the problem, the Italian Navy was at the forefront in rescuing migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. It seems as though they, in turn, are responsible for rescuing the future of the Italian Navy itself.


With the possible exception of Germany and Sweden’s overwhelmed immigration agencies, few institutions on the front lines of the migrant crisis have played a more prominent role than the Italian Navy.

Every day, its ships and sailors rescue dozens — sometimes hundreds — of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean in leaky, overcrowded vessels. Over the course of the past year, the Italian Navy rescued 47,335 men and women in trouble at sea, according to Defense Ministry statistics. On May 6, Italian sailors rescued nearly 1,800 within 24 hours; on one day in August last year, they rescued 3,000 — and then they made sure to tweet about it.

And somewhere along the way, the Navy has managed to parlay these rescues into a popularity boost: one that has turned sailors into heroes and helped the maritime services secure funding for long into the future.

In the funding package, approved last year, Italy’s government granted the Navy €5.4 billion for new vessels.

By contrast, there has been plenty of opposition to buying additional F-35 fighter jets for the Italian Air Force. (In 2012, the government cut back on the number of aircraft it planned on purchasing.) “People’s attitude was, what do you want these planes for? Do you want to bomb something?” said Fabrizio Coticchia, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Genoa and co-author of Venus in Arms, a blog about Italian defense.

“Italian public opinion is usually opposed to acquisitions of military equipment deemed to be offensive, but Italians like humanitarian operations,” said Coticchia.

The article is interesting, and worth the read. The funding secured by the Italian Navy will create many jobs for both ship builders and naval officers, and of course it part of the fleet will also be used in a “defensive” role, increasing patrols which could hopefully intercept smuggling and trafficking.

The lifeblood that has been pumped into the Italian Navy will most likely outlive the migrant crisis itself, but I find this to be an interesting turn of events. Who knew, in the midst of this crisis, a golden PR opportunity could emerge for the Italian Navy?

What Stalking Can Come To

080840110-78992cfb-0132-46cb-99c4-99b221c564c0The violent murder of women by current or ex partners is a reality that every country battles with. On Friday my own hometown was struck with a particularly gruesome example, when 22-year old Sara di Pietrantonio was burned alive by her ex boyfriend while she was going home after a date. The articles on the subject are in Italian, but the gist the following:

  • It was 3:30AM. Knowing her route home and that she was going to drive by on her way home from her date, he waited for her and ran her car off the road.
  • He got in, they fought, and he started covering her and the car with ethanol.
  • She ran from the car, tried to stop two cars who were driving by at the time, but they didn’t stop.
  • He caught up with her, set her on fire, torched the car and left.

He has been charged with first degree murder, which I think is the most obvious sentence in the world. However, there are two parts of this story that I want to address.

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Italy Squeaking Along With LGBT Rights

Once again, we take a step forward! But only just big enough so that we’re not condemned by the European Court of Human Rights anymore…

The  Italian Chamber of Deputies’ approval of the civil unions bill on May 11, 2016 is an important step toward equality.

But, when it comes to my country, there always has to be a downside

“The approval of the civil union law is a milestone in the struggle toward legal recognition for same sex-couples in Italy,” said Boris Dittrich, advocacy director in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights program at Human Rights Watch. “But restrictive adoption provisions for same-sex couples deny some children the legal protection and security they deserve.”

The Civil Union Act is a watered down version of a bill first introduced by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party in 2014. While opponents introduced thousands of amendments, the most controversial provision in the original bill would have given a partner in a same-sex couple the right to adopt their partner’s children. In February, the Senate approved a compromise text that removed this option, paving the way for the vote in the Chamber of Deputies. According to article 73 of the Italian Constitution, the President of the Republic needs to promulgate the law. It is expected he will do so.

So there is still hope! We just have to wait… and talk about it… and wait…

In the last two months, courts have ruled that parents in lesbian or gay relationships are allowed to adopt each other’s children or a newborn child from a surrogate mother. In three separate rulings in March, the Rome Juvenile Court said it interprets the existing law on adoption in such a way that it should take into consideration social emergencies that urge recognition of new forms of parenthood. The court also urged the legislature to adopt more proactive adoption legislation, accommodating new family models.


Ah Italy, such a land of contradictions when it comes to rights. Did you know that Italy was the first country in Europe to elect an openly transgendered member of Parliament? One that, before becoming a politician, was known for cabaret performances and owning drag bars? At the same time, they’re hemming and hawing over giving their citizens full marriage equality. Since the 70s, abortion has been legal and women stopped taking their husbands name when they get married, and yet we’re still allowing doctors to “morally object” to providing abortions, and getting a divorce was a damned nightmare up until a couple of years ago.

The fact of the matter is, despite being a secular government, the Catholic Church has an annoyingly powerful sway over the people. It’s an insidious infiltration of the culture, so that people think these things are “normal”, and forget that it is officially a secular nation.

Well, at least we’re moving in the right direction. Keep going Italy! Keep fighting.


Tough Questions: On The Burqa Ban

Whether or not it is a good strategy to ban burqas is something that I have heard hotly debated, even amongst fervent SJWs. On the one hand, burqas are used as a tool of oppression of women, and are inconsistent with secular, western values. On the other hand, legally forcing women to uncover their faces when they are uncomfortable in doing so seems harsh, a western cultural imposition on women from other countries, and has led to a further marginalization of Muslim women in Europe. It can feel like further picking on an already very disenfranchised group of people. I also find myself torn between these two points of view, both of which, in my opinion, have some merit. However, I noticed that my position on the matter also wavers based on how, or why, burqa bans are passed and enforced. Often we talk about the French ban on burqas, but it is important to note that other countries also have these laws, though they came about for very different reasons.

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The Vatican’s Hypocrisy: A Personal Story

I am sure that those of you who frequent FtB will be fully aware of the Catholic Church’s abysmal record throughout history, from raping and castrating and stealing children from their parents to sell them for profit, to condemning millions of sick people to suffering in their dying days, to contributing to the mass spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and the list goes on and on.

You might also have heard from the people who defend the Catholic Church’s crumbling pedestal. Sure, there were priests who raped children, but there have also been teachers, coaches, and family members who raped children, these things happen, there are predators amongst us and they are attracted to positions which give them power over kids. We need to weed them out, not shut down the entire institution over a few bad apples, anymore than we should get rid of schools or sports programs.

And sure, the Catholic Church preached against the use of condoms, and still preaches against giving pain killers to terminally ill patients. But abstinence, and the idea of physical suffering in order to get closer to God, these are core tenets of the Catholic Church! You might disagree, or consider them old-fashioned, or unrealistic, or even harmful, but they believe them! They’re still trying to do good, however misguided you may think they are being.

And the crusades happened forever ago, you’re going to have to stop bringing that one up. People did some nasty shit in those days.

To those who defend the Catholic Church in this way, I have a story to tell from my own family. It is not a horrific story of rape or mutilation, in fact, in the grand scheme of things it will seem rather mild. However, I tell this story because, even if you grant all of the defenses of the Catholic Church that I have given, it still demonstrates that the Vatican as an organization doesn’t give a damn about the people. They hide behind their tenets when it suits them, and discards them mercilessly when it does not.

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