Saturday, April 16, 2011

Italy's Most Famous Artist Was Born in Padua!

Born September 21, 1960 in Padua, Maurizio Cattelan commands the position as the most famous, successful and controversial living Italian artist.

The artist's decorated career spans the globe while he primarily works in Milan and New York, but we know where he's from.

He's perhaps most famous for the sculpture, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) of a meteorite that hit Pope John Paul II and shown at MOMA in NYC among other venues. (Only an Italian would make this an opera. Once you live here you realize how strong the Catholic Church's role grips the country and its pysche. This is obviously worth an artist's attention.)

La Nona Ora. 1999

Most recently, Mr. Cattelan caused controversy when he built and installed L.O.V.E., a marble sculpture of a hand with all fingers cut off except the middle one. It was placed in front of Italy's equivalent of Wall Street, in Piazza Affari. The initial public outcry turned into a kind of tacit acceptance, if not promotion of the artwork. The piece was originally scheduled to be installed for 2 weeks in September of last year, during a retrospective of the artist. Yet the mayor and city council of Milan has sistematically voted to keep the sculpture installed and now it is cleared until September 2011.

L.O.V.E. 2010

So if you are in Milan between now and then and want to see a powerful piece by a formidable personality in Italian international culture, go see L.O.V.E.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Did Discount Get So Difficult?

As an American, I always look for a deal. The problem is that I live in Italy where any discount is difficult to get, especially instantly.

To start, the official sale seasons are only twice a year: January into February and August into September. You have to wait a long time from when you first see those cute summer frocks in April and actually get them on sale! Then if you wait, sometimes you discover that the merchandise changes during the sale season. I have even been told by a saleswoman, in July for example, that a shop is expecting the arrival of their "sales" merchandise. What? Its arrival? Shouldn't it just be what I see on the shelves now, just at a lower price point? When I went back to see the "sales" merchandise, I realized that the "sales" products were either made with lower quality materials, such as thinner cotton for bed sheets, or included old merchandise, clothes from previous seasons and years.

Or then there is the repeat-shopper discount. If you buy, let's say, over Euro 50 in merchandise now, you get a coupon for a discount of Euro 10 on a second purchase of at least Euro 50 at a future date. This way they ensure that you come into the store twice and buy a minimum value of Euro 100 in the end. Buy what if I don't want to spend that much in their store or have the time to go back in 2 weeks to get the savings? I may be in mountains or sick at home, for that matter! Tough luck. No discount. Seldomly do you get the 20% right away if it isn't the official sales season. And this kind of sales trick is common at superstores like Interspar.

A third aspect of sales is when they really aren't sales. Some shops mark up their merchandise on the price tag so that when they apply the 30%, a typical initial sales season starting discount, the price looks like a deal when it isn't at all. Our local paper, Il Mattino, sometimes features journalists who hunt the town's window display prices before and after the first day of the sales season to see how honest everybody is being. An example, a pair of shoes retail for Euro 100. During the sales season, they mark the original price as Euro 130 with 30% discount, making the sale price Euro 100 (the same as before!).

All in all, we are all supposed to pay hefty retail prices for our merchandise or do a lot of work to get a discount. It makes life frustrating for someone who pays a mortgage, car payment and her taxes. I need some real sales, Italy! Give me a break!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Caffè Pedrocchi Expanding

This is the place referred to by the local saying in Padua, "la città con un santo senza nome, un caffè senza porte e un prato senza erba" (a city with a saint without a name, a café without doors and a field without grass). The saint is Saint Anthony, but everyone here just refers to him as "il santo." The café is Caffè Pedrocchi, pictured above. The field is actually a square called Prato della Valle (Field of the Valley), one of the largest in Europe.

Caffè Pedrocchi commands great historic importance for this town. It was founded 180 years ago and witnessed a critical involvement in Italian revolutions and intellectual activity. (I will discuss this in a later post.)

The no-doors refers to the fact that it is always open to the public. In fact, there is a room, The Green Room, where you can sit quietly and read or do whatever you want that is silent without having to order anything from the bar. It's a great, quiet and elegant refuge between appointments for me sometimes when it's raining and I just want to read a magazine.

The important news now is that the café is expanding. The Museo del Risorgimento is going to move to Palazzo Zuchermann and open up all the upper levels of the historic building. The café plans to expand its seating area upstairs, maybe stay open later in the evening (after 8 p.m.) and build luxury rental spaces as a foresteria for artists, intellectuals, etc.

The city is debating whether they should raise the café's rent after the expansion (and natural increase in revenue). Currently it pays a subsidized Euro 500 ($715)/month while it charges nearly Euro 3 ($5) for a coffee! That rent is what I paid for an ugly 35-square-meter (380 square foot) apartment.

Caffè Pedrocchi link.
Il Mattino article about the subject.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Overcoming Tragedy, the Story of Alessandro Zanardi

Nestled in Noventa Padovana, there lives a famous resident hero, Alessandro Zanardi. The ex-Formula 1 pilot from Bologna lost both legs in 2000 in a violent accident on the German race track, Eurospeedway. After coming out of a 2-week coma, the man not only recovered, but even became a winning pilot again in 2005 with BMW in the World Touring Car Championship. He achieved this goal with prosthetic legs! He was the first handicapped winner to acheive this against physically normal competitors.

Mr. Zanardi also got involved in other kinds of racing as a physically disabled person. He participated in the 2007 New York Marathon with a handbike, which I see him ride around town on. He came in fourth in that competition. Then he won the handicapped section of the Venice Marathon in 2009 riding the same gadget.

Last Fall, he hosted a TV series called E se domani (And if Tomorrow) on Rai 3, focusing on scientific advances.

He has written two book, his memoir, My Sweetest Victory, which received the prize, Premio Bancarella Sport 2003, and Alex Looks Skyward, written together with his friend Claudio Costa.

Now he's preparing for London's 2012 Paralympics. Let's be his tifosi (fans)! Join me in commending his positive attitude that, I believe, has made him more a winner now than when he was just a race car driver.

He is a husband to Daniela and father of Nicolò and a Jack-of-all-trades now with racing, TV and books behind his belt. Mr. Zanardi is a champion in so many ways. Nothing has stopped him from succeeding.

Complimenti Alessandro!