The Great “Settimana Cultura” Conspiracy

26 03 2008

The high cost of living in Italy getting you down?

Catch those pre-election discounts while you can!

For many years my family and I have looked forward to the Settimana della cultura (Week of Culture) promoted by the Italian national ministry of culture in May. The end of Spring is the best time of the year to travel around the peninsula and, given the high cost of admission to public museums and monuments, it is an opportunity to sightsee in a large group without breaking the bank. Instead of paying €6 to 8 each to see one site, we can cover all of the beni culturali (“cultural assets” in official translator English) in the area in one fell swoop. Consistent with the much lamented exponential increases in the cost of living here, the main topic of discussion in both the national media and anxious personal conversations, many culturally minded families have started to plan their vacations around the initiative. You can imagine the surprise then when we discovered last night that, in a break with tradition, the eagerly awaited week had already started!

It’s here!


The new improved March “Settimana della cultura” was first made public on the 28th of February.  It is an inspiring tribute to the integrity of what was already, after all, a lame duck government that the culture ministry was able to amass the energy to organize and promote an unexpected week of culture at a time when most of the country’s leadership might be distracted by the current national election campaign. Indeed, apart from the change in date, it is striking that the centerpiece of the 2008 pre-electoral settimana is not the usual stuffy mix of art and history but the opportunity to go to the cinema everywhere in Italy for €1, instead of the more usual €7 (as shown on the bottom left of the official poster above). It’s a shame only that none of the 3 cinemas in our town are showing anything other than the usual commercial Hollywood fare.

Hurry, it’s only an euro!


This great temporary money saving initiative joins another state gift to working families: the month of cheap bread. From the 15th of March until the 15th of April (ie two days after the date of the national election) your friendly local bakery will be encouraged to offer special discounts on the price of bread, a commodity that has undergone sharp price increases over the past two years. If you have a large freezer, the cheap bread can feed your financially challenged family all year round as you recall the rose coloured memories of your supersaver night at the cinema!

We’ve got the bread – fill up the freezer! All we need now is the circus…


Now if we could just get some “cultural” discounts on the price of gas, currently hovering around €1.42 a litre, I could afford to visit all of the museums and monuments I’ve been eager to see!


Buongiorno Italia?

25 03 2008

Before coming to Italy for the first time, I spent many an hour reading and listening to the BBC language course Buongiorno Italia. The course book was supplemented with a series of authentic sounding cassette tapes (this was the early 90s), complete with sound effects, documenting typical situations like ordering a coffee at a bar that an average tourist might experience during their visit to the peninsula.

Given that I speak the language with great fluency by now I should be grateful to the course for setting me on the right track but I still remember the shock I had when none of the real life Italians acted anything like their counterparts in the course. After ten years of living in il bel paese I am still waiting anxiously for the counter staff at a bar to present my coffee with a welcoming “Ecco lo zucchero” (Here is the sugar).

Not quite reality:


The most embarrassing incident that came out of my reliance on the course was the time, keen to use my repertory of set phrases, I attempted to buy some stamps from a tabaccaio, the convenience stores which sell everything from cigarettes, lottery tickets, and government tax stickers to Kinder eggs. The Buongiorno Italia course included a long friendly conversation set in a tabaccaio where the obliging proprietor was so eager to chat with his prized English visitor that he did everything but give away a case of free smokes. You can indeed buy stamps at a tabaccaio but I soon discovered that, instead of being prompt to welcome postcard wielding foreigners, the local tabacconists found pronunciation challenged sightseers intensely irritating. My stumbling attempt to ask for a stamp was greeted with something I managed to recognize as “This idiot thinks he’s at a post office”.

Not a post office:


The sad thing is that even now I occasionally find myself reminded of my foreigness when I enter a small shop for the first time. A few days ago, distracted by a cellphone conversation with friends in England, I managed to send the proprietors of an unfamiliar bakery into a fluster as I gestured for a loaf of bread while continuing to discuss some urgent business abroad. After a pregnant pause, followed by some intense whispering involving the extensive repetition of the word “straniero” (foreigner), their elementary school aged son came out – English textbook in hand- and said “B-ree-d??”

Coming Soon

24 03 2008

As I await the release of my forthcoming book Shakespeare, Politics, and Italy: Intertextuality on the Jacobean Stage, I hope that this blog will become a space to discuss everything that interests me (and perhaps other people as well). While I may start to insert shameless promotional material as the publication date gets closer, I am enjoying a much deserved break from scholarly writing at the moment and would much rather discuss the complexities of Italian society and culture. One of the advantages of living in Italy is the opportunity to indulge in dietrologia, the quasi-science of attempting to interpret the underlying forces behind the ubiquitous disorder. Shakespeare seems much more innocuous by comparison.

The view from the Greek theatre at Segesta (TP). Note the S shaped viaduct typical of local highway design strategies.

The view from the Greek Theatre at Segesta (TP)